PLEASE JOIN US!   We meet on the first Sunday of each month in downtown Duluth at the Radisson Hotel (Location Map)
            Socializing begins at 9:00 am.
            Optional breakfast buffet at 9:30 am.
            Presentation from 10:00 until about 11:30.

            Co-Host: David Broman - (218) 349-7455
            Co-Host: Jim Lyttle - (218) 464-1652
             Videographer - Jan Resberg


October 2013 Newsletter

October, 2013 Newsletter of the Lake Superior Freethinkers

Facilitators: David Broman - 218-349-7455, Bill Guse - 834-4583, 343-4806

First Sunday -Radisson – 9:00 AM Social – 9:30 Breakfast - 10:00 Presentation


George Erickson, editor, tundracub@mchsi.com

Program - Chuck Samuelson, ACLU, “Privacy Rights in an age of Fear”
Given the NSA “leaks” it seems appropriate to talk about the rights of people who have not committed a “crime”. It might also be a good time to talk about whether or not the government is taking our rights or whether we are giving them up.

A message for pastors, priests, shamans, rabbis, imams and various holy guys. by George Erickson

If you really care about your flock, why aren’t you loudly supporting efforts to reduce carbon consumption and Climate Change? If we really are our brothers’ keepers, don’t we have a responsibility to provide them a decent planet?

How about the “god wants you to be rich” types? Does that mean it’s OK to support Keystone to make a few bucks right now instead of expanding nuclear power, which is 35 times safer than coal or petroleum, emits less radiation than burning coal and, unlike coal and petroleum usage, has never killed ANYONE in Western Europe or the Western hemisphere.

Although religious leaders have opposed scientific advances like lightning rods, anesthetics and immunization, the fact that most of you no longer oppose science is just not good enough. You have a pulpit to use, so use it to encourage efforts that will reduce the suffering that un-moderated Climate Change will certainly bring.

Where will you put the hundreds of millions forced to flee a rising ocean – an ocean so crippled by acidification from excesses of CO2 that by 2050 it will no longer support the food chain that provides 20% of our protein?

How will you feed these millions when the aquifers that supply the world’s breadbaskets run dry – and they are well on their way?

It’s time to put your shawls, your miters, icons, incense, chants, and your fancy robes and hats to USEFUL purpose – and no longer use them just for show. Educate yourselves on climate change and join those who are trying to rescue the 21st century from the effects of too many years of “be fruitful and multiply” instead of “be thoughtful and use your brain.”

And yes, doesn’t this also apply to those who reject magical thinking and guide their lives with reason? Are we leading on Climate Change? We have a “pulpit”, too.

St. Thomas Aquinas, one of the principle architects of Roman Catholicism, demanded that dissenters be executed as soon as convicted for the capital offense of heresy. -Rod Sheffer

A little more glacial progress from the Roman Catholic Church!

Pope Francis recently assured skeptics: You don't have to believe in God to go to heaven.

Responding to questions published in La Repubblica by Mr Scalfari, who is not a Roman Catholic, Francis wrote: “You ask me if the God of the Christians forgives those who don’t believe and who don’t seek the faith. I start by saying – and this is the fundamental thing – that God’s mercy has no limits if you go to him with a sincere and contrite heart. The issue for those who do not believe in God is to obey their conscience.

"Sin, even for those who have no faith, exists when people disobey their conscience. ...


Holy Freeloading! 10 Ways Religious Groups Suck on the Public Purse By Valerie Tarico edited for length by GAE

Religion is big business. There are lots of options, and if the scale is right it can pay really well. Creflo Dollar, founder of World Changers Church, has an estimated net worth of $27 million. Benny Hinn comes in at $42 million. Squeaky clean tent revival pioneer Billy Graham bankrolled around $25 million.

Millions of ordinary ministers, priests, missionaries, religious hospital administrators and other church employees earn solid middle or upper-middle-class incomes in the God business. The pay is good, and for most positions it doesn’t matter what race you are or what grade you got in chemistry.

That said, starting or expanding a religious enterprise isn’t cheap, even in an established religion that transforms ordinary members into volunteer outreach staff. Christianity spends an estimated $16 billion annually on the kind of marketing-service blend traditionally called “missionary work”, which might include disaster relief or education with recruiting in the mix. An earthquake survivor might receive a solar-powered Bible to go with his rice and beans and sutures. A Hindu child might get free schooling, pencils and paper included, along with the message that the gods his parents worship are actually demons.

Among people who are less desperate, the offerings can be more nuanced and less expensive. For example, a lonely student might get offered kindness and dinner by someone who is paid to live near campus as a friendship missionary. Sometimes mention of heaven or hell is all the enticement needed, though even then there may be costs associated with print materials and distribution. Soldiers in Iraq gave out Jesus coins and a little cartoon book showing that when an IED killed a Muslim, he or she went to hell, a fate that could be averted by conversion.

Some of religion’s bigger players have figured out how to pay for part of their growth on the public dime, which can make the difference between a religious enterprise that’s a black hole and one that is lucrative. So, if you’re thinking about starting a small religion or a large one that’s new or one that’s well established, look at these ten examples to see if there’s something you can borrow.

1. Fund your religion classes with school vouchers, tuition tax credits or capital grants. If your religion has or can open accredited private schools, public funding prospects are growing rapidly. Thirteen states created or expanded voucher programs in 2013, accelerating a trend from recent years. Vouchers allow parents to divert their children and tax dollars away from public schools and into private institutions, which then have wide religious latitude. In New Jersey, an Orthodox Jewish yeshiva is slated for $10.6 million in grants to improve its male-only training in “Talmudic scholarship.”

Be creative. In Arizona any resident can divert a part of his state income tax to your school to fund a specific student. That means you need those students or their parents to do the solicitation for you!

2. Get free facilities for after-school clubs in public facilities. Child Evangelism Fellowship recruits grade-school children to born-again Christianity. In 2001, they won the right to use public school facilities for their afternoon clubs. They persuaded the justices that they were teaching values, rather like the Boy Scouts that have had access to public facilities. But parents who have sat in on the clubs assure us that these “values” include very specific dogmas and doctrines—things like heaven, hell and even biblical justification of genocide. Last year CEF operated over 4,000 Good News Clubs in public school facilities.

3. Nudge your doctrines into public school textbooks and discussions. If a tenacious group of Texans gets their way, you may be able to move your message directly into public school curriculum. Members of the state’s textbook review panel have recommended adding creationism to biology texts while reducing coverage of evolution.

Allies in the Texas Republican party have even proposed a platform that prohibited schools from teaching critical thinking skills. Others have pushed to require schools to offer “Bible as literature” electives.

4. Support military missionaries on government salaries. Twenty to 30 years ago, evangelical Christians identified the U.S. military as a prime mission field and soldiers as potential missionaries. Hundreds of evangelical and Pentecostal “endorsing” agencies began credentialing chaplains. Today, more than two thirds of U.S. military chaplains come from one of these traditions. They have successfully shaped entertainment and education in military academies, and cultivated a cadre of officers who support their mission. The Military Religious Freedom Foundation has resisted some of their bold attempts to build an army of Christian soldiers, but missionary chaplains continue to serve and shape America’s fighting men and women, all on the public dime.

5. Use federal disaster relief to rebuild after “acts of God.” Four U.S. senators are promoting legislation that would qualify churches, mosques, temples and synagogues for federal emergency (FEMA) funds if they get damaged in natural disasters. The House of Representatives approved a similar measure early in the year. If you own or manage church property, it’s worth keeping your eye on this legislation. Should the bill pass, you might get to make a claim on a public insurance pool that lets religious entities skip out on paying the premiums.

6. Leverage historic preservation grants to rehab your real estate. If you’ll be making an investment in religious real estate as a base for operations or to attract members, Federal grants may be available for restoration and repairs if your church is deemed historically significant. Spending tax dollars on church buildings was ruled illegal in the 1970s but acceptable by 2003.

If you want to sell your church later for redevelopment, don’t worry, Jefferson’s wall of separation applies. In Washington State, the Supreme Court ruled that a church could to sell to the highest bidder, even though their iconic building had been designated a landmark and the deal included a wrecking ball.

7. The public underwrites religious infrastructure. Many community services and assets get paid for by real estate owners through property taxes. But for a long time, houses of worship have been exempt, making them effectively subsidized by surrounding properties.

8. International aid dollars. World Vision, a multi-national with an evangelical mission and employee statement of faith has built a loyal following by appending evangelistic priorities to US aid dollars. World Vision offers desperate people the basics: food, clothing, shelter, medical care, and education—with a carefully titrated dose of Biblical Christianity. Most of their services are funded by Americans at large.

Administrators and lawyers succeeded in persuading governmental granting agencies that World Vision is a non-proselytizing aid organization, while simultaneously persuading the courts they can’t fulfill their mission with heretics among warehouse staff. In 2007, three employees sued because they were fired over their interpretation of Christianity, which was at odds with the required employee statement of faith. World Vision fought all the way to the Supreme court and won.

9. Administer public health facilities. With Obamacare and technology costs driving hospital mergers, religious healthcare corporations like Catholic Health Initiatives ($15B+ in assets) are finding that they can secure monopoly positions in many communities or regions. Like other sectors such as aid and education, healthcare offers an array of opportunities for religious enterprises to expand and improve their brand appeal with little of their own money at risk. Consider this:

"Religious hospitals get 36% of all their revenue from Medicare [and] 12%…from Medicaid. Of the remaining 44% of funding, 31% comes from county appropriations, 30% comes from investments, and only 5% comes from charitable contributions (not necessarily religious). The percentage of church funding for church-run hospitals comes to a grand total of 0.0015 percent.

Administering health services allows a religious entity to restrict the service base on their beliefs about what God wants. In Catholic-run facilities, directives from the bishops prohibit contraception and end-of-life options. Faith-related icons and outreach materials are available in waiting rooms. Depending on how your organization is structured, you may be able to preferentially hire members of your group and so keep the money in the family so to speak, while reaping the good will that comes with community service.

10. Provide safety net services to potential converts. Prisoners, addicts, single moms, pregnant teens, the elderly, foster kids...the possibilities are endless. President George Bush established an Office of Faith Based Initiatives, which worked to strengthen religious organizations in their ability to provide social services. In the first year, 2005, $2.2 billion in grants were awarded to religious organizations.

The savvy expansion-minded religious entrepreneur will notice that people who are the target of safety net services often are the very same people who make prime candidates for conversion. From a business standpoint such a focus may seem less than ideal, but remember this: poor, desperate people are the ones who put those celebrity evangelists in their mansions.

Valerie Tarico is a psychologist and writer in Seattle, Washington and the founder of Wisdom Commons. She is the author of "Trusting Doubt: A Former Evangelical Looks at Old Beliefs in a New Light"

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