Religion & Public Life With Mark Silk

Religion & Public Life With Mark Silk


O’Donnell v. First Amendment

posted by Mark Silk

Over at Religion Dispatches, Candace Chellew-Hodge contends that Christine O’Donnell knew exactly what she was about during her close encounter with the First Amendment at Widener University Law School the other day: Sure, the smarty-pants in the audience might have been shocked at O’Donnell’s denial that the Constitution provides for separation of church and state, but what she was really doing was giving one of those out-of-human-hearing dog whistles to her conservative base, which has long since embraced the no-separation-in-the-Constitution meme advanced by revisionist amateur historian David Barton.

If so, it was pretty stupid on O’Donnell’s part. At this point in her senatorial campaign, what she needs to do is not rally the base but reassure ordinary Delaware voters that she’s not a nutcase. Suggesting that the U.S. of A. does not separate church and state was ill calculated to achieve such reassurance.

Pace Chellew-Hodge, but I think the tape makes pretty clear that O’Donnell had no idea what the First Amendment actually says. Here’s the exchange.

“Let me just clarify. You’re telling me that the separation of church and state is found in the First Amendment.”

“The government shall make no establishment of religion.”

“That’s in the First Amendment.”

Judge for yourself (start at 6:30).

The little ah-ha! moue, the satisfied smile to the audience, the pretend scribble–all suggest that O’Donnell thinks that she’s caught Coons with his pants down, that his reasonable facsimile of the Establishment Clause is just something he’s made up (typical liberal that he is) to pretend that the First Amendment actually does separate church and state. She’s got no idea that he’s paraphrasing the actual text.

For the record, what Jefferson was doing when he wrote to those Danbury Baptists about the “wall of separation” was informing them that although the Constitution separated the new federal government from religion (“Congress shall make no law…”), it gave him no power as president to impose separation on the states, which were free to create whatever religious regime they liked. “Wall of separation” referred only to the feds; it would not be until the middle of the 20th century that the religion clauses would be applied to the states–“incorporated” via the 14th Amendment. Were O’Donnell up on her Establishment Clause jurisprudence, she might have said that, like Justice Clarence Thomas, she favors a return to the status quo ante, which would allow a given state to permit local school districts to teach creationism and intelligent design to their hearts’ content.

Lest we forget, however, it’s not only the First Amendment that separated the U.S. Government from involvement in religion. Article Six, paragraph three provides that “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.” This was an expression of the High Enlightenment spirit that prevailed in Philadelphia in 1789, but at least one framer regarded it as distressing political correctness.

Reporting back to his state legislature, Luther Martin of Maryland complained that “a great majority of the convention” had supported the provision with little discussion, although

there were some members so unfashionable as to think, that a belief of the existence of a Deity, and of a state of future rewards and punishments would be some security for the good conduct of our rulers, and that, in a Christian country, it would be at least decent to hold out some distinction between the professors of Christianity and downright infidelity or paganism.

Martin clearly disapproved of this manifestation of church-state separationism. What he would have made of “I am not a witch” O’Donnell we cannot, of course, know.



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Blue Mountain Sophie

posted October 20, 2010 at 4:02 pm


O’Donnell claims that what she’s about is allowing local school boards to decide whether to include religious text, and that the First Amendment guarantees the right to “free exercise of religion.” From the National Review article: ‘O’Donnell stressed that preventing schools from the possibility of teaching intelligent design would violate the First Amendment clause that Congress could not prohibit “the free exercise thereof” of religion. “He [Coons] forgot to quote [that] part,” she said.’
But what O’Donnell CLEARLY doesn’t understand is that the clause restraining governmental compulsion was incorporated by the Fourteenth Amendment and is one of the universal rights of citizenship at ALL levels of government, and that the “free exercise” applies to individuals, not local governments.



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Paul Thompson

posted October 20, 2010 at 4:25 pm


We are fast becoming a nation of god-haters. The fact that a secular belief system is protected, but Christian beliefs are taught as barbaric will continue to erode the basic foundations of society.
Please read and comment on the following article:
http://www.earlyamerica.com/review/fall98/original.html
The day the first amendment was adopted, President Washington and the Congress enacted a National Day of Thanksgiving to God. The definition of insanity is to disconnect with the source of our consciousness. Descartes claimed, I think therefore I am.
The Truth is, God thought therefore I am. Why do we teach Descartes and not the Biblical worldview? Materialistic rationalism has been proven to be in error.



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kenneth

posted October 20, 2010 at 6:20 pm


We’re not a nation of God-haters. We’re a nation where a growing number of us hate the savage ignorance and medieval backwardness that is propagated in the name of God. O’Donnell’s vision for America is to transform us into something much like Northwest Pakistan, except with Christian “Sharia.” We would rapidly find ourselves dead last in education and economy, no public infrastructure, no social safety net and one state religion maintained by the force of law.
At a minimum, anyone running for high public office should be made to take and pass a test on the Constitution – the one they have 8th graders do. We don’t give people citizenship who can’t demonstrate a basic understanding of our history and laws. I find it terrifying that we would let someone without that knowledge gain control of our treasury and army.



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Paul Thompson

posted October 20, 2010 at 6:37 pm


We are only the information we receive and if you think you know everything you’re not going to learn anything.
Obviously, you didn’t read the article that informs you of the facts about the First Amendment. You just started spouting your arrogant ideas about what the truth is.
And just for the heck of it, please note that there is no such thing as Christian ‘sharia’.
If you want to debate this, please give me something more than your how ‘rotten-Christianity-is’ opinion. Every voice needs to be heard, just not the biggest bully’s.



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Your Name

posted October 20, 2010 at 9:21 pm


“The Truth is, God thought therefore I am.”
Sorry, Mr. Thompson, that is not “the truth”; that is merely your belief. Other faiths disagree with what your faith has taught you. Why do you hate freedom of religion?
“Why do we teach Descartes and not the Biblical worldview?”
Whyt the “Biblical worldview” and not, say, the Torah worldview? Or the Book of Tao worldview? Or the Q’uran worldview? Or the book of Kells worldview? Why should your particular religion’s/Holy Book’s worldview be ‘taught’ over others’? And, one might add, which version of the Bible would get taught – the QJV? The NRSV? Et cetera. They don’t all agree.
“You just started spouting your arrogant ideas about what the truth is.”
As did you, sir. As did you.
Speaking of bullies …



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Paul Thompson

posted October 20, 2010 at 9:39 pm


I “hate freedom of religion”? What you want is pluralism. All religions equal…all ‘gods’ equal. A nice politically correct society,no common language, no common values, no common meanings.
I just am not convinced that that is the best direction for the future, and yes it is my opinion what is Truth….I’m sure you have one too?
I didn’t think it was necessary to state that that was my opinion, it is clearly an opinion. I guess you want kudos for pointing that out?
You obviously didn’t read the article I cited, either. So here’s a quote from that article, “Finally, the Constitutional Framers understood that government encouragement of religion was not equal to the establishment of religion; that, as George Washington said, “religion and morality were indispensable supports” to political prosperity.”
I had some liberal professors in grad school, they loved painting this rosy picture of the progressive’s future and what I’m observing is more and more disease, suffering, poverty, murder, immorality, materialism and sorcery. So how’s the world looking from your ivory tower?



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kenneth

posted October 20, 2010 at 11:44 pm


Yes, we do want pluralism, which is EXACTLY what the framers of our government had in mind. That means all religions are equal before the law. Which one(s) have the “real truth” is for you and God(s) to sort out.
That doesn’t mean that faith has no place in the public sphere. Many of them thought it would have benefits to civic conduct etc., but they made it very clear that government was not to advocate for one over another. This rule was drawn up not by liberals or atheists, but by Deists, and in good part, by Baptists, who were (and are) some of the most un-liberal folks you’ll find. They had the wisdom to remember that official state religions turned Europe into a slaughterhouse for centuries. They did it to protect religion from government as much as the other way around.
On another note, any religion which needs government endorsement and the force of law to stand is not one worth following.



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Jason

posted October 21, 2010 at 2:11 am


“I had some liberal professors in grad school, they loved painting this rosy picture of the progressive’s future and what I’m observing is more and more disease, suffering, poverty, murder, immorality, materialism and sorcery. So how’s the world looking from your ivory tower?”
I am sick and tired of this seemingly ever-popular hypothesis that the world has become so wicked in he last 50 years or so. Where’s your proof? Is the world really that much worse than it always was? I think that human nature is pretty much the same as it always was. In many ways, especially in the U.S., the average person’s life has improved. People who romanticize the past are almost always looking through rose-colored glasses.



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Paul Thompson

posted October 21, 2010 at 9:18 am


Jason: An estimated 1 billion children are still living with one or more forms of material deprivation. On average, more than 24,000 children under five still die every day from largely preventable causes. Between 500 million and 1.5 billion children are estimated to experience violence annually. Around 150 million children aged 5–14 are engaged in child labor…(Source UNICEF)
So, Jason, I don’t know if you’ve ever talked to anyone that doesn’t belong to the country club, but if you go into the slums in America, or now even some middle class communities where unemployment is higher, 1 in 7 are living in poverty, 40 million on food stamps or maybe visit the local psychiatric hospital you’ll see some of the more apparent aspects of our liberal-induced diminishing world. I guess you must get your perspective from the liberal MSM and agree with Pelosi that the best way to improve our economy is to get more people on foodstamps?
There are other sources that you can look at to see the changes that occurred when prayer was removed from the classrooms, it’s really startling, increases in pregnancy, abortion, drop out, murder, etc.
Kenneth: It’s really scary how ‘revisoned’ your perspective of history is. So, you want pluralism, like I said, there are others that are not as convinced as you are that that is the best way forward. Again, apparently you just refuse to read the cited article. So, is there anything wrong with gov’t encouraging a moral society based on a Christian worldview? If there is, could we agree that what we could encourage is that public schools teach philosophy or better yet a ‘philosophy of science’, so American children could see the real questions concerning the meaning of life (rather than just reciting the secular positions) and decide for themselves?



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kenneth

posted October 21, 2010 at 1:10 pm


There is a lot wrong with our country today, but not a lot of liberal fingerprints on those problems. This country has been owned, politically and culturally, by the Christian Right to one degree or another for almost all of the past 30 years. We have not had anyone in the White House who could truly be called a liberal by historic standards since Carter. If anyone thinks Obama is a true liberal, you should talk to some of the liberals who sent him there. They may be the only people who despise him more than you do.
The reason there is talk of more foodstamps is because the policies of the last 30 years have led to the concentration of 26 percent of all wealth held by the richest 1% of people, which has led not to job creation, but speculation which has damaged our economy beyond repair. Millions of people who lost their jobs will never work in anything substantial again. Most children now in school will never know the standard of living their parents had, no matter how smart and hard working they are. That sucks. And it has nothing to do with a liberal celebration of welfare culture.
Politicians of both parties allowed China to pillage our manufacturing base with slave-made goods so that we would have access to cheap credit and spend like fools without taxing ourselves. That left knowledge work as the only good-paying jobs and guess what? That won’t do you any good either. It can all be done by some guy in India online for $20 a day. Polosi’s advocating for more food stamps is just a sad admission that that’s our country’s legacy for us, and it was created in large part (not exclusively), by Christian, conservative men.
If “old fashioned values” are the cure to social ills, why is it that violent crime rates, teen pregnancies etc are invariably higher in Bible Belt states?
And yes, there is EVERYTHING wrong with government encouraging a Christian worldview. It would inevitably lead to a society like Saudi Arabia or Iran. As a pagan, I would feel the effects first, but you too would regret the move eventually when the police kick in your door for practicing a version of Christianity that the state considers heretical and “unauthorized.”
I think we may actually agree on the last point. We need to be doing much more to teach kids critical thinking skills rather than getting them to mindlessly believe what we want them to. There should be courses on philosophy and ethics and logic. But independent thinking is the last thing this society wants. It would decimate the advertising culture, threaten every politician’s job and it wouldn’t help many of the churches either. So we find it more convenient to train kids like monkeys to chase after the perfect standardized test score in hopes of getting the IT job that was sent away to India about the time they were born…..
Hopefully there will be some food stamps left by the time they graduate.



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Paul Thompson

posted October 21, 2010 at 2:28 pm


Well, we agreed on many things. You mentioned you are Pagan. My background is environmental microbiology and then 4 years of United Methodist divinity grad work with an emphasis in ecotheology. So we probably value many of the same things, but for different reasons. Perhaps we can discuss those later?
If we’re going to cast blame for our distress, I am going to go primarily with blaming a liberal media. It has promoted little more than a sex crazed culture, and the ‘if it feels good do it’ philosophy. (FOX isn’t much better with their self-aggrandizing egotist lineup) This O’Donnell-Coons debate is a perfect example. Nothing but lies about how uninformed O’Donnell is and a pass given to Coons for his many gaffes and silly retorts of not being able to understand O’Donnell’s questions. Read Ann Coulter’s opinion piece, “Chris Coons Lied, Granny Died” (not a Coulter fan either, but interesting take on the debate from a less-liberal-media source.
You say that ‘old-fashioned values’ aren’t the answer. But, your argument of our country turning to Christian Fascism, I believe is a straw man argument. A Christian belief deals with our personal relationship with God and how we work that out by loving others in community. It’s the Christian principles that have allowed other voices to be heard and now those voices are demanding that the Christian voice be silenced. To say that dissenters are persecuted is not true. Christians want to talk to those that disagree, that’s how we are going to be able to evangelize, which is God’s Mission for Christians. Furthermore, not only did this nation found it’s freedom, justice and liberty in Christian beliefs, Christians established the first public schools, Universities, hospitals, orphanages, and public assistance, etc. Go to any city today and you’ll find some Christians feeding somebody, still. The Methodist church feeds 4 million children a day.
One last thing, Jesus only condemned the religious leaders of his day. Because they acted as if they were the only ones entitled to God’s Blessings. So, according to Jesus, Christianity isn’t a ‘church’ thing, it’s about dealing with our brokenness, restoring a right relationship with God and through the redemption offered by Christ, being able to reflect more of God’s Love to our neighbors, poor, rich, black, white, gay, straight, Pagan, or Christian. If that’s evil…then what are we supposed to be doing? I truly believe that getting away from the love of God and others is going to be the undoing of this country and without the Light of this nation, the world.



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NY Barrister

posted October 21, 2010 at 6:55 pm


I find myself agreeing with elements of both Kenneth’s view and the argument of Mr. Thompson, particularly the toxic nature of our popular culture and a need for a moral component in the public square. Where I disagree with PT is his conservative meme that this is a “Christian” country (i.e., the term Christian limited to fundamentalist or evangelical Protestant) wherein one religion is to be divinely or at least politically elevated to a de facto state religion. Have you read Garry Wills book on American religious history or is that terra incognita for a conservative?
If persons such as PT could convince me that they were not monopolizing the word “Christian” as a brand name for conservative evangelical literalistic Protestantism, I’d be far more open to Christians taking the lead in a search for a better moral framework for our society. Kenneth: as much as I’d like to agree with you in full, I see no evidence that non-religious folks have a superior ethical or moral architecture to offer. If Wall Street and Hollywood are any examples, our greedy materialistic self-absorbed culture of money worships only at the altar of filthy lucre.



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kenneth

posted October 21, 2010 at 10:06 pm


The prospect of persecution under an official state religion is not a product of wild imagination. It is very real, and historical. The horrors of the Reformation/Counterreformation in Europe should illustrate that well enough. If you want an example on our own soil, in colonial America, people were arrested and imprisoned in Virginia for “preaching without a license” ie spreading something other than the official Anglican Church of the colony. There is nothing fundamentally different in human nature today since then that would prevent that.
If you want I more recent example, I can cite an issue which I have worked on personally. As a pagan, we had to fight a decade-long court battle so that our veterans could be buried with proper honors and the symbol of their own faith on their headstone. This was in a land with no official religion but where many people in government granted themselves the power to declare Christianity the “unofficial-official religion.” This would get much worse if this discrimination were ensconced in law. People who want “Christianity” to be the law of the land have a very specific sectarian vision of what that means.
Even if you or I never faced arrest for our dissent, you can be sure we would suffer in myriad smaller ways that are just as demeaning. Being the “wrong sort” of Christian would bar you from consideration from government jobs and schools. It would mean the state would have no obligation to allow chaplains of your faith in the military or prisons. You would find that your church buildings and schools would no longer have tax breaks and that zoning laws would ensure that there’s “just no place” in your town that would work out for special use permits etc. No good whatsoever has ever come out of state-supported religion.
Could we do with a new value system in this country? Yes, but I don’t see “Christianity” (whatever that comprises) as being the only alternative. In fact, large elements of Christian culture in this country have been accomplices in our culture of greed, as much or more than any atheists. There are few public atheists and next to zero liberals on Wall Street. The mainline protestant and Catholic denominations are very well represented among them. A big part of our nation’s obsession with money derives from the Christian narratives of Manifest Destiny and more recently, “prosperity Gospel.” As God’s chosen, we DESERVE material wealth. By being “the good guys,” we’ve earned it.
So clearly Christian identity is not, in itself, innoculation against predatory and selfish behavior. Do many Christians find in their faith some excellent moral reasoning for being more charitable toward others? Of course. But they certainly don’t have a monopoly on that. I’ve met plenty of incredibly wise and selfless Buddhists and Bahai’s and even secular humanists. That’s right, humanists. The people we assume can only be predatory hedonists because they don’t fear Hell. It turns out they have a very solid basis for ethics: we’re only here a short time and vulnerable, so why not try to make this one existence a better place for all of us? My own religion has a lot to say about the interconnectedness of us all. That tells us to try to do better toward each other, not because Yahweh is preparing an indictment for eternal punishment, but because it’s the SMART thing to do. Taking advantage of others is self-defeating, whatever temporary advantage it may bring.
The bottom line is I don’t need Christians of any stripe to teach me moral reasoning, and I damn sure don’t need the state’s boot on my neck to help missionaries “show me the way.”
Whether you realize it or not yet, you don’t want that either.



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Paul Thompson

posted October 21, 2010 at 11:38 pm


I don’t even know where to begin. God doesn’t offer hell, God offers hope. First, the one place that I am probably the most progressive is with Biblical interpretation. The Bible has been mis-understood, mis-used, mis-quoted, mis-interpreted by many, that I agree with. That there is no hope for humankind ‘hidden’ in the Book is just anti-Christian bigotry. Cite one other holy writ that has done more for liberty, justice and freedom, even with the history-recorded hurdles that those who have arrogantly, ignorantly or erroneously used it for evil and I agree that it is still being used, by some, for the wrong reasons, today. However, also take a look at the study of ecotheology, maybe twenty years old and just beginning to see the insights that have been hidden in this Book for centuries.
So, since God offers hope, what is ‘hope’? This is going to get esoteric because few even ask this question, “What is hope”. The best definition I’ve heard was written by a young Jewish girl as she was fleeing Nazi Germany. She wrote that hope is seeing what you don’t like in the world and becoming willing to have God remove that from you. On a bigger scale, the historical hope of humanity is the triumph over evil. Reinhold Niebuhr said, that the Christian estimate of human evil is so serious, precisely because it places evil at the very center of human personality: in the will. Or you can look to Modernism’s ‘hope’ in triumph through technology, therapy, education, political reform, getting in touch with nature but these are not observable or plausible. Just take a look at the bloodiness and brutality of the twentieth century.
So why do so many people embrace such obviously false hopes while rejecting the most plausible?
Voegelin said it’s because people want certainty and uncertainty is the very essence of Christianity. “The very lightness of this fabric may prove too heavy a burden for men who lust for massively possessive experience.” Life is a state of wonder, that we just are going to have to live with and figure out.
Voegelin stated, “The Christian thread of faith – on which hangs all certainty regarding the divine, transcendent is indeed very thin compared to the alternate hopes which history shows that most have no trouble using to sustain themselves because these are certain….many lack the spiritual stamina for the heroic adventure of the soul that is Christianity.”
So, where do you see ‘hell’ in there? Where do you see a ‘boot’ on your neck or mine for that matter? I see only a true hope for all of humanity. One of the other things that I was privileged to study is the mystical tradition. It’s the third leg of the stool and very few know anything about its existence. But on a personal level, what we bind or loose on earth is bond and loosed for eternity. We live in temporal time and we have tons of hope….we can bind and loose issues and hang-ups a trillion a second if we choose. Personally, I’m moving along, I don’t want to get hung up in the insanity of a crazy hangup of hating God and the Hope that God is freely giving.
One other thing, Gandhi was a Hindu. I believe he’s in heaven, because he was searching for Truth. Maybe that’s where I needed to start but I have difficulty connecting with others when they look at truth as subjective. I prefer to see truth as objective, however, we can only chase Truth’s coattails, because it is a living ‘person’, that is Jesus Christ. So, if anybody says that they know ‘truth’, I don’t believe it. If someone says that they are seeking Truth, I can believe that.
Didn’t Herod ask Jesus, What is truth? That’s my question to you, Kenneth, what is truth? Because if you think that your “I don’t need Christians” is….you’ve been blinded by something.
Thanks, NY Barrister for your comments. I’m still learning and I believe will be for eternity what ‘Christian’ means, so I’m not branding anything.



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kenneth

posted October 22, 2010 at 12:19 am


The question of “whose faith is the REAL one” is much bigger than this thread. Right or wrong, I simply don’t buy the assertion that Christianity is the sole source of truth. You’re welcome to spend your whole life arguing otherwise, and I support your right to do so.
All I’m saying is that if the idea is really that good, it should be able to persuade people without the help of government compulsion. This whole thing started with the idea that our government should be officially Christian. There is no way for it to ever be so without making conscience a compulsory thing.
You and others like you make fine advocates for your faith. The government would make a terrible one. It would turn your faith into nothing more than an instrument of political power. It would cheapen people’s connection with divinity, and it would make more people like me actively resentful of Christianity rather than live and let live disagreement.
I won’t try to convince you that you’re faith isn’t right because there’s nothing anyone can say that would convince you, and it would be a waste of hard-earned ATP and oxygen. And I have no interest in selling you my own faith. I know my own heart and my own gods. I don’t presume that my way is the only way or the best way up the mountain. I only know it works for me, and it works for me whether or not anyone else believes it.
I don’t get where my assertion of my right to pursue my own spiritual journey must mean that I “hate God” or Christians in general. That aspect of Christianity, and more broadly, Abrahamic faiths, leaves me even more convinced that government religion would not be a friendly enterprise. Many Christians (and Muslims and some Orthodox Jews), believe that their faith is so self-evidently true that anyone not on board must be ignorant or willfully evil and thus needs some force to “help” them see the light. This whole thing really boils down to a good fences/good neighbors thing for me. Putting up a fence at our property line, in this case my own conscience, isn’t an act of war on you. It’s a boundary marker of mutual respect. I don’t force you to worship against your conscience and the reverse is true, and the government is out of bounds for all sides as an enforcer of conscience.
And it was Pilate, not Herod, who asked Jesus “what is truth?”



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Paul Thompson

posted October 22, 2010 at 9:25 am


My point is that Christianity isn’t the sole source of truth, Jesus Christ is. Humans can choose to seek Christ (Truth) through any ‘religion.’ I also believe that we can not possess Truth totally because we can not possess Christ (God) totally. However, Truth does exist.
I heard a man give this analogy. He once believed that truth was subjective, until one day he sat down to eat a pizza. He looked at the pizza and realized that there were many possible ways it got there, but only one true way it did. The same with life, us, the universe, many possible ways, but one true way that they actually did.
Now, I don’t know where you get the idea that somebody is suggesting that all of this is forced on anybody by any gov’t. However, what is actually happening is the reverse is true. Those that don’t tow the secular line are frowned on and deliberately harmed. It happened to me in a State University. So there’s a ‘truth’ out there being enforced and that is the crux of this debate. Open the dialogue, nobody has ‘truth’ and those who claim otherwise are the ones putting the boot on the necks of others.
Maybe we need a law that says that no one can say that they possess the truth, so that nobody is brainwashed by anybody. So people will be free to express their beliefs, convictions and perspectives. But I’m here to tell you that if you go into a college biology class and mention a Creator…you’ll wish you never did…and that is wrong!
Thanks on the Herod thing, trivia might be for some but it is just not that important to me.



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kenneth

posted October 22, 2010 at 4:43 pm


We agree on some level that dogmatic thinking sucks. That’s why a faith based government cannot be anything BUT brutal. Very few people take your view that one’s personal journey to Christ is their own. To them, it’s THEIR way or the WRONG way. I’m not an advocate for subjective truth, merely subjective experience of it. The truth we attempt to approach with religion are infinitely vast compared to our pathetically limited senses and lifespans. It’s a bit like the flea on the back of an elephant trying to get the big picture. Or perhaps a microbe on the flea on the elephant.
You can infer things from your very limited experience and extrapolate from that, and you’ll come across some of the truth and some patently false ideas. The human tendency, unfortunately, is to proclaim that our own suppositions are in fact 100% inerrant truth, and to bully, or outright murder anyone who doesn’t play along.
Even the idea that objective truth can be reduced to a “this OR that” proposition has some troubling problems with it, if you look at our universe in any depth. At a quantum level, the answer to yes or no question is often “probably.” Some of the theories imply that your hypothetical pizza, did, in fact come together through every possible way in one or another parallel universe. I’m not saying that’s true, but it does give me pause at times…
And yes, dogma can and does exist in the secular world. I don’t know your own circumstances, but I will say that there is a fundamental misunderstanding between religious folks and science. After a career as a jouralist, I am a biologist these days. I can say with some authority that there is nothing about evolution or our mechanistic understanding of life which precludes a creator. On the other hand, we do have a problem with “creationism.” Not because we’re all atheists, but because it is theology trying to pass itself off as science. It is pseudoscience and an insult to what we do. It dresses itself up as a legitimate scientific hypothesis but refuses to abide by any of the rules of scientific debate.
It basically says that the mechanisms of life are just too complex to happen through natural means. We have MASSIVE evidence to show that’s not the case, and it’s an assertion which just simply isn’t rooted in science. You can’t appeal to supernatural means if what you’re doing is to be considered science. There are other good venues for it, but not in a science classroom. It is no different than if I went into a theology class and told students that belief in God was bunk because it cannot be proven in the same way as a mathematical proof.
To use another analogy, it’s a bit like turning up at a soccer match and deciding you’re going to use your hands to run the ball that day. The refs and your teammates will get visibly upset with you. Not because they have it in for people who like to play American-style football. It might make for a damn interesting game, but it’s not soccer anymore.
As I say there is nothing we do that rules out the personal involvement of a creator. All we say is that at the level of things we’ve been able to examine, there is nothing to indicate that a being had to personally intervene to make it happen. I would also contend that the fingerprints of any god capable of creating a universe would not be found at the level of existence we are currently capable of probing.
It would be done at a much deeper and more fundamental level. If you’re really an omnipotent God/Goddess, you don’t need to waste your time hand-making each species. You could simply designate set the mass and spin of subatomic particles at the right value, (even something more basic than that), let the whole thing unfold, and know exactly what would come of it. In that sense, I would say that most creationist/ID advocates are unwittingly shrinking their God down to an almost pathetic scale by their assertions.



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Paul Thompson

posted October 22, 2010 at 6:56 pm


If we can’t teach spiritualism, then science needs to quit teaching reductionistic secular materialistic rationalism, or whatever you want to call it.
Science only excluded God when materialism/rationalism took over as the only philosophy in science.
But, Newton sought answers to God’s handiwork, and many others. I believe Einstein even said something along those lines.
Your argument for building fences, to get along with others, is bunk, because you want to claim science as yours. It is not, and when you teach philosophy/anti-theology/theology like Descartes you aren’t playing fair, but you sit in your fence and say that others just don’t understand and are uneducated, so we can ignore them.
Thirty years or less your dogmatic paradigms (fences) will fall. Too bad for the billions that will be deceived…huh?



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kenneth

posted October 23, 2010 at 1:22 am


I never said we ought to downplay or ignore theologists and philosophers. They have a lot to offer to the human endeavor, but they’re not doing science. They’re different disciplines, with different tools and methods of discovery.
Plenty of scientists do believe they’re learning about God’s handiwork. Nothing wrong with that, but unless you can test and disprove something, it ain’t science and you don’t base conclusions in papers on it. Supernatural causes, by definition, fall outside of that. Doesn’t mean they don’t exist, but if it’s not testable, its not science, no matter how much you or I may want it to be.
You must remember that I am not an atheist of any kind. I have encounters with God and Goddess where they are as real, and present to me as your own family members at the dinner table. But I can’t assert something in a scientific paper based on a personal revelation She gave me. It’s not something I can put in words that another scientist can put to a fair test and get a clear answer.
The fact that it’s then inferential or speculative knowledge doesn’t mean it’s inferior. A good deal of what we now know scientifically was first arrived at indirectly via metaphysical/speculative means. Much of the allegorical work of alchemy about transformation of matter laid the conceptual groundwork for modern physics, particle accelerators, radioactive decay etc.
Science got out of the God business because all of the scientific and philosophical disciplines had to specialize to continue making any progress. The jack-of-all trades “natural philosophy” of the ancients and renaissance simply wasn’t keeping up with new evidence and changing paradigms. To continue unchanged would have resulted (and did result) in both poor science and poor theology. The Genesis story is a fine creation myth, and myths are powerful tools for conveying deeper truths. But taken literally to mean that the Earth is only 6,000 years old is laughable. There are mountain ranges of evidence to the contrary. It’s poor science and as I said before, it also reduces the majesty of the purported God considerably.
I don’t propose to claim science as “my own.” Far from it. I am a figure of VERY modest standing in a very obscure field. But I do stand by what I said about science being rooted in the natural, not supernatural worlds, and every reputable scientist in the world will stand by me on that one. I also hold open the possibility that our methods may one day become sophisticated enough as to lead us to incontravertible evidence of a supreme intelligence. We could learn something that shakes everything we thought we knew to the core. It’s happened before.
Until then, we’ll base our conclusions on what we can demonstrate rather than what we want to believe. And you raise another good point. We, as scientists, should not be in the business of selling our craft as an ideology and the sole source of supreme truth. Unfortunately, we have some shrill members of the academy who have ideological axes to grind, but the field as a whole does not propose to answer ultimate truths about the divine. We consider it to be WAY outside of our competence.



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Your Name

posted October 23, 2010 at 12:43 pm


Mr. Thompson,
“”hate freedom of religion”?”
It certainnly seems that way, since you wish to have your particular set of faith beliefs be not only superior to all others but established as such in law.
“What you want is pluralism. All religions equal…all ‘gods’ equal.”
All religions ARE “equal” – to the government – i.e. the government is not to establish one over the other. For non-beleivers, all religions are also equal – they’re a bunch of hooey and hokum promoting pixies in the sky. Hint: it’s called “faith” for a reason.
“A nice politically correct society,no common language, no common values, no common meanings.”
That’s a strange leap of ‘logic’. Reductio ad absurdam I believe it’s called.
“yes it is my opinion what is Truth….I’m sure you have one too?”
No. I have my own opinions and my own set of faith beliefs. I don’t call them “The Truth” (TM, all rights reserved), nor do I wish to impose them on others, or hve the government favor them above all others.
“I didn’t think it was necessary to state that that was my opinion, it is clearly an opinion.”
Odd then, that you chose to call it “The Truth”: “The Truth is, God thought therefore I am.”



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Your Name

posted October 23, 2010 at 12:53 pm


“Christianity isn’t a ‘church’ thing, it’s about dealing with our brokenness, restoring a right relationship with God and through the redemption offered by Christ, being able to reflect more of God’s Love to our neighbors, poor, rich, black, white, gay, straight, Pagan, or Christian. If that’s evil…then what are we supposed to be doing?”
It isn’t “evil”; it simply is not happening.
The poor are being shat on by corporate/conservative America.
Blacks still outnumber whites in American prisons.
God still hates f@gs, according to a very vocal Christian.
Et cetera.
If one is rich, straight, white and Christian in America, then one can blow it out one’s arse for all the empty, moralizing spouting they do.
DO BETTER!



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Your Name

posted October 23, 2010 at 1:07 pm


“Humans can choose to seek Christ (Truth) through any ‘religion.'”
Not sure why the scary smarm quotes on the word ‘religion’, Mr. Thompson, but that’s an odd – no, downright absurd – statement to make. Tell me, can/should Jews find “the Truth” by “seek[ing] Jesus”? I’m sure many/most would find that supposition offensive. Ditto for the Muslim – can s/he find “the Truth” in Jesus? Can the Sikh? The Buddhist? The Scientologist? The Taoist?
Yours seems to be a supremacist faith.



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Your Name

posted October 23, 2010 at 1:13 pm


“But I’m here to tell you that if you go into a college biology class and mention a Creator…you’ll wish you never did…and that is wrong!”
As it should be, imo. You want to talk God-talk? Talk it in a theology class.



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Paul Thompson

posted October 23, 2010 at 3:53 pm


I’m not saying that science isn’t science, never have. So, let’s try not arguing that point. The point is a epistemological issue. As you have stated, science cannot make an absolute claim that it is the last word on determining what is valid, for example to most questions concerning the human condition, like if we’re so much smarter why is evil increasing. If a secular world is going to argue that science is the only valid method of determining truth, then there needs be some kind of a disclaimer at least that informs children that that is the the secularist’s opinions and that science will repeatedly change their dogma and paradigms. Furthermore, all cultures and historically most/some humans have sought truth through what we call the spirit/spiritualism. Education needs to do more with the spiritual insights and setbacks of humanity than ignorantly treating myth as fairy tales.
As far as the young earth creationist, I used to laugh about that too until I listened to their arguments. The fact is that anybody or any group that claims truth is close minded. The more you know the more you know there is to know.
To Your Name: Maybe you need to take a theology class. What do you know about theology? IF you would read the cited article, what is happening is the gov’t is supporting a godless religion, materialistic reductionistic secular humanistic rationalism, which is illegal.



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Grumpy Old Person

posted October 25, 2010 at 2:24 pm


It would be if seculuar humanism (as you call it) actually were a “religion”. (What the heck is a “godless religion” anyway?)
“Education needs to do more with the spiritual insights and setbacks of humanity than ignorantly treating myth as fairy tales.”
Sorry, but talking snakes and donkeys, living in the belly of a ‘great fish’ for 3 days, walls falling down because of a trumpet being blown, bushes burning but not being consumed – these ALL sound like fairy tales to me. And to most rational, reasoning human beings.
What they have to do with “education” escapes me.



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Grumpy Old Person

posted October 25, 2010 at 2:35 pm


“If we can’t teach spiritualism”
You don’t want “spiritualism” taught. From your writings, it seems you want Christianity – and your particular brand of it – taught. There’s a HUGE difference.
And, as for science “And, as for science “then science needs to quit teaching reductionistic secular materialistic rationalism, or whatever you want to call it”, I wouldn’t know what to callit since you haven’t successfully described either what it is you mean, nor given any rational examples of it or proved it has caused what you seem to believe it has caused.
Pardon us who believe differently from you for wanting proof of your claims.
“Your argument for building fences, to get along with others, is bunk, because you want to claim science as yours.”
And you seem to want to claim “religion” as “yours”. Speaking of bunk.



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Paul Thompson

posted October 25, 2010 at 9:18 pm


Grumpy old man – you probably believe that the world exists of molecules? Look up quarks and leptons…we think they are the smallest particles. But there are scientific experiments that describe actions by these particles that are unexplainable other than some kind of universal ‘mind’. Bell’s Theorem.
Anyways, there’s lots of stuff that is really thought provoking. I’m not going to educate you, but you just keep on believing you know more than everybody else, because your mind in still in the enlightenment age and everything just looks so simple to you ….no wonder you’re grumpy, can’t find anybody smart enough to even talk to I imagine.



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Charles Thomas

posted October 26, 2010 at 8:02 pm


“The definition of insanity is to disconnect with the source of our consciousness.”–Paul Thompson.
Just a thought:
Is the source of conciousness some supernatural entity or realm,or is it the awareness of the world in which all of us exist?
Wouldn’t it make more sense to define insanity as the disconnection of consciousness from the facts of reality?



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Paul Thompson

posted October 26, 2010 at 10:43 pm


Charles – Reality is bigger than your imagination. When we split atoms some of the ‘pieces’ disappear…where do they go? Particle physicists postulate that they have to go into other dimensions but we have no idea how many there are. We have no idea how many universes there are or if ours will expand forever or begin as some point to collapse. We cannot count all the stars. We don’t know how dirt (soil) works. We know how to manipulate it, but think we’ve only identified 5% of the microbes, let alone their symbiotic relationships or how they interact with the plant roots. You yourself are a mystery beyond your own conception. I’ve found that the less you know the more you believe you know everything. I guess that’s because you know everything that you know? Is there even an end to reality? Reality is Huge. That is the fact.



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Charles Thomas

posted October 27, 2010 at 12:58 am


Naturally,no human mind has the capacity to comprehend the totality of existence.Still,what humanity does know about the universe is derived from what you call a “reductionistic secular materialistic rationalism”.Even knowledge of the human condition is dependent on the same principles used by science to understand the natural world,i.e.,perceptual observation and experience and the intellectual capacity to make that observation and experience intelligible.



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Paul Thompson

posted October 27, 2010 at 9:48 am


Life is more than facts, Charles. You can’t serve both God and mammon, which do you choose? What’s the meaning of life? What’s good, beautiful, valuable, evil? Where do your faith, hope, justice, love, hate fit in?
Self-pity, lust, resentment, selfishness, pride…what do we do with those?
We live in a state of wonder, except those that have blinded themselves to this enigmatic journey.



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Charles Thomas

posted October 27, 2010 at 9:09 pm


“Life is more than facts,Charles.You can’t serve both God and mammon,which do you choose?”
I don’t think a realist epistemology and a belief in God are mutually exclusive.
“What’s good,beautiful,valuable,evil?”
Those questions have been asked and debated by people with intellects far superior to my own since the dawn of civilization.If the greatest minds in history can’t give a definitive answer to those questions,then I hardly think that I will.
I do know that qualities like goodness,beauty,value and evil are mere abstractions if you seperate those qualities from actual people or objects which one evaluates as good or evil, beautiful or valuable.
“What’s the meaning of life?”
Whose life? Yours? Mine? The meaning of the lives of the other six and a half billion people who inhabit the world?
Ultimately,it’s up to each person to discover the meaning of his or her own life.
“Where do faith,hope,justice,love,hate fit in?”
It depends on what you’re talking about.Faith,hope,justice,love,and hate are just meaningless words if those words are detached from their referents in the real world.
Faith in what? Hope for what? Justice for whom? Love for what? Hate for what?



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Paul Thompson

posted October 27, 2010 at 10:15 pm


Well Charles you seem to have gotten the better of me.
I don’t know how have a discussion with someone that knows
everything because they know nothing because nothing means anything because it’s not ‘referented’ in the ‘real’ world.
Why don’t you open up some books and read what some of the great minds say about these things…what else do you have to do/
One of the most profound things I’ve heard in a long time is this,
We know the price of very thing and the value of nothing. -source – unknown hillbilly – Claude Taylor
You can’t buy life, Charles.



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Paul Thompson

posted October 27, 2010 at 10:17 pm


Typo – We know the price of everything and the value of nothing.



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Charles Thomas

posted October 28, 2010 at 12:58 am


Can you point to a comment I posted where I claimed to know everything?
I never made such a claim.
If true,then there should be some objective REFERENT,such as a statement I made,which corresponds to your words that “you don’t know how to have a discussion with someone that knows everything…”
I scrolled through all the comments I’ve posted on this thread so far, and I have yet to find any word,phrase,or sentence which even implies that I know everything.



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Paul Thompson

posted October 28, 2010 at 11:47 am


Charles your claim that we can only ‘know’ what is truth through empirical methods excludes that different accounts of “epistemology” emerge by the different humanities disciplines such as history or literature studies, or non-humanities disciplines such as natural sciences, social sciences, formal sciences, law or theology. The premise of beliefs that we start with aren’t your’s exclusively.
When I said that you seem to know everything, that means that you seem to believe that your opinion of what will be the premise of humanity’s beliefs are the only ones that are valid.



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Charles Thomas

posted October 29, 2010 at 1:11 am


All methods of aquiring knowledge are not equally valid,and it’s not merely my personal opinion that the truth of any given matter is determined by reference to fact.
The truth is that no knowledge is possible without experience,no experience is possible without perception,and no perception is possible without the aid of your five senses.This applies not only to this world,but all other possible worlds as well,including the supernatural.
If a supernatural entity like God wanted to communicate with you,it would be impossible if you had no perceptual apparatus for receiving the message.
All I can say is that relativism in epistemology ultimately leads to relativism in all things.



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Paul Thompson

posted October 29, 2010 at 11:40 pm


hey Charles – I know there are a lot of people who agree with you.
Have you ever heard of Kiekegaard? God isn’t an object so we can’t know God unless we take a leap of faith. Faith isn’t certainty it is doubt mixed with knowing. “Doubt is conquered by faith, just as it is faith which has brought doubt into the world.” There’s puzzles in life, puzzles have solutions. And then there are mysteries in life, that leave us wondering. Anyways, there’s probably more people that believe that God exists, so if we’re going by popular opinion….now what?



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Charles Thomas

posted October 31, 2010 at 8:41 pm


Paul,I don’t know much about the life or philosophy of Keekegaard,but I do know that I consider some of his theological and ethical ideas disturbing,especially the notion in his interpretation of the story of Abraham and Isaac that absolute fidelity and duty to God necessarily entails a willingness to violate universal moral commands such as the prohibition against murder to prove one’s faith in God.
I’ve heard literally dozens of explainations attempting to wrench some moral lesson from this story,and always from the perspective of Abraham.
Perhaps a better lesson can be learned by assuming the moral perspective of the intended victim of sacrifice.



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Paul Thompson

posted October 31, 2010 at 10:25 pm


Charles I expected more from you. Not the same old crap about how rotten and barbaric Christianity is.
This is the best you have? You really must dig deeper.
Interpretation is an on going endeavor.
Personally, I’d put this on par with Jesus saying it’s better to pluck out your eye than your whole body be thrown into hell.
Perhaps the message is that there’s nothing as valuable as our relationship with Creator, Sustainer, Redeemer God? I can’t think of anything more important than a son or your eyes for that matter so that the absolute importance can be explained. So keep your relationship strong and you won’t kill your son or gouge out your eyes? What’s so bad about that?



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Charles Thomas

posted November 1, 2010 at 4:12 am


“Charles,I expected more from you.Not the same old crap about how rotten and barbaric Christianity is.”
For your information,I don’t consider Christianity rotten or barbaric.What I consider rotten and barbaric is the attempt to formulate ethical principles based on the story of Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice Isaac.It’s just a story in my opinion.It shouldn’t be taken too literally.
“Personally,I’d put this on a par with Jesus saying it’s better to pluck out your eye than your whole body being thrown into hell.”
Jesus said it would be better to pluck out your OWN eye than your whole body be thrown into hell.This is very different from saying that you should pluck out the eyes of your son to avoid being thrown into hell.
“Perhaps the message is that there’s nothing as valuable as our relationship with,Creator,Sustainer,Redeemer God?”
The value of whose relationship with God,the one doing the sacrificing or the one being sacrificed? Or do victims of the religious zeal of others have any say in the matter?Do they matter at all? What about THIER relationship with God?
One of the common moral threads running through existentialist philosophy,whether secular or religious,is that to be “authentically human” or “authentically religious” one must violate ethical norms in certain circumstances for the sake of achieving some supposedly higher good.
History is filled with horrific examples of what happens to individuals and societies when religion or philosophy are divorced from ethics.
The attack on the WTC by religious fanatics comes to mind.The terrorists also believed that absolute duty to God trumped any moral commandment against unjustly killing others for the sake of some “higher” cause.
I think you should dig deeper by asking yourself the question:would I want to live in a world where everybody decided to discard objective morality in favor of a “telelogical suspension of the ethical”?



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Paul Thompson

posted November 1, 2010 at 1:27 pm


Charles when Christianity became controlled by the ‘state’ through Constantine there were many changes that made it slant as more a way out of the guilt of sin for the oppressors. There is a professor of theology Dr. Andrew Sung Park who’s done some writing on ‘han’ that explores the woundedness of God because of those ‘sinned’ against and the lack of ‘Good News’ for victims.
As I side note, legend has it that the early church in Jerusalem described in the Book of Acts was much more egalitarian and that it was destroyed by Rome because it didn’t see the need for a worldly Emperor and thus this corresponding emphasis on only forgiveness of the sinners without justice for the oppressed. Also, the King James Version put Christianity in the context of the individual, it’s original context was community. For instance in Psalms where it now reads, “I” or “me”, the original language meant more of an “us” and “we.”



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Grumpy Old Person

posted April 28, 2011 at 12:17 pm


How very, very far from the topic these comments have drifted. Be that as it may …

“I’m not saying that science isn’t science, never have. So, let’s try not arguing that point.”<

Um, I didn't MAKE that "point", nor have I tried to "argue" it. It actually sounds a bit redundant. In any case …

“if we’re so much smarter why is evil increasing”

I don’t agree that it IS “increasing”. That, too, is nothing more than your opinion. I couldn’t (and wouldn’t) argue that Hitler is any more “evil” than Atilla the Hun, or than Pol Pot, or than Ghadafi. Et cetera.

“all cultures and historically most/some humans have sought truth through what we call the spirit/spiritualism.”

True, that. But in your version, this “truth” is ONLY attainable through Christ – which is your belief, but far from the “truth” for OTHER PEOPLE in OTHER CULTURES.

“The fact is that anybody or any group that claims truth is close minded.”

And yet YOU yourself claimed EXACTLY THAT! Hmmm.

“you just keep on believing you know more than everybody else”

I (like Charles Thomas above) never said any such thing, nor would I even imply it since I do not believe it to be true. (You DO seem to like putting words in other people’s posts.)

“When I said that you seem to know everything, that means that you seem to believe that your opinion of what will be the premise of humanity’s beliefs are the only ones that are valid.”

And yet you seem to believe exactly that about your “faith”. Hmmm, again.

“Not the same old crap about how rotten and barbaric Christianity is.”

If (self-described) “Christians” would stop doling out the same old crap and stop BEING rotten and barbaric, maybe “Christianity” wouldn’t have such a bad rep.

Frankly, I loved this exchange between you and Charles Thomas:

You: “Perhaps the message is that there’s nothing as valuable as our relationship with,Creator,Sustainer,Redeemer God?”

His reply: “The value of whose relationship with God,the one doing the sacrificing or the one being sacrificed? Or do victims of the religious zeal of others have any say in the matter?Do they matter at all? What about THIER relationship with God?”

As a gay person, I have often been the victim of others’ religious zeal. They tell/warn me to ‘have a relationship with God’, completely ignoring the fact that I do, and have had one since early childhood (in a Salvationist/Pentecostal home/family), and still do at the age of 59. When I grew up, it was called a “personal relationship” which tells me that religious busybodies should BUTT OUT of other people’s relationship to the Creator. To the “Christian”, if I don’t believe as they do, I am less than nothing.

P.S. it’s Grumpy Old PERSON (not Grumpyu Old MAN), for the reading-impaired.



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