Friday, April 18, 2014

Stirring things up with Secular Shows, Characters and Issues

By Gary Berg-Cross

Between the new Noah movie and the new Cosmos series espousing the scientific method over faith-based belief we've seen some  conservative Christians howling about the culture.  Cosmos provides a real presence of secular-scientific values and thinking infused into the culture as astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson genially poo poos creationist arguments about intelligent or the Jewish testament-based, fundamentalist claim that the Earth is about 6,000 years old. 

In a recent WAPO article called ‘From ‘The Good Wife’ to ‘Cosmos,’ a good moment for atheists and scientists on TV’ Alyssa Rosenberg noted atheist (and pretty normal but strong) character Alicia Florrick (played by Julianna Margulies) standing up to her teenage daughter Grace’s  fervent conversion to Christianity. In the aftermath of the death of a major character there was this exchange as Grace pushed the idea of heaven. She got push back.

“What does that mean, Grace? He’s in heaven? With angels and clouds?” Alicia demanded when her daughter told her that Will was “with God.” ”What does it mean if there is no God? Why is that any better?” Grace asked of her mother. “It’s not better,” Alicia responded. “It’s just truer. It’s just not wishful thinking.”

As noted in Voices, when Alicia more or less “outed” herself as an atheist to a reporter last season despite the political impact, it outraged some fans. 
'One upset viewer wrote on ReligiMedia blog that many “good wives” had identified with Alicia but now found her “far less sympathetic and frankly a tad bit revolting.”'

These shows follow movies like The Ledge by atheist writer and director Matthew Chapman (see trailer) which was a recent talked-about films with an openly atheist “heroic’ character who philosophically contemplates suicide.   Such movies confront some of the easy assumptions about the religious basis for morality. Earlier I'd blogged about the movie Agora which features the last Alexandrian librarian HypatiaBTW, there’s even a Facebook page for Atheist Movies but it mostly covers books and other media.

Now there is a new movie in that vein by Baltimore-based  independent film maker and theorist Erik Kristopher Myers. His first feature film, ROULETTE, released on Thanksgiving 2013 to positive critical reviews, includes a negative portrayal of Christianity and its examination of Pro-Life vs. Pro-Choice. It’s led to some outraged response from viewers, film festivals, and potential distributors alike.

Myers will be discussing the film and his attempt to dramatize a balanced examination of the cause and effect of a religious upbringing at the April 19th (2-4) WASH meeting held in the Rockville MD library.  He will talk about the personal consequences of his endeavor in the face of an industry that shies away from perceived anti-Christian commentary.


Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Universal Arguments...again

By Gary Berg-Cross


The Washington Post had a book review by MIT physicist  & novelist Alan Lightman (latest book is “The Accidental Universe.”) on Amir D. Aczel‘s book  “Why Science Does Not Disprove God.”  You can get a sense of the differences between these 2 thinkers from their book titles and Lightman takes Aczel to task on several topics.

One of the first is the claims about Albert Einstein's religious views. It’s been extensively discussed and Aczel selectively repeats several on Einstein early pronouncements that gesture towards a Deity using religious vocabulary:


“Subtle is the Lord, but malicious he is not” and

“I want to know God’s thoughts — the rest are details.”

I put more store in the case that Einstein channeled Spinoza pantheistic notions that identifies the god idea with nature and not a personal god seen in Jewish scripture.


"It seems to me that the idea of a personal God is an anthropological concept which I cannot take seriously. I feel also not able to imagine some will or goal outside the human sphere. My views are near those of Spinoza: admiration for the beauty of and belief in the logical simplicity of the order which we can grasp humbly and only imperfectly. I believe that we have to content ourselves with our imperfect knowledge and understanding and treat values and moral obligations as a purely human problem—the most important of all human problems."

From  Hoffmann, Banesh (1972). Albert Einstein Creator and Rebel. New York: New American 

Library, p. 95  cited in Wikipedia on E’s religious views see also Jammer’s, Einstein and Religion (Princeton 1999) and more recently Isaacson, Einstein: His Life and Universe (Simon & Schuster 2007).

You can see this humble rather than doctrinaire stance in later pronouncements by E preferring agnostic sounding formulations (sometimes alluding to mysteries) as he said:   

"an attitude of humility corresponding to the weakness of our intellectual understanding of nature and of our own being.”

It is always interesting to see defenders of the creator hypothesis present E’s idea without his penumbra of humbleness on the whole issue.  Having harnessed a dogmatic style Einstein Aczel, as reported by Lightman, sets out to “debunk the arguments of the New Atheists but also to gently suggest that the findings of science actually point to the existence of God.” And so we pass some arguments about weaknesses of evolutionary explanations but arrive at the more contentious point of argued in L. Krauss’s bestseller “A Universe From Nothing. Aczel is willing to follow this physical argument about quantum foam effect fluxuations producing something from nothing physical, but can ask where the quantum laws come from.


Lawrence Krauss has misused the idea of “empty space” to argue that the universe itself came out of sheer “emptiness.” But we know that the space in which pairs of particles can form is never empty, it is not a “nothing”—it always contains energy, and it always becomes permeated by lines of force representing fields (electromagnetic, gravitational, and other); and it is the energy supplied by these fields that leads to the creation of pairs of particles. The creation of such particles is therefore never “out of nothing”—it is out of a preexisting space that is filled with energy. That space, that energy, and the fields that permeate it all have to come from somewhere. But there are many problems even here that have not been addressed by this theory. [ p. 127]


The Krauss point however, going back to Einstein and pantheism, is to see natural explanations such as pre-existing nature as preferred to theo-religious ones – existence depending on a god. Such natural explanations seem not only more likely and celebrate the wonder of our natural universe. They have, if you
wish, a degree of faith in what provides the best explanation. But the detailed, empirical one seems the more logical to put growing faith in. Every day we hear of something that adds to our understanding of the history of a 13.7/13.8 billion year universe. Less frequently we confirm bigger insights such as a basis for gravity with the Higgs boson, detection of gravity waves or support for Alan Guth’s 1980 inflationary theory of the early universe period of exponential growth, what was labeled earlier the Big Bang.

The long-sought observations, taken from Antarctica, strongly support the cosmological theory of "inflation," which explains how the early universe smoothly expanded to unimaginable vastness in the first fractional second of its existence.

 There seems no comparable advance on the theological side to things as foundational and explanatory as the cosmic background radiation.


See also Forbes article on the Sci-Phil arguments that arise from an Aczel style book.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Picking Winners

By Gary Berg-Cross

A form of March Madness is leaving the bracket-littered scene, but it provides lingering thoughts about what is given emphasis and effort in our culture and the limits of knowledge and prediction.  It’s all humbling and a bit of a mirror both on our values and also human limitations.  Basketball brackets and the associated discussion are highly structured and “professional.” They are laced with expert observations, data of all kinds and statistical analysis.  There is a run up to the tournament with lots of predictions:

NOTABLE TEAMS RISING: Saint Louis, Florida

NOTABLE TEAMS FALLING: Creighton, Michigan State, Baylor

And on the day after the last regular game newspapers have special sections on all 68 contestants.  The main players on each team are discussed and strengths and weaknesses noted.  You can see a range of predictions. This year one heard of the analysis we had statistical NCAA bracket “optimization” and lots of simulations. You can read about how off or not off predictions were explained as Bracket VooDoo which is way of gesturing that things turned out a bit different than experts believed. 

Of the 11 million people who filled out a bracket on, only 1,780 predicted a Kentucky-UConn final. That’s 0.016% of entrants. It was pointed out that statistically a high school basketball player filling out a bracket on ESPN has twice as much chance of getting drafted by an NBA team (0.03%) as he would have at accurately predicting the final.  Pretty humbling. Our cognitive biases have once again beaten our critical thinking, but there are psychological strategies to consider and use next year.  In America we are optimistic (well not about climate change). 
Bracketology: Somewhere between Art and Science lies perfection

So when we turn to other, important areas of American life, like political campaigns one wonders why predictions seem so much more accurate.  It seems strange that the dynamics are simpler.  Well, of course, there aren’t 68 teams.  But still if we think of an election day there is the notion of predicting the future and winning, which every 4 years involves hundreds of different races at the national, state & local level.  The results of those contests are of much greater importance for the direction of the country than the NCAA tourney, but the culture devotes less consistent, if frustrating, effort to covering it for the citizens and our evolvement seems less focused.  Perhaps this reflects the fact that unlike basketball professionals and experts, pols and their advisors want less intellectual power devoted to help citizens figure out the contests.

So perhaps it is time for the citizenry to bone up on the process of selecting good candidates and what better way than leveraging some ideas from that big elimination contest – March Madness.  Given the disappointments with most of our March brackets we’d probably be far from the ideals of our founders, but I sure would feel better if, as a culture we tried a bit harder and smarter.  

Oh, and of course the bracket metaphor is used widely including for rating religious things as below where people get to vote for their favorite eJsus movie:

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Fake history from the Restore Military Religious Freedom Coalition

By Mathew Goldstein

Reacting to the recent publication of an Air Force cadet handbook that omitted those words from the oath, the Restore Military Religious Freedom Coalition has sponsored a billboard near the entrance to the Air Force Academy that features the Mount Rushmore carvings of four presidents with this question and their response: "Are you free to say So help me God?  They did."  Chaplain (COL) Ron Crews, USAR Retired, executive director of the Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty, one of the organizations in the coalition, is quoted as saying "The presidents Americans admire all solemnly uttered these words when they took their oaths of office. Our Air Force cadets should be encouraged to follow their example.”  There is a problem with this.  No one with personal integrity who is genuinely knowledgeable about presidential oath history can assert that all presidents added those words to their oaths of office.

Let's start with Theodore Roosevelt's second inauguration.  The Lowville, N.Y. Journal and Republican, March 9, 1905 (PDF), the Indiana Evening Gazette, March 4, 1905 , the Newark Advocate. March 4, 1905,Weekly Kentucky New Era, March 3, 1905 (March 4 revision), and others quote the oath recitation and details Roosevelt's immediate before and after actions with no mention of shmG.

First hand accounts of Theodore Roosevelt adding the phrase "And thus do I swear" during his first inauguration [September 14, 1901] can be found in The Illustrated Buffalo Express - Sunday, September 15, 1901, The Washington Post, September 15, 1901 (PDF), The Pittsburgh Press, September 15, 1901, The Last Days of President McKinley, by Walter Wellman published in The American Monthly Review of Reviews, Volume XXIV, New York, Review of Reviews, 1901, page 414-426, and Theodore Roosevelt, patriot and statesman the true story of an ideal American, by Robert Cornelius V Meyers, Philadelphia, Pa. and Chicago, Ill., P. W. Ziegler & co. [c1902], page 388. Roosevelt also did not use a bible during his first inauguration. Theodore Roosevelt, twenty-six president of the United States. A typical American, by Charles Eugene Banks and Leroy Armstrong; c1901, page 377 quotes the oath recitation without shmG as does American Boy's Life of Theodore Roosevelt, by Edward Stratemeyer, 1904, Lee and Shepard, Boston, Chapter XXV. The Executive Register of the United States, 1789-1902: A List of the Presidents ..., by Robert Brent Mosher, 1903, Friedenwald, Baltimore, MD, page 284, shows the certificate signed by the president with the words of oath as recited without shmG. The Authentic Life of William McKinley, by Alexander K McClure, New York : W.E. Scul, 1901, page 494 quotes the oath recitation without shmG. Executive Register of the United States: 1789-1902. Compiled by Robert Brent Mosher, Washington, DC. (Baltimore, MD: The Lord Baltimore Press (The Friedenwald Company); 1903), page 284 quotes the oath recitation as certified by "JOHN R. HAZEL, U. S. J."

Chapter XXXIV of A Short Life of Abraham Lincoln, John G. Nicolay, 1904, The Century Co., New York quotes the oath recitation without "so help me God" for the first and second Lincoln inaugurations. Also quoting the oath for the second inauguration is Illustrated life, services, martyrdom, and funeral of Abraham Lincoln, by T.B. Peterson, 1865, T.B. Peterson & Brothers, Philadelphia, p. 192. Abraham Lincoln : the true story of a great life:, by William Osborn Stoddard, 1885, New York, Fords, Howard, & Hulbert, p. 448, says "The oath of office was administered by Chief-Justice Chase; the President looked out for a moment, silently, over the multitude, and then he addressed them ...." A similiar depiction is found in The every-day life of Abraham Lincoln; a biography from an entirely new standpoint,1886, by Francis F. (Francis Fisher) Browne, New York and St. Louis, N. D. Thompson Pub. Co., p. 680.

The Baltimore Sun, March 5, 1861, page 1 (PDF) shows Chief Justice Taney reciting the constitutional oath of office to Abraham Lincoln without shmG and then "Having administered the oath, Judge Taney congratulated Mr. Lincoln amidst the loud applause of the assembled spectators, and the stirring music of several bands." Similarly, the Weekly Standard, March 13, 1861 quotes the oath recited without shmG. Also, American Treasures of the Library of Congress: Inaugural Bible, 1861 quotes the recitation of just the constitutional oath. The Life of Abraham Lincoln; from His Birth to His Inauguration as President by Ward Hill Lamon, 1872, Boston, James R. Osgood and Company, page 536, quotes the 1861 oath recitation without shmG. Ward Lamon was one of Lincoln’s few close friends. An eyewiteness account of the oath recitation is provided by a lawyer, Wilder D. Wright, who campaigned for Lincoln. Immediately after the ceremony he wrote this in a letter to his father: "When the address closed, and the cheering subsided, Taney rose, and, almost as tall as Lincoln, he administered the oath, Lincoln repeating it ; and as the words, i preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution came ringing out, he bent and kissed the book." Life and Letters of Wilder Dwight, By Elizabeth Amelia Dwight, page 33.

Christ the King, by Reverand James Mitchell Foster, 1894, James H. Earle, Boston, page 277 makes the following observation about Lincoln's inaugurations:
Every President, after George Washington and before RB Hayes, took the presidentail oath without an appeal to God, omitting the very essence of the oath. Rev. A. M. Milligan, D.D., wrote Abraham Lincoln before his inaugural in 1861, and also before his second inaugural in 1865, asking him, in deference to the consciences of the Christian people of the land, to take tthe presidential oath in the name of God. He replied both times that God's name was not in the Constitution, and he could not depart from the letter of that instrument.

The Gazette of the United States, March 10, 1801 (PDF) quotes Thomas Jefferson taking the oath without saying shmG as does the Connecticut Gazette, March 18, 1801, (PDF) and the Impartial Register, March 19, 1801, (PDF).

The Maryland Gazette, Thursday March 14, 1793, page 2 (PDF) provides a detailed account of the swearing in of George Washington during his second inauguration, including a quote of the oath recited without mention of shmG being spoken. An image of the same article from The Diary, March 7, 1793, page 3 (PDF) and the New York Daily Gazette, March 8, 1793, page 2 (PDF). The New Jersey Journal, March 13, 1793, (PDF), and The Vermont Gazette, March 15, 1793, (PDF), also quote the oath recitation.

William Ferraro, Assistant Professor and Assistant Editor of The Papers of George Washington, wrote (email January 25, 2008) "Like my much more experienced colleague at the Papers of George Washington, Senior Editor Phil Chase, I have come across no contemporary or eyewitness accounts of George Washington's first inauguration to support the tradition that he added the words "So help me God" to the presidential oath."

The Military Religious Freedom Foundation saw that the billboard was double sided and had a vacancy on the other side.  Their billboard asks "Are you free NOT to say So help me God? George Washington DIDN'T in his officer's oath."  The MRFF is an advocacy organization that is run by people of integrity who know American history.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

About Violence Against Women and Girls

No matter what you thought of President Jimmy Carter she he was in office, there is little doubt that he is one of the most active Presidents in recent history, having gotten involved in human rights, helping the homeless, various diplomatic ventures at the request of sitting Presidents, and so forth.

His latest venture, and one he recently called his greatest and most important venture in an interview on Public TV today, is all about the prevention of violence against and the advancement of the rights of women worldwide.

He cited some amazing statistics.

Worldwide, over 800,000 women and girls are traded as slaves internationally.
In the US, over 600,000 women and girls are traded as sex slaves.
In this generation, over 60 million female babies have been killed, either in abortions or as born babies, because their parents wanted a boy.  Most of those in either China or India.

There was more, but I got kind of overloaded at that point.

He is promoting a new book of his, just released, entitled, ""A Call To Action", which urges the end of discrimination and abuse against women, calling it the number one challenge in the world today. The book builds on the work of faith leaders and courageous human rights defenders who met last summer at The Carter Center to mobilize faith groups worldwide to commit to advancing women's rights. Religion, they said, should be a force for equality and human dignity not oppression.

Obviously, I disagree with them on that point - while it should, it rarely is, and I think the ones who are implicitly involved in oppressing women aren't likely to join any efforts in bringing their activities to a halt.

There is no doubt he is correct, and this country is one of the worse of the First World industrialized nations in the oppression business.  It is also getting worse, as the Republican Party does everything it can to make it worse.

Go visit the links.  One is to the website of The Carter Center, where the book and the subject it is written about are detailed, and the other is the amazon page where you can buy it, right now.

I fully support his efforts, as I am appalled every single time I read about this subject and remember how hard the Republicans in this country are working to set women's rights back as far as they can.

I will add my own point as well.  You know what is coming, don't you?

While I applaud his efforts to involve religious groups in this, and it is obviously the fastest way to get established groups actively involved, I am somewhat disappointed that he seems to have left out secular movements or simply groups which have no religious affiliations.

Obviously, I believe that religion is the prime mover in the oppression of women. As his page noted briefly, religions do employ specific texts in their holy books to justify such oppression, and the ones who do such are not likely to join his efforts, and will, in fact, do everything they can to resist.  It is valuable for him to try to enlist the more liberal religious groups in his efforts, as they can employ their own theological counterpoints in fighting this terrible scourge, but I see it as a temporary fix.  These efforts will not bear widely recognized fruit until religion worldwide begins to be pushed back and denied the political influence to continue this oppression.

Nevertheless, to have as public and as widely respected (worldwide!) figure as Jimmy Carter get behind this issue and begin to push for progress is impressive indeed, and very, very welcome!

As many people as possible need to get on board with this.  Women everywhere need to begin to push back.  Push against governments, push against churches, push against the politicians who back this backwards agenda of oppressive nonsense.

And don't let up.

Robert W Ahrens
The Cybernetic Atheist

Monday, March 10, 2014

E.O. Wilson and The New Enlightenment: A Call to Understanding

by Gary Berg-Cross

Biologist Edward O. Wilson’s new book is called ‘The Social Conquest of Earth.’  It’s largely provides a biological perspective on 3 grand philo-cultural questions (famous questions, inscribed by Paul Gauguin in his giant Tahitian painting of 1897):

    ·     “Where do we come from?
  •      What are we?
  •      Where are we going?” 

 Unlike traditional philosophy or religion Wilson wants to incrementally advance on these from scientific understanding and theory.  He speaks in terms of the relatively rare, eusocial nature of humans and how this might have develop as part of pre-adaption. (Eu-Social means the highest level of organization of animal sociality, and is defined by 3 characteristics: cooperative brood care (including brood care of offspring from other individuals), overlapping generations within a colony of adults, and a division of labor into reproductive and non-reproductive groups).
 While it takes a while to make a scientific case Wilson argues for this approach as better than what we are handed by religion approaches.  It’s of no real help at all  he argues aside from making us feel like we know:
          “mythmaking could never discover the origin and meaning of humanity”
Contemporary philosophy  also comes up with a backhand irrelevant, having as Wilson argues
 “long ago abandoned the foundational questions about human existence.”
Well maybe and maybe at Harvard, but there are relevant, contemporary folks in philosophy I think.

I largely agree that the most likely approach to answering the 2 above foundational questions is to follow the scientific method as applied by the proper and emerging disciplines.   So we have Biology, Psychology, Anthropology, Archaeology and Sociology along with newer disciplines like neuroscience, epigenetics and evolutionary biology.  It’s a wonderful matrix of expanding understanding and especially nice when a master of one or two of these spends the time to synthesize a view understandable to non-experts.  Others in this senior synthesis of ideas worth reading and listening to are Jared Diamond whose last 3 or 4 books are enlightened warning that touches on our eroding environment in an historical context. They are wake up calls such as we have heard too from Richard Dawkins, of course, whose latest book An Appetite for Wonder: The Making of a Scientist  is autobiographical.

Wilson draws on all these sources to explore the development of human society and some objective self-awareness needed to understand our collective selves. The path has bounced from ancient art, primitive religion, the founding of philosophy, and finally an integrated science perspective. As a Biologist Wilson sees a tipping point in these various views of human nature and such with Charles Darwin's 19th century theory of evolution by natural selection. Together with other sciences this theory can be applied to understand human behavior and deal with some age old controversies.
Wilson outlines the broad human story fills in some details to illustrate our new understanding.  For example Wilson rather than a simple genetic basis for shared individual- and group-level selection factors.  Both selfish and group favoring factors exist. As a result there is intense inter-group competition along with unstable group composition that results in:
 "an unavoidable and perpetual war ... between honor, virtue, and duty ... and           selfishness, cowardice, and hypocrisy"; 
A payoff is the later section of the book called “A New Enlightenment.” In a sequence of chapters he covers the topics of language (pre-adapted cognition evolved into the ability to create abstractions, and later to use arbitrary symbols for communication, thus leading to the evolution of language)., culture, morality ("The naturalistic understanding of morality does not lead to absolute precepts and sure judgments, but instead warns against basing them blindly on religious and ideological dogmas," p. 252)., religion and art. These provide a much different and nuanced view to approach an answer to the earlier question - “What are we?”,
His warning about the tribal aspects of religion are a meme that one hopes is widely heard. Organized religion, Wilson argues, is a simple expression of an evolution favored tribalism. So the "illogic" of religious belief is not a weakness in traditional human cultures, since it serves a social role of binding a group's members together to the exclusion of outsiders.  You may get to be part of a group by abandoning your differences and converting to the group’s core beliefs. In pre-scientific days creation- genesis stories & myths employed by the early Big religions are all explainable as cultural relics. Wilson does a back hand refutation of "phantasmagoric elements" as the result of hallucinogenic drugs.  This natural explanation, he argues, is a much more plausible as the basis for things like John's “visions” recorded in the Book of Revelation than the idea that god intervention actually happened. The same goes for nomads wandering in the desert.
“.. you can see this especially in the difficulty of harmonizing different religions. We ought to recognize that religious strife is not the consequence of differences among people. It's about conflicts between creation stories. We have bizarre creation myths and each is characterized by assuring believers that theirs is the correct story, and that therefore they are superior in every sense to people who belong to other religions. This feeds into our tribalistic tendencies to form groups, occupy territories and react fiercely to any intrusion or threat to ourselves, our tribe and our special creation story. Such intense instincts could arise in evolution only by group selection—tribe competing against tribe. For me, the peculiar qualities of faith are a logical outcome of this level of biological organization.
Yes, it is a good explanation and a warning too.

For a good interview with Wilson on this see the Slate article.

For a video interview see BookTV’s Social Conquest of the Earth.

Sunday, March 09, 2014

Maryland state bonds would fund sectarian religious activity

By Mathew Goldstein

Churches and masonic lodges are privately owned and operated religious facilities, they are not places of public accommodation. They have a first amendment right to close their door on anyone who tries to enter their facilities for any reason or for no reason.  A church or masonic lodge that opened their door to the public yesterday could abruptly change their policy and close their door tomorrow.

The state of Maryland nevertheless is granting itself the power to decide to provide loans to such religious facilities by issuing state bonds backed by taxpayer money.  The text of the bond bills declare that any facility being funded this way not be a place of sectarian worship or instruction.  This non-sectarian standard is interpreted narrowly by some lawmakers as exemplified by two pairs of bond bills being considered by this year's General Assembly. House bill 1498 and Senate bill 498 is titled Creation of a State Debt – Baltimore City – SS Philip and James Church Hall Renovation and Repair.   House bill 1477 and Senate bill 965 is titled Creation of a State Debt – Prince Hall Grand Lodge.  

The church hall is utilized for "LEARNING FROM THE BIBLE: Biblical Talks" by Fr. Stephen Ryan that covers topics like “AS CHRIST LOVED THE CHURCH: BIBLICAL PERSPECTIVES ON MARRIAGE”.  It is the meeting place for KNIGHTS OF COLUMBUS COUNCIL #14102 and for SSPJ PRO-LIFE.  The Mason lodge states on its web page that "no atheist can be a Mason". There is no evidence in the online calendars of either group that either building is utilized by the general public or is intended to be utilized by the general public.

Furthermore, Senate bill 22 and House bill 1387 is titled Creation of a State Debt – Anne Arundel County – Calvary Food Bank. Pastors at the Calvary Food Bank give a religious sermon to the people who are waiting to receive food.  Despite the Calvary church blatantly mixing their religion with the charity, the state Department of Human Resources gives the food bank grants to buy food.

The non-sectarian standard, even if it were to be enforced, is too weak.  Government cannot discriminate or proselytize, and it is inconsistent for government to bypass these restrictions by assisting with funding of building repair, renovation, and improvements for private organizations that discriminate or proselytize.  The prohibitions on government sponsored discrimination and proselytizing are bypassed when government funds "non-sectarian" third parties to do indirectly what government cannot do directly.  Yet in Maryland it appears that even the current weak non-sectarian standard is not being fully respected.

Thursday, March 06, 2014

Bible Stories for Skeptics

a review by Edd Doerr

Bible Stories for Skeptics, by Richard Trudeau. Abigail Rogers Publishing, 2013, 163 pp, $14.95.

With a bit of a  twinkle in his eye, Richard Trudeau --  a skeptic, retired Unitarian Universalist minister, Harvard Divinity School grad and (though he doesn't use the word) humanist -- removes the supernaturalism from some of the common stories in  the Judeo-Christian Bible for the edification of non-scholars. He links them to  history as known to archeologists and serious historians and tries to salvage some things of value in the collection of diverse materials in the book. He shows how and why the contents of the book evolved and how its assorted unknown authors borrowed and modified stuff, none of which is readily apparent to the casual reader or ordinary churchgoer. Among his conclusions, that Jesus was not really a Christian and that Christianity, as Bernard Shaw put it, is not the religion "of" Jesus but a religion "about" Jesus. An interesting read.