“A Life-Changing Experience” (An Atheist Goes to Church)

A few weeks ago, I got a flier stuck on my door:

A MUST-HEAR MESSAGE FROM MR. CLIFFORD BROWN, AN
AWESOME MAN OF GOD!

Come out to hear the specific instructions given by God in the Garden of Eden.
Afterwards, let’s cool off by having an ice cream treat!

Bring your tape recorders, laptops, notepads, pens, and pencils to be a
part of what will be a life-changing experience for you.

I figured with a buildup like that, I should probably attend. “Life-changing experience” sounded pretty good, especially with so many exclamation points in the description. Maybe some miraculous healings or special effects, maybe even some magic tricks. And failing all else, at least there’d be ice cream. Plus, it was held at the church at the end of my street, well within walking distance, so I wouldn’t even have to go anywhere.

So on Saturday at 2:00, I showed up with my laptop and digital recorder. I even brought a half-gallon carton of ice cream from the UMD dairy because it seemed like a neighborly thing to do.

Continue reading ““A Life-Changing Experience” (An Atheist Goes to Church)”

News Items

VA AG tells universities to be more bigoted

The WaPo reports that the attorney general has urged colleges and universities in Virginia to rescind their policies against discrimination against gays.

You might think the Post got it wrong. That he’s saying that Virginia has no laws against discrimination against gays; that universities who do have such policies are going above and beyond what they’re required to do.

You’d be wrong. The AG’s statement says:

It is my advice that the law and public policy of the Commonwealth of Virginia prohibit a college or university from including “sexual orientation,” “gender identity,” “gender expression,” or like classification, as a protected class within its non-discrimination policy, absent specific authorization from the General Assembly.

(emphasis added)

So yeah, the AG just said that universities have to seek special permission to not be bigoted.

TX judge calls death penalty unconstitutional

Also from the Post:

A Texas judge in the county that sends more inmates to death row than any other in the nation ruled in a pretrial motion this week that the death penalty is unconstitutional, saying he could assume that innocent people have been executed.

Sounds good to me. I don’t disagree with the idea that there are people who deserve to be put to death, sometimes by chainsaw, but I nonetheless have a problem with the death penalty, because in the case of a mistake, there’s not a whole lot you can do to undo it. That’s on top of the other arguments against it.

Naturally, the judge is now taking flak from Texas governor Rick Perry. And the Texas AG is calling this “judicial activism”. Figures.

KS considers taxing churches

Finally, the Kansas state House is considering a bill that would raise taxes on churches. Or at least that’s what the hoopla is about. The Kansas City Star and ABC’s have articles about this, but perhaps the clearest explanation comes from the KC Star’s Prime Buzz blog:

The bill would impose the state’s 5.3 percent sales tax on power, gas and water bills. It would also remove a sales tax exemption enjoyed by churches and some particular business transactions.

Right now the state exempts 96 specific groups or types of business transactions from the state’s sales tax. Those exemptions add up to more than $4 billion. Lawmakers eager to avoid deeper cuts to schools and other state services suggested the repeal of some of these breaks to help eliminate a nearly $500 million deficit.

The [House Tax] Committee removed a provision repealing the sales tax exemption for non-profit organizations and for home repairs.

As I understand it:

• Kansas currently does not tax utilities; the bill would impose this tax on utilities, for everyone in Kansas.

• On a separate topic, there are various groups that currently don’t pay sales tax on anything. This bill would repeal a lot of these exemptions, including the one for churches and non-profits.

I’m not sure how I feel about this. I agree that nonprofits that do good for the community should be given tax breaks (and I’m willing to concede for now that churches fall into this category). But these are lean times, and these tax breaks are costing the state revenue. At the same time, lean times mean that people need charitable organizations more than ever.

Of course, I haven’t read the bill, so I don’t know the details. Maybe it maintains exemptions for nonprofits that clearly do good, like soup kitchens and homeless shelters, and raises taxes on organizations that provide only nebulous benefit like “spiritual uplift”.

BillDo on Sex Ed

Yesterday, BillDo blew a gasket over the use of the phrase “opposite-sex marriage” in the New York Times. Which is, I suppose, his function in the great circle of life.

But then he went on to say:

Here’s how it will play out in the classroom: kindergartners will be told that some adults choose same-sex marriage and some choose opposite-sex marriage. There is no moral difference—it’s just a matter of different strokes for different folks. Not mentioned, of course, will be that some male-on-male sex practices are dangerous.

This brings up some questions: how should one talk about dangerous “male-on-male sex practices” (by which I assume he means anal sex) in a manner that’ll make sense to 2- to 7-year-old children? Should teachers tell them about hetero anal sex at the same time, or wait until after nap time?

In Donohue’s mind, should children also be taught about other potentially dangerous sexual practices, such as autoerotic asphyxiation or BDSM?

Is there any conflict between this and his earlier advocacy of abstinence-only sex ed? Religious conservatives like Bill don’t generally strike me as the type of person who’d want to discuss hot man-on-man action in graphic detail with small children.

Freedom of Religion = Freedom of Bigotry, Apparently

According to
today’s Post:

Faith organizations and individuals who view homosexuality as sinful and refuse to provide services to gay people are losing a growing number of legal battles that they say are costing them their religious freedom.

The lawsuits have resulted from states and communities that have banned discrimination based on sexual orientation. Those laws have created a clash between the right to be free from discrimination and the right to freedom of religion, religious groups said, with faith losing.

(emphasis added)

The article lists a few examples, such as a photographer who refused
to photograph a commitment ceremony, and doctors at a fertility clinic
who refused to inseminate a lesbian. The only one that I think I might
have a problem with is a student group at the University of California
that was denied recognition because of its views on sex outside of
“traditional” marriage, but the article is short on specifics.

What these people are saying, as I understand it, is that practicing
their religion requires them to regard certain other people as
inferior, and to deny them the services they offer to most people. In
short, they’re feeling butthurt because the courts are stomping over
their perceived right to bigotry.

"We cater to white trade only" restaurant sign
How exactly is this different from refusing service to blacks or Jews
because one’s religion says they’re inferior?

The law doesn’t say you can’t be a bigot and a homophobe. That would
be thoughtcrime, which would be unenforceable, apart from the very
abhorrence of the notion of crimethink. The first amendment even gives
you the right to tell that world that gays or blacks or lefties or
Mets fans are inferior. What the law does say, however, is that you
can’t necessarily act on your bigotry. “Your right to swing your fist
ends where my nose begins”, and all that.

IANAL, but as I understand it, if you run a business that purports to
be open to the public, that means you can’t just arbitrarily decide
which groups you will and won’t cater to. That’s probably a gift from
the civil rights movement.

Now, historically, religious groups have gotten a fair amount of
slack, from zoning law exemptions, to tax exemption, to drug law
exemptions. But the US constitution also includes the
14th
amendment
:

All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States

The whole point of the bill of rights, the foundation of the freedoms
that we Americans rightly pride ourselves on, is the idea that America
should be a land where everyone has an equal shot at happiness, and no
one is privileged by virtue of noble birth or preferential treatment.
And that means that your freedoms stop when they prevent others from
seeking life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

And if your religion requires you keep others down, so much the worse
for your religion.

(Photo credit: Image Editor at flickr.)

Churches Dig In, Refuse to Be Dragged Into 20th Century

Today’s Washington Post has an
article
about three Christian groups who’ve come out and taken a courageous stand against equality, tolerance, and understanding:

The nation’s Roman Catholic bishops, meeting in Baltimore, declared Tuesday that Catholics who minister to gays must firmly adhere to the church’s teaching that same-sex attractions are "disordered." Catholics with "a homosexual inclination" should be encouraged to live in chastity and discouraged from making "general public announcements" about their sexual orientation, the bishops said.

The largest Baptist group in North Carolina, meanwhile, moved to expel any congregation that condones homosexuality, adopting a policy that allows the Baptist State Convention to investigate complaints that member churches are too "gay-friendly."

And on Wednesday in Pittsburgh, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), a mainline Protestant denomination with about 3 million members, will put a minister on trial for conducting a marriage ceremony for two women.

Continue reading “Churches Dig In, Refuse to Be Dragged Into 20th Century”