Playing the Victim

Texas State Board of Education Chairwoman Gail Lowe’s peculiar ideas about “citizenship” weren’t the only things that bothered us in the Associated Press article we noted yesterday. Ms. Lowe also suggested that she and fellow members of the board’s religious-right faction were somehow being victimized because of their faith:

“Most members of our board are people of faith, only some of us have a faith that is attacked, singled out because of the types of churches we go to,” said Lowe, who grew up in the Methodist Church but is now active in a small nondenominational church in Lampasas. “Religious expression is something that has been deemed very important, but I don’t believe in either the science curriculum or in social studies, we are pushing a particular religious belief system.”

That’s a crock.

First, to our knowledge all members of the board are people of faith. Second, we recall no one attacking Ms. Lowe or her allies on the board “because of the type of churches” they go to. But she and other board members have been rightly criticized for trying to use public schools and their elected positions to promote their personal religious beliefs over those of other everybody else. The other people of faith on the state board haven’t done that.

Moreover, Ms. Lowe’s allies on the board have often attacked the faith of people who disagree with them. For example, board member Ken Mercer, R-San Antonio, has called supporters of teaching fact-based science regarding evolution “atheists and secular humanists.” There’s nothing wrong with being either an atheist or secular humanist, of course. But for those of us who are people of faith, it’s insulting to have our religious beliefs called into question because we support an education based on sound science. And we heard no objections from Ms. Lowe when Mr. Mercer made those insulting attacks on people of faith who don’t share his hostility toward science.

Former board chairman Don McLeroy, R-College Station, has also flirted with that kind of insulting language. Dr. McLeroy has said that he believes his fellow board members who don’t share his opposition to evolution are good Christians, but he has also suggested that they aren’t quite living according to true Christian standards. Here’s an excerpt from a 2005 church lecture in which Dr. McLeroy discussed the board’s adoption of biology textbooks two years earlier:

“(O)nly the four really conservative, orthodox Christians on the board  were the only ones who were willing to stand up to the textbooks and say that they don’t present the weaknesses of evolution.”

To our knowledge, all other board members during the 2003 debate were Christians. But apparently Dr. McLeroy doesn’t consider them “orthodox” Christians unless they oppose evolution. We haven’t heard Ms. Lowe object to that criticism of other people’s faith.

Of course, one of the most vicious attacks on people of faith who have no problem with the science of evolution came in a right-wing e-mail circulated earlier this year as board members considered new science curriculum standards. The e-mail blamed teaching about evolution for creating serial murderers like Jeffrey Dahmer and called into question the faith of Republicans on the board who didn’t want to dumb down instruction on evolution. To our knowledge, Ms. Lowe didn’t publicly object to that, either.

We have a suggestion: instead of disingenuously playing the victim, Ms. Lowe could ask her allies on and off the board to stop using faith as a political weapon and to respect the religious beliefs of everybody — not just those who agree with them. But we’re not holding our breath.

37 thoughts on “Playing the Victim

  1. TFN:

    Gail Lowe is being sly here. This is a semantic game, and she is playing it fairly well. Do you remember a week or two ago when I posted the basic Christian Neo-Fundamentalist position that Christianity is a “faith” as opposed to a “religious system” or a “belief system”? This is an extremely important technical distinction within their realm. In their worldview, a religious belief system is Catholicism, voodoo, Buddhism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormonism, astrology, sympathetic magic, etc. (including the mainline Christian churches). The next time someone asks her a question about this, they should say, “In
    the science or social studies curriculum, are you pushing your particular faith”? There is no wiggle room there. She has to give either a truthfull answer or tell a bold-faced lie.

    It’s time to start using the Dictionary of Theocracy. The technical terms for today are as follows

    HEAVENLY DECEPTION: Lying for the Glory of God. It is OK not to tell the truth because in the end it furthers the cause of the Kingdom of God (see stealth)

    STEALTH: Term used by former Christian Coalition Executive Director Ralph Reed during the 1992 election cycle as applied to an unusually low profile campaign or candidate to hide ties to the Theocratic Right (see Heavenly Deception)

  2. It’s no surprise to me that these neo-fundies and politico-conservatives are such close allies. We saw the Bush administration engage in heavenly deception during the run-up to the Iraq war, with all their cherry-picking of evidence of wmd. And if anyone insisted on sound, corroborative evidence, they were un-American and unpatriotic.

    Playing the victim is something these neo-fundies are very good at, and they like to use the “victim” card regularly. I believe I’ve written about this before. They are always crying and moaning about how society is trashing their values. They like to compare themselves to first century Christians in the Roman arena with the lions. Oh puh-leeze!

    Let’s see, they’ve got the “faith-based initiative” where tax-payers of all religions get to pay to convert people to Christ. Just about everyone on the TX SBOE is Christian and they’ve gotten their way on the TX SBOE, the vast majority of anyone in positions of power and influence is Christian or nominally Christian, nobody gets terminated from a job because they are Christian (or of any other faith for that matter), Christian churches (as do other religious institutions) pay no taxes, right-wing pastors get to preach in favor of their preferred candidate and against those they don’t like and still remain tax-exempt. I could go on and on. If that’s what they call persecution, I’d like to know what they call equality?

    And, um, let’s see: evolution is to blame for serial killers? Oh, you mean there was no such thing as a serial killer before Charles Darwin’s time? Oh my God! Give me a break!! These folks really ARE mentally defective.

  3. Question: Do most Christians believe that atheists will burn in hell if they don’t accept Jesus Christ?

  4. And this is one of the few times I’m being absolutely serious!

    Am I, or am I not, going to burn in hell according to Christian doctrine?

    I would appreciate input from anybody who wants to answer.

  5. Ben, of course you get to burn in Hell. And the pious, self-righteous christians will pray for your immortal soul, not that it will do any good.

    You would have been better off to have never been told about Jesus. That way you can’t be held accountable and you don’t go to Hell and wil recieve paradise. But once you have heard about Jesus, you must make a decision to belvie everythign the Christian Church says, else you burn in Hell for all eternity.

    I made the observation to some of my wingnut friends that with that logic, they should refrain from telling anyone about Christianity and Jesus so everyone will be spared from Hell and go to heaven.

    They said I was illogical…and going to Hell.

  6. Ben. Are you having some sort of spiritual crisis today—like maybe your best girl dumped you or something? This is not like you.

    Truthfully, Ben, I am feeling bad myself today—depressed in the true medical-clinical sense. You see. Not only has my wife been out of work for a very long time, the recession finally caught up with my company, and it caught up with me personally. They did not lay me off. In fact, they told me that I was a very valuable employee and that they definitiely want to keep me. Like so many companies are doing these days, I went on involuntary and indefinite leave without pay until things brighten up some (i.e., new work becomes available). Many of my fellow employees—all great and very hardworking people—are in the same boat. In TFN terms, it would be like Kathy Miller having to send Dan, Rachel, Val, and Laura home. Of course, in this situation, you cannot get unemployment insurance because you are, at least technically, still employed. So, I am feeling a mixture of sadness, anger, betrayal, blah, blah, blah, blah. In other words, all of the normal things anyone would feel at a time like this. So, it looks like our family is going to be living on the old savings account for a while, and I am toying with the big question. Should I look for a more secure job? Would that be folly? I do not know. I think the shock is wearing off now, and I am just going into the anger stage of grief. Jesus loves me. This I know. All will be well in some way that I do not understand.

  7. Not sure what hell has to do with the original topic of “playing the victim,” except maybe the unspoken message is that all of us here who are not “with the neo-fundie program” are going to hell.

    I doubt anyone reads my posts but Ben, in case you read this, don’t feel alone. I’m going to hell too – and on two counts. Not only am I Jewish but I’m a convert to Judaism from Christianity. That’s the worst, most heinous sin one could ever commit. As one Christian told me: “The Romans never would have crucified Jesus if the JEWS hadn’t twisted their arms.” In joining the “Christ-killers,” I become a Christ-killer too. Thus, I can bet the temp of my fire will be turned up to maximum.

    At least I’ll have lots of company in the fire.

    Charles, if you read this Good luck to you & your wife.

  8. Charles, I’m very sorry to hear about the challenges you are facing. I have no doubt that you have the wherewithal to get through it. I wish you the best.

    But, no, I’m not having any sort of spiritual crisis myself. I can’t say that I’ve ever had one. I’m very fortunate that way.

    I asked about hell because of a sentence in the blog post above. This one:

    “There’s nothing wrong with being either an atheist or secular humanist, of course.”

    I don’t know who wrote the post, or whether he or she is a Christian, but that sentence made me wonder how they meant that to come across.

    Does the author mean there’s nothing wrong with atheism in the sense that they wouldn’t try to impose their beliefs on me and that I’m free to think whatever I want? I think that’s what they mean, and I agree, of course. We all want that to be reality.

    But, if the writer is a Christian (and I’m not assuming he or she is), do they also mean that there’s nothing wrong with being an atheist as far as Christianity is concerned? Probably not, because I’m pretty sure Christian doctrine (even “liberal” interpretations) damns all unrepentant non-believers to hell. Am I mistaken?

  9. Here in Snyder you could hardly throw a Molotov cocktail without hitting some kind of Christian church, likely a fundamentalist one. Persecuted? I don’t much think so. 😉

  10. By the way, I’m not trying to pick a fight. The hell thing is just something that I remember from time to time, and it always strikes me as surreal. I can be talking a Christian friend and suddenly think, “Oh yeah, I forgot, Bob believes I’m going to hell.”

    But do most Christians REALLY believe that?

  11. PHarvey –

    Sorry, but that logic doesn’t fly with RCs. At least with the church I was raised in (Northeastern PA). I specifically asked that question in religion class in HS and the answer I got from a priest was as long as JC was in the world it didn’t matter if you heard of him or not, you would burn if you didn’t convert and be saved. How, if you hadn’t heard of him? The priest had no idea. I remember it after 30+ years because his answer still screws with my mind.

    And yes, I went to RC schools all through HS. But I’m much better now. Unfortunately, my brother went through college and I think he slipped a gear.

  12. Ben said: “And this is one of the few times I’m being absolutely serious! Am I, or am I not, going to burn in hell according to Christian doctrine? I would appreciate input from anybody who wants to answer.”

    Okay. I will give you a serious answer Ben.

    Most likely, Don McLeroy believes (and probably hopes) that you are going to burn in hell. That is because he reads the Bible literally and believes that this makes him somehow able to know all things. I think the way he would put it is: “The Bible says it. I believe it. That is definitiely going to happen to Ben. That settles it. However, and even I do not have my finger on the full pulse of it, in fundamentalist theology hell is more like an extremely uncomfortable and hot waiting room in a doctor’s office, maybe like Indiana Jones and the snakes. You see. They believe that people like you go immediately to the waiting room at the moment of death. You get to hang out there until the rapture, Jesus comes back to Earth, the 1000 years of peace happens, and so forth—all leading up to the semi-finale—The Final Judgement. Of course, because you are already waiting in hell, you know what your judgement is going to be ahead of time. Now. Here comes the part the fundamentalists really enjoy, the “piece de la resistance.” It’s called being Cast into the Lake of Fire, which is a lot worse than mere hell and lasts forever. However, before you get thrown in, you get an indestructible spiritual body that can feel all of the pain that you do now—maybe a lot more actually because it is technically a “perfect body.” Then they throw you into the Lake of Fire. It’s sort of like having God pour gasoline over you and light you up with match like those Buddhist monks did to themselves in Saigon back in 1968. Yep, the pain is indescribable. The closest I ever came to it is when I accidentally touched a finger to an old-time popcorn-popper heating filament back in 1988. Now, imagine that pain all over your body 24/7 and forever. Yet, because your spiritual body is perfect and indestructible, you stay consciou and the flames never consume you. You just sit there in excruciating pain forever. Now, that’s the Christian fundamentalist’s literalist view of hell according to their understanding of Christian doctrine—more or less—and what is going to happen to Ben in it.

    Now Ben. I am going to give you the official Christian answer to your question: “Am I, or am I not, going to burn in hell…” The official answer is, “I DO NOT KNOW AND NEITHER DOES ANY OTHER HUMAN.” The thing the fundamentalists forget, because they seem never to read those Bibles of theirs, is that God’s ways are not our ways and his way of seeing things is not our way of seeing things. His way of evaluating and judging things is different and higher than our ways. The fundamentalists forget that God himself stands between Ben and any set of consequences that might lie out there somewhere. The Bible says that only God is authorized to practice in the judgement business. Therefore, because I am only human, neither I nor any other human being can say with any certainty what God will decide about Ben. That is solely between God and Ben.

    Just a few random thoughts:

    1) With regard to Hell and the Lake of Fire, over the past 2000 years, the Christian community has had a number of differing perceptions about these places and what they might actually be like.

    2) The Hell and Lake of Fire imagery in the Bible may be symbolic rather than literal, which would lead us into speculation about their conditions and geography.

    3) Let me give you a possible example of No. 2, which is speculative to be sure. The Apostle Paul, when speaking about sexual urges, describes them as being a “burning within.” It has the symbolic quality of heat, but this heat is caught up in a double-helix of longing and desire. For those who do not wish to have any sort of relationship with God, the Final Judgement may simply consist of God saying, “Okay guys. You never wanted to have anything to do with me, so I am going to be decent about this. I am going to give you exactly what you have always wanted. I am going to walk out of this room and never come back. Never say that I wasn’t fair about this. I only gave you what you wanted.” However, there is problem here that creates the hell. Once one has seen God, it may be that he is 500,000 billion times more attractive than Kathy Ireland and you absolutely have to have him (figuratively speaking of course)—like “Little Precious.” Therefore, when God walks out of the room, you are left only with a “burning desire” to be with him that can never be fulfilled and maybe a lot of loneliness with it.” A Lake of Fire then could be a pool with 7 billion spirits who are on fire with an “unquenchable desire for God” but cannot have him because he has granted their greatest wish and simply left the room forever.

    4) I have a deceased uncle who was a more conservative Christian than Cynthia Dunbar could ever hope to be, and he was pretty much a fundamentalist in his beliefs. With regard to the Don McLeroy view of Hell, he once said something like this to me, and he was dead serious, “If Hell is really like they believe it to be and God would actually send someone there for that kind of cruel, eternal punishment, then God is no more than a psychologically deranged criminal. Someone like Jeffrey Dahmer would not even do something like that. If God is like that, then he forfeits any claim that he might rightly have to even being God.” Of course, Cynthia would say that God does not send you to Hell. You send yourself. To which my uncle would say, “You are not going to go there voluntarily!!! So, if you end up there at all, it will be because God sent you.”

    5) There is some hope here too. For example, in the Bible, God threatens to drown every human being and every land animal on the planet except for a small human family and some pairs of animals. Scientifically, we know that this worldwide flood never occurred at a time when human beings were on the Earth. It is almost certainly a parable rather than an historic event, and this let’s us know that God is perhaps more forbearing and merciful than many Christians would want to admit. The scriptures say that God is “Full of mercy.” Full does not mean two drops in the bottom of a bucket. Full means liquid to the rim of the bucket. When presented with this very Biblical statement, the fundamentalist reaction is to make like Dixie and “…look away.”

    6) Whatever they may be, Hell and the Lake of Fire appear to be something unpleasant and best avoided. The nature of that unpleasantness is not really known to us humans and any thoughts about it are most likely in the realm of speculation.

    7) The Bible says that God is always the same and changeth not. The fundamentalists think they have him in a straight jacket with a lasso around his neck because of this statement—under control as it were. However, what they fail to understand is that this is a statement about the basic nature and character of God as a loving being. It does not mean that he cannot change his mind about something. In fact, there are places in the Bible where God does change his mind. This could mean that he would decide at some point to be merciful and do away with Hell and the Lake of Fire. He certainly has that option, and I am not about to tell him that he CANNOT exercise it. Not my place. Don probably would.

    8) Ultimately, I think the thing God really wants is for us to love him and our neighbor as he loves us—honestly. “You better love me or I am going to torch your sorry butt…” is not conducive to a love relationship. No one loves someone whose principal purpose is to terrorize them. Terror is only conducive to fear, and the Bible says that we cannot love God when we are scared to death of him—like Cynthia Dunbar is. Therefore, and I think the United Methodist Church decided on this long ago, the thing to do is emphasize God’s love for us, recognize that we humans all do wrong things and ask God for forgiveness, keep your eyes set on Jesus alone, get to know him, and feel his love. It is a love so great that one can almost not help but love him back.

    Of course, someone will say I am full of crap—most likely a fundamentalist—and maybe I am.

  13. Ben, while the traditional Christian position would have you heading to the hot place, the majority of Christians no longer agree, according to recent surveys from the Pew Forum. Not surprisingly, evangelicals are the least likely to agree with the statement that many beliefs or paths (yes, including nonbelief!) can lead to heaven. But 75% of mainline Christians and 85% of non-Hispanic white Catholics did agree with it. An earlier Pew survey found that while 74% of Christians believe in Heaven, only 59% believe in Hell. Furthermore, nobody even preaches about Hell any more.

    I don’t personally know ANY . . . zip, nada, zilch . . . mainline Christians who believe in Hell. I do know evangelicals who do. But the evangelicals I know don’t have any background in Biblical hermeneutics, and they are also far less well-educated overall than my mainline friends.

    After a great deal of study, I have found that the orthodox Christian notion of Hell is very poorly supported by the Biblical text. It seems to have been invented through a combination of mistranslation and sadism.

    So . . . no, dear boy, you’re not going to Hell.

  14. Charles, I’m so sorry to hear about your job troubles. Mr. Science and I have been through that wringer over the last few years, so I know how disheartening it is. Courage, friend, and remember: “But all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.” You’ll be in my prayers.

  15. Ben, since at least YOU read my posts, I had pondered the troubling case of Adolf Eichmann for a long time. The story is that in his last few days of life, Eichmann converted to Christianity. According to the Christian doctrine I remember, here’s the situation: Assuming Eichmann was sincere, he is in heaven because he accepted JC as his lord and savior while the Jews he murdered are in hell because they did NOT believe. I don’t think there’s any escaping that according to Christian doctrine. Christian doctrine is quite clear: “they who don’t recognize me, they will I not recognize” if I remember the scripture accurately. Maybe there’s something wrong with me but I can’t make any sense of that.

  16. Leigh, thanks for your input. Now I can rest easy. 🙂

    Cytocop, yeah, that’s very strange. I have a tough time following that logic, too.

  17. Something I don’t understand: What does Ms. Lowe mean when she says “Religious expression is something that has been deemed very important. . .”?

    “Deemed important” by who? Does that mean that the RIGHT to religious expression is important? That it’s very important for religious people to express their views? That it’s important for others to listen to that expression and provide a platform for it?

    And granting that the individual’s right to religious expression is very important, does that right include the right to use one’s job on the SBOE as a form of religious expression?

  18. Thanks Leigh Williams and Ben.

    Cytocop, I do read your posts but rarely respond because A) I agree with most of what you have to say B) Your sensitivity with regard to Hebrew things.

    Eichmann. I wish they coud have caught more of these guys before they expired. However, if the Christian fundamentalist view of Hell and the Lake of Fire is correct, you can bet that most of the ones that got away are scheduled for basting every hour on the hour.

  19. Yes Alan. It does. The fundamentalists and evangelicals are taught from the earliest age that each one is charged with the personal responsibility for spreading the gospel in every location at every moment. Everyone is an evangelist at all times 24/7. Technically, if you are sitting on the potty, it is your responsibility to witness to the person sitting in the stall next to you. Witness at the grocery store. Witness on the plane to Dallas. Witness in the first meeting with your potential new customer. Witness on stage during the play. Witness on the sidewalk. Witness at the scene of the traffic accident. Witness to the patient while administering CPR. Witness to fellow jury members in court. Witness on the beach. Witness while skydiving. Witness as a lifguard. Witness to every kid at school.

    They do not always do it, but this is the essence of what they are supposed to do. Therefore, any attempt to stop it in any context whatsoever is interpretable as, and usually is interpreted as “…refusing me my right to freely practice my religion.”

    I keep trying to disabuse them of the notion that the constitution allows them to enter my bedroom window at 3:00 a.m. to preach to me. They do not seem to understand that their rights end where other peoples’ rights begin.

  20. Cytocop, I think that Christian . . . or rather more accurately, Pauline . . . doctrine has been debased over the centuries to become little more than a get-out-of-jail-free card you get dealt after saying the appropriate magical incantation, a ritualistic form of words called the Sinner’s Prayer containing “Jesus”, “lord-and-savior”, and “repent”. Pauline Christians come to that conclusion by ignoring what James and indeed Jesus himself had to say about the importance of DOING the faith and not just talking about it.

    But it’s plainly obvious that all reasonable people that if God is just, Eichmann couldn’t possibly go straight to the side of Jesus after death, no matter how many magic words he said right before dying. And doing what? Waving bye-bye to Mohandas Gandhi, left roasting in the flames? Come on now! Even barely-sentient monkeys have a better sense of fair play than that!

    I have no idea what provisions God has made to discipline and grow us to be fit for his company after our time here on earth is done, but I firmly believe those provisions exist. I doubt very much that flames and poking by demons are involved. I think it’s probably more a matter of turning loose in us the empathy we refused to employ while we were here, so that our own deeds cause us the grief and suffering it takes to make us repent of our wicked ways.

    If I’m wrong about this, too bad . . . I choose to be in Hell with Gandhi and Richard Dawkins rather than in Heaven with a psychopathic God, Adolph Eichmann, and Gail Lowe.

  21. Charles: Thanks for reading.

    Leigh Williams: Christianity holds a particular hatred for Jews per the New Testament, leading me to believe there is a special room in hell reserved for Jews. Consider: “…the Jews, who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets…. But God’s wrath has come upon them at last.” (Thess. 2:14-16.)

    You make a good case by distinguishing Jesus from Paul but Jesus’ own words are found in the New Testament: “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father but by me.” ( John 14:6).
    I see no hint of a contextual qualification for that statement. I think it’s an independent and clear concept: The door to Heaven has a ‘Christians Only’ sign on it. Notice Jesus’ statement makes no distinction between “worthy” and “unworthy” Christians.

    And again from Jesus’ own mouth in regard to the Jews (John 8:44-47):
    “You are of your father the devil,…… …… you are not of God.”

    And the New Testament is full of verses that put greater importance on faith than works, too many for me to list here. If Christianity believes otherwise, the New Testament would have been edited to reflect this.

    And I’m not sure about the reference to monkeys. I’ve watched nature programs on TV, and I’m not sure monkeys (or any animals for that matter) have a sense of fair play at all. (Not that I have anything against animals!)

    But I’m with you at the end. I’ll have plenty of good Bad Company. In the words of Billy Joel, I’d rather “laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints.” 🙂

  22. Cytocop, Jesus says nothing about interceding only for those who prayed the Sinner’s Prayer, or had been baptized, or belonged to some particular sect. We’re left in the dark about the forms of religion he favors, if any. Instead, Jesus tells us that we are to love God, and love our neighbors as ourselves. Everything else, he implies, is just commentary. And while it clear he reveres the Jewish scriptures, quoting from them frequently, it’s also clear that he abhors injustice, lack of charity, and folks who talk the talk but don’t walk the walk. In fact, Jesus explicitly says he won’t hear the call of those who claim his name but don’t follow his teachings.

    There is no indication in the Gospels that Jesus intended to found a new religion, and lots of evidence that his purpose was to reform Jewish practice. Thus I don’t find it surprising that he had harsh words for the Jews of his own time. I don’t see any reason, however, to assume that Jesus intended to condemn all Jews of all times to Hell.

    The works vs. faith issue is rather more material than should be covered in this forum, but there is real disagreement in the Christian community about what the balance between the two should be. I am myself what is called a “red-letter Christian”, which means that what little doctrine I subscribe to boils down to “do what Jesus said to do”. And what he said to do was to live up to the spirit of the Law and the Prophets: take care of the poor, visit the prisoners, treat the sojourner as you do your in-group. You know, all those ethical things.

    Yes, I redact a lot from the Bible. I’m one of those liberal cafeteria Christians, which means I admit to picking and choosing (unlike fundamentalists, who also pick and choose but who don’t admit it). I am unapologetic about rejecting that which is, on its face, revolting and uncivilized. I really don’t see why we should assume that humanity has learned nothing at all in the centuries since the Bible was fossilized.

    About the monkeys: there is a significant body of new-ish research that shows that animals have a well-developed sense of fair play. I’ll get held up if I supply a bunch of links, but you can google “animals ‘fair play’ justice” and find a lot of material about this natural morality.

  23. Leigh Williams: Oh, I see you’re one of those Christians who reject some parts of the New Testament, such as Jesus’ quote from John 14:6 I typed above (which I thought is printed in red letters in most Christian Bibles). I can list dozens of verses to support my opinion but that would be inappropriate in a forum like this.

    And what Jesus taught is often ambivalent and contradictory. Again, I can list verses to support my opinion about that too but that is inappropriate here as well.

    But in fact, we’re alike in the sense that I too pick and choose from the “Old Testament.” The O.T. contains beautiful poetry and lofty ideals and yes, great stories. But it also contains horrible stories of sex and violence, stories for which there seems to be not even a “teachable” lesson. And it is full of holes and contradictions about God and humans. (So no, Jesus is definitely NOT the only contradictory figure in the Bible!) The O.T. also contains some strange laws, some of which are not even applicable to life in modern America which brings into question how “universal” the Bible really can be. As for “cherry-picking,” you wouldn’t believe the criticism and downright contempt we Reform Jews get from Orthodox Jews for our emphasis on personal autonomy vis-a-vis Halacha (Jewish Law). We Reform Jews get more criticism and hate speech from the Jewish Religious Right than groups like Hamas get from them! I guess we are seen as traitors, heretics, and “relativists” which, in some sense, are worse than an enemy to fundamentalists of all faiths.

    Re: animals and fair play, maybe there’s supporting evidence for monkeys. But the wild dogs of Africa, for example, demolish that theory so that blanket assumptions simply cannot be made about fairness in animals in general. The wild dogs of Africa are shockingly cruel to each other, and they aren’t the only species who display aggressive, non-provoked behavior to each other. On the other hand, animals can show great compassion for the young of other species, females sometimes adopting and suckling them. Maybe the ‘animals and fair play’ websites are citing only these examples. My only point is that general assumptions about animals just can’t be made.

  24. Oh, and as far as Jesus intentionally or not intentionally founding a new faith, I wasn’t disputing either way so I’m not sure how that issue got worked into the conversation.

    Whatever, the answer to this issue is inconclusive. A case could be made either way, depending on which verses and portions of the Bible one selects.

  25. Leigh, I’ve been thinking about this some more.

    It may be that a lot of Christians think that there are many paths to heaven and that you personally don’t know any mainline Christians who believe in hell, but the fact still stands that 59% of Americans believe in hell. Note that that’s “Americans,” not “Christians.” I think you made a mistake when you cited that article earlier.

    If 59% of Americans believe in hell, that would suggest that the percentage is even larger within the Christian community, because “Americans” includes infidels like me, as well as believers in other faiths. So, logically, the belief in hell among Christians has to be higher. Sure, they don’t want to talk about it, but they believe in it.

  26. Ben, I’ve been trying to run down where that 59% number (believers in hell) comes from. I wanted to see if the respondent group was really all Americans, or only religious Americans. As far as I can tell, this data should be in the U.S. Religious Landscape Survey of February 2008.

    Finally found it, and you’re right, the numbers for Christian denominations (and Islam, too) are considerably higher than for Judaism, other faiths, and the unaffiliated. i was surprised to see the mainline Christian belief in hell at 56%; obviously I hang around with a much more liberal crowd.
    (page 51)

  27. Thanks, Leigh. Even though I’m not a believer, I still think the cultural aspects of religion are interesting. That “hell” graph in the PDF was very revealing.

  28. Ben, I found this quote of Jesus (IN RED LETTERS). Here, Jesus is speaking to his disciplies:

    “You must go out to the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature. He who believes it and is baptised will be saved, but he who disbelieves it will be condemned.”
    (Mark 16:15-17)

    So, there you have it.

    See you in hell, buddy. 🙂

  29. Sorry. I meant ‘disciples,’ not ‘disciplies.’ (I don’t usually make typos but I haven’t had dinner yet).