Aug 16th 2014

Pray to Jesus -- Or Else

by Jeff Schweitzer

Jeff Schweitzer is a scientist and former White House Senior Policy Analyst; Ph.D. in marine biology/neurophysiology

I applaud those who retain the strength to fight the never-ending battle against ignorance, intolerance and persistent persecution of rationalists. The latest nonsense comes from Georgia, a state that seems hell-bent on conserving medieval values. A school district in Hall County has allowed a high school football coach "to organize team prayers and promote biblical messages on team documents and pre-game banners."

Coming from Georgia, this is not shocking news. This, after all, is a state absolutely delighted of its efforts to leave the Union of which they are now so proud -- so intellectual inconsistency is hardly surprising. And forget for now the patently silly idea that any god would care about the outcome of a football game. Instead, what has awakened me from my stupor is the odd response to those who objected to the school's, and therefore state's, obvious endorsement of religion. Rep. Doug Collins (R-GA) actually accused atheists of "trying to bully" those poor, isolated and tread-upon Christian high school students. Here is the full quote from Collins' Facebook page:

"The liberal atheist interest groups trying to bully Chestatee High School kids say they have a reason to believe that expressions of religious freedom are 'not an isolated event' in Northeast Georgia. They're right. In Hall County and throughout Georgia's 9th district, we understand and respect the Constitution and cherish our right to worship in our own way. This morning, while Chestatee students gathered on their football field to support their school leadership and exercise their rights, unspeakable human rights atrocities continued to happen across the world in places that have no regard at all for religious freedom. It's utterly disgusting that while innocent lives are being lost in Iraq and other places at the hands of radical religious terrorists, a bunch of Washington lawyers are finding the time to pick on kids in Northeast Georgia. I want the football players and all the students at CHS to know I support you, I'm here for you, and yes, I'm praying for you."

This vein of irony is so deep and rich we could be mining this outburst of inconsistencies for years. A Jewish football player would be forced to make some unpleasant choices: leave the team, stay on the team but be singled out as a non-team-playing outcast, or participate in Christian prayer. Who is the bully and who is being bullied? Collins would say the Jew is the bully for questioning his forced participation in prayers to Jesus. According to this worldview, when the overwhelming majority attempts to impose its religious views and practices on a small minority, that majority is exercising its rights under the First Amendment. When a small minority voices objections to the majority's attempt to impose their religious practices on them, the minority is bullying the majority. Irony. Christians can impose their beliefs on others with impunity, such as imposing public Christian prayers, but any effort by non-Christians to express their religious views is a violation of constitutional rights. More irony. Collins' appeal to the Constitution would be laughable if the consequences were not so serious. His support for Christian domination (forced Christian prayer) is in direct violation of the First Amendment rights he so piously cites. Irony yet again.

The deepest irony, though, is the idea that a tiny minority can bully a vast majority. According the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, more than 78 percent of Americans identify themselves as Christian. Only 4 percent are self-proclaimed non-believers (broken into the survey categories of atheists at 1.6 percent and agnostics at 2.4 percent). A Christian complaining about being under attack when submerged in that religion's ubiquitous presence is like a fish in the Pacific Ocean complaining that there is not enough water. A lone rationalist swimming in the middle of the vast ocean of Christianity would be hard pressed to agree that water was in insufficient supply.

Let me pause here on a tangent and explain why "rationalism" is a more acceptable term than atheism. As I have written before, "atheist" is derived from the ancient Greek adjective atheos, which means "without gods." Defining anybody or any movement as the negative of another is a bad start. I refuse to be defined as an absence of what somebody else supposedly has; I simply cannot be without something that does not exist. I am not lacking what someone else has. The idea is ridiculous. Calling me an atheist is like defining me as a man without a dragon tail, and then denying me my rights because I do not have a dragon tail. I cannot be absent something that is nothing but another's myth. I am a rationalist, and if others wish to believe in an invisible man in the sky with magical powers, we can label themarationalists.

I stand on a soap box about this because of the power of words to impact our perception. Atheism is a pejorative term in the eyes of believers because it is the negative of them (without something that others have), and with that inherent negativity comes implied permission to discriminate blatantly and openly. We can trash that which we do not respect. During the Second World War we called our enemies Japs and Krauts among other degrading epithets in order to diminish them as humans, making them easier to hate, fight and kill. Our cause was just enough without the name calling. Many Christians use "atheists" in a similarly derogative vein. The solution is to abandon completely the use of the term atheist, just as polite society no longer uses the "N" word to describe African-Americans, "Rag Heads" for Arabs or "Wet Backs" for those south of the border. Offensive? Yes, just as is the use of the word atheist.

Atheism is pejorative because of the inherent negative assumption (we lack what others possess) embedded in the word. African-Americans were once called "Colored" when civil rights were a distant dream. That word is offensive because of the implication that all others must be compared to the pure "standard" of White. If black skin was considered the standard, all Caucasians would be properly called "a-pigmented" or "uncolored." Likewise, the word atheist implies a standard of religiosity in which belief in god is somehow the measure by which all others must be judged. Religion is no more legitimate as a standard than is white skin.

With that understood, while Christians like Collins complain of being bullied, the real victim is rationalism. In our modern world, nowhere is there more blatant and overt discrimination than that against rationalists. Surely, race discrimination is rampant and real, but it is largely hidden under a veneer of civility in polite company. Blacks cannot overtly be refused office because of their skin color; yet rationalists are still discriminated against based on nothing but their fidelity to logic and reason.

You may think I'm exaggerating or a bit hysterical. If so, you may be shocked to learn that elected officials in North Carolina are constitutionally disqualified from office if they "deny the being of Almighty God." Yes, you read that correctly. But let us not pick on the ignorant bias of the Tar Heel state, for they are not alone in primitive thinking appropriate to the 1600s. Arkansas, Maryland, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas all deny atheists the right to hold public office. Here is the wording typically found in all of these state constitutions, this one from Arkansas:

Article 19, Section 1: No person who denies the being of a God shall hold any office in the civil departments of this State, nor be competent to testify as a witness in any Court.

Imagine the outrage if the same ban applied to Jews, Muslims, women, blacks or gays. Yet somehow it remains acceptable in our society to blatantly discriminate against someone based on a personal conviction that Santa Claus is not real.

Never mind that the Supreme Court ruled way back in 1961 that the U.S. Constitution trumps such outrageous religious discrimination through the supremacy of federal law. That particular invocation of the supremacy clause from our Supremes came about when some poor guy in Maryland by the name of Herb Silverman (now a Huff Post blogger among many other hats he wears) could not be appointed as a notary for his crime of not believing in god. Herb spent eight years claiming a right that any other American would take for granted without a second thought. In other news, the U.S. Supreme Court rules that Catholics can run for public office. Don't touch that dial.

State sanctions applied against one belief system in favor of another are an abomination, a stain on our society, and in direct contradiction to everything our Founding Fathers wished for our great country. Consider the deep irony of a conservative group of people who claim a unique fidelity to the Constitution while they actively undermine the document's most important principles. To understand how outrageous these prohibitions against rationalism really are, just substitute "Christian" everywhere atheism is mentioned in the offending state constitutions. Let's prohibit Christians from becoming notaries or holding public office. Absurd? Why is that not acceptable but somehow discrimination against rationalism is so mainstream as to be codified in state law?

Discrimination against rationalism makes no sense on multiple levels. First, rationalism is a worldview not a religion, and therefore an odd victim of institutionalized bias. The absence of dogma is not another form of dogma; the commitment to rational thought is not another form of belief along the spectrum of religious doctrine. My worldview is available for disproof; religion is not. Second, the establishment clause in the First Amendment is unambiguous of intent. Third, the label of atheism is itself invalid, and therefore an invalid subject of discrimination; atheist is an idea that allows others to conveniently confuse rationalism with religion, and confounds the baseline from which people's views can be measured.

The latest dust up in Georgia reveals an ugly truth in modern America: our commitment to the founding principles embedded in our Constitution is in jeopardy. Paradoxically, efforts to undermine our most cherished ideas are couched in terms of patriotism and respect for the rule of law.

Fellow rationalists, we have our work cut out for us. We live in a secular country in which the vast majority of citizens incorrectly believe the United States is a Christian nation. We live in society in which a Christian majority exceeding 78% claims to be a victim of discrimination. We are singled out in state constitutions as particularly unworthy of holding public office. We witness a Supreme Court Justice that believes surrealistically that the Christian cross is representative of all religions - and rationalists. Let us, finally, reject the false inevitability of creeping religiosity in American politics. We are a small minority but have on our side facts in place of fiction. The atrocity of stupidity in Georgia is a call to political arms.

As we approach the year 2015, the United States owns the dubious distinction of being the only western country in which a candidate's qualifications can be challenged because he does not believe in god. Do we really want to emulate the theocracies of the Middle East? The citizens of Georgia, North Carolina and their brethren who support the imposition of public Christian prayer on all, and who support the constitutional discrimination against rationalists, are more like the radical Muslims they apparently have such disdain for than they could ever possibly imagine. I hope we can do better than Iraq or Iran. But officials like Doug Collins keep dragging us back to the Dark Ages.

The South lost the war; but perhaps the time has come to grant them their earlier wish and cut them loose from the Union. They can form a confederacy of Christian states. Their theocracy can act as a magnet for all those in the north who find that attractive. Then the rest of us can be left to govern by reason and logic. Hey, we can always dream.




  

 


This article is brought to you by the author who owns the copyright to the text.

Should you want to support the author’s creative work you can use the PayPal “Donate” button below.

Your donation is a transaction between you and the author. The proceeds go directly to the author’s PayPal account in full less PayPal’s commission.

Facts & Arts neither receives information about you, nor of your donation, nor does Facts & Arts receive a commission.

Facts & Arts does not pay the author, nor takes paid by the author, for the posting of the author's material on Facts & Arts. Facts & Arts finances its operations by selling advertising space.

 

 

Browse articles by author

More Essays

Nov 19th 2021
EXTRACTS: "At a time when the struggle between authoritarianism and democracy is so intense, if not fateful for the future of democracies, NATO and the EU must warn these countries [Editor's note: Poland and Hungary, EU and NATO, Turkey NATO] that they are on the precipice of being kicked out if they do not change their governing practice. They must be required to restore the principles of democracy by upholding universal human rights and abiding the rule of law, or else they will forfeit their membership and suffer from the consequences of their crimes." ------ "A narcissistic leader, such as Trump, whose hunger for power seems to know no limit, has happily sacrificed the good of the country on the altar of his twisted ego. America’s democracy cannot be repaired unless he and those who helped him are held accountable and face the weight of the law."
Nov 18th 2021
EXTRACT: "Many people who go through intense trauma, for example, become deeper and stronger than they were before. They may even undergo a sudden and radical transformation that makes life more meaningful and fulfilling. Indeed, research shows that between half and one-third of all people experience significant personal development after traumatic events, such as bereavement, serious illness, accidents or divorce. Over time, they may feel a new sense of inner strength and confidence and gratitude for life and other people. They may develop more intimate and authentic relationships and have a wider perspective, with a clear sense of what is important in life and what isn’t. In psychology, this is referred to as “post-traumatic growth”. "
Nov 11th 2021
EXTRACT: "Notably, Murdoch thinks that really knowing or understanding another person is a difficult task: “It is a task to come to see the world as it is”. According to the Freudian psychology Murdoch subscribes to in The Sovereignty of Good, humans are prone to “fantasy” – refusing to face the truth because it can damage our fragile egos."
Nov 9th 2021
EXTRACT: "People do not believe false information because they are ignorant. There are many factors at work, but most researchers would agree that the belief in misinformation has little to do with the amount of knowledge a person possesses. Misinformation is a prime example of motivated reasoning. People tend to arrive at the conclusions they want to reach as long as they can construct seemingly reasonable justifications for these outcomes."
Oct 28th 2021
EXTRACTS: "Brood with me on the latest delay of the full release of the records pertaining to the murder of President John F. Kennedy in Dallas on November 22, 1963. That was 58 years ago." -----"Mark my words: ...... No one who remembers 1963 will live to see the US government admit the full truth about Kennedy’s murder. And the American people’s faith in democracy will continue to fade. There is only one way to prevent this, and that is to release every record, withholding nothing – and to do it now."
Oct 27th 2021
EXTRACT: "..... we may defy the warnings of modern medicine, convinced of our own superiority. Researchers at the University of Chicago Divinity School reported half of their participants, all of whom indicated some religious affiliation, agreed with the statement “God will protect me from being infected”. To cope with our dread of death, we delude ourselves into thinking we are invincible: death might happen to other people, but not to me."
Oct 22nd 2021
EXTRACT: "Wes Anderson’s new film The French Dispatch is about the final issue of a magazine that specialises in long-form articles about the goings-on in the fictional town of Ennui-sur-Blasé. The film is an anthology of shorts representing three of the articles. A piece by the magazine’s art critic (Tilda Swinton) explores the life and late success of the abstract artist Moses Rosenthaler (Benicio Del Toro). Talented from a young age, Rosenthaler pursued art with a dogged determination that drove him to slowly lose his mind." ---- "Like everything else, mental illness is understood within the context of its time. In their study of melancholy and genius Born Under Saturn, the art historians Margot and Rudolf Wittkower show how Renaissance artists embraced mental alienation. This was shown by a withdrawn, slothful gloom. Such heavy sadness was considered both the symptom and the price of divine inspiration." ---- "Today, the association of creativity and mental illness often implies regression from an adult and orderly state of mind to one that is primal, impulsive, or infantile. The artist in Anderson’s film is such an example: he is noisy, impetuous, and extravagantly mad. And it is while he is at his “maddest” that he paints his best work." ---- "Here I explore the work of four painters whose work has been shaped by various mental illnesses, highlighting how the idea of the “mad artist” need not be tied up with a loss of control but rather a bid to gain it."
Oct 21st 2021
EXTRACT: "So much of Succession holds a mirror to real life, and the way that Logan Roy’s hand-picked board members allowed these abuses to continue by turning a blind eye to them is a good example. We have just published research that shows that public companies whose directors are chosen by their CEOs are statistically more likely to be involved in corporate misconduct, along with various other shortcomings. So why does this happen, and what should be done about it? "
Oct 10th 2021
EXTRACT: "Born in Zanzibar in 1948, Gurnah came to Britain in the 1960s as a refugee. Being of Arab origin, he was forced to flee his birthplace during the revolution of 1964 and only returned in 1984 in time to visit his dying father. Until his retirement, he was a full-time professor of English and postcolonial literatures at the University of Kent in Canterbury."
Oct 7th 2021
EXTRACT: "As the 25th James Bond film No Time to Die hits the cinemas, we are once again reminded of the way that disability is depicted negatively in Hollywood films. The new James Bond film features three villains, all of who have facial disfigurements (Blofeld, Safin and Primo). If you take a closer look at James Bond villains throughout history, the majority have facial disfigurements or physical impairments. This is in sharp contrast to the other characters, including James Bond, who are able-bodied and presented with no physical bodily differences. Indeed, many films still rely on outdated disability tropes, including Star Wars and various Disney classics. Rather than simply being part of a character’s identity, the physical difference is exploited and exaggerated to become a plot point and visual metaphor for villains" ----- "The British Film Institute (BFI) was the first organisation to sign up and has committed to stop funding films that feature negative representations depicted through scars or facial differences – a step in the right direction."
Oct 5th 2021
EXTRACT: "The trillions of microbes inside of our gut play many very important roles in our body. Not only does this “microbiome” regulate our metabolism and help us absorb nutrients from food into the body, it can also influence whether we are lean or obese."
Sep 16th 2021
EXTRACTS: "Hyperbaric oxygen therapy involves breathing pure oxygen in a pressurised chamber. In the chamber, the air pressure is increased two to three times higher than normal air pressure. It is commonly used to treat decompression sickness (a condition scuba divers can suffer from), carbon monoxide poisoning,......" ---- "Blood flow to the brain is reduced in people with Alzheimer’s. This study showed increased blood flow to the brain in the mice receiving oxygen therapy, which helps with the clearance of plaques from the brain, and reduces inflammation – a hallmark of Alzheimer’s." ----- "The researchers then used these findings to assess the effectiveness of oxygen therapy in six people over the age of 65 with cognitive decline. They found that 60 sessions of oxygen therapy, over 90 days, increased blood flow in certain areas of the brain and significantly improved the patients’ cognitive abilities – improved memory, attention and information processing speed."
Sep 14th 2021
EXTRACT: "Hollywood for years called on Charles Boyer to typify one French look –  bedroom eyes, sly maneuverings, the dismissive look. A face of another type, the massive mug and narrow eyes of Charles de Gaulle, provides the same disdain of the foreigner but also a superiority based on his belief in his own destiny."
Sep 12th 2021
EXTRACT: "The burden of loneliness for older people is intimately connected to what they are alone with. As we reach the end of our lives, we frequently carry heavy burdens that have accumulated along the way, such as feelings of regret, betrayal and rejection. And the wounds from past relationships can haunt people all their lives."
Sep 5th 2021
EXTRACT: "Gardens help restore the ability to concentrate on demanding tasks, providing the perfect space for a break when working from home in a pandemic. Natural things – such as trees, plants and water – are particularly easy on the eye and demand little mental effort to look at. Simply sitting in a garden is therefore relaxing and beneficial to mental wellbeing."
Aug 17th 2021
EXTRACT: "Whether or not a person achieves remission, reducing blood sugar levels is important in managing the negative effects of type 2 diabetes and reducing risk of complications. But when it comes to choosing a diet, the most important thing is to pick one that suits you – one that you’re likely to stick to long term."
Aug 10th 2021
EXTRACT: "In our latest study, we show that by taking the microbiome from young mice and transplanting them into old mice, many of the effects of ageing on learning and memory and immune impairments can be reversed. Using a maze, we showed that this faecal microbiota transplant from young to old mice led to the old mice finding a hidden platform faster."
Aug 3rd 2021
EXTRACT: "Fukuyama argued that political struggle causes history. This struggle tries to solve the problem of thymos – an ancient Greek term referring to our desire to have our worth recognised. This desire can involve wanting to be recognised as equal to others. But it can also involve wanting to be recognised as superior to others. A stable political system needs to accommodate both desires." .... "Counter-dominant spite can weaken liberal democracies. During the 2016 Brexit referendum, some people in the UK voted Leave to spite elites, knowing this could damage the country’s economy. Similarly, during the 2016 US presidential election some voters supported Donald Trump to spite Hillary Clinton, knowing his election could harm the US. "
Jul 31st 2021
EXTRACT: "If we want to live in a world that is good for pollinators, as well as the rest of us, big changes are needed in our environment, and our food system. This is why many beekeepers change their diet and their shopping, eating more locally grown vegetables that aren’t treated with pesticides. ...... Being willing to buy fruit and vegetables that may have the occasional insect living in it is better for us and for nature. To live more harmoniously with the natural world, we need to relax about larvae in the lettuce and slugs in the spinach."
Jul 22nd 2021
EXTRACT: "You’d think our brush with mortality through the pandemic would have brought some of this home to us. You’d think it would give us pause for thought about what really matters to us: the kind of world we want for our children; the kind of society we want to live in. And for many people it has. In a survey carried out during lockdown in the UK, 85% of respondents found something in their changed conditions they felt worth keeping and fewer than 10% wanted a complete return to normal."