Monday, December 18, 2006

Smear an atheist for Christmas.

Jeff Jacoby is religious and Right-wing. And he is a pundit for the Boston Globe newspapers where he turns out screeds in defense of moralistic government, aggressive foreign policy and the like. All under the pretense that he supports freedom.

And every year at this time the Right pulls up the bugaboo of “banning Christmas”. It is as much a Christmas tradition with them as presents under the tree. They need to claim they are being persecuted in order to justify government involvement to promote their religion. Jacoby obeys the Right-wing tradition with a passion.

He starts with a lament that “Christmas Cards” in the U.K. don’t mention Christmas. Of course, Christmas is not the only holiday this time of year and a general holiday card could sell to lots more people. He at least acknowledges all the market does is provide what people want.

He referred to the “anti-Christian animus” that caused British Airways to order “an employee to hide the tiny cross she wears around her neck.” Typical distortion of the facts. B.A., which reveresed its policy, as is their right, had a ban on all jewelery worn on the outside of their uniforms. They did not ban crosses ,or any other symbol of execution. They banned jewelry. It was not anti-Christian, though again if BA wished to have such a policy it ought to be free to determine its own employment policies. It was a dress code regarding the corporate uniform which neither singled out crosses or other religious symbols.

To prove his point Jacoby quotes an editor at the UK's Daily Telegraph. This is like Al Gore proving a point by quoting Hillary Clinton. The Daily Telegraph is the most right-wing of the papers in the UK, a piece of information that Jacoby leaves out of his column.

The Telegraph’s editor is quoted as referring to an “an increasingly godless age” and a “rising tide of hatred against those who adhere to biblical values.” Which biblical values? Stoning people to death was a biblical value? Having hundreds of concubines was a biblical value. Conquering the land, killing all the men and children and raping the virgins was a biblical value. Having slaves was a biblical value as well. Jacoby, like all advocates of biblical values, likes to cherry-pick his biblical values.

He mentions “two recent best sellers” as proof of this attack on Christians. One is a book by Sam Harris, The End of Faith, (Jacoby refuses to mention the title of the book). Harris attacks faith in general and spend a great deal of time on Islam, a faith that Jacoby attacks with great relish himself. The other “recent best seller” he mentions was an article in the Journal of Religion and Society that showed (he says “claimed” implying it is false) that faith correlates with higher social dysfunctionality. Of course this second article was not a “recent best seller” at all. In fact, you can’t purchase it in bookstores. But what’s a little hyperbole between hysterical Right-wing religionists.

After this litany of distortions, falsehoods and exaggerations Jacoby gets to his main, and worst point:

What is at stake in all this isn't just angels on Christmas cards. What society loses when it discards Judaeo-Christian faith and belief in God is something far more difficult to replace: the value system most likely to promote ethical behavior and sustain a decent society. That is because without God, the difference between good and evil becomes purely subjective. What makes murder inherently wrong is not that it feels wrong,but that a transcendent Creator to whom we are answerable commands: "Thou shalt not murder." What makes kindness to others inherently right is not that human reason says so, but that God does: "Love thy neighbor as thyself; I am the Lord." Obviously this doesn't mean that religious people are always good, or that religion itself cannot lead to cruelty. Nor does it mean that atheists cannot be beautiful, ethical human beings. Belief in God alone does not guarantee goodness. But belief tethered to clear ethical values -- Judaeo-Christian monotheism -- is society's best bet for restraining our worst moral impulses and encouraging our best ones. The atheist alternative is a world in which right and wrong are ultimately matters of opinion, and in which we are finally accountable to no one but ourselves. That is anything but a tiding of comfort and joy.

The problem is that this a load of rubbish. The United States is far more religious than most Western countries and it has greater levels of dysfunctionality. And within the US we can, as we did here, divide the US between the religious, conservative states and the more liberal, secular states. Most social problems are greater in those states with the highest percentage of conservative religionists. Gonorrhea is higher in the Bible-belt than in New England or on the West Coast. The same is true for divorce rates, out of wedlock birth rates, rape rates, murder rates, etc. In other words there is no indication that morality is secured by religion. In fact the more secular areas of the world, and within the US, seem to be more moral!

Jacoby can’t think straight. He says that atheism leads to moral subjectivity which religion doesn’t. What rubbish. Religionists may be adamant about their own particular faith, but the group as a whole is utterly subjectivist. You have widespread disagreement between them about what is right or wrong. The basics they agree upon, such as not killing are held just as widely among secularists. And secularists are more likely to actually avoid killing others.

Jacoby says that what makes killing wrong is that God said don’t murder. Crime statistics in the US show Christians more likely to kill than their secular neighbors. He says “without God” the difference between right and wrong is blurred and subjective. Religion prevents killing. It caused centuries of killing and inspires many such acts of human destruction today. The attack on 9/11 was inspired by religion.

Martin Luther launched his attack on Jews in the name of Christianity. John Calvin put poor Servetus to death by the flames, in the name of religion. The Inquisition did its work in the name of God. The Salem witch trials lead to the executions of 20 innocent people and the incarceration of ten times as many. The Bible was used to justify this exercise in tyranny. American slavery was justified throughout the South by Christians and the largest Protestant church in the US was created in defense of slavery: the Southern Baptist Convention. Lynchings were more widespread in the Bible-belt than outside. Polls today show that religious Americans are more likely to support the use of torture than secular Americans.

Maybe Jacoby is right that it leads to “subjective” morality but it appears that the religious groups are the least moral on a host of issues. Secular Americans are more likely to live decent and upright lives than their religious neighbors by a host of objective standards (some mentioned above). The only thing the “clear ethical values” of Christianity and Judaism has accomplished is to turn believers into hypocrites and justify their persecution of others and intolerance. It has not made them more moral but less so.

Photo: the man with the smirk is Jeff Jacoby.


Blogger Publius II said...

Good morning, and welcome back NGZ.

A few comments to correct some errors in your facts, if you don't mind. Otherwise, I agree with you, the Boston Globe writer is a nutter.

Servetus wasn't put to death by Calvin. He was sentenced by the City Council of Geneva, as well as the other Councils of the other Swiss cantons. Calvin lobbied at first for Servetus's release, calling for banishment from Geneva at worst. When it was apparent that Servetus would most certainly be executed, Calvin then pleaded that Servetus be beheaded instead of burned at the stake, again in favor of a more merciful fate.

To accuse Calvin of Servetus's fate is both wrong and ignorant of the facts.

As for Luther's attacks on the Jews, by "attacks" you should clarify that these attacks were restricted to writing very harshly against them, which in my own humble opinion was entirely too harsh.

My point in all this is that "religion" can indeed be used for cruelty by men for their own causes. But when speaking of the ideas of Luther and Calvin, it would seem to be of utmost importance to maintain that what they taught, wrote about, and preached, was a mercy and love of God, and of Christians that must absolutely be clear, and anything less than that is to be condemned as evil.

I strongly disagree with your often-stated assertion that religion "caused centuries of killing and inspires many acts of human destruction today." Religion is a set of ideas, it can't directly cause anything. Men cause these things by their own evil desires, and they use any number of things to justify it, with religion at the top of the list.

As for your statement that religious groups are the least moral on a host of issues, I couldn't agree more. Christ himself pointed at the Pharisees and called them a "brood of vipers" and condemned them at every turn.

Religion is not what God wants, and it's not what Luther and Calvin preached and taught, and it's not what I represent today. I just want to be clear about that.

December 18, 2006

Blogger GodlessZone said...

Calvin promised that if Servetus "comes, I shall never him let him go out alive if my authority has weight." In the Calvinist theocracy in Geneva it had weight. You are pulling the same sort of sleight of hand the Catholics do when they say the Inquisition never killed anyone. They had them arrested and tortured and tried and then gave them to the civil authorities, controlled by the church, and executed so they could keep alive the falsehood that the church did not execute people. Geneva's city council was Calvinists to the core and upon the arrest of Servetus Calvin made it known, "I hope that the verdict will call for the death penalty." The Wycliffe Biographical Dictionary of the Church wrote: "Calvin had him arrested as a herectic. Convicted and burned to death." (Published by Moody Press.) Calvin was the one who recognized Servetus and had him arrested and Calvin wrote the charges against him for heresy. Where Calvin disagreed with the council was that Calvin preferred having Servetus beheaded. Calvin continued to defend the murder of Servetus his entire life. And in 1562 admitted his role: "Servetus suffered the penalty due to his heresies, but was it by my will? Certainly his arrogance destroyed him...And what crime was it of mine IF OUR COUNCIL, AT MY EXHORTATION, INDDED, but in conformity with the opinion of several Churches, TOOK VENGEANCE ON HIS EXECRABLE BLASPHEMIES?" In his own words it was at his "exortation" that the council took "vengeance" on Servetus.

Luther's attacks on Jews were written and verbal and vicious. He urged his followers and the authorities to expell the Jews from their homes and confiscate all their property. He urged prosecution and punishment. Conservative historian Paul Johnson says Luther's book "On the Jews and Their Lies" was "the first work of modern anti-Semitis, and a giant step forward on the road to the Holocaust." Wiliam Shirer said you can only understand the action of German Protestants in the Nazi years by understanding "the influence of Martin Luther."

What Luther and Calvin taught was a God who would be merciful only to believers in the next life and the rule of authoritarian dictatorships in this life. Luther hated anything smacking of libertarianism as did Calvin.

December 18, 2006

Blogger Publius II said...

Servetus was arrested in 1553, and at that time, Calvin was losing his power and influence in Geneva. While Calvin ultimately supported the execution of Servetus, it was Nicholas de la Fontaine who played the lead role in the matter, not Calvin.

Shortly after Servetus's arrest, in a letter to his friend Farel, Calvin states that Servetus was deserving of the death penalty, but I am convinced (from other letters and writings of the same period that sets the context for such comments), that though he agreed Servetus deserved death, were it Calvin's decision alone, he would have simply banished him from Geneva.

Though I respect both Calvin and Luther greatly, and agree with most of what they wrote, I acknowlege fully that they too, are human and do so err. Luther's opinion of the Jews is inexcusable. That does not make him wrong about everything.

Though Calvin did nothing more than is evidenced to stop the death of Servetus, that does not mean he was wrong about everything.

Keep in mind that at the time that Luther and Calvin lived, Liberty for the individual was a thing nearly unheard of. Both Luther and Calvin spent their entire lives warring against those who persecuted them and their followers.

If you or I had seen thousands of our acquaintances put to death at the whim of a dictator as they did, no doubt we would be as jaded about liberty as it seems they were at the time.

There were far more instances of Calvin interceding on the side of peace and urging those on his side not to take up arms, and not to incite violence against the Catholics who were very careless with violence at the drop of a hat.

December 18, 2006

Blogger GodlessZone said...

Calvin himself said it was at his "exortation" that Servetus was arrested. He was the one who pointed him out for arrest and said before and afterwards that he supported killing Servetus. His own words condemn him.

Now I do keep in mind that they lived before their was liberty for the individual. Isn't it odd though that with the Bible for centuries people never figured out that humans ought to be free. If they were men dealing with man's wisdom I would say they would learn. But what excuse does a book written by a deity have for being unable to show people that they ought to be free.

I think they were men with a book written by other men even more culturally bound to a barbaric view of the world. You want that book to be divine thus having to answer why it did so little to humanize mankind. What did it take 1800+ years before they figured out that slavery was wrong. I would think that when Jehovah was so worked up about fornication and the likes he might have tossed out a "Thou shalt not have slaves." He didn't find the important and instead gave rules on how to own slaves. Luther and Calvin were awful by modern standards and enlightened by biblical standards. That ought to tell you something about divine revelation.

December 18, 2006

Blogger Publius II said...

I understand what you are saying, and in my opinion, you are correct. If the Bible is truly from God, then it ought to contain ideas that are beyond man - such as individual liberty.

That said, I think that it DOES. Not only does it contain the idea of individual liberty, but the entire message of the Bible is just that, freedom of the individual. It starts with the premise that individual is in bondage to sin and must be freed through faith in Christ. To say individual freedom is not a concept in the bible is grossly mistaken. It is the essence of the Bible.

Slavery, as described in the scriptures, is not quite the slavery of the 17th to 19th Century, either. It was more of an indentured serventhood, which I find at very least somewhat appealing personally. It would be a much better system of justice I think, than penning petty criminals up in a holding cell, not doing anything for society, nor anything for themselves, nor anything for the parties wronged, all the while the taxpayers float the bill for the system.

One of the many things I have on my "to-do" list is an extensive study of that particular topic. That is, how the Bible and the teachings of Christ, relate to slavery.

December 18, 2006

Blogger GodlessZone said...

You say the Bible does include such concepts. Then why did so many of the "greatest" theologians in history (in fact all of them up until the Age of Enligtenment) miss the concept of liberty? Why did this idea only arise when secular philosophy and reason again rose in the West? In bondage to sin (rubbish) is not the same thing as in bondage to man. The OT slaves were women and children captured in battle and allowed to be used sexually. This was not indentured servitude but conquest and enslavement.

The idea that political liberty is in the Bible is like the prophecies fundies say were fulfilled. No one noticed it until after the fact. After liberty came to the West, fighting the Church every step of the way, then suddenly Christians saw the light and said it was there the whole time. Slavery was endorsed by the church until abolitionism and even then American fundamentalists sided with slavery in the South right up until it was defeated and then they said the Bible was against it all along. (Except Calvinists Reconstructionists who today yearn to bring back slavery.) The Church spends most its time catchng up with the more humane morality of the secular world.

December 18, 2006

Blogger Publius II said...

On the contrary, in at least SOME sense, we owe it to Christianity that slavery was eventually abolished. It was Aristotle, remember, that declared barbarians (any non-greek) "unfit for anything but obedience, slaves by birth."

Roman society as you know was wrought with cruel treatment of slaves. According to the Roman law, "slaves had no head in the State, no name, no title, no register;" they had no rights of matrimony, and no protection against adultery; they could be bought and sold, or given away, as personal property; they might be tortured for evidence, or even put to death, at the discretion of their master.

Judaism stood on higher ground than this, though it tolerated slavery, with wise precautions against maltreatment (in comparison) and with the significant ordinance, that in the year of jubilee, which prefigured the renovation of the theocracy, all Hebrew slaves should go free. Upon pondering this Year of Jubilee, one can easily see a foreshadowing of when all men will be set free by not the Law itself, but by Christ, once again fulfilling the Law.

Christianity aims, first of all, to redeem man, without regard to rank or condition and to give him true spiritual freedom. It confirms the original unity of all men in the image of God, and teaches the common redemption and spiritual equality of all before God in Christ. It insists on love as the highest duty and virtue, which itself inwardly levels social distinctions and it addresses the comfort and consolation of the gospel particularly to all the poor, the persecuted, and the oppressed. Wherever this is not the discription of Christianity, it is due solely to the evils of man, not of the doctrines.

The fact that theologians mistook what is there, is of no great surprise. What scientist saw that the earth was not flat, before it was seen to be round? Hindsight is 20/20. We mere mortals cannot hope to see much further beyond what is in front of us, or at least behind us. Finitum non capax infinitum. And I think it was Newton that said "If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants." And no doubt there are more things that God knows, that we cannot hope to know in this present time. But one day man will know more than we know now, and we shall look back again, and see it was there all along.

December 18, 2006

Blogger Marc said...

Publlus said: And I think it was Newton that said "If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants."

Yes it was, but as with most God fearing types you've used the quote without actually understanding the context in which Newton said it. I'll give you a clue, while Newton was a genius, he was also incredibly arrogant. He also believed that God created the world as described in the bible - I wonder how he'd feel now that's been shown to be totally wrong.

December 19, 2006

Blogger Publius II said...

heh.. and how has it been shown to be totally wrong?

And I'm quite familiar with the context of the quote. He was paraphrasing Bernard of Chartres, from a quote 4 centuries earlier. Newton wrote that in a letter to a friend, in which he was assessing his accomplishments. Though he was apparently fairly arrogant, he at least had the sense to acknowledge the work of those who had gone before him.

December 20, 2006


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