Is there media bias against Christianity? I don’t believe so. It takes some audacity to cry bias or persecution when 76% of people in the U.S. self identify as Christian (American Religious Identification Survey 2008). It takes even more moxie when conservative Christianity has a strangle hold on politics in general and the Republican party in particular. Not catering to the Christian right can cost an election, not to mention the fact that 53% of people say they would never vote for an atheist for public office (2007 Gallup Poll).

Recently Dr. Daniel Dennett was asked the question: “Is there widespread media bias against Christianity? Against evangelicals such as Brit Hume and Sarah Palin? Against public figures who speak openly and directly about their faith? Against people who believe as you do?” I would encourage everyone to read his full answer in “Religious No Longer a Protected Class.” He makes some excellent points:

“There is no media bias against Christianity. If it appears to some people that there is, it is probably because after decades of hyper-diplomacy and a generally accepted mutual understanding that religion was not to be criticized, we have finally begun breaking through that taboo and are beginning to see candid discussions of the varieties of religious folly in American life.” (Dennett)

I agree. Religion should no longer get a free pass. No one should be able to hold up their holy book and say “thus saith god,” at least not without considerable evidence that god indeed has said something. Of course, every holy book makes the claim, but none can prove it.

“I look forward to the day when violence done under the influence of religious passion is considered more dishonorable, more shameful, than crimes of avarice, and is punished accordingly… I also look forward to the day when pastors who abuse the authority of their pulpits by misinforming their congregations about science, about public health, about global warming, about evolution must answer to the charge of dishonesty.” (Dennett)

The claims of religion need to be put to the test. We aren’t primitive peoples in awe of the wind, rain and thunder. Modern man should demand evidence. We shouldn’t be led around by the nose by the modern equivalent of a ‘”witch doctor.” We should ask the hard questions and not accept the answers of “you need faith”, “trust god”, and “lean not on your own understanding.” Such platitudes are a cover for ignorance, laziness and deceit.

“The double standard that exempts religious activities from almost all standards of accountability should be dismantled once and for all… Religious leaders and apologists should accept that since their institutions are so influential in American life, we have the right to hold their every move up to the light.” (Dennett)

Amen. No more “get out of jail free cards” should be given to those who claim a religious motive and a “calling” from god. If you want to play in the market place of ideas put up the evidence and be willing to be critiqued and criticized as every other idea.

At one time, at least one conservative Republican Senator understood this:

“I’m frankly sick and tired of the political preachers across this country telling me as a citizen that if I want to be a moral person, I must believe in A, B, C and D. Just who do they think they are? And from where do they presume to claim the right to dictate their moral beliefs to me? And I am even more angry as a legislator who must endure the threats of every religious group who thinks it has some God-granted right to control my vote on every roll call in the Senate. I am warning them today: I will fight them every step of the way if they try to dictate their moral convictions to all Americans in the name of conservatism.” Republican Senator Barry Goldwater (1909-1998), Congressional Record, 16 Sept. 1981

I’m betting that few if any politicians would be willing to take such a stand now, but hopefully the climate is beginning to change. The recent outcry concerning Pat Robertson’s idiotic remarks concerning Haiti (see McDonnell, White House decry Robertson’s Haiti Comments) is an encouraging sign as is the growing vocal atheist and skeptic movement. I’ll stand with Dennett and say “High Time.

Another new year has dawned so it’s hard not to reflect on the past and look forward to the future.

The Bible says:

Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead… Philip. 3:13 (NASB)

Good advice or bad? In one sense we don’t want to be tied to the past because the future is ahead of us. In another sense, forgetting what lies behind can be devastating. In a very real sense we are our past. All that we have experienced, all the mistakes and successes, all the traumas and exhilarating moments, all that we have accomplished and have yet to accomplish are all tied to our past.  It is what makes us human.  It is what makes us – US.  We dare not forget it. We must remember our past to go forth into the future. Unfortunately, some people don’t learn from their past. They repeat the same mistakes over and over in what appears to be a never ending cycle. Others appear completely bound to their past. They are never able to let go and live again but are always re-living their past hurts or victories. Both approaches to the past result in stagnation.

The proper response to the past is to embrace it, learn from it but not be bound to it.  While our past has made us what we are today, the good news is that we don’t have to be bound to our past. We can move on. We can break old cycles. We can learn new things. We can choose a different path. We can ask new questions or seek new answers. While all these things are available to us, it isn’t easy.  It’s easier to watch that same old TV show rather than take a course at the local community college.  It’s easier to stay in the job we hate instead of going out an looking for a new one. It’s easier to stay routed to the past rather than get up and move on.

As this new year progresses, make it a priority to step out of your comfort zone and challenge yourself. There is nothing more challenging that re-evaluating long held beliefs.  The difficulty most people have in doing this is accepting the realization that something they believed for so long just may not be true. It’s a humbling and scary thing, but can result in enormous growth and excitement. 

Of course, I’m thinking about religious belief in the context of this blog.  Instead of reading all those “Christian only” or “Christian-approved” books, venture out and read critiques of your religion. You aren’t sinning.  If your religion is true, it will past the test of scrutiny. If the bible is the inerrant word of god, there shouldn’t be errors and you shouldn’t have to resort to mental gymnastics to make passages agree.  If god does exist, it should be demonstrable by something other than a leap of faith.  If the world is 6000 years old, all of science should point to that “fact”.

Unfortunately, for religion (in this context – Christianity), I believe that it can’t past the basic tests. For example:

  1. There are errors in the bible in facts that can be checked making it suspect in those “spiritual” areas that can’t be checked.
  2. The world behaves exactly as if there were no god.
  3. The problem of evil mitigates against a loving, caring, and compassionate god.
  4. Prayer is not answered as every honest Christian knows and every study has shown.  The pass god gets in this area is amazing. It’s something we wouldn’t tolerate in anyone but god.
  5. The world is much, much older than 6000 years old.
  6. Man, indeed all life on this planet, evolved. Man wasn’t specially created by a divine being.
  7. Personal testimony is not a good reason for accepting a religion or belief system.  When it comes to religion, all people in all religions have a personal testimony; thereby negating them all.

Don’t take my word for it.  Check out some of these books, interact with the text and challenge your beliefs:

On the subject of Religion:

  1. 50 Reasons People Give for Believing in God by Guy Harrison
  2. The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins
  3. The End of Faith by Sam Harris
  4. The God-Virus. How Religion Infects our Lives and Culture by Darrel Ray
  5. God’s Problem by Bart Ehrman
  6. Misquoting Jesus by Bart Ehrman
  7. Challenging the Verdict. Cross Examination of Lee Strobel’s The Case for Christ by Earl Doherty
  8. The Reason Driven Life by Robert Price
  9. The Bible Unearthed by Finkelstein and Silberman

On Evolution & Science

  1. The Greatest Show on Earth by Richard Dawkins
  2. Quantum Gods by Victor J. Stenger
  3. The Demon-Haunted World by Carl Sagan
  4. Your Inner Fish by Neil Shubin

By former believers:

  1. Godless by Dan Barker
  2. Losing My Religion by William Lobdell
  3. Why I Became an Atheist by John Loftus

By believers:

  1. Fall of the Evangelical Nation by Christine Wicker
  2. Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience by Ronald SIder

On how the mind works

  1. The Drunkards Walk. How Randomness Rules Our Lives by Leonard Mlodinow
  2. Mistakes were Made by Not by Me by Tavris and Aronson
  3. How We Believe by Michael Shermer
I received this email today and thought it might be interesting to those in the Madison area.
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This message is sent by The Brights’ Net as a courtesy to Madison Brights

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Pub Politico is a new monthly event in Madison, WI. Held the second Sunday of the month, the Pub is an opportunity for anyone to participate in discussions about current political issues with experts, legislators, and other concerned citizens. We’ll meet from 2-4pm in the cozy upstairs lounge (overlooking the State Capitol) at Brocach on the Capitol Square (7 W. Main St, Madison). Go to www.pubpolitico.org for detailed info and to register for email alerts for upcoming Pubs.

The first Pub, January 10th, features Shawn Francis Peters who will be discussing public regulation of religious behavior and the current debate in Wisconsin over state law that appears to exempt parents from criminal prosecution for the death of a child when they choose prayer and other faith practices over standard medical care. There’s a bill currently moving through the Assembly to remove the exemption ? AB590 sponsored by Rep. Terese Berceau. For a little background about the issue read Shawn Peters’ opinion from the Wisconsin State Journal – http://www.jsonline.com/news/opinion/76478192.html.

On February 14th, Tim Ewing ? Outreach Director of Fair Wisconsin, will be speaking on “Building a Fair Wisconsin”, and why the denial of marriage hurts gay and lesbian families who live in every county of Wisconsin. www.fairwisconsin.com

Future topics include privacy laws and the psychology of politics. Feel free to suggest topics and speakers for future Pubs.

See you at the Pub!
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Thank you,
Leslie
Madison Brights
leslie@officeoncallonline.com or madisonbrights@gmail.com