Religion is a personal or institutionalized organized system grounded in the belief in and reverence for a supernatural power or powers regarded as creator and governor of the universe.
There is no God
Sorry to have to break this to you.
News and Links
5 reasons to suspect that Jesus never existed. A growing number of scholars are openly questioning or actively arguing against Jesus’ historicity. http://www.salon.com/2014/09/01/5_reasons_to_suspect_that_jesus_never_existed/
Religion beat became a test of faith
WHEN Times editors assigned me to the religion beat, I believed God had answered my prayers.
As a serious Christian, I had cringed at some of the coverage in the mainstream media. Faith frequently was treated like a circus, even a freak show.
I wanted to report objectively and respectfully about how belief shapes people's lives. Along the way, I believed, my own faith would grow deeper and sturdier.
But during the eight years I covered religion, something very different happened.
First as a columnist and then as a reporter, I never had a shortage of topics. I wrote about an elderly church organist who became a spiritual mentor to the man who tried to rape, rob and kill her. About the Orthodox Jewish mother who developed a line of modest clothing for Barbie dolls. About the hardy group of Mormons who rode covered wagons 800 miles from Salt Lake City to San Bernardino, replicating their ancestors' journey to Southern California.
As I began my reporting, I kept that in mind. I also thought that the victims — people usually in their 30s, 40s and up — should have just gotten over what had happened to them decades before. To me, many of them were needlessly stuck in the past.
But then I began going over the documents. And interviewing the victims, scores of them. I discovered that the term "sexual abuse" is a euphemism. Most of these children were raped and sodomized by someone they and their family believed was Christ's representative on Earth. That's not something an 8-year-old's mind can process; it forever warps a person's sexuality and spirituality.
Many of these victims were molested by priests with a history of abusing children. But the bishops routinely sent these clerics to another parish, and bullied or conned the victims and their families into silence. The police were almost never called. In at least a few instances, bishops encouraged molesting priests to flee the country to escape prosecution.
I couldn't get the victims' stories or the bishops' lies — many of them right there on their own stationery — out of my head. I had been in journalism more than two decades and had dealt with murders, rapes, other violent crimes and tragedies. But this was different — the children were so innocent, their parents so faithful, the priests so sick and bishops so corrupt.
On a Sunday morning at a parish in Rancho Santa Margarita, I watched congregants lobby to name their new parish hall after their longtime pastor, who had admitted to molesting a boy and who had been barred that day from the ministry. I felt sick to my stomach that the people of God wanted to honor an admitted child molester. Only one person in the crowd, an Orange County sheriff's deputy, spoke out for the victim.
By then, I started to believe that God was calling me, as he did St. Francis of Assisi, to "rebuild his church" — not in some grand way that would lead to sainthood but by simply reporting on corruption within the church body.
I spent several years investigating TBN and pored through stacks of documents — some made available by appalled employees — showing the Crouches eating $180-per-person meals; flying in a $21-million corporate jet; having access to 30 TBN-owned homes across the country, among them a pair of Newport Beach mansions and a ranch in Texas. All paid for with tax-free donor money.
One of the stars of TBN and a major fundraiser is the self-proclaimed faith healer Benny Hinn. I attended one of his two-day "Miracle Crusades" at what was then the Pond of Anaheim. The arena was packed with sick people looking for a cure.
My heart broke for the hundreds of people around me in wheelchairs or in the final stages of terminal diseases, believing that if God deemed their faith strong enough, they would be healed that night.
Hinn tells his audiences that a generous cash gift to his ministry will be seen by God as a sign of true faith. This has worked well for the televangelist, who lives in an oceanfront mansion in Dana Point, drives luxury cars, flies in private jets and stays in the best hotels.
AS the stories piled up, I began to pray with renewed vigor, but it felt like I wasn't connecting to God. I started to feel silly even trying.
I read accounts of St. John of the Cross and his "dark night of the soul," a time he believed God was testing him by seemingly withdrawing from his life. Maybe this was my test.
I met with my former Presbyterian pastor, John Huffman, and told him what I was feeling. I asked him if I could e-mail him some tough questions about Christianity and faith and get his answers. He agreed without hesitation.
The questions that I thought I had come to peace with started to bubble up again. Why do bad things happen to good people? Why does God get credit for answered prayers but no blame for unanswered ones? Why do we believe in the miraculous healing power of God when he's never been able to regenerate a limb or heal a severed spinal chord?
In one e-mail, I asked John, who had lost a daughter to cancer, why an atheist businessman prospers and the child of devout Christian parents dies. Why would a loving God make this impossible for us to understand?
He sent back a long reply that concluded:
"My ultimate affirmation is let God be God and acknowledge that He is in charge. He knows what I don't know. And frankly, if I'm totally honest with you, a life of gratitude is one that bows before the Sovereign God arguing with Him on those things that trouble me, lamenting the losses of life, but ultimately saying, 'You, God, are infinite; I'm human and finite.' "
John is an excellent pastor, but he couldn't reach me. For some time, I had tried to push away doubts and reconcile an all-powerful and infinitely loving God with what I saw, but I was losing ground. I wondered if my born-again experience at the mountain retreat was more about fatigue, spiritual longing and emotional vulnerability than being touched by Jesus.
And I considered another possibility: Maybe God didn't exist.
My soul, for lack of a better term, had lost faith long ago — probably around the time I stopped going to church. My brain, which had been in denial, had finally caught up.
Clearly, I saw now that belief in God, no matter how grounded, requires at some point a leap of faith. Either you have the gift of faith or you don't. It's not a choice. It can't be willed into existence. And there's no faking it if you're honest about the state of your soul.
Sitting in a park across the street from the courthouse, I called my wife on a cellphone. I told her I was putting in for a new beat at the paper.
Top 10 Articles on the Christian Right for 2006
The Christian Right is still on the rise, and AlterNet does its best to follow the movement -- here are the ten most popular from this year.
AlterNet works to cover all aspect of the Christian Right -- here are our 10 most popular articles from 2006.
- How Jesus Endorsed Bush's Invasion of Iraq, By Damon Linker, Doubleday. In the lead up to the invasion of Iraq, Bush needed the approval of religious leaders to shore up his religious base and a group of Catholic theoconservatives were happy to help him do just that.
- Using Children as 'God's Army', By Kirsten A. Powers, The American Prospect. A new documentary chronicles a summer camp where children, as young as six, are trained to become devout Christian soldiers.
- Foley, Gays and the Religious Right: Is This the Nail in the GOP Coffin?, By Evan Derkacz, AlterNet. It's become clear that the Republican leadership protected a predator.Will it cost them the conservative Christian votes they so desperately need?
- The Growing Threat of Right-Wing Christians, By Onnesha Roychoudhuri, AlterNet. Michelle Goldberg says progressives need to wake up and pay attention to the enormous -- and growing -- influence of the radical Christian right.
- Public Stoning: Not Just for the Taliban Anymore, By John Sugg, Creative Loafing (Atlanta). Christian reconstructionists believe democracy is heresy and public school is satanic -- and they've got more influence than you think.
- Why the Religious Right Fights Cancer Prevention, By Gene Gerard, Truthdig. Conservative groups have caused an uproar by opposing a vaccine for the second-deadliest cancer for women.
- The Top 10 Power Brokers of the Religious Right, By Rob Boston, Church and State. Who they are, what they want, and why these American ayatollahs must be stopped.
- 'Arrows for the War', By Kathryn Joyce, The Nation. The Christian 'Quiverfull' movement measures a mother's spiritual resolve by the number of children she raises, each one an arrow in the quiver of God's army.
- Lobbying for Armageddon, By Sarah Posner, AlterNet. Some influential evangelical leaders are lobbying for an attack on Iran. But it's not about geopolitics -- it's about bringing about the End Times.
- Tyranny of the Christian Right, By Michelle Goldberg, AlterNet. The largest and most powerful mass movement in the nation -- evangelical Christianity -- has set out to destroy secular society.
10 myths -- and 10 truths -- about atheism
December 24, 2006 SEVERAL POLLS indicate that the term "atheism" has acquired such an extraordinary stigma in the United States that being an atheist is now a perfect impediment to a career in politics (in a way that being black, Muslim or homosexual is not). According to a recent Newsweek poll, only 37% of Americans would vote for an otherwise qualified atheist for president.
Atheists are often imagined to be intolerant, immoral, depressed, blind to the beauty of nature and dogmatically closed to evidence of the supernatural.
Even John Locke, one of the great patriarchs of the Enlightenment, believed that atheism was "not at all to be tolerated" because, he said, "promises, covenants and oaths, which are the bonds of human societies, can have no hold upon an atheist."
That was more than 300 years ago. But in the United States today, little seems to have changed. A remarkable 87% of the population claims "never to doubt" the existence of God; fewer than 10% identify themselves as atheists — and their reputation appears to be deteriorating.
Given that we know that atheists are often among the most intelligent and scientifically literate people in any society, it seems important to deflate the myths that prevent them from playing a larger role in our national discourse.
1) Atheists believe that life is meaningless.
On the contrary, religious people often worry that life is meaningless and imagine that it can only be redeemed by the promise of eternal happiness beyond the grave. Atheists tend to be quite sure that life is precious. Life is imbued with meaning by being really and fully lived. Our relationships with those we love are meaningful now; they need not last forever to be made so. Atheists tend to find this fear of meaninglessness … well … meaningless.
2) Atheism is responsible for the greatest crimes in human history.
People of faith often claim that the crimes of Hitler, Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot were the inevitable product of unbelief. The problem with fascism and communism, however, is not that they are too critical of religion; the problem is that they are too much like religions. Such regimes are dogmatic to the core and generally give rise to personality cults that are indistinguishable from cults of religious hero worship. Auschwitz, the gulag and the killing fields were not examples of what happens when human beings reject religious dogma; they are examples of political, racial and nationalistic dogma run amok. There is no society in human history that ever suffered because its people became too reasonable.
3) Atheism is dogmatic.
Jews, Christians and Muslims claim that their scriptures are so prescient of humanity's needs that they could only have been written under the direction of an omniscient deity. An atheist is simply a person who has considered this claim, read the books and found the claim to be ridiculous. One doesn't have to take anything on faith, or be otherwise dogmatic, to reject unjustified religious beliefs. As the historian Stephen Henry Roberts (1901-71) once said: "I contend that we are both atheists. I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours."
4) Atheists think everything in the universe arose by chance.
No one knows why the universe came into being. In fact, it is not entirely clear that we can coherently speak about the "beginning" or "creation" of the universe at all, as these ideas invoke the concept of time, and here we are talking about the origin of space-time itself.
The notion that atheists believe that everything was created by chance is also regularly thrown up as a criticism of Darwinian evolution. As Richard Dawkins explains in his marvelous book, "The God Delusion," this represents an utter misunderstanding of evolutionary theory. Although we don't know precisely how the Earth's early chemistry begat biology, we know that the diversity and complexity we see in the living world is not a product of mere chance. Evolution is a combination of chance mutation and natural selection. Darwin arrived at the phrase "natural selection" by analogy to the "artificial selection" performed by breeders of livestock. In both cases, selection exerts a highly non-random effect on the development of any species.
5) Atheism has no connection to science.
Although it is possible to be a scientist and still believe in God — as some scientists seem to manage it — there is no question that an engagement with scientific thinking tends to erode, rather than support, religious faith. Taking the U.S. population as an example: Most polls show that about 90% of the general public believes in a personal God; yet 93% of the members of the National Academy of Sciences do not. This suggests that there are few modes of thinking less congenial to religious faith than science is.
6) Atheists are arrogant.
When scientists don't know something — like why the universe came into being or how the first self-replicating molecules formed — they admit it. Pretending to know things one doesn't know is a profound liability in science. And yet it is the life-blood of faith-based religion. One of the monumental ironies of religious discourse can be found in the frequency with which people of faith praise themselves for their humility, while claiming to know facts about cosmology, chemistry and biology that no scientist knows. When considering questions about the nature of the cosmos and our place within it, atheists tend to draw their opinions from science. This isn't arrogance; it is intellectual honesty.
7) Atheists are closed to spiritual experience.
There is nothing that prevents an atheist from experiencing love, ecstasy, rapture and awe; atheists can value these experiences and seek them regularly. What atheists don't tend to do is make unjustified (and unjustifiable) claims about the nature of reality on the basis of such experiences. There is no question that some Christians have transformed their lives for the better by reading the Bible and praying to Jesus. What does this prove? It proves that certain disciplines of attention and codes of conduct can have a profound effect upon the human mind. Do the positive experiences of Christians suggest that Jesus is the sole savior of humanity? Not even remotely — because Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims and even atheists regularly have similar experiences.
There is, in fact, not a Christian on this Earth who can be certain that Jesus even wore a beard, much less that he was born of a virgin or rose from the dead. These are just not the sort of claims that spiritual experience can authenticate.
8) Atheists believe that there is nothing beyond human life and human understanding.
Atheists are free to admit the limits of human understanding in a way that religious people are not. It is obvious that we do not fully understand the universe; but it is even more obvious that neither the Bible nor the Koran reflects our best understanding of it. We do not know whether there is complex life elsewhere in the cosmos, but there might be. If there is, such beings could have developed an understanding of nature's laws that vastly exceeds our own. Atheists can freely entertain such possibilities. They also can admit that if brilliant extraterrestrials exist, the contents of the Bible and the Koran will be even less impressive to them than they are to human atheists.
From the atheist point of view, the world's religions utterly trivialize the real beauty and immensity of the universe. One doesn't have to accept anything on insufficient evidence to make such an observation.
9) Atheists ignore the fact that religion is extremely beneficial to society.
Those who emphasize the good effects of religion never seem to realize that such effects fail to demonstrate the truth of any religious doctrine. This is why we have terms such as "wishful thinking" and "self-deception." There is a profound distinction between a consoling delusion and the truth.
In any case, the good effects of religion can surely be disputed. In most cases, it seems that religion gives people bad reasons to behave well, when good reasons are actually available. Ask yourself, which is more moral, helping the poor out of concern for their suffering, or doing so because you think the creator of the universe wants you to do it, will reward you for doing it or will punish you for not doing it?
10) Atheism provides no basis for morality.
If a person doesn't already understand that cruelty is wrong, he won't discover this by reading the Bible or the Koran — as these books are bursting with celebrations of cruelty, both human and divine. We do not get our morality from religion. We decide what is good in our good books by recourse to moral intuitions that are (at some level) hard-wired in us and that have been refined by thousands of years of thinking about the causes and possibilities of human happiness.
We have made considerable moral progress over the years, and we didn't make this progress by reading the Bible or the Koran more closely. Both books condone the practice of slavery — and yet every civilized human being now recognizes that slavery is an abomination. Whatever is good in scripture — like the golden rule — can be valued for its ethical wisdom without our believing that it was handed down to us by the creator of the universe.
SAM HARRIS is the author of "The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason" and "Letter to a Christian Nation."
Groups supporting Religious Freedom
Freedom from Religion Foundation
The history of Western civilization shows us that most social and moral progress has been brought about by persons free from religion.
In modern times the first to speak out for prison reform, for humane treatment of the mentally ill, for abolition of capital punishment, for women's right to vote, for death with dignity for the terminally ill, and for the right to choose contraception, sterilization and abortion have been freethinkers, just as they were the first to call for an end to slavery.
The Foundation works as an umbrella for those who are free from religion and are committed to the cherished principle of separation of state and church.
Secular Coalition for America
The members of the Secular Coalition for America are national organizations who cooperate within the Coalition for the greater good of all nontheistic citizens.
The flying spaghetti monster
Why are we here on earth? To Richard Dawkins, that's a remarkably stupid question. In a heated interview, the famous biologist insists that religion is evil and God might as well be a children's fantasy.
October 13, 2006 In the roiling debate between science and religion, it would be hard to exaggerate the enormous influence of Richard Dawkins. The British scientist is religion's chief prosecutor -- "Darwin's rottweiler," as one magazine called him -- and quite likely the world's most famous atheist. Speaking to the American Humanist Association, Dawkins once said, "I think a case can be made that faith is one of the world's great evils, comparable to the smallpox virus but harder to eradicate."
Not surprisingly, these kinds of comments have made Dawkins a lightning rod in the debate over evolution. While he's a hero to those who can't stomach superstition or irrationality, his efforts to link Darwinism to atheism have upset the scientists and philosophers, like Francis Collins and Michael Ruse, who are trying to bridge the gap between science and religion. Yet, surprisingly, some intelligent design advocates have actually welcomed Dawkins' attacks. William Dembski, for instance, says his inflammatory rhetoric helps the I.D. cause by making evolution sound un-Christian.
Assertive Atheism http://www.flamewarrior.com/warning.htm
Spirituality is a personal belief system which comes from the individuals own experiences. Religion teaches a belief system created by others; not always with altruistic motives.
Spirituality comes from within, religion comes from without.
There are no valid supernatural explanations for why the world exists. Nor are any needed. See the Affirmations of Humanism.
Point of Inquiry http://pointofinquiry.org/
Council for Secular Humanism http://www.secularhumanism.org/
Existentialism: A philosophy that emphasizes the uniqueness and isolation of the individual experience in a hostile or indifferent universe, regards human existence as unexplainable, and stresses freedom of choice and responsibility for the consequences of one's acts.
Ethical Egoism: The ethical doctrine that morality has its foundations in self-interest; that personal behavior which benefits the individual is ethical if it does not harm others. There is a far reaching aspect to this which requires restraint so as to avoid disappointment and pain.
Why has Ayn Rand become so inconsequential to modern philosophy?
The Purpose of the Voodoo Spiritual Temple is to train and develop the spiritual and mental powers lying dorment in each of us. The Voodoo Spiritual Temple was established in 1990 by Priestess Miriam and Priest Oswan Chamani. It is the only "formally" established Spiritual Temple with a focus on traditional West African spiritual and herbal healing practices currently existing in New Orleans. On March 6, 1995, Priest Oswan transcended into the arms of the ancestors but Priestess Miriam continues to carry on the tradition of the Temple along with the Spirit of Oswan. The Voodoo Spiritual Temple has extended its spirituality across the world including a Temple in Russia. The Voodoo Spiritual Temple is unlike any "Spiritual Temple" in the world. The entrance is on the "Cultural Side" where it is filled with handcrafted items and gifts from local artists to gifts from around the world. As you make your way past the beads you see where Priestess Miriam works on her "Voodoo Dolls", Mojo Bags, and prepares magical herbs and oils. You then arrive in the courtyard where Priestess Miriam speaks to the people before they enter the "Voodoo Spiritual Temple". You inhale the aroma of the "Temple" incense as you tour the "Temple side" it is like a Spiritual Place that stands still in time as you walk past the many altars that Priestess Miriam has put together led by the Loas, Saints, and Spirit. Many faces from many places has visited the Voodoo Spiritual Temple. http://www.voodoospiritualtemple.org/about.html
Flying Spaghetti Monster
The Flying Spaghetti Monster (FSM) is the subject of a satirical website created by Bobby Henderson in 2005 to protest the decision by the Kansas State Board of Education to require the teaching of intelligent design as an alternative to biological evolution. In the site, Henderson facetiously professes belief in a supernatural Creator entity that resembles spaghetti and meatballs and suggests that Flying Spaghetti Monsterism should be taught in science classrooms.
The Flying Spaghetti Monster has become the center of an Internet phenomenon, with followers who call themselves Pastafarians, a play on "Rastafarians."
Flying Spaghetti Monster Inspires Wonky Religious Debate
SAN DIEGO -- To a group of earnest academics who study faith, the Flying Spaghetti Monster -- the spiritual icon of a new internet-based religion -- is more than just a spicy pop-culture dish.
They use words like "didactic device" to describe the beloved but carb-heavy god of Pastafarianism. They say the FSM is cloaked in a "folk-humor hybrid body," and reveals a web-fueled movement toward "open source theology" that challenges existing beliefs.
Pastafarianism is "quite clearly confronting order with disorder, a profound kind of religious activity that we often overlook," said religious-studies professor and author David Chidester on Monday during a panel discussion about the belief system at the American Academy of Religion's annual conference in San Diego, which drew 9,000 attendees.
Sober words for a male deity made of two meatballs and a "noodly appendage." The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster has largely been popularized through the internet. The church boasts of a long history and "millions, if not thousands of devout worshippers," according to its website. But it only entered the public sphere after self-described prophet Bobby Henderson, an unemployed twenty-something physicist from Phoenix, demanded in 2005 that the religion receive equal time in Kansas schools.
At the time, education officials in the state wanted to raise the profile of "intelligent design" in public schools and offer it as an alternative to evolution.
Henderson says Pastafarianism -- the official religion of the Flying Spaghetti Monster -- is as serious as the religious-studies wonks are taking it. "The Church of FSM is real, totally legit and backed by hard science," Henderson writes on the site. "Anything that comes across as humor or satire is purely coincidental."
While the five academics drew laughs while discussing topics like meatballs, pirates and "saucy baptisms," they spent most of the time discussing how the faith illuminates their own debates over the secular versus the profane, the fake versus the real, and the roles of communities and parody in religion.
Conference organizers received "hateful" e-mail and voice messages from Christians offended by Monday's panel, said Northwestern University religious-studies professor Sarah Taylor. Whether other religious leaders agree the Flying Spaghetti Monster deserved such a forum is unclear: The panel drew an audience of only a hundred.
One panel member defended the discussion. "Most people don't think we're serious. They just keep saying, 'You're having a lot of fun,'" said University of Florida graduate student Samuel Snyder. "Yes, we're having a blast. But ... this is quite serious, too."
Reaction to public disclosure of the spaghetti deity's existence has ranged from hysterical laughter to staid criticism. "It is a serious offense to mock God," wrote one Kansas state school-board member.
Henderson, the world's leading Pastafarian, didn't return an e-mail message seeking comment about the panel. According to one speaker, he's traveling, using proceeds from his book on the religion.
As for other followers around the world, one declared that the speakers in San Diego should be boiled in marinara sauce, a scary if tasty fate, according to graduate student and panel member Alyssa Beall of Syracuse University.
After hearing from the panelists, the audience in San Diego broke for dinner. No word on whether any said grace with the proper closing word for Pastafarian prayers: "Ramen."
The Whovian Prayer
Our Time Lord Who Art In Tardis
The Doctor Be Thy Name
The Silence Comes And Demons Run
On Earth As It Was In Gallifrey
Save Us From The Weeping Angels
And Prevent Cybermen From Upgrading All Of Us
As We Prevent The Sontarans From Conquering The Planet
Lead Us Not Into The Vashta Nerada
But Deliver Us From Daleks
For Thine Is The Tardis, The Bow Ties And The Fezzes Forever And Ever
- The Whovian Prayer, version Dr. 9
- Our Time Lord, who art in TARDIS
- The Doctor be thy name
- The Silence comes and demons run
- On Earth as it was in Gallifrey.
- Save us this day from the weeping angels
- And prevent cybermen from upgrading all of us
- As we prevent Sontarans from conquering the planet.
- Lead us not into the Vashta Nerada,
- But deliver us from daleks,
- For thine is the TARDIS, the jumper, and the bananas,
- Forever and ever.
- The Whovian Prayer
- Our Time Lord, who art in TARDIS
- The Doctor be thy name
- The Silence comes and demons run
- On Earth as it was in Gallifrey.
- Save us this day from the weeping angels
- And prevent cybermen from upgrading all of us
- As we prevent Sontarans from conquering the planet.
- Lead us not into the Vashta Nerada,
- But deliver us from daleks,
- For thine is the TARDIS, the bow ties, and fezzes, forever and ever
(For Nine: Same as above but replace the last two lines with For thine is the TARDIS, the jumper, and bananas, forever and ever. Fantastic.)
(For Ten: Same as above but replace the last two lines with For thine is the TARDIS, the trenchcoat, and Converse, forever and ever. Allons-y.)
Beingism is an nondogmatic, and progressive philosophy of life based on rationality and compassion for oneself and others.
You might be a Beingist if you believe:
- Reason and science are our best means of understanding the universe.
- Everything that exists is natural — nothing is supernatural.
- Ethical values are subjective, but nevertheless very important to people.
- There¹s no such thing as free will, and causality appears to play a significant role in the way our world operates.
Other premises include:
- Everyone wants to be happy and have a fulfilling life.
- Although suffering is sometimes unavoidable, no one deserves to feel pain.
- People are generally more likely to be happy in a culture where they can exercise choice over their lives.
- We all benefit to some extent from the success of others, and with effort and patience, society can be structured such that this is even more the case.
If you agree with these ideas and you wish to call yourself a Beingist, then you are one. Please join us! If, on the other hand, you¹re not sure about some of it — or if you just flat out disagree — let¹s communicate.
Winter Solstice Marked Since Ancient Times. http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2009/12/091218-winter-solstice-date-2010-solstices-first-day-winter.html
Pagan Holidays http://www.joellessacredgrove.com/Holidays/sabbats.html
Wiccan teachings are for the most part a stew of demonstrably false historical claims. There's no better time to examine this penchant for dissembling than at winter solstice on Dec. 21, which Wiccans say has been their holiday for thousands of years. For it's just such unfounded claims to old age and continuous tradition that may keep Wicca from growing to be truly old. Wicca is not a unified movement; it comprises "good" witches who use spells and charms, feminist worshippers of a monotheistic Goddess, and earth-cultists who propound nature worship. But the many strands overlap. They're gynocentric; they're all concerned with nature; they all celebrate eight holidays, or "sabbats," that include the equinoxes and the solstices. Adherents typically say that those eight holidays were celebrated by ancient Wiccans or pagans, primarily Celtics or Romans, whose traditions the contemporary Wiccans are carrying on. These seasonal festivals, they add, have been co-opted by Christians, who turned Samhain into Halloween and Yule into Christmas. http://www.slate.com/id/2239120
Pagans mark longest day at ancient Stonehenge. Zoe Neale, 48, cheerfully admitted that her visit to Stonehenge "is part of my midlife crisis." She left her West London office amid gentle teasing from her colleagues Friday afternoon to see a very English tradition. "I've always thought it's just a bunch of old hippies. I'm just going to ignore the hippie things and think about Stonehenge and the sunrise," she said. http://www.cnn.com/2008/WORLD/europe/06/21/stonehenge.dawn.ap/index.html?iref=mpstoryview
What happened when a Wiccan witch blessed Iowa legislators, Full text of Wiccan priestess Deborah Maynard’s prayer:
- “We call this morning to God, Goddess, Universe, that which is greater than ourselves to be here with us today.
- By the earth that is in our bones and centers us: May all here remember our roots and those whom we are here to represent.
- By the fire that gives us light and passion: May all here remain passionate about the work that must be done for the people of Iowa.
- By the air that gives us breath and logic: May all here find thoughtful solutions to the problems that are presented.
- By the water that flows through our blood and stirs our emotions: May all here draw on that emotional intelligence which helps us to see the inherent worth and dignity of every person.
- We call this morning to spirit, which is ever present, to help us respect the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part. Be with this legislative body and guide them to seek justice, equity, and compassion in the work that is before them today.
- Blessed Be, Ah ho, and Amen.”
The Wicker Man
The Wicker Man is a highly unusual film, originally released in 1973, starring Edward Woodward, Christopher Lee, and Britt Eckland. This British thriller tells the story of a devout christian policeman who is called out to a remote Scottish island by a worried resident regarding the disappearance of a missing child.
As the film progresses it appears that the islanders have shunned christianity in favour of 'the old religion'. During his time on the island, Sergeant Howie ( Woodward ) is horrified by the bizarre practices of the locals led by Lord Summerisle ( Lee ). These practices include an open orgy in the street, children dancing naked, and young men being openly deflowered by the local goddess of love ( Eckland ). It is these practices which are completely at odds with everything Howie believes and it is this notion which serves as the backbone of the film.
Serenity in the high desert: the Buddhist Meditation Center sinks roots in Adelanto
A 60-ton white marble statue of the saint Quan yin greets visitors. The monk who takes care of the shrine hopes to raise $12 million to build a 6,000-square-foot meditation hall. http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-beliefs17-2008may17,0,2612198.story
Zen monk Thich Nhat Hanh
The Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings. http://plumvillage.org/mindfulness-practice/the-fourtee-mindfulness-trainings/
What I would say to Osama Bin laden ? Zen monk Thich Nhat Hanh talks about how listening is the first step towards peace Interview by Ann A. Simpkinson http://www.buddhismtoday.com/english/world/facts/Bin_Laden.htm
Question: If you could speak to Osama bin Laden, what would you say to him? Likewise, if you were to speak to the American people, what would you suggest we do at this point, individually and as a nation?
If I were given the opportunity to be face to face with Osama bin Laden, the first thing I would do is listen. I would try to understand why he had acted in that cruel way. I would try to understand all of the suffering that had led him to violence. It might not be easy to listen in that way, so I would have to remain calm and lucid. I would need several friends with me, who are strong in the practice of deep listening, listening without reacting, without judging and blaming. In this way, an atmosphere of support would be created for this person and those connected so that they could share completely, trust that they are really being heard.
After listening for some time, we might need to take a break to allow what has been said to enter into our consciousness. Only when we felt calm and lucid would we respond. We would respond point by point to what had been said. We would respond gently but firmly in such a way to help them to discover their own misunderstandings so that they will stop violent acts from their own will.
For the American people, I would suggest that we do everything we can to restore our calm and our lucidity before responding to the situation. To respond too quickly before we have much understanding of the situation may be very dangerous. The first thing we can do is to cool the flames of anger and hatred that are so strong in us. As mentioned before, it is crucial to look at the way we feed the hatred and violence within us and to take immediate steps to cut off the nourishment for our hatred and violence.
When we react out of fear and hatred, we do not yet have a deep understanding of the situation. Our action will only be a very quick and superficial way of responding to the situation and not much true benefit and healing will occur. Yet if we wait and follow the process of calming our anger, looking deeply into the situation, and listening with great will to understand the roots of suffering that are the cause of the violent actions, only then will we have sufficient insight to respond in such a way that healing and reconciliation can be realized for everyone involved. In South Africa, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission has made attempts to realize this. All the parties involved in violence and injustice agreed to listen to each other in a calm and supportive environment, to look together deeply at the roots of violent acts and to find agreeable arrangements to respond to the situations. The presence of strong spiritual leaders is very helpful to support and maintain such an environment. We can look at this model for resolving conflicts that are arising right in the present moment; we do not have to wait many years to realize this.
He told the broadsheet that Westerners had become self-absorbed, burdened with too much choice.
"It is fascinating. In the West, you have bigger homes, yet smaller families; you have endless conveniences - yet you never seem to have any time. You can travel anywhere in the world, yet you don't bother to cross the road to meet your neighbours," he said.
"I don't think people have become more selfish, but their lives have become easier and that has spoilt them. They have less resilience, they expect more, they constantly compare themselves to others and they have too much choice - which brings no real freedom."
Vikings invade Vista for annual festival
VISTA ---- Trickles of sweat rolled down his cheek as he stood in warm afternoon sunshine, covered from shoulder to toe in a layers of thick, black padding and chain-linked metal armor.
But David Boyer, a member of the Adrian Empire performance group who goes by the name "Friedrich," said a little heat wouldn't keep him out of costume or off the battlefield.
"We've fought in a lot hotter than this," the 34-year-old Oceanside resident said. "I love doing this."
Boyer was in one of the three Viking re-enactment groups Saturday at the fourth annual Viking Festival in Vista. The other two ---- Drafn and Raiders from the North ---- conducted an authentic Viking village with a working bread oven, an ax-throwing event and staged fights during the afternoon.
"Patrick" Mike Maley of San Diego makes a steel spoon, while "Helga" Heidi Riegel tends to the fire at the Drafn camp Saturday morning during the fourth annual Viking Festival at Norway Hall in Vista. The event was put together by the Norwegian Fish Club Odin and Sons of Norway Lodge No. 60 and included Viking battle demonstrations, arts and crafts, mead, and an ax-throwing competition.
Anastasia Carlson of Escondido plays a Viking horn at the Raiders from the North camp Saturday morning during the fourth annual Viking Festival at Norway Hall in Vista. The event was put together by the Norwegian Fish Club Odin and Sons of Norway Lodge No. 60 and included Viking battle demonstrations, arts and crafts, mead, and an ax-throwing competition.
Bobbie Kirkhart: Atheists United's chief nonbeliever. I am an agnostic. People don't understand what an agnostic is. There's about a 95% overlap between atheists and agnostic. I don't know with absolute certainty that there is nothing that could be considered a god. But I know with functional certainty that there's no god I have to be concerned about in my life or my observable world. An agnostic says "I don't know." Theism is about belief, and an atheist says I don't believe. So I don't know, and I don't believe. http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/commentary/la-oe-morrison12-2009dec12,0,1991554.column
The Satanic Temple
- There are seven fundamental tenets.
- One should strive to act with compassion and empathy towards all creatures in accordance with reason.
- The struggle for justice is an ongoing and necessary pursuit that should prevail over laws and institutions.
- One’s body is inviolable, subject to one’s own will alone.
- The freedoms of others should be respected, including the freedom to offend. To willfully and unjustly encroach upon the freedoms of another is to forgo your own.
- Beliefs should conform to our best scientific understanding of the world. We should take care never to distort scientific facts to fit our beliefs.
- People are fallible. If we make a mistake, we should do our best to rectify it and resolve any harm that may have been caused.
- Every tenet is a guiding principle designed to inspire nobility in action and thought. The spirit of compassion, wisdom, and justice should always prevail over the written or spoken word http://thesatanictemple.com/about-us/tenets
Human beings cannot exist in an atheistic vacuum. When people stop worshipping God it is only one or two generations before they start worshipping Satan. http://www.patheos.com/blogs/standingonmyhead/a-satanic-coloring-book-for-kids
“HAIL SATAN! Let us stand now, unbowed and unfettered by arcane doctrines born of fearful minds in darkened times. Let us embrace the Luciferian impulse to eat of the Tree of Knowledge and dissipate our blissful and comforting delusions of old. Let us demand that individuals be judged for their concrete actions, not their fealty to arbitrary social norms and illusory categorizations. Let us reason our solutions with agnosticism in all things, holding fast only to that which is demonstrably true. Let us stand firm against any and all arbitrary authority that threatens the personal sovereignty of One or All. That which will not bend must break, and that which can be destroyed by truth should never be spared its demise. It is Done. Hail Satan.” http://youtu.be/bfNcpInSthk
- The 7-ft.-tall (2.1 m) sculpture would feature Satan depicted in the form of Baphomet, a bearded, goat-headed, winged hominid with horns seated on a throne beneath a pentagram with two smiling children to either side.
Satanists Unveil Statue for Oklahoma Capitol. And it does not disappoint. http://nation.time.com/2014/01/07/satanists-unveil-statue-for-oklahoma-capitol/
The Rise of Atheism
A Weekend Convention Links Non-Believers, Highlights Group's Growing Popularity
September 30, 2007 A large convention of atheists gathered today in Virginia, where men, women and children eagerly proclaimed their belief God does not exist.
While their views still may be the minority in the country, atheists have become more vocal and visible in recent years.
T-shirts, bumper stickers and even rap songs proclaim atheists' beliefs. Atheist summer camps now exist for children.
"Over the last 20 years," said Alan Wolfe of Boston College, "the number of people willing to tell people in surveys that they don't believe in God have pretty much doubled."
Books denying God's existence have topped bestseller lists, and Congress has its first self-proclaimed atheist, Rep. Pete Stark, D-Calif.
"A lot of respectable people are coming out and saying they are very happy to dispel the myths of the Bible," said Margaret Downey of Atheist Alliance International.
Some atheists said their profile has increased because of a rise in religious extremism, like the Islamic fundamentalism behind the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 and the rise of the Christian right in the United States.
Gathering of the Godless
Meanwhile, the Internet has helped unite non-believers. In fact, this weekend's convention sold out, and had a waiting list of 600 people.
Besides listening to speakers, convention attendees can buy merchandise like a born-again-atheist hat, atheist-on-board signs for those with kids, or after-the-rapture mints.
They also had the opportunity to mingle with celebrity atheists like authors Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins.
On "Good Morning America Weekend Edition," Hitchens said American believers should recognize they live in a secular state.
"It would be better for them if they didn't give themselves false conciliation," he said. "My challenge is really to say, 'Can you name me a moral action or a statement that has been made by a believer that couldn't have been made by a non-believer?'"
And while the stigma associated with atheism may be diminishing, the majority of Americans say they would not vote for an atheist for president
But, Hitchens said he believes people would vote for an atheist candidate.
"They haven't had an offer from a decent atheist yet," he said.
And while Hitchens said atheists tend to be liberal, he said the group doesn't back a particular presidential candidate.
Enough With the 'One God' Stuff
September 23, 2006 In the world today, one ancient religious ideology, monotheism, stands out as especially dangerous, repressive and loony.
Sam Harris's book "The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason," which won the 2005 Pen Award for nonfiction, develops a smart, knowledgeable polemic about the growing dangers of all religious ideologies. Although I love Harris' rant, my personal obsession has long been with how weird monotheism is. Monotheism insists there is but one god, a man of course, alone in the universe for all eternity. Even as a child, I found this to be a crazy idea.
The Greeks and Romans, the Hindus, and the Egyptians all imagined many different gods who hang out together, the way people throughout the world do. These cultures envisioned social gods with busy existences who like pleasure, food, sex, art and other good things of life. As with people, the social ties among the gods loosely constrain their destructive impulses. Mostly these gods are so involved with each other they only sometimes notice the lesser beings, just as people only sometimes notice their household animals. The multiple gods of great cultural systems, and the gods and spirits of many tribal cultures as well, are familiar, understandable. They project the human world into the sky, the same way science fiction does (except, of course, science fiction understands it is offering fiction).
But monotheism posits one omnipotent, lonely sucker all by himself -- "the sky god" as Gore Vidal once called him. The first five books of the Hebrews' Bible reveal, not surprisingly, that the sky god is often angry, jealous, vengeful, and even murderous -- regularly toying with, manipulating and punishing the puny beings he creates to worship and amuse him. Not surprisingly, he's a self-absorbed ascetic who invents for his "children" bizarre, impossible-to-comply-with rules governing a multitude of tiny details of daily life. Sometimes he goes berserk about minor infractions; frequently he ignores major violations of his own rules. He's the original bad father, threatening awful punishments, with no wife, lover, siblings, friends, co-workers, neighbors or relatives to reign him in.
Early Christians and then Muslims added to monotheism the great creative innovation of the promise of eternal life. A person gets to live forever if, and only if, that person closely follows the sky god's rules. This made monotheism much easier to sell, especially when coupled with the offer of extra credit toward salvation for converting others. It also made monotheism fantastically effective in motivating, inspiring, controlling and ruling people. Fueled by the monotheists' inexhaustible missionary zeal, in nearly 2,000 years this peculiar ideology has spread throughout much of the globe.
Here in the high-tech futuristic 21st century, the punitive, vengeful, sky god is as strong and legitimate as he's been in a long time. Modernity, it turns out, was no cure for monotheism. If anything, it increases extremism, especially -- but never only -- among the dispossessed. And now in the Middle East we have the volatile blend of pissed-off Jews, Muslims, and Christians, each convinced they possess an a iron-clad mandate from their one and only angry god. Mixed in as well are many weapons, lots of oil, and the dangerous, born-again idiocy of George W. Bush and other prominent Republicans. All this is concentrated on the turf that monotheists everywhere see as their origin, their home, their "holy land."
Present-day America's most popular form of lunatic monotheism -- fundamentalist, evangelical Protestantism (and especially end-of-days Christianity with tens of millions of believers convinced that Jesus is returning soon) -- is deeply obsessed with the holy land. Crazed Christian fundamentalists love it when crazed Jewish warriors battle it out with crazed Islamic warriors. The Pat Robertsons regard the wars as win-win and ordinary believers see them as signs that the saved will soon be lifted to heaven. Unfortunately, these fundamentalist Christians now have enormous influence over the foreign policy of the most powerful nation in the world.
Most monotheists want governments to punish people who fail to obey some of the sky god's ascetic rules. Even moderate, middle-of-the-road monotheists -- like the Roman Catholic Church -- pressure governments to criminalize and punish homosexuality, drug use and abortion. The large and growing numbers of Christian, Muslim and Jewish fundamentalists have far grander ambitions.
Inevitably, some prominent believers turn out to have long been hypocrites, liars and secret sinners -- adulterers, gamblers, drug users, homosexuals. But hypocrisy poses no threat to the monotheists who say the hidden sins demonstrate the awful power of the evils they battle. The self-righteous condemn the sins, of course, but they actually approve of the lies, insisting that "hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue -- to the one heavenly lord.
Monotheists, especially in scary and desperate times like our own, easily hate other monotheisms and often loath variants of their own brand. And while they have often been happy to butcher polytheists by the wagonload, monotheists do not ordinarily hate polytheists (except when armed and dangerous). Traditionally, monotheists have regarded pagans as primitive or backward peoples who just don't know any better. But they, the other monotheists and the apostates, do know better, or should.
The historic battles within monotheism are legendary: Hebrews vs. Christians, Sunnis vs. Shiites, Catholics vs. Protestants, Lutherans vs. Calvinists, Church of England vs. dissenters, Puritans vs. Baptists, and so many others. Currently some Islamic extremists have a hard time deciding who they despise more: Is it the evil Christian and Jewish heretics, or is it the evil Muslims heretics? So much heresy, so little time.
Kwanzaa is an African American and Pan-African holiday which celebrates family, community and culture. Celebrated from 26 December thru 1 January, its origins are in the first harvest celebrations of Africa from which it takes its name. The name Kwanzaa is derived from the phrase "matunda ya kwanza" which means "first fruits" in Swahili, a Pan-African language which is the most widely spoken African language.
The first-fruits celebrations are recorded in African history as far back as ancient Egypt and Nubia and appear in ancient and modern times in other classical African civilizations such as Ashantiland and Yorubaland. These celebrations are also found in ancient and modern times among societies as large as empires (the Zulu or kingdoms (Swaziland) or smaller societies and groups like the Matabele, Thonga and Lovedu, all of southeastern Africa. Kwanzaa builds on the five fundamental activities of Continental African "first fruit" celebrations
The Ten Commandments
Poem: "The Ten Commandments" by Anonymous. Public domain.
I. Have thou no other gods but me,
II. And to no image bow thy knee.
III. Take not the name of God in vain:
IV. The sabbath day do not profane.
V. Honour thy father and mother too;
VI. And see that thou no murder do.
VII. Abstain from words and deeds unclean;
VIII. Nor steal, though thou art poor and mean.
IX. Bear not false witness, shun that blot;
X. What is thy neighbor's covet not.
- These laws, O Lord, write in my heart, that I,
- May in thy faithful service live and die.
I often wonder if radical right-wing religious people like President Bush have every really read, and thought about, the Ten Commandments.
Seven Deadly Sins
The Lords Prayer
Our Father which art in heaven,
Hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come.
Thy will be done in earth,
as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those
who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil:
For thine is the kingdom,
and the power, and the glory,
forever and ever.
the lord's prayer - matthew 6:9-13 - jesus
from the original aramaic
O Breathing Life, your Name shines everywhere!
Release a space to plant your Presence here.
Envision your "I Can" now.
Embody your desire in every light and form.
Grow through us this moment's bread and wisdom.
Untie the knots of failure binding us,
as we release the strands we hold of others' faults.
Help us not forget our Source,
Yet free us from not being in the Present.
From you arises every Vision, Power and Song
from gathering to gathering.
May our future actions grow from here!
the lord's prayer - from the original aramaic
Translations from Aramaic, Origins and History of The Lord's Prayer
The Nazarene Way of Essenic Studies. ~ The Lord's Prayer ~ Translations from Aramaic, Origins and History of The Lord's Prayer. http://www.thenazareneway.com/lords_prayer.htm
st. francis of assisi
Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace;
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love;
for it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
st. francis of assisi - 13th century
An alternate translation is found in Chapter 11 (Page 99) of the "Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions", a book published by Alcoholics Anonymous* World Services, Inc.
Lord, make me a channel of thy peace;
that where there is hatred, I may bring love;
that where there is wrong, I may bring the spirit of forgiveness;
that where there is discord, I may bring harmony;
that where there is error, I may bring truth;
that where there is doubt, I may bring faith;
that where there is despair, I may bring hope;
that where there are shadows, I may bring light;
that where there is sadness, I may bring joy.
Lord, grant that I may seek rather to comfort than to be comforted;
to understand, than to be understood;
to love, than to be loved.
For it is by self-forgetting that one finds.
It is by forgiving that one is forgiven.
It is by dying that one awakens to eternal life.
Mother Teresa’s Prayer
the Great Healer, I kneel before You,
since every perfect gift must come from You.
I pray, give skill to my hands,
clear vision to my mind,
kindness and meekness to my heart.
Give me singleness of purpose,
strength to lift up a part of the burden of my suffering fellow men,
and a true realization of the privilege that is mine.
Take from my heart all guile and worldliness,
that with the simple faith of a child,
I may rely on You.
God, grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
the courage to change the things I can;
and the wisdom to know the difference.
the serenity prayer - alcoholics anonymous - reinhold niebuhr
God, give us grace to accept with serenity
the things that cannot be changed,
courage to change the things
which should be changed,
and the wisdom to distinguish
the one from the other.
Living one day at a time,
Enjoying one moment at a time,
Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace,
Taking, as Jesus did,
This sinful world as it is,
Not as I would have it,
Trusting that You will make all things right,
If I surrender to Your will,
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life,
And supremely happy with You forever in the next.
the serenity prayer - reinhold niebuhr - original version
Serenity Prayer Skeptic Now Credits Niebuhr. This month he found a Christian student newsletter written in 1937 that cites Niebuhr as the prayer’s author. The prayer in the newsletter is slightly different from the contemporary one often printed on mugs and wall plaques. It reads, “Father, give us courage to change what must be altered, serenity to accept what cannot be helped, and the insight to know the one from the other.” http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/28/us/28prayer.html?em=&adxnnl=1&adxnnlx=1259456525-3WgZvM64Nv2RiOhrdtERbA
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death; I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.
psalm 23 - bible - psalm of david
The Nine Prayers
- May I be peaceful, happy, and light in body and spirit.
- May I be free from injury. May I live in safety.
- May I be free from disturbance, fear, and anxiety.
- May I learn to look at myself with the eyes of understanding and of love.
- May I be able to recognize and touch the seeds of joy and happiness in myself.
- May I learn to identify and see the sources of anger, craving, and delusion in myself.
- May I know how to nourish the seeds of joy in myself every day.
- May I be able to live fresh, solid and free.
- May I be free from attachment and aversion, but not be indifferent.
Girls who pray for help drive home in car with no battery http://www.snopes.com/glurge/battery.asp
Is Becoming an Ordained Minister Online Legal?
ONLINE ORDINATION REVIEWS http://www.ordinationreviews.com
Christian National Church P.O. Box 15946 Seattle, WA 98115 http://www.christiannationalchurch.org/index.html
Christian video game draws anger
- Characters can be carried away by angels
December 16, 2006 A new Christian video game has sparked calls for a boycott from groups who say it is "training for religious warfare".
The game, Left Behind: Eternal Forces, is based on a wildly successful series of novels about the struggles on earth after true believers ascend to heaven.
Players can command the army of good - the Tribulation Force - against the anti-Christ's Global Community.
The game's makers reject criticism, saying their detractors "have a clear hatred of Biblical Christianity".
An alliance of liberal groups including the Christian Alliance for Progress, the Campaign to Defend the Constitution, and Talk2Action, have urged the giant retailer Wal-Mart, among others, to stop stocking the game, which was released last month.
"It's about religious warfare. The way to win is to convert or kill. You have both the Inquisition and the Crusades," says Frederick Clarkson of Talk2Action.
"Anybody who is not a follower of Jesus is the enemy," he claims.
Dehumanising the enemy
Mr Clarkson is particularly concerned that the $39.95 (£20) game - which is rated for teenagers due to violence - is being marketed through churches.
"Pastors and youth leaders recommend the game to their parishioners," he says, giving its message the stamp of authority.
And that message is the "dehumanisation of the feared other - Catholics, Jews, Muslims, the wrong kind of Protestants, people deemed to be sinners", he says.
That dehumanisation, he warns, is a first step towards genocide.
Jeffrey S Frichner, a co-founder of Left Behind Games, utterly rejects that characterisation of his game.
None of the missions in the game has a "convert-or-die" objective, he insists.
"It's the anti-Christ that desires you to convert or die, and you are defending yourself against that on the good side," he says.
"You will absolutely lose each level and never win the game if you choose physical warfare as a means."
Evangelising - respectfully
The word "convert" does not even appear in the game, he adds - and neither does the word "Christian".
"The game itself is just a great game. People of other faiths could play it and not know it's Christian," he says.
- Left Behind looks like a typical video game in some respects
He freely admits the game aims to evangelise.
"But it is doing it in a way which is very respectful, not Bible-thumping."
When players successfully complete a level of the real-time strategy game, "you get a vignette that has some kind of Biblical truth and a find-out-more button", he says.
That leads players to a website where they can discuss issues, say a prayer and "become a believer", Mr Frichner says.
He thinks that will appeal to young people.
"People are drawn to things that provide answers. My personal position is that the Bible provides all those answers."
Left Behind: Eternal Forces is not the first Christian video game, but it is the most ambitious to date, experts say.
"This is the first Christian developer that tried to produce a triple-A title, the summer blockbuster of video games," says Brian Crecente, editor of the games blog Kotaku and a video games writer for the Rocky Mountain News newspaper.
Video games are no longer just about amusing people, but about trying to send a message Brian Crecente, Kotaku editor
He is intrigued by the moral complexity of the game, which he saw played late in development, before its release.
"Your characters can do physical combat, but when they do, they lose morale and have a greater chance of becoming evil.
"In some sense, that can represent what happens. In the real world, you can't get involved in a gunfight and walk away and forget it."
He is critical of the game on other grounds, though, saying that in trying to deliver entertainment as well as a message, the developers have fallen short on both.
"It's a muddled message and a kind-of entertaining game," he says.
Kill the president
It is not the only violent video game with a message raising concern this holiday season.
Screen shot from Quest for Bush (Courtesy of the Site Institute) Tony Blair and Iraq's prime minister are targets in Quest for Bush
The Global Islamic Media Front has released a game called Quest for Bush, in which players aim to kill the US president.
Adam Raisman, an analyst at the Search for International Terrorist Entities (Site) Institute who has played the game, calls the free download "propaganda", but stops short of labelling it recruitment.
"We can't say this is preparation for jihad, but it puts out the idea that you can walk around with a gun and shoot American soldiers," he says.
"It is putting the thought in your head that Bush, Blair and Rumsfeld are the guys you're going after."
Mr Crecente, the games writer, has not seen Quest for Bush (also known as Night of Bush Hunting, the literal translation of its Arabic title).
But he says both it and Left Behind: Eternal Forces are part of an effort in the gaming world to deal with important issues.
"Whenever games take on something important, they are accused of trivialising the subject," he says.
"This shows that video games have gotten past the birthing pains. They are no longer just about amusing people, but about trying to send a message."
The War on Christmas
Why conservatives despise the phrase happy holidays.
December 15, 2006 Once again, it's time to indulge in the perennial yuletide joys: harried trips to mobbed shopping malls, wasteful spending on pointless presents, spikes in depressive and suicidal feelings. And to these merriments we can now add what is fast becoming another cherished annual rite: defending the tolerant, pluralistic, ecumenical society that most of us have known and loved for decades against the Christian zealots, conservative bullies, and opportunistic pundits who insist that liberals, Jews, Muslims, and other un-American types are waging a "War Against Christmas." The Christmas Warriors would have you believe that in the age of George "Jesus Changed My Life" Bush, secularism is newly on the march. Godless liberals, they suggest, have introduced the exotic phrase happy holidays into the lexicon and, in their spare time, have crassly commercialized the sacred observance of Christ's birth. Actually, it's these extremists who have grown newly assertive. They object to widespread holiday practices that have been deeply embedded in American life for decades.
Consider, for example, the latest brouhaha: the Seattle-Tacoma airport's decision to take down Christmas trees rather than put up a menorah as well. After a Lubavitcher rabbi pointed out that the public display of Christian symbols violated the First Amendment, the right-wing Christmas Warriors flooded him with "hundreds of hate mail messages" that were part of "a surge of anti-Semitism," according to the Anti-Defamation League. Pressured, the rabbi relented and the trees were put back, foregoing any parallel acknowledgment of Hanukkah.
The Christmas extremists can claim a yarmulke for their wall. But let the record show that they, not the rabbi, were seeking to overturn the status quo. For more than 17 years, the law of the land—i.e., the Constitution as interpreted by the Supreme Court—has held that public holiday displays must be fundamentally secular. To erect nativity scenes in public places, the high court held in County of Allegheny v. American Civil Liberties Union, Greater Pittsburgh Chapter (1989), is to impermissibly endorse Christianity. Yet the Court also held that governments may "celebrate the season" through joint displays of Christmas trees and menorahs, since doing so acknowledges, as Justice Harry Blackmun wrote, that "Christmas and Chanukah are part of the same winter holiday season, which has attained a secular status in our society." Far from a victory for hard-line secularism, the 1989 ruling struck a moderate compromise between the ACLU's desire that no religious displays be permitted and the Christianists' belief that a city government can proclaim glory to the Christ child.
While the case for equal time for menorahs dates to the 1970s and 1980s, the secular and commercial character of Christmas was solidly established much earlier—certainly by the 1920s. As the historian William Leach has noted in Land of Desire, "the cult of Santa Claus had reached almost absurd proportions everywhere" in that decade, with parades, marketing stunts, and department-store extravaganzas that featured not Jesus but Santa enthroned on an igloo or descending from a zeppelin. Confronted with traditionalists' fears that the Santa Claus obsession—and holiday shopping in general—were violating the Christmas spirit, department-store mogul John Wannamaker maintained that "Young people very early grow to understand that it is a mere pleasantry and tradition. I do not believe that it detracts from the story of the coming of Christ." Most Americans had made peace with Christmas' new commercial spirit.
The gripes against inclusive seasonal displays and yuletide capitalism found new expression in the sudden outrage over the president's generic holiday cards. Last year, many conservatives were furious that George W. Bush omitted the word Christmas from his wintertime mailings. The Washington Post quoted William Donohue, president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, saying: "This clearly demonstrates that the Bush administration has suffered a loss of will and that they have capitulated to the worst elements in our culture." Added another conservative religious leader, "I threw out my White House card as soon as I got it."
But here, too, it's the foes of the ecumenical greeting who want to destroy a long-standing modus vivendi. Mary Evans Seeley's book Season's Greetings from the White House: The Collection of Presidential Christmas Cards, Messages, and Gifts shows that "Season's Greetings" was used on White House holiday correspondence by no less than Dwight D. Eisenhower in the 1950s. Likewise, Presidents Kennedy, Johnson, Carter, Reagan, and Clinton all took care, as well, not to alienate non-Christian recipients of holiday mail. Few people expressed a problem with this long-standing practice until now.
It's fitting that Eisenhower should have pioneered the tradition of all-purpose holiday messages. They typified his belief that, as he once put it, "Our government makes no sense unless it is founded on a deeply felt religious faith—and I don't care what it is. With us, of course, it is the Judeo-Christian concept, but it must be a religion that all men are created equal." His statement expressed the paradox of America's emerging religious disposition in the 1950s. In many ways, religion was resurgent in public life, with prayer breakfasts, "In God We Trust" added to paper currency, and the words "under God" inserted in the Pledge of Allegiance. Simultaneously, however, the Holocaust had made the merits (indeed the necessity) of religious toleration all the more compelling. Most Protestants, moreover, had come to realize that immigration had permanently transformed the American populace and that for comity to prevail in daily life, diverse creeds would have to coexist. Hence, this was also the golden age of the "interfaith" movement and the spread of that insipid public-relations neologism Judeo-Christian (a phrase that crystallizes the conflation of Christmas and Hanukkah).
Will Herberg's classic Protestant-Catholic-Jew (1955) captured the detente achieved among America's three leading religions. The book examined the Eisenhower Era condition of "pervasive secularism amid mounting religiosity." Herberg concluded that Americans (not unlike Ike) placed a high value not so much on God as on religion itself. "One's particular religion is, of course, to be cherished and loyally adhered to," he wrote, "but it is not felt to be something that one 'flaunts' in the face of people of other faiths." Most Americans in the 1950s believed in God, yet insisted that their beliefs didn't impinge much on their politics or business affairs. And, as Herberg noted, "what is secularism but the practice of the absence of God in affairs of life?" The same mix of private faith and public accommodation—precisely what irritates today's Christianists—prevails today.
The interfaith, tolerant spirit, ascendant in the 1920s, had by the '50s become synonymous with what Herberg called "the American Way of Life." In the decades since, we have expanded the Protestant-Catholic-Jew troika to include Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, and others (although not without some ugly resistance). And, certain terms of the compact have been renegotiated, as when the Supreme Court concluded that prayer doesn't belong in public schools—though, in keeping with Herberg's analysis, a moment of silence has remained constitutionally kosher. Overall, the understandings reached by the 1950s have remained an American consensus. Indeed, far from a war on Christmas, this consensus should be seen as a socially useful, ideologically justifiable, and highly agreeable truce.
David Greenberg, a professor of history and media studies at Rutgers, has two new books out: Presidential Doodles and Calvin Coolidge.
Schroeder: Bush's faith raised suspicion
BERLIN - Ex-Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, whose second term was marked by vehement opposition to the war in Iraq, described in an advance copy of his memoirs how he was suspicious of President Bush's constant references to his Christian faith.
In an excerpt of his book, "Decisions: My Life in Politics" published in the German weekly Der Spiegel Saturday, Schroeder discusses the key political choices that marked his seven-year term in office, including the decision to call early elections and his split with Bush over the Iraq war.
"I am anything but anti-American," Schroeder told Spiegel in an interview to accompany the excerpt of the more than 500-page book that goes on sale Thursday.
In it Schroeder, who led the Social Democrats to power in 1998, recalls the tears in his eyes as he watched television footage of people jumping from the burning World Trade Center on Sept. 11.
He knew Germany would have to react.
"It was important to me that Germany fulfill its requirements as an ally" of the U.S., he wrote. "It was also fully clear to me that this could also mean the German army's participation in an American military mission."
Several months later, during Bush's 2002 visit to Berlin, Schroeder wrote he was surprised at what he described as Bush's "exceptionally mild" speech to the German parliament.
While meetings with Bush at that time were friendly, Schroeder said he could not reconcile himself with the feeling that religion was the driving force behind many of Bush's political decisions.
"What bothered me, and in a certain way made me suspicious despite the relaxed atmosphere, was again and again in our discussions how much this president described himself as 'God-fearing,'" Schroeder wrote, adding he is a firm believer in the separation of church and state.
Schroeder accused some elements in U.S. as being hypocritical when it comes to secularism in government.
"We rightly criticize that in most Islamic states, the role of religion for society and the character of the rule of law are not clearly separated," Schroeder wrote. "But we fail to recognize that in the USA, the Christian fundamentalists and their interpretation of the Bible have similar tendencies."
Christians have differing world views
For those who do not spend their days pulling imaginary bugs out of their eye sockets, “Christianist” is a relatively new term that roughly refers to a virulent strain of right-wing political Christianity that, supposedly, parallels Islamist lunacy.
Although both groups may be “true believers,” those who try to connect the dots of Christian belief, specifically evangelical Christianity, to Islamism seem willing to overlook the fact that Islamists praise Allah and fly airplanes into buildings while Christianists praise Jesus, pass the mustard, invade sovereign nations, rape, torture, lie and steal.
One girl's testimonial or school-sponsored religion?
Editor's note: On Thursday, the Clark County School District halted the graduation speech of Foothill High School valedictorian Brittany McComb. District officials said Ms. McCombs' references to Christianity amounted to proselytizing. Court rulings have held that graduations are school-sponsored events, and that student commentary on faith can be perceived as a school's unconstitutional endorsement of religion.
The Review-Journal is publishing Ms. McComb's speech to let readers judge whether her words amount to illegal religious expression.
Do you remember those blocks? The ones that fit into cut-outs and teach you all the different shapes? The ones you played with before kindergarten, during the good old, no-grades, no-pressure preschool days? I find it funny how easily amused we are as children. Many of us would have sat on the story rug for hours with those blocks, trying to fit the circle into the square cut-out. Thank the Lord for patient teachers.
As one of the valedictorians for our senior class, many might assume I caught on to which blocks fit into which cut-outs quickly. But, to be honest, it took me awhile. Up until my freshman year in high school, I continually filled certain voids with shapes that proved often peculiar and always too small.
The main shape I wrestled with over the years remains my accomplishments. They defined my self-worth at a young age. I swam competitively throughout junior high and high school. If I took third in a competition rather than first, I found I missed the mark; I failed.
But strangely enough, if I took first, I belittled my success, and even first place left me feeling empty. Either way, the shape entitled "accomplishments" proved too small to fill the void, constantly reminding me living means something more. Something more than me and what I do with my life, something more than my friends and what they do with their own lives.
The summer after my freshman year, I quit swimming. I quit trying to fill the huge void in my soul with the meager accomplishments I obtained there. After quitting, this amazing sense of peace rushed over me and I noticed, after 15 years of sitting on the story-time rug, this teacher standing above me, trying to help me: God. I disregarded His guidance for years, and all the while, He sought to show me what shape fits into the cut-out in my soul.
This hole gapes as a wide-open trench when filled with swimming, with friends, with family, with dating, with shopping, with partying, with drinking, with anything but God. But His love fits. His love is "that something more" we all desire. It's unprejudiced, it's merciful, it's free, it's real, it's huge and it's everlasting. God's love is so great that he gave His only son up to an excruciating death on a cross so His blood would cover all our shortcomings and provide for us a way to heaven in accepting this grace.
This is why Christ died. John 10:10 says He died so we no longer have to reach in vain for the magnificence of the stars and find we always fall short, so we can have life -- and life to the fullest. I now desire not my own will, but the will of God for my life -- however crazy and extravagant, or seemingly mundane and uneventful that might be. Strangely enough, surrendering my own will for the will of God, giving up control, gave me peace, gave me a calm I can't even begin to express with words.
Four years ago, recognition as one of the valedictorians for our senior class would have been just another attempt to fit the circle into the square cut-out. But because my heart is so full of God's love, the honor of speaking today is just that: an honor. Without it, I would feel just as full and purposeful as I do at this moment.
And I can guarantee, 100 percent, no doubt in my mind, that as I choose to fill myself with God's love rather than with the things society tells me will satisfy me, I will find success, I will always retain a sense of self-worth. I will thrive whether I attend a prestigious university next fall and become a successful career man or woman or begin a life-long manager position at McDonald's.
Because the fact of the matter remains, man possesses an innate desire to take part in something greater than himself. That something is God's plan. And God's plan for each of our lives may not leave us with an impressive and extensive resume, but if we pursue His plan, He promises to fill us. Jeremiah 29:11 says, " 'For I know the plans I have for you,' declares the Lord, 'plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.' "
Trust me, this block fits.
Ominous signs are all around us concerning the accrual of power into the hands of the Presidency. If Mr. Bush stays in office I think our future will continue to witness shrinking political rights, financial collapse and endless war. Part of the power and seduction of this administration emerges from its diabolical manipulation of Christian rhetoric. I want to flesh out the ideology of the Christian Fascism that Mr. Bush articulates. It is a form of Christianity that is the mirror opposite of what Jesus embodied. It is, indeed, the materialization of the spirit of antichrist: a perversion of Christian faith and practice.
not welcome in alpine
I made a new car roof sign and at the forum they asked me to take it down because it was 'disrespectful'. I finally did after showing them the First and arguing. This, to me, is typical of how Bush and Hunter have divided our country: the Neo-cons have made smear and slander standard operating procedure. The people at the church didn't come to me, they went to others behind my back. I walked right up to them and introduced myself and asked what the problem was. Dumpin' Duncan is mild compared to the slander heaped on liberals by the right wing hate community (Hunter included). I feel sorry for the minister in Alpine, he feared for his job if he allowed me to display my sign, poor guy, to be so weak. He served 30years in the Navy and then to have Randall Cuningham dishonor that by taking bribes and sex and blame it on serving in the Navy. The neo-cons will slander and then turn around and call foul on the slightest response from their victims.
In the future ECUPAC should avoid conflict of interest: just stay out of churches. The founding fathers were very clear that there is to be a separation between church and state. They intended not only freedom of religion but also freedom from religion. If the church cannot abide, even for 2hours, to live fully by the First Amendment, but must exclude those who do not worship at the Alter of the Neo-con, they should not loan out their halls.
When the Nazis came for the communists, I remained silent; I was not a communist.
When they locked up the social democrats, I remained silent; I was not a social democrat.
When they came for the trade unionists, I did not speak out; I was not a trade unionist.
When they came for the Jews, I did not speak out; I was not a Jew.
When they came for me, there was no one left to speak out.
Once you trample on the First Amendment, what other right won't you violate?
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