Metro State Atheists

Promoting Science, Reason, and Secular Values

One Nation Under a Spell: Christianity in America and Religion Around the World

One Nation Under a Spell

Christianity in America and Religion Around the World

by

Joel Guttormson

DISCLAIMER:  SAM HARRIS IS QUOTED HEAVILY IN THIS WORK BECAUSE OF CONTRAINTS PLACED UPON ITS WRITING BY THE CLASS FOR WHICH IT WAS ORIGINALLY WRITTEN

Introduction

“Our world is fast succumbing to the activities of men and women who would stake the future of our species on beliefs that should not survive an elementary school education”

-Sam Harris, End of Faith

America, once a bastion of the Enlightenment ideas of Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and Thomas Paine, “is fast-growing as blinkered by religious lunacy as the wilds of Afghanistan.” (Harris, Idea City ’05)  By this, Sam Harris means, that the United States of America is not just highly religious, but fundamentalist in their belief.  Before continuing, what is a belief?  Mr. Harris defines a belief as “representations of the world…that open the floodgate of emotion and behavior” that is appropriate for a particular belief. (Harris, Idea City ’05)  Polls, both in the recent past and the present, show that Sam is not at all out of line in making these claims;  for instance, “22% of the population [Americans] claims to be certain, literally certain, that Jesus is going to come down out of clouds and save the day sometime in the next 50 years.” (Harris, Idea City ’05)  He adds, “Another 22% think that he probably will come back in the next 50 years.  This is 44% of the electorate…this belief obviously does not exist in isolation.” (Harris, Idea City ’05)  The most straightforward conclusion from this data, which he obtained from Gallup polls taken earlier in the decade, is that nearly 150 million people in the United States who, Sam points out, “not only elect Congressmen and Presidents, they get elected as Congressmen and Presidents.” (Harris, Idea City ’05)  These facts should be wholly horrifying to those of all walks of life, religious or not, that are committed to a sustainable and above all, foreseeable future for the human species.  Why is this so?  This is so because these beliefs have severe geopolitical consequences, discussed in detail later.  They also have the effect of making normally moral, rational people and making them hateful isolationists bent on bringing about the End Times.  Sam Harris claims that religion, especially in the United States, is dangerous and that the moderately religious share as much blame as the fundamentalists in regards to the problems to be expounded upon in the following pages.

Christianity in America:  Effect on Science and Public Health

“The time for respecting religious beliefs of this sort is long past”

-Sam Harris, Idea City 2005

It has been shown that at the time the United States was founded in writing, less people went to church less often. (Wills, p. 8)  This fact flies directly in the face of those that claim we were founded as a Christian nation.  Certainly, some famous settlements and early towns were very religious and chiefly comprised of Christians, all of whom believed the same as their neighbors of course.  In fact, the legend of the Pilgrims leaving England to escape religious persecution is not entirely accurate; some parts are left out.  For instance, it is not common knowledge that the King of England at the time of the earliest of the settlements, King Charles II, had to send a letter of instruction to the colony of Massachusetts ordering them to “stop executing his subjects for their religious opinions.” (Wills, p. 18)  Though today we need not such declarations from our President, the myth of Christian tolerance persists.  There have been, in the history of the U.S., a sheer myriad of Supreme Court cases dealing with, as one of its main issues, religious intrusion into the government or public services funded by taxes.  Those cases worthy of mention are: McCollum v. Board of Education (Ruled that religious studies classes violated the 1st Amendment, 1948), Engel v. Vitale (Ruled that state lead prayer in schools to be a violation of the 1st Amendment, 1962),  Abington v. Schempp/Murry v. Curlett (Ruled that bible reading in schools was unconstitutional, 1963), Epperson v. Arkansas (Struck down a law prohibiting the teaching of Evolution), Lemon v. Kurtzman (Ruled that the PA state’s subsidizing of religious school was unconstitutional, added third prong to what has become known as the Lemon Test, 1971), Edwards v. Aguillard (Ruled that the teaching of creationism to be a violation of the 1st Amendment), City of Boerne v. Flores (Ruled the Religious Freedoms Restoration Act to be unconstitutional, 1997), Sante Fe School District v. Doe (Ruled that believers cannot be favored over nonbelievers), and Kitzmiller et al v. Dover Area School District et al (Ruled that the requirement for students to be taught Intelligent Design was unconstitutional, 2005) .  This list is a short enumeration of the victories for those on the side of secularism, be they religious or not.  However, the list is not exhaustive and leaves out some defeats, such as the Scopes Trial.  There exists currently a yet uncontested law in the state of Louisiana called “Louisiana Science Education Act[1].”  This act encourages students to learn about Intelligent Design/Creationism without using the words. (Forrest, 2009)  However, Section D of the law provides a glimpse into the motives of the authors, sponsors, and lobbyists (Discovery Institute and Louisiana Family Forum) of the law.  Section D reads, “This Section shall not be construed to promote any religious doctrine, promote discrimination for or against a particular set of religious beliefs, or promote discrimination for or against religion or nonreligion.”  It begs the question as to why this section exists in the law if in fact it could not be construed to promote religion, specifically Intelligent Design/Creationism.  Although this is a setback, it is in a minority of court cases in which we see overwhelming victory for the Constitution and freedom from religious establishment.

In spite of the utterly overwhelming evidence supporting the evidence of the Theory of Evolution, Americans seem wishfully against its acceptance.  In 2005, a survey was conducted among 34 countries to determine the level of acceptance of the Theory of Evolution among adults.  The results were less than flattering, as Harris points out that “the United States ranked 33rd, just above Turkey.  Meanwhile, high school students in the United States test below those of every European and Asian nation in their understating of science and math.” (Harris, Letter to a Christian Nation, p. 70)  Given the efforts of Christians in this country in the courts, attempting to promote creationism and intelligent design; in so doing they are misrepresenting science and confusing the public about Evolution and consequently all of science.  Harris is in a sense arguing that Christianity, specifically Fundamentalist and Evangelical Christianity, is causing great harm to the education of our children.  Whether or not Sam’s general claim is true, it is obvious that the religiosity of this country is having a significant and detrimental impact on a consensual and basic understanding of what is arguably one of the greatest, if not the greatest, scientific accomplishments in history; the Theory of Evolution.

Though a public understanding of science (or lack thereof) is an important issue.  A far more pressing and disturbing issue is that of public health.  Regarding this issue, Sam again points to the overwhelming dangers of religious ideals and convictions interfering with the private lives and health of individuals, who is behind this movement to do so and why.  The Center for Disease Control (CDC), thought by many to be very scientific and apolitical institution in the United States, is very much the opposite in terms of its upper management.  It is evident that religious views are clouding the judgment of those that we are entrusting our health.  Reginald Finger, a member of the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, “announced that he would consider opposing an HIV vaccine…because such a vaccine would encourage premarital sex by making it less risky.” (Harris, Letter to a Christian Nation, p. 28)  I agree with Sam Harris when he says, “this is one of the many points on which [Christian][2] beliefs become genuinely lethal.” (Harris, Letter to a Christian Nation, p. 28)  Until recently, stem-cell research was put on the veritable back burner.  However, with the election of Barack Obama this backward, religious motivated agenda to stymie what Sam Harris calls “one of the most promising lines of research in biology”, is now being federally funded after being denied such funding by a religiously motivated Bush administration. (Harris, Idea City ’05)

Although these are not the only issues facing America in which the religious, mostly Christian, population in this country has found it necessary to thrust their narrow-minded and unfounded beliefs, they are, in the estimation of Sam Harris, a good representation of the general direction they are pushing public policy.  Christian crusaders such as the late Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson and pastor/author Joel Osteen are the leaders in a movement that is increasingly trying to control the public policy and even the personal matters of the citizens of the United States.  However, such a narrow focus on the United States does not even begin to properly articulate the problems the marriage of religion and policy has on not only the liberty of Americans, but also their safety and, ultimately, the survival of the human species.

Geopolitics and Religion: Rights, Terrorism, and Armageddon

“O You who believe! take not for friends and protectors those who take your religion for a mockery or sport”

-Qur’an 5:57

Islam has recently become the religion most associated with terrorism.  Although there is some basis for this hasty and broad generalization and Islamic leaders have not done a good job distancing themselves from such violent actions, Christianity and Judaism have had their share of violence and terrorism.  Though both Christianity and Judaism have done a good job covering it up, the fact they have had enough time to do this shows that they happened long ago, however, they are still relevant and will be discussed later.  For now, we shall focus on the problem Islam creates on the geopolitical stage.

Islam, claimed to be founded by the “prophet” Mohammed in the 7th century C.E., is declared by many of its followers to be a religion of peace.  Islam, they say means peace and thus, tell us that the terrorists that commit their acts in the name of their religion have no theological justification from the Quran (Koran), the holy book of Islam, and that they are committed for other reasons.  They, and religious moderates of all stripes, say that their acts are committed because socioeconomics, lack of education and/or educational opportunity and politics.  However, in the case of 9/11, Sam Harris remarks, “I don’t know how many more engineers and architects have to hit the wall at 400 miles-an-hour for us to realize that this is not simply a matter of education.  The truth of our circumstance is quite a bit more sinister than that.” (Harris, Idea City ’05, 2005)  What does he mean by this?  He means that it is actually possible, and likely, that religion is the cause of this terrorism.  This is frightening, because religion is based solely on beliefs that, in the case of fundamentalists, are immune to evidence or change of any kind.  This also means that if the reasons for these despicable acts are religious there is no stopping them the way they would be if they really were the result of education or economics.  Harris says, “It is actually possible to be so well educated that you can build a nuclear bomb and still believe that you’re going to get the 72 virgins.” (Harris, Idea City ’05)  For Muslim terrorists their actions are in fact, contrary to what moderates believe, not only condoned by the Koran but also endorsed by it saying: “O Prophet! strive hard against the Unbelievers and the Hypocrites, and be firm against them, their abode is Hell, -an evil refuge indeed.”  (Qur’an: 9:73)  Some verses later it reiterates this sentiment: “O you who believe! Fight the Unbeleivers who gird you about, and let them find firmness in you: and know that Allah is with those who fear Him.” (Qur’an 9:123)  According to the research of Sam Harris, the Had’ith is also quite clear about how to deal with the so-called “Unbelievers”: “[1] Jihad is your duty under any ruler, be he godly or wicked; [2] A single endevor (of fighting) in Allah’s Cause in the forenoon or in the afternoon is better than the world and whatever is in it; [3] A day and night fighting on the frontier is better than a month of fasting and prayer; [4] Nobody who dies and finds good from Allah (in the Hereafter) would wish to come back to this world even if he were given the whole world and whatever is in it, except the martyr who, on seeing the superiority of martyrdom, would like to come back to the world and get killed again (in Allah’s Cause); [5] He who dies without having taken part in a campaign dies in a kind of unbelief” (Harris, The End of Faith, p. 112). The Koran, taken literally along with the teachings of the Had’ith, lead Muslims to be extreme in their faith to the point that they commit such atrocities.  One may say to themselves at this point, “yes, but these views and verses are used and condoned only by the extremists”.  This is wrong, as evidenced by a 2002 survey conducted by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press in which the following question was asked only to Muslims: “Some people think that suicide bombing and other forms of violence against civilian targets are justified in order to defend Islam from its enemies. Other people believe that, no matter what the reason, this kind of violence is never justified.  Do you personally feel that this kind of violence is often justified to defend Islam, sometimes justified, rarely justified or never justified?” (Harris, The End of Faith, p. 124)  The results should be shocking even the most moderate of moderates as this survey was given to 38,000 people.  So it’s unikely that they just happened to ask 38,000 extremists.  For breivity, only the top five will be taken into consideration[3]:  1. Lebanon- 73% Yes, 21% No, 6% DK/Refused; 2. Ivory Coast- 56% Yes, 44% No; 3. Nigeria- 47% Yes, 45% No, 8% DK/Refused; 4. Bangladesh- 44% Yes, 37%, No, 19% DK/Refused; 5. Jordan- 43% Yes, 48% No, 8% DK/Refused. (Harris, The End of Faith, p. 125)  If these numbers seem distrubing Harris asks us to “consider that places like Saudia Arabia, Yemen, Egypt, Iran, Sudan, Iraq and the Palestinian territories were not included in the survery.” (Harris, The End of Faith, p. 125)  However, the “Muslim tolerence for terrorism” picture become ever more frightening when we only consider those respondants who “could not find it in their hearts to say ‘never justified’.” (Harris, The End of Faith, p. 126)  The question then is, is it ever justifiable?.  Again, only the top five are considered: 1. Lebanon- 82% Yes, 12%  No, 6% DK/Refused; 2. Ivory Coast- 73% Yes, 27% No; 3. Nigeria- 66% Yes, 26% No, 8% DK/Refused; 4. Jordan- 65% Yes, 26% No, 8% DK/Refused; 5. Bangladesh- 58% Yes, 23% No, 19% DK/Refused. (Harris, The End of Faith, p. 126)  An astonishing finding from this is that Pakistan, thought of to be a safe haven and manufactuer of terrorist not only isn’t in the top five, but in the second list is second from the bottom, right above Turkey.  What do these numbers tell us about Islam and terrorism?  They tell us that the problem of dogmatism, no matter how seemingly moderate, is far greater than previously thought and acts like the subway bombing in Madrin, Spain, the bus attacks in the UK or the events of September 11th, 2001 seem to be justifiable to these people so long as it is in denfese of Islam.

Though it may seem given the above that Islam is the sole perpetrator of terrorism, it most asuredly is not.  Christians tend to pride themselves, and their religion (especially in the United States), on being caring, loving, compasionate, pacifist and, above all, true beyond a shadow of a doubt.  However, Christianity has some skeletons in its closet; skeletons that even moderate Christians would be hard-pressed to explain away.  Before examining specific examples, let us consider the Bible, particularly the New Testament, to see if moderate Christianity or fundamentalist Christianity is on the stronger theological ground.  When it comes to the treatment of the non-believers, or unbelievers as the holy books refer to us, Jesus Christ does not differ much from the attitude of the Koran, saying:  “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him.”(The Bible: John 3:36[4])  Though this does not seem quite as bad as the Koran telling believers to fight the unbelievers, Jesus makes sure his message is not mistaken: “But those enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them—bring them here and kill them in front of me.”(The Bible: Luke 19:27)  It was not just Jesus that scolded non-believers and thought they should be killed, Peter wrote: “By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men.”(The Bible: 2 Peter 3:7)  It is now sufficiently obvious that Christians, too, can square actions such as the nondescript and wholesale slaughter and/or torture of non-Christians with the Bible and the teaching of Jesus.  If that wasn’t enough, “the great lights of the church, people like St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Augustine…in Aquinas’ case he thought heretics should be killed outright, in Augustine’s case he thought they should be tortured;  Augustine’s argument for the use or torture actually laid the foundations for the Inquisition.” (Harris, Idea City ’05)   It should now be immediately obvious that Christians could and did start religious wars and cold-blooded, calculated campaigns of mass death and torture, with other Christians and non-Christians; such as the French Wars or Religion, the 30 Years War, the Crusades, and, the Spanish Inquisition.  However, the despicable behavior does not stop there.  The Spanish Inquisition and the Salem Witch trials, considered by many to be well-organized terrorism campaigns, though with very different and separate goals, have their justification in the Bible, and nowhere else.  Christian terrorism is still alive in modern times.  Two examples come to mind.  The first is an example of psychological terrorism.  The Westboro Baptist Church[5], founded and run by pastor Fred Phelps has made a name for themselves protesting United States’ soldiers funerals and with their “God Hates Fags” campaign.  Probably the most appalling aspects of this campaign is, their use of small children, holding signs and wearing t-shirts bearing these hateful and ignorant slogans.  The next example of Christian terrorism, I am happy to say was a failed effort.  Nonetheless, it is a story that one is grateful never came to fruition and shows the extent of their fundamentalist and apocalyptic goals.  Due to a lack of knowledge about the Julian calendar, 1999 was thought to be the year before the millennium.  Beyond the “Y2K” hysteria, there was also a fervor of millennialism, especially from fundamentalist Christians.

On January 3, 1999, the Israeli General Security Force known as Shin Bet raided two houses outside Jerusalem.  Soon after the interrogation of three male occupants it was determined that the 14 total residents, including six children were to leave Israel immediately.  These 14 people were members of a “Doomsday cult” known as Concerned Christians, based out of Denver, Colorado.  Their mission in Israel was, to destroy the mosques on Temple Mount, the most well-known and holiest of which is the Dome of the Rock, in the hope of instigating war between Jews and Muslims.  This, they believe, would have brought on Armageddon and the return of Christ as spelled out in the Book of Revelation. (New, pp. 1,9)  At a glance the people of this group, with a most misleading name, may seem crazy or unhinged.  This is not the case, given what they believe.  Putting yourself in their shoes, if you came to believe that the most important event that could happen was about to happen and that you personally could have something to do with it coming to immediate and glorious fruition, would you commit or attempt to commit these actions?  It is obvious that the problem is the beliefs themselves, not the people.

The obvious question then is, how do we stop people like this from injuring and killing others in this way?  Sam Harris offers a distinctly simple, yet blunt answer that many could agree with.  He says, “I’m talking about religious faith, and specifically a style of thinking that takes the sting out of death…in geopolitical terms we want the sting in death.  You know, we don’t want groups of people well-armed who are not afraid to die.” (Harris, The God Who Wasn’t There)  There it is, we stop these people by putting the sting back in death.  What is the “sting” in death?  Fear of dying; or to be more positive, the willingness to live.  It is hard for many religious moderates and even some secularists to grasp the astounding notion that these people really do believe in what they say they do.  As alluded to earlier, “if you really believe this stuff it is quite rational” to fly planes into buildings, attempt to blow up the Dome of the Rock,  or convince 900 hundred people, included 300 children, to follow you to Guyana where they will die because you believe that it is what the creator of the universe wants you to do. (Harris, The God Who Wasn’t There)

It should be obvious to the most casual observer that I am talking about beliefs.  Beliefs, which, are separate from the people, that believe them; in other words, the beliefs exist apart from the believers.  Therefore, it is necessary to challenge these beliefs, quit equating such challenges as attacks or affronts to the people who believe them.  The remedy for this is unbridled conversation in a way that updates, revises, and maybe totally reforms religious ideas in a way that makes them more compatible with the continuation of our species.

Deadly Beliefs: End of Days, Rapture and Christian Zionism

“Out of his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. “He will rule them with an iron scepter.  He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty.”

-Revelation 19:15

As briefly mentioned at the end of the previous section, there is a growing Millennialism movement within Christianity.  However, that movement is not modern and has its roots in the 19th Century.  John Nelson Darby (1800-1887), wasn’t the originator of the Millennialism movement but he did contribute arguably of the most significant, popular and controversial ideas to the Movement, that of Dispensationalism. (Wills, pp. 358-359)  The idea of Dispensationalism is fairly straightforward for a religious idea.  It is an idea that states that “the two Testaments, Old and New, are separate and discontinuous such that they were “ruled by different prophetical systems-one of them past, Israel, under the law, with all past prophecies applying only to it; and one of them future, the church, with its prophecies not to move toward fulfillment until the church was taken up by God before the End of Time.” (Wills, p. 359)  This idea divided the future into dispensations which Darby named.  The most important aspect of the End of Days of course are: the Tribulation (the final catastrophe) and the Millennium (the resolution, Christ’s victory over Satan, which includes the Second-Coming and the Rapture). (Wills, p. 359)  The Rapture though has become very popular recently, so popular in fact that popular fictional book series called “Left Behind”, has been written on the idea and a website, http://www.raptureletters.com, was created for believers so that they could leave letters to their loved ones behind after they are taken up by Jesus Christ.  The Rapture is the belief that those who are “saved” by Jesus Christ will be taken up into heaven prior to the Tribulation and the rule of the Anti-Christ. (Wills, p. 365)  Those left behind, namely, unbelievers comprised of all non-Christians will be subject to the horror and agony that is to be until those unbelievers accept Christ as their savor.  While this may seem to be a fringe belief, it is not.  As mentioned earlier, 44% of Americans believe that this, the Rapture and the subsequent return of Jesus Christ, will happen sometime in the next 50 years. (Harris, Idea City ’05)  This belief has some significant geopolitical consequences.

The United States’ support for Israel is as strong as ever.  However, it is not hard to determine why our country would support a state like Israel in the first place.  Christian Millennialism, as described above, gave rise to the support for Israel; a movement called Christian Zionism.  This effect on foreign policy is due to in part by Jewish Zionist, those who actually had a significant stake in issue and by Christian Millennialists.  Christian Millennialists “believe that the final consolidation of Jewish power in the Holy Land—specifically, the rebuilding of Solomon’s temple—will usher in both the Second Coming of Christ and the final destruction of the Jews.” (Harris, The End of Faith, p. 153)  Though the creation of Israel falls more in the hands of the British than the U.S., it is clear that the decision was nonetheless influenced by Christian Millennialists/apocalypticists, like British preacher John Cummings author of the book The End, had great political and social influence at the time. (New, p. 33)  Thus, it is, to quote Sam Harris, “transparently obvious” that the beliefs of Christian Millennialists/apocalypticists are having a significant and dangerous influence on public policy.  What makes their influence dangerous is not the simple support for Israel but their motives for doing so.  Therefore, it is necessary to stymie this movement whenever possible as it may add to the longevity of the human species.

Free speech is also becoming a victim of religious zealotry.  Recently, Muslim nations of the United Nations have gotten a resolution passed saying “that defamation of religions is a serious affront to human dignity leading to restriction on the freedom of religion of their adherents and incitement to religious hatred and violence, Noting with concern that defamation of religions, and incitement to religious hatred in general, could lead to social disharmony and violations of human rights, and alarmed at the inaction of some States to combat this burgeoning trend and the resulting discriminatory practices against adherents of certain religions and in this context stressing the need to effectively combat defamation of all religions and incitement to religious hatred in general and against Islam and Muslims in particular.” (Council, p. 2)  This is a direct infringement of free speech that even moderates of all stripes are having a hard time supporting or even defending.  This is encouraging, but the most vocal opposition in the United States to this resolution has been the secular/atheist movement.  Notable activists have spoken out against this sort of restriction of free speech both before, Sam Harris, and after, Christopher Hitchens, its passing in the United Nations.  What should be obvious is that religion, specifically Islam, is behind this deplorable attempt to restrict free speech.  Given the principles and documents the United States of America is founded upon, we as a nation of free people should stand up against this encroachment of our liberty, reject the resolution, and resist its adoption.

Maintenance of Civilization

“I happen to think that how we deal with belief; how we criticize or fail the criticize the beliefs of other human beings, at this moment, has more to do with the maintenance of civilization than anything else that is in our power to influence”

-Sam Harris, Idea City 2005

Though I have touched on it somewhat in the preceding sections, I would now like to make explicit and emphasize the true and disturbing consequences of religion getting their way, both domestically and geopolitically.  The fact of nuclear proliferation is undisputed and well known.  The technology to carry such lethal violence to all parts of the world, regardless of location, has existed for decades and is now making its way to black markets and well-organized criminal undergrounds. Specifically and more frighteningly, in those places where people believe that if they kill themselves while taking many infidels with them, they will go to paradise and enjoy an eternity of cosmic splendor.  We are, in reality, facing, as Bill Maher puts it in his movie Relgulous, a “religion-inspired nuclear terrorism”.  That is, of course, unless we quit lying to ourselves about the cause of this lunacy and put an end to unquestioned dogma.

With any problem however, there are generally two extreme outcomes: the worse and best case scenarios.  Not trying to be a pessimist, Harris says, “How many years do we have to wait before we learn that Pakistan or Saudi Arabia or Iran or any other society, that still has its 7th century world-view intact, now has nukes that can reach any spot on the globe, maybe at best it will be 100 years.  But it will take nowhere near that long.  It would be magic if it took 100 years.” (Harris, The God Who Wasn’t There)  Although he’s not too specific, he’s right.  We know already that Pakistan has nukes, but lacks the delivery technology.  However, it doesn’t take that much of an imagination to figure out a way for people who long to die to deliver the nukes in a way that still kill untold millions without the need for such technology.  This is the worst-case scenario.  The best-case scenario is just as optimistic as the worst-case is pessimistic.  We could have a world where all ideas, not only religious ideas, are free to be challenged, revised and updated.  Where theocracies do not rule a single country and where our moral identities are not dependent on what we have learned to call god or not believe in a god.  I am not advocating the complete destruction of religion here.  I am merely advocating for the rational and respecting exchange of ideas so that we can live together in a world free of terrorism of any kind, be it nuclear or not.  Since neither of these is likely to occur, we would obviously hope for something towards the middle of the two, but closer to the best-case scenario.  With all this talk of the consequences, it seems that I am hard-pressed to offer solutions.

The solutions, alluded to and peppered throughout this work, are simple yet require long-term commitment.

  1. Eliminating taboos on public and private criticism of religion.
  2. Push for reforms in all major religions.
  3. Advance science and reason as the main modes of thought and discourse.
  4. Complete separation of church and state.
  5. Promote and advocate freedom of religion everywhere.
  6. Finally, learn to appreciate the value of lives of every human being.

Though this list is obviously not exhaustive and quite vague, I think it offers a road map to the future in which humanity survives its religious adolescence.

Conclusion

“The hour is getting very late to be able to indulge having in key decisions made by religious people. By irrationalists. By those who would steer the ship of state not by a compass, but by the equivalent of reading the entrails of a chicken.”

-Bill Maher, Religious

Since the dawn of man, men have looked to the stars for guidance.  When the stars were silent, they invented gods, thought wishfully, and believed in magic.  This is completely rational given their lack of knowledge about the world around them and who are we to judge from our lofty perch on the precipice of the 21st century?  But now that we have past that age, it still has not occurred to a great many of us that there is a third option apart from asking the stars or inventing gods.  That option is to talk to each other.  Conversation about our ideas, hopes, dreams, beliefs and aspirations.  We need to begin a journey through the ages as one species and not identify ourselves merely as Christians, Jews, Muslims, atheists, Hindus or Buddhists.  Nor should we identify ourselves by the imaginary lines we draw in the sand to separate ourselves from one another.  The hour is late to indulge in such things, all of which now threaten our very existence more than any celestial body or virus.  I will end how I began this conclusion, with a quote from Bill Maher:

“The irony of religion is that because of its power to divert man to destructive courses, the world could actually come to an end… Plain fact is, religion must die for mankind to live.  The hour is getting very late to be able to indulge in having key decisions made by religious people. By irrationalists. By those who would steer the ship of state not by a compass, but by the equivalent of reading the entrails of a chicken…Faith means making a virtue out of not thinking. It’s nothing to brag about. And those who preach faith and enable and elevate it are intellectual slaveholders keeping mankind in a bondage to fantasy and nonsense that has spawned and justified so much lunacy and destruction.  Religion is dangerous because it allows human beings who don’t have all the answers to think that they do. Most people would think it’s wonderful when someone says, “I’m willing, Lord! I’ll do whatever you want me to do!” Except that since there are no gods actually talking to us, that void is filled in by people with their own corruptions and limitations and agendas… The only appropriate attitude for man to have about the big questions is not the arrogant certitude that is the hallmark of religion, but doubt. Doubt is humble, and that’s what man needs to be, considering that human history is just a litany of getting shit dead wrong…This is why rational people, anti-religionists, must end their timidity and come out of the closet and assert themselves.  And those who consider themselves only moderately religious really need to look in the mirror and realize that the solace and comfort that religion brings you comes at a horrible price…If you belonged to a political party or a social club that was tied to as much bigotry, misogyny, homophobia, violence, and sheer ignorance as religion is, you’d resign in protest. To do otherwise is to be an enabler, a mafia wife, for the true devils of extremism that draw their legitimacy from the billions of their fellow travelers.  If the world does come to an end here, or wherever, or if it limps into the future, decimated by the effects of religion-inspired nuclear terrorism, let’s remember what the real problem was. We learned how to precipitate mass death before we got past the neurological disorder of wishing for it.-Bill Maher, Religulous (Emphasis added).

Bibliography

The Qur’an. (2005). (A. Y. Ali, Trans.) New York: Tahrike Tarsile Qur’an Inc.

Council, T. H. (2009, March 12). U.N. Human Rights Council Resolution Combating Defamation of Religions. United Nations.

Forrest, B. (2009). Louisiana Coalition for Science. Retrieved April 14, 2009, from http://lasciencecoalition.org/

N/A (Director). (2005). Idea City ’05 [Motion Picture]. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J3YOIImOoYM.

Harris, S. (2006, 2008). Letter to a Christian Nation. New York: Random House.

Harris, S. (2005). The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.

Harris, S. (2005). The God Who Wasn’t There. (B. Flemming, Interviewer)

International Bible Society. (2008, April 27). Bible Gateway. Retrieved April 27, 2008, from Bible Gateway: http://www.biblegateway.com/

New, D. S. (2002). Holy War: The Rise of Militant Christian, Jewish and Islamic Fundamentalism. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers.

Wills, G. (2007). Head and Heart: A History of Christianity in America. New York: Penquin Group Inc.


[1] The full text of this act can be accessed at http://www.legis.state.la.us/billdata/streamdocument.asp?did=503483

[2] In Sam Harris’ book, Letter to a Christian Nation his intended audience is Christians of a particular ilk.  Thus, the word Christian was used to replace the phrase “your religious” since the quote would not make sense in the second person.

[3] Not all percentages sum to 100.

[4] Ironically, this comes only 20 verses after the famous John 3:16, touted by Christians as evidence of God’s/Jesus’ love for us.

[5] The website for Fred Phelps’s Westboro Baptist Church is: http://www.godhatesfags.com/index.html

May 8, 2009 - Posted by | atheism, Bible, Christianity, god, Metro State Atheists, News, philosophy, Politics, religion, science, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

14 Comments »

  1. [...] Metro State Atheists placed an observative post today on One Nation Under a Spell: Christianity in America and Religion …Here’s a quick excerptHowever, with the election of Barack Obama this backward, religious motivated agenda to stymie what Sam Harris calls “one of the most promising lines of research in biology”, is now being federally funded after being denied such funding … [...]

    Pingback by Topics about Barack-obama » Blog Archive » One Nation Under a Spell: Christianity in America and Religion … | May 9, 2009

  2. Joel Guttormson’s article raises interesting points that merit attention and further discussion, however, the impact of his message is weakened considerably by its poor delivery.

    For example, Guttormson’s 5918 word treatise features only 19 paragraphs; at 1004 words, the longest paragraph leaves readers gasping for air. Guttormson relies heavily upon Sam Harris, with 42 citations to that source; his article would be strengthened by including other authorities to support his statements.

    Bottom line: Guttormson has provided interesting, fresh insights to the discussion of religion in society, but sorely needs an editor to deal with some obvious defects in the delivery of his message.

    Comment by John | May 9, 2009

  3. John,

    Thank you for you comment. It was insightful and helpful for future blogs. However, please see the disclaimer at the top. This disclaimer was added after your comment as you pointed out the issue.

    Thank you again.

    Joel
    President
    Metro State Atheists

    Comment by Metro State Atheists | May 9, 2009

  4. [...] Tetherd Cow Ahead created an interesting post today on One Nation Under a Spell: Christianity in America and Religion…Here’s a short outline…and Presidents.” (Harris, Idea City ‘05)  These facts should be … course.  In fact, the legend of the Pilgrims leaving England to [...]

    Pingback by Topics about England » Archive » One Nation Under a Spell: Christianity in America and Religion… | May 9, 2009

  5. [...] Kaieteur News added an interesting post today on One Nation Under a Spell: Christianity in America and Religion…Here’s a small readingIntroduction… [...]

    Pingback by Topics about Bollywood » One Nation Under a Spell: Christianity in America and Religion… | May 10, 2009

  6. I’m not in complete disagreement with the post.

    But I do want to point out that thee are several Christians (including yours truly) that do not believe in the “Secret Rapture” and do not have the “the-end-is-coming.-We’re-all-going-to-die” mentality.

    Unfortunately many Christians misunderstand what “the end” really means. It does not mean “the end” in the normal popular “hell fire, earth-destructive” sence.”

    The real “end” is not the end of the earth at all, but rather a new beginning when Jesus Christ returns.

    Fortunatelly for me, the sect of Christianity I was raised in rejects “melenialism” as presented here. It’s not an authentic Christian teaching. That is a fact,and it’s a shame many Christians fall for it.

    Comment by krissmith777 | May 21, 2009

  7. Krissmith777,

    Funny you should say that. Other christians would say the same about your brand of christianity. That is the problem. You all can’t agree on the truth, which is hilarious to those on the outside looking in. I hear this so often from supposedly moderate christians that I just have to laugh. Look, the bible and jesus are either perfect or not. If the bible is just some book and jesus (if he existed) just some guy, then it holds no special, supernatural authority whatsoever. If the bible is perfect and jesus was divine, god is a supreme jerk, who hates gay people and nonbelievers and those people who you say are wrong about their interprations, I’m sorry to say, are the one’s that are right because they have actually read the bible the way it is supposed to be read which is literally (assuming, again, that it is perfect, without error of any kind). It is a shame christianity is still around… surprising really given how divided “the truth” is.

    Comment by Metro State Atheists | May 21, 2009

  8. You’re talking as if Christians actually have to agree on weverything. We don’t. Melenialism is unfortunate, but it is not an issue that determines personal salvation.

    Trying to tie the Bible in it is not going to work because melenialism is un-Biblical. And that’s a fact.

    Your understanding of the Christian God is way off. God doesn’t hate anyone, and nope, not even gays. He disapproves of their life-style, but the New Testament does not aprove of violence against them either. — And citing the Old Testament will not work because the “Mosaic Law” went out of affect when Jesus died on the cross.

    I don’t think God “hates” those with diferent interpratations of the Bible than me. He doesn’t “hate” anyone. He “hates” certain things, but not any person.

    Also, your understanding of the differing Christian groups is also wrong. — The truth is not divided. The different Christisn denminations actually are in almost perfect agreement on the important matters, and the vast majority of Christians will tell you the same. For example, we all agree on the doctrine of salvation through grace alone, the trinity, the personality of the holy spitit, the virgin birth and Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. — Those are the important matters, and we all agree on them. So, the truth is not “divided” at all. There’s only one truth on which we all agree on. The rest is trivial.

    Don’t believe me? Then take a course in Comparative Religion, and find out for yourself.

    Comment by krissmith777 | May 21, 2009

  9. “You’re talking as if Christians actually have to agree on weverything. We don’t. Melenialism is unfortunate, but it is not an issue that determines personal salvation.”

    Funny. Because you and other christians constantly refer to “the Truth”, implying only one such truth with no possibility of alternative interpretations.

    “Trying to tie the Bible in it is not going to work because melenialism is un-Biblical. And that’s a fact.”

    Prove it. Revelation is pretty “end-times” filled and it talks about the 1000 year reign of your buddy jesus.

    “Your understanding of the Christian God is way off.”

    Isn’t everybody’s except yours? LOL Really krissmith777, everyone religious person says that to every other religious person, and especially us. Fact is, you have yet to prove your god exists. You have to do this before claiming to know anything about this deity. Sorry.

    “And citing the Old Testament will not work because the “Mosaic Law” went out of affect when Jesus died on the cross.”

    Wrong again my friend. There are several instances when your buddy jesus says you must uphold the laws of the Old Testament, which makes sense since he would have been a Jew.

    Matt 5:17-20- “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. 19Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.

    Says it right there. He didn’t come to change the Law of the Prophets (capitalized always means the whole of the OT). Try again.

    “I don’t think God “hates” those with diferent interpratations of the Bible than me. He doesn’t “hate” anyone. He “hates” certain things, but not any person.”

    The fact that he isn’t capable of shedding himself of a petty emotion (petty in light of his supreme perfection and benevolence) shows he’s really not all that prefect and not worthy of worship at all.

    “The different Christisn denminations actually are in almost perfect agreement on the important matters”

    Almost doesn’t cut it. And no, not all denominations agree on all those things perfectly, especially the trinity (do I smell polytheism?). Also, from the above quote bible passge, jesus doesn’t consider the rest as trivial, neither does the rest of the book. There you go cherry picking that unoriginal book again. The very fact that there exist denominations which cannot get along theologically (ie. Did you ever hear about a place called Northern Ireland?) shows exactly that your so-called truth is divided. For an example, there are not groups of scientists out there that have form different demontinations about their views on gravity…why? Because it has been empirically verified and that is a true ‘truth’ about the universe. Religions are fantasies developed by humans to comfort themselves in the light of the fact of their own mortality.

    “Don’t believe me? Then take a course in Comparative Religion, and find out for yourself.”

    You make want to retake that course…you obviously didn’t pay attention. History proves you wrong (ie. Puritans killing Quakers, yes…yes..they did and did it for religious reasons, right here in the good old U.S.A)

    Joel

    Comment by Metro State Atheists | May 21, 2009

  10. I realize that there are several “My way or the highway” Christians. And that is unfortunate. But I still stand by what I say about melenialism not being essentially Christian. –It isn’t Christian at all.

    You are confusing what Jesus called “The Law” your citation of Matthew. — Jesus is not talking about the Mosaic Law at all. That was abolished on the cross. Ask any Christian. That is the official doctrine.

    His definition of the law was something else:

    Romans 13:8: “Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law.”

    Galations 5:14: “For the whole law is fulfilled in one word, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.””

    Love is the fullfillment of the law, the mosaic law of the Old Testament is completely different and is not binding at all.

    You are right in saying Jesus didn’t come to “Change” the law. — But he did say he came to “fulfill.” Go back and read the quotation again. “Changing” and “fulfilling” are very different.– If he indeed fulfilled the law, which he did, then the old laws are no longer binding.

    Think about it this way: If your employer tells you to repair something (like an engine, for example), then that is “law.” When you “fulfill” it, then it is no longer binding. That is exactly what Jesus did with the mosaic law on the cross. (Galatians 3:21)

    God’s love of the sinner, but hate for the sin is not “petty emotion.” — If a close relative (or friend) did something that wou didn’t like or approve of, would you hate him? No, you wouldn’t (I hope). — Would you hate what he did? Yes, you would. – Is that petty emotion? Absolutely not.

    Your characterization of the Trinity as polytheism is a common misunderstanding. — The doctrine is that three persons are one God. Therefore, it is monotheism, but in a way that reminds us that God is way beyond human reason. — In Hebrew, the word for God “Elohim” is plural. In English it is translated as a singular only because of limitations in the English language.

    I realize that historically there were Christians that fought and persecuted other Christians. — But that by no means indicates that their belief systems weren’t similar enough, but that was back when people of all creeds, whether theistic or atheistic, had less tolerance for even the slightest dissent. — You are confusing “Comparative Religion” with “History of Religion.” The two are not interchangeable.

    Comment by krissmith777 | May 21, 2009

  11. By the way, it should be added that there is no Christian justification for the persecution and killing of other Christians, much less anyone else.

    Comment by krissmith777 | May 21, 2009

  12. You’re answer to the mosaic law thing is just pitiful. He also said the prophets, remember that? Or are we back to you picking and choosing. Seems pretty subjective for this stuff to be the truth. And who exactly are you to say that you have the one and only correct interpretation in the first place? But I digress. The laws and the prophets and the laws of the prophets are and is the Old Testament. The new and old testaments also say you can’t add to nor take away from (that means no cherry picking) any of books or “the word”. Also, doesn’t the new testament say that the whole bible is the word of god and thus it would have to perfect? If it’s perfect there is no alternative interprations except for what is there word for word…unless of course you concede that it was a wholly unoriginal work put forth by men (specifically men) then it isn’t all that awesome nor does it deserve the reverence or authority you place upon it.

    “Ask any Christian. That is the official doctrine.”

    Did that. And I’ve heard from them that I am right. Sorry again you lost that one.

    “If he indeed fulfilled the law, which he did,”
    Prove it.

    “it should be added that there is no Christian justification for the persecution and killing of other Christians, much less anyone else.”

    St. Augustine and St.Aquinas sure thought there was. In fact, St. Augustine’s arguments were those that laid the groundwork for the inquisition. Are you really going to sit there and go against the words of your saints? The “lights” of the church? You probably will, and it will be hilarious to watch you do so.

    By the way. Most, if not all emotion, is petty. Emotions are generally not controlled and if your god can’t control an emotion like “hate” then he’s really not all that awesome after all. I tend not to hate things or people at all and telling me I would is just judgmental…oh wait aren’t christians not supposed to judge…oh no they can, so long as they don’t do it hypocritcally.

    Joel

    Comment by Metro State Atheists | May 21, 2009

  13. The Mosaic law the law of the five books of Moses. The words of the prophets are the messianic prophesies. Notice that Jesus doesn’t say “Law OF the prophets,” rather he says “Law AND the prophets,” distinguishing the two. So I am not picking and choosing. You are just uninformed about Christian doctrine. I am including the other prophets when I mention the Old Testament in general

    When he spoke about the fulfillment of the law, he was talking about the ceremonial laws as well as the abolishment of the harsher mosaic laws as well. When he spoke of the prophets, he was talking aout their predictions about him, for example in Isaiah 53, and Daniel 9:25,27. Fulfilment of the law and fulfillment of the prophets are two separate things. Don’t confuse the two.

    Nobody is saying that you take away the old testament. The reason why I have said what I have said is that the Old Testament was meant to point to Jesus. Therefore, now that Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament, the mosaic laws of the Old Testament are not necessary to keep anymore. If it was necessary to keep them still, we would still be sacrificing lambs for sins which would actually invalidate Jesus’ sacrifice.

    The law existed to show us we had sin. Jesus died as a sacrifice to save us from our sins, so therefore that law in not necessary to keep. For that reason, no Christian can be accepted by God through keeping the law, but only by God’s undeserved grace.

    The law of the old testament was mean as a “School teacher” to point to Christ. Now that he has come and gone, we are no longer under the teacher. It doesn’t mean the OT isn’t God’s word, because it is, but rather that it was meant to point to a Jesus’ first comming.

    If you have to tell me to prove that Jesus fulfilled the law, then you have missed one of the main reasons why he died on the cross. That was a reason why he did it. It is the reason why lambs aren’t sacrificed anymore because he was the final sacrifice. — If you don’t understand that, then you don’t understand Christianity at all.

    Whatever St. Aquinas and St. Augustine thought is irrelevant to Christian ethics. Their ideas would not have been condoned by Jesus or by any of the first Christians. Unless you can give any New Testament references that justify the Inquisition, you have no case.

    You have missed the point of Jesus’s statment about judging. He did’t tell us not to judge, just not to judge hypocritically. — Matthew 7:2 only says that we will be judged by the same standard we apply which is actually a very fair way to judge. Translation: “Judge fairly, not hypocritically.”

    Comment by krissmith777 | May 21, 2009

  14. Funny

    I start commenting on this post actually agreeing with you, and somehow you turn what little agreement we have into an intellectual brawl.(sigh)

    Comment by krissmith777 | May 21, 2009


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