Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Surprise, Surprise...

A recent global study has found that promiscuity does not lead to higher rates of STDs and people are not having sex at a younger age than ever before. I guess the Religious Right will have to pull out their "rogue" scientists once again to come up with different data if they want to keep supporting their scare tactic that sex before marriage spreads STDs. That, or quit trying to use fake science for political reasons and actually listen. Alas, I suppose I ask too much.

Click here to see the MSNBC article on the study's findings.

What's the Big Deal, Anyway?

Before I get much farther with this blog, I want to stress that my main problem with the Religious Right is not that they are Christian. I firmly believe in freedom of religion and the idea that people can worship however they want as long as it doesn’t harm anyone. I don’t even care about the Religious Right’s specific beliefs. It’s their right to believe whatever they want. My problem with them is that they want to illegally change the government along Biblical lines. Their goal is to force the rest of the country to govern itself through a strict interpretation of the Bible, which is inherently unconstitutional, i.e. illegal. In other words, they want the Bible to be legally more important than the Constitution. This would mean that no laws could be made contrary to the dictates of the Bible, and the nation’s courts would have to use the Bible before the Constitution to determine the ruling of a case. In a nutshell, the whole purpose of this blog is to speak out against the Christian Right’s effort to remake the US into a de facto theocracy where the word of God is superior to any governmental law.

If you’re a Christian, a Biblically-based theocracy might not be so bad. But what if you’re not a Christian? What’s to stop the government from throwing you in jail for heresy? The answer is nothing, because the Bible says that Christianity is the only true way to know God (i.e. the only permissible religion), and if the Bible is superior to the Constitution, then it comes before the Bill of Rights. In the end, a government ruled by the Bible will become nothing more than a Christian Taliban, controlled by a small group of people who use the interpretation of an ancient, contradictory book to set laws.

Now, I seriously doubt it would ever get that bad, but it’s terribly important to maintain the separation of church and state within this country to preserve our freedoms. Unfortunately, many Christian Conservatives argue that the framers founded the US as a Christian nation for Christians and many in the Christian Right actually state that the framers never intended for there to be any separation. Not only is this false, but it’s a distortion of history. The idea that the framers came from a fundamentalist Christian background is laughable. The framers were the products of the Enlightenment, not a church. Benjamin Franklin was basically an atheistic scientist. Thomas Jefferson was Christian, but of the Deist variety (the idea that the world is a machine and god only set it in motion). He even published a version of the Bible that had all the miracles removed because he felt they were nothing but superstition. Like Jefferson, James Madison was a Deist as well and felt that God had no say in human affairs after the creation. The list could go on, but the point is, these men were not who the Christian Right claims they were. Furthermore, many early Americans (of European descent, anyway) were fleeing from religious persecution and the framers wanted to insure that the same thing would not happen in the US. As a result, they specified the separation of church and state in the 1st Amendment to protect all religions and favor none.

Then we come to the next major misunderstanding of the Religious Right. One of their favorite claims is that the separation of church and state is not specified in the Constitution, which is completely false. It might not say the exact words “separation of church and state”, but the 1st Amendment does say: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise, thereof.” Now, if the government had to adhere to the Bible for its legislation and judicial decisions, then it would definitely be respecting the establishment of Christianity, making it unconstitutional. The specified separation seems obvious to me.

Unfortunately, Conservative Christian organizations don’t appear to see it. For example, the Traditional Values Coalition, a major supporter of President Bush, specifies on the values page of their website: “Bible-based traditional values are what created and have preserved our nation. We will lose our freedoms if we reject these values” (click here and scroll to the bottom of the page to see it for yourself). This statement is completely self-contradictory because if the government only recognizes Bible-based values, then we limit our freedom to believe in other values.

Finally, Conservative Christians seem irrationally worried that there is a coordinated assault against Christians in this country. They feel that the government has forced them towards sin and immorality by supporting or refusing to legislate against issues such as abortion, gay marriage, etc. They quickly refer to the 1st Amendment, demanding that the government protect them by making the Christian Right’s values law. However, there’s nothing stopping them from preaching these values to their congregations—it’s a freedom guaranteed to them under the 1st Amendment—and they need to stop forcing them on others who don’t share their beliefs and stop blaming others for their sins. The major problem the Religious Right fails to see in their actions is that if the 1st Amendment is destroyed in favor of the Bible, then the government can dictate what they can and cannot say to their congregations. I seriously doubt any church leader would want that.

In closing, this is not a general attack against Christians or even the Republican Party. I fully understand that the majority of Christians are moderate and believe in the ideals of the Constitution and that the fundamentalist movement is a relatively small group (although it has grown enormously in recent years). Unfortunately, the low voter turnout in this country has allowed the better organized groups to advance their interests far above the others. In the last couple of decades, the Religious Right has been one of the best organized groups and has convinced a vast majority of their followers to vote, thereby skewing the results in their favor, which forces politicians to cater to their interests. Just look at the change in the he Republican Party. It used to be severely moderate, but during the Regan years it saw an opportunity to gain power through the high voter turnout amongst the Religious Right and continues to strengthen its ties with them. That’s not to say the Republicans are evil for it. I’m sure the Democrats would have done the same if they could have adjusted their agenda enough to appeal to the Religious Right. I simply want to stress the dangerous direction in which the Christian Right has pushed this nation. They need to stop trying to force their beliefs on others and realize that their actions could quickly erode their own freedom as well. In the end, theocracy hurts everyone.

Quote of the Week

"If you're not electing Christians, then in essence you are going to legislate sin."

- Florida Congresswoman Katherine Harris (also, not likely to win reelection next week)

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Warning Signs from the Military Commissions Act

Now that the Military Commissions Act of 2006 is law, we need to really take a step back and see the dangerous path it leads us towards. It’s important to look and see what the MCA allows the President to do.

The most frightening provision is the suspension of habeas corpus for aliens and non-Americans. It doesn’t sound too bad, right? It should mean that the MCA won’t affect American citizens, right? However, if an American is arrested under this act, then their inability to invoke habeas corpus means that they cannot prove their citizenship because no one has to listen. They can simply disappear at the President’s whim. No man should have that kind of power in a democracy.

Furthermore, the MCA allows the President to hold “enemy combatants” for an indefinite period of time and choose when to use or ignore the Geneva Conventions. To me, this seems like a disturbing first step in what could be an unending string of restrictions on civil liberties.

How could this happen? For that answer, just look at our current do-nothing Congress. The Democrats have been shut out and the Republicans stick to the party line regardless of how their constituents feel about any given issue. Congress needs to wake up and realize that it does not have to cater to the President’s wishes, but that it is supposed to limit the President’s power. If the Republican Congress continues to fail at their constitutionally-directed obligation to limit the executive, then we might as well crown Bush as emperor because Congress has allowed him to do whatever he wants: invade Iraq, spend without limit, destroy individual liberties, etc. Please, go out and vote next week and let’s replace this Congress and stop the country’s slide towards authoritarianism.

For more information, read this thought-provoking article by Keith Olbermann on MSNBC.

Worst Congress Ever

I found this excellent yet disturbing article by Matt Taibbi published in Rolling Stone. If you need a reason to elect Democrats next month, then you shouldn't have to look any further. It's amazing how the Republicans think they can just ignore the Constitution (I'm not saying Democrats are much different, but they have a better track record). If the Congress continues the way it has, I really worry about the future of America. I wonder if this is how the Romans felt.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Quote of the Week

"We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity. We weren't punctilious about locating and punishing only Hitler and his top officers. We carpet-bombed German cities; we killed civilians. That's war. And this is war. "

- Ann Coulter in all her wisdom. Good thing she doesn't set policy.

Friday, October 20, 2006

The Growing Signs of Dictatorship in America

Here's a rather pointed article by Gene Lyons demonstrating the current administration's lack of regard for the Constitution. More than anything, it shows the dangerous path the Republican-dominated government has started to take. Good reading for those who are concerned.

Buzzflash.com Interview with Esther Kaplan

I found this excellent interview from Buzzflash.com with Esther Kaplan. In it, she outlines the unconstitutional and frightening shift that the US government has taken towards Christian fundamentalism. She also perfectly sums up my feelings towards the Christian right:

“Look, if Christian fundamentalists want to use their faith as a guide for their own lives, and want to personally shun homosexuality, abortion, sex education, and even evolutionary science, their freedom to do so is fiercely protected by the Constitution. But when they try to impose those views on the rest of the country, whether they admit it or not, they are pushing us toward theocracy.”

All in all, it’s pretty informative reading, so check it out.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Abstinence-only Education, or Another Way to Impose Religious Ideology

This is a good one. The Christian right feels the only type of sex education program that should be taught in public schools is one that advocates abstinence-only. The major push for this form of sex education comes from the Bush Administration, which has worked to triple the funding for abstinence-only programs. By itself, that doesn’t sound too bad, teaching people to wait until sex for marriage. However, these abstinence only curriculums refuse to educate their students about the various forms of contraceptives that are available and distort the facts to make their case through scare tactics.

Obviously, this push for abstinence-only has come from the Christian right-dominated Republican Party, so it’s useful to look at the conservative Christian thought towards sex education, which is that if you teach teens about ways to have sex without penalty then they will have sex all the time out of wedlock and destroy their morality along with the moral fiber of the country. The question I have to ask is: can you really stop human nature? A large number of teens are going to have sex whether you tell them to abstain or not. Worse, if they do not know about ways to minimize the risk to themselves, then they are more likely to engage in risky behaviors leading to teen pregnancy and STDs. Then if teen pregnancy rates increase, you have a higher demand for abortion since most teens cannot afford to care for a child. Of course, the Christian right is completely against abortion, so their desired policy of not teaching contraception methods actually works completely against one of their major goals: the abolition of abortion. Now, take the Netherlands, for example. They have one of the most open and complete sex education programs in the world. As a result, they also have the lowest teen pregnancy rate in the world since their teens know about the consequences of sex and ways to prevent them. Also, this gives the Dutch one of the lowest abortion rates in the world since they have much fewer unwanted pregnancies, which would seem to be one of the ultimate goals of abstinance-only sex education. Too bad the Christian right allows dogma to get in the way of the facts and logic.

Another problem with these abstinence only programs is that when they do mention contraceptives, they portray them as the cause of higher STD rates throughout the country. That might be fine if it were true. However, a Congressional study by Representative Waxman of California found that 80% of the abstinence only programs contain gross scientific errors that greatly inflate contraceptive failure rates and downplay their effectiveness against pregnancy and the STD’s (for the full Congressional report, click here). In reality, the scientific data shows that many contraceptives are effective at preventing the most common STDs. The only reason that STD rates seem to have gone up (and this is with just few diseases, most have actually declined) is that people are more willing to report them and seek treatment. The fact that the creators of these abstinence-only curriculums feel the need to lie certainly tells me that they’re pushing a different motive than child welfare. Otherwise, they would show the facts allowing teens to make an informed decision.

Furthermore, some of these programs teach gender stereotypes, especially downplaying the role women have in society. They teach that the man should be the provider of the family and that women need the protection of the man (again, see the congressional report). First off, I don’t really see why that should be in a sex education class. Second, if that isn’t a return to a Medieval mentality, I don’t know what is. Pretty retroactive if you ask me.

If these programs are inaccurate and don’t work as well as a complete and open sex education program, then why do it? Well, you get back to the Christian right’s idea of morality. I have no problem with them believing in a Biblically inspired idea of morality, except when the Christian right tries to force it on the rest of us. Just look at any of their websites (for example, the vision statement for the Christian Coalition and the about page of the Traditional Values Coalition). They want to make traditional Christian values the law in this country. Unfortunately for them, that is severely unconstitutional. I’ll go more into that on another post, but that fact is that the attempt to teach abstinence-only is simply a manifestation of the Christian right’s desire to emplace a religiously-inspired morality on the nation. Therefore, if we really want to preserve the separation of church and state, then this is just one of the intrusions on our civil liberties that we need to stop.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

The Coming Age of Religious War

It may seem like all-out religious warfare is thing of the past one can only find in history books of the Middle Ages. Certainly, we wouldn’t fight for the same irrational causes that needlessly cost so many lives, right? Well, I don’t need to tell you about how the Muslim world has embraced fundamentalism. To say that only a small percentage of Muslims believes in the strict fundamentalism proscribed by al-Qaeda and the Taliban seems to be nothing more than wishful thinking. Just look at the support Iranian President Ahmadinejad has for his hard line, faith-based policies. Look at the growing fundamentalist universities throughout Pakistan. Look at the unending religious divisions that unendingly frustrate our efforts in Iraq. Look at the seething unrest that erupts in the Middle East when even the slightest affront to Islam appears in the West. I think we need to stop fooling ourselves and realize that the Islamic world has embraced the idea of militant fundamentalism, especially amongst the youth, meaning the problem will not go away any time soon.

What’s worse is that this rise of fundamentalism is not unique to the Middle East. All you need to do is look at America itself. Christian Fundamentalism is on the rise throughout this country and wants nothing more than to impose its “values” on the rest of the nation. The enormous growth of massive churches preaching strict interpretation of the Bible has risen to the point where they have become political forces all their own while the more moderate and reasonable churches have gone on the decline. These fundamentalist megachurches such as Focus on the Family have become some of the most powerful and vociferous constituencies and lobbyists of the Republican Party. They funnel millions of dollars towards Republican political campaigns, thereby forcing the Republicans to bend to their will. What’s worse is that a growing majority of Republicans come from the far Christian right as well. All told, they hope to enforce their strict moral code on the rest of the nation. You just need to read the news to see their campaigns: anti-gay rights, absolute abolition of abortion (even for rape victims), intelligent design, the banning of sex education in schools, and the list could go on.

Now what does this have to do with religious war you ask? Well, those policies extend to foreign policy as well. Just look at how our born-again President views the War on Terror. He sees it as a battle of good vs. evil. Even in Iraq where the mistakes are apparent, President Bush wrote, “My faith frees me,” revealing his certainty that his faith cannot allow him to make the wrong choice. If that doesn’t terrify you, then maybe you shouldn’t be reading this. Hopefully, America will return to rationality sometime soon and start electing leaders who are more interested with actual right and wrong rather than Christian right and wrong. Otherwise, we could hopelessly escalate the current conflict creating a massive clash of civilizations and religions between unyielding fundamentalists convinced of their divine righteousness.

For a good opinion piece on this subject from a more spiritual point of view, read Andrew Sullivan’s article from Time Magazine.

And for the typical dogmatic response, check out this blog entry.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Quote of the Week

"Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety."

- Benjamin Franklin

Some Thoughts on the Evolution-Creation Controversy

Throughout my adolescent years I went through my day to day life perfectly content with the idea that the Earth was roughly 4.5 billion years old and that life evolved gradually from different forms by means of natural selection to the variety of life we see today. Most of my knowledge on this matter came from my set of Prehistoric Zoobooks that my parents gave me one Christmas when I was in elementary school. Nicely packaged in an attractive plastic case, they made the theory of evolution easy to comprehend, even for an elementary student. It just made sense to me: slight variations within an organism can give them advantages over their peers, making them more likely to reproduce, thereby transferring those changes to the general population. Over time, enough changes result in the formation of a new species that is better suited to survive in its environment. Though the theory of evolution is extremely complex, it is remarkably simple and elegant at its core. I figured most people could see the rationality behind this concept, especially with the existence of the fossil record. I guess I assumed too much.

Being from Colorado Springs (an extremely conservative bastion within Colorado), one would think I would have run into the true scope of the Creationist movement earlier. I guess I just shrugged them off as a fringe group clinging to their comforting, yet irrational view of the world. I don't know. Anyway, my first realization of just how widespread belief in Creationism is came during my first year at college. I was speaking with a group of friends, somehow the subject turned to dinosaurs, and I eventually mentioned something about evolution. Then one of my friends (a Southern Baptist) said, "Evolution doesn't exist." I didn't know quite what to make of this. I was flabbergasted. Stupidly, I asked, "Then how do you think life came to be?" Of course, I got the "God created it" line, but it opened my eyes to a belief that millions of Americans still hold in this supposed "Age of Reason."

Before I go further, I suppose I should share my views on religion, since religious views are basically the linchpin of the entire debate. I am perhaps a casual atheist and certainly not a Christian, since I do not believe in the divinity of Jesus, and I question the authenticity of the Bible. The problem for me is that the Bible was written by human beings. No one has ever shown how its supposedly divine words were given to its writers, except that a big invisible man whispered it to a chosen individual. Sorry, but that takes too much of a leap of faith for me. What's even worse is that there are errors in translation throughout, glaring inconsistencies for a supposedly infallible document, and large parts of the New Testament have been omitted (e.g. the recently discovered Gospel of Judas). To me, that makes the Bible too uncertain to hold any divine truth. I also have a serious problem with organized religion. They are always led by mere humans, and the problem with humans is that they tend to look after their own interests. More than anything, religion is an avenue to power, making them political institutions for those involved. Furthermore, most religions preach that a person must do good deeds so they can secure their place in heaven. Therefore, the followers go out and perform good deeds to ensure their own ascension into heaven. For me, that seems extremely selfish. I think it is more important to do good deeds because it helps others, not because it ensures your own eternal bliss. I firmly believe that good things happen to good people. Whether that means a good afterlife, we have no way of knowing, so I'm not going to worry about it. Anyway, enough about my beliefs and back to the matter at hand.

First, what is the main goal of the current Creationist movement? To teach Creationism in public schools. To do this, they first try to discredit evolution through "scientific" means. The main tactic of Creationists is to look for areas within the theory of evolution that science cannot adequately explain yet. The most prominent example is when Creationists point out that science cannot explain how life first arose from nonliving materials (in science this does not actually fall under the theory of evolution, but a separate field within biochemistry called abiogenesis. However, well discuss it for the sake of argument). The only evidence Creationists have here is science's lack of evidence. Creationists say that since biologists cannot recreate the emergence of living materials from nonliving matter and have no fossil evidence for it, then obviously the entire theory must be wrong. However, lack of evidence is not evidence. That may work in a court of law, but not science. Science requires testable data to either prove or disprove something. The only evidence Creationists provide is the fact that the Book of Genesis describes how life began, and since the Bible is the word of God, it must be right. But then that becomes the problem with their argument. As I said earlier, there are glaring problems with the Bible. One of the best examples of inconsistencies comes from the story of Adam and Eve. The Bible says that Adam and Eve were the first two people, of course. But how did their children reproduce without committing the sin of incest? If the Bible really is from a divine source, then how did an infallible being make such a huge self contradiction? Certainly this, amongst numerous other inconsistencies, makes the Bible a ludicrous basis for any scientific thought.

Another problem Creationists find is the lack of transitional fossils, or fossils that show one species in the process of changing to another. Also they point out to the missing link between humans and apes. I ask: what constitutes a missing link? Archeology has discovered a clear progression from apes to humans within the fossil record. There's the clear progression from Australopithecus to Homo habilis to Homo erectus to Homo sapiens (there are also several intermediaries that I left out for the sake of brevity). There exists a clear progression within the fossil record from apes evolving into humans. However, Creationists try to counter that theres no transitional species between each of species of Homo. I think the major problem here is that Creationists ignore reality to advance their claims. Fossilization is not a simple process. It requires the plant or animal to become buried in sediment shortly after dying to prevent scavengers from scattering the corpse. This is rare by itself. Then, the fossils have to undergo the actual fossilization process without being completely obliterated by the pressures and movement within the Earth's crust. Then, they have to become exposed in a place where people can find them. Most fossils have likely eroded away or remain buried within the Earth's crust. Creationists refuse to budge until evolutionary scientists show them every single species that has ever existed within an evolutionary chain. Any rational person can see how unlikely it is to find all these species. Once again, the Creationists try to use lack of evidence as evidence. Science simply does not work that way.

Even worse than using lack of evidence as evidence is how Creationists take quotes from Evolutionary scientists out of context and twist them around to make it look like evolution is a theory in crisis within the scientific community, which it certainly is not. One of the most memorable examples is when Dr. Schweitzer and Dr. Horner, both paleontologists, announced that they had found what looks like soft tissue in the femur of a Tyrannosaurus. Creationists jumped on this as proof that the Earth was much younger than science says it is. However, they twisted the quotes of Dr. Schweitzer to make it seem like she had announced the discovery of actual soft tissue in a T rex rather than what looks like soft tissue. The soft tissue is still being analyzed, but there are certainly natural processes that allow soft tissue to be preserved for incredibly long periods of time, and it may also be fossilized with materials that are pliable but not the original tissue. Nevertheless, Creationists had a field day with this one as the scientists involved worked to clarify their findings. However, the Creationists continue to take the original quotes out of context and regard any clarifications as backpedaling. From an academic point of view, this seems incredibly dishonest coming from a group of Christians supposedly committed to integrity.

Finally, I'd like to touch on Intelligent Design. Despite that fact that the proponents of this theory try to make it seem separated from religion, it is obviously motivated by religion as a form of stealth creationism. The main scientific theory behind ID is the thought that life is too complex to have evolved the way Darwin says it did, but that an intelligent designer (read: God) must have been involved. They claim that during the transition from one kind to another, there would be certain components not yet finished that would make it impossible for the transitional species to survive. For example, in the evolution from dinosaurs to birds, ID proponents would argue that at the intermediate stages, birds would have limbs useless for flying and useless for grasping, making them terribly unsuited for their environment. However, the transitional fossils (which do exist, by the way) show birds with wings and grasping hands together. They may not have been able to fly, but they could glide and still behave like terrestrial dinosaurs, allowing them to survive just fine. Furthermore, there are countless examples of terrible design within life. Look at the human knee, for instance. For all its importance, it is severely susceptible to crippling injury. For an infallible creator, youd think He could get something as important as a knee right. Finally, just because a process seems too complicated for us to understand does not mean that we should throw up our hands and give up, leaving the unknown gaps to supernatural forces. Thats what science is for. It attempts to explain the world without the dogma that accompanies religion. Therefore, ID is not real science. It does not say: I observe X, therefore Y. Instead, it says: I observe X, I do not understand it, therefore God did it. Falling back on superstition is still superstition. More importantly, I feel ID should not be taught in public schools. Not only is it a blatant attempt to teach religion in schools, but it isn't good science. However, its lack of a direct reference to God has made it attractive to many lawmakers who are anti-evolutionists, making it useful means for bringing Creationism to public schools. Since Creationism caters to just one religious group, Christianity (and Judaism to an extent too), it seems to me like a gross violation of the First Amendment. The push for Creationist Science in schools is simply one of the Christian Right's methods for pushing religion on others.

In the end, I just can't believe how people can ignore the discoveries of science from the last 150 years. They cling to the comforting blanket of religious dogma despite the fact that science agrees that evolution is a very real phenomenon. Even then, Creationists go quote mining to make it look like there is a dissenting group within science that does not exist. Then when that fails, they turn around and accuse science of being a religion all its own that ignores open debate with other groups. But do you think Creationists would allow open debate if their beliefs were held by the mainstream scientific community? I doubt it. In the end, the Creationist movement is nothing more than a dishonest attempt to force religion upon the nation and uses their scientific debates as a pretext for wrongly discrediting honest science.

About Me

Well, since you've found your way here, I guess I'll tell you a little about myself so you know what you'll find here. I'm generally laid back and try to stay moderate and open-minded on things, but recent years have kind of challenged my neutrality as far as politics and religion is concerned. I've grown opposed to the current conservative majority that seems to grow everyday in this country. I've realized more and more that I do not believe in the opinions and issues that the Religious Right seems determined to force on this country through their well-funded lobbying of the Republican Party. More than anything, I'm concerned with how the Religious Right wants to destroy many of our essential civil rights to recreate a historical era of Christian values that never actually existed. As you might have gathered, I am not a Christian. I used to be, but the more I learned about world history and other cultures, the more I began to doubt. Then I actually read the Bible. What I found there horrified me. Any despicable, intolerant act can be justified with that ancient text. Besides, it contradicts itself throughout and conveys no consistant message. That ended my faith in Christianity and caused me to put the "Greatest Story Ever Told" in the same classification as the Iliad: good for understanding ancient cultures, but not much else. Since I don't think that any other form of religion has it right either, I found Atheism to be the most "right " for me. The intellectual freedom it gives me is priceless. It has allowed me to see the world in a new light, and better understand how the world actually works. I'll probably get into it more on a future post, but that's enough for now.

In short, here you'll find liberal arguments to preserve the US Constitution as the secular document the Founding Fathers intended it to be. I may even groan a bit over the intolerances of fundamental religion. Anyway, you may disagree with everything I have to say, but I hope you at least learn something....