Please don’t judge me!

Or a least, never be the judge that I have to face.

Tim TIngelstad is running for Supreme Court Justice in Minnesota, he made it through the primary process (2 of 3) and will face incumbent Justice Paul H Anderson in the general election.

Now it is very likely that Paul Anderson will remain a Supreme Court Justice, but I want to point out why I am concerned about Tim Tingelstad.

First there is his Gideon’s Army web page,

The same is true of the people of God today.  We the people of God, have done evil in the sight of the Lord, as we have allowed generations of our children to turn from knowing and worshiping the true God, to accepting the new religion of the day, Secular Humanism.  Today’s Secular Humanists, like the Midianites, appear to have the upper hand in our culture.  When we sow the seeds of faith from God’s Word into our children, the Secular Humanists come against us and destroy the crops by teaching against the things of God in our schools.  The people of God are being told to retreat into the caves and dens of our church buildings and homes.  The primary weapons used by the Secular Humanists have been our schools and our courts, which have indoctrinated the people into a belief in a false wall of separation between church and state.

Now this pisses me of, which is probably no surprise to anyone.  First, I am probably a Secular Humanist, and I don’t like being blamed for things, especially when I think they are baseless accusations.  Second, how does Tingelstad know that he the one hearing God’s Word?  I mean there are so many types of Christians, many that think other so-called Christians are not Christians, how the heck is anyone supposed to know which one is right.  Is this some sort of perverse joke by God to have religious diversity be an evolutionary attempt at religious belief to find the strongest faith?  I just don’t get it.  And what is wrong with allowing all faiths to thrive in the private sphere, why does it have to be in the public sphere where the tyranny of the majority (apparently the Secular Humanists these days) may stifle smaller faith groups?

Then there are the prayer clocks, these stun me regularly.  It is almost as bad as Stuart Sheperd asking people to pray for it to rain on Obama’s acceptance speech at the DNC.

Please select and sign up for a daily 5 minute time period to commit to pray for Tim Tingelstad and his 2008 campaign for the Minnesota Supreme Court.

Prayer Requests:

  • Pray for the Primary on September 9th, that people will exercise their right to vote, and that Tim will get the votes necessary to proceed to the general election.
  • That we will get volunteers to work our booth at the MN State Fair.
  • For people willing to participate and contribute to additional Liberty Auctions around MN.
  • That we can get volunteers to make phone calls to spread the word about our campaign message.
  • For people to sign the petition and for people to gather signatures from others.
  • For people to commit to pray daily for Tim’s campaign and to preserve the people’s right to vote in Minnesota.

If there is a God, do you really think that he is taking interest in an smaller election like this?  Is setting up people to pray (sort of like lobbying) that God help this one candidate.  How about pray for world peace or ending world hunger?

What I do get, is that many Minnesotans will not have heard the same Word from God as Tingelstad, whether they are other types of Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, or Atheists.  I don’t want someone with such a worldview, to make decisions, crucial judicial decisions for our varied citizenry!

-Josh

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Does God support Obama?

Stuart Shepard of Focus on the Family asking followers to pray for rain on Obama’s outdoor speech at the DNC last Thursday.

Stuart Shepard of Focus on the Family, one of America’s leading evangelical groups, was shown in a video filmed at Denver’s Invesco Field, where 75,000 are expected to cheer Mr Obama on Aug 28, asking Christians to pray for “torrential” rain.

Or just watch the video:

Since it didn’t rain as Shepard asked and prayed for, does that mean that God supports Obama?

-Josh

Nut job squared!

What happens when you take a tax evader and sprinkle in a good dose of religious nuttery?  You get, Robert Beale.

Apparently tax evader (not simple protester), Robert Beale is charged,

In a new complaint unsealed Monday, the former North Oaks executive was charged with conspiracy to prevent U.S. District Judge Ann Montgomery from overseeing his trial.

“Once I take down Ann Montgomery, no judge in the whole court will have anything to do with me,” Beale said in a tape-recorded phone call from jail.

I don’t know about you, but when I think of white collar crime, like tax evasion, I don’t think of more violent actions like attempts to knock off the judge.  But it gets more bizarre, because it is based on some faith,

Beale is a “member/leader” of what’s known among certain groups as an extra-judicial “Common Law Court” in Ramsey County. The lengthy title of this specific “court” indicates a religious undercurrent, including a reference to “a superior court for the People, original jurisdiction under Almighty Yahweh exclusive jurisdiction in and for confederation-government United States of America.”

I wonder exactly where in the judicial system that falls?  Between District Court and Court of Appeals?  Maybe we should get Alberto Gonzalez involved, I hear he is looking for work.  But see, it isn’t just this secret court that Beale believes in, God also has some specific plans for the judge,

Snell said that Beale told his common-law wife, Mun Suk Kim, in an April 3 conversation that God wants him to “destroy the judge. That judge is evil. He wants me to get rid of her.”

Wow, that must be some God, if Beale was polytheistic, maybe the God against the tax oppression?  Now apparently Beale’s God has conveyed some special powers.

Beale also told Pelton that “God needs us to be like Gideon against the Mennonites– 300 vs. 120,000 men. We rise up and God will take care of us.”

But if his God will take care of him,

His trial was initially scheduled for August 2006. But he fled Minnesota before his trial could be held and was arrested Nov. 1 in Orlando, Fla., after spending 14 months as a fugitive.

why did he need to flee, and why was he caught?  Sounds like Beale’s God is not taking care of him.

This is a man accused of evading over $1.6 million in taxes, and uses some bizarre form of religion to justify this.  He is not making a strong case to us non-believers.

“I thought everybody should be doing what I was doing,” he said. “I wasn’t hiding anything. I wanted to be a hero. But a lot of people who try to do that end up in jail, just like me.”

Hero or criminal on the tax issue, that could be a point of debate for some people.  But when it extends to killing a judge in the name of God, well it sure will be hard make that hero claim.

-Josh

Case in point, why I won’t be a militant atheist

On Monday there was a commentary piece by Peter Rogness, the bishop of St Paul area synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), in the Strib about the role of government in fighting poverty.

Before I get into what Rogness wrote, I am going to talk about some of the people in my life and what I think they believe.

I was talking the other night to my father about religion, very superficially, but one of the things he said really dovetails with Rogness underlying theme. My father was raised Catholic and spent years in Catholic school, and basically what he said the other night is that he doesn’t believe in organized religion, but when he looks at the New Testament, Jesus was a socialist. The point is Jesus believed in helping people, especially the least fortunate among us.

I have a friend who probably is more involved with his church and spiritual life than any other friend I have, well other than friends who are part of clergy. While this friend is very kind and generous, I struggle with his conservative beliefs, especially the concepts of self-reliance and charity is preferred to government to help solve social ills. Regardless of that, I still value his friendship a lot, all though I do try to challenge his conservative worldview regularly.

Now on to Rogness, we start with background,

In 2004, more than 30 heads of religious bodies in this state signed “A Common Foundation: Shared Principles for Work on Overcoming Poverty.” Two years later, much of the language of those principles was written into a state statute calling for the creation of the Legislative Commission to End Poverty in Minnesota by 2020.

Leaders of both parties recognized the value to the people of this state in creating a common vision for how we might be a place where people do not have to live in poverty. The governor signed the statute, members of both parties were appointed, and the commission is now doing its work.

As Minnesotans we are lucky to have clergy that are supportive of anti poverty measures and tax fairness, so much that they got it into law.   After all we could be Alabama, where the Christian Coalition was part of the effort to fight Governor Bob Riley’s attempt to change the tax structure to shift more of the burden on the wealthy and expand social programs.

But this effort, to support anti poverty measures doesn’t end with a law, it requires eternal vigilance, and fortunately, these members of the faith community are on the ball.

A few weeks ago, many of these same religious leaders signed another letter, short and to the point: “We are grateful for your establishing this Commission for the high-ground vision of overcoming poverty, and we look forward to supporting that effort. In the meantime [read: in the face of tough budget decisions], please don’t take immediate steps that make poverty worse!”

As Governor Riley’s efforts in Alabama showed, with bold action social spending could be increased even while facing budget shortfalls.  In fact, budget shortfalls and economic uncertainty are times when we need to increase the social safety net so that hardships for families (not just Bears Stearns) are mitigated, so families don’t drown in a sea of debt (which is harder to get out of thanks to corporate written changes to bankruptcy laws).

Of course, the biggest barrier to this is that even federally funded social programs require a state match, and those state funds come from budgets that require a balanced budget in all but a handful of states.  That is why an economic stimulus package that provides money to state governments would have an economic benefit of $1.36 for every $1 in federal spending.

Now back to Rogness, and his list of programs that should not be cut,

Those are precisely the choices now before us in these budget decisions. To make major cuts from the Health Care Access Fund leaves thousands without health insurance (a foolish decision, since when the uninsured get sick, they then go to the emergency room, which is the most expensive provider society has). Outreach dollars that were forecast to enroll 10,000 children and 1,200 adults in health insurance would help lift people toward health and self-sufficient lives. Lacking such care, they will be propelled in the other direction.

Reducing welfare-to-work funding makes the journey out of poverty harder if the poor can’t find child care or gain work experience.

Backing off of community services for the disabled sends this population further away from self-sufficiency, into greater dependency and despair — and in the process ignores the federal matching dollars that assist us in this commitment.

Even transit funding directly affects low-income people’s ability to rise out of poverty, since it is this population that is most dependent on transit.

Reducing the renter’s credit directly makes the poor more poor.

On and on the list of choices goes. We live up to a commitment to being a place that overcomes poverty, or we make it worse.

Amen!  This atheist wholeheartedly agrees with Rogness and his fellow leaders of faith on these anti poverty issues, and the need to maintain, if not increase the funding for them even in these hard budgetary times.

– Josh

More time warps

There is a pretty noxious bill in the house, H. Res. 888 (16 page pdf) American Religious History Week, right now. I was starting to look at it and may post more after I look through the whole 16 pages, but in light of my last post on Bush and his 14 years = right before, I thought I would comment on this one Whereas.

Whereas in 1870, the Federal government made Christmas (a recognition of the birth of Christ, an event described by the U.S. Supreme Court as ‘‘acknowledged in the Western World for 20 centuries, and in this country by the people, the Executive Branch, Congress, and the courts for 2 centuries’’) and Thanksgiving as official holidays;

So 1870 A.D. that would 1,870 years or just short of 19 centuries. Even if they were off in which year Jesus was born, they weren’t off by 130 years or the 20 centuries in this Whereas.

Come on don’t they teach math to Republicans, or how to tell time?

-Josh

Steve Chapman defends non-believers from Mitt Romney

Of the frequent pundits that get published in the Strib I put Steve Chapman of the Chicago Tribune firmly in the wild card spot.  Sometimes his columns seem very liberal, others very conservative.

His most recent one will probably get labeled liberal.  Basically in it he takes on Mitt Romney’s speech on religion.  I still haven’t had a chance to watch it, but I like what Chapman wrote.

Mitt Romney is worried about religious intolerance. He fears that religious and nonreligious people will unite to punish him because of his Mormon faith. He thinks it would be much more in keeping with America’s noblest traditions if Mormons and other believers joined together to punish people of no faith.

As I have pointed out previously,

“Many Americans seem to believe some kind of religious faith is central to being a good American and a good person.”

The researchers may not have called Romney, but he agrees with the many Americans they surveyed.  What is very unfortunate, and in my opinion, is Romney’s lack of leadership, in defending his faith, he goes after those that are trusted even less.

Chapman goes on to compare Romney with another famous Massachusetts resident that ran for President.

Like John F. Kennedy, who said in 1960 that the presidency should not be “tarnished by arbitrarily withholding its occupancy from the members of any one religious group,” Romney said there should be no religious test for this office. “A person should not be elected because of his faith, nor should he be rejected because of his faith,” he said.

Rejected because of his faith, no. But rejected for his lack of faith? That’s another question. Romney evinces a powerful aversion to skeptics. “We need to have a person of faith lead the country,” he said in February, which sounds like a religious test to me.

Now what really scares me is Romney’s belief that freedom requires religion.

Romney went further: “Freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom. … Freedom and religion endure together, or perish alone.”

What kind of messed up belief is that?  I mean, that freedom requires religion.  So every society that has been based on religion was some bastion of freedom, I don’t think so.  There are many theocratic states in the Middle East, many that don’t have a lot of freedoms.

He may be drinking the old Kool-Aid that equates the atheist communist states of the Cold War with totalitarian regimes.  Yet, the Taliban, you know the religious fundamentalist in Afghanistan weren’t exactly known for the free and open society.

Just not buying it, Romney.  And thanks to Chapman the wild card for talking Romney to task for his inanity.

-Josh

Religion and Atheists

There has been a lot of talk recently about religion especially in 2008 presidential race.  Mitt Romney, a Mormon, gave a speech last week on religion, that I will look at in a separate post.  Mike Huckabee has been a Southern Baptist Minister.  Barack Obama has been the recipient of a smear viral e-mail characterizing him as militant Muslim (not that being a Muslim is necessarily bad).

Now as an atheist, I find religion, and the religious litmus test, to be very fascinating.  I suspect a majority of Americans would be more willing to elect a Mormon, Jehovah’s Witness, Muslim, or Jew than an atheist.  The Minnesota Daily reported an interesting survey done by University of Minnesota sociology professors in 2006 that supports that.

Based on a telephone survey of more than 2,000 households and in-depth interviews with more than 140 people, researchers found that Americans rate atheists below Muslims, recent immigrants, homosexuals and other groups as “sharing their vision of American society.” Americans are also least willing to let their children marry atheists.

“It tells us about how Americans view religion,” said Penny Edgell, an associate sociology professor and the study’s lead researcher. “Many Americans seem to believe some kind of religious faith is central to being a good American and a good person.”

Why do I have to believe in some higher power to be consider a good man?  I just don’t get.  I realize having faith is the world view that many people are coming from, and that they may find the lack of belief to be so different they project that difference in belief on to me having different morals and ethics.  Or their moral and ethical compass my be sort tied to their belief structure, that they would feel lost without the belief to give the guidance, that they project that feeling on to me.  But we need as a society, believers and non-believers, need to bridge that gap

A really good place to start is with Bill Moyers’ 14 interviews from his Faith and Reason series.  I will confess I haven’t seen them all, but I have seen a few of them and they were really well done.  So check them out here.  Naturally as an atheist, I made sure to see the interview with Colin McGinn an atheist.  I found this part of the interview to be interesting, and I think it is doing a good job of defining the difference between persecution and criticism of religion [emphasis added].

BILL MOYERS: What brought this festival of writers together on faith and reason is the growing chorus of voices that are calling for the protection of religious sensibilities and sensitivities against offense, against the insult. There’s something going on here. How do you see it?

COLIN MCGINN: Well, the notion of insult is a slippery one, isn’t it? And does it include criticism? I mean, are you insulting somebody’s religious beliefs if you criticize them?

BILL MOYERS: Well, the people think that you are.

COLIN MCGINN: They do think that you are.

BILL MOYERS: And they want protection for their beliefs.

COLIN MCGINN: Yeah, that, I think, is wrong. Nobody can have their beliefs protected from rational criticism. If insulting people includes shouting at them and calling them names, that’s very bad behavior. But should it be prohibited by law? Maybe, if it’s very extreme. But if people just want to have their belief system protected from every form of rational scrutiny, I don’t have any sympathy for that. I think there’s got to be a very firm distinction between criticism and persecution. And I think people misunderstand the idea of tolerance often. They think that tolerance is the same thing as lack of criticism. But to me, tolerating somebody else’s beliefs is not failing to criticize them. It’s not persecuting them for having those beliefs. That is absolutely important. You should not persecute people for their beliefs. It doesn’t mean you can’t criticize their beliefs. Those are not the same thing. I think people have tended to sort of run these two things together, and they perceive criticism as if it was persecution. But it isn’t.

So when I describe something as militant atheism, then I am referring to the atheist as persecuting a believer for having those beliefs.  But I will still maintain my right to criticize a belief structure.

Now back to the MN Daily article,

Those surveyed tended to view people who don’t believe in a god as the “ultimate self-interested actor who doesn’t care about anyone but themselves,” Edgell said.

Yet, Colin McGinn takes it from a very different angle [emphasis added]

BILL MOYERS: You said a moment ago that when you let slip the bonds or the tether of religion, you anticipated that you might find a big hole in your heart.

COLIN MCGINN: Yeah.

BILL MOYERS: Or, in your soul.

COLIN MCGINN: Yeah, yeah.

BILL MOYERS: But you didn’t.

COLIN MCGINN: I didn’t, yeah.

BILL MOYERS: What filled it?

COLIN MCGINN: In fact, I felt the contrary. It felt to me a better world I was living in without God. I mean one of the things about God is everything you as a moral being do is under the scrutiny of this being who’s gonna reward you or not as the case may be. I think it compromises people’s moral sense, because they feel as if everything they do which is good, they’re doing it because God will approve of them and reward them for it. And once you jettison that idea, you do what you should, because you should, because it’s the right thing to do and that you don’t feel that there’s always some sense of self-interest involved in any moral action that you perform.

I think it’s an oppressive idea that God is always looking into your soul at every moment of the day and weighing you up. It makes people too introspective. So, I found it was sort of liberating to not have that oppressive, Big Brother surveillance from God all the time. And I found the universe more interesting and more stimulating without gods. I thought, you know, investigating the universe without a religious impulse or religious perspective on it was to me a more interesting and stimulating thing to do.

McGinn’s position, which I like, is supported by a quote in the MN Daily article,

Cole Ries, the president of the Maranatha Christian Fellowship said he does not agree with that perception.

“Atheists seem to be concerned with the human good,” he said. “Where I differ as a Christian is that I’m more concerned with God’s will than man’s will.”

Still, Ries said, “I don’t believe that anybody is really an atheist. I believe that deep down everyone knows there is a god.”

So Ries gives a nice comment about atheists, then supports McGinn’s argument, and then doesn’t believe in non-believers.

I will also direct you to McGinn’s statement about what is the greatest predictor of your religious belief, or non-belief.

COLIN MCGINN: I think the story of Jesus is a powerful story. It’s got many important ingredients about justice, suffering, bravery. The content of Jesus’ teachings still have a lot of relevance. The Sermon on the Mount still seems to me to have a lot of good things in it. So, there’s a lot to be said for it in terms of just the religion itself.

But also I would say there’s a huge institutional structure behind religion. There has been for a long time. That’s why the best predictor of what people believe in matters of religion is where they were born and their families. I mean, why is it that most people in America believe in Christianity, not in Islam? The answer’s not because of the intrinsic content of the two views. It’s because they were born in a country where Christianity is what they’re taught. If you were born in a country where Islam is taught, you believe Islam. It’s to do with what people are taught and that’s why it hangs on. It’s just a huge, powerful, institutional structure.

That is oversimplifying things, but there is much truth in it.  I was baptized Catholic, and I remember going when I was really little, but we stopped going regularly as a family when I was 3 or 4.  I did go occasionally with my grandmother when she had me overnight to Sunday mornings.  But I didn’t do confirmation and I have never taken communion.

Just some thoughts on atheism and religion.

-Josh

My first post

I had been thinking about starting a post for a while, and well, today the Pope made me do it, start one that is.

The AP reports that the Pope’s latest encyclical criticizes atheism.

Pope Benedict XVI strongly criticized atheism in a major document released Friday, saying it had led to some of the ”greatest forms of cruelty and violations of justice” ever known.

As an atheist, I find this very offensive. I have not been taught to be an atheist. I have not attend any classes, gone through some rituals to be recognized as an atheist (thinking baptism, conformation, and communion). I just don’t believe in God.

Now I don’t consider myself to be a militant atheist, and I know some. I have had great discussion with a friend while she was in seminary about God and beliefs. She told me our discussions helped strengthen her faith. I am glad, as her friend, that I was able to help her with her calling.

But once again, there really isn’t an atheist structure/hierarchy out there that is rooted in the non-belief to carry out an ideology or goal. To be fair we may have one goal, and that is to preserve the separation of church and state. However, that goal is shared by many believers, not just atheists.

So to blame atheists for the action of communist countries, that are authoritarian dictatorships, not by some central ideology of atheists, is ludicrous.

Benedict points to two historical upheavals: the French Revolution and the proletarian revolution instigated by Karl Marx.

Benedict sharply criticizes Marx and the 19th and 20th century atheism spawned by his revolution, although he acknowledges that both were responding to the deep injustices of the time.

”A world marked by so much injustice, innocent suffering and cynicism of power cannot be the work of a good God,” he wrote. But he said the idea that mankind can do what God cannot by creating a new salvation on Earth was ”both presumptuous and intrinsically false.”

So the French Revolution and Marxism were in response to grave injustices at the time. Where was the Catholic Church at this time? What do the records show about their efforts to end the injustices.

What does this sentence mean? ”A world marked by so much injustice, innocent suffering and cynicism of power cannot be the work of a good God,” Was God being indifferent to this world? Is there a bad God?

I mean if a good God is allowing or just indifferent to injustice and suffering, isn’t it incumbent upon us, humanity, to seek an end to the injustice. Not presumptuous but our duty to our fellow human beings to correct or end injustices and alleviate the suffering?

Now the discussion changes a little, but it is still very troubling to me.

At the same time, Benedict also looks critically at the way modern Christianity had responded to the times, saying such a ”self-critique” was also necessary.

”We must acknowledge that modern Christianity, faced with the successes of science in progressively structuring the world, has to a large extent restricted its attention to the individual and his salvation,” he wrote. ”In doing so, it has limited the horizon of its hope and has failed to recognize sufficiently the greatness of its task.”

The Christian concept of hope and salvation, he says, was not always so individual-centric.

Most would agree that Europe, especially the EU portion, is noted for a lower church going populace and higher social welfare supports. But when you compare these two issues to the US the gulf is huge. In the US, there are more religious folks (actively involved) yet, I would say much of the church going public (not all, there is much great work done by religious folks) is very individual orientated, which often is rooted in the self-reliant, social darwinism school of thought that we get from the Republican party.

Yet the US government provides far weaker social supports to those on the bottom end of the income scale. In fact our social supports have become weaker in the past few decades. I imagine that many (for whatever reason, and trust me there are many) folks would prefer to see charities serve the poor rather than government. But as an atheist, and a liberal with high socialist leanings, I would rather see the government carry out that role.

Well I think I have rambled a little bit here, so I will end this first post.

-Josh