Public Office and Political Activism Just Don’t Mix

As I’ve mentioned before, my home state of Alabama has recently been wrangling over the subject of gay marriage. A federal judge in the city of Mobile ruled that Alabama’s ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional, which made us the 37th state legalizing it. Even though the state was dragged into this position, I couldn’t help being a little proud that gay marriage became legal here before the Supreme Court’s ruling.

But of course, a couple of weeks after the federal judge’s ruling went into effect, Alabama Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore (of 10 Commandments monument fame) finally ordered all probate judges to stop issuing marriage licenses to gay couples, oddly claiming, “This is a case of dual sovereignty of federal and state authorities. The United States Supreme Court is very clear in recognizing that federal courts do not bind state courts.”

It’s hard to understand his position, considering past precedent. As Ruthann Robson (a law professor at the City University of New York) states, “If what Moore says is true, then no federal court could ever hold a state law, regulation or policy unconstitutional. And the 14th Amendment, then, would be essentially meaningless.”

The county probate judges have now been put in a difficult position between following a federal judge ruling (which applied to a specific case in Mobile County) and a direct order from the state supreme court. Last I checked, all counties in Alabama had stopped issuing marriage licenses to gay couples, and I think Mobile County simply stopped issuing them to anyone after being trapped in a catch 22.

So that’s the background. Today, someone pointed me to a lengthy blog post by a Christian here in Alabama entitled Same Sex Marriage: Where Do We Draw the Line? As you might imagine, it explores the recent events and asks “how should a Christian feel about this, and what should he or she do in response?” It won’t surprise most of you to find out that I disagreed with quite a lot of what she had to say. And not just from my differing religious and political views — I also think she makes some factual errors, and I even think her reasoning is flawed from the Christian perspective. I left a comment, and since I don’t know if she’ll approve it or not, I decided to repost it here for consideration and discussion:

So there are a number of areas in which you and I disagree.

First, you seem to suggest that the United States is a theocracy in the same way that the Israelites were under the Law of Moses. Is that what you believe? Because in the New Testament, Jesus repeatedly tells the disciples that he didn’t come to establish an earthly kingdom (like the Jews had expected of their Messiah), but a spiritual one. Later NT books back this up by saying that there is no more Jew or Greek, male or female, slave or free — instead, all have access to God. Instead of “God’s people” being a particular nation, as it was in the OT, it now simply means those who serve him, regardless of race or nationality. Galatians, Colossians, and Hebrews in particular explain that Christians are not bound by the Law of Moses. Therefore, using 2 Chronicles to state that God is going to judge us as a nation is reaching quite a bit. That applied to Israel and Judah — nations that were actual theocracies.

One of the founding principles of the United States was freedom of religion. That means citizens are free to practice whatever religion they believe in (or practice no religion at all) without fear of government intrusion. That means that if someone like Governor Bentley or Chief Justice Moore take on public office, they are promising to uphold the laws of this secular government, not whatever religious rules they believe in. They should certainly exercise the same rights we all have in living their personal lives according to their religious convictions. But in their role as a public official, they can’t bind other citizens to their own religious beliefs. If that’s a problem for them, then they should step down. In your article, you seem to conflate public office with political and social activism. The two just don’t mix. If Moore wants to lobby against homosexual marriage, then he should step down from the state supreme court and do just that.

As to whether or not this is a civil rights issue, I think you’re mistaken. Civil rights applies to more than just race. When Christians are targeted in other parts of the world, is that totally fine? Or in order to see a problem with it, must one also be a Christian? No, I think it’s obvious that discriminating against a person because of their religious beliefs definitely falls under civil rights. The same goes for sexual orientation.

You may feel from personally knowing a few gay people that you understand them very well, but I tend to think they understand themselves a bit better. I am personally heterosexual, and I know it would be very difficult for me to choose to be anything different. Is that how you view your own sexuality as well, or do you feel that you could very easily be attracted to other women if you simply changed your mind about what’s attractive?

Now instead of arguing that homosexuality is a choice, if you were simply arguing that it’s a personal manner in which some people are tempted, just as others are tempted by gambling, others by alcohol, etc, then I could accept that premise. Then the problem of homosexuality would just be its indulgence, instead of the thought-crime route you’re currently running with.

Regardless, what does it really matter? Maybe God has a problem with homosexuality, but it’s also claimed that he has a problem with divorce, gossip, lying, etc. Does that mean that we, as other individuals, have a right to judge those people, or that we should legislate against their right to live as they choose? God’s not going to hold you accountable for the actions of two other consenting adults who happen to live in your state. What they do is between them and God.

Therefore, since we do live in a secular society that respects all religions equally, as well as the right to have no religion at all, how can we deny people the right to marry under religious grounds? If this country ever became majority Muslim, but still had no established religion, should you be required to wear a hijab just because others want you to? Or should you be allowed to make that decision for yourself?

Finally, the last point I want to make, is that the biological argument against homosexuality is a bit silly. Do people only have sex to procreate? Or if procreation should be a requirement of marriage, what do we do about people who are sterile? Or what about two people who are past childbearing years, yet want to marry? The percentage of homosexuals in any population is always a minority, and it always has been. It truly is an “alternate lifestyle.” Also, homosexuality is not contagious. So we don’t have to worry about the human population dropping to 0 because everyone becomes gay.

Look, tell people why you think homosexuality is wrong. If that’s part of the “good news” of the gospel, then by all means preach it. Our country protects the right to free speech, so go for it. But don’t try to legislate morality. What good does that really do? Does it suddenly make a homosexual couple no longer want to get married? Does it make them stop being gay? Does it even keep them from having sex? People have to make their own choices about that, and if they don’t share your personal beliefs, let them live how they want. Isn’t that what you would want people to do for you? Or should we start fitting you for a hijab? ;)

Does God Change from the Old Testament to the New?

I started to leave this post as a comment on ratamacue0‘s recent post, What Started My Questioning? but decided to post it instead. Fellow blogger (and friend) unkleE left this comment as part of a conversation that he and ratamacue0 were having:

…most non-believers seem not to recognise that there isn’t one consistent portrait of God in the Bible – it changes through both Testaments – and then to choose the worst picture (which is often the earliest one) to critique. But if the claimed revelation of God is progressive, it would surely be fairer to choose a later picture.

I think most non-believers do recognize the difference; it’s just hard to forget that first impression given in the OT.

And really, how progressive is the picture the Bible paints? The NT points out that God doesn’t change, so those harsh characteristics he possessed in the OT are still being claimed by NT writers. The NT also repeats some things like “vengenance is mine, I will repay.” And it tells us not to fear those who can destroy the body, but he who can destroy both body and soul. The NT also gives us the doctrine of Hell, regardless of what that might mean.

I think some of the NT writers, like Paul and the author of Hebrews, are arguing that the method of salvation and the specific requirements God has for people are changing, and in that way the message becomes more progressive. More emphasis is placed on the mind and not just physical acts, for instance. But as to who God is, I don’t think that image really progresses from OT to NT. The same God that killed Uzzah for trying to steady the ark, condemns anyone who doesn’t believe in Jesus, even though it’s hard to blame many of the Jews for saying Jesus was a blasphemer, considering the teachings in the Old Law.

Such a God is irrational. Many Christians seem to agree, which is why they don’t believe in parts of the OT. But since the NT still claims the same irrational God, I see no reason to believe in him at all. And to me, that seems much more consistent than trying to hold onto parts of the mythology, while rejecting the unsavory parts. If that god were real, and he wanted people to know about him, I think he’d keep the one source of information about him pure. Since that obviously didn’t happen with the Bible, why continue to hold to it at all? Why not put faith in a god who isn’t concerned with petty dogmas, one who simply set things in motion for us? One that may inspire people from time to time, but is largely content to let us live our lives without interference? To me, that seems to fit the evidence far better… and while I don’t have any actual belief in such a deity, I can see why some would. Why mesh it with Christianity, when it seems so superfluous?

The Problem with Alabama

First of all, sorry for the lack of posts latey. Just been busy with life — you know how that goes. I have a couple of ideas rattling around in my head right now, so I’ll hopefully shake one of them out into a blog post soon.

In the meantime, I wanted to post this article that a friend pointed me toward today. Many of you probably don’t know, but last week, a federal judge in Mobile, Alabama struck down a state ban on gay marriage, which made us the 37th state to legalize gay marriage. It was great news! However, to no one’s surprise, there’s been a huge outcry about it, and many of the state politicians are pushing hard against it. This article brilliantly captures the way I feel about it:

After same-sex marriage ruling, a question: Are we American? Or just Alabamian?

On Blogging

Not too long ago, I got a “like” on one of my posts from a blogger I hadn’t run across before. Out of curiosity, I jumped over to her blog to see what she liked to write about. Turns out she’s a Christian. Which is fine — I certainly have many Christian friends, and several of them even “like” my posts from time to time. But I understand why they do it. With this person, I didn’t get it.

I still don’t know what caused her to hit the “like” button, but I’ve started to get suspicious of that kind of thing. I’ve noticed that there are number of people who seem to blog simply to see how many followers they can attract. I’ve been amazed at how many followers some blogs get, especially since many of them are pretty new. How do they get such high readership? And then, I’ll often see that their posts have almost no comments on them. What’s up with that?

I assume that many of them scour the internet for blogs that they can follow, whether they blog on similar topics or not, just hoping that they’ll be followed in return. But what does this really accomplish? Does it really get quality readers? I’m not so sure…

And while I’d love to have thousands of followers, I’m much happier having actual dialog on my blog. I’ve never gone out looking for readers. The people who have come here have usually found me in WordPress or Google searches, or I’ve made an actually substantive comment on their blog, and they’ve come over here in response. This has made the growth of my blog a very slow process, but it feels more genuine to me. I’ve gotten this audience for the right reasons.

I was glad to read two other blog posts in the last two days that kind of echo what I’m driving at here. My friend Nila wrote this post about the merits of having something worthwhile to say, rather than focusing on a writing schedule. And someone in the comments section of that post linked to this article on “slow blogging.” In other words, thinking about what you want to say before you rush to say it. It’s refreshing (to me) to see that not everyone is being swept away by all the meta reasons to have a blog, but are still interested in conversation.

Pandora’s Box

The other day I started thinking about what would have happened if I had stopped looking critically at Christianity after reading those articles that first made me question the Bible’s legitimacy. What if I had turned from them and decided to never look at anything else that might cause me to doubt my faith? If I had, I’m sure I’d still be a Christian today.

But would that really be good enough? Obviously, the things my faith were built upon weren’t solid enough to withstand scrutiny. So if I had maintained faith only by refusing to investigate my reasons, would that kind of faith be pleasing to God? I think that’s a question believers should consider. If that level of faith is good enough, we’re essentially saying, “oh, if only you hadn’t taken your faith so seriously!” But that seems crazy.

The alternative is that my faith might have been good enough until the day I ran across things that made me doubt. At that point, the only way to remain pleasing to God would be to investigate the claims and come out the other side with a stronger faith. Of course, that’s not how it worked out for me. If God’s real and Christianity’s true, then I think this view makes the most sense. However, it causes problems for those Christians who have refused to look at any evidence that might call their beliefs into question. I’ve had several tell me that they won’t read anything an atheist has written, or don’t want me to point out the passages that I found problematic because they don’t want to lose their faith. How does that make sense? If their faith is worth keeping — if it’s true — then further investigation should only support their beliefs, not call them into question.

I’m not trying to pick on Christians here, we can all be guilty of this from time to time. It’s essentially an extreme case of confirmation bias — one in which we realize we’re being biased and we even think of it as a good thing. In fact, it’s extremely dangerous, and if we feel ourselves thinking along those lines, it should be a red flag. What’s wrong with our current position if we have to hide from information in order to keep it?

And in the end, I’m glad I didn’t stop looking. The journey out wasn’t easy, but I feel like things make so much more sense with my current worldview. Even if I’m still wrong, I’m closer to the truth than I was before, because I’ve learned new information and corrected some past misunderstandings. That can only be a good thing.

8 Year Anniversary!

So today marks 8 years that I’ve been doing this blog. That’s a pretty big milestone! I had two posts on November 14, 2006, and I thought it would be fun to repost them here (along with a little commentary).

Here’s the first:

Well, this is the first official post of my new blog. Don’t expect much, though. I’m hoping to turn this into a weekly thing with posts centering around religion – specifically, “Christianity.”

Wish me luck… :)

So that was innocuous enough. Now here’s post number 2:

If you’ve spent much time perusing your Bible, you’ve probably stumbled across passages dealing with the “mystery” (and most likely, these were passages written by Paul).  In Ephesians 3, Paul spends time revealing the mystery to us: that the Gentiles now have access to salvation!  Wrapped up in this mystery is God’s entire plan of salvation – salvation for all!  But why is it called a “mystery?”  And should it still be “mysterious” to us today?

I think 1 Corinthians 1:18-25 best explains the way in which Christ’s gospel was/is a mystery.  As vs 18 says:

18 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

We can see from this passage that God’s plan of salvation makes no sense to those who refuse to believe it, but to those of us who accept it, it’s brilliant!  Verse 21 goes on to say:

21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe.

See, because the world is so “wise,” it views the concept of God as foolishness.  They have been blinded by their own pretensions.  For the Jews and Greeks of the day, it wasn’t that they didn’t believe in the supernatural; it wasn’t that they didn’t believe in deities.  Their problem was that they thought they already knew what God would do.  The Jews already had a fixed idea of what the Messiah would be, so when Christ appeared and didn’t lead them to victory against the Romans, they refused to accept him.  The Greeks didn’t accept Christ because they couldn’t conceive of a god allowing himself to be put to death by his own creation.  And because they already had things “figured out,” they missed their chance.

Today, people do the same thing.  They would rather put faith in scientific theories that have not been proven.  They would rather believe that all of the order we see in our universe (the fragile food chain, vast differences throughout the animal and plant kingdoms, the very specific orbits of planets, etc) was created through a giant explosion (something that, in all practical applications, has only been shown to destroy, not create).  Have they been blinded by their own “wisdom?”

Too often, even those who profess to be religious only listen to their own ideas about what God wants.  Many times they view the Bible as a collection of stories or suggestions, and not the “wisdom of God that leads to salvation” that 1 Corinthians purports it to be.  How is that different from what the Jews and Greeks were condemned for?

Throughout the Bible, passages talk about truth and understanding.  I firmly believe that God gave us understanding and intellect for a reason.  We are supposed to be able to understand God’s message for us.  It’s not supposed to be “mysterious” any longer.  It’s not supposed to be some “better felt than told” experience.  No, God’s word is supposed to be powerful and undeniable.  It’s supposed to move us and touch us in a way that nothing else can.  But for it to do that, we have to read it, study it, know it.

It’s a little painful to read through that. I cringe when I read how badly I understood things about evolution and the Big Bang back then, or when I alluded to non-Christians as just being those who “refuse to believe it”. It’s kind of funny, but I was guilty of the same thing I was accusing others of. I thought I had the answers, but I had never taken time to really examine any other point of view.

The one decent thing from the post that serves as a bit of foreshadowing about where I would eventually wind up is the last paragraph. You can see that while I was firmly ensnared in Christianity, I believed that it was not supposed to be utterly mysterious. It was supposed to be consistent and “undeniable.” It took a while, but I finally realized that Christianity just didn’t deliver in that regard.

Anyway, I hope you’ve enjoyed this little jaunt down memory lane. Someone suggested to me recently that I should think about doing this kind of review with more of my old posts. I’ve been considering it… Thoughts?

The Life of a Dog

This is reality in a universe without God: there is no hope; there is no purpose. It reminds me of T.S. Eliot’s haunting lines:

This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.

What is true of mankind as a whole is true of each of us individually: we are here to no purpose. If there is no God, then our life is not fundamentally different from that of a dog.
— William Lane Craig

I heard this quote recently, and I immediately thought, it’s also not fundamentally different from that of a god. If God is the “uncaused first cause,” then his life has no higher purpose. There is no “reason” for him to exist. In fact, when you really get down to it, the best reason for God to exist is to explain our own existence. Doesn’t that minimize his importance when you look at it that way? So many of the arguments for God really come down to saying:

We’re so magnificent and complex, we simply can’t be an accident! There must be some reason for our being here! So if we exist, God must exist.

Talk about arrogance! We think so highly of ourselves that we insist the Universe was created for us. But this insistence creates an interesting problem. It claims that we’re so amazing, we deserve to have a higher power interested in us. But this higher power doesn’t deserve the same thing?

If our lives are empty and meaningless without God, what does it say about God’s existence? Wouldn’t his be just as meaningless and empty?

On the other hand, if we say his existence isn’t meaningless because he infuses it with his own meaning and purpose, why couldn’t that same thing be true of us? Instead of having a purpose given to us, we make our own.

Matt Dillahunty of The Atheist Experience answered the issue this way:

You know, to put it simply, I guess this whole line of argument really just seems like wishful thinking to me. Am I missing something? Do you think the “higher purpose” argument is convincing to many people?