June 2012 Newsletter of the Lake Superior Freethinkers
Facilitators: David Broman - 218-349-7455 & Bill Guse - 834-4583, 343-4806
First Sunday - Radisson Hotel – 9:00 AM Social – 10:00 Brunch
George Erickson, editor, firstname.lastname@example.org
Agenda for Sunday, June 3rd.
Bible Study: "Sex in the New Testament" by Ron Kyllonen
Program: "FREETHINKING: LOST AND FOUND
Presented by: Bill van Druten
Children's Healthcare Is a Legal Duty, Inc.
Equal rights for children under the law
Do private schools have adequate protections from child abuse?
Many laws to protect children from abuse in public schools do not govern private schools. Elliot Pasik cites 10 examples of unequal protection for private school kids in New York laws.
- Fingerprinting and criminal background checks are mandated for all prospective public school employees.
- Public school employees are mandated reporters of suspected abuse.
- District attorneys are required to inform public school authorities whenever a public school employee is convicted of child abuse in an educational setting.
- The Comm. of Education is required to determine that the employee has good moral character.
- Public school officials are required to report resignations to law enforcement when departing employees have been accused of public school-based child abuse.
- State law requires all public school teachers and administrators to complete coursework in identifying and reporting child abuse or maltreatment and in preventing school violence.
- Public schools must hire only certified teachers for teaching positions; those teachers are subject to discipline, including suspension or revocation of their certification when there are reasonable questions as to their moral character.
- New York law requires public schools to establish and implement school safety plans and public school districts to establish and implement written policies necessary to safeguard the life and health of children and to prevent abuse.
- State law requires that all public school children in grades K-8 receive instruction designed to prevent abduction of children.
- State law also requires public schools to have automated external defibrillators.
These protective measures are not mandated for private schools.
Krystal Myers is a student at Lenoir City High School. School officials did not allow the publication of this column in the school newspaper, as reported in Knoxville News Sentinel.
As a student in government (at Lenoir City High School), my rights as an atheist are severely limited when compared to other students who are Christians.
Not only are there multiple clubs featuring the Christian faith, but youth ministers are allowed to come onto the campus and hand candy and other food out to Christians and their friends. However, I feel like if an atheist did that, people would not be happy about it. This may not be true, but because of pervasive negative feelings towards atheists in the school, I feel that it would be the case. My question is, "Why does atheism have such a bad reputation?" And an even better question: "Why do Christians have special rights not allowed to nonbelievers?"
Atheists do not worship the devil. We do not believe in God, so we also do not believe in Satan. And we may be godless, but that does not mean that we are without morals. I strive to be the best person I can be, even without religion. In fact, I have been a better person since I have rejected religion.
Perhaps the most important misconception is that we want to convert everyone to atheism and that we hate Christians, but we just want to be respected for who we are and not be judged.
Dictionary.com says that an atheist is "a person who denies or disbelieves the existence of a supreme being or beings." However, this does not mean that atheists do not believe in higher causes; we just do not believe in a higher being….
There are several instances where my rights as a nonbeliever, and the rights of anyone other than a Christian, have been violated. These inspired me to investigate the laws concerning the separation of church and state, and I learned some interesting things.
First is the sectarian prayer that occurs at graduation every year. I am not the first one to have thought this was a problem. In the Supreme Court case Lee v. Weisman, it was decided that allowing prayer at graduation is a violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment that states, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." Special speakers can pray, but the school cannot endorse the prayer or plan for it to happen.
Public prayer also occurs at all of the home football games via the public address system. This also has been covered by the Supreme Court, in Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe. The Supreme Court ruled that school-sponsored prayer is an unconstitutional violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. If a speaker prays, it is fine. However, as soon as the school provides sponsorship, it becomes illegal. Sponsorship can be almost anything, even something as simple as saying that the speaker can pray or choosing a speaker with a known propensity to pray or share his or her religious views.
It is not just the speakers we have to fear at Lenoir City High School. We also have to fear some of the teachers and what they might say about their beliefs. On at least two occasions, teachers have made their religious preferences known to the whole school. One teacher has made her religious preferences known by wearing a T-shirt depicting the crucifix while performing her duties as a teacher. Also, Kristi Brackett, a senior at Lenoir City High School, has said that the teacher "strongly encouraged us to join a religious club and be on the group's leadership team." Yet again, this violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.
When asked if this was true, the teacher replied, "As a teacher I would never use my power of influence to force my beliefs or the beliefs of (a religious club) on any student in the school." Regardless, these T-shirts are still inappropriate in the school setting. Teachers are prohibited from making their religious preferences known; the Constitution requires them to be neutral when acting in their capacity as a public school teacher.
Not only are religious preferences shown through shirts, but also through a "Quote of the Day" that some teachers write on the boards in their classrooms. One teacher has Bible verses occasionally as the teacher's "Quote of the Day" for students. The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment has been violated, yet again with no regard for nonbelievers.
I would have more hope in our school and the possibility of change if our school board did not open its meetings with prayer. A person who wished to remain anonymous who has been present at school board meetings says, "They do have prayers. They pray to 'our heavenly Father' and end with 'in Jesus' name we pray.' "Not only is this a violation of Supreme Court rulings, but also a violation of the board policy that prohibits prayer at school-sponsored events.
The foundation of how our school is conducted is established by Christians. If our school board chooses to ignore the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment and the Supreme Court, it is no surprise that teachers choose to do the same.
I will keep trying to gain my rights as an atheist and as an American citizen, but I also need your help in educating other people to realize the injustice done to minority groups. The Christian faith cannot rule the United States. It is unconstitutional. Religion and government are supposed to be separate. If we let this slide, what other amendments to the Constitution will be ignored? I leave you to decide what you will or will not do, but just remember that nonbelievers are not what you originally thought we were. We are human beings — just like you.
ScienceDaily: Strange Science News :
"Love thy neighbor" is preached from many a pulpit. But new research suggests that the highly religious are less motivated by compassion when helping a stranger than are atheists, agnostics and less religious people.
Marie Castle responds: "Well, of course the highly religious lack compassion. How else could they want laws that force women to society's unwilling breeding stock no matter the cost to them. Or deny same-sex couples the legal recognition of their love through marriage. Or let hopelessly ill people die slowly in agony rather than allow a physician aided death with dignity. Or allow faith healing parents to legally let their kids suffer and even die by replacing real medical care with prayer "treatments." Or restrict stem cell research that promises to treat or cure many debilitating diseases. Highly religious people are the most cruel, unfeeling people on earth. I could give personal examples of how religious people have treated others with great cruelty just because they thought "god" wanted it that way."
Why Does Religion Always Get a Free Ride? By Greta Christina
This author makes an excellent point. Edited for length and clarity by GAE
We try to persuade people out of ideas about science, politics, philosophy, art and medicine. But when it comes to religion, trying to persuade people out of their ideas is somehow seen as rude at best, invasive and intolerant at worst. Why should religion be the exception?
I've been writing about atheism for about six years now. In those six years, not once have I gotten a satisfying answer. What I've gotten in response has been crickets chirping and tumbleweeds blowing by. I've been ignored, I've had the subject changed, I've had people get nasty. But only once have I ever gotten an actual answer.
In a free society, we try to persuade people out of ideas all the time. We criticize ideas we disagree with; we question ideas we find puzzling; we excoriate ideas we find repugnant; we make fun of ideas we think are silly. And this is acceptable. In fact, we think it's good. We think this is how good ideas rise to the surface, and bad ideas get filtered out. We might have issues with exactly how this persuasion is carried out: is it done politely or rudely, did you really have to bring it up at Thanksgiving dinner, etc. But the basic idea of trying to convince other people that your ideas are right and theirs are wrong... this is not controversial. Except when it comes to religion. Why?
Religion is an idea about the world. Thousands of different ideas, but with one core: the idea of the supernatural. Religion is the hypothesis that the world is the way that it is because of supernatural beings or forces acting on the natural world. It's an idea about how the world works -- every bit as much as the germ theory of disease or the wacky notion that the Earth revolves around the Sun.
Religion is a very specific kind of idea about the world. Religion is a truth claim. It's not a subjective matter of personal experience or opinion, like, "I'm a one-woman man," or "Harry Potter is better than Lord of the Rings." It is a statement about what is and is not literally true in the non-subjective world.
So if we think it's a mistaken idea, why shouldn't we try to convince other people of that?
If people think that disease is caused by demonic possession or that global climate change is a hoax -- and we think they’re wrong -- we try to change their minds. Why should religion be any different?
Religion is more than just an idea. People build communities, personal identities, support systems, coping mechanisms, entire life philosophies, around their religious beliefs.
But people build identities around other ideas, too. People have intense political identities, for instance: people are often deeply attached to their identity as a progressive, a Republican or a libertarian. People build communities around these ideas, and support systems, and coping mechanisms, and life philosophies. And we still think it's entirely valid, and even positively worthwhile, to try to change people's minds about these ideas if we think they're wrong. Why should religion be any different?
It's also the case that letting go of religious beliefs can be upsetting, even traumatic. Most atheists say that they're happy to have let go of their religion... but many do go through a short period of trauma while they're letting go.
It can also be upsetting and traumatic to learn that the clothes and electronics you're buying are made by slave labor; that you have unconscious racist or sexist attitudes; that driving your car is contributing to global climate change and the destruction of the environment.
Yes, there's a tremendous diversity of religious ideas -- a diversity that makes up a large part of our complex cultural tapestry. But we have a tremendous diversity of ideas about politics, too... and about science, and race, and gender, and sexuality, and more. When we look at our history, our complex cultural tapestry has included alchemy, and Jim Crow laws, and preventing women from voting, and curing the "disease" of masturbation, and treating yellow fever epidemics by shooting cannonballs into the air. The world is better off without those ideas. We still have a rich cultural tapestry of diverse lifestyles and worldviews without them. And we still think it was entirely valid, and even positively worthwhile, to try to change people's minds about these ideas when we thought they were wrong. Why should religion be any different?
It's also true that persuading people out of their religion is often seen as proselytizing or evangelizing. Proselytizing or evangelizing about religion has a bad reputation. And there are good reasons for that. Religious evangelists have an ugly history of fearmongering, deception, outright lying, applying economic pressure, using law or force or even violence, to "persuade" people out of their religious beliefs.
But that's not what atheists are advocating? We're not advocating any sort of force or coercion, or even any sort of pressure apart from the mild social pressure created by people not wanting to look foolish by hanging onto bad ideas? We're advocating writing blog posts, writing magazine articles, writing books, wearing T-shirts, putting up billboards, getting into conversations with our friends and families, getting into debates on Facebook? We're advocating getting our atheist ideas more widely disseminated and understood, and creating atheist communities so people who share our ideas feel safer expressing them? We're advocating standing up and saying, "The emperor has no clothes" -- and offering the best evidence and arguments we can for the emperor's nakedness? What is so terrible about that?
Many attempts to "persuade" people out of their religion have resulted in persecution -- or have provided the rationalization for it. Human beings have an ugly, bloody, terrible history of persecuting each other over religious differences: anti-Catholic hostility in America in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, anti-Muslim hostility in much of Europe today, the Crusades, the Holocaust... the list goes on. And religious persecution often goes hand-in-hand with classism, jingoistic nationalism, ethnic hatreds, and racism -- rendering it even uglier.
But religion isn't the only idea whose adherents have historically been targeted with persecution. Political ideas certainly have been. To take an obvious example: Look at Communism. Americans who thought Communism was a good idea had their lives utterly destroyed. Even if they weren't actually trying to overthrow the government. Even if all they were doing was writing, or creating art, or gassing on in cafes with their friends. Even if they weren't really Communists. McCarthyism and other Red scares destroyed the lives of countless people who were simply suspected of being Communists. And like religious persecution, anti-Communist fervor has often been closely tied with nationalism, ethnic hostilities, and more. Immigrants from Eastern Europe, for instance, were often feared and despised as "dirty Commies," with the political hostility becoming inextricably tangled with the xenophobic nationalism, and each form of hostility feeding the other.
Does that mean we shouldn't criticize Communism? Does that mean that, if we think Communism isn't a particularly good system for structuring an economy, we should just keep our mouths shut?
When we criticize religion, we need to make sure that criticism of the idea doesn't turn into persecution of its adherents. We need to draw a line between criticizing ideas and marginalizing people. We need to remember that people who disagree are still people, deserving of basic compassion and respect.
But we need to draw that line with every kind of idea. Political, scientific, artistic ideas -- all of them. And we don't exempt any other kind of idea from criticism, just because that kind of idea has often been targeted with persecution. Why should religion be any different?
Why should religion be protected from criticism, questions, mockery when it's ridiculous, excoriation when it's appalling? Why should religion be the exception?
I've asked this question more times than I can remember. And I've only ever gotten one straight answer. In one argument on Facebook, the person I was debating argued that religious debates and disagreements have a bad history. All too often, they've led to hostility, hatred, tribalism, bigotry, even violence and wars. Therefore, he argued, it was best to just avoid debates about the topic altogether.
He's right. When it comes to the divisiveness of religion, he's totally right. And that's an argument for my side -- not his.
I completely agree with his basic assessment. Religion does tend to be more divisive than other topics. It's a point Daniel Dennett made in his book, Breaking the Spell: In a weird but very real psychological paradox, people tend to defend ideas more ferociously when we don't have very good evidence supporting them.
If people come over the hill and tell us that the sky is orange, we can clearly see that the sky is blue... so we can easily shrug off their ridiculous idea, and we don't feel a powerful need to defend our own perception. But if people come over the hill and tell us that God comes in three parts, one of whom is named Jesus, and this three-in-one god really wants us not to eat meat on Fridays -- and we think there is no god but Allah, and he really wants us to never eat pork or draw pictures of real things -- we don't have any way to settle the disagreement.
The only evidence supporting that belief is, "My parents tell me," My religious leader tells me," "My holy book tells me," or "I feel it in my heart." And if our belief is central to our personal identity -- we have a powerful tendency to entrench ourselves more deeply in our belief. We can't have a rational, evidence-based debate about the matter. The only way to defend our own belief is with bigotry, tribalism, and violence.
But if religious differences are likely to lead to bigotry, violence, etc.... doesn't that show what a bad idea it is? If the ideas of religion are so poorly rooted in reality that there's no way to resolve differences other than forming battle lines and screaming or shooting across them... doesn't that suggest that humanity should let go of it? Doesn't that suggest that persuading people out of it is a good thing to do?
I've gotten tremendous hostility for my attempts to persuade people out of religion. I've been called a racist and a cultural imperialist, trying to stamp out the beautiful tapestry of human diversity and make everyone in the world exactly like me. I've been called a fascist, have been compared to Stalin and Glenn Beck. My atheist activism has been compared to the genocide of the Native Americans. I've even been called "evil in one of its purest forms" -- as have many other atheist writers; I'm hardly the only target of this. All this, for trying to persuade people that their idea is mistaken, and our idea is correct.
The atheism itself gets hostility as well: it gets called immoral, amoral, meaningless, joyless, and more. But the very idea of presuming to engage in this debate -- the very idea of putting religion on one side of a chessboard and atheism on the other, and seeing which one gets check-mated -- is regularly treated as a bigoted and intolerant violation of the basic principles of human discourse.
And yet when I ask why it's okay to persuade people out of other ideas but not this one, why religion alone should get a free ride in the marketplace of ideas (and a free ride in an armored car at that), -- I've only ever gotten one crappy answer, one time.
Does anyone have a better answer?
BLINDED BY THE BIBLE!
Nye Boo'd In Texas For Saying The Moon Reflects The Sun Posted by Morgan Matthew
Bill Nye, the harmless children's edu-tainer known as "The Science Guy," managed to offend a select group of adults in Waco, Texas at a presentation, when he suggested that the moon does not emit light, but instead reflects the light of the sun.
But don't tell that to the good people of Waco, who were "visibly angered by what some perceived as irreverence," according to the Waco Tribune.
Nye was in town to participate in McLennan Community College's Distinguished Lecture Series. He gave two lectures on such unfunny and adult topics as global warming, Mars exploration, and energy consumption. But nothing got people as riled as when he brought up Genesis 1:16, which reads: "God made two great lights -- the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars."
The lesser light, he pointed out, is not a light at all, but only a reflector.
At this point, several people in the audience stormed out in fury. One woman yelled "We believe in God!" and left with three children, thus ensuring that people across America would read about the incident and conclude that Waco is as nutty as they'd always suspected.
This story originally appeared in the Waco Tribune, but the newspaper has mysteriously pulled its story from the online version, presumably to avoid further embarrassment.
From Minister To Atheist: A Story Of Losing Faith by Barbara Bradley Hagerty An NPR article
[There must be a lot of clergy like this who no longer believe, but feel they cannot, for various reasons - mostly economic - jump ship.]
Teresa MacBain has a secret, one she's terrified to reveal.
"I'm an active pastor and I'm also an atheist," she says. "I live a double life. I feel pretty good on Monday, but by Thursday I start having stomachaches, headaches, just knowing that I got to say things that I no longer believe in and portray myself in a way that's false."
MacBain glances nervously around the room. It's a Sunday, and normally she would be preaching at her church in Tallahassee, Fla. But here she is, sneaking away to the American Atheists' convention in Bethesda, Md.
Her secret is taking a toll, eating at her conscience as she goes about her pastoral duties — two sermons every Sunday, singing hymns, praying for the sick when she doesn't believe in the God she's praying to. She has had no one to talk to, at least not in her Christian community, so her iPhone has become her confessor, where she records her private fears and frustrations.
"This is getting worse," she tells her phone in one recording. "How did I get myself in this mess? Sometimes, I think to myself, if I could just go back a few years and not ask the questions and just be one of those sheep and blindly follow and not know the truth, it would be so much easier. I'd just keep my job. But I can't do that. I know it's a lie. I know it's false."
MacBain made that recording in her car on the way to Lake Jackson United Methodist Church before the American Atheists' conference.
MacBain, 44, was raised a conservative Southern Baptist. Her dad was a pastor and she felt the call of God when she was 6. She had questions, of course, about conflicts in the Bible, for example, or the role of women. She says she sometimes felt she was serving a taskmaster of a God, whose standards she never quite met.
For years, MacBain set her concerns aside. But when she became a United Methodist pastor nine years ago, she started asking sharper questions. She thought they'd make her faith stronger.
"In reality," she says, "as I worked through them, I found that religion had so many holes in it, that I just progressed through stages where I couldn't believe it."
The questions haunted her: Is Jesus the only way to God? Would a loving God torment people for eternity? Is there any evidence of God at all? And one day, she crossed a line.
"I just kind of realized — I mean just a eureka moment, not an epiphany, a eureka moment — I'm an atheist," she says. "I don't believe. And in the moment that I uttered that word, I stumbled and choked on that word — atheist."
But it felt right.
About a year ago, MacBain found The Clergy Project, an anonymous online community of clergy who have lost their faith. Now she had allies, but no easy escape. She began applying for jobs, but when prospective employers asked why she wanted to leave the ministry, she didn't know what to say. She recorded her worries on her iPhone.
"So what the hell am I supposed to do?" she asks in one recording, her voice sounding desperate. "Really, the options are work at something like Starbucks or McDonald's — and even there they're going to ask those questions. I could even clean houses and not make a great amount of money — but at least nobody would be asking me questions."
Driving to church one Sunday, MacBain realized she could no longer bear her double life.
"I got to come out. I got to get out," she told her phone. "It used to terrify me, what people's reaction would be. But it's been so long now and I've done this for so long, I don't even care."
The sermon she gave that day was her last.
On March 26, at the American Atheists' convention in Bethesda, MacBain seems almost giddy. The day before, she decided she would go before the conference's 1,500 or so nonbelievers and announce that she is officially an atheist.
"I am nervous," she says, "but at the same time I am so excited. I slept like a baby last night because I knew I wasn't going to have to live a lie anymore. Such freedom."
Moments later, in the darkened, cavernous conference room, MacBain steps onstage.
"My name is Teresa," she begins. "I'm a pastor currently serving a Methodist church — at least up to this point" — the audience laughs — "and I am an atheist."
Hundreds of people jump to their feet. They hoot and clap for more than a minute. MacBain then apologizes to them for being, as she put it, "a hater."
"I was the one on the right track, and you were the ones that were going to burn in hell," she says. "And I'm happy to say as I stand before you right now, I'm going to burn with you."
Minutes later, MacBain strides off the stage into a waiting crowd. One man is crying as he tells her that her speech is "one of the most moving things I've seen in years." Another woman says she, too, had been a born-again Christian. "Join the club," she says as she hugs MacBain.
"I have never felt so appreciated and cared for, you know?" MacBain says later, noting that she has left one community for another. "Just been born — that's what it feels like."
Two days later, MacBain returned to Tallahassee — and to reality.
"I didn't know how far or how explosive her coming out would be, but, then again, nobody did," says MacBain's husband, Ray MacBain. "The next morning, we got up, I went to work and my son Alex texted me and said it went viral."
The local TV station, WCTV, ran a series of stories about MacBain, interviewing her boss but never MacBain herself. Hundreds of people wrote comments on the site, and MacBain says they were painful to read.
"The majority of them, to begin with, were pretty hateful," she says, although some nonbelievers soon came to her defense. "For somebody who's been a good guy their whole life and been a people pleaser, it's really hard to imagine that overnight you're the bad guy."
MacBain tried to see the church's district superintendent to explain, but he canceled the meeting. She was immediately locked out and replaced, so she flew out to Seattle to meet with her colleagues at The Clergy Project. There, sitting alone in her hotel room on Palm Sunday, MacBain again turned to her iPhone.
"I don't want to go home," she muses in the recording, deflation flattening her voice. "I don't want to have to be in Publix or Wal-Mart or somewhere and worry about who's going to see me and who's going to corner me and tell me off."
But MacBain did go home. People shunned her. Job interviews were canceled. The Humanists of Florida Association offered to pay her salary for a year, but there's no guarantee. Only two of MacBain's friends called her and took her to lunch. Meanwhile, her family was a refuge, even if they didn't all agree with her new views.
"I believe in God," says her husband, Ray. "I pray for her every night."
But he says he adores his wife and defends her right to disbelieve. "That's why I spent 23 years in the Army. That's why I'm still a police officer. We have freedom of speech and freedom of thought. And God never forced anybody to believe, so who am I to step up?"
A few minutes later, Teresa MacBain goes for a drive to the church at the center of her story. She says she has butterflies — this is the first time she's seen her church since she went public. Its 11:20 a.m., nearly time for the sermon. She's glad she's not inside.
"Not because of the people or anything," she says, "but because if I were in there, I know what I'd be doing. And that would be standing up and proclaiming something that I no longer believe in. So, yeah, I'm relieved that I don't have to do that."
Back at home, MacBain doesn't hesitate when she's asked what she misses most.
"I miss the music," she says. MacBain sang in church choirs and worship bands most of her life, and even though she no longer believes the words, she still catches herself singing praise songs.
She says she also misses the relationships — she'll often pick up the phone to call someone, then realize she can't. And she misses the ritual and regularity of church life.
"It's what I know. It's what I knew. And I still struggle with it. Life is just different," she says.
When it's pointed out that she hasn't said whether or not she misses God, MacBain pauses.
"No," she says. "I can't say that I do."