The purpose of this blog is to stimulate our minds and souls to help us determine what we really believe and to ensure our actions and daily lives coincide with these beliefs.
Your participation with comments and questions are critical if this blog is to be successful. I want to develop a community with active participants so that this blog has life instead of being static, lifeless words on a page.
The topics of this blog will cover a wide range of interests. Hopefully, our discussions and debates that challenge our perspectives and beliefs and will bring clarity, self-discovery, enlightenment and inspiration. Our goal is to gain insight … not to win converts to a particular ideology or philosophy.
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” ― Martin Luther King Jr.
All around the world, hate has become the norm. How do we stop the hate?
Bias is a human condition, and history is rife with prejudice against groups and individuals because of their race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, politics or other characteristics. As a global community, we’ve made a lot of progress, but stereotyping and unequal treatment persist.
When bias morphs to an unlawful act, it is reckoned to be a hate crime. Most hate crimes are inspired by race and religion, but hate today wears many masks. Bias attitudes and events often tear communities apart.
Many hate crimes never get reported, in large part because the victims are reluctant to go to the police. In addition, many law enforcement agencies are not adequately trained to recognize or investigate hate crimes. Additionally, many victims simply do not report a hate crime to the authorities.
However, all over the world people are fighting hate, standing up to promote tolerance and inclusion. Many times, when hate shows its face, good people rise up against it — often in larger numbers and with stronger voices to fight the hate.
Ways to Fight the Hate
We must act. In the face of hatred, apathy will be interpreted as acceptance by the perpetrators, the public and — worse — the victims. Community members must act if we don’t want hate to persist.
Hate is an open attack on tolerance and acceptance. We must counter with acts of goodness. In the face of hate, silence can be deadly. Apathy will be interpreted as acceptance. If left unchallenged, hate will persist and grow.
Hate is an attack on a community’s health. Hate divides society along racial, ethnic, gender, and religious lines. Hate crimes, more than any other crime, can trigger community conflict, civil disturbances, and even riots.
Hate escalates. The very hint of hate must be taken seriously. Slurs often escalate to harassment, harassment to threats, and threats to physical violence.
Team up with others who share a concern of the adverse effect that hate has on the community. Seek the help of community leaders and those with influence.
Others share your desire to fight against hate. Power comes with numbers. Asking for help and organizing a group reduces personal fear and vulnerability, spreads the workload, and increases creativity and impact. Coalitions can stand up to — and isolate — organized hate groups.
Support the victims. Victims of a hate crime are especially vulnerable.
If you’re a victim, report every incident to law enforcement and ask for their help. If you learn about a hate crime victim in your community, show support. Let victims know you care. Surround them with comfort and protection.
Victims of hate crimes often feel alone and afraid. They have been attacked simply for being who they are. The silence of others in the community amplifies their isolation; it also appears to condone the act of hate. Victims need a strong, timely message that they are loved and valued from supportive community members.
Speak up. Hate must be exposed and denounced.
Do not debate members of a hate group in conflict-driven forums on the Internet. Instead, speak up in ways that draw attention away from hate, toward unity.
Goodness has freedom of speech rights, too. Denounce hate groups and hate crimes. Spread the truth about hate’s threat to a pluralistic society. An informed and united community is the best defense against hate rhetoric, attitudes and violent activities.
Educate yourself. An informed campaign by all participants improves its effectiveness. Determine if a hate group is involved and research its flags, symbols and agenda. Understand the difference between a hate crime and a bias incident. Learn all you can about those you will come against.
Through their literature and websites, hate groups spread propaganda that mocks, vilifies and demonizes African Americans, Latinos, Muslims, Jews, LGBTQ+ people and other groups. Like some of their fellow extremists in militia groups, they also sow the seeds of the fear of losing control of “their country” to a “One World Government” dominated by Jewish bankers, multinational corporations, and the United Nations. Many times members of hate groups use other groups as scapegoats for their own personal failures, low self-esteem, anger, or frustration. Hate groups frequently use chants, music or other means to recruit and indoctrinate disaffected teens.
Create an alternative to hate rallies. Find another venue for anger and frustration for people’s desire to do something. Hold a unity rally, parade or some other type of community event to draw media attention away from hate.
Pressure community leaders. Elected officials and other community leaders can be important allies. But some of these leaders must overcome reluctance and their own biases before they will be willing to take a stand against hate.
When leaders step forward and act swiftly after a hate incident, victims feel supported, community members feel safe, and space for action and dialogue in the community can grow.
Stay committed and engaged. Promote acceptance and address bias and prejudice before another hate crime can occur. Expand your comfort zone by reaching out to people outside your own group of friends and associates.
Hate usually doesn’t strike communities from some distant place. It often begins at home, brewing silently under the surface. It can grow out of divided communities — communities where residents feel powerless or voiceless, communities where differences cause fear, inequality and neglect instead of community tolerance and cooperation. The best cure for hate is a united community.
Teach acceptance. Bias is usually learned at home at an early age.
Bias is learned in childhood. By age 3, children can be aware of racial differences and may have the perception that “white” and “straight” is desirable. By age 12, they can hold stereotypes about ethnic, racial, religious groups, and LGBTQ+ people. Because stereotypes underlie hate, and because almost half of all hate crimes are committed by young men under 20, tolerance education is critical.
Schools are an ideal environment to counter bias because they mix children of different backgrounds, place them on equal footing, and allow one-on-one interaction. Children also are naturally curious about people who are different from them.
Tolerance can be taught outside the classroom as well. Consider this case in Arizona: Amid increasingly virulent anti-immigrant sentiment, the Coalicion de Derechos Humanos (Human Rights Coalition) began holding weekly public vigils in Tucson to remember those who lost their lives trying to cross the border from Mexico into the United States.
The group, which works to document human rights abuses along the border between Mexico and the United States, also keeps a list of border deaths, including age and cause of death.
Look inside yourself for biases and stereotypes. Commit to fighting hate and intolerance at home, at school, in the workplace, and in religious communities. Fundamentally, acceptance is a personal decision. It comes from an attitude that is learnable and embraceable: a belief that every voice matters, that all people are valuable, that no one is “less than.”
We all grow up with prejudices. Acknowledging them — and working through them — is often a scary and difficult process. It’s also one of the most important steps toward breaking down the walls of silence that allow intolerance to thrive and grow. Fortunately, we all possess the power to overcome our ignorance and fear, and to influence our children, peers, and communities.
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What sort of philosophy is humanism? To listen to its detractors, one would imagine it to be a doctrinaire collection of social goals justified by an arbitrary and dogmatic materialist-atheist worldview. Leaders of the religious right often say that humanism starts with the belief that there is no god; that evolution is the cornerstone of the humanist philosophy; that all humanists believe in situation ethics, euthanasia, and the right to suicide; and that the primary goal of humanism is the establishment of a one-world government.
And, indeed, most humanists are non-theistic, have a non-absolutist approach to ethics, support death with dignity, and value global thinking. But such views aren’t central to the philosophy. To understand just where humanism begins, as well as discover where such ideas fit into the overall structure, it’s necessary to present humanism as a hierarchy of positions. Certain basic principles need to be set forth first—those ideas that unite all humanists and form the foundation of the philosophy. Once this is done, humanist conclusions about the world can follow—conclusions which, by the nature of scientific inquiry, must be tentative. Then, after that groundwork has been laid, appropriate social policies can be recommended, recognizing the differences of opinion that exist within the humanist community. From this approach people can see humanism in perspective—and in a way that reveals its non-dogmatic and self-correcting nature.
The central ideas of humanism, then, can be organized into a practical structure along the aforementioned lines. Even though all humanists don’t communicate the philosophy in this way, it’s fair to say that most humanists will recognize this presentation as accurate.
We humanists think for ourselves as individuals. There is no area of thought that we are afraid to explore, to challenge, to question, or to doubt. We feel free to inquire and then to agree or disagree with any given claim. We are unwilling to follow a doctrine or adopt a set of beliefs or values that doesn’t convince us personally. We seek to take responsibility for our decisions and conclusions, and this necessitates having control over them. Through this unshackled spirit of free inquiry, new knowledge and new ways of looking at ourselves and the world can be acquired. Without it, we are left in ignorance and, subsequently, are unable to improve on our condition.
We make reasoned decisions because our experience with approaches that abandon reason convinces us that such approaches are inadequate and often counterproductive for the realization of human goals. When reason is abandoned there is no “court of appeal” where differences of opinion can be settled. We find instead that any belief is possible if one’s thinking is driven by arbitrary faith, authority, revelation, religious experience, altered states of consciousness, or other substitutes for reason and evidence. Therefore, in matters of belief, we find that reason, when applied to the evidence of our senses and our accumulated knowledge, is our most reliable guide for understanding the world and making our choices.
We base our understanding of the world on what we can perceive with our senses and comprehend with our minds. Anything that’s said to make sense should make sense to us as humans; else there is no reason for it to be the basis of our decisions and actions. Supposed transcendent knowledge or intuitions that are said to reach beyond human comprehension cannot instruct us because we cannot relate concretely to them. The way in which humans accept supposed transcendent or religious knowledge is by arbitrarily taking a leap of faith and abandoning reason and the senses. We find this course unacceptable, since all the supposed absolute moral rules that are adopted as a result of this arbitrary leap are themselves rendered arbitrary by the baselessness of the leap itself. Furthermore, there’s no rational way to test the validity or truth of transcendent or religious knowledge or to comprehend the incomprehensible. As a result, we are committed to the position that the only thing that can be called knowledge is that which is firmly grounded in the realm of human understanding and verification.
Though we take a strict position on what constitutes knowledge, we aren’t critical of the sources of ideas. Often intuitive feelings, hunches, speculation, and flashes of inspiration prove to be excellent sources of novel approaches, new ways of looking at things, new discoveries, and new concepts. We don’t disparage those ideas derived from religious experience, altered states of consciousness, or the emotions; we merely declare that testing these ideas against reality is the only way to determine their validity as knowledge.
Human knowledge isn’t perfect. We recognize that the tools for testing knowledge—the human senses and human reason—are fallible, thus rendering tentative all our knowledge and scientific conclusions about the nature of the world. What’s true for our scientific conclusions is even more so for our moral choices and social policies; these latter are subject to continual revision in the light of both the fallible and tentative nature of our knowledge and constant shifts in social conditions.
To many this will seem an insecure foundation upon which to erect a philosophy. But because it deals honestly with the world, we believe it is the most secure foundation possible. Efforts to base philosophies on superhuman sources and transcendent “realities” in order to provide a greater feeling of security only end up creating illusions about the world that then result in errors when these illusions become the basis for decisions and social policies. We humanists wish to avoid these costly errors and have thus committed ourselves to facing life as it is and to the hard work that such an honest approach entails. We have willingly sacrificed the lure of an easy security offered by simplistic systems in order to take an active part in the painstaking effort to build our understanding of the world and thereby contribute to the solution of the problems that have plagued humanity through the ages.
We maintain that human values make sense only in the context of human life. A supposed non-human like existence after death cannot, then, be included as part of the environment in which our values must operate. The here-and-now physical world of our senses is the world that is relevant for our ethical concerns, our goals, and our aspirations. We therefore place our values wholly within this context. Were we to do otherwise—to place our values in the wider context of a merely hoped-for extension of the reality we know—we might find ourselves either foregoing our real interests in the pursuit of imaginary ones or trying to relate human needs here to a very different set of non-human needs elsewhere. We won’t sacrifice the ethical good life here unless it can be demonstrated that there is another life elsewhere that necessitates a shift in our attention, and that this other life bears some relation and commonality with this one.
We ground our ethical decisions and ideals in human need and concern as opposed to the alleged needs and concerns of supposed deities or other transcendent entities or powers. We measure the value of a given choice by how it affects human life, and in this we include our individual selves, our families, our society, and the peoples of the earth. If higher powers are found to exist, powers to which we must respond, we will still base our response on human need and interest in any relationship with these powers. This is because all philosophies and religions we know are created by humans and can’t, in the final analysis, avoid the built-in bias of a human perspective. This human perspective limits us to human ways of comprehending the world and to human drives and aspirations as motive forces.
We practice our ethics in a living context rather than an ideal one. Though ethics are ideals, ideals can only serve as guidelines in life situations. This is why we oppose absolutist moral systems that attempt to rigidly apply ideal moral values as if the world were itself ideal. We recognize that conflicts and moral dilemmas do occur and that moral choices are often difficult and cannot be derived from simplistic yardsticks and rules of thumb. Moral choices often involve hard thinking, diligent gathering of information about the situation at hand, careful consideration of immediate and future consequences, and weighing of alternatives. Living life in a manner that promotes the good, or even knowing what choices are good, isn’t always easy. So, when we declare our commitment to a humanist approach to ethics, we are expressing our willingness to do the intensive thinking and work that moral living in a complex world entails.
Tentative Conclusions about the World
Our planet revolves around a medium-sized star, which is located near the edge of an average-sized galaxy of as many as 300 billion stars, which is part of a galaxy group consisting of more than thirty other galaxies, which is part of an expanding universe that, while consisting mostly of cold, dark space, also contains perhaps one hundred billion galaxies in addition to our own. Our species has existed only a very short time on the earth, and the earth itself has existed only a short time in the history of our galaxy. Our existence is thus an incredibly minuscule and brief part of a much larger picture.
In light of this, we find it curious that, in the absence of direct evidence, religious thinkers can conclude that the universe or some creative power beyond it is concerned with our well-being or future. From all appearances it seems more logical to conclude that we alone are concerned for our well-being and future.
Human beings are neither entirely unique from other forms of life nor are they the final product of some planned scheme of development. The available evidence shows that humans are made from the same building blocks of which other life forms are made and are subject to the same sorts of natural pressures. All life forms are constructed from the same basic elements—the same sorts of atoms—as are nonliving substances, and these atoms are made of subatomic particles that have been recycled through many cosmic events before becoming part of us or our world. Humans are the current result of a long series of natural evolutionary changes, but not the only result or the final one. Continuous change can be expected to affect ourselves, other life forms, and the cosmos as a whole. There appears no ultimate beginning or end to this process.
There is no compelling evidence to justify the belief that the human mind is distinct and separable from the human brain, which is itself a part of the body. All that we know about the personality indicates that every part of it is subject to change caused by physical disease, injury, and death. Thus, there are insufficient grounds for belief in a soul or some form of afterlife.
The basic motivations that determine our values are ultimately rooted in our biology and early experiences. This is because our values are based upon our needs, interests, and desires which, themselves, often relate to the survival of our species. As humans we are capable of coming to agreement on basic values because we most often share the same needs, interests, and desires and because we share the same planetary environment.
Theoretically then, it’s possible to develop a scientifically based system of ethics once enough is known about basic human needs, drives, motivations, and characteristics and once reason and empathy are consistently applied toward the meeting of human needs and the development of human capacities. In the meantime human ethics, laws, social systems, and religions will remain a part of the ongoing trial-and-error efforts of humans to discover better ways to live.
When people are left largely free to pursue their interests and goals, to think and speak for themselves, to develop their abilities, and to operate in a social setting that promotes liberty, the number of beneficial discoveries and accomplishments increases and humanity moves further toward the goal of greater self-understanding, better laws, better institutions, and a good life.
Current Positions on Social Policy
As humanists who are committed to free inquiry and who see the value of social systems that promote liberty, we encourage the development of individual autonomy. In this context, we support such freedoms and rights as religious liberty, church-state separation, freedom of speech and the press, freedom of association (including sexual freedom, the right to marriage and divorce, and the right to alternative family structures), a right to birth control and abortion, and the right to voluntary euthanasia.
As humanists who understand that humans are social animals and need both the protections and restraints provided by effective social organization, we support those laws that protect the innocent, deal effectively with the guilty, and secure the survival of the needy. We desire a system of criminal justice that is swift and fair, ignoring neither the perpetrator of crime nor the victim, and considering deterrence, restoration, and rehabilitation in the goals of penalization. However, not all crimes or disputes between people must be settled by courts of law. A different approach involving conflict mediation, wherein opposing parties come to mutual agreements, also has our support.
As humanists who see potential in people at all levels of society, we encourage an extension of participatory democracy so that decision-making becomes more decentralized and involves more people. We look forward to widespread participation in the decision-making process in areas such as the family, the school, the workplace, institutions, and government. In this context we see no place for prejudice based on race, nationality, color, sex, sexual orientation, gender identification, age, political persuasion, religion, or philosophy. And we see every basis for the promotion of equal opportunity in the economy and in universal education.
As humanists who realize that all humans share common needs in a common planetary environment, we support the current trend toward more global consciousness. We realize that effective environmental programs require international cooperation. We know that only international negotiation toward arms reduction will make the world secure from the threat of thermonuclear or biological war. We see the necessity for worldwide education on population growth control as a means toward securing a comfortable place for everyone. And we perceive the value in international communication and exchange of information, whether that communication and exchange involve political ideas, ideological viewpoints, science, technology, culture, or the arts.
As humanists who value human creativity and human reason and who have seen the benefits of science and technology, we are decidedly willing to take part in the new scientific and technological developments around us. We are encouraged rather than fearful about biotechnology, alternative energy, and information technology, and we recognize that attempts to reject these developments or to prevent their wide application will not stop them. Such efforts will merely place them in the hands of other people or nations for their exploitation. To exercise our moral influence on new technologies, to have our voice heard, we must take part in these revolutions as they occur.
As humanists who see life and human history as a great adventure, we seek new worlds to explore, new facts to uncover, new avenues for artistic expression, new solutions to old problems, and new feelings to experience. We sometimes feel driven in our quest, and it is participation in this quest that gives our lives meaning and makes beneficial discoveries possible. Our goals as a species are open-ended. As a result, we will never be without purpose.
Humanists, in approaching life from a human perspective, start with human ways of comprehending the world and the goal of meeting human needs. These lead to tentative conclusions about the world and about relevant social policies. Because human knowledge must be amended from time to time, and because situations constantly change, human choices must change as well. This renders the current positions on social policy the most adaptable part of the humanist philosophy. As a result, most humanists find it easier to agree on basic principles than on tentative conclusions about the world, but easier to agree on both than on social policies. Clarity regarding this point will erase many prevalent misunderstandings about humanism.
This essay is the 2008 revised version of that which originally appeared in the January/February 1984 issue of the Humanist magazine.
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While today there are liberal clergy who preach a gospel of love, they ignore the bulk of Christian teachings, not to mention the bulk of Christian history. Throughout almost its entire time on Earth, the motor driving Christianity has been—in addition to the fear of death—fear of the devil and fear of hell. One can only imagine how potent these threats seemed before the rise of science and rational thinking, which have largely robbed these bogeys of their power to inspire terror. But even today, the existence of the devil and hell are cardinal doctrinal tenets of almost all Christian creeds, and many fundamentalist preachers still openly resort to terrorizing their followers with lurid, sadistic portraits of the suffering of nonbelievers after death. This is not an attempt to convince through logic and reason; it is not an attempt to appeal to the better nature of individuals; rather, it is an attempt to whip the flock into line through threats, through appeals to a base part of human nature—fear and cowardice.
2. Christianity preys on the innocent.
If Christian fear-mongering were directed solely at adults, it would be bad enough, but Christians routinely terrorize helpless children through grisly depictions of the endless horrors and suffering they’ll be subjected to if they don’t live good Christian lives. Christianity has darkened the early years of generation after generation of children, who have lived in terror of dying while in mortal sin and going to endless torment as a result. These children were trusting of adults, and they did not have the ability to analyze what they were being told; they were simply helpless victims, who, ironically, victimized following generations in the same manner that they themselves had been victimized. The nearly 2000 years of Christian terrorizing of children ranks as one of its greatest crimes. And it’s one that continues until now.
3. Christianity is based on dishonesty.
The Christian appeal to fear, to cowardice, is an admission that the evidence supporting Christian beliefs is far from compelling. If the evidence were such that Christianity’s truth was immediately apparent to anyone who considered it, Christians—including those who wrote the Gospels—would feel no need to resort to the cheap tactic of using fear-inducing threats to inspire “belief.” (“Lip service” is a more accurate term.) That the Christian clergy have been more than willing to accept such lip service (plus the dollars and obedience that go with it) replacing genuine belief, is an additional indictment of the basic dishonesty of Christianity.
How deep dishonesty runs in Christianity can be gauged by one of the most popular Christian arguments for belief in God: Pascal’s wager. This “wager” holds that it’s safer to “believe” in God (as if belief were volitional!) than not to believe because God might exist, and if it does, it will save “believers” and condemn nonbelievers to hell after death. This is an appeal to pure cowardice. It has absolutely nothing to do with the search for truth. Instead, it’s an appeal to abandon honesty and intellectual integrity, and to pretend that lip service is the same thing as actual belief. If the patriarchal God of Christianity really exists, one wonders how it would judge the cowards and hypocrites who advance and bow to this particularly craven “wager.”
4. Christianity is extremely egocentric.
The deep ego-centrism of Christianity is intimately tied to its reliance on fear. In addition to the fears of the devil and hell, Christianity plays on another of humankind’s most basic fears: death, the dissolution of the individual ego. Perhaps Christianity’s strongest appeal is its promise of eternal life. While there is absolutely no evidence to support this claim, most people are so terrified of death that they cling to this treacly promise insisting, like frightened children, that it must be true. Nietzsche put the matter well: “salvation of the soul—in plain words, the world revolves around me.” It’s difficult to see anything spiritual in this desperate grasping at straws—this desperate grasping at the illusion of personal immortality.
Another manifestation of the extreme egotism of Christianity is the belief that God is intimately concerned with picayune aspects of, and directly intervenes in, the lives of individuals. If God, the creator and controller of the universe, is vitally concerned with your sex life, you must be pretty damned important. Many Christians take this particular form of egotism much further and actually imagine that God has a plan for them, or that God directly talks to, directs, or even does favors for them. If one ignored the frequent and glaring contradictions in this supposed divine guidance, and the dead bodies sometimes left in its wake, one could almost believe that the individuals making such claims are guided by God. But one can’t ignore the contradictions in and the oftentimes horrible results of following such “divine guidance.” As “Agent Mulder” put it (perhaps paraphrasing Thomas Szasz) in a 1998 X-Files episode, “When you talk to God it’s prayer, but when God talks to you it’s schizophrenia … God may have his reasons, but he sure seems to employ many psychotics to carry out his job orders.”
In less extreme cases, the insistence that one is receiving divine guidance or special treatment from God is usually the attempt of those who feel worthless—or helpless, adrift in an uncaring universe—to feel important or cared for. This less sinister form of egotism is commonly found in the expressions of disaster survivors that “God must have had a reason for saving me” (in contrast to their less-worthy-of-life fellow disaster victims, whom God—who controls all things—killed). Again, it’s very difficult to see anything spiritual in such egocentricity.
5. Christianity breeds arrogance, a chosen-people mentality.
It’s only natural that those who believe (or play act as believing) that they have a direct line to the Almighty would feel superior to others. This is so obvious that it needs little elaboration. A brief look at religious terminology confirms it. Christians have often called themselves “God’s people,” “the chosen people,” “the elect,” “the righteous,” etc., while nonbelievers have been labeled “heathens,” “infidels,” and “atheistic Communists” (as if atheism and Communism are intimately connected). This sets up a two-tiered division of humanity, in which “God’s people” feel superior to those who are not “God’s people.”
That many competing religions with contradictory beliefs make the same claim seems not to matter at all to the members of the various sects that claim to be the only carriers of “the true faith.” The carnage that results when two competing sects of “God’s people” collide—as in Ireland and Palestine—would be quite amusing but for the suffering it causes.
6. Christianity breeds authoritarianism.
Given that Christians claim to have the one true faith, to have a book that is the Word of God, and (in many cases) to receive guidance directly from God, they feel little or no compunction about using force and coercion to enforce “God’s Will” (which they, of course, interpret and understand). Given that they believe (or pretend) that they’re receiving orders from the Almighty (who would cast them into hell should they disobey), it’s little wonder that they feel no reluctance, and in fact are eager, to intrude into the most personal aspects of the lives of nonbelievers. This is most obvious today in the area of sex, with Christians attempting to deny women the right to abortion and to mandate near-useless abstinence-only sex “education” in the public schools. It’s also obvious in the area of education, with Christians attempting to force biology teachers to teach their creation myth (but not those of Hindus, Native Americans, et al.) replacing (or as being equally valid as) the very well established theory of evolution. But the authoritarian tendencies of Christianity reach much further than this.
Up to well into the 20th century in the United States and other Christian countries (notably Ireland), Christian churches pressured governments into passing laws forbidding the sale and distribution of birth control devices, and they also managed to enact laws forbidding even the description of birth control devices. This assault on free speech was part and parcel of Christianity’s shameful history of attempting to suppress “indecent” and “subversive” materials (and to throw their producers in jail or burn them alive). This anti-free speech stance of Christianity dates back centuries, with the cases of Galileo Galilei and Giordano Bruno (who was burnt alive) being good illustrations of it. Perhaps the most colorful example of this intrusive Christian tendency toward censorship is the Catholic Church’s Index of Prohibited Books, which dates from the 16th century and which was abandoned only in the latter part of the 20th century—not because the church recognized it as a crime against human freedom, but because it could no longer be enforced (not that it was ever systematically enforced—that was too big a job even for the Inquisition).
Christian authoritarianism extends, however, far beyond attempts to suppress free speech; it extends even to attempts to suppress freedom of belief. In the 15th century, under Ferdinand and Isabella at about the time of Columbus’s discovery of the New World, Spain’s Jews were ordered either to convert to Christianity or to flee the country; about half chose exile, while those who remained, the “Conversos,” were favorite targets of the Inquisition. A few years later, Spain’s Muslims were forced to make a similar choice.
This Christian hatred of freedom of belief—and of individual freedom in general—extends until now. Up to the late 19th century in England, atheists who had the temerity to openly advocate their beliefs were jailed. Even today in many parts of the United States laws still exist that forbid atheists from serving on juries or from holding public office. And it’s no mystery what the driving force is behind laws against victimless “crimes” such as nudity, sodomy, fornication, cohabitation, and prostitution.
If your non-intrusive beliefs or actions are not in accord with Christian “morality,” you can bet that Christians will feel completely justified—not to mention righteous—in poking their noses (often in the form of state police agencies) into your private life.
7. Christianity is cruel.
Throughout its history, cruelty—both to self and others—has been one of the most prominent features of Christianity. From its very start, Christianity, with its bleak view of life, its emphasis upon sexual sin, and its almost impossible-to-meet demands for sexual “purity,” encouraged guilt, penance, and self-torture. Today, this self-torture is primarily psychological, in the form of guilt arising from following (or denying, and thus obsessing over) one’s natural sexual desires. In earlier centuries, it was often physical.
“For about two centuries, the hideous maceration of the body was regarded as the highest proof of excellence …. The cleanliness of the body was regarded as pollution of the soul, and the saints who were most admired had become one hideous mass of clotted filth …. But of all the evidences of the loathsome excesses to which this spirit was carried, the life of St. Simeon Stylites is probably the most remarkable …. He had bound a rope around him so that it became embedded in his flesh, which putrefied around it. A horrible stench, intolerable to the bystanders, exhaled from his body, and worms dropped from him whenever he moved, and they filled his bed …. For a whole year, we are told, St. Simeon stood upon one leg, the other being covered with hideous ulcers, while his biographer [St. Anthony] was commissioned to stand by his side, to pick up the worms that fell from his body, and to replace them in the sores, the saint saying to the worms, “Eat what God has given you.” From every quarter pilgrims of every degree thronged to do him homage. A crowd of prelates followed him to the grave. A brilliant star is said to have shone miraculously over his pillar; the general voice of mankind pronounced him to be the highest model of a Christian saint; and several other anchorites [Christian hermits] imitated or emulated his penances.” — W.E.H. Lecky
Given that the Bible nowhere condemns torture and sometimes prescribes shockingly cruel penalties (such as burning alive), and that Christians so wholeheartedly approved of self-torture, it’s not surprising that they thought little of inflicting appallingly cruel treatment upon others. At the height of Christianity’s power and influence, hundreds of thousands of “witches” were brutally tortured and burned alive under the auspices of ecclesiastical witch finders, and the Inquisition visited similarly cruel treatment upon those accused of heresy. Henry Charles Lea records:
Two hundred wretches crowded the filthy gaol and it was requisite to forbid the rest of the Conversos [Jews intimidated into converting to Christianity] from leaving the city [Jaen, Spain] without a license. With Diego’s assistance [Diego de Algeciras, a petty criminal and kept perjurer] and the free use of torture, on both accused and witnesses, it was not difficult to obtain whatever evidence was desired. The notary of the tribunal, Antonio de Barcena, was especially successful in this. On one occasion, he locked a young girl of fifteen in a room, stripped her naked and scourged her until she consented to bear testimony against her mother. A prisoner was carried in a chair to the auto da fe with his feet burnt to the bone; he and his wife were burnt alive …. The cells in which the unfortunates were confined in heavy chains were narrow, dark, humid, filthy and overrun with vermin, while their sequestrated property was squandered by the officials, so that they nearly starved in prison while their helpless children starved outside.
While the torture and murder of heretics and “witches” is now largely a thing of the past, Christians can still be remarkably cruel. One current example is provided by the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas. Its members picket the funerals of victims of AIDS and gay bashing, brandishing signs reading, “God Hates Fags,” “AIDS Cures Fags,” and “Thank God for AIDS.” The pastor of this church reportedly once sent a “condolence” card to the bereaved mother of an AIDS victim, reading “Another Dead Fag.” Christians are also at the forefront of those advocating vicious, life-destroying penalties for those who commit victimless “crimes,” as well as being at the forefront of those who support the death penalty and those who want to make prison conditions even more barbaric than they are now.
8. Christianity is anti-intellectual, anti-scientific.
For over a millennium Christianity arrested the development of science and scientific thinking. In Christendom, from the time of Augustine until the Renaissance, systematic investigation of the natural world was restricted to theological investigation—the interpretation of biblical passages, the gleaning of clues from the lives of the saints, etc.; there was no direct observation and interpretation of natural processes because that was considered a useless pursuit, as all knowledge resides in scripture. The results of this are well known: scientific knowledge hardly advanced an inch in the over 1000 years from the rise of orthodox Christianity in the fourth century to the 1500s, and the populace was mired in the deepest squalor and ignorance, living in dire fear of the supernatural—believing in paranormal explanations for the most ordinary natural events. This ignorance had tragic results: it made the populace more than ready to accept witchcraft as an explanation for everything from illness to thunderstorms, and hundreds of thousands of women paid for that ignorance with their lives. One of the commonest charges against witches was that they had raised hailstorms or other weather disturbances to cause misfortune to their neighbors. In an era when supernatural explanations were readily accepted, such charges held weight—and countless innocent people died horrible deaths as a result. Another result was that the fearful populace remained very dependent upon Christianity and its clerical wise men for protection against the supernatural evils which they believed surrounded and constantly menaced them. For men and women of the Middle Ages, the walls veritably crawled with demons and witches; and their only protection from those evils was the church.
When scientific investigation into the natural world resumed in the Renaissance—after a 1000-year-plus hiatus—organized Christianity did everything it could to stamp it out. The cases of Copernicus and Galileo are particularly relevant here because when the Catholic Church banned the Copernican theory (that the Earth revolves around the sun) and banned Galileo from teaching it, it did not consider the evidence for that theory: it was enough that it contradicted scripture. Given that the Copernican theory directly contradicted the Word of God, the Catholic hierarchy reasoned that it must be false. Protestants shared this view. John Calvin rhetorically asked, “Who will venture to place the authority of Copernicus above that of the Holy Spirit?”
More lately, the Catholic Church and the more liberal Protestant congregations have realized that fighting against science is a losing battle, and they’ve taken to claiming that there is no contradiction between science and religion. This is disingenuous at best. As long as Christian sects continue to claim as fact—without offering a shred of evidence beyond the anecdotal—that physically impossible events occurred (or are still occurring), the conflict between science and religion will remain. That many churchmen and many scientists seem content to let this conflict lie doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist.
Today, however, the conflict between religion and science is largely being played out in public school biology education, with Christian fundamentalists demanding that their creation myth be taught replacing (or along with) the theory of evolution in the public schools. Their tactics rely heavily on public misunderstanding of science. They nitpick the fossil record for its gaps (hardly surprising given that we inhabit a geologically and meteorologically very active planet), while offering absurd interpretations of their own which we’re supposed to accept at face value—such as that dinosaur fossils were placed in the earth by Satan to confuse humankind, or that Noah took baby dinosaurs on the ark.
They also attempt to take advantage of public ignorance of the nature of scientific theories. In popular use, “theory” is employed as a synonym for “hypothesis,” “conjecture,” or even “wild guess,” that is, it signifies an idea with no special merit or backing. The use of the term in science is quite different. There, “theory” refers to a well-developed, logically consistent explanation of a phenomenon, and an explanation that is consistent with observed facts. This is very different from a wild guess. But fundamentalists deliberately confuse the two uses of the term in an attempt to make their religious myth appear as valid as a well-supported scientific theory.
Thanks to scientific investigation, human knowledge has advanced to the point where no one can know more than a tiny fraction of the whole. Even the most knowledgeable scientists often know little beyond their specialty areas. But because of the structure of science, they (and everyone else) can feel reasonably secure in accepting the theories developed by scientists in other disciplines as the best possible current explanations of the areas of nature those disciplines cover. They (and we) can feel secure doing this because of the structure of science, and more particularly, because of the scientific method. That method basically consists of gathering as much information about a phenomenon (both in nature and in the laboratory) as possible, then developing explanations for it (hypotheses), and then testing the hypotheses to see how well they explain the observed facts, and whether any of those observed facts are inconsistent with the hypotheses. Those hypotheses that are inconsistent with observed facts are discarded or modified, while those that are consistent are retained, and those that survive repeated testing are often labeled “theories,” as in “the theory of relativity” and “the theory of evolution.”
No matter how much fundamentalists might protest to the contrary, there is a world of difference between “faith” in scientific theories (produced using the scientific method, and subject to near-continual testing and scrutiny) and faith in the entirely unsupported myths recorded 3000 years ago by slave-holding goat herders.
9. Christianity has a morbid, unhealthy preoccupation with sex.
For centuries, Christianity has had an exceptionally unhealthy fixation on sex, excluding almost everything else (except power, money, and the infliction of cruelty). This stems from the numerous “thou shalt nots” relating to sex in the Bible. That the Ten Commandments contain a commandment forbidding the coveting of one’s neighbor’s wife, but do not even mention slavery, torture, or cruelty—which were abundantly common in the time the Commandments were written— speaks volumes about their writer’s preoccupation with sex (and women as property).
Today, judging from the pronouncements of many Christian leaders, one would think that “morality” consists solely of what one does in one’s bedroom. The Catholic Church is the prime example here, with its moral pronouncements rarely going beyond the matters of birth control and abortion (and with its moral emphasis seemingly entirely on those matters). Also note that the official Catholic view of sex—that it’s for procreation only—reduces human sexual relations to those of brood animals. For more than a century the Catholic Church has also been the driving force behind efforts to prohibit access to birth control devices and information—to everyone, not just Catholics.
The Catholic Church, however, is far from alone in its sick obsession with sex. The current Christian hate campaign against homosexuals is another prominent manifestation of this perverse preoccupation. Even at this writing, condemnation of “sodomites” from church pulpits is still very, very common—with Christian clergymen wringing their hands as they piously proclaim that their words of hate have nothing to do with gay bashing and the murder of gays.
10. Christianity produces sexual misery.
In addition to the misery produced by authoritarian Christian intrusions into the sex lives of non-Christians, Christianity produces great misery among its adherents through its insistence that sex (except the very narrow variety it sanctions) is evil, against God’s law. Christianity proscribes sex between unmarried people, sex outside of marriage, homosexual relations, bestiality, and even “impure” sexual thoughts. Indulging in such things can and will, in the conventional Christian view, lead straight to hell.
Given that human beings are innately highly sexual beings, and that their urges very often do not fit into the only officially sanctioned Christian form of sexuality (monogamous, heterosexual marriage), it’s inevitable that those who attempt to follow Christian “morality” in this area are often miserable, as their strongest urges run smack dab into the wall of religious belief. This is inevitable in Christian adolescents and unmarried young people in that the only “pure” way for them to behave is celibate—in the strict Christian view, even masturbation is prohibited. Phillip Roth has well described the dilemma of the religiously/sexually repressed young in Portnoy’s Complaint as “being torn between desires that are repugnant to my conscience and a conscience repugnant to my desires.” Thus, the years of adolescence and young adulthood for many Christians are poisoned by “sinful” urges, unfulfilled longings, and intense guilt (after the urges become too much to bear and are acted upon).
Even after Christian young people receive a license from church and state to have sex, they often discover that the sexual release promised by marriage is not all that it’s cracked up to be. One gathers that in marriages between those who have followed Christian rules until marriage—that is, no sex at all—sexual ineptitude and lack of fulfillment are all too common. Even when Christian married people do have good sexual relations, the problems do not end. Sexual attractions ebb and flow, and new attractions inevitably arise. In conventional Christian relationships, one is not allowed to act on these new attractions. One is often not even permitted to admit that such attractions exist. As Sten Linnander puts it, “with traditional [Christian] morality, you have to choose between being unfaithful to yourself or to another.”
The dilemma is even worse for gay teens and young people in that Christianity never offers them release from their unrequited urges. They are simply condemned to lifelong celibacy. If they indulge their natural desires, they become “sodomites” subject not only to Earthly persecution (due to Christian-inspired laws), but to being roasted alive forever in the pit. Given the internalized homophobia Christian teachings inspire, not to mention the very real discrimination gay people face, it’s not surprising that a great many homosexual oriented Christians choose to live a lie. In most cases, this leads to lifelong personal torture, but it can have even more tragic results.
11. Christianity has an exceedingly narrow, legalistic view of morality.
Christianity not only reduces, for all practical purposes, the question of morality to that of sexual behavior, but by listing its prohibitions, it encourages an “everything not prohibited is permitted” mentality. So, for instance, medieval inquisitors tortured their victims, while simultaneously they went to lengths to avoid spilling the blood of those they tortured—though they thought nothing of burning them alive. Another very relevant example is that until the latter part of the 19th century Christians engaged in the slave trade, and Christian preachers defended it, citing biblical passages, from the pulpit. Today, except for a relatively few liberal churchgoers, Christians ignore the very real evils plaguing our society—poverty; homelessness; hunger; militarism; a grossly unfair distribution of wealth and income; ecological despoliation exacerbated by corporate greed; overpopulation; sexism; racism; homophobia; freedom-denying, invasive drug laws; an inadequate educational system; etc., etc.—unless they’re actively working to worsen those evils for Christian morality or “family values.”
12. Christianity encourages acceptance of real evils while focusing on imaginary evils.
Organized Christianity is a skillful apologist for the existing state of affairs and all the evils that go along with it. It diverts attention from real problems by focusing attention on sexual issues, and when confronted with social evils such as poverty glibly dismisses them with platitudes such as, “The poor ye have always with you.” When confronted with the problems of militarism and war, most Christians shrug and say, “That’s human nature. It’s always been that way, and it always will.” One suspects that 200 years ago their forebears would have said exactly the same thing about slavery.
This regressive, conservative tendency of Christianity has been present from its very start. The Bible is quite explicit in its instructions to accept the status quo: “Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God; and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation.” (Romans 13:1-2)
13. Christianity depreciates the natural world.
In addition to its morbid preoccupation with sex, Christianity creates social myopia through its emphasis on the supposed afterlife—encouraging Christians not to be concerned with “the things of this world” (except, of course, their neighbors’ sexual practices). In the conventional Christian view, life in this “vale of tears” is not relevant—what matters are preparing for the next life. (Of course it follows from this that the “vale of tears” itself is quite unimportant—it’s merely the backdrop to the testing of the faithful.)
This focus on the afterlife often leads to a distinct lack of concern for the natural world, and sometimes to outright anti-ecological attitudes. Ronald Reagan’s fundamentalist Secretary of the Interior, James Watt, went so far as to actively encourage the strip mining and clear cutting of the American West, reasoning that ecological damage didn’t matter because the “rapture” was at hand.
Christianity is perhaps the ultimate top-down enterprise. In its simplest form, it consists of God on top, its “servants,” the clergy, next down, and the great unwashed masses at the bottom, with those above issuing, in turn, thou-shalts and thou-shalt-nots backed by the threat of eternal damnation. But a great many Christian sects go far beyond this, having several layers of management and bureaucracy. Catholicism is perhaps the most extreme example of this with its laity, monks, nuns, priests, monsignors, bishops, archbishops, cardinals, and popes, all giving and taking orders in an almost military manner. This type of organization cannot but accustom those in its sway—especially those who have been indoctrinated and attending its ceremonies since birth—into accepting hierarchical, authoritarian organization as the natural, if not the only, form of organization. Those who find such organization natural will see nothing wrong with hierarchical, authoritarian organization in other forms, be they corporations, with their multiple layers of brown-nosing management, or governments, with their judges, legislators, presidents, and politburos. The indoctrination by example that Christianity provides in organization is almost surely a powerful influence against social change toward freer, more egalitarian forms of organization.
15. Christianity sanctions slavery.
The African slave trade was almost entirely conducted by Christians. They transported their victims to the New World in slave ships with names such as “Mercy” and “Jesus,” where they were bought by Christians, both Catholic and Protestant. Organized Christianity was not silent on this horror: it actively encouraged it and engaged in it. From the friars who enslaved Native Americans in the Southwest and Mexico to the Protestant preachers who defended slavery from the pulpit in Virginia, the Carolinas, and Georgia, the record of Christianity as regards slavery is quite shameful. While many abolitionists were Christians, they were a small group, well hated by most of their fellow Christians.
The Christians who supported and engaged in slavery were amply supported by the Bible, in which slavery is accepted as a given, as simply a part of the social landscape. There are numerous biblical passages that implicitly or explicitly endorse slavery, such as Exodus 21:20-21: “And if a man smites his servant, or his maid with a rod, and he dies under his hand; he shall be surely punished. Notwithstanding, if he continues a day or two, he shall not be punished: for he is his money.” Other passages that support slavery include Ephesians 6:5, Colossians 3:22, Titus 2:9-10, Exodus 21:2-6, Leviticus 25:44-46, 1 Peter 2:18, and 1 Timothy 6:1. Christian slave owners in colonial America were well acquainted with these passages.
16. Christianity is misogynistic.
Misogyny is fundamental to the basic writings of Christianity. In passage after passage, women are encouraged—no, commanded—to accept an inferior role, and to be ashamed of themselves for the simple fact that they are women. Misogynistic biblical passages are so common that it’s difficult to know which to cite. From the New Testament we find “Wives, submit yourselves unto your husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church….” (Ephesians 5:22-23) and “These [redeemed] are they which were not defiled with women….” (Revelation 14:4); and from the Old Testament we find “How then can man be justified with God? Or how can he be clean that is born of a woman?” (Job 25:4) Other relevant New Testament passages include Colossians 3:18; 1 Peter 3:7; 1 Corinthians 11:3, 11:9, and 14:34; and 1 Timothy 2:11-12 and 5:5-6. Other Old Testament passages include Numbers 5:20-22 and Leviticus 12:2-5 and 15:17-33.
This misogynistic bias in Christianity’s basic texts has long been translated into misogyny in practice. Throughout almost the entire time that Christianity had Europe and America in its lock grip, women were treated as chattel—they had essentially no political rights, and their right to own property was severely restricted. Perhaps the clearest illustration of the status of women in the ages when Christianity was at its most powerful is the prevalence of wife beating. This degrading, disgusting practice was very common throughout Christendom well up into the 19th century, and under English Common Law husbands who beat their wives were specifically exempted from prosecution. (While wife beating is still common in Christian lands, at least in some countries abusers are at least sometimes prosecuted.)
Given this bloody, hateful history, it’s not surprising that women have always held very subservient positions in Christian churches. In fact, there appear to have been no female clergy in any Christian church before the 20th century (except for those who posed as men, such as Pope Joan), and even today a great many Christian sects (most notably the Catholic Church) continue to resist ordaining female clergy. While a few liberal Protestant churches have ordained women in recent years, it’s difficult to see this as a great step forward for women; it’s easier to see it as analogous to the Ku Klux Klan’s appointing a few token blacks as Klaxons.
As for the improvements in the status of women over the last two centuries, the Christian churches either did nothing to support them or actively opposed them. This is most obvious as regards women’s control over their bodies. Organized Christianity has opposed this from the start, and as late as the 1960s the Catholic Church was still putting its energies into the imposition of laws prohibiting access to contraceptives. Having lost that battle, Christianity has more recently put its energies into attempts to outlaw the right of women to abortion.
17. Christianity is homophobic.
Christianity from its beginnings has been markedly homophobic. The biblical basis for this homophobia lies in the story of Sodom in Genesis, and in Leviticus. Leviticus 18:22 reads: “Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination,” and Leviticus 20:13 reads: “If a man lie with mankind as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.”
This sounds remarkably harsh, yet Leviticus proscribes a great many other things, declares many of them “abominations,” and prescribes the death penalty for several other acts, some of which are shockingly picayune. Leviticus 17:10-13 prohibits the eating of blood sausage; Leviticus 11:6-7 prohibits the eating of “unclean” hares and swine; Leviticus 11:10 declares shellfish “abominations”; Leviticus 20:9 prescribes the death penalty for cursing one’s father or mother; Leviticus 20:10 prescribes the death penalty for adultery; Leviticus 20:14 prescribes the penalty of being burnt alive for having a three-way with one’s wife and mother-in-law; and Leviticus 20:15 declares, “And if a man lie with a beast, he shall surely be put to death: and ye shall slay the beast” (which seems rather unfair to the poor beast). (One suspects that American Christians have never attempted to pass laws enforcing Leviticus 20:15 because if passed and enforced such laws would decimate both the rural, Bible-Belt population and the cattle industry.)
Curiously, given the multitude of prohibitions in Leviticus, the vast majority of present-day Christians have chosen to focus only upon Leviticus 20:13, the verse calling for the death penalty for homosexual acts. And at least some of them haven’t been averse to acting on it. (To be fair, some Christian “reconstructionists” are currently calling for institution of the death penalty for adultery and atheism as well as for “sodomy.”)
Throughout history, homosexuality has been illegal in Christian lands, and the penalties have been severe. In the Middle Ages, strangled gay men were sometimes placed on the wood piles at the burning of witches (hence the term “faggot”). One member of the British royalty caught having homosexual relations suffered an even more grisly fate: Edward II’s penalty was being held down while a red-hot poker was jammed through his rectum and intestines. In more modern times, countless gay people have been jailed for years for the victimless “crime” of having consensual sex. It was only in 2003 that the Supreme Court struck down the felony laws on the books in many American states prescribing lengthy prison terms for consensual “sodomy.” And many Christians would love to reinstate those laws.
Thus, the current wave of gay bashing and murders of gay people should come as no surprise. Christians can find justification for such violence in the Bible and also in the hate-filled sermons issuing from all too many pulpits in this country. If history is any indication, the homophobic messages in those sermons will continue to be issued for many years to come.
18. The Bible is not a reliable guide to Christ’s teachings.
Mark, the oldest of the Gospels, was written at least 30 years after Christ’s death, and the newest of them might have been written more than 200 years after his death. These texts have been amended, translated, and re-translated so often that it’s extremely difficult to gauge the accuracy of current editions—even aside from the matter of the accuracy of texts written decades or centuries after the death of their subject. This is such a problem that the Jesus Seminar, a colloquium of over 200 Protestant Gospel scholars mostly employed at religious colleges and seminaries, undertook in 1985 a multi-year investigation into the historicity of the statements and deeds attributed to Jesus in the New Testament. They concluded that only 18% of the statements and 16% of the deeds attributed to Jesus had a high likelihood of being historically accurate. So, in a very real sense fundamentalists—who claim to believe in the literal truth of the Bible—are not followers of Jesus Christ; rather, they are followers of those who, decades or centuries later, put words in his mouth.
19. The Bible, Christianity’s basic text, is riddled with contradictions.
There are a number of glaring contradictions in the Bible, in both the Old and New Testaments, and including some within the same books. A few examples:
“….God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man. (James:1:13)
“And it came to pass after these things that God did tempt Abraham.” (Genesis 22:1)
“….for I am merciful, saith the Lord, and I will not keep anger forever.” (Jeremiah 3:12)
“Ye have kindled a fire in mine anger, which shall burn forever. Thus saith the Lord.” (Jeremiah 17:4)
“I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved.” (Genesis 32:30)
“No man hath seen God at any time.” (John 1:18)
“And I [God] will take away mine hand, and thou shalt see my back parts.”(Exodus 33:23)
Christian apologists typically attempt to explain away such contradictions by claiming that the fault lies in the translation, and that there were no contradictions in the original text. It’s difficult to see how this could be so, given how direct many biblical contradictions are; but even if these Christian apologetics held water, it would follow that every part of the Bible should be as suspect as the contradictory sections, thus reinforcing the previous point: that the Bible is not a reliable guide to Christ’s words.
20. Christianity borrowed its central myths and ceremonies from other ancient religions.
The ancient world was rife with tales of virgin births, miracle-working saviors, tripartite gods, gods taking human form, gods arising from the dead, heavens and hells, and days of judgment. In addition to the myths, many of the ceremonies of ancient religions also match those of that syncretic latecomer, Christianity. To cite but one example (there are many others), consider Mithraism, a Persian religion predating Christianity by centuries. Mithra, the savior of the Mithraic religion and a god who took human form, was born of a virgin; he belonged to the holy trinity and was a link between heaven and Earth; and he ascended into heaven after his death. His followers believed in heaven and hell, looked forward to a day of judgment, and referred to Mithra as “the Light of the World.” They also practiced baptism (for purification purposes) and ritual cannibalism—the eating of bread and the drinking of wine to symbolize the eating and drinking of the god’s body and blood. Given all this, Mithra’s birthday should come as no surprise: December 25th; this event was, of course, celebrated by Mithra’s followers at midnight.
Mithraism is but the most striking example of the appearance of these myths and ceremonies before the advent of Christianity. They appear—in more scattered form—in many other pre-Christian religions.
A Final Word: These are but some of the major problems attending Christianity, and they provide overwhelming reasons for its abandonment. Even if you discount half, two-thirds, or even three-quarters of these arguments, the conclusion is still irresistible.
“You are not here merely to make a living. You are here in order to enable the world to live more amply, with greater vision, with a finer spirit of hope and achievement. You are here to enrich the world, and you impoverish yourself if you forget the errand.” — Woodrow Wilson
What is a leader?
According to WordWeb, a leader is a person who rules, guides or inspires others.
In your opinion,what are five traits or characteristics of a leader?
If I asked 10 different people this question, their lists would more than likely share at least one common trait. The other traits listed would be unique based on experience, ideals and personality. This is why you may consider Mr. X to be a leader and I do not.
It is true, however, that the majority of great leaders share some common traits and characteristics that equip them to be an effective leader.
Great Leaders Have a “Can Do” Attitude
Great leaders have learned from experience that unexpected events out of their control happen to everyone who is on a progressive path forward. They have also learned to get over it and keep moving forward with a new focus, an alternate plan of action and a reinvigorated commitment to getting the objective met.
I once heard it said that someone was just too damn stubborn to fail.
A leader, above everyone else, must stay focused on developing and implementing strategic actions to meet the goal or vision. As a leader, keeping her team focused, energized, committed and excited about the goal or vision is her responsibility.
The leader must have the experience and mental maturity to keep the team on the right path regardless of the hurdles of competing priorities.
Lead the Team
There will be times that critical and timely decisions must be made to refine or modify the strategic plan. A great leader gathers his team and factually outlines the reason(s) why an adjustment to the original plan is in order. It is up to the leader to lead the team, with everyone’s involvement, to a positive workable solution.
An Effective Communicator
Typically, a team effort is required to meet a goal or implement a vision. Honest, factual and transparent communication is required to make sure all team members are “on board”. Team members need to know that they can trust you, the leader, with their commitment. A leader must actually listen to (not just hear) the concerns and opinions of his team members. The team members need to “feel” the leader’s caring, understanding and acknowledgment of their concerns and opinions.
Earn the Loyalty
Loyalty cannot be forced upon the team members through coercion or intimidation. Loyalty can only be earned.
Every team member brings some kind of “value” to the team. Team members are assets. Leaders, through their actions, need to make sure they are an asset to the team members. If team members are to have the back of the leader, the leader must have the backs of each team member. Any breach of this trust by the leader will result in permanent damage to the concept of being a team.
“A good leader leads the people from above them. A great leader leads the people from within them.” — M. D. Arnold
“The cry of the poor is not always just, but if you don’t listen to it, you will never know what justice is.” ― Howard Zinn
What does the aftermath of a global pandemic look like in a developing country? While I cannot attest to the conditions in all the developing countries, I can share a few observations and conditions in the city I live in — Cuenca, Ecuador, South America. Cuenca was founded in 1557 by Spain and has a metropolitan population of over 650,000.
A little background
Ecuador is country consisting of a relatively small class of ruling elites that have been in power for over 450 years. These elites also own the overwhelming majority of the businesses, property and other types of assets. Wealth is maintained in these elite families generation after generation through marriage.
There is also a blossoming middle class that are well-educated of which many are employed as professionals in the medical, technical and legal occupations.
Finally, the largest percentage of the population, by a huge majority, is poor. A person working in Ecuadortypically earns around $1,360 USD per month. Salaries range from $340 USD (the lowest average) to $6,080 USD (the highest average, actual maximum salary is higher).
This class system has been visually apparent during the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic because there are two health systems in the country:
All lockdown mitigation efforts have been made based on the “capacity” of the public health care system of which the poor and most of the middle class utilize for their health care because they cannot afford private insurance or medical care.
Those of us with private insurance for private healthcare have no problem at all in receiving world-class healthcare during this coronavirus pandemic. As an example, there has always been an adequate number of Intensive Care beds and ventilators in the private hospitals.
It is shamefully unfortunate that the quality of healthcare is significantly different between the “Haves” and the “Have Nots”. This is a global reality that isn’t unique to Ecuador.
Conditions and Observations
Due to the novel coronavirus global pandemic, all non-essential businesses were forced (by law) to close from March 16 to June 1. Unlike most developed countries, Ecuador does not have any type of:
Financial assistance for businesses — small or large.
Unemployment benefits for employees.
Stimulus payments to assist unemployed workers pay for rent, groceries, etc.
So, how did the working class survive for 10 weeks without any income? Primarily through mutual aid between family, friends and neighbors. The people of Ecuador are no strangers to hard times. They know that the only way people can get through the hard times is by helping one another with food and giving what they can in financial support. As an expat from the United States, I was amazed and touched how the spirit of community determined the actions of all.
As of June 1, all businesses were allowed to open with strict safe-distancing and personal protective equipment mandates. However, there is a problem. Many businesses were unable to reopen due to not financially surviving the 10-week lockdown. At least 15% of the clothing retailers in the mall and in the center of the city have gone out of business. I know of at least three car dealers that went under. There are too many restaurants and bars to count that were financially unable to reopen.
Unfortunately, business failures are not over. As it turns out, no one is buying because no one has any money and if they are lucky to have a little money, they aren’t spending it because the number of new COVID-19 cases and deaths is increasing in parts of the country and everyone is afraid of another total lockdown.
Prices are going through the roof. Many items at the grocery stores and pharmaceuticals have increased 15 to 25 percent. How does this work when many of their customers are already broke and out of work? With no other options, people go without.
My dentist told me today that he is lucky to have two appointments a day now. It has been this way since the pandemic lockdown on March 16. Most doctors, therapy and labs have reduced the number of staff members by half.
To top it all off, Ecuador is in the process of closing its postal service due to deep financial troubles. The post office in my city is already closed and chained up. The closures are not as critical here in Ecuador as would be in the United States, as an example. The postal service has been mainly used as a shipping service for small parcels and for expats to receive mail from their country of origin.
For the last five years or so, bills (invoices) for all utilities, annual auto registration and license fees, real estate tax, fines and other government fees have been available via email and/or their bank or financial cooperative. Consumers can pay for many government or private business invoices via their bank’s or financial cooperative’s website for a nominal fee of 50-cents or less.
Since I moved to Ecuador eight years ago, nearly all business communications are done via email, mobile messaging or courier service. With all the national package delivery services in the country, parcels and larger packages can be shipped and received with a lot less hassle than using the post office.
While the current circumstances appear to be bleak, I know we will get through this the same way the people have gotten through tough times before … by people helping people.
“When times are tough and people are frustrated and angry and hurting and uncertain, the politics of constant conflict may be good, but what is good politics does not necessarily work in the real world. What works in the real world is cooperation.” — William J. Clinton
“We are only as strong as we are united, as weak as we are divided.” ― J.K. Rowling
The whole world is in chaos right now. It’s like we are being forced to live under a blanket of hate, racism, sexism, tribalism, distrust, grief, frustration and despair that prevents us from living a life of happiness, peace and contentment.
In the last few days, I came across two quotes that provide us with some direction, hope and peace in these troubled times.
“No matter where you go in the world, people’s beliefs are shaped by their experiences and environments. Politics, beliefs, and religion are always controversial topics between different demographics, but our perspectives are not who we are.
Where you come from, or what demographic you identify with, doesn’t change the fact that we’re all one species living on a rock. Dogma and group-think limit perspectives and do nothing but add to the “Us vs. Them” fire.
Nobody will agree with everything you believe, but if everyone around you does, then you’re probably in a cult. We are all human, living on one planet, and each of us is viewing life from a different perspective. We need to learn to accept each other; to realize that we all hold different perspectives, and that’s okay. It’s Us and Them, not Us vs. Them. — Nathan Borealis, Counterstream
I am not better than you, you are not better than me. Both of us are better than this! — Unknown
Your future is found in your daily routine. Successful people do daily what others do occasionally! — Paula White
Many people hate the idea of having a routine. They think that having a routine is dull, restrictive, a killer of creativity and inspiration and is only needed for people who can’t get their life together.
That is not the reality. Having a routine will go a long way in removing chaos and uncertainty from your personal and work life. A routine provides you with the structure that allows you to be creative and inspired because you will not be wasting time and energy trying to get everything done on-the-fly. Your entire life will become far less stressful — maybe even easy — when you have a routine and are sticking to it.
Having routines for when you wake up and before you go to sleep set you up for a more productive life in the middle of these two periods of routine … whether it’s your personal life or your work life.
Benefits of Having a Routine (with a schedule)
You will get more things done. Won’t it be great not having things left on your to-do list at the end of each day? Having a routine and a schedule for what needs to get done will allow this to happen.
You will have a less stressful life. Your life will have some order which reduces stress, anxiety and the feeling that you are simply reacting to what is going on around you. Isn’t it better for you to be in control?
You will have more time to relax and have some fun. By having a routine with a schedule, you will have periods of time to set aside for yourself to do whatever you want without feeling guilty that other things are not getting done.
It will provide the structure to assist you in replacing bad habits with good habits. Routines are perfect for breaking bad habits. All you need to do is schedule good activities for the times that you were previously dedicating to bad habits. Before you know it, the good activity will become a habit that automatically becomes part of your routine.
Procrastination is no longer a part of your life. Because you have a routine with a schedule, unpleasant activities are scheduled instead of doing them if or when you get around to it. You are in control. You are the master of your time and life.
You will sleep better. When you get done what needs to be done, you will sleep better because you won’t be mentally struggling with all the things that are not getting done. Can you imagine getting a night of peaceful sleep?
Having a routine with a schedule allows you to take charge of your life, time and energy. Be the master of your universe!
“Men build too many walls and not enough bridges.” ― Joseph Fort Newton
This past week has been difficult … emotionally. Apparently, my mind is overloaded with all the facts, news, spin and controversy over the coronavirus pandemic. In a time that we, as global citizens, need to be united, there are forces designed and determined to divide us … for their own agenda and benefit. To this, I say…
Whether you are religious or atheist,
Whether you are light skinned or dark skinned,
Whether you are straight or LGBT+,
Whether you are highly educated or just have street smarts,
Whether you are a professional or a laborer,
Whether you are rich or poor,
We Need Each Other!
We have more in common with each other than we have differences. We all want the best for ourselves and our families. This in turn, will produce vibrant, healthy, cooperative and productive communities in which everyone can prosper … if we simply be tolerant of our differences.
“Laws alone can not secure freedom of expression; in order that every man present his views without penalty there must be spirit of tolerance in the entire population.” ― Albert Einstein
Character is doing the right thing when nobody’s looking. There are too many people who think that the only thing that’s right is to get by, and the only thing that’s wrong is to get caught. — J. C. Watts
Being in a position that could potentially cause conflict with others, or make you go against your personal morals, can bring an unhealthy amount of stress into your life. Knowing that you will be placed in this predicament numerous times in your life, let’s take a look at how you can train your mind to get through these periods … successfully.
Consider and Evaluate
Take a step back to rationally think through the situation. The purpose of this is to ensure you are making the best choice possible to avoid negative consequences.
Think about how you got in to your current position. A possible decision on what to do next could arise from how you got yourself there.
Ask yourself how a crisis could be avoided. Would doing the right thing be so hard a process if only you did things a bit differently before?
Compare the current predicament to past experiences where you had to figure out how to do the right thing. Look at what worked or what didn’t, and apply what you learned to the present.
Imagine possible outcomes that could happen because of you making a particular decision. Evaluate all, or potentially important outcomes, so you don’t decide on an impulse.
Make sure you aren’t in an environment that pressures you in to making decisions. Be conscious of the long-term effects of your actions.
Weigh the pros and cons of each outcome. Ask yourself how one result could possibly work better than another.
Prepare yourself for any unexpected reactions from others.
Consider any other individuals involved. Doing the right thing isn’t just about you. Most of the time it involves others. Try asking yourself these questions to see how it may affect your decision making:
How will “doing the right thing” be for the benefit of others?
How will the situations get better when I do it?
How will your relationships improve? Worsen?
What makes what you’re doing “the right thing”?
Try not to overthink or over analyze the situation, your reaction and possible outcomes. Doing so could result in several things that can affect how you go about doing the right thing:
You start self-doubting yourself. When you arrive at a decision on the right course of action to make things right, you want to make it confidently.
It’s not the end of the world. Doing this one right thing doesn’t mean that you are incapable of making the correct decision in the first place. Take the mistake in stride, and learn from what you did wrong.
Nothing would happen. If you are too panicky, you’ll scare yourself into acting on time. If you are really unsure, talk it over with others – the subjective view from others can be a refreshing viewpoint on the situation.
Keep your emotions in check. An emotion can quickly become too much to handle. If you’re dwelling on how to do something right to fix a problem, ensure you make time to step away from the situation. Take a breather, and don’t try to solve everything in a self-set time frame.
Pay attention to any physical bodily reactions. Sometimes, our bodies can physically show signs of stress. Keep checking in with yourself if things are getting too much to handle.
Don’t try to control or hold back emotions. It’s important to let anything and everything in to feel it all. Our emotions are natural, they make us who we are and they play vital roles in what we believe is the right thing to do.
Refrain from acting on impulse. Our initial reactions to situation may not always be the best one. Think carefully if you want to react, as impulses may not always be the best way to go about doing right things.
Talk to someone. This can relieve any pressure you have on yourself. It always helps to talk out problems and what you are struggling with.
Make your voice heard. Address your problems so people know what you’re struggling with. By verbally acknowledging that you are struggling with doing the right thing, you aren’t so caught up in your own thoughts, running around in circles.
Find someone who understands why you need to do the right thing. They will have an easier time understanding your struggle, thus more likely to give applicable advice.
Have a fresh perspective on the situation. Perhaps you’ve been dwelling on how to solve a problem for too long. By having another person’s input they may bring in to light other ideas that you may have missed.
Evaluate how you handled the situation, what your thought processes were like, and if applicable, who you spoke to for advice. Doing the right thing in the moment of need is only half the work, as the other half lays in the personal growth you go through. Every situation is different, and the right thing that is needed varies. Look back and see how you can learn from all of them. When you think you’ve done the right thing, ask yourself some questions, such as:
How can doing this particular right thing reduce doing the wrong thing in the future?
Am I happy with the result(s)?
How did I handle this differently from past situations?
Maintain Your Reputation
Carry out what you do in a manner that appropriately represents you. Your representation should be kept in mind. This is vital if the situation is in a professional (i.e. work) setting. Ask yourself some key questions to help you decide on what is the right thing to do and how to do it:
Will this decision go against your morals?
Who could you potentially cross? Also, how will you go about avoiding this?
How will others think of you?
Touch base with others and act as soon as possible. Doing right by others is just as important as carrying out a right deed to avoid guilt. It doesn’t have to be a formal “group debrief”, but speaking with other involved individuals afterwards can relieve some residue tension. Keep in mind that talking with others can also positively result in the following things:
Engaging with others throughout the process of trying to do the right thing can keep everyone on the same page. Adequate communication avoids discrepancies between ideas and reactions.
Try to diffuse tension among others. Depending on the severity of the situation, you may want to reconsider acting without considering other people’s feelings.
Ask why and how people are reacting to you in certain ways. Do they not agree that what you are doing is the right thing? Are they still mad? Asking why someone is acting in a certain way can put you in their shoes, and you can make better decisions with there perspective in mind.
Let everyone make his or her voice heard. We all have reputations to maintain. Whether it is for others to see, or for ourselves to be the person we are, or strive to be, it is important to keep in mind how we present ourselves and represent others.
Ensure you are acting in a manner that won’t be detrimental to others’ reputations. This is especially important to keep in mind in professional settings like the work place.
Do the right thing so it doesn’t make others doubt your judgment. If others perceive you in a certain way, you want to keep in mind what others will say about you. Before carrying out the decision, try asking around if what you think of doing is truly the right thing to do.
Don’t ignore advice. You may feel like what you are doing is the right thing, but listen to what others have to say about it. They can help you tweak ideas and your delivery method.
Real integrity is doing the right thing, knowing that nobody’s going to know whether you did it or not. — Oprah Winfrey