Book Notes: Passages (and Commentaries) from Various Books
Pluralism & Individualism vs. Authoritarnianism in the Christian Right
The Christian Right in America today tends to behave as though there is only one valid way to be a Christian and, if people aren't sensible enough to accept this voluntarily, then Christian values will have to be imposed through force of law. It's common to argue that this is un-American, but what many may not realize that it can be described as un-Protestant as well.
Journalistic Duty & Press Freedom in the Wake of 9/11
Do journalists have a duty to get at the truth, even it's uncomfortable and contrary to the agenda of the government, or do journalists instead have a duty to support and defend that policies of the government? Many people seem to believe the latter, arguing that America has enemies who are only helped by criticism of the government.
Hitler's Detachment, Dogmatism, Uncompromising Nature
There is a popular perception of Hitler as a charismatic and popular leader. This is all true, to a certain extent, but it's also not the whole story. Hitler was charismatic in public because he practiced hard. Out of the spotlight, more of his true character revealed itself: he tended to be detached from others' suffering, dogmatic in his beliefs, and completely uncompromising.
Appeal of Fascism: Restoration of Religious Values, Moral Crusade
Many people have wondered, quite legitimately, how fascism could ever be appealing enough to develop a large following. Fascism was popular enough in Germany and Italy to take over those governments. Fascism also developed strong followings in other nations, like France and England. The unfortunate truth is that wherever it appears, fascism promises people what they want most.
Characteristics and Nature of Fascism
Fascism is a frequent topic of conversation; unfortunately, it is more often than not used simply as an epithet for any political system which people dislike. This is a problem because despite some difficulties in definition, fascism is a real political philosophy which poses real threats. Using the term as an epithet masks the real problems and real fascism.
Evangelicalism as a Threat to Public Order
One of the central, defining characteristics of evangelical Christianity in America has been a conservative focus on social order and stability. What many do not realize is that evangelical Christianity started out as an insurgent form of Christianity which was perceived by defenders of the status quo as serious threat to public order itself.
Power and Control as the Root of Domestic Violence
Violent men are the biggest source of domestic violence, but why do men become violent with the women they supposedly love? The answer lies with patriarchal social and religious expectations. Most observers recognize that there is a correlation between patriarchal attitudes and domestic violence, but the precise nature of this relationship isn't always understood.
Theocracy vs. Democracy in the Bush Administration
Does the Bush administration believe in democracy, or does it have a stronger and more fundamental belief in theocracy? It would be nice if they were firm supporters of democracy, but there is a great deal of evidence that the ultimate commitments of many administration officials have rested more with theocracy. Are we governed by politicians who don't believe that the people are sovereign?
Going Easy on White Collar Crime
The Christian Right gets a lot of political milage out of portraying itself as standing up for moral values and standing firm against immoral behavior. They benefit from an image of being tough on crime, but not all crimes are created equal: for some strange reason, crimes committed by poor minorities are the ones that receive "toughness" while white-collar crimes are given a much lighter touch.
Segregation & Christianity: Christian Opposition to Integration
One of the central organizing features of conservative evangelical Christianity is the perceived need for absolute standards of social order. They see all around them dangers to the social structures which uphold democracy, liberty, and especially Christianity. Whatever appears to threaten social stability and order is thus an offspring of Satan.
Equality and the Rule of Law vs. Religious Institutions
Throughout much of Western history, Christian churches occupied a privileged place in society. Religious institutions were sovereign, which meant that for the most part they simply weren't subject to the civil laws that applied to everyone else - and this includes the clergy. A priest who raped a child might only be sentenced a a year in a monastery while anyone else would be put to death.
Love and the Bible: Understanding the True Nature of Christian Love
Christianity is often described as a religion founded upon love, but it might be worth inquiring more closely just what "love" is supposed to mean in this case. Christian behavior often suggests that "love" has more to do with submission and repression and this may not be an aberration. It can be argued that this is what "love" meant all along in the context of humans' relationship with God.
Culture and Christianity: Adjusting Doctrine to Suit Culture
Christianity is a religion founded on the concept of orthodoxy, or "right belief." What this means is that being a Christian is contingent on believing the "right" things, even if you don't always behave in the right way. At the same time, though, Christianity's success at spreading around the world lies with its ability to adapt to local cultures.
Fear in the Workplace: Double-Standards for Business Leaders
Fear is a popular means used by those with power to better control those without power. All that is necessary is to give people a little something and ensure that it become important to them, then create the belief that they could lose what they have. When people have limited options for retaining what little they have, their actions are more predictable and controllable.
Credibility of Bible Miracles: Any Reason to Believe?
Christians often act as though the biblical accounts of miracles are self-evident reasons to believe in the truth of Christianity and of the Bible itself. Think for a moment about how strange that is: incredible tales that wouldn't normally be accepted at face value in any other context are suddenly treated as meeting the highest possible standards of truth and reliability. What gives here?
Nazi & Christian Conceptions of Women's Social Roles
Both religious and political conservatives tend to try to take women out of politics, business, and other public roles in order to limit them to the home, the family, and the church. It is their belief that women's roles are necessarily constrained by God and/or nature to taking care of the family and home life, leaving public life to men.
Blurring the Line Between Lawful and Unlawful Conduct
The difference between lawful and unlawful conduct is crucial for any society which is built upon laws. The laws are what help ensure the equality of everyone because the laws stand above everyone's passions or preferences. Everyone is expected to follow the same laws and to be held to the same penalties for failing to do so. When the laws become irrelevant, then so do justice and morality.
What Happens After You Die?
One thing which so many religious theists have trouble understanding about irreligious atheists is the latter's lack of belief not just in gods, but also in any sort of afterlife. More than any other topic, emails I get regularly ask about what I believe happens after I will die and how I can go on living without some sort of hope for the possibility of an eternal bliss.
Catholic Complicity in Nazism, Anti-Liberal Ideologies
There were lots of reasons why Catholic leaders should have opposed Hitler and the Nazis and this makes people wonder why they bent over backwards to accommodate the Nazis. What people need to understand is that there were also lots of reasons why Catholics and other conservative Christians wanted to work with the Nazis. Most were bound up with their common opposition to Weimar and liberalism.
Creating Kinship & Relationships Through Marriage
Perhaps the most important thing about marriage is the way in which it creates new kinship ties. Marriage is in fact the primary means through which a person acquires new relatives and close social relations - people for whom you are expected to sacrifice and who are expected to sacrifice for you.
Modernity, Liberalism, and Modernism vs. Christian Tradition
Fundamentalism and conservative forms of most religions share in common a strongly negative reaction to modernity, the modern world, and everything which modernism brings. This is relatively easy to point out, but the true implications are as important as they are difficult to fully grasp.
Morality & Religion
Most religious believers tend to connect religion and morality in such a way that one becomes unthinkable without the other. Thus true, genuine religion necessarily makes one a more moral person while being a moral person signifies that one has and requires true religion. None of this is true, though - the connection between religion and morality is at best incidental.
Muslim Anti-Semitism: Holocaust Denial Among Muslims, Palestinians
Holocaust Denial is usually conceived of as a Western phenomenon, something indulged in by antisemitic bigots in America, Europe, and other Western nations. We should not miss the fact that it has become very popular in the Islamic world as well. Holocaust Denial fuels Muslim Antisemitism and may pose a serious problem for the possibility of any peace in the future.
Silence as a Weapon of Totalitarian States
The suggestion - or worse, the order - to maintain silence about something is frequently used by totalitarian and authoritarian states as a means for preserving power. Knowledge is power, as the saying goes, so the less information people have the tighter the grip the state can have on them. Secrecy and silence should thus be viewed with great suspicion by any people who wish to remain free.
The Fundamentalist Impulse in Islam & Christianity
It's common for people to discuss fundamentalism in both Christianity and Islam as if the phenomenon "fundamentalism" were essentially the same in both of these religions. That, however, isn't true - not only are the religions themselves very different, but their fundamentalist strains developed in very different contexts. This is key to understanding their fundamentalisms.
Creationism Contradicts Known History & Geology
Young Earth Creationism, a religious ideology which insists that the Earth is only around 6,000 years old, is not as popular as it once was in America but it also hasn't entirely disappeared, either. In fact, Young Earth Creationists may be among the most vocal and committed creationists because they have bought into biblical literalism completely, even rejecting allegorical readings of Genesis.
The Universe Does Not Require Gods
The concept of 'god' can mean many different things - or perhaps it can mean anything, given the apparent limitless number of characteristics which various believers assign to their gods. Any time someone asks you why you don't believe in any gods, make sure you ask them what they mean by 'god' in the first place. Chances are, it's simply not something which requires belief.
Protestantism & Personal Religion: Bowing to Religious Authorities
Religion has traditionally not been very friendly towards skepticism, critical thinking, and individualism. Religion in America, however, has had to incorporate a significant amount of individualism because this is an important aspect of American culture. Individualism affects just about every religion in the nation - but not quite every one. Amish Christianity is a notable hold out.
Evil vs. Virtue: Which Should We Focus On?
The major Western religions - Judaism, Christianity, and Islam - are often noted for their emphasis on defining bad behavior and explaining in great detail all of the things a person shouldn't do. Some in the West have developed the impression that this is inherent in the nature of religion, but that's not correct. Other religions focus less on condemning sin than on encouraging virtues.
Eating Too Much: Will Gluttony Send Us All to Hell?
Christians today, especially conservative Christians in America, often have a lot to say about people's sins and sinful behavior. Sometimes it almost seems as if some people simply wouldn't be happy if it they weren't complaining about others' sins. Curiously, one sin tends to get ignored: gluttony. Has gluttony ceased to be a sin, or is it an inconvenient sin because so many are guilty of it?
Loyalty to the Party over Loyalty to Truth and Justice
A nation of laws requires that those in power owe their first and primary allegiance to the principles of law, to truth, and to justice. Once people start putting loyalty to a person, party, or agenda ahead of loyalty to law, truth, or justice, then they participate in efforts to undermine the nation and undermine law itself.
Israeli Disregard of Palestinian Lives
One criticism often leveled against the Israeli government is that it seems to completely disregard the lives and interests of Palestinians - whether Muslim or Christian - as if they had less value than the lives and interests of Israeli Jews. There is some merit to this criticism and evidence of such an attitude can be traced right back to the beginnings of the Zionist movement.
Minimal Invasion: How Far Should the Government Go?
There are significant debates over how society should balance individual liberties against the scope of government power and authority. The more authority the government has over our lives, the less scope our liberties can have; the more liberties we have, the less authority the government is permitted. This is especially important when it comes to matters of life and death.
Sex & Eroticism: Using Sexual Imagery to Sell Everything
It's been said that 'sex sells' and most people are aware that sexual imagery is common in advertising, but people may not realize just how pervasive it really is. The reason for this is the fact that sex is not just used in overt and obvious ways. Sex is used to sell not just by providing images of scantily clad men and women, but also through more subtle messages which might pass by unnoticed.
American Military & American Propaganda
No one will be surprised to hear that the American government generally and the military in particular have engaged in deliberate propaganda efforts. Despite this, few people are aware of the extent to which such propaganda efforts exist - and the sorts of propaganda which is created. Not to put too fine a point on it, but it appears that little which the government tells us can be trusted.
If Pornography Harms, Why are Juries Subjected to It?
Over the decades government prosecutors at many levels have initiated criminal cases against so-called "obscenity." A common argument advanced for criminalizing obscene material is the idea that it harms those who use it and the rest of society in the process. If that's so, then why subject juries to this material? Aren't jury members harmed by this exposure during the trials?
Lethal Injection: Easier for the Condemned or for the Executioners?
Many states across America now use lethal injection as the preferred or only method of execution. It is argued by defenders of the practice that lethal injection is more humane than electrocution, the gas chamber, and other historic alternatives. This is doubtful, however, and it may be the case that it's simply more humane for the executioners, making it easier for them to kill.
Economics of Journalism: Is Journalism a Business or Public Service?
Journalists are an important part of democratic society. In a democracy, the people make decisions about who should govern, but they can only make good decisions if they are allowed to make informed decisions. This means that journalists must serve as independent conduits of information about what is happening and what those who govern are doing. Are journalists doing their job?
Fear at the Root of Fundamentalism? Fear of Women, Knowledge
Many critics have noticed that fundamentalist religion spends a lot of time reacting out of apparent fear. Rather than simply and confidently laying out a positive program of beliefs, too often fundamentalism is more concerned with raising an alarm over alleged dangers lying in wait all around us. If fundamentalism is indeed based on fear, what might this tell us?
Evangelical Christianity & Personal Certainty
One of the most fundamental characteristics of evangelical Christianity, something which often goes unnoticed, is the driving need for certainty. Whatever the issue, evangelical Christians appear to experience horror at any uncertainty or shades of grey.
Reliability of Eyewitness Accounts in the Gospels
Most Christians seem to place a lot of emphasis on the gospels as a basis for their religious beliefs. They appear to be convinced that these texts are reliable, accurate descriptions of things which occurred millennia ago and, therefore, they are rationally justified in adopting the supernatural, religious beliefs derived from these texts.
Sacred vs. Secular in Muslim Extremism
Few people appreciate the importance of distinguishing the sacred from the secular in modern life. Going beyond the separation of church and state or the separation of religious from civil authority, the distinction between the sacred and the secular ensures that there are aspects to life, culture, and politics which are outside the ability of self-professed religious leaders from controlling.
Secession & Slavery: Christian Justifications for Secession, Rebellion
It's common for people to imagine that the case for the slave states seceding from the Union was based upon political principle. Some even think that secession and the Civil War were more about states' rights than slavery. If we look at the actual arguments made by supporters of secession, though, we'll find it common for them to cite Christianity, God, and the Bible in their arguments.
Certainty, Sexuality, and Gender Roles in Fundamentalism
Although fundamentalist political and social systems typically treat women as inferiors, according them fewer rights and privileges as compared to men, there are still many women who not only defend fundamentalism but who in fact choose to enter such relationships. Assuming they aren't masochists or lack any self-confidence, why would any women do such a thing? What's going on here?
American Religion & American Empire: Theological Justifications
Throughout history, imperialism and religion have gone hand-in-hand. Imperialistic expansion provides opportunities for religious expansion while religion offers theological justification for the violence and oppression needed for imperialism to work. It's not unusual to hear talk about America being an "empire," but even if that is true in a very loose sense, what's the role for religion?
Religious Pluralism: Antidote to Religious Oppression?
Religious oppression, which can occur in a variety of ways, is something which justifiably concerns many people. There are both laws and constitutional provisions designed to prevent or at least inhibit the development of religious oppression. The best tool against oppression may be social rather than legal: oppression does not easily grow where power is spread most widely.
Faith, Religion, and Self-Critique
Many religious believers come off as arrogant in their dealings with others. This arrogance, when not simply a basic personality defect, is often a consequence of their absolute conviction that they couldn't possibly be wrong in what they say or believe. This failure to even consider self-reflection and self-criticism is not only self-destructive, but dangerous for all those nearby as well.
Conservative Morality is Not Moral or Ethical
Conservatives, and especially conservative Christians, tend to argue that everything which is wrong with America today can be traced to the predominance of "liberal" morality. According to such conservatives, we'd all be better off if we would focus more on restricting sexual, private behavior. Is there any evidence that the people who do this are, in fact, better and more moral than others?
Supreme Court Justices: Arbiters of Religious Tradition?
Many conservatives criticize Supreme Court decisions which they regard as being insufficiently based upon the 'plain text' of the Constitution - decisions which, for example, draw upon sociology, international law, or modern social developments. Rarely do we here conservatives complain about those who argue that decisions should ignore the text of the Constitution and rely upon religious law.
Values Voters: Evangelicals, Religious Values, and Government
Conservative evangelical Christians are using the label 'values voters' to describe those who vote on the basis of religious values. At least, that's what they would like everyone to think - the label sounds nice and broad, but it incorrectly assumes that all religious believers not only have the same values, but also the same ideas about how those values should be reflected in public policy.
What is Essential to Religion? Excusing Violence and Crime
One of the most popular ways to define religion, or any other complex concept, is to identify some 'essential' feature and say that it is the defining characteristic. There are many problems with this, not the least of which is how it overly simplifies complex issues. One serious flaw is that it encourages people to improperly exclude from the concept those things which are inconvenient.
Human Handicaps: Society Adjusts for the Dominant Preferences
Disability is, by definition, a relationship between a person and their ability to perform some action; disabilities are thus not intrinsic. Instead, they are relative to a person's physical context - if they have a means for doing the action, they aren't disabled anymore. If you look around, you'll find that we all have technological aids to help us do things we couldn't do on our own.
Turnover in the Clergy: Why Don't Clergy Keep Their Jobs?
What sort of relationship is a pastor or minister supposed to have with their congregation? One might assume that the pastor is supposed to be a spiritual leader, but in many churches a small group of laity are ultimately in control; as a consequence, they go through pastors at a rapid pace. There is little job security for pastors in some denominations.
Christianity & Salvation: Christianity as Worthless, Unjustifiable
Although some Christians through history have believed in universal salvation, most have held strongly to the idea that the only possible path to salvation is through being a Christian %u2014 usually, only their sort of Christian. Given the fact that most people through history have not been Christian, most people have not been saved. If this is true, Christianity is an immoral ideology.
Biblical Criticism & Atheism: Why Bother with the Bible?
Should a person launch into a detailed and involved study of the entire Bible before deciding that atheism is more reasonable than Christianity or any other sort of theism? Some Christians seem to think so by the way the act - sometimes asking, for example, just how much an atheist has studied the Bible. Self-professed Christians aren't asked this, so why the double standard?
Evils of Secular Welfare: Faith-Based Programs in Nazi Germany
An important argument behind the Republican drive for "faith-based programs" and religiously motivated public services is the idea that purely secular programs and services lack the appropriate values and morals to be very successful; churches, which have traditionally provided these services, also provide the values people need. This is not the first time such arguments have been made.
Legalized Torture is a Victory for the Rule of Law?
How can you get otherwise moral people to authorize morally evil acts? One effective method is to argue for committing much greater moral evils and then allow them to suggest a "compromise" whereby a somewhat lesser moral evil is permitted. You can even get people to think that a well-regulated and well-structured moral evil is a "victory" for the forces of law and good.
Temperance, Morality, and the American Right
Morality crusades pursued by the American Right have often been aimed at legitimate targets. Temperance, for example, sought to reduce genuine problems with alcohol abuse and attending issues. Immigration is also an important issue which needs to be resolved. Such crusades have, however, also been tightly bound up with anti-immigrant, racist, nationalist, and anti-modernist fears.
Why Was The Satanic Verses Offensive?
Although the world-wide protests over the publication of the Danish cartoons of Muhammad are foremost on people's minds, these incidents were not unique - they were very much like the protests against Salman Rushdie's book The Satanic Verses. Perhaps we should consider why that book was so offensive.
Did Jesus' Disciples Write the Gospels?
Who wrote the gospels of the New Testament? It's common for believers to act as though they were written by the disciples whose names appear at the top. To call such a state of affairs 'implausible' would be an understatement, however. The gospels were not written by illiterate fishermen from Galilee, nor were they written to be objective, historical accounts of events that really happened.
Evangelicalism & Anglicanism: Development of Religion in the South
Today the American South is defined by evangelical Christianity - not just in terms of religion, but also politics, culture, and history. Many may be surprised, though, that there was a time when evangelical Christianity didn't dominate the South. In fact, evangelicals were treated more like a weird cult that wasn't really trusted.
Slavery & Christianity: Justifying Oppression for Sake of Social Order
That slavery was not merely tolerated, but actively endorsed and defended by Christians in the American South is a matter of public record. Few people are willing to think much about this, but it's a historical fact. Less well known is why defending slavery was so critical in the minds of Christians. According to at least some, slavery was a vital component of social order.
Afflicting the Comfortable: Importance of Undermining the Status Quo
Which is better for the political and social health of a community: to tell people what they want to hear and reinforce their prejudices about themselves, or to dissent from common prejudices and reveal uncomfortable truths? Many people seem to prefer the former, saying that dissenters and critics are traitors; ultimately, however, dissent is critical and necessary.
The Attraction of Patriarchy for Women
Traditional religions tend to be very patriarchal, giving men most if not all social, political, and familial power while relegating women to second-class status at best. The attraction of so much power for men isn't that hard to imagine, but why are so many women attracted to such a situation? Why do women voluntarily enter it, stay with it, and even defend it?
American Imperialism & Innocence: Theological Justifications of Empire
Most, if not all, empires that have ever existed have been accompanied by theological justifications for their existence, their power, and their domination of 'lesser' peoples. America is no different, but it does come with a curious contradiction. Whereas empires of the past have been open about claiming to deserve power, America claims to be innocent and not to really want power.
Religious Conscience vs. Public Duties
It's getting more and more common for people to insist that when their religious conscience conflicts with their duties, then their religious conscience should take over and their duties should suffer - even if that means that others must also suffer in some fashion. It wasn't always this way. There was a time when Christians thought so highly of both that they would resign first.
Conservative Critiques of America's Moral Corrosion
It's a standard part of political discourse that conservatives lament the direction America's culture has taken. Whether members of the Christian Right or not, conservatives almost invariably have strong criticisms to make about the 'moral corrosion' in America. These complaints are very selective, though: they focus on personal matters like sexuality and almost never on things like greed.
What Does it Mean to be a Christian Nation?
America's Christian Right likes to talk a lot about how America is a 'Christian' Nation. Do you ever see them explaining exactly what they mean, though? No. The fact of the matter is, 'Christian' has a lot of different possible meanings, most of which are contradictory. Either the Christian Right is ignorant of this fact or, more likely, they are using the ambiguity for political purposes.
Mormons, Polygamy, and Same-Sex Marriage
Today the Mormon Church is one of the foremost opponents of same-sex marriage. What makes this interesting is that over century ago, the Mormons were in the middle of another national debate over the nature of marriage - but on the other side. At the time, they vigorously defended their own 'alternative' lifestyle. My, how things have changed.
Civil Rights, Civil Equality: Democracy Requires Full, Equal Humanity
Political equality requires human equality - when one group of citizens is treated as inferior on a basic human level, then it's impossible for them to be truly equal on a political level. Democracy, which is based upon political equality, thus cannot fully exist then citizens are denied full human equality. That's what happens when women, gays, or others are forced to hide or deny themselves.
Peace and the Bible: Understanding the True Nature of Religious Peace
Major world religions want to achieve peace, right? Perhaps - but before we get too happy about that, perhaps we should ask what sort of peace they want. Not all forms of peace are equal: some forms of peace allow everyone to live freely; other forms of peace require that some submit to subjugation. Peace is the absence of war, but not necessarily the presence of justice.
Southern Baptist Battles: Changing the Nature of Faith
Baptists can trace the roots of their denomination back to some of the earliest groups of the Reformation. One of the oldest characteristics of Baptist groups is rejecting the idea of a 'creed' which all members must sign in order to be in good standing. Baptists have always held firm to the idea that each person is responsible for deciding what to believe - at least, until recently.
Christian Conceptions of God: Can God be Judged?
When responding to various skeptical objections to theism, like the Argument from Evil, it's common for theists to insist that we cannot 'judge' God. Because God is so much greater than we are, it's inappropriate for us to try to use our puny human reason to evaluate whether God's actions or plans are good. Do theists understand the implications of this position, though?
Nazi Christian Ethics: Killing Unequal Humans, Victims of Guilt, Sin
Some wonder how Christians could have cooperated with the Nazis - especially when it came to the Nazis' more vicious policies, like forced euthanasia, wars of aggression, and eventually the Holocaust. Evidently, it wasn't too hard - they didn't even need to compartmentalize and ignore their dogmas. They could rely on Christian leaders providing theological justifications for Nazi programs.
Meaning of Life: Is there a Question to be Answered?
Religious theists like to ask about 'the meaning' of life, especially when they can insist that atheists are unable to provide any answer to this burning question. Then again, perhaps the question isn't really so burning after all. Maybe it's not a question that can be answered in the first place.
How the Powerful Define the Subject of Fear & Action
What are you afraid of? Chances are, your fears are directed at things which aren't very likely to affect you (like terrorism) and not at all at things which are likely to affect you (car accidents). Why? Because the media and the government publicize certain things over others in order to encourage greater fear of certain things - and thereby mobilize action in certain directions.
Defeatism, Dissent, and Treason at Home During War
Whenever a nation goes to war, it becomes important for everyone at home to rally behind the flag and support the nation's goals. Or is it? What if the nation's goals are immoral, or if the nation went to war under false pretenses? This doesn't always seem to matter to nationalists: they accuse dissenters of treason regardless of how reasonable their dissent was.
The Political Agenda of the American Right
There is a common factor behind the America's right-wing assaults on teaching evolution, access to contraception or abortion, civil equality for gays, feminism, drug legalization, divorce, and so forth: opposition to modernity. America's right-wing, especially the Christian Right, is seeking to undermine the modern developments begun during the Enlightenment.
Popularity of the Apocalypse
It seems that the most popular Christian fiction books today (and they are fiction, something that readers don't always seem to keep firmly in mind) are about an apocalypse in the future. This isn't a fad or a fluke: apocalyptic books have been massively popular with Christians for years. They seem to enjoy reading about an apocalypse that never comes.
Defending Family Values: Using the Family for Social Control
It's been remarked by more than one person that the conservative evangelical claims to be 'defending' family values stands in stark contrast to policies and agendas that make matters difficult for many families. In truth, they are better than they used to be - the original evangelicals denigrated the value of families in many ways. In both cases, though, the point was social control.
Christianity & Women: Christian Equality vs. Christian Misogyny
Christians often regard their religion as one of peace, freedom, and liberation - but it hasn't always been that way, and it isn't even always that way today. For most of history, Christianity has provided the ideological and theological muscle behind the repression of... just about everyone, but especially women - one half of the human population. Some Christians resisted, though.
Race & Honor: Biblical Origins of Christian Racism, Slavery
Why would Christians believe that someone is inferior simply because their skin is black? Racism likely derives from fear of differences, but that has nothing to do with how they rationalize and justify it. For Christians, this was done through Genesis 9 and the Noah story, which they read as the origin of how all black Africans are "dishonorable" and therefore unworthy of freedom.
Using Religious Scripts to Define Social Roles
Most people don't think about the social roles they play - they don't give much thought to the expectations they have to fulfill as man or woman, husband or wife, parent or child. They simply try to meet those expectations as best they can, following the example they see in others and the demands imposed upon them by social, political, and religious authorities.
Capital Punishment, Catholicism and Cathars
Today the Catholic Church stands resolutely against capital punishment. The validity of executions has not been rejected completely, but the situations in which they are licit are so narrow and limited that they are practically impossible, at least if one adheres to Catholic teachings faithfully. This wasn't always the case, though.
Ego & Uniqueness
Quite a few Christians insist that Christianity isn't a religion, it's a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. The fact that Christianity, even as lived by such Christians, perfectly fits just about any definition of religion doesn't matter. So why do they make this claim? Perhaps they fear that classifying Christianity as a religion prevents it from being special or unique.
Constantine & Christianity: Political, Social Unity Through Religion
Just about everyone familiar with Christian history realizes that Christians achieved its powerful position in the Roman empire because of the patronage of emperor Constantine. A question that vexes historians, though, is why he did it. Why did he choose Christianity over other options, like traditional Roman paganism or even Mithraism?
Sacred Time & Sacred Space in Cyberspace
Religion has become an important aspect of the internet, with many people seeking religious information or even religious fellowship online. One possible conflict here is the fact that religions have traditionally insisted on a carefully regulated sense of time whereas the internet is constantly moving.
War Fever in America: Silencing and Punishing Dissent
One of the most disturbing features of America's march towards invading and occupying Iraq was the treatment of those who disagreed. War dissenters were labeled traitors and "objectively pro-terrorist." It wasn't enough to simply oppose Saddam Hussein, one had to favor America removing him by force. Even more disturbing is how often this has been repeated in American history.
Power and Violence: Who Has the Moral High Ground?
In the so-called 'war on terrorism,' it's all too common to see conservatives try to justify barbaric actions of the U.S. government by pointing to even more barbaric actions by Muslim extremists. It's OK to torture prisoners because Islamists behead innocent people, or so the argument seems to be constructed. Such arguments aren't just wrong, they are counter-productive.
Who's Responsible for Oppression?
Oppression is, unfortunately, a common aspect of human life. All through history and all around the world, people struggle against oppression by others. Who is responsible for all this oppression, however? The oppressors obviously bear most of the responsibility, but it's possible to give them so much responsibility that one actually ends up supporting their oppression.
Torture and Ulilateral Power
The impact of torture on those who must suffer it is obvious, but torture also has wider implications for the rest of society. Even just the hint of torture possibly being used has negative consequences on a democratic society because it represents a massive increase in the amount of power which the state can have over the bodies, minds, and futures of individual citizens.
Public Recognition of God and Jesus
It's common - far too common - for public officials to introduce god-talk into their public statements or speeches. This is often defended on the basis of most Americans believing in God and, therefore, it's appropriate to integrate that belief into public acts of government. Well, most Americans believe in Jesus, too - so why not put 'Jesus' in the places where they say 'God'?
Individualism, Greed, and the Christian Right
Perhaps the most important catch-phrase of the Christian Right is 'family values' and a significant amount of their political, social, and cultural agenda is predicated on the defense of 'family values.' One of the problems with this is that the Christian Right has a very narrow conception of what qualifies as a threat to 'family values.' It's almost all about sex, never money or materialism.
Civil Equality vs. Religious Bigotry
Should the civil equality of all citizens, and especially members of minority groups, be limited by the bigotry and traditions of particular religious groups? On its face, that sounds like an absurd proposition, but it's precisely what many in the Christian Right seek to establish. They insist that their religious traditions and beliefs constitute limits on the liberties of everyone else.
Civil Marriage vs. Religious Marriage
Is marriage a civil right or a religious rite? This is the question which lies behind so many debates over issues like gay marriage. Some insist that marriage is a civil matter and should be regulated according to civil, secular standards. Others insist that marriage is a religious issue which should be regulated according to (their) religious standards. Who is right?
Religion and Israel: Religious Causes of Political Violence (Book Note
Why is there so much violence surrounding Israel? There is no simple explanation, but the fundamental role of religion cannot be dismissed. When you get right down to it, if it weren't for religion, it's unlikely that there would be much violence surrounding Israel at all today. Both Judaism and Islam are to blame, but Judaism probably has to shoulder most of it.
Religions Creating a New Society
Religion can be a useful resource for critiques of the wider society. Because religions attempt to derive values and ideals from sources which believers think are transcendent, it's possible for believers to at least attempt to step outside some of the cultural and political assumptions of their contemporaries. It often doesn't work, but at least the effort can be helpful.
Hate Crimes: Do they Punish Unpopular Speech, Thoughts?
Many people believe and argue that so-called 'hate crimes' are really just attempts to criminalize unpopular ideas and speech. The label certainly gives that impression because it seems to make certain types of 'hate' into a 'crime,' but if we look at the actual implementation of hate crime legislation - to increase penalties for violent crimes - this perception does not hold up.
Women and Christianity: Forcing Women into Subbordinate Positions
Women have made great strides when it comes to achieving political and social equality in America, though at times this is difficult to perceive given how far short America has fallen from genuine equality. One of the areas where women still have the farthest to go is in America's churches: Christianity, as practiced in America, continues to treat women as inferior human beings.
God as Designer: Does God's Mind Evince Signs of Design?
People who argue that the universe is designed face numerous problems and contradictions in their arguments. One of the most interesting is that if everything with a useful purpose is necessarily designed, then isn't the same true of the mind of the alleged designer?
Blending Christianity and Science in the Service of Political Ideology
The conflicts between religious faith and empirical science seems to be continual, but just as continual are the efforts to find some middle ground where both can co-exist. It's important for many Americans to find a way to bridge the gulf between traditional Christian faith and modern science.
Leap of Faith: Reason in Religion vs. Philosophy
What is more important: what you believe or why you believe it? Both are certainly important and it may be difficult to argue that one definitely surpasses the other, but in general people should pay closer attention to why they believe things than they already do. Unfortunately, in the context of religion the "why" is greatly neglected.
Making People Think That They Think: How Evangelists Work
The similarities between religious evangelism and sales run deep and are not coincidental: evangelists are trying to sell something and, like all sales people, use standard social and psychological techniques in order to complete a sale. Whereas sales people use these techniques consciously and deliberately, though, evangelists may simply see themselves as preaching.
Religion and Morality in Modern Society
It's popular for religious believers to insist that their religion, or even just religion generally, is critical for the existence of good morals. Why? Perhaps it's because in the modern world there simply isn't much of anything left for religion to do. There once was a time when religion organized all of a person's life; today, religion is relegated to the dusty corners of society.
Islamic Dress in French Schools & Multiculturalism
In many Western nations, Muslims are experiencing legal battles over whether women have a right to wear sectarian Muslim dress - specifically, a hijab which largely covers a women from head to toe. Sometimes the dress is defended on cultural grounds, sometimes on religious grounds. Should Muslims be able to wear it or are there reasons to prevent it?
Cooperation and Obedience: Political Surrender to the Oppressive
How to oppressive regimes manage to so completely control a population? Not directly - that would take far too much work, money, and resources. Instead, such regimes maintain their power through the cooperation of lower levels of bureaucracies. The people keep themselves in chains by actively helping those who want to rule.
Jehovah's Witnesses' Resistance to Hitler and the Nazis
It's a common conceit among Christians that their religion was in opposition to the Nazi regime of Germany. The truth, however, is that most Christians either went along with the Nazis or actively supported them. Just about the only Christian group that opposed the Nazis - and paid for it - were the Jehovah's Witnesses. How many other Christians supported them?
American Foreign Policy & Democracy
Some believe that the neoconservative perspective on foreign policy is, if nothing else, animated by important moral principles - even if neoconservatives are wrong, at least their motives are good. But is this true? Perhaps moral principles are a mask being used to disguise simple, pragmatic desires that animate most of politics.
Evolution, Christian Fundamentalism, and Morality
Fundamentalists' objections to evolution and science aren't based upon science itself - they don't reject evolution because it's not good science. Their objections are, instead, a product of their belief that evolution undermines faith and morality. It's pretty much the same objection they have had to every facet of modern science and culture.
Faith in God, Faith in Mumbo Jumbo
When Christians say that they have faith in God, what do they mean? Do they know what they mean? Do they even meaning anything at all? Perhaps not - their statement can only be regarded as sensible and reasonable if they can distinguish having faith in God from having faith in Mumbo Jumbo, but how many are able to manage this?
Republican Reliance on the Christian Right
It's become a part of conventional wisdom that the Christian Right has become indispensable to the continued electoral and political success of the Republican Party - that Christian Right votes help the Republicans to win election after election. Maybe that's not true, however. Maybe there are other voting blocs even more critical.
Social Darwinism & American Evangelicalism
An important aspect of conservative evangelicalism today is a strident opposition to evolution and Darwin's theories about the development of life. This opposition is frequently defended by reference to alleged ills caused by evolutionary theory - with "Social Darwinism" often topping the list. It is curious, then, that evangelical churches have imbibed so deeply from Social Darwinian premises.
Conservative Christian Politics in Pre-Nazi Germany
Before the Nazis took power in Germany, conservative Christians were actively engaged in defending German Christian culture against the dangers of modernism, secularism, and communism. They insisted that Christianity be the basis for politics and culture; moreover, they were determined to protect society from anti-Christian influences. Does this sound familiar?
Religious Divisions and Political Divisions
It's common in America for people to try to base political policies on religious beliefs - something you don't often find in the more secular Europe. Unfortunately, too many Americans simply don't realize what's wrong with this - they don't realize that their religious beliefs cannot be imposed on others.
Public Reason vs. Religious Reasons
Many Christians lament the fact that their religion and their religious beliefs no longer dominate culture and politics in America. The fact of the matter is, though, that no other outcome should be expected in a free democracy. Pluarlism is inevitable and with pluralism comes ideological competition. Are Christians afraid of a little competition?
Self-Esteem and Human Hierarchies
How much do you care about what you have and what you are paid? How much do you care about how your material well-being compares to others? Studies show that people care far, far more about the latter than the former - so much more, in fact, that they would prefer to have less on an absolute scale if it means having more relative to those around them.
America as God's Chosen Nation
One of the more obscure figures in American history, John Winthrop may be one of the least famous people every American should know about. Winthrop was instrumental in shaping what came to be known as the 'puritan' attitude in American culture and politics. That attitude has remained with us in various forms and will probably continue to do so through the foreseeable future.
Child Care and Religious Exemptions
It's common in America for religious organizations, and especially churches, to try to get exemptions from the same laws and regulations which apply to everyone else. In a few cases, this may be reasonable, but it's far more common that religious groups are simply trying to abuse the belief that religion is 'special' and deserves deference.
Sunday Mail Service in a Christian Nation
If America was founded as a Christian Nation like the Christian Right so often claims, why was mail delivered on Sundays until 1912? That's right, the absence of mail on Sundays is actually a modern development. The so-called 'Christian' founders didn't have a problem with Sunday mail delivery.
Enlightenment, Reason and Religion
We often hear about 'The Enlightenment,' but does it continue to have any relevancy for the world today? Absolutely - the modern world we currently know is largely a product of the Enlightenment. More importantly, perhaps, is the fact that the project of the Enlightenment is not over. There remain threats and efforts to overturn what the Enlightenment has achieved.
Religions Creating a New Family
One of the most important features of Jesus' ministry, as described in the New Testament, appears to have been the creation of new social structures for his followers. He openly described those following him as his family, deliberately rejecting his biological family. Curiously, this is one of the features of so-called 'cults' which causes the most complaints.
Defending the Community Against the Individual
A common argument used by those who object to individual rights going 'too far' is the idea that the needs of the community need to be respected. This is not unreasonable, because as social animals we depend heavily on the health of our community. At the same time, though, what is meant by 'community'? Is this just a mask for whatever the powerful want?
Women and Christianity: Changing Role of Women in Denominations
The interaction between religion and culture is extensive: religion influences culture while culture in turn influences religion. Most religious believers are eager to acknowledge and emphasize the former, but they don't seem to recognize the extent to which the latter occurs. This is unfortunate as it prevents them from seeing how extensively the religion they follow is culturally conditioned.
Criticism of Religion: Should Religion Have a Privileged Status?
Should religious sensibilities receive special consideration? Should people be given special consideration when they feel offended for religious reasons as opposed to other reasons? That's what a lot of religious believers seem to think, but they are wrong. Being offended for religious reasons deserves no more attention or care than being offended for any other reason.
God as Explanation for Order: What Explains God's Orderly Mind?
Many Christians insist that order in the universe requires the existence and intervention of their god as an explanation. There's just one problem: if order can't exist without the action of their god, then why is their god's mind orderly?
Nazi Socialism & Christian Socialism: Opposition to Godless Capitalism
It's common for conservatives to associate liberals in America today with Nazis because both supposedly support socialism (and, ultimately, communism). This reveals a painful ignorance of history because the 'socialism' of the Nazis was of a very particular sort: Nazi socialism was, in their minds, a Christian socialism which opposed communism, liberalism, and atheistic Jewish socialism.
Demons and Humans: Irrational Belief is Praiseworthy in Christianity
Many Christians think it right to provide evidence to nonbelievers of the existence of their god. If a person believes based on good evidence, though, is that praiseworthy? Demons have 'good evidence' of God's existence - would Christians praise them for this? Of course not. Belief based upon evidence is not valued in orthodox Christianity.
Intellectual Curiosity vs. Religious Orthodoxy
Maintaining religious orthodoxy means holding on to specific beliefs against any challenges or questions from the outside. Religious orthodoxy is imperiled by too much intellectual curiosity because no religion can completely satisfy all doubts and challenges. The more widely a person reads and studies, the harder it can be to hold on to traditional, orthodox beliefs.
Totalitarian Religion and Violence
Why are so many religions often associated with totalitarian impulses - a tendency to force themselves on non-adherents as if no other beliefs were legitimate? It's arguable that such a tendency is inherent, at least in some religions, which means that religion itself needs to be reformed on a basic level.
German Catholic Church's Complicity in the Destruction of the Jews
The mass murder of Jews in Germany, as well as throughout Europe, is generally attributed to the Nazis - but committed Nazis in the German government could not have achieved what they did alone. They had to have help from others throughout society and a source of significant, critical help was the Catholic Church. Yes, the Catholic Church was actively complicit in the mass murder of Jews.
The Future of Iran's Islamic Theocracy
Everyone seems to be paying closer attention to Iran recently. The hostile and aggressive rhetoric coming from its government worries many, but it must be seen and understood in the context of the country's internal problems: political Islam and the theocratic system are failing and the people know it. External aggression may simply be the government's attempt to cope and retain power.
Tocqueville on the Tyranny of the Masses and Poltical Dissent
In the United States, Alexis de Tocqueville's writings about early American social and political life are very popular. Mostly, this popularity seems to be due to the perception that Tocqueville was praising America. All of the places were Tocqueville was critical - and especially the second book, which is especially pessimistic - are ignored.
Using Fiction to Promote Hate
On Jerry Falwell's talk show Listen America, Timothy LaHaye used stark language to describe the state of the nation: "We're in a religious war and we need to aggressively oppose secular humanism; these people are as religiously motivated as we are and they are filled with the devil."
Different Standards for Left-Wing and Right-Wing Radicals
The job of a judge is inherently political; people who forget this do so at their own peril. At the same time, though, this doesn't mean that judges should be closely aligned with the politics of their day. Judges must remain as independent as possible from these political winds because genuine justice demands it.
So-Called 'Balance' when Debating Homosexuality
When was the last time you saw a discussion in the media over some issue of gay rights where both sides accepted the full humanity and equality of gays, but simply differed on the details of specific policies? When was the last time one of those invited to speak on the issue didn't believe, and probably said outright, that their position was that gays are an abomination?
Radical Nationalism & the Demonization of Others
Americans frequently and repeatedly through history view their nation as a vehicle of liberation and democratization of others in the world. It's a messianic vision of America which is sometimes secular in nature and sometimes combined with explicit Christian doctrine. What happens, though, when others decline to be 'liberated' by America?
Biblical Inerrancy as a Defense Against Social Change
Bibliolatry is a term used for the apparent worship of the Bible - the transformation of the Bible into an object of idolatrous worship. Many conservative evangelicals and fundamentalists seem to do it, but why? Generally speaking, they believe that a failure to properly venerate and follow the Bible is the source of all our social ills. They believe this today and they believed it 100 years ago.
White & Black Christians in the South
It didn't happen immediately, but over time slaveholders in the South allowed their slaves to be evangelized and convert to Christianity. At no point, though, did it seem to occur to most slave owners that perhaps owning slaves - including Christian slaves - might be contrary to Christian principles. Instead, they simply modified their Christianity to suit their social situation.
The Bible as Bush's Guidebook
Should an American president govern according to the secular standards and laws which define the office, or according to person religious beliefs and traditions? One would imagine that the former is correct, but at least in the case of President George W. Bush, the latter takes precedence. It's as if he's a minister and the American public is his own personal congregation.
Morality of Rich vs. Poor in America
In America, it almost doesn't seem to matter what you do to succeed: as long as you do succeed, people will praise you and, if necessary, make excuses for you. Failure, on the other hand, causes you to be condemned - even if your failure is arguably due to factors outside your control. Why is this?
Religious Affiliation and Nazi Party Support
An important subject of research about Nazi Germany is the relationship between people's religion and what they did to support the Nazis: voting for them, joining the party, and/or helping them achieve their goals. It's commonly thought that Nazi support came primarily from Protestants, but the whole truth is a bit more complex.
Sacred Privileges and Political Privileges
"Those called to be religious naturally form separate groups, movements, tribes, or nations. Responding in good faith to a divine call, believers feel themselves endowed with sacred privilege, a sense of chosenness that elevates them above all others. This self-perception then leads groups to draw lines around themselves and to speak negatively of "the others.""
Freedom and Liberty in Democracy
What does it mean to be 'free' in a liberal democracy? At the very least, it must mean that people are able to form opinions and pursue goals relating to the direction of their life with a minimum of interference from the state. If people are prevented from developing their own ideas about what constitutes a good and moral life, they simply become tools of the state.
Protective Occupation and the Imprint of America's Boot
A key component of America's justification for its invasion and occupation of Iraq has been the idea that America has an obligation to bring democracy and freedom to oppressed people - and by force, if necessary. Neoconservatives would like to extend this principle throughout American foreign policy and it has a long tradition in American history - but not a generally very good one.
Obedience vs. Individualism: Origin of Hatred in Politics
One of the factors which made the Nazi takeover of Germany possible was the willingness of Germans to obey their leaders unquestioningly and their refusal to dissent in large numbers. Too many Germans put truth and justice in an inferior position to the alleged needs of the group. It's dangerous to simply accept whatever you are told by your leaders.
Religious Institutions as Havens for Pedophiles
The single biggest issue facing the Catholic Church in recent years has been the revelations of decades of priestly sexual abuse of children - and the subsequent cover-ups by bishops as well as some secular authorities. Other churches and religious organizations have had to contend with this as well, so is there anything inherent in religious institutions that makes them susceptible?
Same-Sex Marriage, Religion, and Ideology
Marriage in America is fundamentally a civil affair - marriages are defined and regulated by the states, not by individual churches and religious denominations. Given the religious diversity of America, there's no other reasonable option. So why do religious groups object to expanding civil marriage to gay couples? Because they simply don't realize, understand, or accept that marriage is civil.
Studying Religion: Religious Studies in Public Universities
Most decent colleges and universities have some sort of religious studies department. Given how important religion is to history and culture, this is unavoidable - but how should these departments approach religion and teach religion? Should they be more skeptical and critical or more defensive and supportive of the beliefs of people in the community?
Religion and God: Comforting or Challenging?
Does it make more sense to think that if a god exists, our belief in it is something that should comfort us and make us feel better about ourselves, or that if a god exists, our belief in it should challenge us and force us to reconsider what we value and want? I don't believe in any gods, but if any existed, they'd be different enough that the latter strikes me as far more plausible.
Moral Panic Over Gays: Defending Traditional Marriage
Sometimes, the issue isn't the issue - what this means is that the 'issue' being debated is, at least in some ways, a mask or a symbol for more fundamental issues. If we don't realize this, then we will fail to understand why apparently absurd arguments are being made: they are only 'absurd' if they are taken as being about the surface issue; when we look at the underlying issues, it makes sense.
American Clergy: What Do Congregations Expect?
American families no longer reflect the 1950s ideals which the Christian Right insists on pushing. There's no way to achieve this ideal, either, and people's failure to face up to this fact may be one of the most significant causes of social strife and stress in American today. Just how far we have to go is demonstrated by the demands congregations put on their own ministers.
Religion in the Media: Privileging Religion and Christianity
The general prejudice in modern society is to accord religion, religious beliefs, and religious people special privileges that are not granted to anyone else or any other belief system. The trend of modernity is to reduce unjust privileges, but killing religious privileges has proven very difficult.
Hitler and the Nazis: Working God's Will Against the Jews
Many Christians today complain about people who simply talk about believing in God without doing anything about it. They have a companion in this whom they'd rather not be associated with: Adolf Hitler. Like many Christians, Hitler wanted people to make an effort to fulfill God's will rather than simply talk about it. Unlike others, though, he tried to do something about it.
Causes and Physical Laws: God Can't Be Used as a Cause of the Universe
Theists often insist that the universe needs an explanation and science can't provide one; therefore, their god is necessary and must be believed in. Such theists miss something, however: causal explanations are functions of natural laws which are themselves products of the universe. Therefore, they can't be used to explain the universe. Perhaps there is no 'cause' of the universe.
Uncertainty vs. Doubt: Criticism and Skepticism as Rebellion
Are you uncertain about the existence of God? Do you doubt the existence of God? Most people would probably regard the two states as being identical, or at least identical in all of the essentials, but that would be inaccurate. Uncertainty and doubt are surely related, but if we look closely at them we find that they are quite different in the underlying attitudes
Cry Out to Buddha: Why Don't Christians Try, Just in Case?
Too many Christians seem to want to make a virtue out of dishonesty. They use Pascal's Wager as a defense for theism, arguing that it's acceptable to convert simply out of self-interest. They tell non-believers to simply pretend to believe for a while to see if that belief helps them. Why don't they follow this advice when it comes to other religions?
Importance of Defining God
When debating the existence of god, perhaps the most important step is the one that gets overlooked the most often, and by both atheists and theists: defining what is meant by the concept 'god.' You can't debate the existence of something unless everyone is clear what it is they are talking about; otherwise, people might be talking about completely different things.
Privileging Religion in Modern Society
People who argue that religion should be privileged - and that their religion in particular should be privileged - almost never actually state outright that privilege is what they are seeking. Instead, they find various ways to insist that the privileges they want are merely their rightful due. How convenient that they have a 'right' to be treated better than everyone else.
Christian Conservatism and the Nazi Agenda
The Nazi Party almost certainly wouldn't have acquired power in Germany if it had not been for the fact that their social and cultural views meshed so well with those of conservative Christians in Germany. The Nazi Party critiqued the same things about the Weimar Republic as conservatives did. They promoted an ideological vision that almost perfectly matched what conservative Christians wanted.
Restoring Islam's Golden Age
Observers have noticed a disturbing pattern in Muslim communities: many people spend far too much time looking backwards and lamenting the loss of a Golden Age and too little time trying to construct a new, better age in their future. What people want is to restore what they think they had and have lost. They are sacrificing their own future or the sake of dreams about the past.
Fear of Terrorism vs. Fear at Work
For all our talk today of the fear of terrorism, or, before that, of communism, the most important form of fear is that which ordinary Americans have of their superiors, who sponsor and benefit from the inequities of everyday life. This kind of fear is repressive, constraining the actions of the less powerful, enabling the actions of the more powerful.
Who is Saved? Who Can Know?
A fundamental and vital aspect to the evangelical Christian worldview is being 'saved.' The whole purpose of Christianity is to be saved, which means avoiding hell and going to heaven. How does a person know whether they are saved or not? Most appear to be convinced that they are saved but there is still some anxiety about how a person can know and whether one is fooling themselves.
Law & Order vs. Prison Administration
Prisons are a central feature of the modern justice system, but decisions made on behalf of improving law & order aren't necessarily beneficial for the smooth and efficient running of prisons. One interesting example of this is how increased arrests and longer prison sentences can create overcrowding in prisons - overcrowding which may make all aspects of prison life more difficult.
Anti-War Sentiments as Treason
If it's not possible to whip people up into a frenzy of support for a war, it may be enough for the government to so denigrate anti-war positions that people will be pro-war by default. If anti-war beliefs are valid, then they might attract greater support; if they are perceived as invalid or perhaps treasonous, then people will avoid any association with them out of fear at the very least.
Homosexual Recruitment vs. Heterosexual Recruitment
The Christian Right regularly accuses gays of trying to 'recruit' young people into the homosexual lifestyle. For such Christians, it's inconceivable that people would be gay simply because it's what's most natural for them - being gay must be something like a movement which one is converted to by current members. The truth, however, is that Christian Right are the ones doing the recruiting.
Religious Violence & Terrorism Around the World
Terrorism and violence can be found in religions and cultures all around the world. Although there may be variation in the complaints being made, there are remarkable similarities in the attitudes and tactics employed by religious terrorists. This is due in part to the fact that violent behavior is independent of religion, but also to the ways in which religions are similar to each other.
French Exceptionalism: France as Light of the World
Relations between France and America are often in a state of tension, despite the fact that both are democracies with very similar values and a great deal of shared history. Why should there be so much bad blood? Perhaps the source of the tension lies precisely in the fact that they are so alike: they both make similar claims for themselves and their destines.
Controlling Women, Controlling Sexuality: Christian Attacks on Women
An important basis of the Christian Right's assault on modernity is its concern with sexuality, sexual education, and people's sexual behavior. This isn't just one feature of an assault on modernity; instead, it is in many ways a central foundation for everything they see as wrong with the modern world. This has been true since the very beginning of American fundamentalism.
Holiness and Religion: Privileging the Holy in Society
The privileging of certain groups over others (men over women, blacks over whites, Christians over non-Christians) doesn't always occur on an overt, obvious level. Often it's reinforced and supported by subtle things like the language we use. Words and phrases which people don't think consciously about may effectively promote ideas about some being inherently better than others.
Reason vs. Emotions: When Are Emotions Unreasonable?
Our emotions are visceral reactions which occur outside reasoned deliberation. Is it therefore not possible or reasonable to evaluate emotional reactions against standards of reason? No - emotions can be evaluated because they are conditioned by our assumptions, beliefs, and culture. Emotional reactions may not be planned in advance, but they aren't inevitable or unavoidable.
Evaluating Theistic Claims: Defending & Supporting God as Explanation
Can atheists explain why the universe and life exist? Maybe, maybe not - there are possible and at least partial explanations, but not ones which theists tend to accept. Theists think that they have a superior explanation - their god - and criticize atheists for not offering something better. The problem is, there are no good reasons for accepting the theistic explanation.
Female Clergy in America: Changing the Face of Christianity
It has been difficult for just about all sectors of American society to fully accept and integrate women as equals, but the clergy appears to have been the worst. Why have Christian institutions done such a bad job at fully recognizing and accepting the equal worth and abilities of half the human population?
Religion vs. Irreligion: War as a Producer of Religious Doubt
Some claim that there are no atheists in foxholes, thinking that confrontations with the horror and dangers of war must lead people to believe in God. The truth, however, is that such confrontations actually lead some people to abandon belief in God and encourage atheism. This seems to have been especially true during World War I.
Christianity & Violence: Filling Heaven, Not Earth
"The aim of Christianity is not to fill the earth, but to fill heaven. Why should one worry if the number of Christians is lessened in the world by deaths endured for God? By this kind of death people make their way to heaven who perhaps would never reach it by another road."
Christian Nationalism: Betrayal of Germany, Betrayal of God
When Christians identify their nation's political agenda and political system with God's Will, any losses suffered by their nation are perceived as an affront to God as well. Admission that some political action taken was wrong and needs to be reconsidered is tantamount to a betrayal not just of political leaders and the nation's destiny, but of God as well.
God as Cause: Why God Cannot Explain the Universe
It is popular among theists to think not only that their god caused the universe to exist, but in fact that the existence of their god is necessary to explain and understand the existence of the universe. This belief may seem intuitively sound and strong, but the truth is that sorts of gods which theists believe in simply cannot explain the universe.
Taking Beliefs Seriously: Why Reason and Argument are Necessary
What does it mean to say that you believe something? It means that you accept a proposition as true. But so what? Who cares what you think is true or not? No one cares, necessarily, unless you can provide good reasons to think that it is true - reasons which, therefore, become reasons why others should think it is true. Without such reasons, statements of belief are meaningless.
Liberal vs. Fundamentalist Christians: What's the Difference?
When it comes to practical policy issues, the differences between liberal and fundamentalist Christians is usually pretty obvious. More interesting and important, however, are the differences that exist in the background: how do liberal and fundamentalist Christians differ when it comes to deciding what is a necessary part of their religion?
Harassment of and Assaults on Atheists
It's difficult for many theists to imagine just how extensively atheists have been harassed and persecuted over the years. Conservative Christians talk a lot about Christians being persecuted in America, but the truth is that Christians do most of the persecuting that goes on - sometimes against other Christians, often against members of minority groups.
Danger of Practical Atheism in Society
Have you ever heard of 'practical atheists'? This is a category of people created by theists to describe all those theists who technically believe in a god, but who behave immorally. The assumption is that moral behavior follows automatically from theism, thus immoral behavior is a consequence of not genuinely believing. The term 'practical atheist' is thus a smear against atheists generally.
Intellectual Diversity and Questioning
It's common to at least pay lip service to the values of intellectual diversity and challenging one's beliefs. How many people actually accept, respect, and defend these values - even when their own beliefs are being challenged? Not enough, sadly. This contradiction has driven many attacks on universities, both from the left and the right.
Christian Anti-Semitism in Post-Nazi Germany
Just about everyone is aware of the deep and destructive anti-Semitism which characterized Nazi Germany. Many forget the deep and destructive involvement of German Christians in this anti-Semitism - including the Holocaust. One might imagine that after the truth about what happened was revealed, Christians would have repented; unfortunately, things didn't work out quite that well.
Hassan Al-Turabi on Islam and Islamic Government
Should Islam be used as a basis for government? That's what many Muslims in the Middle East believe, but the belief that Islam alone can serve as a basis for government today is flawed. People are relying on Islam to save them from the West and imperialism, but they must recognize that imposing Islam on society carries far too may risks.
Free Will vs. Determinism in Islam & Christianity
One of the longest-running debates in philosophy is over the existence of free will. Does free will exist or not? Some say it does, others say that the nature of the universe is deterministic. For religious believers, some think that God has foreordained every event and has fully determined the future. What a person believes on this matter has serious implications for how they behave.
Questioning Assumptions Behind Biblical Interpretation
The New Testament is not available with no strings attached. It is invisibly enshrouded in attitudes and opinions that from antiquity have determined the manner in which the New Testament is read. The shrouds are difficult to remove. They are indicated by a number of code words: one reads the New Testament in faith, as Holy Scripture, in the context of the church, and so on.
Conservative Malaise: Winning the Cold War
American conservatives should be incredibly happy these days. Ignoring the inevitable scandals that always plague politics, just about everything for the past few years has been going their way. So why has a sort of malaise been settling in over some conservative intellectuals? Because, sometimes, winning all your battles means that you have nothing left to really do.
The Nature of the Qur'an
Many Americans jeered at reports that soldiers had deliberately mishandled and mistreated copies of the Qur'an in front of Muslim prisoners. They regarded Muslim reactions is trivial and ridiculous - after all, who cares if someone deliberately drops a Bible? Well, the Qur'an is not simply the 'Muslim bible' and Americans' reactions here betray a profound failure to understand Islam.
Back-Door Establishments of Religion
If a majority of citizens want or approve of some government action, does that action automatically become 'secular'? Some seem to think so and use this to argue that state preferences for Christianity over other religions don't qualify as establishments of religion. Why? Because most people are Christian and therefore state aid to Christianity is secular, not religious.
Religious Identity in Modern Society
Religion is important in people's lives, but is it important enough to form the basic core of a person's identity - their sense of self? Should religion be more significant in a person's identity than things like their race, their family, or their socioeconomic background? Perhaps, but even if this is the case it can surely be taken too far.
God as an Omnipotent, Controlling Bully
A common argument against the existence of God is that omnipotence is incompatible with being all-loving, given how much evil there is in the world. There is another problem with this depiction of God, though: how can there be real and genuine love if God is in complete control of everything? When a person attempts to totally control another, we don't usually accept that as love.
What is Wrong with Torture?
There has been a lot of debate in America over whether captives in the war on terrorism should be tortured - a sure sign that matters are probably a lot worse than we think. Other nations, after all, aren't having such debates. President Bush insists that America doesn't torture anyone but at the same time rejects any law that would ban torture. Whom does he think he is fooling?
Religious Institutions: Powerful or Powerless?
Perhaps the best way for a group or person to exercise power in a manner that harms others is to convince people that one doesn't actually have any power to begin with. This is the tactic adopted by many conservative religious institutions in America: despite wielding tremendous direct power as well as indirect power through their influence, they have persistently argued that they are powerless.
Nazi Germany and the Right-Wing War on Homosexuality, Sexual Deviance
One of the things which the Nazis used to appeal to Christian voters in Weimar Germany was their strong opposition to all forms of sexual deviance: prostitution, pornography, sex without procreation, too much liberty for women, and of course homosexuality. The Nazis argued that all this created impurity within Germany and imperiled Germany's future.
Protestant vs. Catholic Reactions to Nazism
For a number of reasons, Christianity was instrumental for Nazi seizure of power in Germany. Some reasons, like the fact that most voters were Christian, are obvious. Other reasons are not so obvious and one of these is the fact that Christian leaders actively reassured Germans that Hitler and the Nazis not only were no threat to Christian civilization, but were in fact a source of hope.
Religion, Terrorism, Violence, and Power
Terrorism and religion have become closely linked in many people's eyes today, which is curious because through the 1980s terrorism was as likely to be committed for irreligious, political causes as it was for religious causes. Part of the problem here is that the absolutism of religion makes religious terrorism more extreme, dramatic, and dangerous than most political terrorism.
Homosexuality: A Public or Private Issue?
Homosexuality is a public issue, because the heterosexual majority has elected to single it out as a characteristic for which an individual may be denied basic civil and human rights.
America as God's Chosen Nation
There is more resentment around the world towards America's actions than there is towards the actions of other nations. This can be explained in part because America's global power puts them into contact - and conflict - with more people than most nations. It's not the entire story, though: Americans' attitude towards their relationship with others is unlike what you will find in other nations.
Women as the Keepers of Virtue, Men as the Victims
One of the most interesting - or perhaps disturbing - things about male attitudes towards women in Islam is the assumption that women must bear the responsibility for men's virtue as well as their own. Women must not only keep themselves pure, but they must not act to cause men to have impure thoughts - that's why women must remain so covered. Christians had similar attitudes not long ago.
Passive vs. Aggressive Atheism: Which Path is Best?
Different atheists have different attitudes towards their atheism and the theism of others. One difference which has persisted for a long time is whether to attack theistic religion aggressively or to adopt a more conciliatory stance - an atheism which is critical, but doesn't go out of its way to criticize.
Theists Misunderstanding Science: Unexplained vs. Unexplainable
Many theistic arguments in defense of the existence of a god involve arguing that certain events that haven't been fully explained by naturalistic science are unexplainable in principle by naturalistic science. Thus, the only "explanation" available is the supernatural, establishing a justification for believing in a god.
Nazis & Christians: 3rd Reich as Implementation of a Christian Agenda
Hitler and the Nazis are often cited as an example of the horrible crimes which atheists have committed in the 20th century. They are only assumed to be atheists, it seems, because people can't imagine Christians doing such things - but the fact is that Hitler explicitly appealed to Christianity on a regular basis and this was part of why he was popular.
God & Causation: Temporal Requirements for Causes to Exist
It is common to argue that because everything we experience appears to have a cause for its existence, then the totality of everything (the universe) must also have a cause for its existence. It is assumed that the universe cannot be self-caused, so therefore the cause must be outside the universe - God, in other words. Is this a legitimate argument?
Interpreting the Bible: Cultural, Social Contexts of the Authors
"The recognition of the interpreter's situation as a factor in appropriating text is nothing new. Christians of all stripes have long recognized it. That is why the few churches today practice foot washing or exchange the "holy kiss," despite direct commands to do so in the New Testament. ... These practices are all recognized as cultural, and modern culture has changed."
Credibility of Atheism: Threat to Religious Belief
"To say that atheism is credible is to suggest that the atheist may be right; to say that the atheist may be right is to suggest that the Christian may be wrong; to say that the Christian may be wrong is suggest that faith may be an unreliable guide to knowledge..."
Luke Warm, Liberal Christians: What Do They Believe?
Atheists will tend to view liberal, progressive Christians in a more sympathetic light than fundamentalists. After all, they support civil rights for gays, church/state separation, etc. The fact that they hold sensible political positions, though, doesn't mean that they practice sound reasoning.
American Anti-Communism and Opposition to Atheism
The extreme hostility towards atheists in America can probably be traced to two related factors: America's view of itself as a religious nation entrusted with a special mission from God and America's fight against communism in the Cold War. These two combined to portray atheists as a godless enemy, a fifth column either for Satan or for totalitarian communism.
Infants and Uninformed Children are Atheists
Do infants and very young children qualify as atheists? Most atheists will say so, working from the definition of atheism as "lacking belief in gods." Theists tend to reject this definition, even if they don't use the narrow definition of atheism as "denial of gods." Why? If infants lack belief in the existence of gods, they can't be theists - so why not atheists?
Race, Preferences, and Criticism of Religion
"In some senses it appears that religious belief is now regarded as somehow equivalent to racial identity, so that it becomes a kind of "religious racism" for anyone outside of a given religion to criticize it. The history of actual race prejudice is certainly such that one would do almost anything to avoid repeating its errors and injustices."
Christian Nationalism in Nazi Germany
"A board hanging in Lippe, Westphalia, in 1935 crudely summed up the Jews for the German Christian Movement (Glaubensbewegung "Deutsche Christen"): "Baptism may be quite useful, but it cannot straighten a nose." The German Christians, as adherents of the movement came to be called, believed National Socialism and Christianity to be mutually reinforcing."
Islam and Human Rights under the Shari'a
One of the problems facing Islam today is its failure to deal with basic human rights. Traditional, orthodox Islam doesn't recognize equal rights for women, the right to convert from Islam to another religion, or the right to criticize Islam, the Qu'ran, or Muhammad. Where Islam reins, basic human rights are restricted in the name of religious ideology.
Questioning Faith and Religious Skepticism
A common belief among Christians, as well as members of other religions, is that there is something wrong with doubt and skepticism. The ideal religious believer is one who is filled with faith, with unquestioning adherence to basic religious doctrines. Shouldn't it be the other way around, though?
Government Oppression and Social Cooperation
Usually when we think of an oppressive society, we imagine a government that acts broadly to limit people's rights. Too often, people overlook the important role played - often voluntarily - by individual citizens and private organizations. No government can permeate every aspect of society; so if people are afraid, it's because their fellow citizens are cooperating.
Cultural Power and American Fundamentalism
Sociologists, historians, and other researchers generally recognize the complex interaction between religious doctrine and culture: each influences, changes, and reacts to the other. Religious believers tend not to understand this, though, imagining that their doctrines are independent of (if not prior to) the culture around them. This prevents them from better understanding their own beliefs.
Religious Pluralism: Debating Social Justice
Many religious believers think that their religion holds the key to morality, justice, and political order. They are certain that if only their religion and religious values were enforced by law, everything in the world would be better. This, however, is merely the path towards ideological and religious dictatorship - and some religious leaders agree
Defining True Religion: A Job for the Government?
Those who support the idea of the government becoming more entangled with religion tend to overlook a critical issue: what sorts of religion should the government endorse, support, or encourage? It's impossible to do this equally with all religions and those who do the most to push such things wouldn't want that anyway. How can the government pick and choose, though?
Marriage, Violence, and the Bible
For many Christians, the Bible has traditionally been a source of information on how to live. Both God and the various characters in biblical stories are models for how to behave and how to relate to others. In some ways, though, these role models are actually quite bad and encourage the persistence of violent, dysfunctional relationships.
Christianizing the Germans, Militarizing the Church
The Christianization of a culture is not a one-way street. Christianity started out as a Jewish sect, but when Rome was Christianized, Christianity absorbed quite a bit from Roman culture, changing it extensively. Most people familiar with Christian history are aware of this, but less common is the awareness of how much Christianity changed due to the Christianization of German tribes.
Morality, Law, and the Powerful
All human cultures have a morality of some sort, but do they all have the same morality? No, and this has led some to argue that there is no universal morality - that all morality is simply relative to time, place, and culture. Extreme versions of this practically deny morality entirely, which has led to extreme reactions from the other side.
When National Interests Take Precedence Over the Rule of Law
Some members of the Bush administration, as well as conservative apologists for the administration, believe that the president's responsibilities in time of war and to protect the national interests mean that he can ignore laws and treaties. If he believes the protecting the nation requires violating a law, he has the authority to do so. Where does such reasoning lead?
Islam and Government
Many Muslims in the Middle East see their governments as corrupt, ineffective, and repressive. They dream that a proper Islamic government would solve all their problems and Islamic radicals encourage this belief. In Iran, though Muslims know what it is like to live under an Islamic government - and they aren't joyful about it.
Presidential Power, Presidential Supremacy
It has become common for presidents to claim to have a mandate from the people and to represent the will of the entire American public. They use such claims in order to justify pushing their ideas through Congress - presidents can't make law, so they exert moral pressure on those who can. Just how reasonable are claims about a mandate, though?
Race, Genetics, and Scientific Research
Science, and in particular evolutionary theory, is a 'universal solvent' that breaks down traditional ideologies about the nature of humanity and the world we live in. Science is relentless when it comes to confronting assumptions with facts, but when it comes to questions about race scientific research is sometimes stymied.
Christian Churches and Nazi Germany
Christians today often like to make a big deal about Christian opposition to the Nazis in Germany, but such 'opposition' was often more hype than reality. When Christian churches did oppose the Nazis, it was usually in cases of perceived threats to church authority and not in cases of violence towards Jews or Hitler's wars of aggression.
Using Stereotypes to Divide and Repress
The arguments against legalizing gay marriage are rather poor, both from logical and legal perspectives. The organizing ideology behind the opposition is primarily religious, but the widespread acceptance of this opposition appears to involve people's unease with gay people generally and gay marriage itself.
Sexual Freedom as Social Disorder
When religious conservatives complain about modernity, many of their attacks are directed at sexual matters: decoupling sex from reproduction, pornography, sex before marriage, homosexuality, etc. We find this with both Muslims and Christians, so what is the common thread?
Demonization Rhetoric from the Right
Sometimes the rhetoric heard from American conservatives almost sounds more like a medical report than a political analysis: America suffers from "decay" and is "sick" because of the "corruption" and "infection" of liberal, subversive elements. Such demonizing rhetoric is harmful to the political process.
Dancing as a Sin: Christianity in America
Fundamentalist and evangelical Christians today see themselves as battling a wide variety of sins: abortion, pornography, homosexuality, and so forth. Their counterparts of a century ago also battled a wide variety of sins - and one of the most serious, which in their eyes led to many other sins, was the nasty behavior of dancing.
Christian Nationalism: War Theology in Weimar Germany
Christianity is proclaimed by its adherents as a religion of peace which transcends national borders in a manner that unites humanity. The reality, though, is that Christianity has been deeply involved not only with ideologies of nationalism, but also ideologies of war and violence. It's happened before and it could happen again.
Truth, Falsehood, and Religious Belief
Doesn't it really matter whether religious beliefs are true or false? You'd think that it should matter, but if that's the case why are so many religious doctrines - indeed, perhaps the majority of them - famed in a way that it's impossible to determine whether they are true or false?
Reason vs. Faith, Knowledge vs. Religion
It is my firm conviction that man has nothing to gain, emotionally or otherwise, by adhering to a falsehood, regardless of how comfortable or sacred that falsehood may appear. Anyone who claims, on the one hand, that he is concerned with human welfare, and who demands, on the other hand, that man must suspend or renounce the use of his reason, is contradicting himself.
Opposition to Liberalism, Secularism, Immorality: Hitler's Appeal
People tend to regard Hitler and the Nazis as being an inherently anti-Christian movement. At the same time, though, the Germany which elected Hitler was overwhelmingly Christian - Jews were a minority and no other religion had significant numbers. What was it that caused Hitler to be so appealing to German Christians?
Muslim Orthodoxy vs. Religious, Political, and Social Innovation
For many in the West, Islamic societies appear backward in just about all possible measures: scientific, technological, political, social, etc. This isn't just prejudice and misunderstandings. Many Islamic societies are very backward, regressive, and reactionary - this is deliberate and a direct consequence of some common, authoritative teachings of Islam.
Denying the Political Dimensions of Fear
That fear is used for political purposes is undeniable - throughout history political and religious leaders have encouraged fear in people in order to garner their support for particular agendas. More interesting, though, is how fear can be used for political ends while denying that the causes of fear are themselves political in nature.
Plurality and Unity in Biblical Texts
The texts in the Bible present multiple perspectives created over an extended period of time; they are often treated by believers, however, as if they were a single, unified perspective laid down at a single point in time. This contradiction can result in problematic understandings of the Bible.
Objectification and Evangelization
Proselytization is central to the religious faith of many evangelical Christians - they will "share" their beliefs with anyone they come across if they are given half a chance. They believe they are doing a good deed, but from the other side it often doesn't appear very positive.
Auschwitz, Anti-Semitism, and Modern Christianity
"After Auschwitz the mission of reconciliation and acceptance permits no deferral. Even if we know that Auschwitz is the gruesome expression of an ideology at not only wanted to destroy Judaism but also hated and sought to eradicate from Christianity its Jewish heritage, the question remains..."
Where do Rights Come From?
The nature and origin of rights isn't something that most people spend much time thinking about - it's usually a subject for political and legal philosophy. It is important to the average person, though, because unless we have some idea about where rights come from, we can't say what is and is not a right - much less defend rights against the attacks of those who are more authoritarian.
Sanctified Violence and Religious Devotion
Many religions proclaim that they are peaceful and opposed to violence, but these same religions generally have traditions in which violence, war, and aggression are sanctified. To be "sanctified" means "to be made holy" - thus violence becomes a form of religious devotion like prayer or reading sacred scripture.
Violence and Low Self-Esteem
Is there any connection between having a low self-esteem and being violent? Perhaps - many assume that low self-esteem is expressed by being shy and withdrawn, but that is more likely the case with women. When it comes to men, low self-esteem is more likely to be expressed through aggressive behavior.
Retribution, Crime, and Punishment
Perhaps the oldest reason for the punishment of crimes is simple retribution - not rehabilitation, not protecting others, and not deterrence. No, just simple, basic vengeance. Instead of allowing arbitrary retribution from friends and family, criminal law institutionalized, regularized, and rationalized it. But is it time to move on?
Propaganda, Crusades, and Religious Wars
Crusading could be a passionate endeavor for medieval Christians, but the importance of passionate, religious zeal should not cause us to overlook the fact that the Crusades were also a massive, complex undertaking that wouldn't have been possible without a lot of careful, detailed planning.
Justice, Mercy, and Motivation
Human beings make decisions based in part on their emotions and in part on their reason. Most people regard the use of reason very highly and treat reasoned decisions as preferable to those based on emotion, but at the same time emotion tends to be a much stronger motivator than reason.
There are a lot of people who say that we shouldn't legislate morality - but how justified is that, really? Just about every law you can point to has some moral purpose in the background, even if it's simply to protect human life. If there are laws without a moral purpose, we should wonder what their purpose really is.
Far-Right Attacks on Prisons Being Soft on Criminals
Contemporary American conservatism has long made the idea of 'law and order' an important political slogan. Conservatives attack the prison system for being too lenient, for emphasizing treatment over punishment, for pampering prisoners, and for being too sentimental. There is a precedence for such arguments, but it's not a very pleasant one.
What does it take for a democracy to be preserved? It certainly can't be regarded as self-perpetuating, continuing on without any input from the people. By its very nature, a democracy depends upon the participation of the people - but what sort of participation?
Possible, Impossible, and Science
Everyone knows, or at least should know, that scientists often use words in slightly different ways from how they are used by the general public. The words 'evolution' and 'theory' are two obvious examples, but perhaps even more important are the words 'possible' and 'impossible.'
Understanding and Misunderstanding Islam
Islam is a religion, obviously enough, and with that non-Muslims in the West seem to believe that they know enough about it. This is a mistake, however, because while Islam is indeed a religion it is also more: a culture, a way of life, and an identity. In this, Islam is quite different from Christianity.
Hitler & Christian Anti-Communism
People often wonder how and why Hitler could have acquired so much support from the German population. Any reasonable explanation would have to be very complicated, but it is possible to cite one simple reason which has a lot going for it: anti-Communism. Many Germans were frightened of communism and saw Hitler as their Christian salvation.
Discrimination as the Christian Right's Goal
The Christian Right often likes to portray itself as standing up for religious liberty on the one hand and traditional religious values on the other. The means by which they expect to advance these, things, though, is through the elimination of full civil equality of those groups which are regarded as morally and spiritually inferior.
Developing an Imperial Presidency in America
Just how much personal power should a president have? In times of crisis or uncertainty, people seem to have a need to look up to a strong leader who will rescue them and lead them into a brighter future - thus the inclination to invest more and more power in a single office or single person. This is a dangerous trend, though.
Fear of Freedom - Others' Freedom
"Freedom is the scariest of human desires. The American commitment to the freedom and equality of the autonomous individual has always frightened as many Americans as it exhilarated. ... To some groups, the apparent lack of moral order engendered by the elevation of individual rights gave rise to a persistent fear of conspiracy..."
Constructing an Islamic Society
One of the interesting parallels between conservative Christians in America and traditionalist Muslims in the Middle East is how both groups seek to construct a more godly society. They all wish for their nation to be defined by and give greater glory to God rather than a secular state which doesn't take sides in religious questions.
Dehumanization and Demonization of the Enemy
"Everyone has enemies in the sense of opponents, but to become objects of religious terrorism such enemies must become extraordinary: cosmic foes.... I call this process satanization. The process of creating satanic enemies is part of the construction of an image of cosmic war, and some of the same criteria ... that make sacred warfare possible also make possible a satanic opponent."
Ethnicity, Nation-States, and Liberal Democracy
Today most people think of nationality in terms of political citizenship. A person might be a citizen of any nation without it necessarily saying much about them. The origins of the idea of a nation-state, though, lie in extreme xenophobia, racism, and discrimination.
Warfare and the Illusion of Power
Most people would probably assume that peace is preferable to warfare. Most people surely believe this; unfortunately, there are people who disagree. Being in a state of war is, for them, empowering because it helps them understand who they are, where they are going, and why they exist.
Puritan Theology and Evangelical Christians
For modern Christians, Jesus is the focus of everything they believe and do. What many don't realize, though, is that Jesus wasn't always the focus of American Christians. In the past, God was the focus - even to the point of Jesus being shoved out of the picture.
War as an Expression of National Spirit
We were long since a great power, we were quite used to it, and it did not make us as happy as we had expected. The feeling that it had not made us more attractive, that our relation to the world had rather worsened than improved, lay, unconfessed, deep in our hearts. ... War then, and if needs must, war against everybody, to convince everybody and to win...."
Divorce as a Sin and a Crime: Christianity, Marriage, and the State
The arguments being used by the Christian Right today against gay marriage are not unique or sui generis. These arguments are an integral part of how the Christian Right views the world and they have used the exact same arguments in the past - for example, when they were opposing the liberalization of divorce laws.
Incompatibility of Science and Religion
"It is easy to see that science and religion are mutually exclusive rather than compatible. Indeed, science takes it for grated that the world is material and lawful rather than spiritual and miraculous. This assumption underlies the very endeavor to explore and control the world, at least in part, with the help of mundane, technological procedures rather than religious practices."
Politics and Journalism as Spectacle
The ideal of journalism is that reporters serve the public interest by pressing the powerful - political, commercial, social, religious - to explain themselves and justify their decisions which affect the rest of society. The reality of journalism is that reporters are part of the class of powerful and tend to serve their interests.
Violence as a Means for Achieving Justice
It's often said that violence doesn't achieve anything, but if that's true why do so many people use violence in order to achieve things? To be more specific, it appears that even when violence is being employed senselessly, more often than not the men employing it are doing so because they think it is as justified means for achieving some specific goal: justice.
Christianity, Violence, and Holy Wars
Christians often preach a religion of peace; the history of Christianity, though, is marked by rivers of blood shed in the name of righteous, religious causes. There is something incongruous about the use of the Christian cross as a symbol for war, but that's exactly what it's been.
Metaphysical Illusions and the Limits of Reason
We all want to understand what is going on in the world around us. We want sensible explanations that make the world intelligible and help us find our place in it. Unfortunately, our powers of reason are limited such that an explanation isn't always possible - but that doesn't stop us from trying.
What Is Humanity?
We all know what it means to be human and recognize humanity in others - or do we? We certainly think that we do, but what we regard as obvious wasn't so obvious and clear in the past. Different people have defined humanity in different ways.
Anger and Christianity
Although the concept of 'seven deadly sins' no longer holds the same authority as it once did, the degree to which many of them have come to be viewed positively is remarkable. Even anger, one of the few which Jesus is recorded as specifically speaking out against, is treated as having positive value by Christians today.
Voting as a Ceremony (Book Notes: Reverence)
Voting is regarded by many as a privilege, a right, or even a duty. For a significant number of Americans, though, voting is a hassle or distraction and they don't even bother trying. Aside from preventing them from participating in democracy, this may reveal a more fundamental problem in their relationship to democratic society.
Terror in the Name of Law & Order
When people think of totalitarian regimes like Nazi Germany, they imagine societies where everyone lives in fear of the secret police and government action. The truth, however, is both more mundane and more disturbing: the Nazi state only acted against the undesirables in society, with most people openly supportive of the actions.
Rights, Duties, Opportunities, and Resources
Most nations attempt to protect at least some rights that all of citizens are suppose to enjoy. How rights are to be protected is a matter of some debate, though. There are places where "rights" exist only in theory and on paper because citizens are not afforded any way to actually exercise them. It's arguable, then, that they don't really have those rights after all.
Killer Rapist Mice and the Biological Origins of Behavior
We are all biological machines, with the origins of our behavior lying in the interactions of cells, hormones, and electrical signals. Does this mean, then, that we have no choices in how we behave? Is the biological origin of our behavior a reason to dispense with moral responsibility for what we do?
God vs. Democracy
Is belief in the traditional monotheistic god of Islam and Christianity compatible with democracy? That's hard to say. Many adherents of both religions are certainly supporters of democratic society, but many others are not - and they effectively use their religious doctrines to justify why democracy is anti-God: it replaces God's will with human will.
Skepticism of the Holocaust, Skepticism of Evolution
Religious critics of evolutionary theory emphasize the idea that 'all sides' of a debate should be taught and that schools have an obligation to present the 'debates' about academic subjects. If we apply this to evolution, though, why not also the Holocaust? This is a valid question because some teachers have tried to do exactly that.
What is a Democracy, Really?
In the case of a word like democracy, not only is there no agreed definition, but the attempt to make one is resisted from all sides. It is almost universally felt that when we call a country democratic we are praising it: consequently the defenders of every kind of regime claim that it is a democracy, and fear that they might have to stop using that word if it were tied down to any one meaning.
Relationship Between Catholicism and Nazism in Germany
A popular image of the Nazis is that they were fundamentally anti-Christian while devout Christians were anti-Nazi. The truth, however, is far more complicated because there were many issues on which Nazis and religious conservatives found common ground. Like any politician, Hitler was able to use these to his advantage
Gays as Invisible, Second-Class Citizens
Homosexuals have come a long way in America - from being afraid to reveal their sexuality to anyone a few decades ago to agitating for gay marriage today. This progress has been accompanied by a backlash, though, because gay Americans want more civil rights than many straights are willing to honor.
Revulsion of Homosexuality
The oppression and persecution of homosexuals in America is becoming more and more important politically. Back when discrimination against gays was the norm, there were no questions about why it occurred. Now that it is being challenged, though, the roots of this hatred are being exposed.
Holocaust Theology for Christians & Jews
The Holocaust is one of the central, defining events of the twentieth century. It's also a defining event for both modern Judaism and Christianity - but while Jews realize this, Christians don't seem to. Some professional theologians do work related to the Holocaust, but for most believers it doesn't appear to have intruded on their thinking.
Catholic Opposition to Religious Liberty
Pope Benedict XVI has come out many times blasting secularism and political liberalism. Given how entrenched they are in the modern West, this might seem strange, but in fact what's probably stranger is that the criticisms aren't harsher. The Catholic Church has a long history of its theology being positioned against religious liberty.
Warfare as an Excuse for Violence and to Exclude Compromise
"Images of divine warfare are persistent features of religious activism. They provide the content and the themes that are played out in the grand scenarios that lie behind contemporary acts of performance violence. In many cases these images are not new but are a part of the heritage of religious traditions that stretch back to antiquity..."
Pride in Western Civilization: Unjustified?
Quite a few critics of Islam and the Arab world seem to evince a pride in the West, Christianity, and their own civilization. Leaving aside the question of whether it's possible to compare civilizations and declare one better or worse, it's it at all reasonable for someone to take pride in a civilization?
Liberating the Middle East
According to President Bush, America invaded Iraq in order to liberate the Iraqis from an oppressive dictator. Over the long-term, establishing democracy in Iraq is supposed to lead to democratic changes throughout the Middle East. Supporters of this perspective don't seem to realize that similar goals have been tried before.
The Perpetual Death of Christian Marriage
"Yonder comes ... a ship having all the evidence of tempestuous passage: salt water-mark reaching to the top of the smoke-stack; ... bulwarks knocked in; ... main shaft broken; all the pumps working to keep from sinking. That ship is the institution of Christian marriage."
Christian Nation and Presidential Elections
It's become common in America for religion to be used as a political football. Implicitly or explicitly, there are many who argue that a person should receive or be denied people's votes based upon the candidate's religious beliefs. There is actually a long tradition of this in America - but it's not one that anyone should want to be part of.
Hate the Sin, Hate the Sinner
It's common for Christians to claim that they "hate the sin, but lover the sinner." Do their actions match their rhetoric, though? That's a difficult proposition to defend. It's surely true with some, but the most vocal and active members of the Christian Right don't really act like they believe what they are saying.
Islamization as Expression of Cultural Identity
One of the primary sources of conflict between radical Islam and the secular West is the role of women in society. Western and Muslim reformers have always sought to change how women are able to dress and behave in order to change Islam. Today, though, women aren't always cooperating.
Christian Disinterest in the Holocaust
Recent years have seen a sharp increase in people's interest in the Holocaust: there are a large number of books, movies, and documentaries available for consumption. Interest in learning about the Holocaust has not, however, translated into an interest in learning from the Holocaust and remembering all those who died in it.
America as a Community of the Righteous
Many citizens see America as a quasi-religious project - they have been ordained by God to bring the Truth and the Light to all the people's of the Earth. One consequence of Americans having the Light and all others lacking it is that Americans are regarded as uniquely and automatically righteous.
Arresting People Who Have Committed No Crimes
One might assume that a person shouldn't be arrested unless they have actually committed a crime. After all, without a crime, what could one possibly be arrested for? There is, however, a tradition of arresting people who haven't committed any crimes on the assumption that they will and, therefore, it's better to protect others in advance.
Religion and Religious Extremism: Inseparable
Many religious apologists try to exclude extremism from their religious traditions, arguing that extremists aren't "true" adherents of their religion because "true" religion is peaceful. This is a serious error because extremists are drawing upon genuine, valid aspects of their religious traditions. They cannot be countered successfully by pretending otherwise.
Corruption of Religion, Corruption by Religion
Many people in society look to religion not only for some sort of eternal salvation, but also for temporal assistance: they believe that without religion, everything from families to whole societies will fall apart. Religion is regarded as the key to social and personal survival. They ignore the fact that even though religion may help at times, it can harm just as much.
Religious Privilege in Modern Society
For a long time, religion has served as an important part of most cultures around the world. Religion has been a primary basis for art, music, and literature. Religion has been a primary source of morality and social stability. Religion has provided people with a means for understanding the world and their place in it. This is no longer the case, but should religion be treated as if it were?
Christians Should Take Control
Many in the Christian Right argue that Christians should be the ones to control society - not just politics, but all of the culture. Few of those who believe this, though, are willing to admit it openly. Most seem to realize how offensive and bigoted this is, but there are those who just don't get it.
Fanaticism, Nationalism, Treason, and Patriotism
It was argued by some that America faced such a grave crisis in the 9/11 terrorist attacks that everyone should rally together and support the president in whatever he decided to do. This attitude continues today with Iraq: anyone not supporting the president's plans doesn't support the troops and is a traitor. Is this reasoning sound?
Women's Role in Society
What place should women have in society? Traditionally, a woman's place has been inferior to that of the average man. Whatever is considered most valuable in society is placed under the direction of men; whatever is considered less valuable is given to women to care for - even when people ostensible know better.
Why Do We Obey the Law?
"People don't obey laws that they don't believe in. I'm not claiming that they behave lawlessly, or that they'll steal whatever they can steal if they think that they can get away with. Most people try to comply, at least substantially, with what they believe the law to say. If they don't believe the law says what it in fact does say, though, they won't obey it..."
The Changing Institution of Marriage
Opponents of gay marriage try to portray themselves as "defenders" of "traditional" marriage and act as through extending the right to gays to marry each other would alter an institution that has endured unchanged for millennia. Reality is very different, though.
Tribalism and Treason: Weighing Humanity Against One's Nation
People naturally value the lives of those closest to them than the lives of strangers - if forced to choose, a person is far more likely to rescue a relative or neighbor than a stranger. This is natural, expected, and ultimately unremarkable. It is disturbing, however, just how far this can be taken...
The Inferiority of Gay Americans
Members of the Christian Right sometimes like to say that their policy is to "hate the sin but love the sinner" and, therefore, while they hate homosexuality, they don't hate homosexuals. Their actions and statements, though, betray their true feelings: they believe that gays are inferior citizens and inferior human beings.
Charitable Choice, Public Funding & Discrimination
One of the goals of President Bush is to fund social programs run by religious organizations without forcing them to give up the ability to discriminate on the basis of religion. It is claimed that religious groups are themselves discriminated against when it comes to government aid, but that simply isn't true.
Government Supported Religion: Can It Be General?
There are many conservatives who object to strict separation between church and state, preferring instead that the government be allowed support "religion generally" and aid various religious bodies without discrimination. This position is mired in contradictions and errors, though.
Innocent Until Proven Guilty, or Guilty Until Proven Innocent?
Almost every American is familiar with their 'Miranda' rights - their right to remain silent, their right to an attorney, etc. In fact, many people all over the world are familiar with these rights, even if they live in a place that doesn't grant them. What some may find surprising is that even in America, some continue to object to these rights.
Is Secularization Inimical to Religion?
Some people believe that religion cannot survive in a secular society. Apparently, the voluntary and personal commitment of individual members isn't sufficient; instead, religion needs the active defense and support of the state. Otherwise, people will find it too easy to drift away from religion.
Gay Rights and Special Rights
Frequently... when gays talk about gay rights, heterosexuals hear talk about sex, not personal freedom. The claim that gays want "special rights" reflects the degree to which lesbians and gay men are seen as so out of the ordinary that their claims to ordinary rights seem special.
Israel vs. Judaism, Politics vs. Religion
Israel was founded as a Jewish state, as a state where Jews would always be welcome, always be safe, and where Judaism could be expressed without fear of discrimination and prejudice. One could argue, though, that even from a Jewish perspective, there are disadvantages to the existence of Israel as a state and as a political power.
Religions as Totalizing, Absolute Systems
It's true that there are lots of problems with religions, but it's also true that problems exist with all human belief systems. Why is it, then, that problems sometimes seem to be worse when it comes to religion? It's not that hard to understand: religions demand far more commitment and passion from adherents than just about any other type of system out there.
Terrorism as Symbol and Performance Violence
The purpose of terrorism is to terrorize, right? Terrorism is designed to frighten people into submitting to some group's desires which have not been achieved through the normal political process, right? Those are the most common assumptions about terrorism, but they are relatively superficial assumptions that miss a great deal.
Nationalism and Identity
A basic feature of the political landscape today is nationalism, the devotion to one's nation and national identity. The importance and value of nationalism goes almost unquestioned - but perhaps they should. Nationalism hasn't always existed and isn't always an unmitigated good.
Peril in Mesopotamia
The people of England have been led in Mesopotamia into a trap from which it will be hard to escape with dignity and honour. They have been tricked into it by a steady withholding of information. The Baghdad communiques are belated, insincere, incomplete. Things have been far worse than we have been told
Tragedy, Self-Righteousness, and Evil
Before 9/11, I thought that tragedy had the potential to connect us with humanity in ways that prosperity does not. I thought that if prosperity tends to isolate, tragedy must connect. Now I realize that this is not always the case. One unfortunate response to tragedy is a self-righteousness about one's own condition, a seeking proof of one's special place in the world, even in victimhood.
America as a Christian Nation
It's common to hear from the Christian Right that America is a "Christian Nation" and, as such, should be ruled according to Christian principles, by Christian politicians, and for the benefit of a Christian agenda - not to mention for the benefit of Christians themselves. Their arguments are quite mistaken.
Fundamentalism and Fear of Modernity
It is curious that the Christian Right is so antagonistic towards homosexuals. Gays are a relatively small minority in society and can pose little threat to Christianity or Christians' lives. It is difficult to fathom, then, what it is that they fear so much. What do they imagine will happen if gays have the same rights as everyone else?
Status of Women in Christianity & Islam
A common criticism of Islam is its treatment of women; at the same time, though, Christianity does not have a very good track record with its treatment of women, either. The reasons do not appear to be the same in both religions, though...
Morality and Rationality as a Motivation
Are we rational? Are we moral? Well, most people like to think of themselves as rational and moral, but obviously that isn't always true. People are motivated to act so that they continue to see themselves as rational and moral - but does that entail necessarily acting rationally and morally?
Secularism vs. Superstition
The widest cause of secularization may be the steady change of thinking so that there is the expectation that reason and a consideration of cause and effect will help with explanations. Supernatural power began to be removed from explanations of the process of life or society in the seventeenth century...
Capitalism vs. Conservatism
Many liberals in America have expressed bewilderment at the fact that so many voters act against their economic interests: they vote for conservatives whose cultural rhetoric they like, but who can also be counted on to defend economic policies which will be harmful.
Men Defined as Not Women
There is a stark contrast in modern society between the attributes ascribed to women and those ascribed to men. Women are generally regarded as weak, emotional, and inferior. Men are regarded as strong, stoic, logical, and superior. Isn't this awfully convenient?
The Changing Nature of Copyright
Copyright laws are playing an increasingly important role in society today, which is not a surprise given the increasing importance of the internet and information for the operation of modern culture. What most people don't realize, though, is that the nature of copyrights has changed dramatically.
Can Gay Rights and Gay Marriage Be Stopped?
What do conservative religious critics hope to accomplish in their opposition to gay rights and gay marriage? William F. Buckley has described the basic principle of conservatism as "To stand athwart history yelling 'Stop!'" Do they, though, really expect to succeed in this when it comes to homosexuality?
Piety and Morality in Politics
Outward manifestations of piety and righteousness do not protect the citizenry. Each belt buckle that German soldiers wore had embossed upon it Gott Mit Uns (God Is with Us). Over the door of the courthouse in the Palace of Justice complex in Nuremberg were engraved the Ten Commandments...
Flag Desecration and Flag Fetishism
On a regular basis, some Republican politician introduces a constitutional amendment that would allow the government to ban the "desecration" of the American flag. The immediate target is flag burning, but the idea that the flag can be "desecrated" implies that it is "sacred" to begin with...
The Lessons of Nazi Germany for Christianity
The actions of Nazi Germany appear to contain important lessons for humanity about the use and abuse of power, the insidious nature of hatred and fear, and of course the importance of democratic institutions in protecting us from the whims of authoritarian impulses. Not everyone learns the same lessons, though.
Swive You and the Horse You Rode In On
There are many with an authoritarian streak that impels them to seek the authority to censor the words, ideas, and deeds of others. Perhaps they simply feel that they know better or perhaps they think that this allows them to serve the greater good. In the long run, though, the results of censorship are almost inevitably fruitless.
Abortion and Shame
Should the decision to have an abortion be treated as a valid, moral, and even normal choice in a woman's life? Many people don't think so, and that includes people who are ostensibly supporters of legalized abortion - they may defend a woman's right to choose, but they don't think much of woman who actually do choose.
Gender and Identity: Just Male and Female?
In the debate over gay marriage, a common refrain hear from religious conservatives is that marriage is only between "one man and one woman." Gender, it is assumed, comes it precisely two forms: no more, no less. What they don't realize is that culture plays as much of a role in this as does biology.
Women in the Vatican
The Catholic Church tries to argue that its refusal to allow women into the priesthood is not a sign of misogyny - women have many other opportunities to serve in the church and use their skills, right? We can tell a lot about the real attitudes of Catholic prelates towards women by observing how they treat women in their employ.
Capitalism and Journalism
Journalism has always been a business, but it seems that the "business" end of the news media has been growing in importance %u2014 perhaps because the number of media owners has been shrinking in number. There are fewer media companies, greater control by non-media corporate giants, and as a result worse journalism.
The Catholic Church in Nazi Germany
Nazi Germany was responsible for some of the most horrific acts of the twentieth century, if not of all human history. Germany was at the time a very Christian nation with large numbers of both Protestants and Catholics. How did they reconcile their religion with Nazism? How did the churches go along with the Nazi government?
The Threat of Pornography
Religious conservatives find pornography abhorrent %u2014 but why? What is it about the depiction of sex acts that would cause it to be the target of so much vitriol? Perhaps because pornography is a threat to their position that sex must only exist for the sake of procreation.
Abortion on Demand
Many people who oppose abortion or who only weakly support abortion rights will often focus their objections on the idea of "abortion on demand." They see something wrong with abortion being readily available. But if abortion is not available "on demand," what is the point of it being legal?
Anna-Teresa Tymieniecka: Woman Behind Pope John Paul II
The Roman Catholic Church has a reputation for being at least somewhat misogynistic; this reputation is not unearned, given the unequal role allowed to women. What many people don't realize, however, is the important role played by a female philosopher in refining, clarifying, and developing the ideas of John Paul II.
America's Developing Death Industry
Everyone dies, so it's likely that just about everyone will experience some sort of funeral or memorial service, probably in their own immediate family. Traditional funeral services with a casket and burial, however, are becoming increasingly expensive - and that's the way the burgeoning funeral industry wants it.
Humanist Politics: Means, Ends, and Rational Society
It is common for people to differentiate means from ends, for example by questioning whether a good ends can justifiably be achieved via unethical means. Perhaps this is a mistake, though. Perhaps means and ends should be seen as part of a single, unified whole.
Ethics of Individual Moral Preference
Should people be allowed to make moral choices for themselves or should such choices be turned over to higher authorities? Actually, that's a false dilemma: some choices are always restricted and others allowed. Thus, the real question is where we draw the line.
Life: Meaning vs. Opportunity
It's common for religious theists to worry about the "meaning" of life and question whether atheists can have any "meaning" in their lives since they lack gods and perhaps even religion. Maybe they are going about things the wrong way, though - perhaps, instead of looking for "meaning," we should look for "opportunities."
What is a Civil Libertarian?
Civil liberties are very important in American society and politics, but despite this not everyone appears to understand just what a commitment to civil liberties entails. Defending civil liberties requires defending them for all people, equally, even if those people would promote ideas which are anathema to us.
Journalism, Legitimation, and Control
The news media exercises powerful influence over culture and society - far more than most people probably realize. The very manner in which the media report on events and people serves to legitimize individuals, offices, and institutions. For better and for worse, the media is part of the very system it reports on.
Abortion Shouldn't Be Too Easy?
There seems to be a common attitude shared even by abortion rights supporters that abortions shouldn't be too easy to obtain. People apparently feel that if abortions are easy to get, then they would be "abused" - as if women can't be trusted to use abortion "correctly" or as if the meaning of pregnancy would be diminished.
What Does it mean to be Pope?
Personally, I can%u2019t imagine what it must be like. Any head of state has a difficult job, but how much worse would it be for a pope? Any religious leader or pastor has a difficult job, but how much more difficult must it be for the head of the entire Catholic Church?
Is God Beyond Number?
Defenders of classical Western monotheism (which encompasses the traditions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) tend to claim that their god is beyond many of the attributes humans typically understand, like gender and temporal existence. Their god is not, however, beyond the characteristic of having a number: one.
American Churches, Capitalism, Consumerism
One of the interesting features of modern American Christianity is how much it has borrowed from American capitalism. More and more, American churches have been explicit in their use of the techniques more commonly associated with big business. Just how "Christian" is that, anyway?
American Military Superiority
There are two general ways in which a person or a nation can impose their will on others: by convincing them of the rightness of a course of action or through force. On the international scene, "convincing" typically occurs through international institutions; force usually occurs through military intervention.
Sex & Survival
One of the pillars of conservative religious critiques of modernity is that sexuality has come to be regarded as a source of pleasure absent any intent to procreate. According to religious conservatives, sex exists for the purpose of procreation; everything else is secondary at best. Is this position justified?
Language, Swearing, Aggression in the Brain
Swearing is a sort of language which many people object to. But is it "language," really? At first it certainly seems to be - it uses words and grammar, after all, so how could it be anything else? The source of swearing is, however, not the language area of the brain.
Abortion in Early America
Abortion has probably existed for as long as self-conscious animals have existed - pregnancy may be part of a species natural life cycle, but not every individual who becomes pregnant wants to remain that way and some will go to great lengths in order to end a pregnancy.
The Pope as Celebrity and Cult Figure
Pope John Paul II was not only one of the longest-lived popes in the history of the Catholic Church, he was also one of the most popular popes in history. Perhaps in part because of his theatrical training, he was masterful in his use of the media to promote himself and, thereby, his ideas. Did this do more to help or harm his church?
Belief Formation & Education
Getting people to change their beliefs can be difficult, especially when those beliefs are related to subjects like religion or politics. Sometimes, people will refuse to even reconsider their beliefs or entertain the possibility that they might be mistaken - regardless of what sort of evidence they are faced with. Why is that?
Use of Eastern Religion in New Age Spirituality
American religiosity has traditionally been Western in orientation, but Eastern ideals have made a lot of headway in the context of "New Age" spirituality. Unfortunately, many of those ideals are adopted without context and without a historical understanding of what they meant in their original cultures.
Catholic Bishops & the Sexual Abuse Scandal
As bad as the reports of Catholic priests sexually abusing children were, many were more outraged over the way bishops failed to act to defend children. Sometimes, bishops did more to protect the molesters, moving them to unsuspecting parishes where they could molest again. Was John Paul II responsible for this kind of behavior?
Critical Inquiry, Skepticism, Human Beliefs (Book Notes: Affirmations)
The great advances which science has achieved are attributable, in large part, to science's very effective methodology. The scientific approach to learning and understanding was developed by trial and error over centuries of work; shouldn't other areas of human endeavor apply some of these lessons for solving problems?
Corporate Spirituality & the Co-opting of Religion
American churches have aligned themselves with American nationalism in a way that has caused Christianity here to be as "American" as it is "Christian" - sometimes as unlike European Christianity as it is unlike Islam. Nationalism, however, isn't the only force which has changed the nature of American Christianity.
Slavery & Christianity in the Old South
Slavery is, obviously, supported in the Bible. Slavery was defended in the Old South by good white Christians who relied on the Bible. What many people don't realize, however, is just how extensively intertwined Christianity and slavery were in the Old South. In many ways, the Civil War as a much a defense of Christianity as it was a defense of slavery.
Nationalism, Tribalism, One World Government
One thing that doesn't get debated very often is whether it would be good to create a single world government. A few people support it, but much more often we hear condemnations of the idea and arguments that no threats to national sovereignty should be permitted.
Forgiveness & Sin in Christianity
Two of the central features of Christianity are that all humans sin and that Christianity provides the means by which you can be forgiven for your sins. Some denominations of Christianity put a lot more emphasis on the "sin" than they do the "forgiveness" - even to the point where the latter seems to fade away.
Self-Organization, Complexity, and the Origin of Life
One of the most common arguments used by creationists against evolution is that it is "impossible" for complexity or novelty to come about without the direction of some outside intelligence directing the entire process. This isn't true - it's known to happen not only in biology, but also elsewhere in some very familiar circumstances
Democracy, Institutions, & Good People
Democratic institutions which govern society are, obviously, made up of people. They are also made up of rules and procedures. What this means is that such institutions have the capability of being a bit better than the people who make them up because the rules and procedures can force it to - but how much better?
Reality & History, Fact vs. Fiction
Truth matters - or at least one would think so, but so many people believe so many things that are untrue, this may be a difficult proposition to defend sometimes. Truth should matter, but it doesn't seem to matter enough. Part of the problem seems to be that fiction can be made to sound more exciting and dramatic.
Looking for the Divine in Human Beings
Many Christians try to "sell" Christianity on the idea that it is focused upon an instance where God and humanity became one. This is supposed to special and unusual among religions; in reality, though, Hinduism has its own tradition of unions between humanity and God - and occurring far more often.
God, Morality, & Principled Choices
The divine command theory of ethics is the idea that nothing is right or wrong outside of God's will. If God wills something, then it's good. If God wills that something not be done, then it's wrong. Good and evil are not independent of God. Is this a coherent perspective?
What Are Gay Rights?
There is a lot of debate over "gay rights," but just what are "gay rights" in the first place? Are they special rights that no one else should have access to? Are they equal rights that others already have and which have been denied to gays?
Neoconservatism & Christianity in America
In contemporary America, there has been a political union between neoconservatives and traditionalist Christians. Both have sought to reinforce the other in their political agenda. Are their ideologies really compatible, though?
Christianity, Christian Reconstructionism, Slavery
For hundreds of years, Christians defended slavery as a godly and divinely ordained institution. One would think that the South's loss in the Civil War had finally and irrevocably ended all Christian support for slavery, but that appears to not be the case. Some Christian Reconstructionists still think positively of it.
Pat Robertson & Social Security (Toward a New Political Humanism)
Most people recognize that much of the Republican Party's platform is driven by the agenda of the Christian Right and this is most noticeable when it comes to social and moral issues. Economic issues are thought to be independent, but perhaps that isn't really the case?