How atheist-friendly is Northfield? (also, religious vs. legal views on marital rights)

atheist bus President Barack Obama personally did me and other atheists a big favor in his inaugural speech this week when he said:

For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness.  We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus, and non-believers. (continued)

I’m not going to start a campaign to put signs on Northfield’s buses like they’re doing in the UK with the Atheist Bus project. But it has made me wonder (like I wondered back in May of 2007 with a How gay-friendly is Northfield? blog post): How atheist-friendly is Northfield?


  1. Anthony Pierre said:

    Northfield is pretty tolerant in everything, whether you are a republican, athiest or gay.

    January 23, 2009
  2. I’d say that the town is pretty open to atheists/agnostics. While a great deal of our social and cultural life is centered on the churches, and a lot of Northfielders are serious churchgoers, I’ve never experienced any surprise or dismay from anyone who learns I am – as Obama put it – a “non-believer.” I’d wager that this is an effect of the town’s colleges, especially the eastern one.

    January 23, 2009
  3. Tracy Davis said:

    Griff, I think the better, more pertinent question is: “How evangelical- or fundamentalist-friendly is Northfield?”

    I’ve seen more groupthink and intolerance about and toward conservative Christians than I’ve observed toward any other group in town.

    January 23, 2009
  4. Anthony Pierre said:

    Tracy, do you have any examples?

    January 23, 2009
  5. Kathy Blough said:

    My perception is that one is safer using phrases such as “non-believer” or “not religious.” The term “atheist” seems to have become synonymous with “anti-religion” to some people.

    January 23, 2009
  6. David Ludescher said:

    Anthony: I will give you an example: The “church ladies” who were praying for City government.

    January 23, 2009
  7. Jerry Friedman said:

    Kathy: I hope that “atheist” never becomes synonymous with “antitheist”. I encourage society to keep updating its terms, but not against the terms’ clear etymological roots. I am still annoyed that “decimate” changed meaning from “reduce by 1/10” to “nearly annihilate”. The “a” in “atheist” simply means “without”.

    January 23, 2009
  8. Tim Freeland said:

    Oh no you didn't. It's not a secret that Griff likes to rattle the hive. This topic is certainly volatile.

    So, to start on a light note. Here's a favorite one liner. "Did you hear about the dyslexic atheist that believe there was no dog?"

    January 24, 2009
  9. Paul Zorn said:

    David L: You cite the "church ladies" as an example of something. Could you say what they illustrate? Intolerance? Unfriendliness? Toward what?

    Everyone: Seems to me that the question of whether Northfield is atheist – or conservative Christian- or anything else-friendly depends sensitively on what "friendly" is taken to mean. If "friendliness" requires "general acceptance" then I'd say Northfield is an unfriendly place — and a good thing, too. If "friendliness" means tolerance of (or, better, respect for (or, even better, affirmation of (time to start digging out of parentheses))) difference, then I'd say we're tolerably friendly.

    Perhaps the question is ultimately unknowable, in which case we're all agnostics.

    January 24, 2009
  10. Jerry Friedman said:

    Tim: I think the joke goes, “Did you hear about the dyslexic agnostic with insomnia?” — “He stayed up all night wondering if there was a dog.”

    Paul: The question is knowable. The answer may not be. Do we *believe* we have an answer? Guiding your pun back on topic, theism relates to belief, not knowledge. Theism is an affirmative belief, atheism is everyone without the affirmative belief. Gnosticism is the affirmative knowing, agnosticism is everything else. So someone who believes there is a god but does not know is a theistic agnostic. Someone who knows there is no god is a gnostic atheist. You can mix and match the terms accordingly, but in no case does “agnostic” have anything to do with belief. I mean, if someone asks, “Do you believe in god?”, and someone answers, “I’m an agnostic,” the answer has nothing to do with the question.

    And this doesn’t begin to explain the antitheists.

    January 24, 2009
  11. john george said:

    Tracy- I agree with your perception. I think many comments last year regarding the “prayer ladies” pretty clearly defined an attitude that it is ok to believe in God but just don’t let it affect how you live or publicly display that faith. That is the antithesis of Christianity.

    Paul Z.- Which definition of tolerance/intolerance are you using here? Is it the classical one where a person chooses to live with those ideas/persons they do not agree with? Or, is it the new definition where to tolerate something is to embrace it as having equal validity with every other idea/doctrine out there? Just wondering.

    January 24, 2009
  12. Patrick Enders said:

    I thought the concern about the prayer ladies was merely one of preferential treatment. As in, “why is the administrator giving his office over to a private group for their meetings?” and, either: 1) a similar service should be available to any interested group, or 2) it should be available to none.

    Personally, I’d love to have an office to play board games in during city council meetings.

    And John, to your question, (speaking only for myself) I’m simply looking for “live and let live” tolerance. In Northfield, so far, I seem to have it.

    January 24, 2009
  13. Paul Zorn said:

    John G:

    You asked:

    Which definition of tolerance/intolerance are you using here? Is it the classical one where a person chooses to live with those ideas/persons they do not agree with? Or, is it the new definition where to tolerate something is to embrace it as having equal validity with every other idea/doctrine out there? Just wondering.

    It was Tracy, I think, who first mentioned what she sees as “intolerance” directed against conservative Christians, so perhaps her view is more at issue than mine. But, since you ask, I’d say tolerance means something like what you call the “classical” definition. Is it unclear?

    I have *no* idea from where you conjured up your “new definition”. Whose new definition? Why on earth would you think I’d advocate such a far-fetched view?

    January 24, 2009
  14. Paul Zorn said:


    Thanks for your notes on theism, gnosticism, and their a-versions. The distinction you draw between knowledge and belief is well taken, and one might wish (as I do) that public (or even academic) discourse were more precise in the matter. But, if Wikipedia is to be believed, “atheism” has been used since its invention, for better or worse, to mean either (i) an absence of belief in gods, or (ii) a belief in the nonexistence of gods.

    Here’s a different question, not necessarily for Jerry: Accepting that knowledge and belief have different linguistic meanings, does the difference actually arise in practice? Are there many people, in other words, who would say they believe in God but don’t know whether He/She/Hse/ exists?

    This if fun, but I digress. Griff’s original question was whether Northfield is friendly to atheists, and my question was about what various discussants mean by “friendly”. On this question I’m agnostic by any definition.

    January 25, 2009
  15. David Schlosser said:


    Thank you for your “Prayer Ladies” comment. It was never about what kind of religion was being discussed in the private office, and it was never even about religion, as David L. still seems to think. It was, as you state, all about the fact that they had an opportunity to gather in a private office–an opportunity that then needed to be granted to every group.
    The exact same thing would have been brought before the council if a group of atheists were given the opportunity to gather in Roder’s office.

    January 25, 2009
  16. Tom Kotula said:

    Personally I find it somewhat objectionable when atheists and agnostics are lumped together as in atheist/agnostic. It would seem to me that atheists and theists have more in common in that they are dead certain about the God issue even though they have opposing views. As an agnostic I find myself in awe of being animated matter, to feel a humble sense of gratitude of just being alive; of tasting this gift of life.

    As far as the church ladies who felt compelled to pray for city government in city hall. Wasn’t there faith strong enough to pray from a differant location? Is there some sort of quantum mechanics involved with prayer that they have to be within a certain radius of the thing that is being prayed for? If there is some sort of godhead, surely the notion filled him with cosmic laughter.

    January 25, 2009
  17. Patrick Enders said:

    I think you are painting atheists with an overly broad brush there. Perhaps your confusion lies in the multiple meanings of the word “believe,” or perhaps in the distinction between “atheist” and “antitheist,” as described by Jerry, above.

    I am essentially an atheist, but I do not claim to be certain about anything regarding “the God issue.” In short: I don’t know if there is a God or not, but when I have to make my best guess (that is, when I decide what I believe to be true based on the best evidence at hand), I say that it seems much more likely that there isn’t one.

    There your go: atheist, as well as agnostic. Why do you find that objectionable?

    January 25, 2009
  18. Tom Kotula said:

    Patrick, Not that it’s my business to go around classifying people but you would be, by my definition, an agnostic who suspects there is no god. Most of the atheists I have met seem absolutely certain of their disbelief. My concern is that I do not wished to be lumped together with people who feel they have cornered the market on TRUTH. I understand, I believe, where your coming from, for I too strongly doubt the existence of a godhead; then of course we can start another discussion about what he, she, or it is being referred to when we use the word god. No need to limit it to the traditional definitions coming out of the middle east.

    January 25, 2009
  19. David Ludescher said:

    David S. I agree that the “church ladies” issue was all about access to City property. But, there were many who tried to make it into a state/church issue.

    January 26, 2009
  20. john george said:

    Paul Z.- My “definition” of “new tolerance” is simply my own words I use to describe an attitude I perceive in various remarks made to me. It most often centers around me expressing my convictions concerning my interpretation of the Bible. When I say that I base my opinions on the “truth” of the Bible, it seems I am many times accused of being “intolerant.” I was reacting to your first question to David L. and this comment, “…If “friendliness” means tolerance of (or, better, respect for (or, even better, affirmation of…” in your 01/24/09 post. I’m glad to see you adhere to the traditional definition. I have found that the same term can mean different things to different people. That is why I asked. I’m sorry if I offended you in any way. I certainly did not mean to do so.

    Pat- If you go back and review the comments posted on LGN concerning the “prayer ladies”, there was a strong opinion being expressed by many that this was a violation of the separation clause. I agree with you and David L. that the real issue was equal access.

    January 26, 2009
  21. Griff Wigley said:

    I didn’t put a lot of thought into using the word ‘friendly’ in the title of the blog post. My thinking was just that it’s rare to hear people publicly stating their non-belief, even in private settings like parties. The more I do it, the more surprised I am at the frequency that people respond with ‘so am I!’ or some such.

    I don’t ever hear disparaging remarks made about atheists here in Northfield like I sometimes do about Christian evangelicals, so Tracy’s question is a valid one.

    But few atheists are ‘out’ about their non-belief or are the anti-theist type. I’ve wondered whether an ‘avowed atheist’ could get elected to city council, school board or other public office. Someone would likely raise the issue about them saying or not saying ‘one nation, under God’ in the Pledge of Allegiance and the candidate’s campaign would likely go down in flames.

    January 26, 2009
  22. Jerry Friedman said:

    Paul: I disfavor Wiki on controversial subjects. Its ‘neutral point of view’ policy means that its articles stay in the middle-of-the-bell curve for popularity, and the ever-elusive truth is often found on the edges.

    Using the popular and Wiki definitions, a person who is an atheist because there is no evidence of god, also called a ‘weak atheist’, is more accurately called an agnostic atheist. Compare that to a person who is an atheist who affirms there is no god, also called a ‘strong atheist’, is more accurately called a gnostic atheist.

    Theist and atheist, gnostic and agnostic, are each true dichotomies. An “agnostic” is not a third option in the “theist/atheist” dichotomy, because as you know, dichotomies only ever get two options.

    I enjoy your proposed pronoun “hse” but I recommend “zhe” which is much easier to pronounce.

    Otherwise – The legal issue of the Prayer Ladies was clearly an access issue, but more than the black letter law, having a government official give preferential treatment to a group of theists does cause a religious stink. In many professions, not only must one act ethically, but one must give the appearance of acting ethically. David L. could remind us that judges can’t give preferential treatment to lawyers (an absolute requirement), but judges are also ethically forbidden from fraternizing with lawyers because of the appearance of preferential treatment even if the judges are faithfully neutral in court. Someone in Roder’s position has the ethical responsibility to be neutral and to appear neutral. It’s fine to focus on the black letter law, but dismissing the appearance of favoritism unfairly invalidates the concerns of people who want a religion-neutral government.

    January 26, 2009
  23. Paul Zorn said:


    Thanks for the linguistic commentary. As a committed word-freak, I think we agree on the importance of using language carefully. Like you, I don’t use Wikipedia as a source of opinions on hot-button questions, like whether god(s) exist(s), or even on word-usage choices. That’s why I cited Wikipedia not as an arbiter on the correctness of usage, but to the effect that “atheism” has long been used, for better or worse, somewhat flexibly.

    (There’s an interesting discussion to be had on whether “correctness” of usage should be determined prescriptively or descriptively. I’m a heel-dragger. But now I’m risking thread drift, if not thread tsunami.)

    Griff’s question about whether an avowed atheist could get elected is a good one. I suspect it wouldn’t be much of a problem in Northfield. But how about giving it a try, Griff?

    Meanwhile, I kind of like one famous scientist’s description of himself as an “observant but non-believing” member of the C of E.

    January 27, 2009
  24. Northfield people might be tolerant, but it seems to me that many if not most people here have some kind religious affiliation. So, maybe atheists are tolerated, but it’s harder for them to find a fellow atheist to connect with?

    January 27, 2009
  25. Bruce Anderson said:

    I agree that Northfield is fairly non-believer-friendly, but I have my doubts that being a professed non-believer would have no effect on a candidate’s local electability. I don’t think there is any kind of electoral religious litmus test. It just seems that a “don’t ask, don’t tell” approach is at work.

    An interesting survey (TIME Poll: Survey on Faith and the Presidential Election By Pulsar Research & Consulting, May 10-13, 2007) found that 74% of Republicans nationwide would be less likely to support an atheist candidate; 50% of Democrats would be less likely to do so. (Atheists fared worse than Muslims in both cases.) I’m not suggesting that the numbers would be the same here in Northfield, but I am quite sure that an avowed atheist would have a harder time getting elected.

    January 27, 2009
  26. Griff Wigley said:

    Ooooh, I just discovered an atheist’s route to electability in Northfield. Just say that one is a member of NAG (Northfield Atheists Group) without defining the acronym.

    January 27, 2009
  27. kiffi summa said:

    Just an anecdote: I was told some years ago by a lady wielding a wicked grocery cart in Econofoods one day, that neither Victor nor I could ever be elected in Northfield, because “EVERYONE KNOWS YOU DON”T GO TO CHURCH”!
    Needless to say, I restrained myself, and did not throw her to the ground and put my foot on her throat….

    January 27, 2009
  28. Obie Holmen said:

    As a Northfield newcomer, I don’t have an opinion whether Northfield is friendly to atheists, and I don’t have an opinion on the related question of whether it is more or less friendly to atheists than to conservative evangelicals. If is the case that atheists rank higher on the “friendly to” scale, I suggest that is more a cultural bias than a religious one based on the perception that atheism is more intellectual than evangelicalism, which is perceived as anti-intellectual.

    January 27, 2009
  29. Jerry Friedman said:

    Griff: There’s an organization, Atheists United, who gave its volunteers shirts designed with the term “Friendly Neighborhood Atheist”. With your suggestion, does that mean you’ll produce shirts that say “Friendly NAGger”?

    I heard that years ago, atheists and gays could not get elected. Now it seems that gays can get elected. I don’t know of any atheists in public office, but I don’t keep tabs.

    Many atheists use milder terms. One atheist friend of mine calls himself an agnostic so he can get dates. It seems most women he meets don’t like atheists. Some atheists call themselves “brights” (which I think is a horrible euphemism), others call themselves “freethinkers”. So perhaps atheists seeking public office can just call themselves “Bright” or another diluted term. Of course, that brings us back to your topic, about whether an atheist in Northfield can be elected, and Kiffi’s anecdote covers my assumption.

    January 27, 2009
  30. john george said:

    Griff- In response to yout comment dated 01/26, “…My thinking was just that it’s rare to hear people publicly stating their non-belief, even in private settings like parties…”, could it be that when you don’t believe there is anything to be had, then it isn’t worth sharing or trying to “convert” someone else to have nothing? When you believe you have something worth sharing, could it be that belief would be a motivation to share or “convert” someone else to your position? Then there are the people who are secure enough in their convictions that it really doesn’t matter to them what other people believe.

    Kiffi- Thanks for the warning about the “wicked grocery cart(s)” at Econofoods. I’ll certainly be circumspect in my selection of one when I go there.

    January 27, 2009
  31. David Ludescher said:

    Griff: Re-reading Obama’s inagural speech, I think that your question about Northfield being atheist-friendly is not the kind of reaction Obama was seeking.

    Will Healy had a great article in the Saturday paper. He stated that the great motto, “e pluribus unum” (out of many, one)stresses unum, not pluribus. Whether we are Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, or non-believers, courage, honesty, virtue, hard work, and all things good, will unite us, if we let those things unite us.

    January 27, 2009
  32. Jerry Friedman said:

    John: You might be surprised to learn that a great many atheists have a great deal to give and share. Dan Barker, formerly a preacher, wrote a book about his becoming an atheist and how liberating it was. I have learned a great deal about the transition from theist to atheist by reading his book, “Losing Faith in Faith.” (My religious upbringing was pretty mild so reading Barker’s story helped me understand how religious some theists are.)

    Mark Smith, formerly a zealous member of the Church of Christ, says that his change to atheism has made him happier. He didn’t change to become happier, but because he lost faith — faith was no longer the answer to Biblical things that didn’t make sense to him. When he adopted atheism as his affirmative belief, he found that he had a lot less stress. Smith writes about the benefits of atheism in his slightly tongue-in-cheek article, “The Good News of Atheism”.

    Ruth Green was a Christian who was suffering from a grave illness. While bed-ridden, she read the Bible cover-to-cover for the first time. Then she turned atheist and wrote “The Born Again Skeptic’s Guide to the Bible.”

    Barker, Smith, Green and many former theists believe that, all other things being equal, atheism leads to a better society than theism. They would tell you that atheism can lead to very good things and very bad things, just like theism, but atheism’s historical record is better.

    January 28, 2009
  33. Jerry Friedman said:

    On electability, I found this from Sam Harris’s web site:

    “Only one of the 535 members of Congress, Representative Pete Stark, Democrat of California, publicly identifies as a nontheist, according to the Secular Coalition of America, a lobbying group based in Washington. […] As both presidential candidates ardently court religious voters, atheist support is considered so controversial that several Democrats writing on the atheist blog Petty Larseny quipped that the best way to hurt the Republicans was to form a group called Atheists for McCain.”

    January 29, 2009
  34. norman butler said:

    Though well-intentioned, it is disingenuous to characterize the prayer-ladies issue as one of equal access as opposed to the mixing of church and state. The former explanation may be how the issue legally interpreted and ‘defused’ but not how it was received and debated when it first emerged.
    There are plenty of offices in city hall to accommodate the various interest groups every other Monday night (including board games). I suppose quiet chanting could also occur in the council chamber itself (and, who knows, maybe prayers are said throughout the meetings by that person with the thousand-yard stare who always sits on the second chair from the left in the third row…(just kidding).
    Point is, all this various sincere, pious and absolutely well-meaning activity would be a bit distracting, even disconcerting, were it to occur during public policy making sessions given our Constitution.

    January 29, 2009
  35. David Ludescher said:

    Norman: I think you made my point about the prayer ladies. The legal and political issues were all about equal access. There never was a church/state issue involved.

    When it was intially received and debated, there were lots of people trying to make it into a church/state issue, or even a human rights issue. That misunderstanding could have had multiple roots, the worse being a hostility to religion in general.

    Some commentators have suggested that society has become so sanitized of any theistic beliefs that a new religion has developed. It is a religion without creed, sancity, morality, or community. It is a religion where every man develops his or her own creed and morality.

    One commentator has gone so far as to say that the Western world will not be able to institute Western ideas like democracy and liberty in Muslim countries until the Western world acknowledges that other cultures may be profoundly divine-centered, as opposed to profoundly science-centered. Only then can we enter into a dialogue about how best to serve those people.

    For example, there is a strange irony in Martin Luther King Jr. Day. The man devoted his life to God. I have a feeling that he would have been adamantly opposed to the idea that he, rather than God, should be worshipped on a “holi-day”.

    January 29, 2009
  36. Jerry Friedman said:

    Norm: There are the hard rules that gov’t must abide by and there is keeping its people happy above and beyond the rules. I think the people upset with what happened are arguing that the gov’t is not keeping its people happy, but they are using legal buzzwords to sound intimidating when the buzzwords don’t apply. This causes some confusion and it creates an easy excuse for gov’t and others to ignore the people who are upset.

    Person A: Roder violated the separation of church and state.

    Person B: Actually he didn’t, so I’m going to ignore the reason why you’re upset.

    I think that for Person A to be noticed, he or she should not use the legal buzzwords. From what I heard from the city council meeting where a lady at the open mic complained about this event, she used the buzzwords and was immediately discredited by the council from the legal perspective. Our city government should not have ignored her complaint, but because (I believe) they were not offended about what happened, they assumed the role of Person B.

    While I have great affinity for your position, I fear it’s easy for the majority of people to ignore it.

    January 29, 2009
  37. Jerry Friedman said:

    David L: I think you bend the term “worship” too far when saying that people worship MLK.

    I also recommend that you take a secular ethics class. This statement, “Some commentators have suggested that society has become so sanitized of any theistic beliefs that a new religion has developed. It is a religion without creed, sancity, morality, or community. It is a religion where every man develops his or her own creed and morality.” overlooks (1) secular ethics, and (2) how the emergence of secular ethics has brought morality to Christianity, e.g., there are no more stonings, witch burnings, inquisitions, etc., because secular society grew intolerant of these once Christian traditions.

    January 29, 2009
  38. Vicki Dennis said:

    There is also a question centering on whether freedom OF religion was intended by the framers of the Constitution to also include freedom FROM religion.

    The term I have most often (and in my opinion, most accurately) heard to describe atheists/agnostics/non-believers is “freethinkers.”

    January 30, 2009
  39. kiffi summa said:

    David L: Your statement:” It is a religion without creed, sanctity,morality or community. It is a religion where every man develops his or her own creed or morality” is so devoid of any tolerance for differing realms of thought, that for a moment I thought I was on the NFNews site, where every item devolves into irrational personal attack.

    How do you feel comfortable judging each person’s belief system?
    Is not the Catholic’s belief system different from the Presbyterians?
    How are you injured by anyone’s differing belief system, and if it does not affect you personally, how can you question its authenticity or even right to exist?

    You are sounding like a person who thinks they have a direct, personal, unassailable and verifiable line to “God”, and that you will direct what others think , believe, and that you have the right to evaluate the rightness or wrongness of the beliefs of others.

    Sorry if you find me “rude” , but I find your comments intolerant, arrogant, AND rude, BEYOND “belief”.

    January 30, 2009
  40. Jerry Friedman said:

    Vicki: I have met one Christian freethinker. That makes at least one out of two billion.

    I have met many atheists who are not freethinkers, those who don’t question authority or their own assumptions.

    January 30, 2009
  41. Patrick Enders said:

    David L,
    You wrote,

    Some commentators have suggested that society has become so sanitized of any theistic beliefs that a new religion has developed. It is a religion without creed, sancity, morality, or community. It is a religion where every man develops his or her own creed and morality.

    One commentator has gone so far as to say that…

    …For example, there is a strange irony in Martin Luther King Jr. Day. The man devoted his life to God. I have a feeling that he would have been adamantly opposed to the idea that he, rather than God, should be worshipped on a “holi-day”.

    Are these your suggestions, or just things that you seem to remember hearing someone say once?

    Whoever suggested these things doesn’t seem to have a very useful definition of “religion.”

    At the very least, a religion is commonly understood to:
    1) have a spiritual aspect, and
    2) be a collective activity.

    Your assertion that:

    It is a religion where every man develops his or her own creed and morality.

    seems to violate #2.

    This “it” of yours, whatever it is, is clearly not a religion. Why not call it “peaceful coexistence,” or even “civility”?

    (Assuming of course, that the participants in this “it” are not violating those laws required for maintaining public order, and are not causing harm to others.)

    p.s. Griff: that’s a very nice “Live Comment Preview” feature that you’ve added.

    January 30, 2009
  42. Jerry Friedman said:

    Patrick: Incidentally, Christianity is an excellent example of “a religion where every man develops his or her own creed and morality.” According to the 1994 Catholic Encyclopedia, there are in excess of 20,000 denominations of Christianity. If David believes that Christianity today is (a) unchanged from Day One, or (b) unified under common creeds and morals, he is alone in his belief.

    January 30, 2009
  43. john george said:

    Pat- Just for perspective, this is the way I differentiate “religion” from “Christianity.” To me, and those I relate to, “religion” describes mans’ attempts to please God or “work” the person’s way into heaven. We esteem this as futile, based on our interpretation of various scriptures.

    We believe Christianity, on the other hand, is defined as a relationship with God the Father through Jesus Christ (hence, “Christ”ianity). Out of this relationship, we see fruit, in a person’s life changes and behavior, as something worked by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. It is not passive but an active response to the revelation of His truth in our lives.

    Kiffi- Just my opinion on tolerance and “religions”. Both Islam and Christianity are mono-theistic religions, if you may. This being the case, they are mutually intolerant of polytheistic religions. They are also mutually intolerant of religions of other creeds, hence, each other. We both trace our origin to the same God, but through different lineages. If you use “tolerance” as a litmus test of credibility of a religion, you miss the whole point of the religion. All religions, aside from Hinduism and some other Eastern mysticisms, basically take the position that they are the only true way. Each believer has to sort this out for themselves. There are experiential evidences to support some claims, but not all. This is where faith comes in, as it is written: faith is the substance of things unseen. Therefore, I cannot say I am a follower of Jesus and a follower of Mohammad, even though they both trace their roots to the same God and father of faith, Abram, and have very similar tennets.

    January 30, 2009
  44. john george said:

    Jerry- I’m not sure your estimation of Christianity is complete. There is a difference between “developing” an individual “creed or morality” or choosing how to interpret or apply an existing “creed or morality” as presented in the Bible. The difference is subtle but important. The lie presented in Genesis 1 is that we can “become as God, determining good and evil.” The better translation of the Hebrew text here is “determining” rather than “knowing” good and evil. It is taking moral judgement into our own hands, rather than leaving it’s source with God, that we get ourselves into trouble.

    Paul F.- Just in case you are lurking, you know that I receive the Bible as the inspired word of God rather than just a collection of various men’s observations, so I am aware of the limb I am going out on in my post.

    January 30, 2009
  45. Patrick Enders said:

    The various voices on this thread seem to be using many of the same words, but to various purposes, and with very different meanings.

    Your definition of religion seems a fairly specialized one. How many people do you consider to be Christians? And what would you call all those other self-described Christians?

    Perhaps Jerry is right when he suggests that Christianity is “a religion where every man develops his or her own creed and morality.” Apparently, David L’s “it” afflicts not only the secular, but also believers.

    January 30, 2009
  46. Paul Zorn said:

    John G:

    You wrote (addressing Kiffi, who can certainly e-speak for herself, but I’d like to respond):

    Kiffi- Just my opinion on tolerance and “religions”. Both Islam and Christianity are mono-theistic religions, if you may. This being the case, they are mutually intolerant of polytheistic religions. They are also mutually intolerant of religions of other creeds, hence, each other.

    Here’s a good example of where definitions matter to clear conversation. By “tolerance” you seem to mean “agreement”. By that definition, indeed, polytheists don’t “tolerate” monotheists who don’t “tolerate” atheists and so on. But a more standard definition of “tolerance” would be something like “willingness to live amicably with difference” or just “live and let live”.

    Then you said:

    If you use “tolerance” as a litmus test of credibility of a religion, you miss the whole point of the religion.

    What you say may be correct as a general proposition, but I haven’t heard anybody using tolerance as a “litmus test of credibility of a religion”, so the point seems moot. Seems to me that a religion’s credibility or lack thereof is inherent in the religion itself, not in what its devotees do or don’t tolerate.

    [Most] religions … basically take the position that they are the only true way. [I paraphrased slightly.]

    I agree, and I think it’s just fine for people to be committed to their own religions, and — respectfully — to welcome and try to convince others to sign up (I’m a missionary kid) for one religion instead of another, just as we go freely door to door to harangue our neighbors on political subjects. But both can be done tolerantly and respectfully, and with awareness that one might be mistaken.

    January 30, 2009
  47. Patrick Enders said:

    Paul Z,
    You wrote,

    I think it’s just fine for people to be committed to their own religions, and — respectfully — to welcome and try to convince others to sign up (I’m a missionary kid) for one religion instead of another, just as we go freely door to door to harangue our neighbors on political subjects. But both can be done tolerantly and respectfully, and with awareness that one might be mistaken.

    Amen. 🙂

    January 30, 2009
  48. john george said:

    Paul Z.- In my post, I was responding to Kiffi’s remark to David L. specifically, “…Sorry if you find me “rude” , but I find your comments intolerant, arrogant, AND rude, BEYOND “belief”…” It just seemed to me that this statement was taking David to task for saying he thought his way was right. I wholeheartedly agree that we should be able to tolerate other religions. We have been doing it peacefully and without coercion in this country for a couple hundred years. This trait is not characteristic of many other cultures in the world, unfortunately, and I think we are very blessed to have this freedom. I have heard this gospel of tolerance from Kiffi many times before in her posts, so I felt I could address it here. Perhaps I have judged her wrongly, so I am open to her response. Your comment, “…Seems to me that a religion’s credibility or lack thereof is inherent in the religion itself, not in what its devotees do or don’t tolerate…” is exactly what I believe, also. I echo Pat’s “Amen!” 🙂

    January 30, 2009
  49. john george said:

    Pat- To answer your questions, “…Your definition of religion seems a fairly specialized one. How many people do you consider to be Christians? And what would you call all those other self-described Christians?…”, fortunately, this is not my responsibility. There is a scripture, which I can only paraphrase here, in which Jesus is telling His disciples, “…many will come to me in that day and say, ‘Lord! Lord!’, but I will say to them, ‘Depart from me you lawless ones (workers of iniquity), for I never knew you.'” There is another scripture in which He says that His sheep know his voice. This speaks of relationship, in my understanding, and that is how I try to apply it in my own life, and how I counsel others. He also says that we will “know them by their fruits,” so it appears there is some responsibility on our part to act according to His direction. We will each give acount for our own deeds. Hope you don’t feel I sidestepped your questions, but we can go into greater depth over coffee.

    January 30, 2009
  50. Jerry Friedman said:

    John: Not only do different monotheistic religions oppose each other, don’t forget that they oppose themselves. The Catholics and Protestants have a bloody history, as do the Shi’ites and Sunnis.

    On knowing vs. determining good and evil, it sounds like you’re saying that all secular laws with a counterpart in the Bible are just, and all secular laws not in the Bible are either not just or perhaps anti-god. Is that correct? (I don’t mean contractual or regulatory laws, but moral laws, like the law against murder.)

    Because I try to be sensitive to definitions, in this sentence, “The better translation of the Hebrew text here is” do you mean “translation” or “interpretation”?

    January 30, 2009
  51. john george said:

    Jerry- I am meaning translation, here. As you know, there are many words in other languages that do not clearly translate well into English, and vice versa. It is difficult enough to deal with the English language and how words are defined in a particular context. That is the case here. I should say that “determining” seems to be a closer translation than “knowing”, given the context. But neither word is 100%. My Hispanic son-in-law has this problem all the time. There are some Spanish words that do not translate clearly into English and vice versa. So, a person has to do the best he can to communicate the particular concept given a particular setting.

    As far as the just/unjust concept, I’m not sure this can be completely black and white, much as I might like it to be. I can only take one example here, as whole books have been written on this subject. Take for example abortion. There is a commandment, thou shalt not murder, and a description of children as an inheritance of the Lord (Ps. 127). We have determined, through our laws, that if a baby is murdered in its mother’s womb by an assailant, the assailant can be charged with murder or manslaughter. If the mother chooses to abort this baby in the first 23 weeks, it is no longer considered a baby but a fetus. The “procedure” is legal because the woman has a “right” to her own reproductive life. The abortion relieves society of pressure to raise the child and there are more resources available for the rest of the population. I think this exemplifies what Isaiah wrote when he said that we “call evil good and good evil.” I know this is a volatile subject, and I don’t want to stir up a whole discussion on it, but it gets my point across in a short paragraph. 🙂

    As far as monotheistic religions opposing each other, I think we need to be honest that much of the blood has been spilled by radical extremist factions that don’t really represent the religion as a whole nor their founders. I have found no justification in the New Testament for the many “religious wars” that have been fought since the birth of Christ. In fact, Paul writes that it is better for us to be wronged by a brother than to go to court against him. The concept of forgiveness and reconciliation goes against human nature, but it is this ministry we believers have been commissioned to do.

    January 30, 2009
  52. Jerry Friedman said:

    John: OK, so we’re talking translation and not interpretation. What is your background for discerning Hebrew translation, and for that matter Greek translation? Could you translate — not interpret — Luke 14:26?

    Regarding the just/unjust paragraph, might I conclude that you believe laws written in the Bible are more important than laws written by legislatures? (I’ll skip over specifics of abortion, as it’s tangential to our conversation.)

    How do you determine which of Christianity’s 20,000 denominations are “radical extremist factions”? What is the test to determine which is radical extremist? For example, the following atrocities were committed by people who believed their translation of scripture was authentic. I am assuming that you’d consider some or all of them as radical extremists, but wouldn’t they consider you the radical extremist? I mean, how could an impartial observer tell whether the Roman Catholic Church is the better authority on scripture or if John George from Northfield is?

    From various references, I have discovered that 14 million people have died in the Thirty Years War; millions more in later religious wars including North Ireland; an unknown number in the eight Crusades; an unknown number in the three Inquisitions; millions of women were killed in witch hunts; six million Jews died under Hitler’s ambition to finish Christ’s work; an unknown number of blacks died from the Christian idea that they were an inferior, fungible race, that they were savages who needed to be converted or killed; an unknown number of native Americans (incl. Incas, Aztecs and Mayans) died for the same reason.

    With the above in mind, who are you referring to when you wrote, “much of the blood has been spilled by radical extremist factions”? Which factions are your referring to?

    January 31, 2009
  53. kiffi summa said:

    To tolerate is “to endure without repugnance” (Random House Dict.)
    Tolerance is “a liberal spirit toward opinions and practices that differ from ones own”. (Random House again)
    Those are good enough for me……

    Abortion should not be a religious concept, or precept; it is a medical procedure (unfortunately sometimes a quasi-medical procedure)

    I wish, John, that you could allow me to hold that view, with both a “liberal spirit” from you, as well as a lack of “repugnance”.

    January 31, 2009
  54. john george said:

    Kiffi- I have no problem with you holding your view. I would only appreciate the same “tolerance” from you. I have not always percieved that in past discussions with you, but perhaps my perceptions are incorrect. I would really like to set down over a cup od coffee with you sometime.

    Jerry- If it really matters, which I don’t think it does, I have had seminary studies in Greek. I’m a little rusty, as I do not regularly read the Greek texts. My understanding of the Hebrew texts I get from various sources, one of which is Dr. Michael Wies from Northwestern College. He is one of two of the world’s highest authorities on the Dead Sea scrolls. I was with him in the scroll museum in Jerusalem and stood next to him as he read directly from the copies displayed there. I don’t think can or I have to know everything about all these texts. I just need know a few people who know a lot more than I, and I trust them because of the integrity of their lives.

    As far as your listing of the various atrocities above, there have been many more over the ages. As I look at these, I have a hard time, as I stated, reconciling any of these against my understanding of the scriptures. Zeal is not necessarily a defense of actions. As I said, we will all give acount for our deeds.

    As far as your statement, “…I mean, how could an impartial observer tell whether the Roman Catholic Church is the better authority on scripture or if John George from Northfield is?…”, how do we determine an impartial observer? We all have our perceptions tainted by our past experiences. I will go back to the concept, you will know them by their fruits. If you don’t think I am fruitful or my life lines up with what I say about the scriptures (hypocracy), then don’t pay any attention to me. If I exhibit any reality in my life, then at least give some consideration to what I say and how I live. From there, you neeed to be responsible to God, not me or anyone else.

    January 31, 2009
  55. Jerry Friedman said:

    John: Count me in for coffee.

    From my previous post, I am still hoping for your translation of Luke 14:26, which fortunately was written in Greek.

    From my previous post, “Regarding the just/unjust paragraph, might I conclude that you believe laws written in the Bible are more important than laws written by legislatures?”

    The Hebrew “authorities” I have consulted and read from over the years unanimously agree that the commandment against “murder” applies only to post-birth, not pre-birth. In my opinion, their language and cultural understanding of ancient Hebrews makes them authorities on ancient Jewish texts. How can the authority you trust and the authority I trust disagree with a single word? Isn’t it necessarily true that at least one of our authorities is “interpreting” and not “translating” — and if so, which one? How does anyone who does not understand the context of the original writings decide which translation or interpretation is faithful to the writers’ intention?

    This explains to me why there are 20,000 denominations. Did you know, again according to the 1994 Catholic Encyclopedia, that there are 3000 English versions of the Bible, each claiming to be the most accurate? Nonchristians must have a puzzling time deciding which denomination to join, and Christians must be keenly confident to claim that the other 19,999 denominations and 2999 translations are wrong.

    I am inclined to agree with you, that judging someone by their fruits is an intuitive and useful approach to judging their character. What then should I think when the fruits of Christianity are the mass killings and oppression that I previously posted? If I don’t judge Christianity by the text, but by its fruits, not by its words, but by its consequences, what am I to think?

    January 31, 2009
  56. john george said:

    Jerry- I realized I didn’t answer your question, “…Regarding the just/unjust paragraph, might I conclude that you believe laws written in the Bible are more important than laws written by legislatures?…” I will answer this with another question, should we obey God or man? I don’t know of any laws we have right now that would force me to disobey God by adhering to them, but I suppose it could be possible. I would use Daniel as an example.

    January 31, 2009
  57. David Ludescher said:

    My sense of Obama’s statement quoted by Griff is that Obama was not only acknowledging the existence of non-believers and other “faiths”, but calling them and all other religions “belief systems” to recognize what strengths they bring to America.

    In that sense, atheists have much to offer America (and Northfield), including assuring that particular religions don’t become “established”. But, Vicki is also right to suggest that society should never try to be free FROM all belief systems.

    My example is the Iraqi invasion. Pope John Paul II announced in no uncertain terms that the invasion did not even come close to meeting the Catholic doctrine of a just war. My guess is that his position was supported by the majority of atheists, probably for the same reasons. The Pope’s prophecy quickly proved true. But, little mention has been made of the unity of those beliefs.

    January 31, 2009
  58. Paul Zorn said:


    Interesting discussion about how one evaluates religions. You wrote:

    I am inclined to agree with you, that judging someone by their fruits is an intuitive and useful approach to judging their character. What then should I think when the fruits of Christianity are the mass killings and oppression that I previously posted? …

    Nobody’s here to defend mass killings and oppression, and I agree that the historical bottom line on pros and cons of any religion — or of religion in general — is an interesting question.

    But I think the matter is a good deal more complicated than the discussion so far has suggested. Can one really judge confidently that a given event is a “fruit” of, say, Christianity, or Islam, or atheism?

    That Hitler was “working to finish Christ’s work”, for instance, seems to me a highly novel historical analysis. More conventional, I think, is the idea that Hitler and the Nazi ideology were godless, and hence a strike against atheism. (For the record, I don’t buy either argument … both seem simplistic to me.)

    Another problem with any balance sheet approach—good works in one column, bad works in the other—to (say) Christianity stems from the fact you cited about religions coming in a lot of different denominations/strains/substrains/etc. If an ELCA member robs a bank, for instant, does it count against Catholics? Against the Lutheran Church — Missouri Synod? And is some tiny fraction of the guilt charged to the Unitarian account? The accounting problems boggle the mind.

    January 31, 2009
  59. Rob Hardy said:

    Does someone need a translation from Greek? I haven’t been following this discussion, but I happen to have a Ph.D. in classical languages, so here goes:

    “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother and wife and child and brothers and sisters and, furthermore, his own life, he is not able to be my pupil” (Luke 14:26).

    Translated from the Greek text (United Bible Societies, 1983).

    Any questions?

    January 31, 2009
  60. john george said:

    Rob- Thanks for the contribution. It just demonstrates my point that we need one another. Paul writes of this concept in his letter to the Corinthians, describing the church as the “body” of Christ. Now, how do we interpret “misei”. This could lead to volumes of debate, which I’m not sure are appropriate in this context.

    Jerry- Give me a call when you can get together for coffee. I’m usually around Mondays & Tuesdays. My profession does not allow my schedule to line up with anyone else’s it seems.

    January 31, 2009
  61. kiffi summa said:

    John: Without meaning to be rude, count me OUT for coffee! When someone says to me as you have in the past, that you will disagree with me on everything and I should just “get over it”……. I am not inclined to waste any of my remaining moments on this earth socializing with that POV.
    You and Jerry can argue/discuss until all the ‘contented cows’ come home.

    Again, I do not mean to be rude; just honest. Sorry.

    January 31, 2009
  62. Jerry Friedman said:

    John: You ask, “[S]hould we obey God or man?” This prompts at least this question, “How does one know what god wants?” That is the focus of our main discussion on translation and interpretation. Thus far, you use translation to deduce abortion is wrong, and you use interpretation to induce that Yeshua (often mistranslated as Jesus) does not really want his followers to hate their families despite his saying so. Can you understand why people like me are unnerved when others decide which terms to translate and which terms to interpret? How do you decide which terms god wants you to translate and which to interpret?

    If there are no secular laws that you disagree with, are there any Biblical? For example, “God commanded, saying, Honor thy father and mother: and, He that curseth father or mother, let him die the death.” [Mt.15:4]

    David: We agree that theists and atheists can have common goals.

    Paul: I take your question to heart, “Can one really judge confidently that a given event is a ‘fruit’ of, say, Christianity, or Islam, or atheism?”

    Admittedly there is no authority on this. For example, if Catholics proudly burn witches, can the Mormons confidently say that the Catholics are not true Christians, and if the Mormons practice polygamy, can the Catholics criticize their brand of Christianity? There is no universal way to determine exactly what is Christian behavior. Does that mean that Christianity is immune from criticism because we can say that radical extremists — who aren’t true Christians — are doing the bad thing? No. The fruit of Christianity includes everything that naturally flows from it. Even Yeshua said that he speaks in parables so people won’t understand him. [Mt. 13:10-15] Yeshua must have known what confusion would follow his parables. So we are left to judge based on the fruits, and the fruits aren’t good. Ask the Tasmanians why.

    As a classic example, it’s hard for some to say whether Christianity can be blamed for institutionalizing race-based slavery. It was the Portuguese Catholics who started it. Was it a Christian thing? Was it a Catholic thing? Was it a Portuguese thing? Or was it something different. My approach to answering this is determining whether Yeshua endorsed slavery, which he did, therefore I am forced to blame Christianity. Had Yeshusa specifically condemned slavery, one of the greatest crimes against humanity may not have happened. Compare this to the molestation of boys by some Catholic priests: I don’t blame Christians or Catholics because there is no source for such behavior in the Bible. There is ample source for slavery.

    Hitler’s intention on finishing Yeshua’s work was not novel last century, but I have heard many Christians state that Hitler was an atheist. You will find his position in Mein Kampf: “Therefore, I am convinced that I am acting as the agent of our Creator. By fighting off the Jews, I am doing the Lord’s work.” Hitler said it again at a Nazi Christmas celebration in 1926: “Christ was the greatest early fighter in the battle against the world enemy, the Jews … The work that Christ started but could not finish, I — Adolf Hitler — will conclude.” In a Reichstag speech in 1938, Hitler again echoed the religious origins of his crusade. “I believe today that I am acting in the sense of the Almighty Creator. By warding off the Jews, I am fighting for the Lord’s work.”

    January 31, 2009
  63. David Ludescher said:


    Can you provide one example of the teachings of Jesus with which you disagree?

    If you can’t, isn’t the problem of religion a human problem rather than a theological ambiguity?

    January 31, 2009
  64. Jerry Friedman said:

    David: I posted a few immediately above your question. I find good and bad in what Yeshua purportedly said. The bad includes endorsement of slavery, hatred of family, intolerance of those who won’t listen to or believe in him, intolerance against gays, intolerance of non-Christians, no objections to the cruelties of the Old Testament, use of innocents for sacrifice, and many more things in Revelations.

    January 31, 2009
  65. David Ludescher said:

    Jerry: Modern Biblical exegesis does not support your analysis. In every one of the areas that you cite, the Jewish or Christian perspective was more compassionate than the prevailing societal view of the time.

    Judging Jews or Christians of 2 or 3,000 years ago by the standards of today is like judging atheists by the actions of Attilla the Hun. Further, judging modern Christian principles by the institutions, rather than the person of Jesus is also an error of judgment.

    Most modern criticisms against Christianity are lacking in merit. It is as G.K. Chesterton noted, “It is not that Christianity has been tried, and been found to be wanting, it is that it has never been tried.”

    As much as I wasn’t an Obama fan, he did an excellent job of conveying where there is an intersection of religion and politics. We are a patchwork nation. Yet, we all believe in courage, honesty, hard work, respect and integrity; we believe in our common humanity.

    The Bible, Torah, Koran and other sacred writings are not books written by ignorant men and women to suppress the people. Rather, they are the histories of the people who have lived and died before us, and have been selected for the truths that they contain.

    In my opinion, society suffers when this knowledge and information is not part of the public discussion. Where else can we receive our instruction on the meaning of human dignity, the sancity of life, unalienable rights, charity, and morality?

    January 31, 2009
  66. Rob Hardy said:

    David, I like the Chesterton quotation. I think it’s essentially right. Christianity, like the ideals of America’s founding documents, represents an ideal that we try to live up to, without ever yet perfectly succeeding. You also say: “Judging Jews or Christians of 2[,000] or 3,000 years ago by the standards of today is like judging atheists by the actions of Attila the Hun.” This implies that you recognize that the sacred texts are creations of a specific historical context, and that conditions change, and that what we might call “truth” also changes. Might not the Biblical injunctions against homosexuality, for example, be cultural artifacts, rather than expressions of a timeless truth?

    Meanwhile, I am not ready to call myself an atheist. I’m just someone whose spiritual needs are not currently met by institutional religion. If you want a full statement, check out my last sermon at the UCC, “In The Dark”.

    January 31, 2009
  67. john george said:

    Jerry- I don’t quite understand your differentiation between translation and interpretation. It seems to me that any language can be translated into another language, but either language can be interpreted by anyone who understands the particular language. What are you refering to here? Is it the particular contextual meanings of words? Just wondering.

    Rob- Regarding the hot-button of homosexuality, in my searching of the scriptures, I have not found any reference that says it is a lifestyle that is acceptable to God. I see no difference between this or drunkeness or murder or gluttony or gossip. They are all sins which, according to my understanding of scripture, separate us from fellowship with God. Just as these other sins have not been changed in acceptability with the passing of history, I don’t see how homosexuality would somehow change in acceptqability, either. I was born a sinner, but there is a new nature being produced in me that has its source in God, not my own exertions. This new nature grows in proportion to how much I die to my old nature. There is hope for everyone who believes.

    January 31, 2009
  68. Rob Hardy said:

    John, What if, contrary to the understanding of the ancients, homosexuality is not a “lifestyle,” but part of a person’s essence, created by God, a gift of God that it would be wrong to deny. The Bible is full of marvelous things, but I am not willing to let it invalidate lives lived faithfully and well. I will not let a few verses of St. Paul on a bad day trump the living faithfulness and goodness of people who have accepted themselves as God has made them.

    January 31, 2009
  69. Griff Wigley said:

    Just a moderator’s alert: I’d like to keep this comment thread focused on atheism. Only include homosexuality if doing so helps make a point about atheism.

    February 1, 2009
  70. kiffi summa said:

    Griff : what about Tracy’s initial question , in which she asks about attitudes toward evangelicals or fundamentalists?
    Is that part of this discussion?

    February 1, 2009
  71. Rob Hardy said:

    Here’s a point, Griff. It is often claimed that religion, and Christianity in particular, is the only solid basis for moral behavior. Or as David L. says, “Where else can we receive our instruction on the meaning of human dignity, the sanctity of life, unalienable rights, charity, and morality?” My point is that it is also the basis for much intolerance and unwarranted hatred. Perhaps for sociobiological and evolutionary reasons (this is speculation on my part), humans have some innate goodness and some innate fear and hatred of others unlike themselves. To impute all of this to something divine is perhaps more harmful than helpful. Why not just look for the good in others without looking for reasons to damn them?

    As I said, I’m not willing to say I’m an atheist, but I’m also can’t accept a God who created people only to damn them. I’m more inclined to think that “God” is something that happens when we rise above our prejudices, when we manage to live together more fully and graciously, when we are true to ourselves and faithful to each other.

    February 1, 2009
  72. David Ludescher said:

    Rob: The flip side of Christianity has many wonderful things to offer to the political discussion. The problem is that it generally gets ignored, or worse, misconstrued in an effort discredit the entire institution.

    As an example, Griff had a post telling the ELCA to wake up and smell the coffee on the issue of homosexuality. Turns out, Griff hadn’t read the document; he was relying on the AP’s version (the reporter probably didn’t read the document either). When called to task, Griff admitted his error. We never did have the discussion about the document, and struggle the ELCA has had balancing the prohibition against homosexuality with preserving the human dignity of the person.

    In that case, we have a church struggling to grapple with the issue, but no one on the other side willing to enter the discussion on neutral terms.

    February 1, 2009
  73. Jerry Friedman said:

    As a threshold issue, Christians often stymie me when they do not acknowledge the difficulties of the Bible. This relates to how atheist-friendly is Northfield because I find that Christians try to explain away apparent problems rather than acknowledge them. The appearance is that every Christian knows how to interpret the secret code of the New Testament, and anyone who does not understand the secret code is defective. I’d rather see Christians acknowledge the apparent problems of Yeshua’s commands of hating one’s family, etc., and then explain (as David has started) why what was written many generations ago was relevant then and irrelevant today.

    David: You state, “Modern Biblical exegesis does not support your analysis.” Whose modern Biblical exegesis are you referring to? Most recently I read Christian scholar Bart Ehrman’s “Misquoting Jesus” which has amplified my point-of-view.

    How do you overcome the inspired (i.e., infallible) verses and the immutable god who dictated them? I thought that the Bible’s fans claim it was perfect when it was first written and it is perfect today.

    I join Rob’s perspective, that if one believes that the Bible was written for people of that era, that is if it was written to be of superior moral character than prevailing views of that time, then the Bible needs to undergo substantial updating to be wholly relevant today. In the past 2000 years, the Bible has been repeatedly and popularly used to subjugate women, non-whites and non-Christians. Someone needs to fix its misanthropic verses.

    I am unaware that Attila the Hun was an atheist. Please cite.

    I am delighted at your perspective, that the Bible, etc., contain the truths of their societies’ eras. Even if I embrace your perspective, the Bible, etc., also contains vast superstitions, ignorances and cruelties. Where some Christians dilute Biblical ethics with secular ethics, such as equality of the sexes, too many Christians do not.

    You ask, “Where else can we receive our instruction on the meaning of human dignity, the sanctity of life, unalienable rights, charity, and morality?”, again, I recommend that you take a class in secular ethics. There is more than one source for discovering right from wrong. As Rob cites, the origins of ethics is in sociobiology. Why do mothers of all social species care for their young? Even ants and bees. It’s not because of the Bible, but because of biology. Biology created the social nature of humans, and to succeed as social animals, humans developed through biology and custom a framework of ethics. Now we have express (legislative) and implied (biological) ethics. We can use express ethics of Christians, secularists, mix and match, etc. There is no reason to believe that if we abandon one set of express ethics that we will be without morality. Implied ethics are always with us, and they will always compel humans to develop express ethics.

    John: I am looking for a means to determine which passages to translate and which to interpret. You take the Hebrew translation of “do not murder” and use it to mean “do not murder unborn babies.” You take the Greek translation of “hate your family” and interpret it to mean something entirely different. I don’t understand on what basis you take “murder” to mean “murder”, and “hate” to mean something different than “hate”. If then you add context, whose context do you add? My fear is that every person who reads the Bible will add whatever context they want in order to make the Bible say what they want it to say, i.e., 20,000 denominations, rather than what the authors intended it to say, i.e., 1 denomination.

    February 1, 2009
  74. Paul Zorn said:


    Interesting stuff about Hitler’s public invocation of Christianity and Christian language … I hadn’t known.

    But Hitler’s private religious views seem (thanks, Wikipedia … granted not always an unimpeachable source …) to have been complicated, to say the least. And Nazism as a whole seems to have involved a rich stew of religious and anti-religious elements. The bottom line for me is that the Nazi project was not fundamentally Christian, and so isn’t usefully chalked up on the ledger as a strike against Christianity. Nor do I see Nazism as simply a “fruit” of paganism, or to rationalism, or to atheism, or to any other religious-like stance. Such isms are always the part of the background to any conflict, and might be adduced pro or con by adversaries on both sides.

    IMO, religion(s) and religious zeal are immensely powerful forces and so can and do play big roles, for better or worse, in public life. I just don’t see a clear call here as regards WWII.

    February 1, 2009
  75. Jerry Friedman said:


    You wrote,

    Hitler’s private religious views seem to have been complicated, to say the least.

    Hitler was a Roman Catholic. “I am now as before a Catholic and will always remain so.” -Hitler. Adolf Hitler, John Toland, New York: Anchor Publishing, 1992, p. 507.

    It doesn’t matter much to me what any tyrant’s religion is unless the tyrant’s religion is part of what made the tyrant. Did Hitler hate Jews, and did he use Christianity to spread his hatred? Did Hitler consider Jews evil because of Jewish/Christian history? I can’t say definitively.

    I originally referenced Hitler when I listed several mass murders done in the name of Christianity. I might be wrong: I must admit that it’s possible that Hitler would have rallied the Nazis against Jews if Hitler himself was a Jew, was Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, or an atheist. We’ll never know.

    As we’ve discussed earlier, I don’t know how easy we can separate the religion from its fruit. However, if time and time again, a “good” religion is the clarion call to commit gross atrocities, the religion is at least suspect of having a problem. After examining the hatred and intolerance written into the Old and New Testaments, I find ample material for Hitler’s hatred and intolerance. Hitler was not an example of ‘Bible interpretation gone wrong.’ If the other mass murders I cited never happened, we could write Hitler off as a Jim Jones kook. I regret that there are too many examples to do so, including Jim Jones. The KKK uses Biblical passages to justify their brand of hatred. How many more examples of bad fruit do we need before wanting a comprehensive overhaul of the religion? And why do Christians not understand non-Christians’ criticisms of Christianity when we look at the fruit Christians have brought in the name of their religion?

    Elizabeth Cady Stanton tried to edit the misogyny out of the Bible. Thomas Jefferson also undertook editing hate out of the Bible. Sadly, I have never heard of anyone using “The Women’s Bible” or “Jefferson’s Bible.” Imagine the world if either were successful.

    February 1, 2009
  76. john george said:

    Rob- Sorry for so long to get back to you. I had to work today. As far as homosexuality being an “essence” of a person, I believe this is true, and they are born that way. That essence, like the other sins I noted, is characteristic of what I and many I relate to term the fallen nature. The way you attribute God’s “creation” of each individual suggests a perspective that God is somewhere with various cookie cutters for humans, stamping out the various types at conception. It continues, then, that there is no hope for however you happened to be stamped out. If your “cutter” happened to be athist, then there would be no hope for change. What a fatalistic view.

    I don’t agree with this perspective. What I believe is that at creation, the reproductive process was spoken into existence and, like gravity, has continued unchanged ever since. With the advent of sin into the original creation, all the natural processes that were put into motion have been corrupted. That is why we Christians believe we must be redeemed, and that there is nothing we can do in our own strength to reverse this corruption. Just because we believe, we are not automatically made immune to sin, but we must recognize (confess) it in our own lives and turn from it (repent). God is not some puppeteer pulling our strings from somwhere in the heavens. There is hope in Christianity.

    Jerry- I think I understand, now, what you are responding to. In my earlier post, I said that our problem is how we interpret mesai. The translation is clear, and the original usage is clear. What you, and many others I have talked to, seem to get hung up on is what you call “inconsistencies” of the Bible. I respond to that in this way. God is a Spirit, not having physical attributes or limitaions. This being the case, we are left pretty ill-equiped to try to figure Him out. I have only come to understanding some (by no means, all) of the seeming inconsistencies through revelation by His Holy Spirit. And, because these have been shown to me, and not me only, but attested to and confirmed in many others, (something like peer review) I have no problem waiting for the understanding to come of those things that still confound me. I guess you might call it faith.

    Also, regarding your comment about equality of the sexes, inequality of the sexes is a cultural influence that actually carries over from paganism and sexual worship and bondage. When you search the teachings of the New Testament, you will find quite a bit of support for and demonstration of equality between men and women. Notwithstanding some of Paul’s writings, it is a Christian doctrine. I won’t go into the whole exegesis here.

    February 1, 2009
  77. john george said:

    Griff- I want to express my opinion on the church’s response to athiests. I really feel we have done a bad job of demonstrating the Love of God to anyone we feel disagrees with us, be it athiest or Muslim or Hindu or anamist, or whatever. I in no way want to present this as a blanket condemnation of every believer, for many do not live this way, but I think there are grounds for accusation that we haven’t done a very good job. Jesus did not separate himself from those who disagreed with or simply didn’t understand Him. He even put up with the hypocritical Pharases, althought He did not refrain from confronting them. Of course, they were misrepresenting the Kingdom of God, of which He is the King, so He probably let them off pretty easy. Jesus comands us to love our enemies and bless those who despitefully use us. I think it good that all of us who profess to follow Christ hold ourselves up to this mirror.

    February 1, 2009
  78. Jerry Friedman said:

    Paul: I found a page on Harvard professor Steven Jay Gould’s unofficial web site ( with several of Hitler’s quotes. Some I have already listed above, others are very revealing. Gould also lists some authors and other writers who have researched his religious views. From his site:

    “Was Hitler an atheist as some Christians say he was? Hitler’s own words make this claim rather dubious. Scholars are still unsure whether or not Adolf Hitler was a believing Christian or just a politically cunning theist, but what is certain however is there is no evidence he was an atheist. This page documents some of his religious views, as he personally described them. Articles which examine the evidence in further detail can be found at the bottom of the page.”

    February 1, 2009
  79. Jerry Friedman said:

    John: I like you because I think you’d be a “good” person regardless of your religion. I mean that if you were a Buddhist, Muslim, Zoroastrian, or even an atheist, that you would find the very best in your religion’s writings. I think I am the same. Whatever religion I might find comfort in, I’d be a “good” person.

    For almost one year, I participated in a philosophy professor’s extra-curricular theology discussions. Prof. Russ M. was a Christian and the discussions were mostly attended by Christians. We talked about a great diversity of Biblical things and no subject was taboo. I was always impressed by Russ’s warmth. My parents divorced when I was two. My father figure, Bob, is another devout Christian with a benevolent heart. I think that Christianity’s historical record would be a lot cleaner if the world’s Christians lived to your, Russ’s, and Bob’s standards.

    I see goodness in Christians. I hope that you understand that. It’s the badness in Christians that frightens me. I hope you understand that too.

    February 1, 2009
  80. Obie Holmen said:

    This has been a very interesting thread with many insightful comments. However, I find the apologia and generalizations at both extremes (Christian and atheist) to be unconvincing.

    May I suggest that all religion is false because all religion is a human construct, an attempt to define, quantify, and regulate that which is inherently other. According to rabbi Abraham Heschel, All conceptualization is symbolization, an act of accommodation of reality to the human mind. Rudolph Bultmann adds, Myths speak about gods and demons as powers on which man knows himself to be dependent, powers whose favors he needs, powers whose wrath he fears. Myths express the knowledge that man is not master of the world and his life, that the world within which he lives is full of riddles and mysteries and that human life also is full of riddles and mysteries … It may be said that myths give to the transcendent reality an immanent, this-worldly objectivity.

    While all religion may be false, it doesn’t necessarily follow that there is no other. I think it is equally false for the Christian apologist to accept the myths without question and for the atheist to deny the other simply because the myths are not literally true. While we humans may be capable of wonder and awe, hope and doubt, we are not able to know.

    February 2, 2009
  81. john george said:

    Jerry- It’s the badness in anyone that frightens me, also, and I don’t think it is necessarily driven by their particular creed. In fact, my own badness frightens me now and then.

    Obie- I agree with your comment, “…I think it is equally false for the Christian apologist to accept the myths without question…” In fact, I would go one step further and say it is dangerous to accept myths without question. A naive person can get into a lot of trouble this way. I think it interesting that the invitation from God is, “Come, let us reason together…” (Isa. 1:18). We have an intellect and reasoning capabilities for a reason.

    February 2, 2009
  82. Jerry Friedman said:

    David: I have not been able to find a certain religion of the Huns, largely because everyone who claims to know about the Huns say that no one is certain.

    If you aren’t familiar with the story of Attila, he claimed to have found a magical sword (thereafter called the Sword of Attila) that made him unbeatable in battle. I can’t think of any atheists who would claim to have found a magical sword.

    I did find this passage. There are many like it all over Google:

    Although very little is known about the religion of the Huns it is safe to assume that it was closely related to that of the Turkish and Mongolian peoples of central Asia, they almost certainly used shamans and some sources mention that they also used female fortunetellers who predicted the future by looking at the entrails of animals, animism (the belief in spirits and life-containing objects in nature) was probably also a part of their religion.
    The Huns believed that they were the descendants of a wolf, this belief is of Turkish origin and is based on a legend about a boy who was saved by a she-wolf, this wolf raised the boy as her own and she also got pregnant of him, one day the humans found them and killed the boy, the wolf managed to escape and gave birth to 10 children, who were the ancestors of the Turkish peoples.

    So you might want to update your atheist references, and strike Attila from the list.

    Obie: I appreciate your moderation. If god can be described, people can divide themselves as believers of that particular god (theists) or nonbelievers (atheists). If your claim is that other has no description and might or might not exist, then of course I must admit that other is possible, but I’d also add that other is irrelevant. What is relevant are the descriptions of god that we have in ancient and modern writings. These are the writings that we’re debating. I have no problem admitting what I don’t know. I don’t know about other. I also have no problem admitting what I do know. Christianity has a frightening history. I am glad that I’m not Tasmanian.

    John: Do you think that if you were of another religion, that you’d be a “bad” person?

    February 2, 2009
  83. David Ludescher said:

    Obie: Could you describe the middle ground? Where does that middle ground lie where we can, in Obama’s words, make our patchwork a strength rather than a weakness?

    It seems to me that our America’s current approach to “tolerance” is wholly inadequate to make the patchwork a strength. It has resulted in undifferentiated pluralism rather than differentiated unity.

    February 2, 2009
  84. john george said:

    Jerry- Ah, a semantic differentiation. I do not believe that a person is “bad”, if I’m understanding you correctly, but people can do “bad things.” To say a person is “bad’ is to ascribe some moral definition upon their personhood aside from their actions. I really don’t like to use the term bad, (and I don’t remember using it in my posts. If I did, I did so in error.) as I feel it has a subjective nature that makes it difficult to come to agreement about its meaning or application. Each person has the capacity to do “good” or “bad” deeds, depending on their training and motivation. I prefer terms such as disobedience, as I believe it is more behavior specific. I think you are fishing around for my take on what we call the “sin nature”, although I am not completely sure. Am I getting warm? If that is the case, then I would have to approach it from a theological point of how we can please God. If that were possible in our own strength, then there would have been no need for Christ’s death and resurection. But since one of the foundational tennets of Christianity, the inherited fallen nature prevelant in every person and the need of redemption to be restored in our relationship with God, then we enter into an area that requires believing this to be true. This is a choice we must make for ourselves. It cannot be forced upon someone against their will, and, I can tell you from experience, it cannot be figured out with some sort of balance sheet approach. Since atheism denies the existence of God, then this is something that is not even on their radar as a concern. It is unfortunate that there has been so much animosity generated between the two in the past that it is really difficult to even discuss the subject.

    February 2, 2009
  85. Jerry Friedman said:

    John: That’s why I put “good” and “bad” in quotes, because whether a person is good or bad per se is a much more complicated discussion. I used quotes to skip that discussion.

    So do you surmise that if you were born from the same parents but raised by others, and the parents who raised you were of a non-Christian religion (theistic or atheistic), would you generally be inclined to do good things? Here, classic Buddhism would be an excellent sample religion, as classic Buddhists are very religious and very atheistic. What do you think?

    Separately, are you familiar with Divine Command Theory?

    February 3, 2009
  86. john george said:

    Jerry- This is all speculation. Who knows where I would be if I were raised by different parents. The fact is, I was not. And my relationship with God is not something I inherited from my parents. As far as being able to do “good” or “bad” things, as I said before, this capacity is within everyone. But, going back to my main tennet, Christianity is not a matter of doing “good things.” It is a matter of believing and living in a “redeemed” relationship with God. When we experience a change of heart, then out of that abundance we will be able to live a new life. We only have the present. The past cannot be re-lived, and none of us knows what tomorrow brings.

    I’m not familiar with your term “Divine Command Theory.” In a nutshell, what is it?

    February 4, 2009
  87. Jerry Friedman said:

    John: You said,

    But, going back to my main tennet, Christianity is not a matter of doing “good things.” It is a matter of believing and living in a “redeemed” relationship with God.

    I thought that James said a necessary part of Christianity is doing good deeds? [Jam. 2:17]

    I am probing how much Christianity has done to make you into a “good” person, or whether you’d do good things if you believed in the tenets of other religions. Are you so malleable to fit into any religion’s tenets, or do you have a goodness about you and you selected Christianity to express your goodness? Another approach is asking, “What is it about Christianity that had you select it?” If you had the opportunity to become a member of another religion, but you chose Christianity, what was your emotional reason for choosing Christianity.

    “Divine Command Theory” asks what foundation exists for morality, relating to god’s rules. For example, if morality is whatever god says it is, so that god could say “murder” is immoral today but tomorrow it is moral, then there is nothing about murder itself that is moral or immoral. It’s simply subject to an arbitrary standard of whatever god wants. If, however, there is something about murder that makes it always immoral, then god is subject to a morality that god cannot change. Do you have an opinion on this?

    February 4, 2009
  88. Anthony Pierre said:

    If jesus was alive right now, do you think he would give a crap about what you guys are fighting about? I didn’t think so.

    February 4, 2009
  89. David Ludescher said:

    Anthony: I don’t think that he would be an atheist, but I do think that he would be atheist-friendly.

    February 4, 2009
  90. Jerry Friedman said:

    Anthony: Who’s fighting?

    February 4, 2009
  91. Anthony Pierre said:

    maybe discussing is a better term

    February 4, 2009
  92. Jerry Friedman said:

    I hope Yeshua would join the discussion. I think he’d care about it too. Either we’re discussing whether he’s a myth, or if not, what is the extent of his moral authority. The peasants are talking about the king! Why wouldn’t the king want to join the discussion?

    February 4, 2009
  93. David Ludescher said:

    Jerry: With which teachings of Jesus, real or mythical, do you disagree?

    February 4, 2009
  94. john george said:

    Jerry- James said that he showed his faith by his works. The faith comes first, and this is not from ourselves: it is a gift of God, then the works folow. Sanctification is a work of God that begins on the inside (change of heart) and is expressed on the outside in a changed life. Adhering to a bunch of commandments did (could) not change me, because I do not have the wherewithal within to please God . When God came to dwell in me through His Holy Spirit, the result was change both inside and out. I didn’t choose Christianity to change me. In fact, I was so arrogant as to claim that I did not need any changing.

    On your Divine Command theory, I first go back to God. God does not change. He is not some whimsical, all-powerful being that gets His kicks out of making life difficult for us. Your example of murder is something that has been considered illegal, if not immoral, through the ages. It appears that God did not change it. Nor has He changed gravity, or the sun, or the direction of rotation for our planet. In all this creation, there is evidence of decay. I believe this is not because of a flaw in the original creation. It is a result of the fall. Even our government officials are in subjection to the laws they create, except for a few from an unamed political party.

    Your next question, then, would be why God chose to anihilate whole people groups. I suggest you read Ex 34:6&7. God is first merciful, yet just. Because sinners are not immediately judged, but have the longsuffering of God as their portion to give them a chance to repent, then God appears to some as impotent at best, if not vasilating.

    February 4, 2009
  95. Obie Holmen said:

    To John G,

    Did you just say what I think you said?

    Although I have disagreed with most of your comments on this lengthening thread, it is your latest that appears to be way over the top.

    Your last paragraph references the Hebrew Scriptures as explanation for “why God chose to anihilate (sic) whole people groups”, to wit: “yet by no means clearing the guilty, but visiting the iniquity of the parents upon the children, and the children’s children …”

    Did you just justify the holocaust?

    February 5, 2009
  96. Bruce Anderson said:

    I’m with Obie on this one, John. What DID you have in mind?:

    Exodus 34:6-7 (King James Version)

    6And the LORD passed by before him,
    and proclaimed, The LORD, The LORD
    God, merciful and gracious,
    long-suffering, and abundant in
    goodness and truth,

    7Keeping mercy for thousands,
    forgiving iniquity and transgression
    and sin, and that will by no means
    clear the guilty; visiting the
    iniquity of the fathers upon the
    children, and upon the children’s
    children, unto the third and to the
    fourth generation.

    As a non-believer, I’m willing (and expect) to be held accountable for any iniquitous behavior I engage in, but I’d like to believe any punishment wouldn’t be visited upon my great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren.

    February 5, 2009
  97. john george said:

    Obie and Bruce- How you or anyone else could construe this scripture passage to be a justification of the holocaust is beyond me. How did you come to that conclusion out of my posts? Am I missing something here, or are you projecting some idea onto me? Sorry, I’m really puzzled with that reaction.

    I have visited the Holocaust museum in Jerusalem. This was a heart wrenching experience for me, because here was a people singled out for heinous anihilation simply because they believed in God a certain way. The thing I could not get out of my head as I went through it was that this same price may be exacted of me, my children and grandchildren someday just because of our faith in God. These things did not happen to the Jewish people because they did something wrong. It was because they did something right.

    Take a look at Luke 13:1-5. I think Jesus (Yeshua) makes it pretty clear how we each are accountable for our actions and what we need to do about it. I think you two error in your understanding of God’s character, for both of you missed the most important part of verse 7, that which was stated first, “…Keeping mercy for thousands,
    forgiving iniquity and transgression
    and sin…” This is the true heart of God. I would be glad to introduce you to Him someday.

    Jerry F.- Perhaps your hope is being fulfilled.

    February 5, 2009
  98. Obie Holmen said:


    You completely misunderstand my post. I am not in any way construing the Deut passage as justification for the holocaust; I am questioning your words to that effect.

    “why God chose to anihilate whole people groups. I suggest you read Ex 34:6&7. God is first merciful, yet just.” Your words, not mine.

    It is you who links God’s justice toward sinners and their progeny, according to verse 7, to annihilation of whole people groups, not me.

    Your present post indicates that was not your intention, and I will accept that. Perhaps you need to be a little more careful with your statements.

    Also, I resent your suggestion that you will be glad to introduce me to God someday. I have post graduate studies in theology and I have served as congregational president and adult ed instructor at my home church.

    You get yourself in trouble when you presume to judge the religiosity of others who disagree with you.

    February 5, 2009
  99. john george said:

    Obie- I’m sorry if I misjudged you. I only have a couple of your posts as insights into your thinking, and I did not perceive your heart in them. Perhaps, as we have further opportunity for discourse, I will gain a better understanding of you and how you think.

    As far as anihilating people groups, there is Biblical history, as you should know through your studies, of God commanding that a people be “utterly destroyed”, as in the flood and the Canaanites in Deut. 7, for just a couple examples. This is what I was refering to, because it is these scriptures (and others) that I have had thrown back at me as evidence that God is bipolar in His approach to murder. I have heard a theory before (in a post graduate seminary class) that the Holocaust was a judgement against the Jewish people for their rejection of Yeshua. Is this the position you thought I was aluding to? I’m still really puzzled as to how you are construing what I wrote in my post.

    Just a side note on your “religiosity” comment. I grew up in and was very active in both my home church and a few others, but I did not know God. I also believe that I can know God better than I now do, and I always welcome any invitation to do so. I did not mean to offend you in this invitation or put you down in any way. I echo the Apostle Paul’s quest in Phil. 3:12-16.

    February 5, 2009
  100. kiffi summa said:

    See…here’s the problem : “judging” a person.

    We should not ever be “judging” a person because of their beliefs/views/sexual orientation/whatever.

    John , you say you only have a few comments by which to “judge” Obie. I say you should not “judge” Obie by his comments on a specific issue; you should only discuss the points offered for discussion, without coming to a judgement about the ‘whole’ individual.

    You have made comments that imply you think homosexuals are less than worthwhile, whole people. What would you say if a person with whom you agreed on every point that turned up in the discussion, was revealed to be a homosexual?

    I would agree that this is all wrapped up in the ideas behind judging, tolerance, etc……..but there is where I find the constant conflict in your comments.

    Is it possible to say you are tolerant, but also to say that you “judge”?

    February 6, 2009
  101. john george said:

    Kiffi- In response to your question, “…Is it possible to say you are tolerant, but also to say that you “judge”?”, yes it is. You are aluding to Matt. 7:1. I don’t have the original Hebrew of this verse, for that is what it was written in, but the Greek word used for “judge” here is “krinete”, a derivative of “krinos”. Krinos is a legal term, used more as a discription of assessing or deciding or resolving something. The word krinete, used in the translation, has to do with condemning or looking unfavorably on something or someone. For a present day example, when I stop at a stop sign, I would “krinos” (judge) whether there is sufficient clearance between my position and approaching traffic to safely cross the intersection.

    In my post, I apologized to Obie for making a wrong krinos (assessment) of where he was coming from. In your post above, it appears you have made a krinete (condemnation) of my krinos (assessment) that I feel I have every right to make. Rob H., am I correct in my translation here? I may not be completely thorough, but I wanted to keep it short here. You are the one with the best credentials.

    As to your other question, “…What would you say if a person with whom you agreed on every point that turned up in the discussion, was revealed to be a homosexual?…”, then we would be in agreement on his need for forgiveness and clesansing of his sin just as much as I need forgiveness and cleansing for my sin.

    February 6, 2009
  102. David Ludescher said:

    Kiffi, Obie, Jerry: Christian teaching “judges” actions, not people.

    When a church such as the Roman Catholic Church teaches that homosexuality activity is “intrinsically disordered” it speaks to the action as being ordered to something (sexual urges) rather than its primary biological purpose, procreation. But, it does not regard homosexuals as lesser people. In fact, the Catechism of the Church specifically states that no one should be discriminated against because of their orientation.

    When atheists claim positions of theists that theists do not claim as their own, then atheists become unfairly hostile to the theists.

    February 6, 2009
  103. Anthony Pierre said:

    I wish they would judge the molesting priests. Oh wait. lol

    February 6, 2009
  104. Peter Millin said:

    Can I be tolerant of people but not agree with their beliefs?
    Or would that be an oxymoron?

    February 6, 2009
  105. kiffi summa said:

    Peter: yes, of course you can be tolerant of a person whose beliefs do not coincide with your own……..or at least, IMO, you should be able to accomplish that.

    John : no agreement that a homosexual needs to be forgiven and “cleansed of his sin”. I cannot agree with you that homosexuality is a sin needing to be forgiven and cleansed.

    I will disagree, but not “judge” you for that (IMO) wrong and intolerant opinion. Regardless of your Greek translations, and their specificity, I will use a modern understanding of the term.

    February 6, 2009
  106. john george said:

    Kiffi- I was just answering your question, and it isn’t my idea that homosexuality is a sin. That is the definition given it in the scriptures. You are the one who stated the condition of the discussion, that we agreed on all points, not me.

    Your statement, “…I will use a modern understanding of the term…” is not an argument with me. It is an argument with the intent of the original writer. It appears to me that this person had an intent with the “specificity” of the words they chose. Your approach, which you have every right to adhere to, if you want, would appear to be a revision of the meaning of the original text. Does this mean that all words are subjective and can only be defined by the current “understanding” of them? Do you think this makes “modern” understanding better than the original writer? Just wondering.

    Also, in your statement, “…I will disagree, but not “judge” you for that (IMO) wrong and intolerant opinion…”, what are the words “wrong” and “intolerant”, if not judgements? And the choice of these words and their context would appear to infer condemnation, even though I think you meant them to be “assessments”.

    February 6, 2009
  107. kiffi summa said:

    John: Too much contortion of “krinos”/”krinete”, and a lack of accepting what what I say is only IN MY OPINION a “wrong/intolerant” attitude of yours which I do disagree with, but do not judge you to be a person who has “sinned”, because you hold an opinion different than mine.

    You have said over and over that homosexuals are sinners; both your “krinos” and “krinete” are your opinion; and please don’t tell me that the Bible says this definitively……we all know that Bible verses, like statistics, can be used to make divergent cases.

    It is obvious, John, that you love your children; and you have stated many times how you have grown in your “Christian” life. I think it would be developmental for you to have a child who was a homosexual……then you could have the opportunity to come to a full personal maturation of Christian love and tolerance.

    February 7, 2009
  108. Rob Hardy said:

    Krino, in Greek, means “to distinguish, to choose,” as between alternatives, or “to decide, to judge.” It is used to mean “decide” or “judge” in a legal sense.

    It’s most famous appearance in the Bible, perhaps, is in Matthew 7:1: Me krinete, hina me krithete (“judge not, lest you be judged”).

    Griff should install a Greek font for these theological discussions.

    February 7, 2009
  109. Obie Holmen said:

    Like snappy dialogue in a novel, we are speaking past each other, each with a different agenda and each with a different starting point.

    At the forefront is a fundamental disagreement on Judeo-Christian scriptures as an institution. We will never agree on what they mean or how they are to interpreted unless there is common ground as to what the scriptures are (and I highly doubt whether we will reach consensus here in a blog forum).

    On one side are those who see scripture as inspired by God, infallible, inerrant, etc. The Word of God (a complicated theological construct) is reduced to the words of God, and brings to mind the movie image of Charlton Heston on Sinai watching as the moving finger of God writes commandments on stone tablets. Elements of the Islamic tradition similarly see the Prophet as receiving the Koran straight from the heavens.

    An unstated corollary to this view is that a particular interpretation is similarly cast in stone. Such a view leads to questionable assumptions such as a statement in an earlier post that homosexuality is a sin because “That is the definition given it in the scriptures.” Really. For many, the Bible is not nearly that clear, but if you start with the assumption that the Bible says so, the analysis becomes easier — and oversimplified circular reasoning in which the assumption is used to prove the assumption.

    I prefer a different view of the Bible as an institution. I think the approach of Christian professor Walter Brueggeman’s tome “Theology of the Old Testament” to be apropos. He proposes that the text should be read as a series of witness statements, akin to trial testimony, with cross examination to test for bias or context, and with rebuttal testimony from other witnesses still within the Biblical text. An essential element of such an approach is to recognize the cultural context of the witnesses.

    As to the particular issue of homosexuality, consideration of the cultural attitudes of the ancient Hebrew priests responsible for the “holiness code” of Leviticus, makes it considerably less clear that “that is the definition given it in the scriptures”. Similarly, for the NT Paul who claimed to be a Torah trained Pharisee, his negative attitude was based on his Torah assumptions.

    Neither the ancient Hebrews nor the first century Paul would have had the slightest cultural understanding of homosexuality as a biological condition capable of and in need of human love and fulfillment through same gender relationships.

    This thread has been replete with historical instances of misguided humans persecuting others based on perverse and judgmental interpretations of scripture. I submit that the present attitude of many churches and denominations towards gays is merely the latest example, but we can all be thankful that the tide is turning.

    February 7, 2009
  110. David Ludescher said:

    Obie: Name one church or denomination that is persecuting gays.

    February 7, 2009
  111. Obie Holmen said:

    David L,

    In a broad context, any church that doesn’t allow full and unqualified participation for gays in the life of that church is guilty of persecution. Not allowing gay clergy or requiring clergy to refrain from same gender relationships are obvious examples. If you think the word “persecution” is too strong, pick another. “Discrimination” comes to mind.

    February 7, 2009
  112. john george said:

    Obie- My ELCA Lutheran pastor brother-in-law summed up his struggle with the acceptance of gays in the ministry in this way. As long as the gay attraction is recognized as a conponent of the old sin nature, he has no problem with them carrying church authority. After all, we all struggle with many temptations of the old man, and to require complete freedom from these temptations as a prerequisite for ministry is unrealistic at best. What he has a problem with is saying the gay attraction is part of the new nature, Eph. 4:24, Col. 3:10. I agree with his assesment. If you don’t agree, that is ok with me. We both have to answer to God, not each other. I think Rom. 14:22 is an appropriate verse in this respect. But I feel I have a right to express my convictions here without being condemned, just as much as you have.

    Kiffi- If I understand you correctly, you are saying that my posts are condemning anyone who believes different from me. I do not agree with your assesment. I have had many discussions on this site with Jerry Friedman and Patrick Enders, both of whom openly say they believe differently from me. I have the utmost respect for these men, and I feel we have had very civil and non-comdemning discourses expressing our different convictions. I also feel I am free to discuss anything with either of them in the future, because we accept one another as human beings. I feel I have gained increased insights and understand of their points of view through these discussions. I wish I could say the same with you, but it has not transpired that way. That is just going to have to be the way it is for now, I guess. You have not dumped garbage on my driveway and I haven’t dumped garbage on yours. I feel I tolerate you fairly well, even though we do not agree. I don’t think tolerance requires either of us to give our stamp of approval on everything, or anything, for that matter, the other posts.

    February 7, 2009
  113. David Ludescher said:

    Obie: I can only speak for the Roman Catholic Church. I know the Catholic Church allows for full and unqualified participation for gays in the life of the Church.

    February 7, 2009
  114. john george said:

    Obie- Your comment, “…At the forefront is a fundamental disagreement on Judeo-Christian scriptures as an institution. We will never agree on what they mean or how they are to (be?) interpreted unless there is common ground as to what the scriptures are (and I highly doubt whether we will reach consensus here in a blog forum)…” is spot on, in my opinion. In fact, considering the debates that have raged for centuries and continue to rage, in both institutions and organizations, it is probably good evidence that consensus is an elusive goal.

    February 7, 2009
  115. David Ludescher said:

    John: I disagree. The Bible, and especially the Gospel, is intended for all men and women, so that all may come to know the truth of how to live and be truly human.

    I have never heard either atheist or theist disagree with any of Jesus’ teachings. That is the common ground.

    February 7, 2009
  116. Obie Holmen said:

    David L,

    You state, I know the Catholic Church allows for full and unqualified participation for gays in the life of the Church.

    May I remind you of Cardinal Arzine, head of the Vatican office of the Sacraments, who questioned St Paul archbishop Flynn’s practice of allowing the gay activist group, the Rainbow Sash Movement, to participate in the sacrament of communion.

    I also believe many RC seminaries are now screening candidates for the priesthood according to issues of sexuality, and excluding those with “deap seated homosexual tendencies” according to a 2005 policy document which flows from official RC policy that homosexuality is “objectively disordered”. While that screening policy is an understandable attempt at dealing with the issue of clergy abuse, it is a bludgeoning, dehumanizing approach.

    My own home is in the ELCA, and while I applaud its progress toward inclusion and full participation by gays, I also lament its pace. Justice delayed is justice denied.

    February 7, 2009
  117. john george said:

    David- I think you are probably correct on some teachings, but when Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No man comes to the Father but by me,” I think most of them would object, as this is a strong exclusionary statement.

    Obie- I think it would be interesting to get Fredrick Guenther’s and Bavid Bidney’s perspective on the freedom of gay oriented priests in the Catholic Church. I think it is interesting that there is an organization called NAMBLA, which is an acrostic for North American Man/Boy Love Association. Their focus is to end the oppression of men and boys with same sex attraction. Perhaps the gay community as a whole does not support this organization, but I have not read any published accounts to that effect. Is this something that has been suppressed in the media?

    February 7, 2009
  118. john george said:

    Kiffi- Please let me try to extend an olive branch to you. In most of the posts you have addressed to me in the past, I have felt the opinions of my opinions you have expressed have been more inflamitory than conciliatory. I am open to correction on my interpretation of these. I think you and Victor are very good, involved citizens of Northfield. I esteem you as people of principle, not easily swayed in the face of opposition. Too many times, I have felt that this opposition has been unfair attacks on your personhood, but I have not spoken up on your behalf, if I am remebering correctly. Of this omission, I am both ashamed and ask your forgiveness. If I have in any way expressed my strong convictions in a way that has attacked your personhood, please forgive me. That is not my intention. I know I have blind spots, and I need others to be a mirror for me in this respect. Anyway, I feel no ill will toward you and your convictions.

    Just a response to your comment, “…I think it would be developmental for you to have a child who was a homosexual…”, you are correct. None of my children have had to fight this battle. When we first moved to Northfield, we opened up our home to a young man who did fight this battle. When he graduated from high school, his step-mother gave him 30 days to get out of the house. We provided a home for him, free of charge, for a few years so he would be able to take advantage of a scholarship to go to a school in the cities and then get established in a good job. He is now a suscessful IT manager and is married and very active in an evangelical church in the cities that reaches out to gays, among others. It is interesting that the wife he found had a specific desire in her heart to marry a man who had struggles with homosexuality. I think this experience of accepting and ministering to a young person and seeing them find their place in God gives me just a little understanding of the gay struggle.

    February 7, 2009
  119. Obie Holmen said:


    I can’t speak for the gay community, but NAMBLA was a real fringe that was concerned with intergenerational relationships. It is hardly representative of anything except its limited fringe group, and I think is largely out of existence. I am not sure where you are coming from by bringing up such a fringe group except to buy into false stereotypes of gay men.

    February 7, 2009
  120. john george said:

    Obie- Thanks for the update. They still have a web site, but there are fringe groups in every organization, as we know. They used to show up occasionally as a group lobbying for various gay related issues. I hope they are not indicative of the gay community as a whole.

    February 7, 2009
  121. john george said:

    Obie- I didn’t answer your last question in my post as to where I was coming from. Sorry. The men I refered to are in an article in the Feb. 6 Strib, front page center, about a lawsuit against a Catholic religious order involving homosexual molestation of some teens. I saw a connection between the intergenerational aspect of this lawsuit and NAMBLA, that is all.

    February 7, 2009
  122. kiffi summa said:

    John: Thank you for the offer of the olive branch, but I hesitate……into every thread eventually comes either a discussion of abortion or homosexuality and your perception of their relationship to “sins” , and “sinners”.

    It is only the concept of doubt that allows faith to become faith.
    It is only the concept of faith, and perhaps trust, that allows one to believe what cannot be proven.
    But if doubt is too strong, and trust is not present, one must believe what can be proven by the words and deeds of others, as well as the known physical laws of our world, and space, in time.

    February 8, 2009
  123. David Ludescher said:

    Kiffi: It is not the concept of doubt, that results in faith. It is the reality of doubt that creates the opportunity for faith.

    Faith is the rational ordering of doubt and uncertainty into meaningful systems of belief. Paul Tillich notes that we have no choice but to adopt some faith because life is full of so many uncertainties that we have to order these uncertainties somehow.

    When Obama stated that we are a patchwork nation and that is our strength, I don’t think he had in mind what Griff proposed – namely the recognition of another faith – of non-believers. I think that he was calling forth our common American faith that is recognized by all is being in the common interest, and not trying to create another division of the people.

    February 8, 2009
  124. Bright Spencer said:

    Bruce Anderson wrote Feb 5, As a non-believer, I’m willing (and expect) to be held accountable for any iniquitous behavior I engage in, but I’d like to believe any punishment wouldn’t be visited upon my great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren.

    I think the sins of the fathers are indeed pressed upon the sons, as in the conflict of Iraq where US infringed upon sacred lands in the past, as in children of alcoholics and/or violent abusers suffer and often bring those sufferings onto their children and so on.

    February 8, 2009
  125. john george said:

    Kiffi- I can understand your hesitation. I make a differentiation between agreement and understanding. I don’t require you to agree with me. I just wanted you to know that I recieve you just where you are. You have an open door to me anytime you want to knock on it.

    February 8, 2009
  126. Jerry Friedman said:

    David: I had posted several of Yeshua’s teaching that I disagree with, for example, several verses that tell disciples to hate their families.

    I would also press Yeshua, as a moral leader, to condemn the cruelties in the Old Testament. He gave no such condemnation. Rather, he said that he is here not to change it, but to fulfill the Old Testament.

    I would also press Yeshua to condemn slavery. He did not. He endorses slavery.

    I would also press Yeshua to defend the equal treatment of the sexes. He did not. He and his disciples subjugated women.

    John: I’ll save the Divine Command Theory discussion for our pending in-person meeting. You have asked that I call you, but I am not clairvoyant.

    February 8, 2009
  127. john george said:

    Jerry- I’m in the phone book, but my number is 507-663-0976. All you lurking telemarketers, just forget you ever saw that!

    February 8, 2009
  128. Peter Millin said:

    A church is a “private organization” and has the right to let whatever members they want in to their church.
    It is up to us to judge if this is right or not and up to us if we want to attend the church or not.

    February 9, 2009
  129. Jerry Friedman said:

    Peter: That’s normally the way it works. For examples, the Boy Scouts of America have been successful in excluding gays, and now I hear their membership is suffering because of their anti-gay policy. I was in the Cub Scouts back in the day. I am happy, in retrospect, that I never joined the Boy Scouts.

    February 9, 2009
  130. Peter Millin said:


    Looks like the “market” has spoken. That’s the way it should be, right?

    February 9, 2009
  131. john george said:

    Jerry- In your response to David dated 02/08, you listed a few issues you have with Yeshua. I’m not sure what translation you happened to read, or why you happened to interpret what you read in the way you did, but some of your interpretations do not appear to be correct relative to what the pertinent texts actually say. We may have more to discuss than just Divine Command Theory.

    February 9, 2009
  132. Patrick Enders said:

    Jerry wrote,

    the Boy Scouts of America have been successful in excluding gays, and now I hear their membership is suffering because of their anti-gay policy.

    My participation in Boy Scouts was one of my most valuable and cherished childhood activities. It both surprised me and broke my heart when the Boy Scouts of America declared, in 2000, that discrimination against homosexuality was a central tenet of their organization.

    Remarkably, there is no mention of it in the 576 pages of my 1981 Boy Scout Handbook.

    Good riddance to them.

    February 9, 2009
  133. Patrick Enders said:

    Remarkably, the following organizations are all more welcoming of agnostics, atheists, homosexuals:

    Girl Scouts of the USA, Scouts Canada, The United Kingdom Scout Association, Scouts of Australia, most European Scouts organizations, 4-H, and Campfire USA.

    All of those organizations even welcome girls!

    Anyone interested in starting a branch of Scouts Canada in Northfield?

    (source: wikipedia. The address, however, Can Not Be Posted – due to the usual LGN bug)

    February 9, 2009
  134. Jerry Friedman said:

    I fear Canadians after too much Southpark. But for anyone without my cartoon-induced fear, I think that’s a great idea.

    February 9, 2009
  135. Peter Millin said:

    I am glad the boy scouts took a stand.I am very familiar with the gay lifestyle, and I certainly wouldn’t want SOME gays around my sons.
    Most of them are great guys, but they do look at boys differently then straight men do.
    This again is my personal experience and not meant as a generalization.

    February 9, 2009
  136. john george said:

    I think it fair to point out that not all athiests are homosexuals and not all homosexuals are pedophiles. Also, not all Christians are homophobes, and expressing one’s understanding of certain tennets of his faith is not hate speech. Also, discussing percieved misunderstandings between the factions does not have to be devisive.

    February 9, 2009
  137. Jerry Friedman said:

    Peter: You indict yourself. Again.

    February 9, 2009
  138. David Ludescher said:

    Jerry and Patrick: You both seem to be making a judgment and showing little tolerance for the Boy Scouts. By whose standard are you judging them?

    What makes your opinion better or more valuable than the Boy Scout’s opinion? When you judge them as being wrong, do you have a system of beliefs to which a neutral third party could use as a measurement?

    By the way, you both have the facts wrong on the Boy Scouts. The Boy Scouts do not exclude gays. It only excluded openly gay leaders. The concern was that gay leaders were trying to make their leadership into a political cause, i.e. their own personal agenda, rather than focusing on the boys. Any openingly sexual person is excluded.

    February 9, 2009
  139. Peter Millin said:



    February 9, 2009
  140. Jerry Friedman said:

    David L: The Boy Scouts exclude gays. The Scouts’ mission opposes homosexuality.

    The Supreme Court ruled today by a 5-to-4 vote that the Boy Scouts have a constitutional right to exclude gay members because opposition to homosexuality is part of the organization’s “expressive message.” […] [Chief Justice Rehnquist] said “Dale’s presence in the Boy Scouts would, at the very least, force the organization to send a message, both to the youth members and the world, that the Boy Scouts accepts homosexual conduct as a legitimate form of behavior.”

    -New York Times, June 29, 2000

    You ask,

    What makes your opinion better or more valuable than the Boy Scout’s opinion? When you judge them as being wrong, do you have a system of beliefs to which a neutral third party could use as a measurement?

    (1) Oppression is wrong. Acting on arbitrary discrimination is oppression. It is arbitrary to discriminate against people because they are gay. Removing a person solely for being gay is an oppressive action.

    (2) See (1).

    Generally, if a gay or non-gay person harms a child, sure, kick ‘m out. Because someone is gay or non-gay does not make them prone to harming children of either gender.

    This is surprising coming from your recent remark that the Bible (or Christians) hate the sin, not the sinner. What is a gay mentor’s or a gay scout’s sin? If their being gay is nothing to hate, why would you defend the Scouts’ oppression of gays?

    February 9, 2009
  141. Peter Millin said:


    The supreme court disagrees with you and rightly so.

    February 9, 2009
  142. Peter Millin said:

    I disagree with Roe vs Wade.Yet I accept the law and all the rights that go with it.

    February 9, 2009
  143. Patrick Enders said:

    David L,
    I accept that the Boy Scouts exist, but that its current leadership espouses a philosophy of which I disapprove.

    I would be very hesitant to allow a child of mine to participate in such an organization, as presently constituted.

    I have not called for the Boy Scouts, as presently constituted, to be banned or persecuted. I have simply expressed my opinion of the organization.

    What’s your problem with that?

    February 9, 2009
  144. Patrick Enders said:

    David L,
    According to Wikipedia,

    In countries where homosexuality is legal, there is usually at least one Scouting association that does not restrict homosexual people from membership or leadership positions. An exception is the United States where “avowed homosexuals” are not allowed to be adult leaders or youth members.

    (Again, I am unable to post the link, due to the LGN glitch.)

    February 9, 2009
  145. john george said:

    Jerry- Is your comment, “…Oppression is wrong…” perhaps a little broad? I don’t mean to be argumentative, here, but someone in an earlier post observed that some posters were “talking past each other” with the particular terms they were using. In the NAMBLA manefesto, (which someone said was a non-entity now, but the idea, and the web site, is still out there) their purpose was to end oppression of consensual (really?) intergenerational (man/boy) relationships. Is this an instance where oppression, or perhaps suppression, at least, would be desireable? This is homosexual pedophilia, not a universal homosexual trait. Just wondering.

    February 9, 2009
  146. Jerry Friedman said:

    John: Good question. I offer that it’s OK to oppress other oppressors within a certain scope. If NAMBLA oppresses boys, then it’s OK to oppress NAMBLA to the extent necessary to protect the boys.

    Gay Scout leaders and gay scouts oppress no one, therefore it’s wrong to oppress them.

    Also, appealing to Godwin’s Rule, I have no problem oppressing Nazis.

    Exceptions to the principle against oppression can be further defined, but that’s where I’m going with it.

    February 9, 2009
  147. Jerry Friedman said:

    Peter: The Supreme Court based its decision on the rights of private organizations to have a select membership. I agree that the State should not force a private organization to have members contrary to its principles. (Note however that there are some exceptions to this law that don’t apply with the Boy Scouts.)

    Removed from the State interference with private organizations, the Boy Scouts of Am. is wrong to exclude people based on arbitrary criteria.

    You’re using a court decision, rooted in law, to further your anti-gay position, rooted in fear.

    February 9, 2009
  148. Patrick Enders said:

    David L, …which seems to contradict your assertion that

    By the way, you both have the facts wrong on the Boy Scouts. The Boy Scouts do not exclude gays. It only excluded openly gay leaders.

    And this assertion is patently false:

    The concern was that gay leaders were trying to make their leadership into a political cause, i.e. their own personal agenda, rather than focusing on the boys. Any openingly sexual person is excluded.

    One of the test cases involved a leader who was not openly gay, but was outed when a copy of his receipt for a stay at a gay-focused resort was obtained by the BSA.

    see the Wikipedia page titled:
    Boy Scouts of America controversies (again, I can’t post the actual address)

    If your premise was true, your principle would seem to be equally applicable (even more so) to any married man with children.

    February 9, 2009
  149. Peter Millin said:

    I don’t have an anti gay position or am I afraid of gay people.
    Quiet to the contrary. In my first business venture in Pittsburgh my business partner happened to be gay.
    He was a great guy and friend of mine, so were many of his other friends. Neither did I feel intimidated or threatened in my own sexuality.

    I do accept gays for what they are, but I certainly don’t approve of their lifestyle, and certainly don’t want them to be around boys.
    Don’t I have that right too?

    February 9, 2009
  150. Jerry Friedman said:

    Peter: These two statements are contradictory:

    1. I don’t have an anti gay position or am I afraid of gay people.

    2. I certainly don’t approve of their lifestyle, and certainly don’t want them to be around boys.

    February 9, 2009
  151. Peter Millin said:

    Not really.
    Personally I can live with that.

    February 9, 2009
  152. john george said:

    Jerry- I think Peter is being tolerant, at least the way I understand tolerance. I can tolerate homosexuals living in my neighborhood but not approve of their practices. They are welcome in my church any time they would like to come, but I am not going to bend my beliefs just because they don’t agree with them.

    Peter- Your phrase, “…and certainly don’t want them to be around boys…” describes homosexual pedophiles, not every homosexual out there. I wouldn’t have been comfortable leaving my daughters in the care of a heterosexual pedophile.

    February 9, 2009
  153. john george said:

    I’ll just throw this out as an opinion- I don’t think predatory behavior is gender specific. I think we are talking about two different things, here, and predatory behavior is, I think we all would agree, a social deviance. Homosexuality was looked upon that way for years in this culture, but that is changing now. The merits of this could, and have, for that matter, take up volumes of discourse.

    February 9, 2009
  154. Patrick Enders said:

    John (and Peter),
    I think tolerance can exist up to the point where one moves beyond one’s own choices – as guaranteed under freedom of association – and moves into the universal rights of the person you don’t want to associate with.

    That is, it would be fine (well within one’s rights, that is) to say “I don’t want them to be around my boys,” and then to choose to remove yourself and your children from association with those people you disapprove of – in your private life.

    However, if one tries to use that personal choice, under freedom of association, to restrict the freedoms of others, then you’re out of the realm of tolerance, and into the realm of discrimination.

    It would be discriminatory, and illegal, to ban homosexuals from being teachers. It would also be illegal to ban homosexuals from “being around boys.”

    February 9, 2009
  155. john george said:

    Patrick- I think your post is a good clarification. I read an article about two churches in San Francisco and their reactions to the gay issues in that city. One church openly opposed gays, ridiculed them and banned them from their congregations. The other church sought out ways to help them out, by visiting those afflicted with AIDS, even providing housing, transportation and helping pay for treatments, and opened up their sanctuary to them. Both churches professed the same Biblical interpretation of the homosexual lifestyle. Which do you suppose really exhibited the Love of Christ? I think it is interesting that the one church found acceptance within the gay community without compromising their beliefs. It was because they understood the bigger picture of Christianity and were not afraid to live it.

    February 9, 2009
  156. Patrick Enders said:

    You’ve stated that very well.

    February 9, 2009
  157. Patrick Enders said:

    So I’ve been catching up on a few years of Boy Scouts history tonight – as well as trying to figure out the local Boy Scout organizations.

    I was happy to discover that the local Northern Star Council has a fairly well-written and somewhat reassuring “Statement of Inclusion”:

    Northern Star Council does not teach any program dealing with human sexuality, other than to encourage members to be sexually responsible to themselves and others. Programmatically, it places other issues of human sexuality, including heterosexual and homosexual sexuality, outside of its program.

    Northern Star Council believes that issues or questions of human sexuality arising among its adolescent members are the province of a member’s family, religious leaders, doctors or other qualified advisors.

    Northern Star Council does not initiate inquiry into the sexual orientation of existing or prospective members. Northern Star Council asks its members or those who seek to become members to subscribe to its programs, policies, principles and standards in support of Scouting’s mission.

    If the following is interpreted by them the same way I read it, then I am glad to see that the local policy is far more inclusive than the National BSA’s policies.

    Northern Star Council reserves the right to exclude a member if his or her behavior becomes publicly inappropriate, as reflected by local community values.

    Northern Star Council does not permit its organization to be used as a vehicle to promote any personal, political, social or other agenda that is inconsistent with Scouting’s mission or attaining its goals to foster the development of youth.

    Nowhere in the local policy is the mere fact of homosexuality a bar against participation in Boy Scouts. It’s all about behaviors, and what you talk about. If any of my Scoutmasters back in my days in Scouts had been gay, they never would’ve run afoul of this policy – because it was clear in our Troop that nothing even remotely related to dating was ever going to be discussed, in any way, shape, or form. Ever.

    Note, of course, that this local policy differs substantially from the National BSA policy.

    Also, any homosexual persons participating in Boy Scouts within the Northern Star Council would forever be at risk of being “outed” to the National BSA – which does have a track record of ousting and banning persons for the mere fact of being homosexual.

    That is to say: if you think “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” has worked well for the military, then you should like the way homosexuals (and atheists) are treated in the Minnesota Boy Scouts of America.

    February 9, 2009
  158. Patrick Enders said:

    Finally, I have a quick question that I’d appreciate help with:

    What organization or church is Troop 337 affiliated with? I found info on the other two Troops in town, but not much on this one.

    Thanks to anyone who can let me know.

    February 9, 2009
  159. Jerry Friedman said:

    Patrick: I am also comforted by the local Scout’s policy. Is there any reason to believe their practice is different?

    February 10, 2009
  160. Griff Wigley said:

    Hey, if we’re going to talk about Boy Scouts in this message thread, how about we shift it away from the gay theme and back to the non-believer theme, eg, should the Scouts embrace non-believers? What about the Pledge of Allegiance?

    February 10, 2009
  161. Patrick Enders said:

    On the should-they-admit-atheists-and-agnostics question, that all depends upon what kind of organization the Boy Scouts strives to be. If the Boy Scouts want to be a religious group with a narrowly-defined conservative membership and mission, then they should continue along the path that the national BSA leadership has charted over the last two decades.

    If the Boy Scouts strives to be a mainstream, generally-accepted organization focused on civic duty, responsibility, leadership and service, then I think it would behoove them to adopt policies more in line with those of their international Scouting brethren.

    …which is to some extent why I’m curious as to who sponsors the third Boy Scout Troop in town? The first two are sponsored by Lutheran churches. Joe Gasior – sometime visitor to these boards, and a fairly conservative Christian as far as I can tell from his words here – is listed as a board member for one of them.

    When I was a child, there were Boy Scout Troops associated with many of the churches in my town, of all denominations. There were also many troops associated with the Public Schools. (I was a member of a Methodist-affiliated Troop, even though I was never a Methodist.)

    Now, even before the Scouts declared their homosexual-exclusion policy in 1991, the total number of Boy Scouts and Troops was already shrinking in my home town. I’m curious whether this contraction was hastened by the increasingly narrow mission that the Boy Scouts have declared for themselves?

    Were the Boy Scouts once more numerous, and more diverse, in Northfield? If so, what changed?

    February 10, 2009
  162. Adam Elg said:

    I think this topic has been poorly moderated. It certainly has strayed far from the original question. I think it should be put to bed.

    February 11, 2009
  163. Anthony Pierre said:

    I would rather my kids be around gays than republicans. At least the gays don’t hate certain groups of people.

    February 11, 2009
  164. Griff Wigley said:

    Adam, as the moderator, I have to agree. My apologies.

    February 11, 2009
  165. Patrick, Troop 337 in Northfield is chartered by Carleton College.

    You can find this infor by going to and using the troop locator for the zip code 55057 (and generally ignore the leading ‘9’ for four-digit troop numbers).

    February 11, 2009
  166. Patrick Enders said:

    Thanks! It’s good to know that there’s a Troop available in Northfield – if not for strict atheists – at least for persons of somewhat less strictly constructed religious beliefs. Depending upon the day and my mood, I sometimes consider myself in, or at least near, that camp. (Such is the nature of uncertainty.)

    This thread, as well some other things I’ve been discussing in the real world, has also piqued my curiosity slightly about Northfield’s Unitarian Universalist church.

    I wasn’t surprised to discover that agnostics were welcome at the UU church, but I was somewhat surprised that atheists are also welcome.

    Does anyone have any insight into this, particularly relating to Northfield’s UU church?

    February 11, 2009
  167. Jerry Friedman said:

    Patrick: The UU’s are the most inclusive denomination I know of from any theism. I think their only requirement is that you come voluntarily and they don’t try to convert you to their brand of thinking.

    I enjoyed a Hare Krishna Thanksgiving a few years back. They were politely distant with me, but they were all over my 11-year old niece, trying to lure her in. None of that at the UU’s.

    February 11, 2009
  168. john george said:

    Anthony- Just (semi)tongue in cheek, here, but is it because the gays hate the same groups you do? As I think has been suggested in earlier posts, no matter what group you come across, there will be fringe extreemists wrapped up in hatred. Seems that emotion is a common human trait, no matter what group you address. It is this trait that makes anyone who it is focused on feel unwelcome. Perhaps atheism, or gays, or Christians are not the problem. The problem lies in not being able to handle disagreements without being hateful.

    February 11, 2009
  169. Anthony Pierre said:

    john, do you really think there are groups that gays hate as a group?

    February 11, 2009
  170. Adam Elg said:

    I belonged to the UU Fellowship for many years when I lived in Northfield. Anyone interested shouldgo to and watch the video on the home page. It will provide the answer to your inquiry.

    February 11, 2009
  171. David Ludescher said:

    I thnk that we have established that Northfield is atheist-friendly. Maybe we should discuss whether Northfield is theist-friendly.

    I agree with Tracy’s contention in the third comment: There is more groupthink and intolerance toward fundamental Christian groups than any other group in town.

    Atheist thinking, not secular thinking, has come to dominate our social and political discourse. Even human rights has come to be regarded as something that man gives to man, and not as given to us by the (a)Creator(s). Sound secular principles are being abandoned simply because they have sprung out of religous communities.

    We have come to honor the man Martin Luther King, and yet deny the existence of his God. So, we hold godless ceremonies in King’s honor. We dismiss Pope Paul II when he declares the Iraqi war unjust for the simple reason that we don’t want to apply his and the Catholic Church’s same logic to abortion.

    The name for much of this silly atheistic thinking is political correctness.

    February 11, 2009
  172. Anthony Pierre said:

    How about we talk about what jesus would think about fundamental christian groups.

    February 11, 2009
  173. Patrick Enders said:

    Those are some awfully broad accusations you have offered there. Care to support any of them with actual evidence?

    As for MLK, we all agree that he existed. Many of us honor his accomplishments. Who is this God of his? Can you prove that his God existed? Can you prove that his God has accomplished anything? Can you prove that the God of the Muslims, or the gods of the Hindus, are not the real divine rulers of the universe, and that your Christian vision of God is not a deeply mistaken misinterpretation of the real ruler of the Universe?

    Since these are matters of faith, and not of proof, I would expect that you cannot. So honor your traditions in your faith community, and let the rest of us follow our own paths in matters of faith, as well.

    February 11, 2009
  174. Jerry Friedman said:

    Anthony: Yeshua would probably think today’s fundies are too liberal. Have you read the New Testament?

    February 11, 2009
  175. Paul Zorn said:

    David L:

    You wrote:

    Sound secular principles are being abandoned simply because they have sprung out of religous communities.

    Could you give an example?

    February 11, 2009
  176. john george said:

    Anthony- I was just responding to your comment, “…At least the gays don’t hate certain groups of people…” in my post. My point here is that defining gays as a homogonous group that responds enmass to other groups is too broad a brush stroke. Your inference here is that all Republicans hate the same groups. My differentiation is that no “ideology”, for lack of a better term, responds enmass to anything, especially in the USA. We are all too independent to really be that united. Besides, there are groups within the Rebublican party that embrace the gay lifestyle. That is why I addressed the emotion of hate as being a common human trait, not a trait of any particular political or religious ideology. A case in point is the vitriol aimed at former president Bush by some Democrats. I do not believe this behavior defines Democrats as a whole. See my point?

    February 11, 2009
  177. john george said:

    Jerry- Your evaluation of what Yeshua would think of today’s “fundies” (?) reminds me of the story of Joshua just before the Israelites went up against Jericho (Josh 5:13 & 14). He saw a man in the wilderness, so he asked him, “Are you for us or for our adversaries?” So the man answers, “No…” I love this passage, because I think it gives us insight into the way God thinks. Joshua asks him an either/or question, but he gets a yes/no answer. The question really isn’t whether He is for us or them, but rather, are we for God? Most often we evaluate circumstances on a temporal level only, but there is a spiritual level we miss that is really important. I don’t think Yeshua evaluates us as to whether we are liberal or conservative, but are we faithful in aligning our lives to His image?

    February 11, 2009
  178. kiffi summa said:

    How does one ‘square’ what I was taught about the New Testament, which focussed on the love of fellow ‘man’ as expressed by the example of Jesus, with attitudes in fundamentalist churches which decide who is and is not ‘equal’, ‘worthwhile’, or a ‘sinner’.

    The almost 23 million $$ spent in CA, by the Mormon and Evangelicals led by Rick Warren to support Prop 8, could have been used for 7+ MILLION malaria kits at $3.00 a piece.

    Which choice would have ben more beneficial to the world of ‘man’, the planet we live on? 7 million malaria kits for children in Malaysia or Africa, or the denial of equal civil rights to a relatively few, by comparison, committed same-sex partners?

    February 12, 2009
  179. Randy Jennings said:


    I’ve been reluctant to join this conversation because the original question is so subjective as to be pointless, and because the presumption of christianity is prevalent in Northfield. I guess when you can deride “silly atheist thinking,” then you’ve shown just how far we still have to go to be “atheist-friendly” (whatever that means).

    But taking your last post seriously for a moment, perhaps one reason “atheist” thinking dominates social and political discourse (aside from the wisdom of the framers of the constitution who deliberately set out to establish a secular system of government) is that any person or group’s theism by definition privileges its adherents over those who don’t share the same beliefs. In a multicultural, increasingly secular society, there is no place in the public commons for the establishment of any particular religion, nor of capital R religion, in general. There is, in my opinion, an absolute place in every person’s private life to believe in whatever he or she finds useful. The public commons has a tremendous incentive to protect the private religious beliefs and practices of its citizens, as long as those beliefs and practices don’t impede the rights of others to think, believe and act.

    I’d suggest that this may be one reason fundamentalists of any stripe feel less tolerated. Whether it’s christian parents seeking to ban books from school or public libraries or muslim cab drivers in Minneapolis not wanting to transport people with alcohol, to the extent that fundamentalist believers attempt to impose their religious beliefs in the public sphere, they should not be tolerated.

    I’ll know we’ve reached theistic equilibrium when religious adherents acknowledge the subjectivity of their beliefs and stand up to defend the rights of others to believe differently, or to not believe at all.

    February 12, 2009
  180. Randy Jennings said:

    For those interested in Unitarian Universalism (an intellectual/religious tradition shared by many of the founders of our country), this link to the Unitarian Universalist Association may be of interest.

    There are seven principles which Unitarian Universalist congregations affirm and promote:

    * The inherent worth and dignity of every person;
    * Justice, equity and compassion in human relations;
    * Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations;
    * A free and responsible search for truth and meaning;
    * The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large;
    * The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all;
    * Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.

    Unitarian Universalism (UU) draws from many sources:

    * Direct experience of that transcending mystery and wonder, affirmed in all cultures, which moves us to a renewal of the spirit and an openness to the forces which create and uphold life;
    * Words and deeds of prophetic women and men which challenge us to confront powers and structures of evil with justice, compassion, and the transforming power of love;
    * Wisdom from the world's religions which inspires us in our ethical and spiritual life;
    * Jewish and Christian teachings which call us to respond to God's love by loving our neighbors as ourselves;
    * Humanist teachings which counsel us to heed the guidance of reason and the results of science, and warn us against idolatries of the mind and spirit.
    * Spiritual teachings of earth-centered traditions which celebrate the sacred circle of life and instruct us to live in harmony with the rhythms of nature.

    February 12, 2009
  181. Paul Zorn said:

    Today is the bicentennial anniversary of Darwin’s birth.

    Is there any connection to this thread?

    February 12, 2009
  182. john george said:

    Paul Z.- This thread is surely evidence of how things can evolve!

    February 12, 2009
  183. Griff Wigley said:

    Paul, I think there is. I’ve blogged it:

    Randy wrote:

    The public commons has a tremendous
    incentive to protect the private
    religious beliefs and practices of its

    Well-said, Randy. (The rest of that comment, too.)

    I’ve been learning about a group at Carleton which publishes a periodical called Unashamed.

    Although Unashamed has its roots in
    the Christian community, our intention
    is to create a campus-wide platform
    for discussing all issues related to
    faith. It is our hope that people of
    any background will be able to freely
    express their doubts, questions,
    personal stories, and any
    faith-related thoughts in a public
    forum of understanding, dialogue, and
    soul-searching. By doing so, we hope
    Carls will feel encouraged to actively
    pursue the quintessential questions of
    life and existence.

    Like conservatives, I guess believers don’t always feel comfortable at Carleton.

    February 12, 2009
  184. Jerry Friedman said:

    John: You said,

    I don’t think Yeshua evaluates us as to whether we are liberal or conservative, but are we faithful in aligning our lives to His image?

    Reflecting on what I answered David L., I have some confusion as to exactly what his image is. Plucking out one’s eye, amputating one’s hand, so one does not covet another’s spouse and therefore commit adultery? Hating one’s family. Here’s a big one:

    “Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.” [Matthew 10:34]

    February 12, 2009
  185. David Ludescher said:

    Randy: I was with you all the way until the last 2 paragraphs.

    I think that much of what is labelled Christian thinking is also silly. Much of it lacks both reason and revelation.

    That said, what are we to do in a pluralistic society when different belief systems clash in the public sphere? Which system are we to adopt? Ideally, we should adopt the better system, regardless of its origin.

    You cite the example of the Muslim cab driver not permitting alcohol in his cab as being a situation where we can’t tolerate personal beliefs in the public sphere. You don’t have the “right” to a taxicab. To force a Muslim to violate his deeply-held belief for your personal convenience strikes me as being very intolerant.

    There are many and weighty reasons for wanting to not allow alcohol. In our society, it continues to be highly regulated. At best, its use is tolerated. I can see good reasons why a devout Muslim wouldn’t want to be around the stuff. I have no problem honoring his belief.

    To claim that your “rights” are being violated is “silly” thinking. You don’t have the right to have a taxicab, let alone the right to a taxicab driver who (dis)believes as you do.

    February 12, 2009
  186. Randy Jennings said:


    Of course I have a right to the services of a licensed cab driver. When he or she seeks that license, it comes with an obligation to convey the public, not just the subset of the public the driver chooses. Are you seriously arguing for that sort of discrimination? Where would you stop?

    Last time I checked, a six-pack of beer in the hands of someone over 21 is a legal product. If transporting someone who is not engaged in illegal behavior will conflict with an individual’s religious beliefs, he or she should not seek, nor be granted, the license. In my view, the burden of accommodation in the public sphere should always be on the religious adherent to limit his or her behavior to practices that do not impede the rights of others. You have a limitless right to the private practice of religion — no one is making the taxi driver consume the alcohol, just as no one makes a library patron read books they find objectionable — but no right to impose your beliefs on others.

    February 12, 2009
  187. Patrick Enders said:

    What if a taxi driver is opposed to homosexuality? Should they be allowed to refuse to transport a pair of persons that he suspected of being homosexuals? What if the driver dislikes Jews?

    Those dislikes could easily be justified on religious grounds.

    February 12, 2009
  188. john george said:

    Jerry- You skipped my comment, “…Most often we evaluate circumstances on a temporal level only, but there is a spiritual level we miss that is really important…” I don’t belive we can evaluate the Kingdom of God on this level, plucking out eyes, etc. As the Apostle Paul (not Paul Z.) wrote, the Kingdom is spiritually discerned. I found out years ago that my intellect gets in the way of my understanding of the Kingdom when I rely on it alone. It is a little like trying to describe the beauty of a sunset to a person who has been blind all their life. There is simply nothing in their past experience with which to associate the discription.

    February 12, 2009
  189. David Ludescher said:

    Randy: So, let’s assume that someone wants to pay the regular rate in the Northfield News to publish something (porn) that offends the general public, but is legal?

    Can the newspaper discriminate?

    February 12, 2009
  190. Anthony Pierre said:

    why wouldn’t it be legal?

    February 12, 2009
  191. Randy Jennings said:

    So, David, you’ve given up the taxi issue? I was hoping you’d say more about when discrimination on the basis of religious beliefs is permissible. I honestly don’t know where the legal lines are drawn, but I hope they fall on the side of protecting the public from such discriminatory behavior.

    As an attorney, you would be more conversant with the legal protections we afford speech than I am. Your choice of porn is an interesting example, since we seem to have a strong societal consensus that pornography involving children is clearly illegal, while porn involving adults is a matter of taste. I hope you’ll agree that community standards about what is or is not acceptable varies from place to place and time to time. The “pornographic” material Grove Press published in the late 1950s and 1960s (D.H. Lawrence, Henry Miller, etc.), which raised formidable legal issues at the time, would not cause even a ripple today.

    No, I don’t think that the Northfield News (which is, after all, a private, unregulated business) is obligated to publish material it believes would violate the standards of the community it serves, or is simply material that would not interest a sufficient number of subscribers and advertisers. I don’t see this as discriminating against the porn purveyor. He or she is free to buy a printing press or set up a blog and publish the material, and you are free to read or view it, or not. Neither the purveyor nor the consumer forces any other person to view material he or she would find offensive. If you think you’ll be offended, don’t look.

    February 12, 2009
  192. Jerry Friedman said:

    David, Patrick and Randy: I’m pressed for time but I wanted to jump in briefly. I’ll say more later.

    I am inclined to agree with David on the narrow issue of a business operator (taxicab driver) who discriminates against someone because of something they find deeply offensive, so long as the something does not offend public policy (like discrimination against gays), and as long as it doesn’t put the customer in peril, like a doctor refusing to give essential medical care. I would, for example, support a Jewish taxicab driver who refused to give a ride someone dressed in a Hitler costume, or a black who refuses to give a ride to someone in a white, hooded sheet, even if the costumes were obviously costumes.

    OK, I really have to go. More later!

    February 12, 2009
  193. David Ludescher said:

    Randy: I don’t see the regulated/unregulated as a significant factor. That is simply a legal requirement established by the politically powerful.

    Nor do I see the “religious” belief being a deciding factor. All “belief” is religious in the sense in that it makes a statement about reality based upon upon incomplete, unverified, or unverifiable evidence. Aren’t you really claiming that your “right” to a alcohol-permitting taxicab comes from the government’s coercive force?

    A right in the American secular tradition is the freedom to be free from the government and its coercive power. That concept has become perverted to reflect a new kind of “right” – the government’s ability to impose its own belief concepts on the people.

    From some of the comments that I read above, I hear people saying that the only thing they can’t tolerate is intolerance. What that really means to me is that they want to discriminate against anyone with whom they disagree. No need to look into the Boy Scouts or the ECLA policies; no need to judge the policies based upon their own internal consistencies; no need to look at the larger human struggles and the centuries of thought and experience that went into those value systems.

    Atheism’s great value to a secular society is to sift, strain, and critique religious concepts, science, and the wealth of human experience into a coherent secular system of rules. I fear that what atheism is developing into what it claims it is does not want to be – an intolerant system of rigid and inflexible rules – in other words, just another religion.

    February 12, 2009
  194. Patrick Enders said:

    What does porn have to do with atheism, or religious-based discrimination? I’d really like to hear you flesh out your ideas on that one, rather than chasing what seems to be a red herring.

    February 12, 2009
  195. Patrick Enders said:

    On a cold night in February, securing a taxi ride off a cold street corner is essential to prevent medical emergency, or even death.

    February 12, 2009
  196. Patrick Enders said:

    Again, you speak of atheism in sweeping generalities.

    Tell us more about taxis, or some other examples that might give evidence to support your grand thesis.

    February 12, 2009
  197. Jerry Friedman said:

    David, Patrick and Randy: I see a narrow scope of “good” discrimination, like not allowing sex offenders work at day care. I see a narrow scope of “bad” discrimination, like racism, ageism, and sexism. In between is a breadth of discrimination that is OK or not OK depending on the circumstances.

    It’s my position to let people discriminate so long as it isn’t “bad” discrimination. In the same breath, I would challenge them not to discriminate. If I was carrying a closed-can beer and a taxi driver did not want to transport me, I would not want to force him to (force him by law or in any other way). If I met a taxi driver at a park and we talked about such a subject, I would explain my point-of-view, I would challenge him not to discriminate, but I would not think cruelly about his profoundly held beliefs.

    I considered this scenario in several different ways. Should a person from any religion be required to violate their beliefs, or to offend their beliefs, simply because they are offering their services to the public? I can’t imagine requiring them to do so. Let another taxi driver pick up the fare.

    As I articulated, under some circumstances I would expect services. I would expect a taxi driver to give someone a ride under harsh weather conditions. I would expect a Catholic doctor to give important medical care to a patient who had an abortion. But in normal, daily, routine circumstances, even if I think someone’s beliefs are irrational, I can’t bring myself to demand that they do something against their profoundly held beliefs.

    February 12, 2009
  198. Jerry Friedman said:

    David: Just a technical note. Atheism can never be a religion, but types of atheism can, just like theism can never be a religion, but types of theism can.

    Again, my oft-cited example are Classic Buddhists, who are thoroughly atheistic and thoroughly religious.

    February 12, 2009
  199. Patrick Enders said:

    I’ll assume- based on your example – that your “good” discrimination is based on safety issues, and more importantly, on limiting the freedoms of those who have a proven track record of causing harm to others – let me know if I’m mistaken.

    So how do you draw the line between “bad” discrimination and “other” discrimination?

    You might be opposed to a “Whites Only” restaurant on Division St (you mentioned racism). What about a “Christians Only” restaurant, or a “No Hasidic Jews” coffee shop? What about a “No Muslims” or “No Gays” airline? How, legally, would you sort these into categories of illegal vs. merely distasteful?

    February 12, 2009
  200. john george said:

    Patrick & Jerry- Just a question for you both, would you liken your examples of performance to be, “What can I get away with and still be ‘good,'” or “What is the best way I can live and demonstrate ‘good?'” Just wondering.

    February 12, 2009
  201. Patrick Enders said:

    I don’t understand your question.

    February 12, 2009
  202. Jerry Friedman said:

    Patrick: We’re on the same track relating to “good” discrimination, and probably with “bad” discrimination.

    The reason why the fabled taxi driver doesn’t bother me is because there is no “bad” discrimination. There is no historical, pervasive oppression against people who carry alcohol. Instead, there is a businessman who provides a service, and in a particular situation, rational or irrational, he decides not to want to serve someone. Would we have the same reaction if he didn’t want to give rides to people with tattoos, not for a Muslim reason but because he thinks people who mutilate themselves are disgusting? In my view, he should be allowed to be selective in his customers.

    It’s no secret that I have my profoundly held political beliefs. Should I be obligated to take a client whose business is destroying the Earth, such as turning rain forest into cattle pastures?

    If there is a restaurant that has a ‘no alcohol’ policy, not because of regulation but because they are Muslims or Mormons, should we object? Are we privileged to drink alcohol in a Muslim restaurant? You understand that this is a far cry from “Whites Only” etc.

    I would like to live in a society that reasons, that someone carrying a closed can of beer can hire any taxi. I engage my community to abandon prejudice. But, as David L. reasons, I would also like to live in a society that accepts people’s varying beliefs, even the irrational, to the extent where no one is harmed. I am prepared to change the rules to guard against harm, but until harm enters the scenario, let the business owner choose.

    As a contributing factor, I’ll add that the personal service and close proximity among a taxi driver, his taxi, and his passenger. Even if they never exchange a polite word, it is a close relationship compared to a bus driver or a commercial plane pilot. Taxis are typically leased, but they may be owned by the driver. This close relationship is another reason I accept “other” discrimination. As the relationship becomes more distant, more anonymous, like on a commercial plane, I would begrudge the pilot who practices “other” discrimination.

    February 13, 2009
  203. Jerry Friedman said:

    John: If your question is “Upon what principle do you determine what is ethical?”, I use Utilitarianism in the great majority of circumstances. Utilitarianism says that the choice that maximizes happiness is the best choice.

    Many people over-simplify Utilitarianism by saying that “the ends justifies the means”. Utilitarianism agrees with that principle, but that principle is merely one component of Utilitarianism. For example, if bringing democracy to Iraq would maximize happiness, the means can maximize happiness (cultural exchange) or minimize happiness (bombing and occupying). Since Utilitarianism seeks to maximize happiness, the means should maximize happiness as well as the ends. Bombing Iraq is not Utilitarian.

    Between your choices, “What can I get away with and still be ‘good,’” or “What is the best way I can live and demonstrate ‘good?’”, Utilitarianism would choose #2.

    February 13, 2009
  204. Jerry Friedman said:

    John: Sorry, I just saw this comment of yours,

    …Most often we evaluate circumstances on a temporal level only, but there is a spiritual level we miss that is really important…

    Yeshua admits that he speaks in parables to confuse people, and later he gets upset that his disciples don’t understand him. I recognize that artful speakers will often use artful language. I, too, enjoy poetry. If his antisocial verses are intended to be spiritual, I certainly understand why his own disciples were confused. In fact, I think there is no worse way for a “wise man” to speak if his own students are confused and people generations later create 20,000 denominations and brutal wars because of the wise man’s hard-to-correctly-interpret speech. Did I mention Luke 14:26?

    Much of Yeshua’s poetry paints a frightening picture. When I think of psychologically redeeming poetry, I think of Buddha, Gandhi, Voltaire and King. Yeshua has a few diamonds, but he has so many terrors.

    “Brother shall deliver up the brother to death, and the father the child: and the children shall rise up against their parents, and cause them to be put to death.” [Matthew 10:21]

    Yeshua says things like this repeatedly, talking about those who reject his teachings. “He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” [Mtt. 10:37] I find this jealousy intolerable. You said much earlier that you found no inspiration for war or intolerance in the Bible. I don’t understand your optimism.

    February 13, 2009
  205. Randy Jennings said:

    Jerry and David,
    A straight-up question: how is a commercial taxi refusing to transport a passenger carrying a closed six-pack any different than a lunch counter in Birmingham refusing to serve a sandwich to a black person?

    If, after a tremendous struggle, we’ve finally begun to make progress unraveling racial discrimination, why would we backslide on the basis of religion?

    To those following at home, I apologize for the thread drift. We’ll return to the regularly schedule program on atheism shortly…

    February 13, 2009
  206. Jerry Friedman said:

    Randy: Fundamentally, because nothing about carrying a beer has anything to do with the person. In theory, a beer carrier can discard the beer, but people cannot discard their genes, their age, their disability. Our public policy stemming from centuries of oppression prohibits discrimination against immutable personal characteristics. We cannot (and should not) discriminate against one’s “race”, gender, age, physical disability, and so on.

    As I attempted to illustrate, if I was a taxi driver and was hailed by someone who hacked down forests, should I be obligated (by law or by societal standards) to give him a ride? I hope not. One’s profession is not an immutable characteristic. If I remember, you’re a professor. Assuming you are, you are under legal or contractual obligations to teach your class of students regardless of their characteristics. But if you decide to tutor students in a private business transaction, and if you don’t like people who mutilate themselves, should you be obligated to tutor students who have pierced ears? I think you should be able to select your students in such business transactions regardless of your reason for rejection, including irrational reasons.

    Again, I’d rather people not discriminate (except against those who destroy our planet), but I can’t imagine a “free” society that obligates people to do things that rub against their profoundly held beliefs.

    If beer carriers become a class of persons who suffer institutional discrimination, oppression, or they risk injury (like being on a street corner in harsh weather), I’d change my analysis.

    February 13, 2009
  207. Patrick Enders said:

    How do you feel about this one:
    “Some [Minneapolis taxi drivers] also have refused to transport dogs, both pets and guide dogs, saying they are unclean.”

    Do the blind have a right to a taxi? Perhaps they could just get their own cars – or their own separate but equal taxi service- to get them home.

    As for the alcohol issue, we are not necessarily talking about public intoxication. We are talking about people arriving as MSP Int’l Airport.

    As the above article notes,
    “Since January 2002, the commission said in announcing the new rules, there have been about 4,800 instances where cab drivers refused to pick up people with alcohol in their possession. Travelers arriving from international destinations often bring back duty-free alcoholic beverages many in easily identifiable packages.”

    February 13, 2009
  208. Patrick Enders said:

    Here’s another example from our nearby metropolis:
    “In Minneapolis, Muslim taxi drivers have repeatedly refused to transport Paula Hare, who is transgendered, KMSP-TV, Channel 9, reported this month.”
    (Sorry, didn’t find the original).

    February 13, 2009
  209. David Ludescher said:

    Randy: The difference is that the taxi cab driver is discriminating on the basis of what the person is doing. For the lunch counter scenario, the discriminating is on the basis of who the person is.

    I’m not suggesting that the taxi cab driver’s discrimination is “right”; but, I also don’t think that it is “wrong”. I just think that it should be tolerable in a pluralistic society.

    Further, I firmly believe that government should not try to use its coercive powers to force “right” belief. We run the danger of being so intolerant that we become like the Danes, who are prosecuting a filmmaker for suggesting that the Holocaust didn’t happen. How silly is that?

    February 13, 2009
  210. Patrick Enders said:

    How do you feel about refusing transportation to the transgendered person?

    February 13, 2009
  211. john george said:

    Jerry- Yep, you understood my question corectly. I thought that was where you would be, and I also. Probably, the difference between us is how we would define our motivations. For utilitarianism, it is your responsibility to figure our what to do in each situation. I come from the position of two scriptures that come to mind- (and I paraphrase) Thou shalt guide me with Thy counsel and from behind a voice sounding in your ear, this is the way, walk in it. For me, there is security in knowing Someone who is spiritual and directs me from the complete perspective.

    As far as your other comments, I feel you are still only evaluating things from the temporal side only. I understand that this is the only perspective you have to come from, as did I before I was renewed in my spirit, so I don’t condemn you for it. I’m only saying there is more.

    February 13, 2009
  212. Randy Jennings said:

    Jerry, let’s tease this out: if religious beliefs are not “immutable” personal characteristics (and I agree they are not), then to privilege any such beliefs will result in arbitrary discrimination against those who hold different beliefs or no beliefs. In a previous post David thought a distinction between regulated and unregulated business was not relevant; how about distinguishing between public and private conduct?

    I’d suggest that the public sphere must operate on the broadest and least invasive common denominators of behaviors necessary for society to function. To me, that means constraining religious beliefs to one’s private life and to voluntary communities of interest, like a church, synagogue, mosque or coven. Once one leaves this private sphere, one is not obliged to stop believing, but rather is simply constrained from imposing one’s beliefs on others. In a perfect world, this constraint would be self-initiated; sadly, that’s not the world in which we live.

    February 13, 2009
  213. Jerry Friedman said:

    Randy: Insofar as my personal ethics, I agree with you. I would like that society if it was created by mass consent. My problem is that I value our free society so much that I accept that others may discriminate against me, because being free is more important than being free-from-discrimination.

    In the (dare I say) Utopian society you describe, prohibited discrimination will be concealed and it will fester, eventually to cause terrible results.

    February 13, 2009
  214. Jerry Friedman said:

    Patrick: I am OK with all the discrimination you posted except for the transgendered and blind people.

    I see this as an opportunity for other taxi drivers to make more business. If the Muslim taxi drivers are morally wrong (I assert that they are), I’d rather they be boycotted. They can refuse business as business owners/operators, and customers can refuse business too. In the “free” society, we can select with whom we want to do business.

    Perhaps I should start a taxi service that advertises “closed alcohol containers, clean and unclean companion animals welcome!” As David writes, I would not want the law to force compliance in these circumstances. I’d rather market forces play out, and let undiscriminating taxi drivers make more money.

    I take issue with the transgendered person because she is discriminated against because of who she is. Similarly, blind people with seeing-eye dogs should be given rides. I give a lot of weight to the policies behind the laws preventing discrimination against these groups.

    February 13, 2009
  215. Patrick Enders said:

    When you say that you are “OK with all the discrimination you posted except for the transgendered and blind people,” does that mean only the discrimination against persons carrying alcohol, or with pets? I assume, unless you state otherwise, that you are not talking about the hypothetical restaurants I mentioned earlier.

    What kind of laws, and what kind of punishments, would you implement to enforce these rules regarding bad-vs.-okay discrimination in providing a fairly essential public service, such as transportation provided to those who cannot afford cars of their own, and do not live on a major public transit network line?

    If you were a licensing board, seeking to provide taxis to service passengers coming and going from the MSP Intl Airport, and you could license only a finite number of drivers to service the airport (given that there is only so much available curb space), would you give preference to allocating those licenses to non-discriminating drivers who promised to transport all persons (including those with closed containers of alcohol, and/or pets), or would you distribute the licenses based on some other principle?

    February 13, 2009
  216. Jerry Friedman said:

    Patrikk: Correct on your assumption. As I have stated repeatedly, discrimination based on traditionally oppressed groups is never OK. Discrimination on other aspects is or isn’t OK based on the situation.

    What kind of laws, and what kind of punishments, would you implement to enforce these rules regarding bad-vs.-okay discrimination in providing a fairly essential public service, such as transportation provided to those who cannot afford cars of their own, and do not live on a major public transit network line?

    I’d want to know more specifically what’s going on. I wouldn’t expect that someone who cannot afford a car would need to transport a closed beer in a taxi. If there was such a person, that person could call another taxi and specify, “Send someone who is OK transporting beer,” or that person could ditch their beer. I don’t see a problem here. So maybe I need another example.

    If you were a licensing board, seeking to provide taxis to service passengers coming and going from the MSP Intl Airport[…]

    If I was on a governmental agency, such as a taxi licensing board, I have an obligation to the public trust. I would work to develop policies that benefit the public. Taxi drivers who want to be licensed for airport access would have to agree to the policies. In this way, a Muslim or Mormon taxi driver could keep their profoundly held views and seek other customers, or they can decide that their views aren’t all that profoundly held and get an airport license.

    February 13, 2009
  217. Patrick Enders said:

    So it looks like we are in pretty close agreement, after all. In seeking to provide services to the general public, the airport board has a vested interest in giving preference to non-discriminating taxi drivers over discriminating ones.

    Other people may continue to call themselves taxi drivers, and provide some ad hoc services in some locations, but they will likely be excluded from servicing the general public at the airport.

    Sounds about the same as the policy that the airport has decided upon.

    So David,

    Where do you stand on this question of discriminating taxi drivers? Who can they discriminate against, and should non-discriminating drivers be given licenses in preference over discriminating ones?

    February 13, 2009
  218. Felicity Enders said:

    Remember, the taxi driver thing is an issue of discrimination in both directions.

    February 13, 2009
  219. Patrick Enders said:

    John, you wrote,

    Patrick & Jerry- Just a question for you both, would you liken your examples of performance to be, “What can I get away with and still be ‘good,’” or “What is the best way I can live and demonstrate ‘good?’” Just wondering.

    Getting back to your question – which I think I follow better now than I did in the hazy hours of last night:

    I believe in trying to be “good” in my actions for a variety of reasons. First, I believe in the principle that you should act towards others in a manner consistent with what you would expect (or hope for) from others.

    I think that the largest number of persons tends to benefit from such an arrangement. I think that both Utilitarian and Kantian philosophies have some merit in considering this, but each of course has its limitations.

    Second, I do believe that most of us have an innate compulsion to tend to be good to those around us whom we consider to be part of our ‘tribe’ (to use a non-specific term, since people are always sorting others into different groups of ‘us’ and ‘them.’) I try to think of that tribe of commonality as broadly constructed as possible. I hope that by doing so, I will encourage others to act similarly.

    I share this compulsion. I want to be good because I also like myself better (that is, I come closer to achieving my own high expectations for myself) when I am being “good.” My hunch is that this compulsion is biologically-driven, but I’m fine with persons who would prefer to attribute it to some kind of divine force. It’s possible that they may be right.

    In short, I think that acting “good” is good for me, is good for the recipient of my good acts, and is good as a model for other observers to see, and perhaps to emulate. To what degree I achieve this ideal, of course, is another matter.

    You’re asking a big question there, and I don’t think that there is one single answer that can explain all of human behaviors – including my own. Hope these quick jottings help a bit, though.

    February 13, 2009
  220. David Ludescher said:

    Randy: I think your explanation is too simplistic about belief systems.

    Calling a belief “religious” doesn’t help us discern its truth or its value. Hence, dismissing a belief just because it is religious (or atheist) impoverishes the dialogue needed for “e pluribus unum” (out of many – one).

    We don’t have a choice about bringing belief systems into our social dealings. So, when a taxicab driver doesn’t want you in his cab because you have booze, the question for society is, which is more important – your freedom to have booze or his freedom to exclude you?

    Minnesota faced a freedom question when dealing with the smoking issue. People can’t smoke in a private establishment even if everyone there wants to smoke. Why restrict someone’s freedom just because you don’t like the activity?

    The one characteristic that we all have in common for building a just society is reason. To not use reason to reflect upon concepts learned or borrowed from religions is to unnecessarily restrict reason to only the empirically verifiable. This idea that we can’t discuss things because “that is what I believe is ridiculous”.

    In the end, I agree with you that Griff’s question is an odd one. I don’t think think that Obama’s intention was to try and recognize another special interest group, who every other special interest group dare not offend.

    I would hope that atheists could stand up and say, “Now that Martin Luther King, Jr. is a Christian with whom I can agree wholeheartedly. I want to know his God.” I would also hope that Christians can say, “Christian do not hate homosexuals, abortion providers, or atheists.”

    February 13, 2009
  221. David Ludescher said:

    Correction: This idea that we can’t discuss things because, “that is what I believe” is ridiculous.

    February 13, 2009
  222. john george said:

    Patrick- Your comment, “…You’re asking a big question there, and I don’t think that there is one single answer that can explain all of human behaviors – including my own…” is what I believe, also. We all may have similar motivations to do certain actions, depending on our common experiences, but I don’t think we can make universal judgements of every specific action. There are the autonomic and instinctive reactions, but I’m not sure we are discussing those types of things. The thing my wife always refers to when things don’t go right is that there is sin in the world. I believe this is true, and does affect certain behaviors, but I also believe in the perversity of inanimate objects.

    February 13, 2009
  223. kiffi summa said:

    Ok..this piqued my interest to the point of re-entry into this discussion: John wrote: “I also believe in the perversity of inanimate objects”…….

    What does that mean? For example: is the sidewalk ice that makes you lose your footing, fall and break your arm, a perverse inanimate object?

    February 14, 2009
  224. Randy Jennings said:

    we are in agreement on much of the substance of your last post. I don’t think the smoking example is a particularly strong one for you, since the issue wasn’t an individual’s right to smoke, but rather a smoker’s right to expose others to the detrimental consequences of his or her action in the public sphere. Since nearly everyone but the tobacco companies has agreed that the chemicals in cigarettes cause cancer, and since everyone in society pays the increased cost of health care for smoking related illness and disease, there is a compelling public interest in restricting exposure to cigarette smoke. I’d say that example falls more on my side of the argument than yours. You can still buy cigarettes, you can still smoke them in the privacy of your own home without reprisal (other than higher insurance premiums, which is simply a market response to a smoker’s increased risk that you should be pleased with). Your right to smoke still stands.

    I agree wholeheartedly with your defense of reason. What does your governor, Tim Pawlenty, say? Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not to their own facts. I’d say reason (facts) is one element of the boundary we draw around the exercise of beliefs (opinion) in the public sphere.

    I’d make one friendly amendment to your closing paragraph. I’d be interested in knowing about how MLK’s beliefs motivated his work. That may be only subtly different than “knowing his God,” but I am more interested in the thinking of the human than the specifics of the myth(s) he believed.

    February 14, 2009
  225. Jerry Friedman said:

    Randy: You said

    I’d be interested in knowing about how MLK’s beliefs motivated his work. That may be only subtly different than “knowing his God,” but I am more interested in the thinking of the human than the specifics of the myth(s) he believed.

    It’s not subtle.

    Christians tend to idolize only Christians. For example, much of King’s inspiration was Gandhi. David didn’t suggest that we try to understand Gandhi’s gods. Much of Gandhi’s inspiration was Thoreau. While Thoreau was probably not an atheist, he certainly was not a Christian. Without Gandhi and Thoreau, King would have lost two vital historical lessons on nonviolence and civil disobedience. King also drew important distinctions from Malcolm X — who was a Muslim.

    I suggest, that if you want to understand King, start with Thoreau.

    David’s suggestion to understand King’s beliefs had little to do with King and everything to do with Yeshua.

    I agree with David that if someone wants to understand a person, their religion is part of the person. I think that if you want to understand where King was coming from, you should inquire about King’s concept of Christianity but not Christianity generally. Just like if you want to know where Pope Sixtus IV got the gumption to approve the Spanish Inquisition, you should inquire about his concept of Christianity.

    February 14, 2009
  226. Jerry Friedman said:

    Kiffi: I don’t know if John meant vibrators when he commented on the perversity of inanimate objects (John, can you clarify?), but it reminded me of the vibrator ban in Alabama:

    Last month, the Supreme Court refused to hear the “Alabama sex-toy case,” ending an almost 10-year battle since the law’s enactment in 1998, which banned the [sale] of sex toys. Sherri Williams, a plaintiff and Alabama sex shop owner, refuses to give up hope. “They are going to have to pry this vibrator from my cold, dead hand,” she told The Associated Press.

    February 14, 2009
  227. john george said:

    Kiffi & Jerry- Uh, how did you take this turn? I’ve always heard the terminology, perversity of inanimate objects, used to refer to any piece of mechanical equipment that will not function properly at the time it is most needed. For instance, having the snowblower not start when it first snows; having the key break off in the lock; having a flat tire on your car on the morning you happen to oversleep, etc. These things occur in anyone’s life no matter what his moral condition is. If you two want to use it some other way, it is your definition, not mine, and I’m not going down that direction. There is probably no term in the English language that has not been sullied in some way to make it offensive to someone. Remember, in Spanish, the word for the color black is negros. If you want to twist that around to be a racial epiteth, then you may, I suppose, but you’ll have a hard time south of the Texas border.

    February 14, 2009
  228. kiffi summa said:

    John: I never heard the term, and it’s obvious from my comment I wasn’t thinking along the same line as Jerry.
    Excuse me, but I find no relationship between snowblowers that won’t start( your example of a “perverse inanimate object) and atheists.

    February 15, 2009
  229. john george said:

    Kiffi- Sorry I connected you with that comment. It was pretty late last night and I had worked a 60+ hour week. When I started it, I was just going to answer you both in one post.

    Of course the snowblower does not have any connection with an athiest, nor does it have any connection to a Christian if it does start. I was just interacting with Patrick on the line of human behaviors and their outcomes.

    February 15, 2009
  230. Jerry Friedman said:

    John (and Kiffi): Ditto what Kiffi said. I’m not familiar with the term you used but it reminded me of the Alabama story. I suppose like the term “gay”, it means one thing to one generation and then the next generation changes it.

    February 15, 2009
  231. Bright Spencer said:

    Every time humans do too much of anything, and that includes smoking, eating, drinking, sunbathing, driving, believing, kissing, running, jumping, singing, or hating we hurt ourselves and/or others. Can I get an AMEN on that?

    February 15, 2009
  232. Bruce Anderson said:

    I’d like to return, and add to, the comments of

    -David L:

    The one characteristic that we all
    have in common for building a just
    society is reason. To not use reason
    to reflect upon concepts learned or
    borrowed from religions is to
    unnecessarily restrict reason to only
    the empirically verifiable.

    with which I couldn’t agree more,

    • Randy:

    I’d say reason (facts) is one element
    of the boundary we draw around the
    exercise of beliefs (opinion) in the
    public sphere.

    I’d make one friendly amendment to
    your closing paragraph. I’d be
    interested in knowing about how MLK’s
    beliefs motivated his work. That may
    be only subtly different than “knowing
    his God,” but I am more interested in
    the thinking of the human than the
    specifics of the myth(s) he believed.

    with which I also completely agree, with the addition of

    • Jerry’s caveat that:

    It’s not subtle.

    Christians tend to idolize only
    Christians. For example, much of
    King’s inspiration was Gandhi. David
    didn’t suggest that we try to
    understand Gandhi’s gods. Much of
    Gandhi’s inspiration was Thoreau.
    While Thoreau was probably not an
    atheist, he certainly was not a
    Christian. Without Gandhi and Thoreau,
    King would have lost two vital
    historical lessons on nonviolence and
    civil disobedience. King also drew
    important distinctions from Malcolm X
    — who was a Muslim.

    I suggest, that if you want to
    understand King, start with Thoreau…

    …I agree with David that if someone
    wants to understand a person, their
    religion is part of the person. I
    think that if you want to understand
    where King was coming from, you should
    inquire about King’s concept of
    Christianity but not Christianity

    I think this has been a really useful, respectful, exchange of ideas among individuals with clearly stated, differing points of view. As a religious non-believer myself, I always strive to respect and understand the beliefs of others, and would hope that believers, of whatever description, could also respect my religious “non-belief” as a deeply examined and worthy position. (Please note: I am not an atheist. I do not claim to know that God/god(s) does/do not exist; I simply acknowledge that I do not know, and am unlikely to ever do so.)

    I think it’s worth reminding ourselves that humans have been grappling with the issues of our place in the cosmos, the known, the unknown, the perhaps unknowable, and what it all means in terms of how we live our lives on this planet, for a long time. Surely, we’ve been at it at least since anatomically modern humans emerged some 50,000 years ago. Our ancestors probably gazed at the stars and contemplated these issues for far longer than that, perhaps going back to the point when Archaic Homo sapiens emerged at least 160,000 years ago, maybe even as far back as the time when the genus Homo differentiated from the australopithecines about two million years ago.

    We stand, intellectually, on the shoulders of all the thinkers who came before us over this deep well of human history. Surely there is deep wisdom in all of the world’s faith systems. Just as surely, in my mind, no one of them has a corner on the truth market. Some of us, myself included, have concluded that the best path forward for humanity is to not only tolerate, but to celebrate, diverse religious belief systems (including non-belief) as part of the rich tapestry of ever-evolving humanity, but to keep them separate from the public sphere as completely as possible. Everywhere and always throughout history, to do otherwise leads to privileging of one group over others, and acts of inhumanity.

    February 15, 2009
  233. kiffi summa said:

    Bruce : I’d vote for that last statement of yours to be the end of this thread…
    What about it, Griff?

    February 15, 2009
  234. David Ludescher said:

    Bruce: How does one tolerate and celebrate the rich tapestry of ever-evolving humanity by keeping belief systems separate from the public sphere?

    Do we tolerate and celebrate a Muslim’s beliefs by telling him that he must allow us to carry alcohol in his cab? Do we tolerate and celebrate when we tell him to take his silly beliefs home?

    The Constitution wisely states that the government should not establish nor prevent the free exercise of beliefs. This means that, as much as possible, common beliefs should be integrated into society, not excluded from society.

    By excluding as many belief systems as possible from the public sphere as possible, America has inadvertently created a privileged class of empiricists. Morality has been reduced to a vote. People have lost confidence in the truth. Good and right have become arbitrary terms, rather than merely elusive goals. Rights have become possessions passed out by governments, rather than freedoms from government. This is the new religion that has developed in Western cultures. It is essentially a religion of non-beliefs because everyone, including atheists have been excluded from discussing the issues that face mankind.

    February 16, 2009
  235. Bright Spencer said:

    David L, I agree. Repression of expression leads to eruptions and corruption.

    February 16, 2009
  236. Bruce Anderson said:

    David L: You ask

    How does one tolerate and celebrate
    the rich tapestry of ever-evolving
    humanity by keeping belief systems
    separate from the public sphere?

    It’s obviously not easy, as no society (ours included), has ever been able to turn the trick. Every society of which I am aware has had internecine struggles centering on differing belief systems, from the slaughters of the Old Testament to the persecution of Jews and Christians by the Roman Empire to the Edict of Expulsion sending hundreds of thousands of Jews into exile from Spain in 1492 to the (at least partially religiously justified/motivated) genocide of Native Americans resulting from American Manifest Destiny to the horrific ethnic cleansing of the Partition of India in 1947 creating primarily Muslim Pakistan and primarily Hindu India to the de facto anti-Semitism and anti-all-non-Christian sects of the 18th through 20th century US (significantly reduced in recent years, thankfully) to sectarian violence played out in Iraq in the past six years…violent conflict at least partially based on differences in belief systems is everywhere you look in human history

    That being said, I didn’t mean to imply that religious beliefs should play no role whatsoever in the public realm. And I most emphatically don’t mean “Repression of expression” as Bright just commented. Express to your hearts content! That’s what we’re doing here; that’s what happened when Judy Dirks objected to the prayer ladies having privileged unsupervised access to Al Roder’s office during city council meetings.

    All of us who engage in civic/public activity are obviously bringing our whole set of values, religiously-informed or otherwise, to the table. That is as it should be. However, like it or not, we live in a tremendously pluralistic society, and not everyone shares your worldview completely, David.

    I don’t know how any objective observer could conclude that “America has inadvertently created a privileged class of empiricists,” as you put it. That’s certainly not the America that I’ve lived 50 years in. The America I live in is one in which the laws, customs, and mores are still overwhelmingly Christian. For the most part, I have no problem with that, as our population is primarily Judeo-Christian in background. I just think it’s clear that the Constitution, and a review of the too-frequent tragic episodes in human history, indicate that in the public realm, we must be willing to work toward accommodation of differing belief systems, not imposition of one belief system. It’s hard work, and it’s messy, but there it is.

    February 16, 2009
  237. David Ludescher said:

    Bruce: I wish that I could agree with you. My experience has been that political correctness, not consistent and thoughtful belief systems dominate much of society today.

    I was recently asked to join an ethics committee. When I asked what system of thought was being used, or how something was determined to be “ethical”, I got all kinds of strange looks.

    Apparently, “ethical” to this committee was simply a vote on what each individual person thought. That is not tolerance; that is democracy masquerading as ethics. Furthermore, I have been taught that ethics is about fairness; morals are about love of neighbor.

    My point – beliefs are increasingly becoming about the law, or individual beliefs guided by no particular larger frame of reference.

    February 16, 2009
  238. Randy Jennings said:

    David, you wrote that:

    The Constitution wisely states that the government should not establish nor prevent the free exercise of beliefs. This means that, as much as possible, common beliefs should be integrated into society, not excluded from society.

    Actually, doesn’t the establishment clause (wisely) speak about religion, and not beliefs? The constitutional issue is protection from the coercive influence of government’s endorsement of any religion, in any way. It a political issue, not a restriction on or encouragement of any person’s right to believe in whatever they want to believe, and to express his or her beliefs freely. We simply (and reasonably) restrict religious adherents from imposing their beliefs on others, not from expressing those beliefs in private or in public.

    I agree that common beliefs should be (and are) the basis of society. Although much of the language we use today to describe things draws on the judeo-christian traditions, the underlying values are found in many religions and traditions that pre-date christianity. So, accumulated human wisdom is apparently empirically valuable. Can you supply an example of an explicitly religious belief that is held in common?

    February 16, 2009
  239. David Ludescher said:

    Randy: I was using the term beliefs or belief systems to be a more encompassing term than “religion” so as to avoid the discounting of a belief system just because its roots were embodied in a theistic system, or create the impression that an atheist system is “better”.

    I would also agree that the underlying values of different traditions are important as they contain the collective wisdom of empirical experience. But, that wisdom was not created in a vacuum, and its origins cannot be ignored without losing some of the wisdom.

    An example of an explicitly religious belief that we all seem to hold in common is the idea of inalienable rights. In the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson wrote that we hold some truths to be self-evident. These truths include that we are endowed by our Creator with the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

    An inalienable right has to come from something or someone other than man himself if those rights are to be inalienable. Implicitly, we all know that there is an “other”. Some people choose to name this other – “God”, “Allah” or “Yahweh”. Others choose to not name the other, or believe that the other is chaos, incapable of being known, or impractical in today’s world.

    Politically, this Other expresses itself by being the guiding force for our relationships with each other. When the Other is reduced to the god called “Me” then we have huge troubles. When the Other is money, power, or sex, then we have problems. Lastly, even when the Other gets reduced to “pure reason” we end up losing all of the empirical wisdom that we have accumulated over so many years.

    To squeeze the Other out of our political debates is a mistake.

    February 16, 2009
  240. Patrick Enders said:

    David L,

    Implicitly, we all know that there is an “other”…..
    …To squeeze the Other out of our political debates is a mistake.

    I don’t know that there is an “other.” Especially based upon your description of such a thing.

    If you are choosing to define this “other” you speak of in such a way that it could be “God”, “Allah”, “Yahweh”, “chaos,” “Me”, “money,” “power,” “sex,” or “pure reason”, then it sounds like a fairly meaningless concept.

    February 16, 2009
  241. john george said:

    David L.- I think it is interesting that your quote from the Bill of Rights, “…These truths include that we are endowed by our Creator with the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness…” is not a concept that can be directly quoted from the New Testament. The writers threw in the term “Creator,” but that does not make these things Christian, per se. In fact, the whole concept of rights and entitlements is really not grounded in NT teachings. We Christians are challenged by Jesus’ life and death to lay down our lives for our convictions, the Just slain for the unjust. This is a surrendering of “rights”, it would seem to me, just as Jesus demonstrated. Now don’t get me wrong, I am very happy and previleged to live in a country that allows me those “rights”, although I consider them previleges. In fact, there is a good disertation on this concept in Paul’s letter to the Philipians, ch. 2.

    That being the case, I see it as my responsibility to live peacefully with those who dissagree with me, be they Atheist or whatever. I desire to treat them in the same fashion that I want to be treated in return. If we could chose to live according to this pattern, no matter what we believe, then I think there are many relationship ills that would disappear.

    February 16, 2009
  242. kiffi summa said:

    Randy: I think your comment, #237, is a very important one , in that it separates religion and belief systems.
    As far as what happens when an organized religion (first group) inserts itself into the political process BECAUSE they feel THEIR rights are being violated by those with differing religions, belief systems (second group)…….or laws(government) that support other belief systems which are interpreted as violating the first group’s Religious Beliefs ( and that use of the word beliefs is important here) … as Shakespeare said, “Ah, there’s the rub!”

    We must be able to separate a religious group’s push for legal changes from criticism of beliefs; i.e. if one enters the political arena for a change of laws, then it is fair to fight as hard as you can for what you believe to be best for society, and you cannot be held to an evaluation of religious ‘persecution’ or discrimination. More specifically … if the Mormon Church and Rick Warren/ Saddleback Church wish to fight the civil rights of same sex couples, then it is a political fight, and they are in for all the disagreement they may, or may not have to take, without being able to fall back on their presumption that they are being religiously discriminated against. It is, in that arena, a Political, not a Religious fight.

    They may make the argument of “discrimination against a religion” if they please; then the next step is the discussion of what is a more basic set of rights….Human, Civil, or the preference of a religious persuasion? If you could choose only one of those three rights, ONLY ONE that you would have control of for yourself and all you care about, which would you choose as the most important to your continued existence ?

    P.S. Would it be ‘flip’ to say martyrs need not respond?

    February 17, 2009
  243. David Ludescher said:

    Randy and Kiffi: I don’t see how the distinction between belief systems and religion is helpful, either from an intellectual or political standpoint.

    In my opinion, those who disagree with particular positions of a religious group (such as Rick Warren or the Mormom Church) often dismiss the group’s thinking as religious to avoid political discourse on the merits.

    Griff and Obie: I will pick on you for a paragraph. When the two of you declared that the ECLA needed to wake up and smell the coffee on homosexuality (Griff), and get with the times (Obie) did either of you read the ECLA’s official statment? It was very well reasoned and compassionate. What about the statment did you disagree with and why?

    Politically, we seem to have trouble separating the religious concept of marriage from the political concept. Under current law, marriage is a contract. It does not involve loving or committed relationships. It is a contract that can be broken without cause or impunity. So, to hear arguments that say that gays or lesbians are in loving and committed relationships means nothing politically; its significance is religious. Religions tell us that all of our relationships should be loving and committed; religion also tells us that a relationship which is capable of producing children is the most special of all relationships.

    There is no “civil right” to marry; the law defines marriage. People are free to marry in their own faith traditions; the government does not and never could prevent that marriage.

    Justice is what demands that gays and lesbians should be able to get a civil marriage. But, that same justice would also seem to require that polygamy and other “married” relationships have to be sanctioned by the government. After all, where should the discrimination end?

    This is a predicament for governments and churches. Right now, the political debate taking place over what is essentially a religious concept. These are the kind of debates that atheists are particularly well-suited to resolve given their emphasis on reason over revelation. Why they have not chosen to take up this challenge, and instead have opted to choose sides appears to have more to do with their disdain for the “religious right” than informed reason.

    February 17, 2009
  244. Obie Holmen said:

    David L,

    I must admit, I am unable to follow your thinking on your latest entry as well as numerous others.

    You state: those who disagree with particular positions of a religious group (such as Rick Warren or the Mormom Church) often dismiss the group’s thinking as religious to avoid political discourse on the merits. So, the Mormon opposition to gay marriage in CA was not based on their religious beliefs???? Good to know. Did they get the idea from a matchbook cover?

    I must admit that I have not read the latest ELCA sexuality statement. My concern is that the ELCA has not taken action in assembly to allow gay clergy or to recognize gay marriage. Statements are statements but official policy as enacted by duly constituted assemblies is something else. In any case, you misquote me in your post. What I actually said was: My own home is in the ELCA, and while I applaud its progress toward inclusion and full participation by gays, I also lament its pace. Justice delayed is justice denied.

    I agree that marriage is a contract under state laws and may also be an institution in the marriage partner’s religion, and the overlapping of the two is problematic. But then your arguments get a little muddy: first, you correctly point out that marriage is a civil contract; later, you suggest it is essentially a religious concept; and finally, you conclude that atheists are particularly well-suited for debating such religious concepts. Thanks for clearing that up.

    BTW, I am still awaiting your response to our earlier exchange in which you claimed the RC church allowed “full and unqualified participation for gays in the life of the church”, and I pointed out a few quick examples to the contrary.

    Ah, there I go again, bringing up the facts, damned empericist that I am.

    February 17, 2009
  245. David Ludescher said:

    Obie: The Rick Warren and Mormon philosophies are actually empirically and religiously based. A man/woman relationship has the capability to create children. That one inescapable and biological fact creates what many religions rightly regard as a sacred relationship. From society’s standpoint offering greater protection to these relationships makes also makes sense.

    The idea that gays and lesbians in “loving and committed” relationships should be able to marry doesn’t square with the law, which requires neither love nor commitment to marry.

    Justice is the reason gays and lesbians should be able to civilly marry. If a man and a woman can form a contract, why shouldn’t two men or two women have the same privilege? That is a fairly strong argument. However, that also means that marriage shouldn’t have to be restricted to two people nor should it have to be restricted to strangers. After all, marriage is only a contract. On what basis or by what principle does government draw the line? Does it get its principle off of a matchbook cover?

    The “religious”, such as Warren and the Mormons can give us some insight if we don’t immediately dismiss their beliefs as religious. It makes sense to draft marriage laws so that the laws offer incentives for people to have children in marriage and stay married. It makes sense to offer the disadvantaged spouse protection from unanticipated broken contracts. It makes sense to require some level of commitment to marriage both from the spouse’s and the children’s viewpoint.

    I think that atheists are particularly well-suited to distill religious concepts into what Randy refers to as the “collective human wisdom” because they shouldn’t have any bias from their traditions to lead them astray. But, if atheists or well-meaning Christians or anyone else don’t take the time to read, reflect, and understand serious religious and philosophical thinkers it will be impossible to have an informed discussion on the true merits of issues such as civil unions.

    So, I would encourage you to read the ECLA document before lamenting the pace of progress. I don’t know how you can disagree if you haven’t read the document.

    February 18, 2009
  246. Randy Jennings said:

    Kiffi, re: 241, I’d be satisfied with the inalienable rights named in the constitution, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, but they leave a lot of room for interpretation. Maybe that’s what the framers had in mind.

    David, how are the inalienable rights addressed in the constitution explicitly religious in nature? Jefferson’s invocation of “the Creator” is a more metaphorical than literal acknowledgment of an unknown, perhaps unknowable beginning of existence, rather than a religious entity. To believe that rights are “inalienable” doesn’t necessarily mean they are literally conferred by an “other,” but rather that they are innate to each human being and cannot be surrendered or taken (a relatively subversive new idea back in the late 18th century, and still a challenge to humanity given the way our history is littered with attempts to do just that, often in the name of religion).

    I’m not arguing against belief. I simply think that religious beliefs are not a valid basis for governing a pluralistic, multicultural society, and that religions should not be granted political power. I think that’s what our far-sighted framers had in mind.

    On the marriage theme, if we have some measure of social consensus that society benefits from stable familial relationships, why would it not be in our interest to encourage the formation of as many forms of civil unions as consenting adults wish to enter into? My rights are not infringed nor my family rendered in any way less valid, if other people choose to live in a different family structure. Similarly, the legal structure of my marriage, entered into under the watchful eye of a county judge, is in no way harmed if someone else chooses to create a more elaborate ritual that invokes religious elements that have meaning to them.

    February 18, 2009
  247. David Ludescher said:

    Randy: We are in agreement on inalienable rights except the “metaphorical” aspect of Jefferson’s Creator. I think Jefferson meant it literally, in the same sense that you explained it.

    The rights are alienable not because we want to believe so (opinion), because man has made it so (law), but because it is so (fact). Alienability is anchored in an “Other” (whether an atheist Other or a theist God) from which or from whom no man or consensus of men can change. That is the logical explanation.

    The short theological explanation is that God is the Creator; man is the created. God has created everyone, regardless of belief, with free will and equal dignity. Only God, not man, can take away when has been given as our birthright.

    Regarding civil unions, you are right except that today’s marriage and/or civil unions does not do anything to create stable relationships. If it did, I would be in favor of moving further in the “civil union” direction. But, we are moving down the path of making marriage so inclusive as to be meaningless except for the government benefits that go along with such a label.

    Sen. Neuville had a proposal that we create three classes of “marriage”. The highest order would be relationships involving children. The government has a special interest in those relationships for the protection of the children (and in many cases, a disadvantaged spouse). At the lowest end, would be “personal corporations” which would contain as many people as desired. Sex and sexuality would be removed from the definition entirely. While not perfect, it would restore some measure of sanity and fairness to the system, especially for children.

    February 18, 2009
  248. Patrick Enders said:


    In your vision of relationship law, how is my relationship to Felicity any different from the relationship between two loving men, or two loving women?

    Simple observation, experimentation, and the best that medical science has to offer has demonstrated that the two of us are, for all practical purposes, incapable of producing children. Not our intent, just reality.

    We are intending to adopt. Homosexual couples are also capable of adopting, and providing care to their children that is every bit as loving and skillful as that we might offer.

    Would you (and former Sen. Neuville) punish us for our failure to reproduce, by demoting us to some lower, less highly regarded level of contract – based upon our reproductive failure? Or, would you prefer to elevate a homosexual couple – who adopt and lovingly raise children – to your more-highly-regarded level of sanctioned social contract?

    If you could this time, I would greatly appreciate your answer to this question, explaining how you would distinguish between these two couples. Thank you in advance.

    February 18, 2009
  249. David Ludescher said:

    Patrick: A couple of qualifiers.

    First, the “relationship” levels of which I am now speaking are entirely political constructs. These constructs would not be based upon either love or sexuality. Present law does not require either love nor commitment. So, no one should make the argument that they should be allowed to get married because they “love” each other.

    Second, atheists could contribute greatly to the discussion of a “marriage” system. But, they have to purge themselves of the idea that marriage should be based on “love”. That is a religious idea that is impossible for the government to know or regulate. Atheists need to focus upon data, outcomes, and measurable testing. That is what they insist upon and that is what they know best.

    That leaves us with the question of the government’s purpose in marriage and relationship law. (That is essentially the same problem Moses faced 3400 years ago; but, that is for another discussion.)

    So, before I get to your question, to what extent do you think that government should enter into and regulate the people’s relationships? And, to what extent should the government protect the children who don’t have a vote in the relationship?

    February 19, 2009
  250. Jerry Friedman said:

    Patrick: The likely origins of marriage among Europeans were political and economic. Perhaps you could make your case to Sen. Neuville that effectively sterile heterosexual couples and homosexuals should be allowed the “highest order” of marriage when they unite tribes, like Democrats and Republicans, or Iowans and Minnesotans.

    In the 4th century, Romans made same-sex marriage illegal. This is what I suspect to be the origin of modern prejudice against same-sex marriages. It boggles me when we discover modern institutions based on Roman law. We don’t crucify people any more. Nonetheless some other Roman customs remain.

    David’s reference to the benefit of heterosexual couples does stem from the assumption that such couples form a stable family unit. It reasons that for a marriage to succeed, the man is domesticated and works (an economic benefit to society), the woman is domesticated and either raises children, works, or does both. The children repeat the process. And society benefits as a whole. This assumption guides many gov’t policies.

    The assumption does not contemplate other types of opposite-sex marriages, such as the couple who will not or cannot make children. Or the couple that marries, makes too many children, divorces, and the one parent draws welfare from the state to raise the children.

    As you’re revealing, there is no rational reason to respect opposite-sex marriage more than same-sex marriage. Every attempt I’ve heard of crumbles under the rules of logic.

    I also disfavor Sen. Neuville’s attempts at stratifying marriage. Suppose Americans made several strata of citizens many years ago in order to integrate freed slaves and native Americans into white society. Doesn’t that translate one bad system into another bad system? Should we ask survivors of the Civil Rights movement how well segregation worked? I would rather that we simply abolish the bad system, which means in this case not discriminating in marriage on the basis of gender.

    February 19, 2009
  251. Patrick Enders said:

    I believe you are mistaken when you assert that atheists “have to purge themselves of the idea that marriage should be based on “love.”” I also believe that you are mistaken when you assert that marriage-for-love is a “religious idea.” Partnering with the person one loves is quite clearly a biological tendency.

    Here’s one atheist’s interpretation of marriage, as it relates to both heterosexual and homosexual couples:

    Marriage is a legal codification of the relationships that derive from the innate biological drive to be attracted to, and love/’know-in-the-biblical-sense,” other persons. This bond has tended to be a union between two individuals (although there are examples in history and religious texts in which it was not). By codifying these common practices in law, societies have attempted to strengthen these bonds and formalize them, to serve as a stabilizing influence within the society as a whole – even the fundamental unit of those societies. Certainly, the most common form of biological attraction between humans is heterosexual attraction, and this is the manner in which marriage has traditionally been defined.

    I agree with you that the founding fathers were right when they declared that “all men are created equal.” Of course, I believe they were only half-right, and that it would be more accurate to say that it is now a core principle of our nation that “all persons are created equal.”

    (I admit that my definition of “created” would probably differ from yours, and I agree with John George that “inalienable rights” are not derived from the Christian Bible, but rather, as Randy – and most historians – state, that they are rooted in the humanistic philosophies of the Enlightenment. Enough digression on that.)

    There is strong evidence that homosexuality is in an inherent, common, biological trait that exists not only in humans, but also in many other species. (Let me know if you want to argue that point.) Many homosexual partners form permanent, committed monogamous relationships, just as heterosexual partners do. (And, in some cases, don’t. Just like heterosexuals.) There is ample evidence that these relationships are in most cases indistinguishable from those between most hererosexual partners – with the sole exception that the partners are of the same sex. There is very little evidence to support the notions that homosexuality is a “choice,” or that homosexual relationships are in any way fundamentally disordered.

    Given that:
    – All persons are “created equal,”
    – Homosexual partnerships are grounded in biology, and are fundamentally similar to heterosexual ones
    – There is a vested social interest in codifying loving, committed relationships between individuals.

    It seems very logical to conclude that homosexual partners should be allowed to enter into the same social contract that heterosexual couples are allowed to enter.

    The downside is negligible: no one is forced to participate in any partnership that they personally disapprove of.

    The only real problem I see is this:

    Everything I have discussed above applies to the civil, legal contract of marriage. The shame is, it has exactly the same name as the religious concept/sacrament of marriage. The two have distinct meanings.

    I am perfectly amenable to changing the name of the legal contract currently called “marriage,” simply for the sake of distinguishing the secular/legal concept from the religious one.

    I’m interested in rights, not names, and I am not personally interested in the sacraments of any particular religion. (I’ll let the members of those religions argue those out for themselves.)

    February 19, 2009
  252. Jerry Friedman said:

    Patrick: The reason why someone is homosexual is irrelevant. If Chico is gay for a conscious, deliberate reason, if Harpo is gay for a subconscious, unknown-to-Harpo reason, and if Groucho is gay for a biological reason, they should be treated identically to each other and identically to heterosexuals. I think that including “biology” as a factor dilutes or confuses your point.

    February 19, 2009
  253. Patrick,
    Thank you for your thoughtful, detailed comments (#250). Count me as one agnostic heterosexual: who has been married to the same woman for 26 years, six months, and five days; has raised two children to near-adulthood in that time; recognizes that the institution of marriage has the socially stabilizing influence you mention; who is 100% in agreement with your reasoning; and is baffled by those who fail to see the social benefits of codifying similar relationships for all persons regardless of sexual orientation or interest in producing or raising children.

    February 19, 2009
  254. David Ludescher said:

    Patrick: Jerry is right. Let’s not talk about homosexuality as right or wrong, sinful or not, biological or choice. Let’s just talk about what preferences we want to give to one relationship or another.

    I like the idea of changing the terminology also. Civil unions is OK, but it carries the assumption of two people, which may or may not be a good assumption. I would prefer “personal corporations” or “PCorps”.

    For the sake of this discussion, I think that we can also assume that we need to develop the definition of a “PCorp”.

    Is this a good place to start with a discussion of how we could develop the present concept of marriage? If not, why not? If you want to use “love” or “biology” or “commitment”, please define it, say how to measure it, and explain why government should support it, or prevent it.

    February 19, 2009
  255. Jerry Friedman said:

    David: My sole criterion for marriage is whether two people want to form a family. A family can be simply the two married people forming a two-person family.

    I think that the gov’t has no right to encourage marriage, but that doesn’t persuade the gov’t not to. If two people want to marry, it’s their business and no one else’s. I understand why gov’t does, but I believe it’s interference with marriage has more to do with theism and prejudice (assuming that married couples are more productive than unmarried but committed individuals).

    The gov’t should discourage oppressive relationships, including oppressive marriages, so some regulations are welcome. I think the gov’t has an interest and obligation to protect people from oppression, so a minimum-age-to-marry law is good. Somewhere in the anti-oppression realm I expect to find laws against polygamy and intrafamily marriages, but I’m sure these could be debated.

    As you stated, the gov’t can’t test for nor regulate “love”, and child-bearing seems like a silly if not arbitrary criterion.

    I am unfamiliar with your idea of a personal corporation. Compared to an individual, the term seems redundant with person, and compared to two people, the term seems redundant with marriage. Why not just use either well-established term?

    February 19, 2009
  256. Patrick Enders said:

    Jerry, you wrote,

    Patrick: The reason why someone is homosexual is irrelevant. If Chico is gay for a conscious, deliberate reason, if Harpo is gay for a subconscious, unknown-to-Harpo reason, and if Groucho is gay for a biological reason, they should be treated identically to each other and identically to heterosexuals. I think that including “biology” as a factor dilutes or confuses your point.

    I’m not concerned about ‘why’ people are gay, but I know that many conservatives are. Since “all men are created equal” and are “endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights,” the biological naturalness of same-sex romantic attachments seems relevant to discussing the inalienable rights of persons in homosexual relationships.

    Also, I’m only emphasizing ‘homosexuality’ and ‘heterosexuality’ in order to contrast these loving, somewhat-biologically-driven, intimate relationships from David’s odd notion of love-free, sex-free corporations, which don’t seem to relate to the way in which people naturally tend to form loving bonds.

    February 19, 2009
  257. Patrick Enders said:

    David, you wrote,

    For the sake of this discussion, I think that we can also assume that we need to develop the definition of a “PCorp”.

    As you have done often in this thread, you state something in the universal sense – saying that we should all agree that it is true – when I dont see that anyone actually agree with you.

    Plainly spoken: your idea is silly.

    February 19, 2009
  258. Jerry Friedman said:

    Patrick: My approach would be to grant my adversary’s position especially if it’s irrelevant to the discussion. By granting their irrelevant arguments, we would hopefully find more common ground to discuss the real issues.

    So I’d grant to a “conservative” that homosexuality is a deliberate choice. Given that, they should still be allowed to marry someone of the same sex.

    February 19, 2009
  259. Patrick Enders said:

    That works, too.

    February 19, 2009
  260. David Ludescher said:

    Patrick and Jerry: I will try to get this back to the atheist-friendly theme.

    The government isn’t preventing anyone from forming loving and committed relationships. What the government has chosen to do (perhaps unintentionally) is to erase any meaningful criteria, except heterosexuality. Why it continues to maintain this criteria has more to do with what marriage has lost then intentional discrimination. I think that society can go two directions; the direction appears to have been largely decided by the homosexual community.

    Under present law, marriage is just a contract. It is also a contract that can be violated without fault or impunity. Why do we even have the secular marriage? Does it make sense to open it up further to more people? Where does society draw the line?

    This is the point where an atheist can better inform the government than a theist. An atheist should be able to see that the current definition is “unfair” to everyone who is not in a man/woman marriage relationship. It is unfair to homosexuals, polygamists, and even some heterosexuals. An atheist should see that the government can’t open up marriage on a “loving and committed” basis. Are we going to screen people to see if they are in a loving and committed relationship? That “loving and committed” thing is a religious concept, which while having a substantial and persuasive effect on nearly everyone, is really just another “belief”.

    Jerry – I don’t think that the “oppressive” standard works much better. It works for children because of an age standard. But, oppressive is an arbitrary standard also. And, Jerry, why two? Why shouldn’t two women have the liberty to marry one man if they all agreed? Where is the dividing line? Is it Jerry’s definition of what he thinks is oppressive?

    Here is where a theist perspective can be helpful. A number of religious concepts can easily be converted to secular concepts to establish some meaningful distinctions in relationships.

    First, is the question of children. Laws that encourage a child’s parents to live together are good and necessary, as are adoptive relationships.

    Second, committed relationships are good. Committment involves being responsible for the other party(ies) so that the other parties don’t become the burden of the government. Til death do us part should be encouraged.

    Third, contractual relationships that lessen government’s potential burden should also be encouraged.

    February 19, 2009
  261. Patrick Enders said:

    Perhaps a longer reply tomorrow, but why do you think “That “loving and committed” thing is a religious concept”?

    It sounds more like human nature to me.

    February 19, 2009
  262. David Ludescher said:


    Judging by my divorce clients, I don’t think loving and committed comes naturally to humans. It seems to take a lot of focused effort.

    February 19, 2009
  263. Patrick Enders said:

    Ah. You subscribe to the “human nature is flawed, and only God can raise us up” theory? Or have you just been spending too much time with your non-representative sample of the population?

    Mercifully, most of my family and friends (atheist and otherwise) seem to be pretty good at the relationship thing, so that probably colors my optimistic view of human relationships.

    February 19, 2009
  264. Patrick Enders said:

    But again, David, why do you think “That “loving and committed” thing is a religious concept”?

    I look it as a commonly-rooted desire and aspiration. Again, human nature. Much like the love that many animals show for their mates and kin – if a bit more layered and complex.

    The fact that individuals don’t always get it right doesn’t change that fact that most people seem to aspire to achieving it. Even the irreligious.

    February 19, 2009
  265. Jerry Friedman said:

    David: I said already that polygamy can be debated as oppressive or not. Polygamy is normally oppressive so the gov’t policy should be to oppose it, and thankfully it is. If there are exceptions, we can debate them. Might there be exceptions to marrying minors always being oppressive? Maybe, and we can debate them too. In the meantime, thankfully the gov’t policy is to prohibit them.

    It seems to me that laws prohibiting certain types of marriage should parallel the laws that guard against the same types of crimes. All states have statutory rape laws to protect minors, and all states have minimum-age marriage laws also to protect minors. This seems to be the only rational basis to prohibit marriage, if there is a parallel crime. In this vein, same-sex relationships are not against the law in any state, and therefore same-sex marriage should not be either. The gov’t should not care and should not inquire what a bride’s and bride’s, or groom’s and groom’s gender is.

    So that answers your question, if it’s a bad marriage when it’s oppressive in Jerry’s opinion. Check the penal code instead.

    The only criterion I care about is whether the couple wants to form a family. They can love each other or not. They can be zealously committed or barely committed. There is presently no requirement for either and I don’t see why there should be. If bride and bride want to be married, let them. If groom and groom, let them.

    If sects have a problem with that, they can have their own marriage rules that are wholly separate from state standards and state benefits.

    February 19, 2009
  266. john george said:

    I think the direction of the discussion about dividing the secular definition of marriage and the religious definition is good. Jerry, your idea, “…If sects have a problem with that, they can have their own marriage rules that are wholly separate from state standards and state benefits…” may have merit. As I have read and pondered both sides, there seems to be a fear in both camps that the other’s perspective will be forced upon the opposite. Right now, that is the case relative to the homosexual community. They are being forced to conform to the religious perspective because this is presently the “official” government position. The question is whether that can change without government interference in the inner workings of the various religious sects. That would be a sticky wicket.

    Another question I have not been able to find an answer to is how two people living together without a marriage contract, be they two women, two men or a man and a woman, are having their rights to treatments, visitation or inheritance violated. Jerry, do you know the statistics on cases in the last 5 years where this has happened? And is the trend growing or diminishing? If there is truely an advantage to having this marriage contract, then why are there so many couples, irregardless of gender, cohabiting without it? I also feel that religious affiliation is not thwarting disolutions of marriage, since the divorce rate among “confessing” Christians seems to be about the same rate as the non-churched.

    This leads me to the question, what is the big fight over, if not to impose a set of beliefs upon an opposing view? Since marriage seems to be a threatened institution irregardless of gender attraction, then are we as a society throwing in the towel on it in general? I know that my wife and I have not drifted along passively for the last 41 years. There was a lot of work put into this relationship, and there is more to be done. There are a lot of things cited as holding a marriage together: children, fear of disapproval, religious requirements, etc., but without commitment, the relationship is shallow, if not hollow. I know I would not be where I am today without my wife by my side, and we are really looking forward to our years ahead. This type of commitment does not necessarily need the official stamp of the government to work, but it must be lived on a daily basis. Can this type of commitment form between same sex couples? I don’t know, because my wife and I did not come by it naturally, in spite of your opinion, Patrick. It is something that our God has worked in us.

    February 19, 2009
  267. David Ludescher said:

    Patrick: OK. Let me change that wording. “Loving and committed” is a very poorly defined secular concept. If we are going to institute same-sex marriages, then let’s change the law to incorporate “loving and committed” into the definition for both heterosexual and homosexual relationships. And, let’s make it clear why it has to be limited to two biologically diverse individuals.

    If same-sex marriages should be governmentally endorsed (they are already permitted under the law; they are not however endorsed) because those individuals love each other and are committed, and then not make that a requirement of the marriage is silly. And to not allow others in different relationships to not marry is discriminatory – without cause.

    Jerry, I think that you are on to something with the idea of “forming a family”. But, give me an empirical definition of what “forming a family” means.

    February 20, 2009
  268. Jerry Friedman said:

    David: Checking its etymology, “family” derives from “household”. I offer that a “family” in this context is two unrelated people who have affection for each other, who share or intend to share a home together, and who share or intend to share their lives together, all for an indefinite amount of time. I’d add the policy against polygamy, to say that the two people are exclusive.

    I think that the gov’t should be prohibited from testing these factors, unless other laws are implicated (such as immigration fraud). If two people assert, “We want to be married,” then it should be conclusively presumed that they meet the criteria above.

    Other factors that are often associated with marriages may make them even more clearly a family, but these factors aren’t necessary, such as do they closely associate with each other’s ascendants and descendants, do they share incomes and expenses, and do they want to create or adopt children.

    February 20, 2009
  269. Jerry Friedman said:

    John: Over the years, I’ve heard of instances where same-sex couples have been denied some rights given only to married couples, where the same-sex couples had the equivalent of a marriage. These especially include rights of family to visit a person in the hospital and to authorize treatment on the person if they’re unconscious, and familial inheritance rights. I’m sure I’m missing others. I don’t have any statistics on how many of which type of rights are given to married couples that same-sex couples would want. In my opinion, even if there were no rights being denied, it’s still an unjust law based on arbitrary discrimination against homosexuals.

    I don’t know if same-sex couples can or can’t be compared to opposite-sex couples. I know that the ancient Greeks endorsed homosexuals in the military. It was believed that Greek soldiers would fight more fiercely if their boyfriend was on the same battlefield. I know that many heterosexual couples have a flimsy commitment, but no law prevents them from marriage. There have been stories of high-profile homosexual activists who have deeply committed relationships, and there have been no shortage of divorce stories among celebrities.

    I don’t think that we should inquire into the minds of couples. If they want to marry, let them marry.

    February 20, 2009
  270. Felicity Enders said:

    David L (259) said: “Laws that encourage a child’s parents to live together are good and necessary.”

    As the child of divorced parents, I can testify that had such laws kept my parents together, that would not have been in my best interests. Laws that favor marriage can make it very difficult for couples that need to separate to do so. Let’s whip off those rose-colored glasses, please.

    February 20, 2009
  271. kiffi summa said:

    I just can’t imagine that anyone, ANYONE, thinks that the quality of a relationship can, or should , be evaluated by the government!

    And as far as whether marriages are secular or religious, let’s all remember that you must have a license from the local government regulating unit, to get married, whether it is by a judge or a religious functionary. If there are religious groups that ‘marry’ people without a gov’t license, it may be viewed as valid by the participants, but what is the legal point of view?

    As far as promoting/evaluating/encouraging/enforcing “loving and committed”, well, we can’t even control our banking practices, and those are, or should be, a lot more finite than relationships between human beings.

    The quality of the environment of a ‘household’ in which a child is being raised has nothing to do with anything, except the quality of the environment created by the adults in that household. The household could consist of two men, two women, two grandparents and an unmarried aunt, three neighbors , total strangers or adoptive parents(related or unrelated) ……..the possibilities are endless. I don’t understand the blind fixation of staying with one regulatory model of perfection; that kind of uniformity doesn’t exist in nature, and especially not in human nature.

    February 20, 2009
  272. john george said:

    Jerry- I have heard of many instances in the past, but the studies I have seen, this trend has changed over the last 5-10 years. It is written in most hospital documents I have seen that visitation rights cannot be denied along lines of sexual attraction. Also, insurance beneficiaries cannot be denied along these lines. The reason I bring it up is bacause the gay community is using this line of discrimination to support their push for legalization of same sex marriage. It appears to me that the only benefit they could obtain from this legalization is being able to divorce, rather than just disolve their relationship, and be able to settle joint ownership issues in court. This seems a little negative, given the general direction of shared relationships in our present society. Even the income tax formulas have a negative slant toward married couples rather than individuals when it comes to deductions.

    February 20, 2009
  273. David Ludescher said:

    Kiffi: Are you advocating that we abandon the “legal” marriage model completely?

    February 20, 2009
  274. David Ludescher said:

    Jerry, Patrick, or other avowed atheists: From where does an atheist get his or her starting point on an issue like this? Is there any truth or principle that you can point to?

    February 20, 2009
  275. Anthony Pierre said:

    The Eight “I’d Really Rather You Didn’ts” from the The Gospel of the Flying Spaghetti Monster:

    I’d really rather you didn’t act like a sanctimonious holier-than-thou ass when describing my noodly goodness. If some people don’t believe in me, that’s okay. Really, I’m not that vain. Besides, this isn’t about them so don’t change the subject.

    I’d really rather you didn’t use my existence as a means to oppress, subjugate, punish, eviscerate, and/or, you know, be mean to others. I don’t require sacrifices, and purity is for drinking water, not people.

    I’d really rather you didn’t judge people for the way they look, or how they dress, or the way they talk, or, well, just play nice, okay? Oh, and get this into your thick heads: woman = person. man = person. Samey = Samey. One is not better than the other, unless we’re talking about fashion and I’m sorry, but I gave that to women and some guys who know the difference between teal and fuchsia.

    I’d really rather you didn’t indulge in conduct that offends yourself, or your willing, consenting partner of legal age AND mental maturity. As for anyone who might object, I think the expression is “go fuck yourself,” unless they find that offensive in which case they can turn off the TV for once and go for a walk for a change.

    I’d really rather you didn’t challenge the bigoted, misogynistic, hateful ideas of others on an empty stomach. Eat, then go after the bitches.

    I’d really rather you didn’t build multi million-dollar synagogues / churches / temples / mosques / shrines to my noodly goodness when the money could be better spent (take your pick):

    * Ending poverty
    * Curing diseases
    * Living in peace, loving with passion, and lowering the cost of cable

    I might be a complex-carbohydrate omniscient being, but I enjoy the simple things in life. I ought to know. I AM the creator.

    I’d really rather you didn’t go around telling people I talk to you. You’re not that interesting. Get over yourself. And I told you to love your fellow man, can’t you take a hint?

    I’d really rather you didn’t do unto others as you would have them do unto you if you are into, um, stuff that uses a lot of leather/lubricant/vaseline. If the other person is into it, however (pursuant to #4), then have at it, take pictures, and for the love of Mike, wear a CONDOM! Honestly, it’s a piece of rubber. If I didn’t want it to feel good when you did it I would have added spikes, or something.

    February 20, 2009
  276. Jerry Friedman said:

    David: I can’t speak for atheists. There are too many denominations.

    Personally, I fancy 1 Corinthians 7:27 as the basis of marriage. Otherwise, I fancy convention with ample portions of modern sensibility.

    February 20, 2009
  277. Britt Ackerman said:

    Isn’t it interesting how a thread asking how atheist-friendly Northfield is turned into a dialogue on same-sex marriage rights?

    Like, atheists clearly must be OK with gays since atheists don’t believe that homosexuality is a “sin”.

    So, by analyzing how gay-friendly Northfield is, can we, by digression, determine how athiest-friendly the town is?

    I’d say no…there’s correlation but no causation between the issues.

    But look at how many comments (100% popularity, if we believe Griff’s programming) are on this thread. Everyone is discussing and defending the big questions and answers that have historically been the basis and reason for organized religion.

    It’s neat how asking and answering these questions has taken the form of secular debate on a thread purportedly about atheism.

    Although I’m not an atheist, I’ll respond to David L’s last question because my answer is probably the same as the atheists’.

    First, I’ll define the issue. Seems like the issue in this thread is now “How should we define ‘marriage’, what is the purpose of marriage, and who should be able to marry and why?”

    Everyone’s answer to this question would obviously be different, depending on their perspectives.

    To answer David L, I think the “starting point” on the issue is to see if the concept of marriage is an exclusive or inclusive one. I would posit that marriage as we know it is exclusive, as only straight people can marry. Making civil unions between same sex individuals legal but calling it something besides marriage (like a personal corporation) is similarly exclusive.

    Marriage as a concept becomes offensive when employed selectively by the government. If marriage was a purely religious endeavor that wasn’t supported, encouraged, and protected by the government, then no problem. But because marriage (in many states) requires a license, therefore the blessing of the State, and is exclusive, we have a problem.

    Pointing to a “truth” or “principle” outside of theological doctrine is hard, but I really like the 21 affirmation of the Humanists. They can be found here. If we employ the Humanist affirmations as a model for finding the “answer” to the “issue”, we see that the answer is not finite or absolute. That’s what’s really interesting….using what we see as “truths” and “principles” as a philosophy for forming an opinion, without being so arrogant to presume that there is a finite, and right, answer.

    February 20, 2009
  278. kiffi summa said:

    Britt: in the cplloquial sense, AMEN!

    Somehow, thread after thread gets perverted to abortion or homosexuality; how does that happen , Griff?

    David: How in the ho-tel did you jump to that conclusion? What I thought I was saying is that marriage is basically, first and foremost, a legal procedure, and therefor its rights must be applied equally to all persons.

    February 20, 2009
  279. Patrick Enders said:

    A small point: I don’t consider myself an “avowed” atheist. I’ll leave the bold declarations to true believers with personal pipelines to The Truth.

    As Jerry said,

    a person who is an atheist because there is no evidence of god, …is more accurately called an agnostic atheist. Compare that to a person who is an atheist who affirms there is no god, … is more accurately called a gnostic atheist.

    I’d be in that first camp, if I needed to be labeled as an atheist at all. I don’t know The Truth of how the world is organized, therefore I don’t consider myself an avowed, or gnostic, Atheist. I’m just an agnostic knows that there is much that I don’t know, and much that I will never know.

    However, my best assessment of the available evidence leads me to conclude that there is remarkable lack of evidence supporting the Christian notion of an actively-involved, anthropomorphic deity, who occasionally takes human form, and personally intervenes in the lives of his/her devotees.

    If there is a God, my assessment of the evidence is that it’s probably something very different from that which people worship in most Christian churches.

    But I don’t Know that, or Avow that. That’s just my best guess.

    Therefore, like Jerry, I can’t speak for atheists.

    For myself, I like much of what I find in humanistic enlightenment philosophies, and I think that this nation’s founding principle of equality for all persons (minus its original, and unfortunate, asterisks) is a pretty good place to start.

    February 21, 2009
  280. Patrick Enders said:

    …Following from that principle:

    Marriage is a contract that the government offers to two consenting adults. (Jerry has already covered why children and 3+ partners are excluded from civil marriage contracts.)

    If the two adults are opposite-gender or same gender, they should be allowed to enter into this contract.

    While I believe that marriages are a formalization and recognition of the loving bonds that people naturally tend to form, I agree with Jerry and you that the government is not capable of administering a “love” test. So, like Jerry, I believe the government should grant this contract to any two competent, consenting adults who want to form such a legal partnership.

    February 21, 2009
  281. David Henson said:

    Love has nothing to do with the historical legal construct of marriage. The purpose is to define the relationship between two partners for the purpose of “breeding.” Further the government’s involvement in offering a standard format is so that courts would not have to sort out a hundred different religious oaths and what was or was not agreed. If the potential to procreate was not at issue then its likely no standard format would be adopted and all marriages would be civil unions. Saying gays are being “excluded” is silly unless one can show the issue was even considered when these laws developed 100s of years ago. This is like saying armed robbers are excluded from from shop lifting laws – the laws just were not written for them. The marriage contract works so poorly now that maybe the argument should be just be to not offer a standardized agreement for anyone.

    February 21, 2009
  282. David Ludescher said:

    David H: That’s my point. The current definition of “civil” marriage has so lost its meaning that we should either abandon it altogether (and leave it up to the faith communities to decide on their own standard) or we should let anyone and everyone get “married”.

    The third way, which I don’t think will ever happen, is to reexamine the government’s interest in “civil unions”. The government should be able to create varying degrees of contractual relationships between individuals if the government can establish a rational relationship to a legitimate governmental purpose.

    I just don’t understand why such a large portion of the population is unwilling to listen to the arguments of people such as Rick Warren. Who cares if he is a religious right? The most important question is does he make sense? To dismiss him as a religious fanatic is just plain intolerance. Its no different than dismissing someone just because she is an atheist, or a lesbian.

    February 21, 2009
  283. David Henson said:

    David L, the governments interest was probably avoiding violence that occurred when one found that he was raising someone else’s tomatoes rather than his carrots. Birth control and DNA testing makes much of the laws nuanced purpose archaic – effectively putting government in a sort of religious-sentimental practice where it does not belong.

    February 21, 2009
  284. Jerry Friedman said:

    Davids: The origins of marriage were not related to love nor theism.

    Through most of Western civilization, marriage has been more a matter of money, power and survival than of delicate sentiments. In medieval Europe, everyone from the lord of the manor to the village locals had a say in deciding who should wed. Love was considered an absurdly flimsy reason for a match. Even during the Enlightenment and Victorian eras, adultery and friendship were often more passionate than marriage. These days, we marry for love—and are rewarded with a blistering divorce rate.

    “Psychology Today” Magazine, May/Jun 2005

    February 21, 2009
  285. Patrick Enders said:

    If Rick Warren can form a convincing argument based upon premises that I accept, then his words might be of interest to me. (Obviously, quoting scripture would hold little weight.)

    …but for now, I think I’ve heard/said enough on the topic of gay marriage.

    Perhaps we could return to discussing how welcome atheists are (or are not) in Northfield? I think I can summarize what’s been covered so far as follows:

    Northfielders are generally polite to atheists – as they are to most people.

    Atheists are welcome in the Unitarian Church.

    Atheists are not welcome in the Boy Scouts of America. However, they might slip in unnoticed under a local “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. The Carleton-sponsored Troop might be a better place to do so than would be either of the Lutheran Troops.

    Atheists might be welcome to serve in public office, but “You don’t attend church” has been cited as a reason why a candidate might never be elected to city office.

    Atheists are allowed to shop and travel, but might be refused a taxi ride if their uncleanliness violates the religious beliefs of the driver.

    Atheists are allowed to marry – but not if they wish to marry a partner of the same sex.

    …I think that about covers it.

    February 21, 2009
  286. john george said:

    Patrick- Great sumation, as always. Perhaps our penchant, be it American or just human, to have to have a label for everything causes more division than unity. I am still amazed that we live together as Americans as peacefully as we actually do, considering how much emphasis we as a society put on individualism.

    Did we actually have any comments submitted by anyone who claims to be an atheist? Anthony, is that your claim? I can’t remember after 286 contributions. It would be interesting to hear an opinion on Norhtfield’s friendliness from someone who claims to be atheist.

    February 21, 2009
  287. Anthony Pierre said:


    and I am one of the first ones to post on this thread 🙂

    February 21, 2009
  288. David Ludescher said:

    Patrick: I brought up the “gay marriage” issue to help us frame how we can or should incorporate atheistic and theistic thinking together to form a common pluralistic and secular system of beliefs.

    February 22, 2009
  289. David Ludescher said:

    Patrick: I share the sentiments of Obama that our differences can be a strength. On divisive issues, even small ones, like carrying alcohol in a cab, we should be able to come to a consensus that results in liberty and justice for all that is atheist-friendly and theist-friendly.

    February 23, 2009
  290. kiffi summa said:

    I don’t know about Sean Penn’s religious persuasion, but when accepting his Oscar last night for his lead role in “Milk” he spoke to the presence of the anti-gay protesters lining the car approach to the awards ceremony……protesters that once again attack the basic civil, and human rights of persons who are not allowed to have their free will, or free choice, over their lives because of the interference of some religious groups into this secular issue.

    This thread started with a question about atheism, quickly became a supposedly linked position with homosexuality, and then even ventured into some really egregious extrapolations/ connections.

    Once again, keep the religious POV’s in the religious community…….and keep civil and human rights equal to ALL.

    Hooray for Harvey Milk! and Hooray for Sean Penn! … who had the courage and principle to portray an important figure in America’s social scene as not a saint, not a sinner, but a fully complex human being who fought for what he believed in were not only his rights, but those of many others who are equally DIS-enfranchised of a portion of their personal rights. And regardless of what anyone thinks personally of Harvey Milk, he thought our country deserved a better world image than one presented by those who would wage a political fight to narrow the basic human rights of one segment of society, based on the religious views of another segment of that society.

    February 23, 2009
  291. john george said:

    Kiffi- How does a person “…keep the religious POV’s in the religious community…” when a person has no differentiation between their religious and secular life? Perhaps it helps to be bi-polar. And the issue we are facing here in the US is what Canada is struggling with right now with their court decisions- the secular POV is being forced onto the religious. Just like Chuck Colson said years ago, “The gay community is not asking for my permission. They can do what they like. What they are asking for is my praise, and that I cannot give.”

    February 23, 2009
  292. Jerry Friedman said:

    Kiffi: I embrace your idealism

    Once again, keep the religious POV’s in the religious community…….and keep civil and human rights equal to ALL.

    In my experience, religious POVs, such as the morality of homosexuality, never stay hermetically sealed in their religions. It’s my policy, therefore, not to push them back in and wait for another leak, but to address them when they leak out.

    You’re right, that the subjects of this thread have not always strictly adhered to Northfield being “atheist-friendly.” I see a slightly bigger application of “atheist-friendly” to Northfield, not simply to atheist persons but atheist policies as well. That’s where the subjects of marriage and homosexuality fit into this thread, in my opinion.

    Sometimes conversations drift to similar subjects. I am grateful that John George and I have enjoyed a in-person meeting where topics drifted. I don’t have that luxury with many of you. So if this thread drifts, slightly, then it has my blessings.

    Finally, I am reminded of some dialogs that Plato wrote between Socrates and some of his intellectual prey. When Socrates wanted to prove a point, sometimes he’d meander a ways before coming back to the point.

    I humbly submit that thread drift should be welcomed within a larger scope. A narrower scope for conversation, I think, is too authoritarian for a blog. It might be important for public meetings when time is a factor, but we have no such factors here.

    February 23, 2009
  293. Obie Holmen said:

    To John,

    Your comment What they [gay community] are asking for is my praise, and that I cannot give strikes me as egocentric and selfish. Gays who want the same civil marriage rights as straights aren’t asking for your praise. This isn’t about you; it’s about non-discrimination, equal rights, and other lofty ideals of the American dream. The notion that gays seeking equal rights is somehow an infringment of your rights is narcissistic.

    February 23, 2009
  294. john george said:

    Obie- That quote was from Chuck Colson. Why do you say that it is egocentric? Just because I say I will not praise their way of life? I’m not asking them to praise my way of life if they do not agree with it. As Colson said, they can do what they like. See my posts 266 and 272 for my perspective of the push for gay rights. I don’t think I have to restate it here. The conversations I have had with some on this blog attack me for saying I believe what I read in the Bible rather than current secular definitions of relationships. That is fine, I am always glad to defend what I believe, but the foundation for my defense of my beliefs is Biblical. If someone does not agree with the efficacy of that foundation, then we will not be able to come to agreement. That is ok, also, as long as we do not take up arms in defense of our positions. We have been living peacefully together for a couple centuries, which I think gives credence to our foundation of government. I see no reason that cannot continue. What is happening in Canada is the imposition upon pastors to not literally define the scriptures, because they are being redefined as hate speech. I have friends and relatives living there, and they are warning me that the same thing is headed our way. So, I will take advantage of my freedom of speech while I have it, because it may not always be there.

    February 23, 2009
  295. David Ludescher said:

    Kiffi: I don’t think that it helpful to label points of view religious or non-religious. That is why I have avoided stating either that an atheistic or theistic viewpoint is “right”.

    Civil unions should be a good topic for discussion. It is relevant to what is happening, and the subject needs strong, rational minds to sort out the principles leading to what the government proposes to do.

    Obie: I agree on the fairness issue. It is not fair that gay and lesbian couples cannot enjoy the same government benefits under the present law. But, the gay and lesbian community is advocating that they be included in the privileged group, and that everyone else still be excluded.

    So long as the law continues to allow only heterosexual couples to marry without defining why the government promotes that relationship, and without requiring any love or commitment, any exclusion is going to be just an extension of discrimination.

    One of my hopes is that the gay and lesbian community can restore the idea of commitment into the definition of civil marriage. Another hope is that they can restore the idea of protection and support of children into civil marriage. We badly need both.

    February 23, 2009
  296. kiffi summa said:

    John: Whether or not you live your life that way, there IS a difference for most people in how they live…under the rule of law……….between their religious and secular life……. when their religious and secular views may differ and the person chooses to honor their religious perspective BUT also honor the law.

    You say: “secular POV being forced onto the religious”……. No one is forcing YOU to engage in activities which would violate your religious perspective. All that is being asked is that you consider your actions too be an expression of your free will (as long as it does not violate the law) and that you allow all others to have that same basic right.

    You seem not to be able to separate the layers between what you perceive as something being forced upon you, and what some feel is your need to enforce your personal perception of governing life rules, on others.

    You have expressed strong commitment to the principles which you choose to govern your life; can’t you allow others to do the same?

    No matter how many times you say it, you cannot prove how any gay rights activist or practitioner is forcing you personally into behavior that you think is wrong.

    If you cannot separate out the layers of personal principle, personal religious tenets, and law, you just continue to conflate all into one big messy pot, over which you would prefer your personal religious/secular perspective to rule supreme.

    February 24, 2009
  297. Obie Holmen said:

    To John:

    I realize the statement was originally Colson’s but you quoted it with approval. You also mischaracterize my point. No one is asking you to “praise their way of life”. You are the one who equates affording equal rights to gays with your personal “praise”, and that is why I say it is a narcissistic position. It is not about you, but you make it about you and your beliefs.

    I don’t think people are attacking you personally in this blog, but when you offer an opinion, your opinion becomes fair game.

    By the way, I also disagree with your view that the Bible supports your position. It is my opinion that reading the Bible as a whole and reading the various parts in their historical and cultural context suggests that the issue is a lot murkier than you would acknowledge. Yours is not the only Christian view. I think you have suggested that you consider the Bible to be infallible. Does it follow that a literalist, judgmental interpretation is infallible?

    Finally, you really sound paranoid when you equate criticism of your opinions to a threat to your free speech.

    To David:

    I am totally confused by your statement the gay and lesbian community is advocating that they be included in the privileged group, and that everyone else still be excluded. What is the exclusionary attitude of the GLBT community?

    February 24, 2009
  298. Randy Jennings said:

    Mr. George, some years ago I found and clipped this quote. Unfortunately, I can’t find the source. I find it quite applicable to your comments on this thread:

    Interfaith dialogue is only possible among people interested in the idea of religion, rather than the practice of a specific faith. A true believer of a particular religion cannot conceive of the validity of another’s chosen religion nor of the fallibility of his or her own, much less an accommodation in which many religions — or no religion at all — are equally valid. The true believer is, therefore, unsuited to dialogue.

    So, when you write, as you did in post 295: “If someone does not agree with the efficacy of that foundation [your belief in the Bible], then we will not be able to come to agreement”, you are clearly a true believer.

    I am an atheist in matters of religion, but I am not without some beliefs. One thing in which I believe deeply is in the right to freedom of speech enshrined in the US constitution. I’d stand that up with any religious dogma. So, I absolutely support your right to think and speak whatever you choose to believe. If religious beliefs help you make sense of the world and your place in it, you are fortunate. I draw the line, as described in many comments above, when you or any believer of any religion attempt to restrict or deny others’ rights based on whether or not they conform to your beliefs.

    Your choice of a quote from Colson is indicative. Colson (and you) are wrong: gay and lesbian people actually can’t “do what they like.” Among other things, “they” can’t form the same legally sanctioned relationships that the law allows heterosexual couples to form. This discrimination is perpetuated largely because of the influence of religiously motivated people. (Fortunately, this discrimination is also strongly opposed by many people whose religious faith compels them to confront injustice.) “They” aren’t asking for Colson’s (or your) praise; “they” are asking Colson (and you) to mind your own business and stop imposing your religious ideology on others.

    February 24, 2009
  299. David Henson said:

    A society that holds masturbatory relationships in the same regard as those bearing offspring is destined for chaos. And unless a scientist can create a human life from hamburgers and carrot juice then I have to hang with Mr George’s God explanation of human life – at the very least it defines how much we don’t know.

    February 24, 2009
  300. john george said:

    Obie- The request I have heard from the gay community is that their lifestyle be considered an acceptable alternative. This is what I object to and drives my opinion. Their lifestyle is an alternative, but for me to say it is acceptable would be to deny my convictions. I will say to you the same thing I say to Kiffi- There is a movement to have certain of the Biblical interpretations of the gay lifestyle considered hate speech. It is already happening in Canada. It is this movement that I am trying to expose. Whether it will do any good is debatable, but I will still try.

    Kiffi- I know you do not percieve the subtle change coming in this country. I really don’t expect you to. See my comment to Obie above.

    Randy- Thank you for calling me a true believer. That is probably the best indictment I could recieve. As far as the interfaith dialogue, what is the goal? Can there be understanding between two views without them being “equally valid?” I think so, and that is why I participate here. I think it is called tolerance. I’m not looking for affirmation or agreement, just understanding. And I don’t want to force my views off on anyone. That is not my intent when I state them.

    Your comment, “…I am an atheist in matters of religion, but I am not without some beliefs…” is, in my opinion, the most concise differentiation of atheists I have seen yet in this thread. As far as where the gay community is today, I posted this comment in #266: “…They are being forced to conform to the religious perspective because this is presently the “official” government position…”, so I agree with some of your assesments in your post above. I also opined this, “…The question is whether that can change without government interference in the inner workings of the various religious sects…” That is what we need to figure out.

    I will make this observation in general- people who are comfortable really don’t like having their boat rocked, me included. But sometimes, the only way to scrape some barnacles off your boat is to tip it. This is always a little disconcerting, especially while you are still in the boat. Thanks for rocking my boat, folks. Hopefully, I have been able to rid it of a few barnacles, whether it is evident to any of you others or not.

    February 24, 2009
  301. Jerry Friedman said:

    David H: You have come up with some of the very best quotes ever. “A society that holds masturbatory relationships in the same regard as those bearing offspring is destined for chaos.” I’m keeping this one!

    February 25, 2009
  302. Paul Zorn said:

    David H:

    You’ve written above (in two separate postings):

    the governments interest was probably avoiding violence that occurred when one found that he was raising someone else’s tomatoes rather than his carrots. Birth control and DNA testing makes much of the laws nuanced purpose archaic – effectively putting government in a sort of religious-sentimental practice where it does not belong.


    A society that holds masturbatory relationships in the same regard as those bearing offspring is destined for chaos. And unless a scientist can create a human life from hamburgers and carrot juice then I have to hang with Mr George’s God explanation of human life – at the very least it defines how much we don’t know.

    Sorry, you lost me somewhere in the produce aisle. Could you say clearly what you’re getting at here, perhaps sans vegetables?

    February 25, 2009
  303. David Henson said:

    Paul, I think the purpose, perhaps lost, of marriage is to celebrate the relationships which lead to future progeny. So if lobbyists win the day and gain “gay marriage” then I can guarantee you a new class and celebration will be created for relationships likely to produce future generations … this is absolutely necessary as every culture has a variation of this ritual. I don’t think it is ‘anti-gay’ to draw this distinction.

    February 25, 2009
  304. Obie Holmen said:

    David H,

    And logically, another category for heterosexual couples unable to have children, another for heterosexual couples who choose not to have children, and a really, really special category for the woman in Cal who just gave birth to 8!

    Really, you seriously diminish the institution of marriage if you reduce it to mere childbearing.

    February 25, 2009
  305. David Ludescher said:

    Obie and Randy: Under current law where marriage is just a contract, justice seems to demand that either everyone or no one can get married. The idea that homosexual couples should be treated like heterosexual couples make sense. But, I don’t understand why it has to be a couple, or that they have to be strangers. It is just a contract! Contract law doesn’t limit who can enter into contracts (with a few limited exceptions).

    I see the gay and lesbian movement as an attempt to move that community into the “favored” status while leaving a lot of other loving and committed people outside of the marriage contract.

    I see two reasons for the gay and lesbian community to want to marry. The first is that they want the same government benefits that go to the heterosexual community. I can’t say that I blame them. But, that position is for selfish political reasons.

    The second reason is religious or belief-based, and where I suspect that most of the confusion is occurring. Randi Reitan and the Rainbow Sash Coalition have been involved in disrupting Catholic Masses and demanding that the Church change its position on the value and appropriateness of homosexual behavior. It has nothing to do with the homosexual person, only the intrinsic value of different sexual activities.

    The Church doesn’t teach these things to oppress people. It teaches so that people can know what it has learned from 4,000 years of experience.

    February 25, 2009
  306. Peter Millin said:

    Not sure about te fascination of gay people with marriage, especially when you consider that 2/3 of marriages fail???

    From a legal perspective I would agree with the notion that gays and lesbians should be able to marry. However I do respect the right of any church not to do so if it doesnt want to. Churches are private organizations and have the right to deny the sacrament of marriage with in their own organization.

    From the perspective of a legal bond we should treat gay marriage the same as other marriages., if there is a public consensus to grant that privillege.
    Marriage in itself is not a right it’s a privillege established by society.If we want to extend the privilege to others so be it.
    The question is, should we allow marriage bewteen family emebers? Or allow multiple wifes/husbands? Why not?

    From a biological point of view gay marriage makes no sense. It will always take two members of the opposite sex, in one form or another to procreate.

    February 25, 2009
  307. Randy Jennings said:

    Peter, do you not read the tabloids in the grocery check-out aisles? The idea that it takes “two members of the opposite sex…to procreate” is just so… biblical. As we’ve just seen in California, the “octomom” (gotta love those tabloid headlines!) has shown just how unnecessary biological pairings have become.

    David L, I don’t understand your “favored” status argument at all. If we could let all adults have access to the same legal prerogatives in the public sphere, I would bet you’d find little or no objection to religious sects conducting whatever additional marriage rituals or ceremonies and impose whatever social sanctions they wish to in the privacy of their homes and sanctuaries (short of stoning adulterers, of course, as called for in Deut. 22:22).

    February 25, 2009
  308. Paul Zorn said:

    David L:

    You wrote:

    I see two reasons for the gay and lesbian community to want to marry. The first is that they want the same government benefits that go to the heterosexual community. I can’t say that I blame them. But, that position is for selfish political reasons.

    Do you mean “selfish” in a pejorative sense? Was it “selfish” for women to demand the vote? Was our civil rights movement “selfish”?

    And then this, in reference to the Church’s
    “position on the value and appropriateness of homosexual behavior”

    The Church doesn’t teach these things to oppress people. It teaches so that people can know what it has learned from 4,000 years of experience.

    4000 years? What “Church” are we talking about here?

    February 25, 2009
  309. Patrick Enders said:

    Obie wrote,

    Really, you seriously diminish the institution of marriage if you reduce it to mere childbearing.


    David L, you never weighed in on what you would do with the marriage of Felicity and myself. When we married, we intended to go forth and multiply. Biology has not allowed us to do so. Would you now demand that our marriage be demoted to some lower level?

    Would you then promote us back to that original, higher level of marriage at a future date, once we have adopted children?

    I’d love to hear your answer.

    February 25, 2009
  310. Peter Millin said:


    So the eggs and sperm for the octo gang was created out of thin air?
    Hardly they still needed a donor, last time I checked.

    February 25, 2009
  311. Jerry Friedman said:

    Similarly, I am engaged to be married. I’d sooner adopt children but I won’t create children. Since I refuse to create children, should I call the wedding off?

    February 25, 2009
  312. Jerry Friedman said:

    Paul: I think David L means “selfish” in the way that it’s selfish for same-sex couples to want the same rights as opp’-sex couples. He did not mean that it’s selfish for some heterosexuals to deny them the rights that the opp’-sex couples enjoy.

    February 25, 2009
  313. Jerry Friedman said:

    Peter: You said,

    Not sure about te fascination of gay people with marriage, especially when you consider that 2/3 of marriages fail???

    That’s why I believe that divorce is a greater threat to the institution of marriage than making marriage inclusive for same-sex couples. I would rather the “haves” work on their own troubles before shutting out the “have nots”.

    You said,

    However I do respect the right of any church not to do so if it doesnt want to.

    We agree. Like the Boy Scouts, prejudicial private organizations are free to arbitrarily discriminate in their membership, and those orgs that we find offensive should be boycotted.

    You said,

    The question is, should we allow marriage bewteen family emebers? Or allow multiple wifes/husbands? Why not?

    The question is actually about same-sex marriages. Diverting us to another issue does not help us resolve the one in front of us. Nonetheless, when there is a cry of oppression from any group who wants to be married, but is denied the right, I’m happy to contemplate it. Since same-sex couples are complaining now, we are contemplating their plea now.

    You said,

    From a biological point of view gay marriage makes no sense. It will always take two members of the opposite sex, in one form or another to procreate.

    Why do so many people believe in this myth? Making babies never was and never is a prerequisite for marriage. No couple in the U.S. was ever granted a marriage after promising to make babies, and no marriage was ever revoked for failing to do so. This myth is oppressive. Please stop perpetuating it.

    Further, you’re wrong about “from a biological point of view”. Whose biology? Emotions are biological, and love is an emotion, so a loving couple who wants to be married is responding to a biological point of view.

    February 25, 2009
  314. David Ludescher said:

    Randy: Marriage is a “right” in the sense that government can’t prevent two people from getting married. Generally, when we speak of rights, what we really mean is freedom. The right of speech doesn’t mean that government gives us the right to speak; it means that the government can’t prevent us from speaking (within certain rules of course).

    So, when gays and lesbians speak of the “civil right” to marry, they are talking gibberish. In constitutional law, we had two semesters – government power and individual liberties.

    The real argument is that it is unfair. To that argument, I agree. I don’t understand how it is fair to exclude gays and lesbians from civil marriage.

    But, if gays and lesbians are permitted to enter the current “privileged” status of married, it has to be fair to everyone else who is not included, and the legal standard has to be rational and enforceable. If we go from favoring only hetersexuals, to only favoring certain unrelated twosomes, I don’t understand why other groups, such as polygamists should be excluded. At least heterosexual relationships have a rational relation to biology and the production of life.

    Paul Z. Yes, I did mean it in the pejorative, political sense of wanting what others have without thinking about how they are leaving polygamists and others behind.

    By “Church” I mean the collective body of people who have been trying to make sense of and learn from the last 4,000 years of history. In my specific case, I understand the Roman Catholic Church the best.

    Patrick: Politically, I don’t know if it is of value to retain the term marriage or even the concept. It has been so distorted from its religious meaning, and people are so opposed to having “religious” ideas infiltrate secular relationships that I would be more inclined to base the government’s support of particular relationships on measurable, and quanitifiable characteristics that relationships bring.

    So, for you and Felicity, you would get some points for having the potential to produce a child, but not as many points as having one. You would get more points if you committed to a lifelong, non-divorceable status. Then again, a homosexual couple, committed for life and raising a child would probably get more points than you because they are actually caring for a child. Children who agree to taking care of their aged parents could qualify as could polygamists, especially polygamists who are willing to care for another family.

    It would depend somewhat on what society sees as the added value created by the marriage, and governmental burdens are lessened as a result. It would be a completely rational and utilitarian system. Religions (and atheists, humanists etc.) could develop their own definitions of marriage, and form their own communities and ideas of marriage should be.

    February 25, 2009
  315. Randy Jennings said:

    David, I don’t mean to be more than my usual level of dense, but in all but a few places, government currently does prohibit anyone other than a heterosexual couple from marrying. In what world do you think this isn’t the case?

    Also, didn’t your church open its doors sometime after 33 a.d.? That is a couple millennia short of 4,000 years…

    February 25, 2009
  316. David Ludescher said:

    Randy: The government doesn’t prevent people from forming loving and committed relationships. What it doesn’t do is provide benefits or official sanction for anything other than heterosexual relationships. I think that this is unfair. But, I am not convinced that the best or only solution is to allow only homosexual couples to be “married”.

    Regarding the Christian Church, it traces its heritage back to the beginning of time; considers Abram as a father of the religion (about 4,000 years ago); and considers that the Word of God became Flesh with the birth of Jesus of Nazareth.

    February 25, 2009
  317. Randy Jennings said:

    David, thanks for clarifying. I’m still not sure I can follow all of your fine distinctions between love and law, but we’ll let it go.

    February 25, 2009
  318. David Ludescher said:

    Randy: Do you see any method that we can instill the concept of “love” into the “law of marriage” without the debate becoming an atheist/theist debate over what marriage means? On the broader scale, how does one draw the line where religious concepts don’t overlap secular concepts and secular concepts don’t invade religious tenents?

    February 26, 2009
  319. Randy Jennings said:

    A big “nope” on the question of whether gov’t can instill love in the laws governing marriage. That’s hard enough for the individuals involved, without inviting anyone or everyone else to pass judgment.

    On the line between religious and secular life, I think I’ve been pretty clear about where I draw it: when your religious beliefs don’t violate laws (say, for example, against child abuse or stoning adulterers), then you are free to act on your beliefs in your home or place of worship. In the public sphere (anywhere outside your home or place of worship), secular laws prevail.


    That seems pretty clear and easy for followers of any religion to understand. In the US, this separation between church and state doesn’t restrict your right to stand on a soapbox and proclaim your faith, or create ceremonies and rituals that add meaning to your life, but it will clearly restrict your right to impose your personal beliefs on others.

    February 26, 2009
  320. kiffi summa said:

    Once again, the tautology of this thread is deadening……..
    If I wasn’t an atheist when it began, and had read it all through, I sure as heck would be now!
    And why would that be? because if there is a god, and “his eye is on the sparrow” after this conversation, he has a seriously misguided sense of direction.

    February 26, 2009
  321. Peter Millin said:

    Not sure about te fascination of gay
    people with marriage, especially when
    you consider that 2/3 of marriages

    Jerry, this was tongue in cheek.

    Why do so many people believe in this
    myth? Making babies never was and
    never is a prerequisite for marriage.
    No couple in the U.S. was ever granted
    a marriage after promising to make
    babies, and no marriage was ever
    revoked for failing to do so. This
    myth is oppressive. Please stop
    perpetuating it.

    Further, you’re wrong about “from a
    biological point of view”. Whose
    biology? Emotions are biological, and
    love is an emotion, so a loving couple
    who wants to be married is responding
    to a biological point of view.

    Jerry, my point here is that biologically it will take a female egg and a male sperm to create life.
    Which puts gays and lesbian relationships in to a dead end when it comes to evolution.

    February 26, 2009
  322. Anne Bretts said:

    I think the issue of gay marriage can be resolved the way we deal with other life changes. We register a birth certificate with the state, but let people decide whether and how to handle baptisms or christenings. Some churches do it at birth, others require the person to make such a commitment as an adult. We register a death certificate, but leave funeral arrangements up to the family.
    There is no debate over which funeral traditions are acceptable, and no question that someone isn’t really born if he isn’t baptized. In the same way, civil marriage should be no threat to religious groups, who can refuse to marry gays, or ban intermarriage between Swedes and Norwegians if they wish.
    I find it interesting that most people who are so bound up in the religious limitations of heterosexual marriage are perfectly OK with government handling of divorce. Yes, I understand the debatable Catholic system of annulments, but aside from that churches rarely have rituals for divorce or requirements for the care of children suffering through such trauma. If Christian marriage is so important, why is divorce so inconsequential?
    There is no reason we can’t register all civil marriages at city hall and let the people involved determine whether they wish to take on any additional religious commitments as well. I think this is the direction civil unions will take, eventually. It’s a natural progression as young people grow up and reject the limitations of earlier generations.
    Personally, I thought the end of the television series Boston Legal tackled the issue in a very moving way when the wealthy older law partner, who was headed into dementia, decided to enter into marriage with his best friend and law partner so he could pass on his wealth and his friend could care for him in his final years. They were straight and the arrangement was done for practical and financial reasons, but there was more love in that room than there is in a year of Vegas wedding chapel ceremonies.

    February 26, 2009
  323. Patrick Enders said:

    Your system sounds needlessly complex.

    What rights or privileges would you grant to couples, or take away from them, as they slide up and down your point scale?

    February 26, 2009
  324. Jerry Friedman said:


    You said,

    …biologically it will take a female egg and a male sperm to create life. Which puts gays and lesbian relationships in to a dead end when it comes to evolution.

    I still don’t see the relevance of this to marriage. If there is relevance, then all menopausal women should divorce or should not be allowed to marry, along with sterile men and women of any age, couples who don’t want to create babies, etc. Am I wrong?

    Peter, you are creating an elite class of individuals who may marry, and who will get special recognition from the state and society for doing so. I thought that you were against elitism. Am I wrong?

    February 26, 2009
  325. john george said:

    Randy- Back to the original question Griff asked, and since you seem to have the best definition of an atheist (if we must use that label), what do you think of Northfield’s attitudes toward people of your persuasion? I don’t think atheism and sexual attraction have anything to do with one another, but the thread has veered that way. Do you think you could converse with me, since I seem to express the most fundamental Christian convictions here, without feeling outcast? And if not, what could I do to open better dialogue? I certainly don’t feel threatened by you. In fact, I would like to get to know you better. Just wondering.

    As far as a foundation for marriage, try this one on. Now, I am going to cite Biblical precidence here, so please bear with me. In Genesis, God says that it is not good for man to be alone, so he made a helper appropriate for him. The concept is that the original intent of marriage was to have a relationship on the creation level that mirrored the relationship within the Godhead between the Father, Son & Holy Spirit. We as a Christian community are far from living up to that ideal, as is evidence in the divorce rate among Evangelical Christians, but I believe that was the original intent. This validates the marriage commitment irregardless of the ability to procreate. Whole books have been written about this concept, and I am not intending to write one here. Just wondering what you all think.

    February 26, 2009
  326. David Ludescher said:

    Randy: If only the secular laws prevail, then there won’t be any change in the law allowing gay marriage. I think that there is even a federal law that prohibits the federal government from recognizing gay marriages.

    Certainly, you are not advocating that people with a religious bent or even crazy people can not participate in democracy, and convince their legislators to ban gay marriage. In the absence of a constitutional right to get married, gays and lesbians only have the same democratic process.

    February 26, 2009
  327. David Ludescher said:

    Patrick: Good question.

    My original purpose is bringing up particular issue was to meet atheists on their own turf (be atheist-friendly), and to see where pure reason leads us as we develop this concept of marriage. It is an issue that is laden with religious overtones, and charges of religious bigotry. It is an issue that needs resolution in our society. And, it is not an issue that we can “agree to disagree” (whatever that means) because it will remain there until it is “solved”.

    I am willing to accept a definition of marriage that makes no reference to God, or God’s purpose. However, I am unwilling to accept a new definition which just extends the current bigotry to a whole new group of people, especially when it is based upon concepts that are legally nebulous, such as “loving and committed”.

    February 26, 2009
  328. Randy Jennings said:

    John, on the whole, I don’t think Northfield thinks much about atheism. Absent some racial cue that someone might not come from around here, there’s a presumption of judeo-christian beliefs, if not membership. This is historically logical, if not particularly forward-looking, in my view. We live in a small corner of a world in which any number of religions claim to be the one true religion; none can prove the claim, but many have among their faithful individuals willing to inflict great pain on people who do not share their beliefs. The crusades, the holocaust, the troubles in Northern Ireland, suicide bombers in the middle east, family planning clinic bombings here… these strike me as pretty good evidence that there is no supreme being keeping a watchful eye over creation. Taken as a whole, religion seems to be an equal opportunity destroyer. So, for better or worse, I think we all have to deal with our human capacities for good and evil in the here and now.

    Meaning no disrespect, I doubt you and I could have a fruitful dialogue about anything that veers toward beliefs. There might be a kernel of an interesting intellectual argument, but I would take no pleasure in challenging the tenets by which you have so clearly defined yourself here. That just seems mean-spirited, when there’s no possibility of a reasoned meeting of minds. While I admire the language of the King James version, and appreciate the metaphors that help explain the many mysteries of the natural world and human nature, the bible’s internal inconsistencies render it useless as resource for governance in a pluralistic society. As a resource for personal conduct, perhaps… but then all religions have texts that offer useful and inspiring guidance for how to make sense of and live in the world. And they are all equally valid as metaphors and equally limited as governing documents.

    February 26, 2009
  329. Randy Jennings said:

    David, I really can’t follow your arguments. The status quo is discriminatory, and (it seems to me) perpetuatated in law through the influence of people with a religiously motivated agenda. Think of the involvement of the Mormon church in the prop 8 referendum in California.

    Are you defending discrimination because to do otherwise would challenge the influence of religion in public life? I can’t tell.

    February 26, 2009
  330. Patrick Enders said:

    David L,

    I am unwilling to accept a new definition which just extends the current bigotry to a whole new group of people, especially when it is based upon concepts that are legally nebulous, such as “loving and committed”

    You lost me at ‘extends the current bigotry.’

    It seems that the simplest, most practical legal arrangement is Jerry’s – to simply offer the current legal contract of ‘civil marriage’ to any two adults who want it – with all the privileges and responsibilities it entails. No need to worry about your definition of love vs. mine, and no tests of capability (or incapability) to reproduce.

    If two people want to be joined in such a compact, it’s a pretty good bet they love each other, and most of them are committed to each other to the extent that they are capable of being committed.

    If not, well, where’s the harm to anyone, except perhaps the two entering the contract?

    Heck, any two consenting adults of opposite gender are already able to enter this contract without any tests or any assigning of grades, and their marriages don’t seem to be causing any harm to any bystanders.

    February 26, 2009
  331. john george said:

    Randy- Just a response to a couple things in your post above. You said, “…these strike me as pretty good evidence that there is no supreme being keeping a watchful eye over creation…” This is the concept of God being some puppeteer up above pulling everyone’s strings. That is a concept I also had before I had a personal encounter with Him, so I understand where you are coming from. Even though I believe there is a Divine course in world affairs, I will be the first to admit that I don’t always understand it.

    Your comment, “…Taken as a whole, religion seems to be an equal opportunity destroyer…” is, in my opinion, an accurate estimation of religion per se, but not an accurate estimation of what God had in mind for His followers. I agree with you. The unfortunate thing is that God is blamed for the misconceptions of many who profess to follow Him.

    In this comment, “…That just seems mean-spirited, when there’s no possibility of a reasoned meeting of minds…”, I appreciate yout honesty and respect. Even though we do not agree on some basic things, I think we can live in the same town together without creating a rift. That is what President Obama is talking about in his patchwork analogy, and I think it is a demonstration of tolerance of one another.

    February 26, 2009
  332. David Henson said:

    Randy, Not that anyone worries about me getting the front pew but this statement

    Taken as a whole, religion seems to be an equal opportunity destroyer

    is not well reasoned at all. You would have to show some non-religious place where life is all hunky-dory. My estimate would be if one took a long range rational view of history that in fact the positive checks against human negative behavior enforced by monotheistic religion would far outweigh the negative shortcomings.

    February 26, 2009
  333. David Ludescher said:

    Randy: The status quo is discriminatory; extending it to include gays and lesbians ends the discrimination against gays and lesbians. But, such an extension still leaves many people without the “benefit” of marriage, and makes the government’s purpose in marriage even murkier than it already is.

    Furthermore, we have to allow the “religious” influences in the public life. The Mormon Church, through its members, has every right to try to influence the political process, just as atheists have that right.

    February 26, 2009
  334. David Ludescher said:

    Patrick: Wouldn’t it be even simpler to abandon the idea of civil marriage altogether? What is society gaining right now, and what is going to be gained by adding homosexual relationships?

    Government could just let people contract with each other for whatever relationship they want as long as they can meet the general criteria for competency to enter into a contract – no discrimination, no judgments.

    February 26, 2009
  335. Jerry Friedman said:

    David L: I think it’s simpler to end discrimination than to end an institution.

    Humans have a genetic/psycho tendency to congregate. We have lived in small communities for the whole of human history. In the last 5000 or more years, communities have grown in size. Within communities, humans tend to form families.

    Marriage is a society-recognized family, and sometimes it carries state benefits. Rather than abolish the institution, which has a genetic/psycho basis (i.e., good luck trying to abolish it), we can abolish the discrimination.

    It’s much simpler.

    February 27, 2009
  336. David Ludescher said:

    Jerry: The discrimination won’t end. It will just shift to a smaller group, who won’t be able to marry.

    Besides, discrimination is not a bad thing. If it has a rational basis in a legitimate government purpose, discrimination can be a good thing. Only if it is an inalienable right, can there be no discrimination.

    Give me your definition of what marriage should be, and why.

    February 27, 2009
  337. Patrick Enders said:

    David, you wrote,

    Patrick: Wouldn’t it be even simpler to abandon the idea of civil marriage altogether? What is society gaining right now, and what is going to be gained by adding homosexual relationships?

    No, of course not. As I have already discussed, humans have a strong, innate natural compulsion to “pair up”, and form lasting, loving bonds with their partner. For a majority of persons, these are opposite-sex relationships, but for a sizable minority, these relationships are same sex. (Can you imagine any other possible combination of two consenting adults? I can’t.)

    We define ourselves by these intimate, family relationships. The institution of marriage legally recognizes these bonds, allowing these partners to share in decisions of life, health, and death

    Government could just let people contract with each other for whatever relationship they want as long as they can meet the general criteria for competency to enter into a contract – no discrimination, no judgments.

    Yes. Such a contract, entered into freely by any two consenting adults, can most easily be referred to as a “civil marriage.”

    February 27, 2009
  338. Patrick Enders said:

    Hey! Didn’t we all just agree on a solution that’ll work for 99.5% of the population?

    Well, I’m glad that’s solved.

    So David – I guess that all we have left to discuss is why you feel that groups of three or more consenting adults should be offered the same civil marriage contract that any two consenting adults should be offered?

    February 27, 2009
  339. David Ludescher said:

    Patrick: Why not? What’s the magic of two? And what is the magic of being non-related?

    And if parties are free to contract outside of the government, what does the government gain when it sanctions these relationships?

    Why isn’t what you and Jerry proposing just another arbitrary standard for defining marriage? What about the others that are excluded? It’s also “natural” for men to want to copulate with as many women as possible. Should we encourage that behavior?

    February 27, 2009
  340. Jerry Friedman said:


    You said,

    The discrimination won’t end. It will just shift to a smaller group, who won’t be able to marry.

    This alone is an argument in favor of same-sex marriage, to reduce the discrimination.

    Besides, discrimination is not a bad thing. If it has a rational basis in a legitimate government purpose, discrimination can be a good thing. Only if it is an inalienable right, can there be no discrimination.

    This is not correct. I agree that discrimination can be good or bad, as I said much earlier. We should discriminate against sex offenders babysitting children. That’s not the discrimination we’re talking about.

    The right to marry is an inalienable right. It’s a form of the right to associate, it easily fits into the Ninth Amendment recognizing natural rights, and it’s encapsulated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

    Give me your definition of what marriage should be, and why.

    I did this in my posts 255, 265, 268 and 336.

    February 27, 2009
  341. Jerry Friedman said:


    The tendency of polygamy is to be exploitative/oppressive. If there are exceptions, the aggrieved people should start a movement.

    The tendency of close-interfamily marriages is exploitative/oppressive. If there are exceptions, the aggrieved people should start a movement.

    The tendency of minority-age marriages is exploitative/oppressive. If there are exceptions, the aggrieved people should start a movement.

    State policy recognizes the tendencies of these relationships to be exploitative/oppressive, as do I. The state also prevents or discourages other relationships that tend to be exploitative/oppressive, like statutory rape, attorney-client sexual relations, etc., even if they are in fact not exploitative/oppressive.

    There is no tendency of same-sex marriages being exploitative/oppressive. You cannot compare same-sex relationships to these other relationships that have a long history of being harmful to one of the partners.

    February 27, 2009
  342. Patrick Enders said:

    Jerry’s argument for the case that 3 does not equal 2 is a good place to start.

    February 27, 2009
  343. john george said:

    Jerry – The unfortunate characteristic of exploitative/oppressive relationships is that they follow no gender/socio-economic pattern. Since these must be evaluated on a case by case approach, how can this be used as a standard for any contractural relationship? It seems to me that there must be a simpler definition not based on subjective criteria that could be implemented by the state. Since there are only two sexes, this seems like the simplest approach. When we go beyond that, in my opinion, we are getting into subjective evaluations rather than objective, but I may be missing something in all this.

    February 27, 2009
  344. john george said:

    Patrick- What with this new math, perhaps 3 does equal two! Actually, 1+1=3, when it comes to child bearing.

    February 27, 2009
  345. Anthony Pierre said:

    well you could say 1 = 8 too, john.

    February 27, 2009
  346. Obie Holmen said:

    Isn’t it curious that the two frequent bloggers to this thread with an acknowledged religious bias against gay marriage (John G and David L), nevertheless persist with the oddest convolutions of logic to try to convince the rest of us.

    It is even more curious that the rest of us bother to respond.

    February 27, 2009
  347. Jerry Friedman said:

    John: With the prohibition of attorney-client sexual relations as an example, I imagine that there aren’t any faithful statistics of how many attorney-client relationships that are in fact exploitative/oppressive and how many aren’t. There is, however, a history of these relationships being bad and now there is a state policy against them. It’s the same for polygamy, incest, etc. However, there is no reason to believe that same-sex or opposite-sex couples are any more or less exploitative/oppressive than aren’t. In a sense, I see coupling as “buyer beware”, freewill, and whatnot. This is entirely different from the stereotypical man who seeks to control and oppress several women.

    Again, if there are polygamists who are wholly voluntary and feel oppressed, I welcome their stirring the pot. But this is a tangent. What’s before us is the easy-to-show arbitrary discrimination against same-sex couples.

    Obie: I almost agree. So long as anyone comes up with a good faith argument, I’ll likely respond. When it slips into absurdity, I’ll move on. I believe that, even with their reasons, David, John and others are arguing in good faith.

    February 27, 2009
  348. kiffi summa said:

    Obie: I agree that it is curious that those of us who object to some of john and david’s rhetoric which is posited as fact continue to respond.
    I must admit…. I consider it a moral obligation to respond.

    John speaks of the coming ‘prejudicial’ POV of some ‘church talk’ being considered ‘hate speech’; he warns of this trend in Canada.

    It is acceptance of speech that identifies other non-harming individuals as “other”, no matter if it occurs on the street or in a ‘church’, that is toleration of what is in actuality ‘hate speech’.

    Two days ago at the Key, during the Youth Board meeting the kids had a discussion of hate speech, and the fact that it will not be tolerated on their premises. The reasoning centered around the fact that the Key is intended to be a SAFE place for youth, and hate speech does not support a safe environment.

    We fight because we must…….

    February 27, 2009
  349. john george said:

    Anthony- Yep. I thought of that after I hit the submit button. Isn’t that new math great? The answer can be whatever you want as long as you feel good about it (tongue-in-cheek).

    February 27, 2009
  350. David Ludescher said:

    Obie: I have a religious bias; but, I have no secular bias. I think that justice demands that gays and lesbians be granted the same rights as others. Please tell me where my logic is convoluted. I am seriously and sincerely trying to make the arguments using logic only.

    Jerry: The right to marry is NOT an inalienable right. The government is making no attempt to prevent religions from marrying whomever they want. There is no inalienable right, let alone even a right, to force the government to provide benefits to any two strangers who want to get gov’t benefits.

    Furthermore, historically gay (but not lesbian) relationships have been very oppressive. Inter-familial relationships have been made criminal not because of their oppression but because of the tendency of harm to the offspring. In many societies, polygamy was a duty imposed upon a man so that the widowed family was not without a man, and the social status.

    Patrick: If 2 doesn’t equal 3 (2 =/ 3), why does penis and penis equal penis and vagina (PAP = PAV?).

    February 27, 2009
  351. john george said:

    Kiffi- The refernces I made to what is going on in Canada deal specifically with how the translations of Rom. 1:26-27 & 1 Cor. 6:9 read, not just “church talk”. That is your term. I don’t subscribe to Rick Warren’s position of “other”, so it is hard to lump us into one basket. I know you really get your hackels up when I refer to homosexuality as a sin, but that is not my determination. It is determioned in the scriptures I refered to, and I happen to believe they are true. If you don’t want to believe that, it is not my problem. You don’t have to answer to me.

    Obie- I’m not sure what you mean by “oddest convolutions of logic”. Rom. 1:26&27 and 1 Cor. 6:9 are pretty clear in what they actually say. If you don’t like that, then that is your choice, but I have a hard time believing anyone who says these scriptures say something else. There is an antidote available for sin, though.

    Jerry- I have no problem with the restrictions on relationships you listed above. I think they are just wise. All I’m trying to come up with is a simple standard that can be applied by law without having reams of paper defining specific individual situations.

    February 27, 2009
  352. Nathan E. Kuhlman said:

    I suspect strongly that the lament against the establishment of ‘secularism’ as a state religion is a thinly-veiled attack on the principle of separation of Church and State. I cannot understand why anybody would ever argue against the separation of Church and State, unless they had designs on using the power of the State to enforce their religious preferences on others. The establishment clause protects your great-grandchildren from having sharia law enforced on them by the Moslem Majority.

    Very well. For the Christianists who want to use the State to force their religious beliefs on others, (both evangelicals and high-churchers,) I’d like to ask that you first clarify amongst yourselves the proper role of the Most Holy, Pure, Blessed and Ever-Virgin Mary. Please figure out exactly what beliefs you want to force on others, because it gets confusing for the laity. Get back to us in thirty years or so.

    February 27, 2009
  353. Obie Holmen said:

    To Jerry,

    I agree that John and David argue in good faith, albeit from a religious bias. You suggest that you will continue to respond until their arguments slip into absurdity. I think that point is near.

    To Kiffi,

    I agree that this is a fight worth fighting, but my point is that it is impossible to respond to their illogical arguments.

    To David,

    I’ll grant that you are trying to argue from a rational viewpoint, but the problem is that your religious bias makes that nigh impossible. Your attempt to equate gay relationships with a whole host of others such as polygamous is both irrational and demeaning.

    To John,

    You have just proved my point. As soon as rational argumentation hits close to home, you wrap your gay bashing in your infallible Bible. By the way, as a Pauline scholar, allow me to suggest that your reliance on Pauline statements is misguided. A critical interpretation of what Paul said and why is more nuanced than your literalist interpretation would allow.

    February 27, 2009
  354. john george said:

    Obie- As far as I know, the final test is on the book, not the class discussion. Your “logical arguments” are based on what you believe, just as mine are. The point here is that neither one of us has scientific evidence to support either of our arguments. I can live just fine with you and Kiffi and what you believe are “facts”. I don’t have to be the judge of them. James exhorts us concerning teachers, that they incure a greater judgement. And, as I said above, the test is on the book, not the class discussion.

    February 27, 2009
  355. David Ludescher said:

    Obie: I don’t understand your accusation. I am arguing FOR gay (civil) marriage. How is advocating for others to join in civil marriage going to affect gays who are also allowed to get married? A polygamist who is allowed to get married isn’t going to have any effect upon my marriage.

    As far as demeaning and irrational – demeaning is not a rational term to which I can respond. I don’t know even know who you are suggesting is being demeaned. That sounds like a Rick Warren argument against allowing gays to marry.

    What is my religious argument? I am arguing that EVERYONE should be treated equally. How does that show a religious bias? Calling it “irrational” without identifying the irrationality leaves me puzzled. If the argument is irrational, explaining the irrationality should be easy. (Randy, it is I, not you, that is the more dense.)

    I am not willing to accept the statement that that what I am saying is a “religious” argument any more than I buy Rick Warren’s or other fundamentalists arguments about “atheists”.

    February 27, 2009
  356. kiffi summa said:

    As offensive as it may be to some. in my estimation the ” book” doesn’t pass the test …..i.e. love thy neighbor ( unless he’s a homosexual).

    February 27, 2009
  357. john george said:

    Kiffi- Now you are bringing up something I can respond to. How is allowing your neighbor to continue in sin without applying for the antidote an expression of “love”? That is why I do not differentiate between “sins” as some do, for they all separate us from God. And just because a person struggles with a “sin” does not negate his confession of it. The point is not that we are “sin free”, but that we agree with God’s definition of it. With that agreement comes grace to help in the time of need.

    February 27, 2009
  358. john george said:

    Kiffi- One more thing, it really doesn’t matter what your estimation of the “book” is, at least not to me. I still don’t understand how repressing or redefining Biblical truth is an expression of love. Is it just because it might make the person feel bad? I just don’t think that is true love.

    February 27, 2009
  359. Patrick Enders said:

    Leaving apart the finer distinctions of which particular boy parts and girl parts derive from which particular embryological precursors, I would say from a legal point of view:

    girl parts = boy parts.

    If girl parts = boy parts, then
    girl parts + girl parts = boy parts + girl parts.

    girl parts + girl parts + boy parts = boy parts + girl parts + boy parts.

    girl parts + girl parts + boy parts =/= boy parts + girl parts (unless boy parts = 0).

    February 27, 2009
  360. Jane Moline said:

    Patrick–I do not quite follow either your math or your genetic modeling, and I can’t really tell which is which. Could you make a word problem?

    David L.: Your comments have a continuing undercurrent-while you claim that they should be “legally equivalent” you also infer that same-sex marriages are the equivalent of polygamy or some other exploitive relationship (you almost say bestiality.) I wish I could put my finger on it, but you somehow skirt right at the edge of being insulting.

    John G, I take great offense at your labeling of activities as “sin” as it is indicative of a negative judgement, and your description of a “lifestyle” is similarly pejoritive.

    Claiming same-sex couples are “sinners” is a form of prejudice akin to racism. (Some religions claimed that blacks were not human; slavery is endorsed in the Christian Bible.) You are welcome to your deep-held religious convictions–just don’t spread your homophobia around. I feel the same toward the religious right and it’s sexual bias as I do toward southern slave-holders–your convictions are a deterrent to a strong United States of America–because they are morally impotent. Your beliefs breed violence and hate, by endorsing intolerance.

    I am an atheist happy not to have to deal with your organized religion or mean-spirited God.

    February 27, 2009
  361. john george said:

    Jane- Hhmmmmm! Spread homophobia around? Are you saying I can believe what I like but I cannot speak about it?

    February 27, 2009
  362. Patrick Enders said:



    All persons are created equal.
    Boys are persons. Girls are persons.
    From that, boys are equal to girls.
    If that’s true, then boy and boy equals boy and girl.

    February 27, 2009
  363. David Henson said:

    Nearly two millennia ago, Jewish Rabbis created the ketubah, the premarital
    contract in which the husband and the wife spelled out the terms and
    conditions of their relationship before, during, and after the marriage, and
    the rights and duties of husband, wife, and child in the event of marital
    dissolution or death of one of the parties. The Talmudic Rabbis regarded
    these marriage contracts as essential protections for wives and children who
    were otherwise subject to the unilateral right of divorce granted to men by

    The origins of marriage really revolve around children or the potential of children. If you were to write a contract now from scratch for a young heterosexual couple and a homosexual couple the issues they might face and the obligations would be quite different. The purpose of a contract is to dfine this. The heterosexual contract has traditionally been called “marriage.” Oddly, I find myself in agreement with Rick Warren – “just call it something else.”

    February 27, 2009
  364. Mike Paulsen said:

    In 266 john george says:

    “Another question I have not been able
    to find an answer to is how two people
    living together without a marriage
    contract, be they two women, two men
    or a man and a woman, are having their
    rights to treatments, visitation or
    inheritance violated.”
    Hospital denied woman access to her dying partner, who she’d been together with for 17 years. Access was limited to immediate family and spouses.

    And we Minnesotans have our own infamous case. Hard to believe it’s been 20 years.
    (Selco has it if you’re interested.)

    February 28, 2009
  365. Patrick Enders said:

    Thanks for that evidence.

    February 28, 2009
  366. john george said:

    Mike- Thanks for the links. I could not find any cases newer than about 5 years, but I didn’t check into all 89,000 references on Google. It is evidently still happening, at least 2 years ago, but the trend I found in the dates of the articles I checked was that this type of discrimination is deminishing in frequency. It is interesting that we fought a civil war about slavery 150 years ago, but we are still fighting racial discrimination. Says something about human nature, I guess.

    Patrick- On your analogy of boys and girls, does this mean that “equal” and “same” have the same meaning when it comes to people? Seems there is physical evidence that boys and girls are not the same, even though they are equal in other respects.

    David H.- You might have something there. Perhaps our penchant to have to have a term for everything/person is what is getting in our way. Perhaps there is a way to establish equal rights without using the same term. As I said before, if there is a way to do this without having it imposed onto religious sects whose conscience it would violate, then we need to find it. My greatest concern is that our society as a whole is moving in the direction of factions and their specific “rights” rather than toward a sense of nationalism, hence the need to choose English or Spanish on most computerized phone systems.

    February 28, 2009
  367. Jerry Friedman said:

    David H: You said,

    “Nearly two millennia ago” … The origins of marriage really revolve around children or the potential of children.

    What was marriage like before two millennia ago, and outside of Judaism? The Hebrews did not begin the institution of marriage, but you imply they did.

    February 28, 2009
  368. David Henson said:

    Jerry, I was simply quoting a legal document. I think much confusion is over the issue of marriage as a ‘written’ contract as opposed to a ceremony or expression of love. I can see a very strong argument for the state to simply not offer a preformatted marriage ‘contract’ (which has religious covenant origins) based on the massive failure of this contract to be honored. A free-form civil union contract that really made people think through what they were agreeing to and future issues (as used in business) would probably make for stronger marriages. Expanding the scope of a preformatted state written marriage contract to cover same sex relationships will further weaken the agreement. The fact is relationships ending with no kids to consider would be much better off with a specific contract as opposed to a universal preformatted contract – far less likely to tie up court time.

    February 28, 2009
  369. Jerry Friedman said:

    David H:

    Expanding the scope of a preformatted state written marriage contract to cover same sex relationships will further weaken the agreement.

    Why? My parents had three kids. They married each other twice and divorced each other twice. Children help glue some couples together, help divide other couples, and have no effect on others. There is no rational basis to claim that opp’-sex or children-bearing couples are superior than any other couples. And even if there was an irrefutable statistic, it still would not stand as a reason to deprive nonconforming couples from marrying, for the same reason that an irrefutable statistic that shows Davids are smarter than any other name is a basis to deprive non-Davids from an Ivy League education. Statistics don’t matter here, prejudice does.

    The courts are not as concerned about their time being tied up as they are about not fulfilling their mission. Courts are supposed to administer justice. So I offer that we should not fret about their time management when the need for justice comes knocking.

    As I said to Peter, I’d rather there not be an elite class of opp’-sex couples who can marry and same-sex couples who cannot, when their only difference is immutable biology. The history, purpose and goal of marriage IS NOT baby-making. Therefore, depriving some couples of society- and state-recognized marriage for any baby-making reason is irrational at best, oppressive at worst.

    February 28, 2009
  370. David Ludescher said:

    Jane: Who are you suggesting that I am insulting? How can an argument be insulting? So far I have heard that I am “demeaning”, “irrational”, and “insulting” just for suggesting that polygamists should also be entitled to marriage.

    February 28, 2009
  371. David Henson said:

    Jerry – you are throwing in the words “superior” not me. I assume you would agree the legal contracts that actually reflect the circumstance of those entering the agreement are more effective. If kids in the future are a factor then one would want to address that in an agreement.

    I think the real issue is that an underlying religious covenant still lingers in the marriage contract and gays want the government to grant them religious equality when some churches will not. I think the clear solution is to remove the religious aspect by making all legal pairing civil unions rather than marriages. Then people would be equal under the law.

    February 28, 2009
  372. john george said:

    David H.- I agree. What seems to be the issue with the gay community is that they cannot get certain tangible benefits, medical treatments, visitation rights, etc. It seems we could have a civil designation giving these rights without calling it marriage.

    February 28, 2009
  373. Jane Moline said:

    John George-yes. Just as racists should remain unheard so should those spouting their “religious” defense of homophobia/sexism.

    David L–yes. The continual “defense” of marriage by claiming that same sex marriages are the equivalent to polygamy or bestiality or any other perversion/oppressive use of marriage is insulting because even dunder-heads can figure out that equating something to a perversion is suggesting that it is perverted.

    I do not believe that homosexual sex is perverted. (Gay or Lesbian.) I do not believe it is a sin. The continual judgement of gays by some organized religions is the equivalent of any disenfranchisement of any group by organized religions throughout history, and the basic problem of organized religion–the break with biblical teaching of love, tolerance and acceptance. This kind of disenfranchisement is unhealthy for a civil society.

    It is terribly harmful to all homosexuals and their families and their communities to teach that it is a sin to be who they are. The claim that who they are is not homosexual (a physiological outcome) but a “sinner” and that it is some kind of “lifestyle choice” is simply a way to propagandize the message to the community so the church can endorse the communities’ prejudices and give them permission to spread their message of hate and intolerance. Homosexuality is not a choice. To “cure” a homosexual is equivalent of trying to “cure” a woman from being female.

    Once again, orgainized religion is encouraging hate, intorlerance, and divisiveness in families and society. Go ahead and claim the Bible as your source for this message. It just makes the case for rejecting organized religions for the destructive force they can and have become.

    February 28, 2009
  374. Jerry Friedman said:


    It seems we could have a civil designation giving these rights without calling it marriage.

    Or just call it marriage and be done with it.

    February 28, 2009
  375. john george said:

    Jane- Yes, you have your beliefs and your right to express them, even though, in my opinion, it comes across as hateful and accusatory against Christians. Calling us homophobes is not really conciliatory language. I have a right to my opinions, and so far, I have a right to express them. I have tried to do so in an honest and non-accusatory way. You have not interpreted it that way, and that is your perogative. You have essentially told me to be quiet and go to my corner. Sorry, I am under no obligation to do that. I would prefer to discuss these issues openly and candidly. I am reminded of a scripture out of Isaiah- come, let us reason together… If I am not allowed do that, then I would have to say my rights are being violated.

    February 28, 2009
  376. john george said:

    Jerry- Yes, we could call it that, but what I’m asking, is there a way to distribute equal access without forcing everyone into one mold? It seems that that is the sticky wicket we are bandying about. I surely don’t speak for the whole Christian community, but I personally do not have a problem with granting to the gay community the rights they are seeking. Just call it something besides marriage. Would this allow peace in the community?

    February 28, 2009
  377. Jerry Friedman said:

    John: That’s the same question asked several decades ago, about “separate but equal” education. Would separate but equal civil unions lead to peace? Maybe.

    Assuming peace is the goal, if we can remove the “separate” and just have “equal” instead, then artificial, arbitrary barriers can be removed and peace will be the most likely result.

    If there is another goal, something besides peace, I think that goal should be re-evaluated.

    February 28, 2009
  378. kiffi summa said:

    John: re:#s 373 and 377…….. How does it hurt you, defame your position or beliefs, demean your religion, or damage your ‘world’ to allow the same civil rights to a same-sex couple as to an opp-sex couple. You keep saying ‘can’t they just have something less’ (i.e.not equal)?
    Can you just answer how this affects you or your religion to the point where you would deny basic rights?
    You steadfastly refuse to answer that question…….

    February 28, 2009
  379. Randy Jennings said:

    Nathan, your comment back in 353 seems to have dropped under the radar (you have to address some aspect of marriage to get much response on this hijacked conversation), but it was spot on.

    February 28, 2009
  380. David Ludescher said:

    Jane: The current definition of marriage is just contractual. We can do remove all discrimination by dissolving civil marriage. This is fair to everyone. I don’t understand the objection.

    What is at issue is not what religions think, or how foolish their rules are, but what is a fair secular way to structure marriage. Design marriage however you want it. Just make sure it is fair to everyone.

    I am not trying to be demeaning, irrational, insulting, or a dunder-head, but I am not following your reasoning. I am offering homosexual couples what they want – equal rights. Either everyone or no one gets the same treatment. What could be more fair?

    February 28, 2009
  381. Obie Holmen said:

    To David L,

    You have repeatedly made the erroneous claim that marriage is a mere contract. While it is a contract with rights and obligations between the parties, it is also an institution that is carefully regulated by the government, especially state but also federal (see joint income tax filings, social security survivor benefits, etc.). Rights, benefits, and status are conferred and obligations imposed on the parties to a marriage contract — by the government and not merely according to the contract between the parties. The government’s interest in the institution includes prohibition of certain parties from marrying based on their status (polygamy, incest, youth, etc.).

    Thus, your argument that we should simply do away with all civil marriages because marriage is meaningless is patently absurd. (You can add “absurd” to your list that already includes demeaning, irrational, etc.).

    While you have acknowledged a religious bias against gay marriage, you claim to be for civil gay marriage. Based on the silly argument you raise, me thinks me smells a rat.

    February 28, 2009
  382. john george said:

    Kiffi- Your comment, which youi attribute to me, “…‘can’t they just have something less’ …” is your words, not mine. If you look objectively at what I am saying, you will find that I am advocating equal rights irregardless of sexual attraction. “Equal” and same” are not synonymis. What I understand in your words, and perhaps I am not reading them correctly, is that you want me to embrace the idea that the only way to be “equal” is to be the “same”. I have said repeatedly that you and the others can conform to whatever you want, but I reserve the right to an opinion about that relationship and the right to express it, just as you have a right to your opinion of my definition and the right to express it. This argument is not going to get us any closer to a solution, IMO. If the issue is just getting equal rights, then why is a solution allowing that not satisfactory?

    February 28, 2009
  383. john george said:

    Sorry- I misspelled “synonymous” in that last post.

    February 28, 2009
  384. Obie Holmen said:

    To John G,

    In many of your posts, you make a statement like, “I don’t mean to judge you,” and then you proceed to judgment. When you are called on your sanctimonious attitude toward gays, you retreat into the shell of your infallible Bible. When you are called on your Biblical interpretation, you imply that your critic will face God’s judgment. When your hurtful words are questioned, you whine that your free speech and freedom of religion rights are threatened.

    There is an oft repeated assertion that free speech doesn’t mean that one can yell fire in a crowded theater. I suggest that the right to free speech also carries an obligation to refrain from hurtful words — not a legal obligation but a moral one.

    You may claim that your admonition to gays is based on love; it sure sounds like hate to the ears of the recipient.

    February 28, 2009
  385. Bruce Anderson said:

    Nathan and Randy,
    I couldn’t agree more with both of your comments (353 and 380). Amen, brothers!

    I’ve been occasionally checking in on this thread and watching in amazement at the bizarre direction it’s taken. The only qualifier I would add to your hilarious comment, Nathan, is that, based on the past 3,000 years or so of Judeo-Christian and, subsequently, Islamic splintering of factions, we can only expect our religious brethren and sistren to generate more controversy and heat, and precious little light, when they get back to us in 30 years.

    February 28, 2009
  386. john george said:

    Nathan- Where did your comment, “…I suspect strongly that the lament against the establishment of ‘secularism’ as a state religion is a thinly-veiled attack on the principle of separation of Church and State…” come from? Perhaps I missed something, but I am more concerned that this clause is going to be thrown by the wayside through the government forcing churches to accept same sex marriages and stop preaching that these relationships are sin. The separation clause is our protection.

    February 28, 2009
  387. john george said:

    Obie- I would posite that you are not the only one to interpret the Bible, either, and there are other positions than yours on the interpretation of scripture, also. Now, this comment “sanctimonious attitude” is not hurtful? Hmmmm.

    February 28, 2009
  388. David Ludescher said:

    An apology may be in order. I brought up the issue of gay marriage only to use as an example of how we should be able to come together in this “patchwork nation” to arrive at a consensus of belief that is “friendly” to all “believer” and “non-believer” groups.

    I am convinced that this is what Obama was talking about in his address. I don’t think that Obama was recognizing one more political faction – atheists. I don’t think his attempt was to divide the nation, but rather, it was to unite the nation.

    I am also convinced that Northfielders can arrive at a political consensus that will be fair to everyone. I’m not sure why we are having such a difficult time with this issue.

    February 28, 2009
  389. kiffi summa said:

    We are having a difficult time with this issue because POLITICAL THEOLOGY keeps rearing its inappropriate head, takes a religious stance on a basic human rights issue, and then cries foul if anyone says keep your religion in your church and off the bodies who do not function within your belief system!

    February 28, 2009
  390. kiffi summa said:

    John : re #s 383 ……… obviously the words ‘ can’t they just have something less’ is a paraphrase of your position, since it does not have quotes around it in my original comment to you (379) and you still did not answer my very basic question to you in that comment……..
    I would appreciate an answer, and then maybe that would put some of this to rest.

    and #384………. if you’re going to apologize for a misspelling, then I guess it’s fair game to remind you that “irregardless” is ‘nonstandard’ because the ir prefix is redundant with the use of the less suffix……. but then again, this whole thread has become the essence of redundancy.

    February 28, 2009
  391. john george said:

    Friendliness toward athiests in Northfield?! From some of the things being posted here, I’m wondering if there is any “friendliness” at all! Obie, Kiffi, Jane, et al- I am just fine with you folks and your opinions. They are different than mine, but I would help any of you out with any hardship to the utmost of my ability in a heartbeat. You are still people, and as such, I respect you. If my actions offend you, then I can change my behavior. If my beliefs offend you, then that is a different matter. I have worked with about every kind of belief system expressed here and have never had any problems. As much as it is within my power, I try to be at peace with all men. Is it possible for us to agree to disagree without being offended by that disagreement? I would hope so.

    David L.- I forgive you. But then, I hadn’t taken offense with you in the first place, but since you asked, I forgive you.

    February 28, 2009
  392. john george said:

    Kiffi- I thought I had answered your question, “…Can you just answer how this affects you or your religion to the point where you would deny basic rights?…”, but I will try again. Do you agree with me that equal and same are not synonymous? (sp 🙂 ) I have proposed that all the benefits the gay community is demanding because of their inability to call themselves “married” be granted using a secular term. The fact that in Canada at this time, recognition of gay marriages is being imposed upon Christian churches is indicative of the intent behind this agenda. Fortunately, we do have the separation clause in our constitution, which, if I was informed correctly, the Canadians do not. But I have a concern that this protection may be lifted through legal caveat in the courts. Have I answered sufficiently or did I miss something?

    February 28, 2009
  393. Obie Holmen said:

    To John,

    I have not offered an interpretation of Scripture in this blog other than to criticize a literalist, infallible point of view and to suggest that interpreting Paul is difficult and nuanced. Having said that, I accept and agree with your premise that my interpretations are subject to error.

    Precisely because Scriptural interpretations are varied, nuanced, and difficult, we need to tread lightly when using the Bible to condemn a class of persons who have done the public no ill and who merely want to be able to love the one they love, free of bias and with dignity and equality under the law.

    As to your concern that the government will somehow force your church into marrying gay persons, let me say that I will be right there with you on the barricades. But, that will never happen. It is true that churches or denominations that offer services in the public arena, such as hospitals, may be prevented from discriminating against gay spouses in the services they provide, but the government will never attempt to interfere with the rituals, sacraments, ordinations, etc of the churches. That’s why we have the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

    Finally, as to my comment in which I criticized your “sanctimonious attitude”, I acknowledge that I meant to jar you because I don’t think you understand how offensive and hurtful your comments are to some of your readers. To excuse your comments as reflecting God’s will as revealed in Scripture is not only pompous and self-righteous, but also makes the hurt deeper.

    February 28, 2009
  394. David Ludescher said:

    Obie or Kiffi: Isn’t equal if:
    1. We do away with marriage entirely or ,
    2. Grant everyone the right to marry?

    Gays are free to marry right now; they aren’t getting a government endorsement.

    What I hear the two of you saying is, “No, that is not OK. We (Gays) want the same status as heterosexuals have now under the law.”. That is clearly not equal for all.

    What does my position have to do with religious beliefs or “political theology”?

    March 1, 2009
  395. kiffi summa said:

    David: Your marriage centric arguments are difficult for me to follow; perhaps it is my insufficient attention to them , but they seem convoluted……and frankly, in equating voluntary same-sex partnerships in ANY way with what CAN be , and often have been , very oppressive/exploitive polygamous ‘marriages’, taints rather than elevates your argument. Again possibly my personal read, substantiating my personal information base.
    My use of the term “political theology” was more directed to John’s use of his ‘christian’ rhetoric on the subject of gays, and the back and forth over religious and political lines, all the while attacking others’ rights to ‘rights’, while defending his version of ‘christianity’.
    The very notion of exclusivity that the ‘christian’ right exemplifies in their hijacking of the word christian, which had come in the last 2000 years to have cultural as well as religious meanings, to me speaks for itself in its offensive (to me) notion of self-satisfied righteousness.

    March 1, 2009
  396. David Henson said:

    I assume David L is suggesting that if marriage and benefits are to be distributed equally then why would two male heterosexual friends not be able to ‘marry’ and share benefits? Do they have to “love” each other or engage in sexual acts to share these benefits? Does anyone object to just expanding the definition of marriage to include any pair of people who choose to share health benefits, etc? Or if the two people are same sex do they have to say “we are gay” to get the legal benefits?

    March 1, 2009
  397. john george said:

    Obie- Your last post is easy to recieve, and I agree, there are nuances in many of the transcripts. Part of this just lies in the difficulty of cultural context of certain words. My Hispanic son-in-law runs across this all the time in trying to translate a Spanish word to English. As verbose as the English language is, there is still difficulty trying to communicate some of the concepts in another language.

    As far as the concept of sin, perhaps I should explain my understanding of redemption. I must deal with my own sin nature before God. To do this, and receive the substitution of Christ for my sin, I must first agree that what God says about me is true. This is what I call the acknowledgement of sin. If all a person gets out of the scripture is condemnation, then they haven’t taken the next step. Once we agree with God’s evaluation of our actions, there is grace released for turning from that, and the promise in I John is for God to cleanse us from sin. That is the hope I offer to anyone caught in their fallen condition. It is not that we do not have struggles with this old nature, but there is a way through it. I’m not trying to be sanctimonious or condemning. I’m just trying to present what I understand in the scriptures, and I certainly do not have complete understanding of them. I hope not to make the way of salvation exclusive or difficult, for I believe God offered it to us simply enough that even a child can understand it.

    March 1, 2009
  398. john george said:

    Kiffi- You bring up an interesting historical note on the term “Christian.” It was first used in Antioch about 2000 years ago, and it was originally meant to be an insult to the believers. The early church called themselves “the way”, refering more to the way they lived. I don’t know that the Right has highjacked it, but I will certainly agree that many use the term with little resemblence in their lives to “the way” of the early church.

    March 1, 2009
  399. Jerry Friedman said:

    David H: The same way works with opp’-sex couples. Presently, a man and woman who don’t love each other can marry and get marital benefits. This is common in immigration fraud.

    Since there is no test of “love”, “commitment”, “baby-making”, or anything else of the sort among opp’-sex couples, there is no precedent or reason to do so for same-sex couples.

    As far as I am concerned, if the couple proclaims that they want to establish a family, and there is no ‘red flag’ that a law is being broken (i.e., one partner is under age, immigration fraud, etc.) then their proclamation is as good as gold. This protects opp’-sex and same-sex couples from invasive government probings into our private lives.

    I still haven’t heard any discussion on Paul’s admonition not to marry. 1 Corinthians 7:25-31

    March 1, 2009
  400. David Henson said:

    Jerry, so you are suggesting any plantonic relationship, parent and an adult child, next door neighbor, drinking buddies at the bar? A sort of buddy system for benefits, might be expensive.

    March 1, 2009
  401. David Henson said:

    Want to read about the wonderful society produced by atheism and socialism then get the book Harvest of Sorrow

    Ukrainian nation had always been seen by Stalin as enemies. By “dekulakization,” which sent millions of peasants to the Arctic and sure death, and collectivization, which effectively abolished private property, step one was in place. It remained for Stalin to inflict the famine on the already collectivized peasants by setting grain quotas for them far above what was possible. This resulted in the state confiscating almost all home-grown food, leaving the peasants starving. Peasants who balked were accused of nationalism and duly punished, i.e., killed.

    March 1, 2009
  402. john george said:

    David H.- With all due respect, I’m not sure we can place the blame for the Stalin era attrocities squarely on the athiests and socilists. Granted, Stalin had an open disdain for religions, but I think the blame could be better placed upon the totalitarian form of government that Stalin adopted. At least in this country, government leaders are still accountable to the voting public. This was not the case in the Soviet government. It is hard for me to imagine Patrick, Jerry, Nathan, Randy, et. al. rounding up us believers and shipping us off to North Dakota.

    I think that the fall of the socialist economic form of Stalin and the change to the present day capitalist form is evident that the Soviet form of socialism was not necessarily successful. With the corruption going on there right now, I think there is evidence that capitalism is not a panacia, either. I think what has allowed our form of capitalism to function as long as it has is the moral base built into our society, and our refusal to allow government officials to run along unchecked. The source of that moral base is perhaps debatable, but much of it is found in the religious teachings of the various sects that are free to form in our society.

    March 1, 2009
  403. Jerry Friedman said:

    David H.: No, I am not suggesting that any “buddy system” is suitable for a marriage. I am suggesting that the government accept any proclamation of a couple who wants to be recognized as a family as sufficient to be sanctioned by the state, so long as there is no evidence of a crime. I don’t know about you, but considering the rights bestowed to spouses, I don’t expect a flood of marriage fraud. If my drinking buddy and I marry, he’ll be first in line for inheritance if my will is defective. Why would I, or anyone, want my meager possessions to go to my drinking buddy? Why would I want him to have medical decision making authority over me if I’m incapacitated? When you argue with such absurdity, I wonder why I bother responding, except to set the record straight.

    There are no safeguards to keep opp’sex people from marrying their neighbor or drinking buddy. The same standard should be set for same-sex couples. Some day, I hope you understand what “equal treatment” means.

    I join John’s criticism of your peculiar reference to Stalin. As I have said repeatedly, not all theisms are alike, nor are all atheisms. Stalin’s brand of atheism is not universal, just like Hitler’s brand of Catholicism isn’t. Some day, I hope you understand that.

    If you’d like a contest to count the worst theist leaders against the worst atheist leaders, count me in. Disparaging atheism by the dread few atheist leaders is actually good marketing for atheism. Bring it on!

    March 2, 2009
  404. David Henson said:

    John, my post 403 was simply a reply those suggesting religion was the cause of all wars etc which did not seem to upset Jerry. Clearly I agree the atheism was not the main issue any more or less than religion in other instances. Generally the cause is always giving up human freedom to dogmatic people for ‘bread’, ‘jobs’, ‘the environment,’ ‘security’, ‘any cause they can get away with.’

    March 2, 2009
  405. David Henson said:

    Jerry, why in the world would society grant two able bodied adult males the rights to each other social security and health benefits because they are having relations? And if society does that why in world would we care if they “say they are a family” vs being friends. This position is beyond absurd and falls into the waste time while the economy crumbles.

    March 2, 2009
  406. john george said:

    David H.- Thanks for the clarification in post 405. I understand where you are coming from, now, and I agree. In this format, if we tried to present every caveat to every idea we posted, Griff’s server would be overloaded.

    March 2, 2009
  407. David Ludescher said:

    Jerry: The current definition of marriage is a “buddy” system. That is what I don’t like about it.

    When the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Mpls. wanted Catholics to advocate for a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman, I wrote to the Catholic Spirit in opposition. I think that it is time for a clean break with theology on the definition of marriage.

    Gays and lesbians are offerring a wonderful opportunity to look at the institution of civil marriage from a new approach – an approach that puts an emphasis on marriage as something “additional” to the two people involved. Atheists can offer the assurances that the system is free from “beliefs” and focuses only on outcomes.

    We have to do it; it is our future.

    March 2, 2009
  408. Jerry Friedman said:

    David L: The institution of marriage is more than a “buddy” system. It’s the creation of a family, even if the family is simply two people. The state recognizes marriage as a contract, but the institution is more than state recognition.

    I suppose that those who commit marriage fraud would marry as “buddies”, but I don’t think that those who commit the fraud should be used as the example of defining the institution. This is what David H and I have been discussing.

    I am delighted to remove all theology from “marriage”, and have a state marriage instead, subject to all the constitutional safeguards. In addition, if theisms want their own marriage standard, they can do so without state recognition, and without constitutional safeguards.

    March 2, 2009
  409. john george said:

    Jerry- When we were in Siberia, we learned that there are two marriage ceremonies, if you want to call them that, if the participants are members of a church. The civil contract is a formal signing of the state papers done before our equivalent of a justice of the peace. The couple then will have a ceremony in their particular church. The churches we were working with recognized the civil ceremony and did not require an additional ceremony, although they were allowed to do so if they desired. If I remember correctly, the state did not recognize a religious ceremony. In the US right now, the whole event is tied together, with the officiating pastor having authority to sign papers that give the couple legal status with the state. If we are going to go the direction of a civil ceremony, then I think we may end up with an arrangement similar to the Russians.

    March 2, 2009
  410. john george said:

    Here is a quick list of the countries/states allowing same sex marriage, for what it is worth:
    Denmark, 1989.
    Norway, 1993.
    Sweden, 1996.
    Iceland, 1996.
    France, 1999.
    Vermont, USA, 2000.
    Germany, 2001.
    Finland, 2002.
    Luxembourg, 2004.
    New Zealand, 2004.
    Connecticut, USA, 2005.
    Britain, 2005.
    New Jersey, USA, 2006.
    New Hampshire, USA, 2008.
    Oregon, USA, 2008.
    Maine, USA.
    California, USA.
    Washington, USA.
    Hawaii, USA.
    and the years in which they were legalized.

    March 2, 2009
  411. Jerry Friedman said:

    John: It seems to me that if a theism has the same marital policy as the state (such as nondiscrimination, monogamy, etc.), that the state can recognize a theism’s marriage out of courtesy.

    If a theism’s marital policy is discriminatory, polygamous, etc., it should be separate and not recognized by the state. And if the marriage is criminal, such as polygamous, it should be prosecuted by the state.

    March 2, 2009
  412. David Ludescher said:

    Jerry: I have been working as a divorce attorney for 20 years. I can assure you that there is no consideration of “family” in today’s marriage or divorce.

    There is no “fraud” in marrying as buddies. The law currently provides: “Marriage, so far as its validity is concerned, is a civil contract between a man and a woman, to which consent of the parties, capable in law of contracting, is essential.” Minn. Stat. 517.01.

    The one thing that I like about the movement for gays and lesbians to marry is that the gays and lesbians are talking about the religious aspects of marriage as validation for what they are asking. That is, they are talking about how they love each other and are committed.

    However, as Randy noted, we can’t measure love, and it shouldn’t be included in a secular definition of marriage. Commitment could be included, but it is not now part of the definition. Furthermore, it seems like a reasonable requrirement that a person doesn’t get the benefit of “marriage” unless he/she makes a commitment that is enforceable.

    I think that you and I are arguing for the same result – for gays and lesbians to have a fair system of government benefits. What we shouldn’t be arguing in the secular world is whether they are morally equivalent. It doesn’t matter if they are morally equivalent, because the law can not operate on moral principles, regardless of whether those principles are theistic, atheistic, or from the Flying Pasta Monster. The law has to operate on clearly defined rules.

    March 2, 2009
  413. David Henson said:

    David L, I don’t see how you can separate the “commitment” from religion. In a sense “commitment” involves contracting away your individual rights in a way that is impossible for the state to enforce constitutionally. Like ‘you have a right to free assembly but if you sign this you can’t go dancing with the boys.’ I would think the state should get rid of the nebulous aspects of the commitment and leave that to religion. Have the law deal only with the material asset obligations via contracts. This way anyone who wants to enter a contract can but the state is not favoring any specific arrangement. Are three people even prohibited from a civil union (if its not called marriage)?

    March 2, 2009
  414. john george said:

    Jerry- I think you are correct in your assumption. In Russia, there is no formal or courteous recognition of religious institutions of marriage. The churches are not coerced to recognize the civil ceremony, because there is probably the most absolute separation of church and state in Russia as anywhere in the world. The churches we associated with recognize the civil unions out of courteousy. The big question is whether recognition of civil same sex unions would be forced upon American churches if we as a country decided to go that direction, or if there could actually be separation of church and state in this regard.

    As far as your comment, “…a theism’s marital policy is discriminatory…” would need some more detailed clarification, I think. There are some local congregations in about every denomination that will not open their sanctuary to any couple that is not a part of the local congregation or the national denomination. This is quite within their legal rights under current law, and the state recognizes the marriages performed there.

    March 2, 2009
  415. Randy Jennings said:

    Griff, will you please re-label this thread to something like “religious vs. legal views on marital rights,” or “christian perspectives on lots of social issues,” or something more indicative of the direction the conversation has taken. The atheists have left the room.

    March 2, 2009
  416. Griff Wigley said:

    As per Randy’s suggestion, I’ve edited the title of this blog post. It now reads:

    How atheist-friendly is Northfield? (also, religious vs. legal views on marital rights)

    I’ve also (sssshhhhhhhh) flipped on the threading feature so that those of you who want to respond to a something related to atheism can ‘attach’ it to a specific. Each comment now has a ‘reply’ link at the bottom which allows for ‘threaded’ conversations, not just chronological conversations. We discussed this feature over in the New look to Locally Grown discussion but several who chimed in suggested we turn it off. Now I’m seeing that there might be a real advantage to it, so let’s experiment here.

    Notice how now this comment of mine, since it’s attached to Randy’s, is now number 415.1.

    March 3, 2009
  417. Randy Jennings said:

    Thanks, Griff.

    March 3, 2009
  418. David Ludescher said:

    Randy: I don’t understand your critique. I picked the subject of marriage so that the conversation could proceed in the concrete on a subject that tests our unity. I have tried hard to keep the conversation secular/legal.

    What, if any, is the atheist view on marital rights? What, if any, is the atheist perspective on lots of social issues?

    March 3, 2009
  419. Jerry Friedman said:

    David L: If all persons may marry and receive the identical state benefits, in accordance with state authority and policy, then we are arguing for the same thing.

    I hear that the only lawyer’s job more dangerous than a criminal defense attorney (who works with murderers and robbers) is a divorce attorney. I don’t discredit your opinion because of the generally negative attitudes of people in divorce, but in the same breath I am saddened that in your view, there is no consideration of “family” in marriage or divorce.

    I am engaged to be married to Natalie. The only reason I seek marriage with her is to formally create a family. We already have a loving and nurturing relation that a marriage per se cannot improve upon. (Remember, we intend not to create children, albeit we may adopt a child, so children is not part of my definition of “family”.)

    If marriage does not create a family, why do people marry? Just for state benefits? I don’t think so. There is a societal, psychological/emotional joy in marriage. There are of course exceptions, but I’d rather discuss the rule.

    Changing one’s status from single to married is a psychological change as well as legal. Other contracts are generally just legal changes. Reducing marriage to a legal contract is missing the psychology of family.

    Like you, I don’t necessarily include “love” or “commitment” in marriage. Remember that marriages were originally political, and those types of marriages were/are probably loveless, and with questionable commitment.

    (By buddies marrying in “fraud”, I especially mean immigration fraud. I also mean fraud in a non-legal context when two people who don’t want to create a family marry for state benefits.)

    March 3, 2009
  420. David Ludescher said:

    Jerry: It is not my view that marriage doesn’t consider family. It is the law.

    Because you are an atheist, I think that you and others could help fashion the law to be religiously neutral. Including homosexual couples in marriage is politically correct, but is it fair to others who are in even more unconventional “families”?

    March 3, 2009
  421. Randy Jennings said:

    David, I couldn’t possibly presume to speak for any atheist but myself, and I’ve said my piece on marriage and several other social issues above. My sense is that the christian perspective in this conversation has plenty of voices, and little interest in any resolution that limits the imposition of religious beliefs (separate and distinct from speech rights) to the privacy of one’s home and worship community.

    My point to Griff was simply that the original question about Northfield’s athiest-friendliness became moot two or three hundred comments ago. If you and others want to go on defining marriage, that’s great, but it has little to do with the original topic. The heading of the post has become mesleading. That’s all.

    March 3, 2009
  422. Griff Wigley said:

    Richard Dawkins was just on MPR’s Midmorning. MPR News Cut blogger Bob Collins was live-blogging it.

    Dawkins is speaking tonight at Northrup at the U of MN.

    PZ Myers is a biologist and associate professor at the University of Minnesota, Morris and he has a very popular blog called Pharyngula: Evolution, development, and random biological ejaculations from a godless liberal. He briefly blogged Dawkins’ appearance on MPR.

    As Bob Collins noted, Myers and Dawkins caused a stir last year here in MN at the screening of the movie “Expelled”. See this NY Times article: No Admission for Evolutionary Biologist at Creationist Film.

    March 4, 2009
  423. David Ludescher said:

    The Dawkins interview is enlightening. Personally, I would call Dawkins an empiricist rather than an atheist. He doesn’t make any positive statements about atheism. His focus is upon an empirical criticism of his version of Christianity. Many of his criticisms, like his criticism of creationism, don’t apply to most organized branches of Christianity.

    Perhaps my interpretation of atheism has been too narrow. I’m starting to believe that there is such a thing as christian Atheists and atheist Christians.

    March 5, 2009
  424. Jerry Friedman said:

    David L: I’m jealous that I missed the interview.

    Remember that theism/atheism is a true dichotomy. As Dawkins is not a theist, he is an atheist by definition. He is also an empiricist.

    Not making “any positive statements about atheism” is a philosophical approach and a debate approach. In philosophy and in debate, just like in law, whomever affirms must prove. Claiming god exists is an affirmation, so the burden of proof is on believers. The “neutral” position is to challenge those affirmations.

    While Dawkins may be an empiricist, it has nothing to do with his being called an atheist.

    Some people take a different approach, such as to describe god (classically: omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent, immutable, etc.) and then to look for internal contradictions. For example, being omnipotent and omniscient simultaneously creates a contradiction, so any god who is described as omnipotent and omniscient cannot exist. People who take this approach make positive statements about atheism.

    March 5, 2009
  425. Bruce Anderson said:

    You can listen to the very interesting archived interview (I did last night) at On Dawkins’ scale of 1 (I am positive there is a God) to 7 (I am positive there is no God), Dawkins describes himself as a 6.5. I’m somewhere around there myself.

    March 5, 2009
  426. David Ludescher said:

    Jerry: Griff has the link in 416.

    March 5, 2009
  427. Griff Wigley said:

    Yep, MPR has the audio of the Dawkins interview. But they also make the embed code available so here it is:

    March 5, 2009
  428. Jerry Friedman said:

    Bruce: Thank you for the link.

    I can’t rate my position on the 1 to 7 scale or any other scale because I don’t understand what “god” means, particularly that “god” means different things to different people. When I understand what someone means by “god”, I can rate my belief.

    My mother, for example, makes some reference to the universe or nature being “god”, so I rate myself a 1 per her description. Relating to Biblegod, I have been a 7 on Dawkins’s scale since 1987.

    March 5, 2009
  429. kiffi summa said:

    Ken Starr….yes, that Ken Starr, is arguing today before the CA supreme court that gay couples (18,000) in CA who married before the Prop 8 ban should be FORCIBLY DIVORCED “for the sake of the children” living in those households.
    If you want to read more about this, or sign petitions, go to the HUman Rights Campaign website; while you’re there check out the “End the Lies” website also.

    “For the sake of the children”…….it would be laughable if it were not so sad.

    March 5, 2009
  430. David Ludescher said:

    Jerry: Dawkins claims that he doesn’t know if God exists. Dawkins’s God is an empirical “thing” that occupies time and space. Based upon what I have been taught, this concept of God is not the Jewish, Christian, or Muslim God.

    As Kant proved in Critique of Pure Reason, there is a third way which is neither “atheist” nor “theist”. The third way suggests that reason cannot come to an empirical conclusion about God because there is not an empirical way to test the hypothesis of God.

    When you talk about Biblegod, I assume that you are talking about God as a thing, as you understand, related through the Bible.

    The most recent defintions of “God” by religions have advanced far beyond these simplier descriptions to include metaphysically and philosophically deep concepts that require intuition and courageous reasoning. For example, Pope Benedict’s first major writing, called an encylical, was entitled (as translated) “God is Love”.

    That God is a god that even Dawkins would have to admit exists.

    March 5, 2009
  431. Anthony Pierre said:

    Why not just throw the bible out, since no one seems to follow it. They just have their own ideas of what god is.

    no one seems to listen to each other, because everyone thinks they are right, when in actuality, if you do the math, it is very likely no one is.

    March 5, 2009
  432. Jerry Friedman said:

    David: With respect to Kant, he misses the point (note that I have not read his “Critique of Pure Reason” so I am relying on your representation). By lingual construction, theists have a common quality and everyone who is not a theist is an atheist. Theism is not about empirical proof, but about belief.

    Biblegod is the god(s) represented in the Bible.

    If “God is love”, then there are a great many gods. I should introduce you to my loving dog Maya. Some people argue that “God is war” and other things. I would rate the “love” and “war” gods a 1 on Dawkins’s scale, because I am certain that they both exist. When we move beyond equivocations and non-sequiters, I am vastly more critical.

    March 5, 2009
  433. Jerry Friedman said:

    Some Christians suggested that a copy of the Bible be sent to the moon in case of catastrophe here on Earth. Perhaps, in theme with “throw[ing] the bible out”, we could send all of the Bibles to the moon.

    March 5, 2009
  434. David Ludescher said:

    Jerry: The Pope asserts that if you know “love”, then you know God. Pure unconditional love is the closest empirical representation that we have to knowing and experiencing the God of the Christians. Further, Jesus of Nazareth demonstrated as pure and unconditional love of his fellow man as anyone who has ever walked the earth. He even died a criminal’s death on the cross so that we would know what he said was true.

    You will notice that this God is not the God that Dawkins condemns. Dawkins condemns virgin births, resurrections, and other concepts that he doesn’t understand any better than I understand quantum physics. You notice that he doesn’t condemn the core commandment of Christianity – love your neighbor as you love yourself.

    The skeptic in me says that Dawkins just wants to sell books, just like Limbaugh wants to sell ads – same cloth, different colors.

    March 5, 2009
  435. Patrick Enders said:

    Well then, I guess I’m a Christian, too. And so are an awful lot of Buddhists. Who knew?

    To heck with proselytizing… the easiest way to achieve a universal, catholic church is to redefine ‘God’ into something that everyone can agree on.

    As Lennon said, “All we need is love.”

    March 5, 2009
  436. Patrick Enders said:

    Enough talk, it’s time to sharpen those pencils and start writing letters to your State Senator:

    Same-sex marriage back at the Legislature

    The next round of the perennial battle over same-sex marriage in Minnesota was officially joined today.

    A bill that would define marriage as a civil contract between “two persons,” rather than a man and a woman, was introduced in the state Senate, sponsored by five DFL members. (the specific link keeps getting refused by LGN)

    March 5, 2009
  437. David Ludescher said:

    Patrick: As odd as it may sound, I think your analysis is accurate.

    March 5, 2009
  438. Patrick Enders said:



    I assert that The Flying Spaghetti Monster is Love. Therefore, we are all devotees of The Flying Spaghetti Monster.

    March 5, 2009
  439. john george said:

    If I’m understanding “emperical proof” correctly, then there must be some observable characteristics before a God encounter and then some observable characteristics after the encounter, to demonstrate some type of effect as the result of the encounter. Am I correct? It is too bad none of you knew me in my college days. The before and after evidence is observable. Actually, I’m glad you folks didn’t know me in my college days. They were a shameful time in my life. I think it interesting that in Peter’s defense before the Sanhedron, he said, “I can only tell of what I have seen and heard.” This seems to indicate observable phenomina. I see it no differently today. The greatest witness of God is a changed life.

    March 5, 2009
  440. john george said:

    Anthony- Unfortunately, your generalization is not correct. My whole family patterns our lives around the Bible. This isn’t a question of who is “right”, so much as how well do we live up to the image in the Scriptures. This is not some level of performance to which we attain, or even believe we could attain it in our own strength, but we press on toward the mark of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.

    March 5, 2009
  441. Jerry Friedman said:

    David: As I stated, some people equate god with war. Does that mean that anyone who knows war also knows god?

    There is a process of philosophical discovery and argument; statements like “god is love” are meaningless to both. They equivocate the meaning of “love” and they are a non-sequiter for determining any god’s existence.

    The pope uses the rhetoric used by ‘cult’ leaders, to lure emotionally vulnerable people into their religion. Such a statement has nothing to do with empiricism and everything to do with recruitment. Why would you or the pope use the rhetoric of Jim Jones and David Koresh, and not see the rhetoric for what it is?

    Yeshua did not demonstrate unconditional love. Let’s start with Luke 14:26, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple.” If Yeshua did not love unconditionally, how can Yeshua be god according to you and the pope? If he did love unconditionally, we have a very different understanding of love. In any context, I would not shun a disciple because he didn’t hate his family. What an arrogant and loveless thing to say.

    Yours is a dishonest assessment of Dawkins’s interview on MPR and his ideas. Dawkins is an evolutionary biologist. Of course he would not deny that love exists. But you bring love and god together through equivocation — through a false claim that the two things are equal. You take something not controversial, love exists, then you take something controversial, god exists, then you equate the two and claim that Dawkins would agree.

    Dawkins has no reason to condemn a few moral theories in the Bible. There are plenty others that he condemns.

    You might be right, that Dawkins has a profit motive. That does not mean what he says is right or wrong. So are you trying to discredit Dawkins, for possibly being a capitalist, because you cannot discredit him for his ideas? I mean, if you wrote your ideas and sold them in a book, should I tell people that you are just trying to sell books?

    I wish we’d move past fallacies and into meaningful discussion. No more equivocation. No more non-sequiters. No more ad hominem.

    March 5, 2009
  442. john george said:

    Here’s an interesting link for anyone who would like to read it.

    As I’ve said before, I don’t think intolerance follows any specific creed, race or profession. It is, unfortunately, a common human trait.

    March 6, 2009
  443. David Ludescher said:

    Jerry: Dawkins is an evolutionary biologist, not a theologian or philosopher. Nevertheless, I am sure that Dawkins would believe in “love”. But, let him prove love’s existence. You can’t see, hear, feel, taste, or smell “love”. Love, like God or the number 2, doesn’t exist as a thing occupying time and space.

    Love, God, the number 2 have no direct empirical reality. The fact they are generally believed to exist doesn’t prove their existence.

    Love exists as a concept existing only in the human mind and heart. Any description of “love” has to necessarily resort to what we consider to be empirical manifestations of the concept.

    To the extent that “love”, “God” or the number “2” clearly and completely describe an empirical concept, they are said to be “true”, not “existing”. To the extent anything occupies time and space, it is said to “exist”.

    March 6, 2009
  444. David Ludescher said:

    Patrick: If being a devotee of love requires being a devotee of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, then count me as devotee of both.

    As I understand Islam, Allah has 95 names. Each name is insufficient, and complete.

    March 6, 2009
  445. Paul Zorn said:


    In reference to #424 and the National Day of Prayer.

    What’s your point?

    I’m fine with anyone praying at any time, and with the prayerful trying mightily to convince others to join in.

    But why does the process require governmental endorsement? I find this even more puzzling in light of conservatives’ usual opposition to big government … can government get any bigger than this?

    From the website:

    “The National Day of Prayer is one more reminder to the enemy that we are not willing to give up our nation,” Toon said.

    What “enemy” are we talking about here? Are atheists really seeking to steal “our nation”? Are these your views, John?

    And, while we’re at it, would you support a governmentally endorsed National Day of Puja, for our Hindu fellow citizens?

    March 6, 2009
  446. Patrick Enders said:

    Enough talk, it’s time to sharpen those pencils and start writing letters to your State Senator:

    Same-sex marriage back at the Legislature

    The next round of the perennial battle over same-sex marriage in Minnesota was officially joined today.

    A bill that would define marriage as a civil contract between “two persons,” rather than a man and a woman, was introduced in the state Senate, sponsored by five DFL members.

    March 7, 2009
  447. john george said:

    Paul Z.- The enemy of our souls is a common enemy, Satan. He is after both the atheist and the Christian, because both are made in the image of God. Our weapons of warfare are not carnal, relying on the strength of our bodies, but might through the Spirit, to the tearing down of strong holds. These strong holds are in people’s lives, a place where our enemy tries to drag us down. The movement to remove the recognition of this day seems more mean spirited than conciliatory. This is not a holiday. The mail is still delivered and government offices are still open, so I don’t understand the opposition to it.

    As far as recognizing other religion’s particular celebrations, this is done now, so I don’t quite understand your point here. There is more and more freedom being allowed in the workplace for particular religious garb. There are separate rooms being set aside for daily religious activities. I think our country is moving closer to a religious freedom we have not necessarily had in times past. Why does a group of people now want to begin to take away recognition of Christian events only?

    March 7, 2009
  448. Paul Zorn said:

    John G:

    I don’t personally have much of a dog in any fight over a governmentally proclaimed national day of prayer — as long as “prayer” is construed broadly enough to encompass everything any religion might mean by the term. (Whether “atheist prayer” make sense is an interesting argument for another day. Meanwhile, perhaps the government could recommend that atheists spend the day denying, and agnostics doubting.)

    So construed, a national day of prayer seems no more controversial than, say, Arbor Day, when we all get together to appreciate trees.

    What caught my eye about your posting #424, and the site it links to, was the (in my view) overheated rhetoric about enemies and giving up the nation:

    “The National Day of Prayer is one more reminder to the enemy that we are not willing to give up our nation,” Toon said.

    You, John, identify this “enemy” as Satan, but I respectfully doubt that Mr Toon’s views are so theological. (I think he’s on about liberals.) If indeed the National Day of Prayer is, as you seem to imply, a distinctively Christian strike against a distinctively Christian Satan, then maybe the idea is more divisive and sectarian than I thought.

    Again, it’s perfectly possible — and not “intoleran” — to support and praise any particular religion’s practice of its best ideals while also opposing governmental involvement in sectarian matters.

    March 7, 2009
  449. john george said:

    Paul Z.- I can’t speak for Mr. Toon fully, as I don’t personally know him, but the intercession groups I am associated with recognize that there is a spirit behind anti-christian activities. We only desire to see the defeast of this “enemy”, for he is the enemy of all people, no matter their particular religious affiliation. When we stand in the gap, we stand for all those behind us, even those who detract us. If you are concerned about government involvement in sectarian affairs, so am I. This is why I advocate recognition of the various sects without endorsement. When people of these various sects hold government positions, which they are free to do, then I expect them to have the freedom to exercise their beliefs. That is why Rep. Elingson had the freedom to be sworn in on a copy of the Koran, even though I think it raised an uncessary flap.

    March 7, 2009
  450. Jerry Friedman said:

    John: A National Day of Prayer is divisive and offensive. People of whatever theism can pray on their own day, but there is no reason to seek governmental endorsement of it. Doing so offends people of all religions who don’t want government involved with any religion – theist and atheist.

    In my view, you can eat your cake but keep it out of government.

    March 7, 2009
  451. Jerry Friedman said:

    John: I have no soul so I’m not worried about Pan (who early Christians plagiarized into Satan), and being without a soul, Pan wouldn’t want me either.

    1. There is no evidence of souls.

    2. The whole of evolution contradicts that souls can exist. Talk about irreducible complexity, the Creationists are right here. Souls could not have evolved.

    March 7, 2009
  452. Jerry Friedman said:

    David: All cognitive humans are philosophers. Some humans are professional philosophers, the rest are less than professional. You and Dawkins are philosophers, as are all members of Locally Grown.

    Love can be proven just as easily as all intangible things. Music, for example, cannot be proven by your standard. Sound can be proven, but when does sound become music? Music cannot be seen, felt, or tasted. But it can be proven. It’s proven, at least indirectly, by the reaction that some individuals make when hearing certain sounds. Love can be proven, at least indirectly, by the behaviors that some people make when experiencing different feelings. (Feelings in turn are proven psychologically, and then chemically.) While things like music and love are not physical things, there is a world of evidence that they exist.

    Even you offer that love exists in the human mind. The mind, in turn, exists in the brain. Here is the source of the empirical evidence of love, and music, but not god.

    There is no evidence that god exists, unless god is solely an emotional experience. That emotional experience exists in the brain of some people, just like love and music, but the emotional experience does not offer any evidence of god.

    March 7, 2009
  453. kiffi summa said:

    John: re: #428…You say: “the intercession group I am associated with recognizes there is a spirit behind anti-christian activities”.
    What “intercession” group? How and why do you presume to ‘intercede’ for those who feel no need of ‘intercession’?
    What ‘spirit’ behind anti-christian activities? Just a differing group of opinions or an evil sprit, what you might call a Satanic spirit? How can you continue to hide behind ‘intercession’ of your ‘good works/ thoughts’ for those who do not welcome your belief set?
    Every time you agree with a freedom principle( Keith Ellison/ Koran) you then knock it back by qualifying that it caused an “unnecessary flap”. Unnecessary in whose POV? Yours, obviously.In mine a step forward.

    The most offensive thing you constantly put forward, is not your beliefs, but your unrelenting need to oppress others with your beliefs, even though you insist it is for their own good, whether welcomed or not.
    Practice your beliefs any way you want that does not intrude on others’ free will, but keep your ‘intercessions’ within your belief system, when others have said they believe differently.
    Do you wish to convert to my belief system? I am sure the answer is a resounding “NO”. Then quit proselytizing here…even the Mormons and the Jehovah’s Witnesses leave the porch after 10 minutes.

    March 7, 2009
  454. john george said:

    Kiffi- What are you meaning by this statement, “…The most offensive thing you constantly put forward, is not your beliefs, but your unrelenting need to oppress others with your beliefs, even though you insist it is for their own good, whether welcomed or not…”? When I say I pray for you, is this in someway oppressing you? Sorry, I just don’t get it. If I practice my beliefs behind closed doors, which you advocate, you are still upset with me. If it is offensive to you that I even say I practice this, then I can’t do anything about your reactions. You are free to blast me all you want as long as it is not libelous, but I will still pray for you. I have the freedom in this country to do that.

    There are a number of groups of intercessors who are loosely connected across the country. Our call to intercession has no connection with anyone’s perceived need or not. We look at it as fulfilling a call from God. I know all this is foreign to you, and that is ok. I have no responsibility to “convert” you. That is the work of the Holy Spirit.

    Re.: the “unnecessary flap”, I’m refering to the reactions of some in the Christian community. I don’t have a priblem with Elingson taking an oath on something he believes in. I think it would be hypocritical to ask him to swear on something he does not believe in. Now, concerning those athiests who are sworn in on a Bible, I have no answer. The important thing is the commitment they make to the government and the constitution. Since there seems to be no fear of God in this country anymore, it seems a little presumptious to me to belive the person will do any differently in office whether they take an oath on a Bible or a comic book.

    March 7, 2009
  455. john george said:

    Jerry- The concept of Satan has Jewish roots, not Christian per se. I think the early artists’ renderings of Pan are incorrect and just artistic expression. If you don’t believe you have a soul, that is your perogative. There have been endless dissertations over the ages of what actually gives a body life and intellect and is somehow not there after the body dies, so I don’t have any presumptions of us getting any farther along on this in this thread. This is a whole area that is difficult to discuss emperically. Sorry if I opened a can of worms.

    March 7, 2009
  456. Jerry Friedman said:

    John: Cans of worms are OK.

    Understand that with a lack of evidence, people can sure believe whatever they want to believe. I err on the side of disbelief. With contrary evidence, we ought not to believe. There being no reason for souls to evolve means that souls should not exist.

    When presenting souls and Satans to atheists is a losing approach. My first criteria for accepting the Bible is for it to be authenticated. My understanding is that it’s a marmalade of an unknowable number of writers. If I can’t determine who wrote it, then I can’t begin to determine any claim of divine inspiration. I can’t distinguish the Bible from any other book with claims of grandeur. So I offer that distinguishing the original “inspired” Bible from everything tacked onto it in the last 2000 years would be a good approach to present your beliefs to atheists.

    March 7, 2009
  457. Jane Moline said:

    John George: Poppy-cock about Satan. It is one of the big reasons that there are atheists–the absolutely ridiculous idea that a God of love could condemn any one of his children to everlasting damnation. I get mad at my kids but they don’t deserve everlasting punishment-no matter what they do.

    But you are right on regarding being “atheist friendly.” Christians who constantly see “anti-Christian” activities in the secular world are paranoid and causing much grief to others, especially atheists. It is devisive. I can’t believe how many times I have heard FALSE reports of stores banning “Christmas” greetings.

    Imposing religious laws on the general population is wrong. Witness all you want, but don’t think that you should get any support from those you are condemning and claiming to be sinners with your radical interpretations of the bible. (Just because everybody in your church agrees with you does not make you right.)

    David L, I am a moral being without being religious. I do not need the Pope to tell me what is right and wrong, and I certainly do not need a corrupted church to dictate to me that I am lesser in the eyes of the church. The treatment of women in the Catholic church is an embarassment, and because it has gone on for thousands of years, it is a thousand times worse than the pedophile priests.

    The development of radical monotheism in the modern world is an interesting study on the psychological needs of humans. The ability to transcend and develop beyond those needs is the path to enlightenment.

    All you Christians out there–are you being/doing good so that you can get into heaven? Please God? Follow the rules and laws of your religion? Or could you possibly try to be good because it is right? How will you ever know? Organized religion is great for people who cannot figure out what is right from wrong, and even then its benefits are mostly social. Otherwise, it is limiting your ability to have any “relationship” with “God.”

    March 7, 2009
  458. john george said:

    Jerry- I would never try to convince you heaven or hell, as I’m not convinced that is my responsibility. In my answer to Paul Z., since he said he is a PK, I thought he would understand where I was coming from. I err on the side of belief.

    March 7, 2009
  459. kiffi summa said:

    John: I don’t understand how you can NOT understand that your ‘intercession’ on the behalf of others whom you perceive to need it is unwanted and unwarranted. The very fact that you judge who needs it is an insult.

    What kind of arrogance assumes that you can affect another person’s life by your ‘intercession’?

    I am truly sick of the ostentatious rhetoric….. do some good…… leave other people’s lives alone lest you be guilty of judging their lives as being in need of your ‘help’……….
    Pray for World Peace… the broadest sense.

    March 7, 2009
  460. john george said:

    Kiffi- If you do not believe there is a God, then what effect can any of my pleadings with Him have on you? When we pray for the peace of our world, nation, state & city, we pray for everyone in it, including you. I think it would be arrogant to pray for the well being of us Christians and no one else. It rains on the just and the unjust alike.

    March 7, 2009
  461. Jerry Friedman said:

    Jane: Do you mean that the idea of Hitler, a Catholic, being in heaven, and Gandhi, a heathen, being in hell, is not a selling a point for Christianity?

    One of my friends often said that he’d rather be in hell, to join the likes of Mark Twain and Albert Einstein, rather than to go to heaven, to join King Edward I and Ted Bundy.

    The idea of Satan never made sense to me. If Satan wanted to compete with Biblegod, wouldn’t hell be even more luxurious than heaven? Instead, if Satan wanted to aid Biblegod, Satan would surely make hell a place of misery. It only makes sense to me that Biblegod and Satan are in cahoots.

    March 7, 2009
  462. Jane Moline said:

    Jerry, you would have to assume that Satan and Biblegod exist to make the logical leap that they are in cahoots.

    I believe religion is the natural evolution of a psychological need to explain our world and some of the terrible events in it. How can we even stand to live after the death of a child or other loved one if we don’t believe in a higher purpose or after life or whatever. (This is not a question–but a statement of how the religious “prove” that there is a god.) As we evolved our need for God became more complex. I don’t believe in a religious god, and find such discussions trivalize our purpose on earth. (This is really going to get all those “Purpose driven life” folks going, I know.) I think it is truly silly to discuss Hitler in heaven and Gandhi in hell when there is no heaven or hell, so I guess I missed your point.

    March 7, 2009
  463. Jane Moline said:

    John: I don’t mind if you pray for me and even appreciate it. I believe that we do have a power when we are united, and as long as you are not cursing me I appreciate your (good) wishes. Please continue to keep me in your prayers. I only see good will in such actions. You will have to live and die with your choices. If you are judging others, I think there are consequences that you face in this life, including the astrocizing of a portion of society that would enrich your life. I also think worrying about judging others is a waste of time, and a futile exercise that is bad karma for the judge.

    March 7, 2009
  464. Jerry Friedman said:

    Jane: Indeed, it’s difficult for an atheist to believe that Biblegod and Satan are in cahoots. Sometimes, to find truth, I grant another’s point of view. Assuming Biblegod and Satan exist, they are more likely doing the “good cop, bad cop” routine. They work for the same side. The same goes for very terrible Christians and very good non-Christians after life. Granting another’s point of view shows how unjust their system is.

    I agree, that theism comes from an ancient desire to explain the world without scientific methods to do so. Theism also has an element of crowd control, for better or for worse.

    March 7, 2009
  465. kiffi summa said:

    John: You said:'”I think it would be arrogant to pray for the well being of us christians and no one else. I rains on the just and the unjust alike”.

    So you are just, and others are unjust? That is the position you relentlessly espouse, that you are the just and there are others that are unjust. You give with one hand and take away with the other.
    Unless of course you would like to assume the position of the unjust……and then we can all get out our umbrellas at the same time….equally.

    And there you go again, self identifying you and yours as the only ‘christians’ !

    March 7, 2009
  466. john george said:

    Tracy- I love that link you posted. I especially like this statement by the author, “…I’m sure I’ll repeat obvious points made by thousands of biblical commentators before; I’ll misunderstand some passages and distort others—hey, that’ll be part of the fun…” Now, here’s a guy I can relate to. He is pretty transparent. That is an admirable quality in anyone, and I agree with him- digging into these writings is fun.

    March 7, 2009
  467. john george said:

    Kiffi- I’ll be under the umbrella with you. The statement about the rain is a Biblical reference, and just an observation about the world we live in. I have no justification aside from what God has done in my life, so I consider myself in need all the time.

    March 7, 2009
  468. john george said:

    Jane- Thank you. Your whole post is great, and I agree about the judgement, especially this comment, “…I also think worrying about judging others is a waste of time, and a futile exercise that is bad karma for the judge…” I try to leave that up to my Father, but we don’t have to go down that street. As it is written, blessed are the peace makers, for they shall inherit the earth.

    March 7, 2009
  469. David Ludescher said:

    420 – Jerry: Dawkins comments are confined to the narrow limits of science. He essentially defines God as an empirical thing capable of being perceived directly by the human senses. Then, he states that the thing cannot be proven to exist. With that definition of “God”, of course, God doesn’t exist.

    But, with a definition limited to the senses, “Love” and “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” don’t exist either.

    But, suppose I define “My God” by saying that “My God is Love”. If you admit that Love exists, then you admit that My God exists, without admitting that Dawkins’ God exists.

    March 8, 2009
  470. David Ludescher said:

    Jane: I am not suggesting that you HAVE to listen to the Pope or any other “religious” leader. In fact, in the Catholic Church, Sacred Scripture and the teachings of the Church are two methods to form the individual’s conscience so that the individual can make the final decision.

    The Church admits that she has been wrong before, and will continue to be wrong in the future. She is a human institution. But, through her wisdom, we can often see what is not obvious.

    For example, when 70-80% of the population was in favor of invading Iraq she spoke, through Pope John Paul II, to say that the war did not meet the Church’s requirements of a just war.

    March 8, 2009
  471. Anne Bretts said:

    Tracy, if you can’t wait to read the book, or don’t have time, you can go to Slate’s archives and read the individual entries he made during his year-long series on blogging the Bible. The entries, each of which tackles a specific book, are sometimes hilarious but always interesting — and relentless in asking the hard questions about the contradictions, inconsistencies and frustrations of an ordinary person trying to understand this extraordinary volume. Whether you believe or not, it’s a fascinating basis for conversation or reflection.

    March 9, 2009
  472. David Ludescher said:

    I have to admit that after 474 posts, I am befuddled as to what an atheist is, especially in the political context referred to by Obama.

    I have read a lot of mockery of Christianity, but I haven’t read much about all the good things that theism has inspired, such as the Catholic Church starting schools, hospitals, and charities. Nor have I read about the inspired social values, such as abhorrence of war, opposition to capital punishment, sensitivity to immigrants, and relentless pursuit of human freedoms, especially against the oppressions of communism and totalitarian regimes.

    Certainly, atheist-friendly does not have to mean anti-Christian. One reading this thread might think that that characteristic is the most important atheistic value. Further, I don’t accept the premise that atheist-friendly means that religious groups can’t campaign against or for particular secular laws.

    Obviously, from the comments herein, the issue of same-sex marriage has nothing to do with the legal principles of marriage, and everything to do with the imposition of a particular, albeit perhaps correct, belief system. I’m fine with the imposition of a same-sex marriage law, if that is what the majority of the people desire; this is, after all, a democracy. But, it is neither rational nor fair, and is certainly not atheistic.

    March 10, 2009
  473. Jerry Friedman said:

    David: Such a query is sure to inspire responses.

    After 474 posts and a hearty dictionary, I hoped that you’d understand that an atheist is everyone who is not a theist. I have told you several times that there is no single atheistic system, just as there is no single theistic system.

    Different forms (or denominations) of atheism have inspired many fine things. Siddhartha, an atheist, launched a religion based on compassion, nonviolence, and philanthropy. Atheism has beaten back the Dark Ages and the superstitions of the religious, especially once presumed claims of white superiority. Atheism has developed schools, such as Cornell Univ., founded by an atheist. Atheism has propelled science. Atheism has defended free speech. All these and other socially important things that atheism has done, were done by atheists.

    As you could surely deduce, atheism has nothing to do with same-sex marriage, except that atheism opposes the theistic oppression of homosexuals.

    While atheism per se is not against war (it depends on context), atheism is certainly opposed to theistic war. My recall of history is that most wars are directly or indirectly theistic, so that implies that atheism is against most wars, and some atheists individually are against all, some, or no wars. Classic Buddhists, naturally, are against all wars per their belief in nonviolence.

    Communism is not oppressive. Totalitarianism is.

    Are you really so hurt that some atheists mock Christianity? If you consider the horrors committed by Christians and Christian institutions over the last 2000 years, don’t you understand the source of the mockery? Christianity is much more docile now than in its past, yet we still get stories about people killed in exorcisms, abortion doctors being murdered, and anti-Jewish people killing Jews. There was even a Christian, anti-science theory being bounced around called Intelligent Design. If the Christians want to be immune from mockery, they should understand their history and atone for it.

    After 474 posts, I don’t know what you’ve learned. If you really don’t want to understand why people deny Biblegod, does that meet the definition of being atheist-unfriendly?

    March 11, 2009
  474. Jane Moline said:

    David: The atheist is natuarally opposed to religious law being imposed on others. You say you would go along with same-sex marriage being “imposed” on you–how is it “imposed” on you?

    The imposition of religious laws on the population is NOT democratic and is exactly what the Taliban has done and what some Catholics and many Christians want to do–impose their religious beliefs on society as a whole by making them into law. Same-sex marriage is just one example. Another is reproductive rights and access–especially birth control. These are emotionally-charged issues because the theists make them so.

    Keep your religious laws off my body. And my kids. And my car, dog, house, education, city government, and anything else I forgot.

    March 11, 2009
  475. David Henson said:

    Jane, there where do you stand on laws regarding incest (between adults)?

    March 11, 2009
  476. Anne Bretts said:

    The Daily Mail has an interesting story about scientists discovering what they call “the God spot” in the brain that causes faith…link text

    March 11, 2009
  477. john george said:

    Jerry F. & Jane M.- Does it really matter what particular philosophy or religious affiliation or not a particular person is affiliated with when they bring about freedom & greater liberty for all mankind? I think it interesting where William Wilberforce was coming from in his quest to abolish slavery. See this link-
    It is not Wikipedia, either. Also, I think it is interesting that the person credited with finishing the work that Wilberforce started was the Reverend Martin Luther King. I don’t think either theists or atheists have a monopoly on positive or negative social contributions.

    March 11, 2009
  478. john george said:

    Jerry- Jesus was mocked for His stance, also. Re. your comment, “…If the Christians want to be immune from mockery, they should understand their history and atone for it…”, we believe that Jesus death and resurection was the atonement for all our sins, and also the sins of the whole world. This is the Gospel message. I can only speak for myself, here, but I do not deny the atrocities that many professed followers of Jesus have committed. I don’t deny the sins I commit in my own life, either, but I look to the One who atoned for my sins.

    Re. your comment, “…I’m fine with the imposition of a same-sex marriage law, if that is what the majority of the people desire; this is, after all, a democracy…”, it sounds similar to the passive opinion in ’30’s Germany. See what this sounds like when I just change a concept, …I’m fine with the imposition of an Arian Nation, if that is what the majority of the people desire; this is, after all, a democracy… See what can happen if no one speaks up? I think it is evident throughout history that the majority is not always right, especially if they abandon their moral roots. I believe this definition of deception- it is truth misapplied. I have been accused of doing just this in some of my posts, but I still believe I am correct.

    March 11, 2009
  479. Jane Moline said:

    Incest between adults? Is this a trick question? I don’t know–would this be a man who abandoned his family and does not know his daughter but hits on her when she is an adult and they have sex but don’t know they are related? Disgusting. Or is this a brother and sister that REALLY like each other? Disgusting. I guess it could be kind of fun to think about the scenarios but I think the answer is still DISGUSTING. What do you think about it? What does this have to do with atheism?

    March 11, 2009
  480. john george said:

    Jane- Perhaps it is like the really bad red-neck joke I heard. If a red-neck couple gets divorced, will they still be cousins? And I agree- what does this have to do with atheism?

    David- Were you responding to Jane’s last comment, “…Keep your religious laws off my body. And my kids. And my car, dog, house, education, city government, and anything else I forgot…”? This seems more Libertarian than atheist.

    March 11, 2009
  481. Jerry Friedman said:

    John: While I understand the Christian position of Yeshua dying for sins, it does not make Christianity immune from being mocked. The stereotype being Mafia hit-men murdering, then confessing their crime to be forgiven, is itself plenty of material to mock. Spanning Christianity’s doctrines and history provides even more material. Andrew White wrote a treatise called “A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom.” Pick a page and you’ll find mock-worth material. There are published histories of the several popes, including the single female pope who posed as a man, the pope who like to masturbate horses, or the pope who exhumed a deceased pope to put his corpse on trial. In the last 2000 years, so many crimes and so many absurdities have come from Christianity. Surely a pious Christian can understand why Christianity is mocked.

    This must be the case, because I regularly hear Christians mocking other Christians, especially Mormons, Branch Davidians, Catholics, Lutherans, Cathars, JWs, and the rest. I hear Christians mocking Jews and Muslims, pagans and pantheists, and atheists. David mocks atheism, and that’s fine. It’s just peculiar that he complains when Christianity is mocked.

    You wrote,

    Re. your comment, “…I’m fine with the imposition of a same-sex marriage law, if that is what the majority of the people desire; this is, after all, a democracy…”, it sounds similar to the passive opinion in ’30’s Germany. See what this sounds like when I just change a concept, …I’m fine with the imposition of an Arian Nation, if that is what the majority of the people desire; this is, after all, a democracy… See what can happen if no one speaks up?

    That was David L’s comment, not mine.

    I agree with you, ‘democracy’ is not enough. We must also guard against tyranny by the majority. In a pure democracy, 51% can oppress 49%. Our civil rights are one safeguard against tyranny by the majority, so for example 99% of Minnesotans cannot oppress 1% if the oppression related to civil rights.

    March 11, 2009
  482. Jerry Friedman said:

    David and Jane: Don’t forget that several Christian denominations believe in “celestial wives”, where a man and woman are destined to be husband and wife. There is no rule against intrafamily marriage, incest, statutory rape, etc., with celestial wives. Ask Elizabeth Smart. Hence, intrafamily marriage can be found among Christians who hold this belief.

    March 11, 2009
  483. Jerry Friedman said:

    John: I am delighted at contributions to “freedom & greater liberty for all [people]” regardless of the individual’s brand of theism or atheism.

    Unfortunately, Wilberforce and King had to overcome great resistance from other Christians because of pro-slavery passages in the Bible. Imagine the world if Yeshua said unequivocally that slavery is wrong. Instead, he said,

    Luke 12:45-48: “[…] And that servant, which knew his lord’s will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. But he that knew not, and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes. For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more.”

    Ephesians 6:5-9: “Servants, be obedient to […] your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in singleness of your heart, […]”

    And there’s more!

    I don’t praise Christianity for the work of some Christians in abolishing race-based slavery when Christianity is largely responsible for instituting race-based slavery. I don’t credit Nazism for the few Nazis who tried to assassinate Hitler.

    March 11, 2009
  484. David Ludescher said:

    John and Jerry: I am the one who made the quote about being OK with the imposition of same-sex marriages. I majority’s will.

    It is not rational because it is not based upon any don’t think that doing so is rational or fair as it doesn’t involve a fundamental right to be free from gov’t interference, I couldn’t argue with it as a certain and measurable principle. (Two loving and committed people is a non-scientific, i.e. religious, belief.) It is not fair because it excludes certain people. At least the principle of one man and one woman has some rationality to it even if it is unfair.

    Jerry: I’m not hurt that Christianity is mocked by some. But, why do atheists feel the need to stereotype all Christians by the actions of a few? Christianity has an impeccable history over the last 2000 years.

    Your accusations against Christians could be made against any group. What about the abuses of Americans over the last 200 years? Americans have killed and enslaved Native Americans, created a slavery system with 2 of our “greatest” presidents owning slaves. Americans, and especially Abe Lincoln, started the bloodiest and nastiest war in America’s history. We don’t dismiss the accomplishments of these Americans. Certainly, the history of “Americans” is much worse and bloodier than “Christians” in America.

    March 11, 2009
  485. David Ludescher said:

    Jane: I argued for completely atheistic principles to be used in defining marriage – including doing away with marriage, letting any two people get married, and letting any number of people get married. You and others not only opposed every one of the ideas, but I was also called insulting, demeaning, irrational, and other names. You had the kindest interpretation – I can’t put my finger on why you are wrong.

    Any rational or atheistic ground for your and others opposition to these ideas escapes me. Rather, it seems that the main objections are purely political.

    That men and women copulating produce children is not a theistic belief; it is a scientific fact which every atheist has to accept as true. On this issue, it is mostly atheists, agnostic, and liberal Christians who are trying to discount this scientific fact, in favor of some other system, which appears rooted in, ironically, the same kind of non-empirical systems that atheists tend to abhor.

    March 11, 2009
  486. Anthony Pierre said:

    I am so glad this guy is saying what he is saying

    March 11, 2009
  487. David Henson said:

    Jane, the point of 443 is the democratic process (and thus religion) do legislate sexuality and “our bodies.” Where you draw the line is only an opinion not a right or a logic driven fact.

    March 11, 2009
  488. john george said:

    Jerry- I guess I didn’t make my point clear. Being a Christian does not make one immune from mocking. In fact, openly acknowledging a relationship with Jesus probably opens up more occasion for mocking than denying Him. There have always been those who try to sidestep personal responsibility for their actions. Many use religion as their cop-out. If a man’s walk does not line up with his talk, then he has some real problems. I would much prefer to relate to an atheist realist than a theist in denial.

    March 11, 2009
  489. john george said:

    Jerry- I take umbrage with this statement, “…Christianity is largely responsible for instituting race-based slavery…” Slavery was around long before Chriatianity. The whole point of being a Christian is to bring the Kingdom of God into whatever situation you find yourself, because the Kingdom is not dependent upon the person’s particular circumstances. If you look at the history of Israel, every 49 years was the year of Jubilee. It was in this year that debts were forgiven and those in slavery were set free. I think that if you check your history closely, slavery came out of the gentile cultures, not the Jewish. Abraham, considered the father of the Faith, had slaves and servants.

    March 11, 2009
  490. Jerry Friedman said:

    John: I worded my statement very carefully. Slavery in Hebrew and pre-Hebrew times were not based on race. Anyone could become a slave, but normally slaves were conquered people from any “race” and poor/debtors from any “race”.

    The Portuguese Christians were the first to make “race” a basis for slavery. They used the several passages in the Bible to enslave Africans, considering them an inferior “race” that needed Christianity to save them. Arguably economics was the key factor, but for several reasons I place the blame on religion, on Christianity. Indeed, it took the several Christian institutions several centuries to condemn slavery and still you will find white Christians citing passage and verse in defense of slavery.

    March 11, 2009
  491. Jerry Friedman said:

    John: I neglected to add that the characteristic that makes race-based slavery so much worse than debtor or captor slavery is that a slave cannot change her “race”. In the Hebrew and pre-Hebrew days, a debtor could earn her freedom, as could a captured person especially if a ransom was paid. The 15th century Portuguese Christians started race-based slavery, meaning there was no process for the Africans to free themselves.

    Of course I do not advocate any slavery, but I wanted to distinguish between the Hebrew and Christian institutions of slavery.

    Apparently this fits in David L’s opinion that the last 2000 years of Christianity were “impeccable”.

    March 12, 2009
  492. Jerry Friedman said:

    John: I join your sentiment. I’d sooner be with a rational theist than an irrational atheist.

    March 12, 2009
  493. Jerry Friedman said:

    Anne: But they say there is no “god spot”,

    In all three cases the neural activity in the subjects’ brains corresponded to brain networks known to have nonreligious functions.

    ‘There is nothing unique about religious belief in these brain structures,’ Professor Grafman said.

    ‘Religion doesn’t have a ‘God spot’ as such, instead it’s embedded in a whole range of other belief systems in the brain that we use every day.’

    This juxtaposition with other parts of the brain helps to explain the increase of followers of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, which coincides with the stomach-area of the brain.

    March 12, 2009
  494. Jane Moline said:

    Yes, David Henson–I just don’t want the legislation to be religious law. Like the Taliban. Like the right wing Christians want. Keep your religious laws off my body and everything else. I do not know how you equate the democratic process to religion beyond claiming that a group of religious could get themselves elected and then legislate their religion. This would be a failure of democracy. The religious minority forcing their religious beliefs on society. Like we have with same sex marriage, where a well-funded group of religious extremists want to force society to conform to their religious beliefs.

    March 12, 2009
  495. Jerry Friedman said:

    David: You said,

    Christianity has an impeccable history over the last 2000 years.

    We have very different definitions of “impeccable”.

    You said,

    Your accusations against Christians could be made against any group. What about the abuses of Americans over the last 200 years? Americans have killed and enslaved Native Americans, created a slavery system with 2 of our “greatest” presidents owning slaves. Americans, and especially Abe Lincoln, started the bloodiest and nastiest war in America’s history. We don’t dismiss the accomplishments of these Americans. Certainly, the history of “Americans” is much worse and bloodier than “Christians” in America.

    It would take a great deal of unraveling to understand the roots of the European-American genocide against native Americans. One principal factor was the Christian belief of a young Earth (~6000 years old). Under this mistaken belief, Europeans believed that native Americans were as new to the Americas as the Europeans were. Therefore, the Europeans believed that the native Americans had no greater claim to the land, so it was OK for the Europeans to take land from them.

    Another factor that I recently posted was the Catholic advocacy of slavery of Muslims (Saracens), pagans, and others. The European assault on native Americans was not solely a crime of Colonial Europeans, but of Christian Europeans. I don’t believe that the U.S. Civil War had a pervasive religious cause. Note, however, that one reason for the war was to end “race”-based slavery, a Christian-founded institution.

    Separating theism out of complex historical events is not an easy task. Suffice to say, because Christianity has been popular in European history for the last 1700 years, most major European events have directly or indirectly come from Christianity.

    March 12, 2009
  496. Jane Moline said:

    David L: the problem with your idea that atheists principals would “do away with marriage, letting any two people get married, and letting any number of people get married.” is insulting because in is stating that you know that atheistic principals are devoid of–principal. Atheists may be Buddhists or adhere to other non-theistic spritiual beliefs or be truly secularists without any religion or spritual belief system. That does not make them immoral or devoid of principal. Your argument reeks of the hubris of religion–that non-religious lack moral rules or principals because they don’t have the bible to tell them what is right or wrong. This is why your argument is insulting.

    Plural marriages exploit women. It is not in the interest of society to exploit women. Yet you continually claim that atheists who argue for the rights of same-sex couples are arguing for marriage “anarchy.” This is not true or even rational.

    Those arguing for same-sex marriage are not asking that every church or religion be forced to provide marriage services to same-sex couples. But we do expect that you will not discriminate against same-sex couples in employment, housing, and access to justice.

    The atheist is simply saying that the church should not dictate secular laws on marriage or anything else. Religion may guide you, but it should not be forced on others who do not share your belief “lifestyle.”

    March 12, 2009
  497. john george said:

    Jerry- I agree that the church in general in the past did an abysmal job in standing for righteousness. My wife and daughter have chaperoned a couple Spanish language trips to Europe. My wife’s reaction to the opulent edifices built over there was that you could see the danger in having a state religion. When you have that much power and wealth mixed together with no check or balance, the results are such as slavery and the subjugation of common peolples’ rights. The way I read the scriptures, these are not Christian principles but carnal, greedy principles. That is why I try to differentiate between having Christian moral bases for laws and governments but not having a theocracy. It has to start from the person’s heart, in my estimation. If we Christians walk in the way we are supposed to, we can be part of the check against graft and greed government.

    As far as the white supremist churches around, my opinion is that they will have to give acount for their actions. I still do not belive there is scriptural basis for their mindset anymore than the other lifestyles discussed here. My opinion is that any lifestyle that does not require selfdenial and giving to others is of questionable scriptural validity, but I know there are some in my own groups that do not quite see it that way. It is the love of money that is the root of all evil, not money in itself. That is a non-moral method of trade. And I believe that if you look honestly at many of the social ills in our past, you will find a connection to greed.

    March 12, 2009
  498. David Henson said:

    Jane, I would think most laws related to sexuality have religious origins. And Right Wing Christians just get one vote each. Suggesting that CA defeat of same sex marriage is not a legitimate expression of democracy just because of funding seems odd – unless you are claiming the same about Obama. My concern with the left is not so much what they want to do (although it is often silly) but that they want everything they think “is true” to be removed from the voting process. Removing issues from the voting process leads to extremism.

    March 12, 2009
  499. kiffi summa said:

    David……. You are right in that each vote (in the CA prop 8 ) is just one vote, and you are right that they have the right to spend their dollars to try to accomplish their goals….. but the scary thing is that they would WANT to spend 23 M $$ on inhibiting the rights of persons who are not harming them in any personal way.
    It’s the inhibition of other person’s rights to make primary choices in their lives that is the scary and objectionable feature of this, and especially when it is done as a result of claiming to know the will of God.

    This discussion should have been over long ago; there will be no resolve between those who believe there is right and wrong known to us as participants in a civil society, and those who believe they have the right to govern other peoples personal lives through a supposed direct communication from their accepted ‘God’.

    March 13, 2009
  500. kiffi summa said:

    This is bizarre…… I did NOT put that emoticon in my previous comment; it was a closed parens………

    March 13, 2009
  501. David Henson said:

    inhibiting the rights of persons

    You have a Right to Life, Liberty and Same Sex Marriage ?

    inhibiting the rights of persons who are not harming them in any personal way.

    This happens with parking tickets

    Honestly, the left would be better served to make their arguments to voters and stay off “the rights” mantra. California had a huge voter turnout to vote for Obama (who won … remember) and that same huge base of voters choose not to expand the defintion of marriage. Same Sex Marriage (which has all sorts of legal implications for society) lost because it did not have majority support.

    March 13, 2009
  502. Jerry Friedman said:

    David: The right to liberty includes the right to marry whom we wish (so long as a crime is not committed).

    Rights have nothing to do with parking tickets. We do not have a “right” to park in a way that violates parking laws.

    The only legal implication of same-sex marriage is to offer marriage benefits to more people. You are worried about social or religious implications, not legal.

    I think you misunderstand or misapply these concepts.

    March 13, 2009
  503. David Henson said:

    Jerry, Clearly (at least in CA) one does not “have the right to marry whom we choose” as you state. I believe your statement means “I think we should have the right to marry whom we choose.”

    I remember Robert Bork’s (your hero I am sure) nomination hearings when he was being quizzed about upholding some ban on contraceptives. An outraged senator said ‘the government can’t regulate our sex lives.’ He said ‘of course they can … do you think incest should be legal?’ (BTW: if you ever want to be a federal court justice this is not the way to accomplish that). The senator said “No.” And Bork said, “then you believe in regulating sex.” His basic point was that in a democracy these issues are decided by voting (even if one does not like the outcome). And that it is better for everyone to have the right to make their case to voters and win or lose than to make decisions by decree (court action). Because when people lose a vote they just try harder to organize but when they lose by decree they become radicalized – and that is when you get a Taliban.

    March 13, 2009
  504. Griff Wigley said:


    What happens is that the WordPress software tries to interpret certain character combinations in order to create emoticons/smilies.

    So if one types

    semicolon hyphen closedparens

    it automatically creates a winking smiley like this:


    While it’s not likely someone would use that combination in sentence, there is one that is more common and it showed up in your sentence:

    You are right in that each vote (in
    the CA prop 8 ) is just one vote

    The sequence of

    numeral 8 closedparens

    automatically creates this:


    So I fixed your comment by added a space character after the number 8.

    Apologies for the hassle.

    March 13, 2009
  505. Jerry Friedman said:

    David: We have rights even when governments wrongfully take rights away. The U.S. has an abundance of cases when a legislature has taken rights away only for those rights to be later restored. The U.S. has also historically refused to recognize rights to classes of persons; only for a later more enlightened government to recognize them.

    It is wrong to say that, for example, 150 years ago rights were given to blacks. It was not the providence of whites to give rights to blacks. Actually, blacks always had the several rights but whites refused to recognize them.

    This principle is seated in the several amendments to the U.S. Constitution, especially the 9th Amendment:

    The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

    Think about what is meant by “others”.

    Marriage existed long before the U.S. and it relates back to biology-driven psychology. Most people are driven toward monogamous relationships. The natural tendency and long history are ample reasons to argue that the right to marry fits in the 9th Amendment ‘natural rights’.

    Therefore, while you say that people do not have the right to a same-sex marriage in California, I say that they do have the right and that the government is wrongfully denying the right.

    This is the perfect segue into your second point. We agree, generally the democratic process strengthens the rule of law. The fault of democracy is when it does not guard against tyranny by the majority. The way you describe it, we should have embraced the Jim Crowe laws because of their democratic establishment. If you don’t recall, courts struck down these tyrannical laws. If you defend the ban on same-sex marriage because of the democracy behind them, then you must defend segregation. Otherwise, I hope you recognize that 51%+ of prejudiced voters do not make good laws.

    According to you, we must be living in the era of the Taliban for the “activist” courts to abolish segregation. You fail to recognize that sometimes courts do the right thing.

    March 13, 2009
  506. john george said:

    Jerry- I’m not sure where you got this concept, “…The fault of democracy is when it does not guard against tyranny by the majority…” When I look up tyranny, I get this definition:
    “a government in which absolute power is vested in a single ruler”. How can a majority be guilty of tyranny unless there is a moral absolute that overides their decision? Seems really difficult to discuss this whole thing without relenting to some moral judgement somewhere. The big question I see is what code does a society resort to. Your argument, “…We have rights even when governments wrongfully take rights away…” could also apply to the other great debate bombshell- abortion. Here is a prime example of a group of people who have no way of exercising their right to pursue life, liberty, and happiness unless someone steps in and defends them. And it isn’t just being elegable for certain “benefits.” It is a life and death matter. And the government is the one stepping in and legalizing the forcing the “rights” of one set of people (the parents) onto this demographic.

    March 13, 2009
  507. David Ludescher said:

    Anthony: I enjoyed it also. Much of conservative Christian thought has been hijacked for political purposes. Much of what is good theology makes for poor politics; much of good politics is bad theology.

    March 13, 2009
  508. Jerry Friedman said:

    John: That’s an awkward definition of tyranny. A monarchy is a government in which absolute power is vested in a single ruler. A monarch can be a benevolent dictator on one end of the spectrum or a tyrannical dictator on the other. One dictionary offers this definition of tyrannical, “unjustly cruel, harsh, or severe; arbitrary or oppressive; despotic.” I suggest that you adopt that definition when considering “tyranny by the majority.”

    Imagine a society where 80% of the population is Tasmanian and they enslave, by democratic process, the other 20%. That is tyranny by the majority without there being a dictator. Of course this could never happen because there are no Tasmanians left.

    You said, “Seems really difficult to discuss this whole thing without relenting to some moral judgement somewhere. The big question I see is what code does a society resort to.”

    That is the nature of politics and the work of ethics.

    March 13, 2009
  509. john george said:

    Jerry- The definition was from Webster, so you will have to take it up with him. I don’t remember any reference to a monarchy. It seems that if a leader is going to be tyranical, he could be in that position of leadership by either election or coup. I like your definition better, “unjustly cruel, harsh, or severe; arbitrary or oppressive; despotic.” It doesn’t imply any particular political system. I believe we are talking more about cruel human behavior than political system, anyway. Cruel behavior implies a violation of a moral code, so we are back to the question of how the government defines morality and how it enforces that morality. Somewhere there must be a balance between laws that protect the common good of the majority and laws that protect the minority at the expense of the majority.

    March 13, 2009
  510. Jerry Friedman said:

    John: My understanding is that we already have that balance. Our civil rights are pretty good at preventing tyranny by the majority. Our legislative processes are pretty good at serving the majority. So the majority usually gets to do what it wants but no laws can be made to violate another’s civil rights.

    The gray area is determining some of the boundaries of civil rights. This is why I endorse same-sex marriages, because marrying one’s significant other, soul mate, life partner, poofy cat, or by whatever name, should not be prevented simply because of gender.

    March 13, 2009
  511. john george said:

    Jerry- If we have that balance now, how will granting to homosexuals the marriage rights and responsibilities now reserved for heterosexuals affect that balance? This appears to be a major shift in cultural mores. How do we know where this shift will lead us? Is there any historical record that proves this will advance our culture? What are the risks of proceeding down this road without knowing the outcome? Just wondering what you think, as I’m not sure all these questions can be answered definitively, either one way or the other.

    March 13, 2009
  512. john george said:

    Jerry & David- Perhaps we should recognize the difference between rights and priveleges. The laws regulating parking have more to do with public safety issues rather than a person’s “right” to park where he pleases. Marriage, like driving, is more of a privelege than a right. That is why both are licensed by the state. If a person cannot fulfill the requirements to earn a driver’s license, then he is not qualified to drive. If we want to approach driving as a right, then we could petition the government to allow anyone to drive in spite of his qualifications. In the case of marriage, if we approach this as a right instead of a privelege, then we have a place to petition the government to change the requirements of the laws regarding marriage, which we are in the process of trying to do. If marriage is considered a privelege, then there is precident to regulate the qualifications required to enter into this contract. This is where I take umbrage with the approach we have taken toward gender equality. It has come to the point of requiring male oriented organizations to admit women for the sheer sake of imposing gender equal rights. I just don’t agree with this reasoning.

    March 13, 2009
  513. kiffi summa said:

    John : Whenever you say “just wondering” it raises a red flag that you are either simply not agreeing … as is your absolute right … or else you’re introducing a pet subject again.
    I had gone away from this discussion, finding it fruitless, and now having returned and read a bit, I see you have once again added one of your two favorite topics, abortion. ( 454.1 ) Please, please, do not convolute this thread with that issue.
    Also in 454.1 you say that we must resort to “some moral judgement somewhere” … why do you think the people speaking here are not functioning from a position of moral judgement; I would prefer the term ‘moral evaluation’, but the term was yours … and that is where the continual problem lies … with judgement. “Smacks of the pulpit” as Benjamin Franklin would say.

    Can you allow others the freedom to determine THEIR moral evaluation? Just wondering …

    March 14, 2009
  514. David Henson said:

    No rights belong to the government. All rights, known or imagined, reside with individuals and through the democratic process we relinquish certain of those rights in favor of a civil society. Certain rights cannot be relished even through the democratic process. Marriage does not fall into the category. If tomorrow by vote society decided to no longer legally recognize the institution of hetro marriage that would not impinge on my civil rights. Therefore not recognizing ‘same sex marriage’ does not impinge on any’ civil rights.

    March 14, 2009
  515. Jerry Friedman said:

    John: The balance I speak of is letting the majority change society but not to violate a ‘minimum standard’ called civil rights. So the process has balance; the substance does not. There are several legal injustices that still need to be fixed.

    The prohibition of same-sex marriage is a substantive injustice that the process needs to fix.

    March 14, 2009
  516. Jerry Friedman said:

    David: The U.S. Supreme Court disagrees with you.

    In Loving v Virginia (1967), the Court recognized the “fundamental freedom” of marriage when Virginia prosecuted a white man and black woman for marrying.

    In Zablocki v Redhail (1978), the Court declared that marriage is a “fundamental right”.

    March 14, 2009
  517. David Henson said:

    Jerry, none of those cases are saying voters cannot retract the preformatted “marriage contract.” My free speech rights are the same in Minnesota as in Florida. Marriage differs by state and the law is changed over time so it cannot be seen as a “fundamental right.”

    March 14, 2009
  518. Jerry Friedman said:

    David: I wish that you’d research these laws before stating your incorrect understanding of them. People have a basic right of “free speech” in all states. However, some states give greater free speech rights in several circumstances. Unlike most states, in California, the Pruneyard case gives free speech rights on private property under certain circumstances. So it is incorrect for you to say that your free speech rights are identical in the whole nation. You have a basic right that is identical, but some states grant more.

    In that same context, all people have a “fundamental right” to marry. The federal gov’t and the states may not take that right away. Like free speech, they can enumerate what illegal conduct is and prohibit that type of marriage. Prohibiting illegal free speech or illegal marriage is not taking the right of free speech or marriage away, assuming the criminalizing is not oppressive. Prohibiting same-sex marriage is oppressive.

    March 15, 2009
  519. David Henson said:

    Jerry, You don’t go down to the courthouse and get a “free speech certificate” and society is under no obligation to grant one … however you are free to speak your mind. You are also free to pair up but no civil rights would be violated if society voted to stop handing out “marriage certificates.” People are always free to enter into agreements and churches could provide whatever title they choose for people’s unions. You have only convinced me the the government should not be in the business of granted titles of “married” to anyone but not that the definition should be expanded to same sex couples.

    March 15, 2009
  520. Jerry Friedman said:

    David: Actually, for some free speech activity, you will need a permit. For example, protests that may cause havoc with traffic (such as marching in the streets) need to be permitted.

    For some types of marriage, no certificate is required. In Washington D.C., common law marriage requires no certification from the government.

    So some marriages require certification, some don’t. Some free speech requires certifications, some doesn’t. And in both cases, the gov’t cannot take a fundamental right away.

    If it’s OK in your opinion for a church to provide whatever title they choose for people’s unions, why do you not support some churches recognizing marriage for same-sex couples? There could be a Harvey Milk Church, for example. If the state recognizes marriages of churches (as it does presently), shouldn’t the state also recognize marriages from the Harvey Milk Church, so long as the married relationship is not criminal?

    March 15, 2009
  521. David Henson said:

    Jerry, I have no objection to churches recognising any type of union they wish. Unlike you, I don’t see the state needing to get deeper into family and church issues … if there is a fairness issue then back the state out. I think you want the state to say same sex relationships are morally equal and then get schools to teach that to the kids of people who disagree – I disagree with the state taking on that roll (on any issue).

    March 15, 2009
  522. Jerry Friedman said:

    David: But the state declares that people of all “races” are equal, and can intermarry; people of all ages are equal, and generally at 18+ (when there is no real fear of exploitation), they can marry; people of all religions are equal, and can intermarry, etc.

    But now you want the state to say that people of different genders are not equal, or different sexual orientations are not equal? That’s the logic I just don’t understand.

    March 15, 2009
  523. john george said:

    Kiffi- Sorry to open up a rabbit trail. Your term “moral evaluation” is better than my use of “judgement”. I interchange the meanings of these words in my context, but I see how evaluation defines my meaning without the overtones of condemnation, which I do not mean.

    I think there is evidence of moral evaluations in regards to the direction any society goes. The question I raise is what foundation these moral evaluations are based on. When I asked Jerry what he thought, I was doing only that. I appreciate his perspective on these matters, as it is different than that to which I am normally exposed. I am not privey to them unless I ask him, and he is always gracious and succinct in his answers to me. And, some of the questions I raised in my post 455 are, as I stated, difficult to answer definitively. Philosophers have been debating some of these issues for years.

    March 15, 2009
  524. john george said:

    Jerry- I think David raises a valid point in his comment, “…I think you want the state to say same sex relationships are morally equal…”, and I think this is perhaps the crux of the debate we are waging. I’m not sure you personally are advocating the moral equivalency of these relationships, but some of us on the Christian side interpret much of what is said from the gay community to mean this. Is it possible to have “equal rights” without having “equal morality?” And if not, where does our option of our Biblical interpretation put us in regards to the law? That is the question I have not heard answered yet.

    March 15, 2009
  525. Jerry Friedman said:

    John: I am advocating the moral equivalency of opp’-sex and same-sex marriages. Further, I advocate that the state should not care nor inquire about the gender of people who seek to marry.

    There are ample Biblical verses that claim genders are morally unequal, “races”/tribes/etc. are morally unequal, and that children are morally inferior to adults. These moral evaluations are utterly rejected in our secular state. Similarly, I advocate that viewing same-sex relationships (and marriages) as morally unequal be utterly rejected by our secular state.

    Religious beliefs about the inequality persons should be kept out of state policy.

    March 15, 2009
  526. kiffi summa said:

    Yes of course it is possible to “have equal rights without equal morality”. The government can afford equal rights to all persons; what those persons DO with those, or operate under those equal rights, may lead to evaluations of the morality of their actions.

    March 16, 2009
  527. David Ludescher said:

    Jerry and Kiffi: Under the American Constitution, the government cannot give any “rights”. The rights in the Constitution are intended to be inalienable freedoms that the government cannot abridge – ever.

    In that sense, there is a freedom to live in a loving and committed relationship with whomever you want. In fact, even the Catholic Church encourages people to live in loving and committed relationships.

    The real question in the marriage debate is whether we are going to interject the term marriage with meaning and value based upon our shared “beliefs” about what marriage should be, or if we are going to keep going down the path of “civil rights” until everyone and anyone can be married.

    To that end, I think that atheists should be the most capable of coming up with a definition that is meaningful and sensible. They don’t have the religious “baggage” to cloud their thinking.

    March 16, 2009
  528. Patrick Enders said:

    On the original topic of Atheism…

    For those interested, MPR is currently discussing survey data on religious affiliation (it’s down a bit). it has included a brief discussion of 2003 survey data that Atheists are the least-welcomed / least-“one of us” group in the U.S. – reflected in answers to questions of whether various minority groups “share your values,” “would you vote for,” and “would you approve of your child marrying one?” questions.

    March 16, 2009
  529. kiffi summa said:

    David: quoting from the Declaration Of Independence : ” We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.”

    John: please take note of the endowment “by their Creator” …

    All: please note the capitals on “Rights” which is accurate to the original …

    David: Please note that “Rights” ARE stated in the Declaration of Independence; I will further research your claim as to “rights” not being given by the Constitution.

    March 16, 2009
  530. Jerry Friedman said:

    There is a split of opinion on the status of “rights”. I tend to favor David L.’s more precise explanation that humans have certain human/civil rights, also called natural rights, and the government cannot abridge them. Even so, the government routinely abridges them, but at least the status of “right” makes them hard to abridge. (We have a right to life, but a police officer who mistakenly shoots a person, believing the person is a criminal, may not be held accountable for murder. Our right to life isn’t worth anything in a lot of circumstances.)

    The other opinion is that the government bestows human/civil rights. In this case, it would be argued that whites gave blacks the rights to life and liberty when they were emancipated. As I stated previously, I oppose this position philosophically.

    Some rights can be given by government. Inheritance rights, for example, are entirely legislated from governments past and present. The civil rights of equal treatment and even voting are probably not natural. I don’t conceive that a natural right prevents an anti-white restaurant owner from serving me. Instead, our society has deemed it in society’s best interest to have equal treatment. And I can’t conceive of a natural right to vote.

    Kiffi: Unfortunately, the Declaration of Independence has no legal weight. It does, however, give us a clue to some of the meaning of the Bill of Rights. With the Declaration as a reference, judges and juries can better interpret the Bill of Rights, and legislatures can create new laws in its theme. I trust that long after the Framers of the Constitution died, several of the Constitutional amendments and other laws were written with the spirit of the Declaration.

    March 16, 2009
  531. David Henson said:

    Jerry you vastly over simplfy history saying things like “whites enslaved blacks.” Specific ‘whites’ bought slaves from slave owning ‘blacks’ and brought them to America to replace white slaves. What this has to do with same sex marriage is beyond my understanding.

    The importation of white servants
    under contracts known as indentures
    proved more profitable as a short-term
    labor source than enslaving Indians or
    using free labor. Eventually, the
    final attempt to ease labor shortages
    was enslavement of Africans. Wherever
    you find slavery, you first find

    March 16, 2009
  532. David Ludescher said:

    Patrick: The fact that people don’t share the atheists values doesn’t mean that they are the least welcomed. It just means that the fewest people associate with atheists.

    Part of the problem may be that atheists are often perceived as intolerant and uncompromising on many social and political issues. For example, on Christmas the public square can’t have a manger scene celebrating the birth of Jesus of Nazareth; but, we can have lots of fictional characters, like Santa Claus. We have a national holiday for Martin Luther King; but, we don’t mention that he was a reverend or that his vision was deeply religious.

    Atheists could go a long way to improving their image by being tolerant of others’ beliefs, and giving credit where credit is due. Guys like Richard Dawkins give atheists a bad name, just like Jerry Falwell gave Christians a bad name, and the 9/11 terrorists gave Islam a bad name. We need to focus upon those common values which we all share, regardless of our religious or irreligious beliefs.

    March 16, 2009
  533. Jane Moline said:

    Although some atheists may be intolerant, I don’t think they are at all intolerant as a group. There are plenty of religious displays during the Christmas holidays, and plenty of religious music taught in the public schools. Most atheists are not offended. I have Jewish friends, however, that have expressed dismay at their constant bombardment by Christmas and its commercial exploitation.

    It is typically the religious that are intolerant of those that differ-so don’t blame the atheists.

    I do get tired of the “under God” addition to the pledge of allegience and tell my kids that they do not have to say those words.

    Richard Dawkins gives atheists a bad name?

    March 16, 2009
  534. David Henson said:

    Jerry, you keep bring up “whites” and “slavery” and I think its important to mention that over half ‘the whites’ in the original colonies were indentured servants – or effectively slaves. As this group pushed for freedom a switch was made by those men involved in slavery to importing ‘black slaves’ from black slave owners. Whether you mean to or not you tend to portray a “bad white men” popular caricature that lacks understanding of the historical times. None of this really relates to homosexual rights except to the degree that nation building requires labor and most frontier nations frown upon relations that do not lead to more laborers.

    March 16, 2009
  535. john george said:

    Jerry- I’m curious about the references you are refering to in this comment, “…There are ample Biblical verses that claim genders are morally unequal, “races”/tribes/etc. are morally unequal, and that children are morally inferior to adults…” Perhaps I have missed something in my studies, but I am not familiar with your references. Jesus taught that unless we becdome as a little child, we cannot enter the Kingdom of God. Both Paul (the Apostle) and Peter teach that we husbands are to live with our wives as equals, and even lay down our lives for them. Doesn’t sound like domination or inferiority on any level to me.

    March 16, 2009
  536. David Ludescher said:

    Jane: Politically, there issues for which atheists seem quite intolerant. If Muslims don’t want alcohol in their cabs, why make any issue of it? If they go broke, then it wasn’t a good idea. If Mormoms want to spend millions to defeat a same-sex marriage proposal, isn’t that their right?

    On other issues, like same-sex marriage, where atheist perspectives could lend more clarity, atheists seem more intent on being anti-religious than scientific and logical.

    In the end, if being atheist-freindly means trying to appease every complaint of atheists, then I guess that I am not atheist-friendly. Fundamental atheism is as bad as fundamental theism in the public sphere.

    March 17, 2009
  537. Jerry Friedman said:

    David H: A ‘red herring’ is leading an argument away from its point. My point was not to give a history lesson on the difference between indentured servitude, where one would be released after a period of years, and slavery, where one was permanently enslaved. Your red herring adds nothing to my argument.

    Pertaining to rights theory, some people believe that the black slaves were given rights by whites. I oppose this theory. Humans have ‘natural’ rights, including a right to associate, which is where the fundamental right to marry comes from. The emancipation of blacks and other enslaved people recognized their rights that were institutionally ignored. Similarly, the fundamental right of some people to marry whom they choose is being ignored when same-sex marriage is prohibited. The history of indentured servitude is wholly irrelevant to this argument.

    March 17, 2009
  538. Jerry Friedman said:

    Red herring.

    March 17, 2009
  539. Jerry Friedman said:

    Patrick: I heard some of this when it was broadcast. The people speaking on the subject seemed direly concerned that fewer people associate with organized religion. They reported that increasing percentages of the population call themselves spiritual, nondenominational or nonreligious. Their dire concern may be a delay of Voltaire’s prediction. Two hundred years ago, Voltaire said that Christianity had 100 years until it extinguished itself.

    I also recall them saying that many people call themselves a member of whatever religion, because they were raised in that religion or went to that church, but they don’t practice that religion any longer. These nonpracticing theists might actually be atheists who haven’t lost their emotional connection to the theist label. I imagine that there are a lot of people like this.

    March 17, 2009
  540. Jerry Friedman said:

    John: I recall passages about parents stoning children who curse at them, indicating parents as morally superior. I recall Samarians being stoned to death, including children and unborn, because the adults didn’t recognize the Hebrew god, which has racial superiority/inferiority connotations. I recall passages about women not being allowed to speak in the church, indicating men as morally superior, not to mention the claim that men are the ‘head’ of women as Yeshua is the ‘head’ of men. Witches are to be burned. I can cite chapter and verse if you’d like, but all these things and more are in the Old and Older Testaments.

    March 17, 2009
  541. David Henson said:

    Jerry, I agree the whole comparison of race to sexual orientation is a red herring. The two have far more differences that similarities. But you choose to introduce the comparison and using broad terms like “white people.” BTW: Many blacks earned their freedom and many indentured servants did not … again using Disney history serves no interests. My own family is white, has been in the US (and southern US) since colonial times and never owned slaves. My understanding is most of this trade was conducted by a very specific class of Dutch, French and Jewish traders.

    March 17, 2009
  542. kiffi summa said:

    Here’s some great news from the Associated Press today: An official from the Obama administration reports that the United States will sign the United Nations’s Declaration for the Decriminalization of Homosexuality which former President Bush refused to sign this past December, when he put the US in the humiliating position of being the ONLY Western Gov’t refusing to sign.

    Now only the Vatican, and the Islamic nations have refused to sign this Human Rights declaration.

    The AP report states that the Obama administration official also says: “in the words of the Supreme Court of the United States, the right to be free from criminalization on the basis of sexual orientation ‘ has been accepted as an integral part of Human freedom’. “.

    March 18, 2009
  543. Patrick Enders said:

    That’s a nice statement to hear. It’s nice that we no longer have a president who finds that idea controversial.

    March 18, 2009
  544. David Ludescher said:

    Kiffi: Is there any practical significance to the United Nations Declaration? Is the Vatican’s opposition based upon the principle of subsidiarity (that sovereign nations have the right to decide their own laws)?

    March 18, 2009
  545. Patrick Enders said:

    You seem to be consistently conflating “atheist” with anyone who disagrees with someone’s faith-based beliefs and actions.

    You have presented no evidence that the opposition to discriminating taxi drivers came mainly from atheists.

    You have presented no evidence that atheists are the guiding force behind opposition to Christian holiday displays. (On that matter, it is my understanding that Christian displays are fine legally – as long as displays from other belief systems are also allowed in an equal manner when requested. As an agnostic who often doubts the existence of god(s), I am fine with that.)

    You have also presented no evidence that atheists, as a whole, are any more intolerant than Christians, as a whole, or indeed any more intolerant than any other group.

    If you can prove that Atheists, as a group, are consistently intolerant, then you might have a point. Personally, my experience with Atheists is that they mostly keep their mouths shut about their beliefs.

    Finally, as Jane asked, what has Richard Dawkins done that “gives Atheists a bad name”? I’m asking sincerely; I’ve seen him regularly denounced by outraged Christians, but I haven’t heard much out of his mouth that seems all that terrible. (Admittedly, I haven’t really heard him much on the subject. I’m mostly familiar with his popular-science writings, such as the excellent “The Blind Watchmaker.” I just picked up a copy of his book “The God Delusion” – primarily so I can find out what all the fuss is about, without having it filtered through religious talking heads.)

    March 18, 2009
  546. Patrick Enders said:

    David, a bit of googling reveals that the Vatican’s opposition seems to mostly be about… gay marriage:

    “The Vatican specifically objected to the declaration’s use of the terms “sexual orientation” and “gender identity,” which it said had no established meaning in international law.

    According to an editorial in the official Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano, these terms “imply that sexual identity is defined only by culture,” and their use in the declaration are part of an attempt to “equate same-sex unions with marriage and to give homosexual couples the chance to adopt or `procreate’ children.”

    March 18, 2009
  547. kiffi summa said:

    David : the practical significance to the UN Declaration is the importance of the concurrence of opinion of the nations of the western world, i.e. their agreement on this issue.

    I lost the link, as it is now gone off the current news site where I saw it; I do not want to say why the Vatican denied its signature without checking/reading it again.
    However, I do remember the reason the Islamic nations gave : because it would, in their opinion, encourage pedophilia and incest. Sounds like some of the comments we have experienced here. I doubt that would have been the Vatican reasoning, given the history of priests with problems involving child abuse… and that is not meant to be a ‘monolithic’ opinion of Catholic priests.

    I also want to make clear that I do not consider the believers of Islam to be a ‘monolithic’ group; as in all religions, some are more rigid, or what I might term fanatic, than others.

    But I might ask you, David, if the Vatican does not wish to go along with the tenets, the principles of the United Nations, because of a feeling that only they ( Vatican ) will establish their laws, or guiding principles, then the Vatican would not be a member of the UN, would they?
    I had assumed they participated to be seen as an active member of a group of world leaders.

    March 18, 2009
  548. David Ludescher said:

    Kiffi and Patrick: Patrick’s link states that only 66 of 192 nations voted in favor of the resolution.

    Further, the Vatican was in favor of decriminalizing homosexual behavior, and would have voted in favor of the resolution but for the resolution’s far-reaching definitions that lacked any definition in international law.

    The French representative who brought forth the resolution stated that the declaration had only “symbolic import”. Part of the Vatican’s concern was that the rich and powerful nations would use the resolution to force beliefs upon the remaining nations.

    Lastly, it appears that Obama is without authority to overturn the United States vote. The vote has already been taken, and the President is not the person entitled to vote.

    I didn’t actually find the Vatican’s press release. But, I did find a lot of hateful language against the Vatican. I wonder how many people have read the actual statement, and how many are relying upon stereotypes or misconceptions about the Vatican.

    March 18, 2009
  549. john george said:

    Patrick- Here is an interesting commentary written by my son regarding how popular opinion and democracy interact. What he is basically saying is that there needs to be some standard to analyze particular social actions other than public opinion. His specific examples have to do with the bailout and the “octomom”, but I think he has some valid points about the reasonings behind defending gay marriage we are talking about here.

    “Who defends right and wrong?

    One of the reasons that this nation was created as a democratic republic instead of a pure democracy is that public opinion does not always reflect the right course of action.

    Take AIG for instance. A company that is deeply mired in the economic downturn decides to honor its contract obligations with its employees in spite of its financial difficulties and the people cry “Foul!”. Oh “but this money is coming from the taxpayers and they are the ones that ruined the economy” the people cry! Well when the federal government began bailing out AIG, we the people assumed responsibility to fulfill ALL of the financial obligations they couldn’t meet. Are we now going to commit an injustice and violate their employee contract obligations? If we do, it sets a dangerous precedent for our society. The only way we could righteously avoid paying these bonuses would be for the recipients to voluntarily relinquish their right to claim them. But unfortunately our elected officials are reinforcing an unjust public opinion.

    Or consider the octomom. She decided to give all six of her remaining embryonic children a chance to continue living by having them implanted into her uterus; refused to “cull” any of them; gave birth to eight children and the people cry “Unethical!”. It may be unconventional but it is far from unethical. She willingly chose the parental sacrifices incurred by multiple births in order to preserve life instead of destroy it, and the people are outraged and call it wrong? Now some state legislatures are trying to make this illegal.

    How has our nation become so misguided? When will we elect leaders who have the integrity to defend the right course of action even when it defies public opinion? Will we choose to allow the whims of public opinion to continue defining right and wrong for us? Lord help us if we do.”

    From this, the argument could be made that past oppression of gay marriage has been an unjust imposition of public opinion, unless, of course, the last few thousand years of human history have possibly been correct. This is where we need an outside source or standard for moral evaluation.

    March 18, 2009
  550. Patrick Enders said:

    I don’t see how your post addresses me exactly. Did my linked article contain “hateful language against the Vatican,” or rely “upon stereotypes or misconceptions about the Vatican”? Has anything I have ever written done either of these things?

    March 18, 2009
  551. Patrick Enders said:

    I agree that “popular” does not equal “right.” The trick is – even though you and I agree more than we disagree on what constitutes “right” morality, we would be hard-pressed to agree on the source of that morality.

    As a purely practical matter (what “is” rather than what “should be”), what is “right” – or at least legal – is determined by the complex interplay of our legal heritage, our Constitution, our various governmental institutions, and the personal opinions and voting habits of our citizens. So yes, “popularity” does have a role, but all those other institutions tend to check the whims of popularity.

    It’s not a perfect system, but it does a pretty good job of eventually coming up with rules that nobody is entirely happy with, but which seem to allow most of us to coexist reasonably peaceably. The best thing is that it doesn’t require us to agree on a source or unifying principle for our personal beliefs and morals.

    March 18, 2009
  552. Bruce Anderson said:

    In comment 466.4 you stress that

    only 66 of 192 nations voted in favor
    of the resolution.

    True. However, a brief perusal of the list of 66 nations supporting the resolution, and the list of 57 nations supporting an opposing statement (see leaves me even more grateful for President Obama’s reversal of course on behalf of the US.

    I think the majority of Americans would prefer to side with such countries as Canada, Mexico, all 27 European Union member nations, Australia, New Zealand and Japan (all signatories of the declaration) on matters of human rights and conscience, rather than with such countries as Nigeria, Iran, Afghanistan and North Korea (among signatories of the opposing statement). If you choose the contrary, so be it.

    March 18, 2009
  553. john george said:

    Patrick- Yep, you are right. No system is perfect, nor can it please everyone all the time, but ours does work pretty well. I certainly don’t want to see it replaced.

    March 18, 2009
  554. kiffi summa said:

    As I stated initially, my comment was based on the Associated Press release, which stated that 70 nations had now signed. My comment was based on the opinion of most of the western world, as expressed by their approval of the UN’s Declaration.
    I understand your issue about ‘Law’; I am also interested in ‘guiding principles’ developed by an assembly of world leaders. In this case as you point out, not a majority, but certainly a majority of those with whom most Western values are shared.
    Sorry about the hateful statements about the Vatican; I saw nothing but the AP report, and read no further on the subject; unfortunately the Catholic Church has placed itself in a difficult place with regards to the actions of some priests, as well as having legitimate pride in the actions of other of its Priests, and I am thinking now of political martyrs, most recently in Central and South America.
    Since it was not approval of a law, as you point out, possibly they could have issued a qualified approval of this human rights issue, explaining their concern, rather than not signing at all?

    March 19, 2009
  555. Jerry Friedman said:

    Kiffi: That’s a potent example of “tyranny by the majority”, where the majority of nations are apparently tyrants against homosexuals and the U.S. is (recently) in the conscientious minority. The U.N. tries to be effective in assuring a minimum human rights standard; thankfully the U.S. civil rights laws are so much better.

    If some people praise democracy even when most people are superstitious on some issues, human rights will suffer.

    Civil rights leaders, like David L’s oft-cited Martin Luther King, know that the minority position is sometimes right, and that the minorities need protection from the majority’s unwillingness to change.

    March 19, 2009
  556. David Ludescher said:

    Kiffi: I haven’t found the Vatican statement, only exerpts. From the excerpts, it appears that the Vatican gave qualified disapproval.

    I understood that the Vatican said that any discrimination and especially violence, against homosexuals because of their orientation is wrong.

    I think that the Vatican’s objections were directed at language that “created” new human rights, rather than just recognizing the existing rights.

    If I am qualified to accept your apology to the Vatican, then it is accepted. If you could find the link to the actual statement, maybe we could look at it together. It appears that the Vatican may be in position to barter a compromise position.

    March 19, 2009
  557. kiffi summa said:

    David : I laughed out loud at your statement about your accepting my “apology to the Vatican” … it is my impression that the Vatican state will little care nor long remember what is said on Locally Grown in Northfield MN!

    March 19, 2009
  558. David Ludescher said:

    Kiffi: I’m glad that you got a kick out of it. I found the Vatican statement; I can’t figure out how to paste it in.

    The concluding paragraph states, “The Holy See continues to advocate that every sign of unjust discrimination towards homosexual persons should be avoided and urges States to do away with criminal penalties against them.”

    I wouldn’t classify that statment as an anti-gay statement.

    March 20, 2009
  559. Jerry Friedman said:

    David: It’s anti-gay if the statement you posted does not reflect the Vatican’s whole policy of homosexuals, and if the Vatican’s whole policy treats homosexuals differently than heterosexuals.

    However, I agree that of the Vatican’s policies over the last 2000 years, that statement you posted is pretty progressive for what I’ve become accustomed to.

    March 20, 2009
  560. Jerry Friedman said:

    Evidence that the Catholic Church has learned nothing in the last 2000 years. Joseph Alois Ratzinger becomes the latest pope, then instead of teaching Catholics that “sorcery” is a myth, he condemns it, and tells Catholics to convert non-Christians to Catholicsm? And he lauds the Portuguese enslavers as ‘building a bridge’ between Christians and Africans?

    His behavior is reprehensible. It’s far from impeccable. I thought the Dark Ages were over. I look forward to the day when the papacy is abandoned for lack of followers.

    Pope condemns sorcery, urges Angolans to convert

    By VICTOR L. SIMPSON – 3/21/09

    LUANDA, Angola (AP) — Pope Benedict XVI appealed to the Catholics of Angola on Saturday to reach out to and convert believers in witchcraft who feel threatened by “spirits” and “evil powers” of sorcery.

    On his first pilgrimage to Africa, the pope drew on the more than 500 years of Roman Catholicism in Angola, saying that Christianity was a bridge between the local peoples and the Portuguese settlers.

    “In today’s Angola,” the pope said in a homily at Mass, “Catholics should offer the message of Christ to the many who live in the fear of spirits, of evil powers by whom they feel threatened, disoriented, even reaching the point of condemning street children and even the most elderly because — they say — they are sorcerers.”

    In Africa, some churchgoing Catholics also follow traditional animist religions and consult medicine men and diviners who are condemned by the church. People accused of sorcery or of being possessed by evil powers sometimes are killed by fearful mobs.

    Benedict counseled Catholics to “live peacefully” with animists and other nonbelievers and urged Angolans to be the “new missionaries” to bring people who believe in sorcery to Christ.

    March 21, 2009
  561. David Henson said:

    Jerry, the Catholics are not promoting sorcery and likely do not believe in it. But many Africans do believe in witchcraft and these beliefs are the cause of many killings. A friend of mine, Simeon Mesaki, received his PhD at the U of MN studying ‘witchcraft in Africa’ and how to end the beliefs. When someone gets sick in one village with what we know to be organic that village will go kill people in another village say they caused the illness with sorcery. Monothesism advanced civilization by promoting an ideology where all humans were equal by being so insignificant relative to God.

    March 21, 2009
  562. She willingly chose the parental
    sacrifices incurred by multiple births
    in order to preserve life instead of
    destroy it, and the people are
    outraged and call it wrong?
    [from 467.1]

    The sacrifices she chose weren’t only hers to bear: by agreeing to implant so many, she compelled her unborn children to suffer the possibly lifelong effects (if they survive) of a compromised prenatal environment and compels all of her children to suffer the hardships of too little parental attention, even if material resources are sufficient thanks to the generosity of others (on whose generosity she had no right to count). That, in many people’s eyes, was not an ethical “choice” — it has caused and will cause suffering that would not occur had she not made that choice. Unimplanted fertilized eggs do not suffer. Children do.

    March 21, 2009
  563. David Ludescher said:

    Jerry: Have you read what the Pope actually said? And, for your information, there are no “followers” of the Pope; rather, he is a servant of the Catholic Church.

    March 21, 2009
  564. Jerry Friedman said:

    David: Only as much as I’ve read in the papers, like this from the New York Times,

    On the flight from Rome to Africa, Benedict had renewed the church’s objection to the use of condoms as a prevention against AIDS, going so far as to say the precaution actually “increases the problem” of H.I.V. infection.

    I’d rather the pope tell his followers that sorcery is a myth, rather than tell them to convert anyone. In this way, it’s not the Catholics vs. the Witch Doctors, but it’s realism vs. superstition. The former is more likely to cause intolerance, violence and killings, as the last 2000 years have shown.

    March 22, 2009
  565. kiffi summa said:

    Dare I say : AMEN!

    March 22, 2009
  566. kiffi summa said:

    David : no “followers” of the Pope; “rather he is a servant of the Catholic Church” ???
    The role of the Pope as a “servant” of his world wide parishioners could create the longest thread ever seen on LG!
    The unworldly splendor in which he lives and pontificates … if he is a “servant to the Catholic Church” can only prove “how hard it is to get good ‘help’ nowadays”.
    I could care less if that is how his flock sees him, as a servant to the church; but I need enlightenment on this point. I thought the Pope was revered as God’s highest representative on Earth, that then being the reverence visually proffered by the splendor of his environment and raiment.

    March 22, 2009
  567. David Ludescher said:

    Jerry and Kiffi: Until you read the actual source material, it probably is not productive to discuss your criticisms. It might be productive to discuss why atheists (and others) feel justified in being critical of various theist propositions without having any direct knowledge. I think that is the definition of prejudice (pre-judging).

    March 22, 2009
  568. Jerry Friedman said:

    David: No. The question is not about pre-judging/prejudice, but of the quality of evidence. The newspaper reports are ‘evidence’ that may or may not be complete enough to make a judgment.

    Sure, the journalists may have left out context. Journalists often do. And sometimes journalists are successful at cutting to the heart of the matter.

    In either case, it’s not prejudice. It’s making a judgment based on the report. The report I’ve read is grim: ratifying belief in witchcraft, endorsing missionary-style conversion, condemning the use of condoms.

    If you have supplemental or contrary evidence, something that shows more of what he said that didn’t make it into the newspapers, I’m willing to read it.

    March 22, 2009
  569. David Henson said:

    Jerry, you are totally misreading that witchcraft issue. The Africans are killing each other over witch craft and the Catholic Church it trying to get them to stop.

    The position on condoms is that they have been handed out for quite a while and AIDS is increasing not decreasing. I don’t know enough about the problem but the position is more reasonable than you seem to accept. This is actually true in Washington DC also and maybe other areas of the US. You and Patrick are big on evolution yet you seem to discount the enormous power of social evolution leading to behavior standards like monogamy.

    March 22, 2009
  570. David Ludescher said:

    Jerry: Victor Simpson’s report doesn’t say anything about ratifying belief in witchcraft or endorsing missionary-style conversion.

    The cause of atheism is not furthered by unfair and uninformed attacks against others, such as those leveled in the marriage debate, or charges against the Pope.

    March 22, 2009
  571. Jerry Friedman said:

    David H: Opinions vary.

    David L: Ratzinger expressing that those who participate in witchcraft should be converted to Catholicism ratifies the Catholic position that witchcraft exists, and provokes Catholics to convert them to Catholicism.

    Here is one key paragraph, which I already posted:

    Benedict counseled Catholics to “live peacefully” with animists and other nonbelievers and urged Angolans to be the “new missionaries” to bring people who believe in sorcery to Christ.

    I am not trying to further the cause of atheism and it’s unfortunate if that’s how you interpret it. Ratzinger is perpetuating superstition and repeating a call for missionary-style conversion that has abominable historical roots within the Catholic church. I am criticizing him for doing these. Criticizing an authority figure does not mean that the critic has an ulterior motive.

    Had Ratzinger said, “People who believe in sorcery and witchcraft are superstitious. Sorcery and witchcraft are gimmicks used to control or comfort people. Don’t hate them, don’t hurt them, but educate them,” I would have no objection.

    March 23, 2009
  572. kiffi summa said:

    David L: If you read correctly, you will see I was only commenting on your correction re: “followers” vs “servant” with reference to the Pope.
    I did not comment on his statement ( various references to Africa ) because I did not read it.
    Please do not include me in on comments I did not make, seemingly because you think I might agree with those comments.

    March 23, 2009
  573. David Ludescher said:

    Jerry: I think that the Pope was counseling Catholics to be tolerant of others’ beliefs (“live peacefully”). Moreover, he was advising Catholics to reach out (“be new missionaries”) to show animists and sorcerers that there is a better way.

    It strikes me that telling people that their belief system is superstitous, and that they need “education” is intolerant and impractical. What would you replace it with? Atheism? Rationalism? Pragmatism? Relativism? Historicism? Scienticism? Eclecticism? Christinanity? Buddism? Islam? Judaism?

    One of the raps against atheism, which I believe is well-founded, is that atheism considers itself intellectually superior. It mocks or dismisses others’ beliefs in an attempt to demonstrate its worthiness. (e.g. The God Delusion). Dawkins may be a great evolutionary biologist; but, he is a lousy philosopher and theologian.

    Kiffi: I brought you into the discussion because of your mention of the UN Resolution and the Vatican’s failure to vote in favor. Apparently, you had not read the Vatican’s response, only some news account(s).

    March 23, 2009
  574. Jerry Friedman said:

    David: All philosophy, science and politics should begin with rationalism. I won’t claim that these should end with rationalism. Sometimes, it’s right to be irrational.

    I believe that Ratzinger’s two statements, as you interpreted, are inconsistent. If the Angolan Catholics are to “live peacefully” with the non-Catholics, there should be no conversion. Telling others that their beliefs in sorcery and witchcraft are inferior to Christianity’s beliefs is a form of intolerance.

    I agree that the terms “education” and “superstition”, in the context I used, could be received very poorly, as I have received “conversion” and “missionary” very poorly. If you understand why “education” and “superstition” might be offensive to those who believe in witchcraft, then you should be understand why “conversion” and “missionary” might be offensive to non-Catholics.

    Whether any given pope technically has followers or whether millions of people follow his edicts because of his official status, what Ratzinger says is extremely influential on a very large population. If I say something insensitive, it’s unlikely that people will be injured. I expect extreme sensitivity from the Catholic institution, especially it’s official leader.

    March 23, 2009
  575. Patrick Enders said:

    David L, you wrote,

    One of the raps against atheism, which I believe is well-founded, is that atheism considers itself intellectually superior. It mocks or dismisses others’ beliefs in an attempt to demonstrate its worthiness. (e.g. The God Delusion). Dawkins may be a great evolutionary biologist; but, he is a lousy philosopher and theologian.

    David, have you read “The God Delusion”? Much as you said, “Until you read the actual source material, it probably is not productive to discuss your criticisms. It might be productive to discuss why [Catholics (and other Christians)] feel justified in being critical of various [a]theist propositions without having any direct knowledge. I think that is the definition of prejudice (pre-judging).”

    I have now read the first couple chapters of “The God Delusion.” (Thank you for your encouragement in this; without your obvious interest in the book, I may never have discovered this very interesting read.)

    As far as I have gotten, I see two essential points of the book:

    1. Matters of faith (and, indeed, the ultimate reality of the Universe) are legitimate topics of investigation and inquiry. My favorite passage from Mr. Dawkins’ book on this matter is actually a quote from one of my favorite authors, the late Douglas Adams:

    “Religion… has certain ideas at the heart of it which we call sacred or holy or whatever. What it means is, ‘Here is an idea or notion that you’re not allowed to say anything bad about; you’re just not. Why not? – because you’re not!’ If somebody votes for a party that you don’t agree with, you’re free to argue about it as much as you like; everybody will have an argument but nobody feels aggrieved by it. If somebody thinks taxes should go up or down you are free to have an argument about it. But on the other hand if somebody says ‘I mustn’t move a light switch on a Saturday’, you say, ‘I respect that.

    Why should it be that it’s perfectly legitimate to support the Labour party or the Conservative party, Republicans or Democrats, this model of economics versus that, Macintosh instead of Windows – but to have an opinion about how the Universe began, about who created the Universe. . . no, that’s holy? . . . We are used to not challenging religious ideas but it’s very interesting how much a furore Richard creates when he does it! Everybody gets absolutely frantic about it because you’re not allowed to say these things. Yet when you look at it rationally there is no reason why those ideas shouldn’t be as open to debate as any other, except that we have agreed somehow between us that they shouldn’t be.”

    2. The existence or non-existence of a God should be a matter of scientific investigation, and might be explored through testable hypotheses (I’ll quote Mr. Dawkins himself this time):

    “A universe with a supernaturally intelligent creator is a very different kind of universe from one without. The difference between the two hypothetical universes could hardly be more fundamental in principle, even if it is not easy to detect in practice. And it undermines the complacently seductive dictum that science must be completely silent about religion’s central existence claim. The presence or absence of a creative super-intelligence is unequivocally a scientific question, even if it is not in practice – or not yet – a decided one.”

    He admits that it is not an easy question to answer definitively, but he offers an example of evidence which could settle the question:

    “To dramatize the point, imagine that forensic archaeologists unearthed DNA evidence to show that Jesus really did lack a biological father.”

    All in all, an interesting start to his book. I look forward to seeing where it leads.

    March 23, 2009
  576. David Ludescher said:

    Jerry: I don’t agree: Politics is about justice; science is about facts; and philosophy is about wisdom. Each discipline has a different objective. All have, or should have, the will to be obedient to the truths of human existence.

    The main problem that I have with rationalism is that it has no object. In other words, are we trying to be rational about facts? justice? truth? meaning? Rationalism seems to have unnecessarily confined itself to only accepting something as rational if it something is factual. But, facts don’t lead to conclusions until they are put in context of a rule or a belief.

    Hence, rationalism ends up accepting very few things as actionable because it wants to avoid being wrong. If today’s rationalism were willing to knock down the barriers of self-imposed limitations on the empirical verifiable, it could rediscover its full value to sort through the uncertainties of life.

    March 23, 2009
  577. David Ludescher said:

    Patrick: What if the DNA of Jesus proved that he didn’t have a biological father? Would that end the debate?

    March 23, 2009
  578. Jerry Friedman said:

    David: I don’t know that politics is about justice. I’d like to think so, but “justice” is such a relative term that it would be hard for me, at least, to define it in that way. I think that politics has more to do with questions of governing. Justice is a tremendous component of politics, but as an attorney, you must understand that justice is beyond the government’s ability. Sometimes justice to one adverse party is injust to another. That said, politics, government, justice, all need to start with a rationalist approach: facts, analysis, conclusion.

    Science follows the same method: facts, analysis, conclusion. Science is not all about facts. Darwin criticized the “facts only” explanation of science 200 years ago. He reasoned that scientists are more than people who count. A geologist who counts only quantities and qualities of rocks is not really a scientist. Scientists use science to turn facts into conclusions by way of analysis.

    Philosophy is by definition about wisdom. Not surprisingly, wisdom comes from facts, analysis and conclusion. It’s been said that the difference between intelligence and wisdom is that intelligence is about knowing things and wisdom is about using knowledge effectively. For example, an intelligent person knows that smoking is unhealthy, but a wise person doesn’t smoke.

    Each discipline starts with a rationalist approach. I repeat that each does not necessarily end with a rationalist approach (a statement of mine that you overlooked).

    I think you’ve turned rationalism into a religion, and I don’t think that’s either necessary nor fair. Rationalists may have any number of motivations, but they want to arrive at their conclusions with the fewest assumptions, the fewest guesses, and the least amount of dogma.

    March 23, 2009
  579. Jerry Friedman said:

    David: This would be a major boon to Christians, but not absolute proof. Again, with a rationalist approach, there are facts, analyses, and conclusions. Yeshua, having no biological father, would be a fact. Before arriving at a conclusion, there is that annoying middle step of analysis.

    Until there is evidence of that fact, the question is moot.

    March 23, 2009
  580. Patrick Enders said:

    Yes. If the DNA of Jesus of Nazareth proved that he didn’t have a biological father, it would conclusively show that Jesus was no ordinary human.

    If such a remarkable discovery were made, deeper inquiries into what exactly he was would, of course, follow.

    While you’re at it, David, you wrote,

    In other words, are we trying to be rational about facts? justice? truth? meaning?

    Yes. All of that.

    Rationalism seems to have unnecessarily confined itself to only accepting something as rational if it something is factual.

    Sounds right to me.

    Would you prefer to spend time drawing conclusions about the universe based upon things that are not factual?

    March 23, 2009
  581. David Ludescher said:

    Jerry and Patrick: We don’t have DNA but we do have eyewitness testimony that says that Jesus was no ordinary human. We have four writers (Gospels) attesting to the miracles that he performed, his life and his death. What should a rationalist/atheist do with those facts?

    The scientific/atheist methodology requires that these “facts” be proven wrong before they are dismissed as non-facts.

    March 24, 2009
  582. Jerry Friedman said:

    David: OK, I’ll bite.

    As a lawyer, you have studied rationalist devices to help with credibility. For beginners, we have best evidence and authentication problems with the “eye witness” testimony that you rely on.

    BEST EVIDENCE: There are no original writings, so the best evidence of the eyewitness testimony are the oldest available writings, not the translations of translations that you use. Modern translations, nearly 2000 years from the source, are very poor evidence.

    AUTHENTICATION: There is no authentication of the manuscripts, just scholars’ best guesses. The writings could be authentic copies with a chain of custody, or they could have been inserted capriciously, like the story of Yeshua telling the stoners not to kill Mary of Magdalene.

    You know that these two evidentiary issues cast extreme doubt on the eyewitness testimony. They don’t prove the writings wrong, but there is no reason to use the manuscripts as sole evidence to prove anything right.

    Scholar Bart Ehrman writes in “The Lost Christian Tribes” and “Misquoting Jesus” that there were four groups of Christians, each having a different view of Yeshua. (1) That he was entirely human, (2) that he was entirely spiritual, (3) that he was originally human and then became spiritual, and (4) that he was always entirely divine and spiritual. Why should an impartial juror believe #4 when people living closer to the time of Yeshua believed otherwise?

    Further, you know how fallible eyewitnesses are. There are three distinct resurrection stories in the three most recent gospels, and no resurrection story in the oldest gospel — the gospel written closest to the time when Yeshua lived. What conclusions would an impartial juror draw from this?

    Finally, you sleight the burden of proof. It’s not for scientific methodology to prove these “facts” wrong. The rule is whomever affirms must prove. You and others affirm that Yeshua is other-than-human. It’s your burden to prove. The evidence in the Bible, as I begin to explain above, is very poor evidence. Please try again.

    March 24, 2009
  583. Patrick Enders said:

    For the moment, I’ll just add:
    1) What makes you think that the four gospels were written by eyewitnesses to Jesus’s life?

    2) What about all the other contemporaneous (to the gospels, not to Jesus’s life) books of Jesus which have been excluded from the Canon? Why do you consider the Gospels to be true, accurate recordings of the life of Jesus? Why not the Apocrypha and the Gnostic Gospels? For that matter, what about the contradictions between the four canonical gospels?

    What about all the Jewish witnesses to Jesus’s life who didn’t become his followers, and presumably didn’t think that he was God?

    There are many stages of proof that would be required before these tales, written distant from the time and place that they purport to record, could be considered proof of anything.

    As Jerry said,

    It’s not for scientific methodology to prove these “facts” wrong. The rule is whomever affirms must prove. You and others affirm that Yeshua is other-than-human. It’s your burden to prove.

    March 24, 2009
  584. Obie Holmen said:

    To David L

    You’re a lawyer? I guess you skipped class the day they talked about the hearsay rule. You’re a lawyer? I guess you skipped class the day they talked about burden of proof.

    March 24, 2009
  585. David Ludescher said:

    Patrick: I haven’t read the God Delusion. I did listen to the MPR interview, which lasted 50+ minutes.

    I would agree that matters of faith are legitimate topics of inquiry and investigation. Inquiry and investigation don’t and shouldn’t extend to mocking or intentional misinterpretation.

    Dawkins’ claim that the existence or non-existence of God should be subject to scientific inquiry is a myopic vision of human inquiry. Thousands of years of scientific inquiry have yielded the following proposition in which science places its total faith: the universe is rational.

    Proof of this proposition, which is the heart and soul of atheism, is impossible, just like the proof of God is impossible.

    The fact that Dawkins cannot prove that the universe is rational does not mean that the universe isn’t rational. In fact, it would seem foolish to believe that the universe isn’t rational, even though there will never be proof.

    March 24, 2009
  586. kiffi summa said:

    David L; whether rationalist, atheist, or person of any structured religious denomination, we must remember that there was nothing written by “eyewitnesses”.

    This is a pervasive, and long exploited, misunderstanding of fact.
    Ask a Jesuit scholar.

    March 24, 2009
  587. Jerry Friedman said:

    David and Obie: There are several other rules that would keep such material out of the courtroom. Even in a more relaxed evidentiary standard of blog-style debate, it’s important to remember that the spirit of these legal rules is to help get to the truth of the matter.

    I just watched “Sophie Scholl”, about the trial of a German anti-Nazi. She was executed in 1943 for political free speech. Her trial would have been different if the American rules of process and evidence were used. While imperfect, American rules do help to reveal truth in a debate. On the contrary, I am a “hearsay” witness to very strong evidence of police corruption. Had I been allowed to testify, several people would not have pled guilty or been convicted of unruly conduct (riot, rout, unlawful assembly, etc.) at a May Day protest. A police officer told a woman that the police were “going to teach those anarchists a lesson”. I know the woman personally. She told a co-worker whom I know personally. The co-worker told me. I have complete belief in the credibility of the witnesses (who declined to testify), but a lawyer would never embarrass herself and have me testify in their place because of the rule against hearsay. That doesn’t mean the statement is false. Sometimes these rules reveal truth, sometimes they occlude truth.

    I accept that David has faith that the Bible’s stories are true. I don’t criticize him outright for his faith. Not speaking of David specifically, but criticism is due when (1) some theists (and some atheists, particularly irrational atheists) apply a double-standard — that their faith is rational and others’ faith is irrational, in other words, that their religion is correct and others’ are incorrect, when all of them rely on faith. And (2) when they take matters of faith and apply them to others’ lives, coercively, injuriously, or in other harmful ways. I simply have difficulty when someone takes faith and then tries to prove it’s rational. If faith is rational, then it’s no longer faith. So why do believers try? The answer begins another large discussion.

    Another evidentiary rule I intentionally overlooked is the rule permitting ancient manuscripts. It’s generally held that manuscripts older than 20 years are self-authenticating. Ignoring the flaws of this rule in the present context, let’s assume the rule allows the Bible to be considered as evidence. Following the same rule, the Book of Mormon must also be considered, and many other purportedly inspired writings. I find that the same arguments most Christians use to topple the Book of Mormon are flatly ignored when levied against the Bible. I don’t tolerate these double-standards well. Shouldn’t a person of faith accept all purportedly inspired writings? Or at least accept that if faith cannot be proven, that others should not be persecuted for having a different faith?

    David: You claim that the mysteries of science reveal the “faith” of atheists. I don’t share your view. All things in the universe are either rational or mysterious. I don’t see mystery and conclude “irrational”. I see mystery and conclude “mystery”. The history of science teaches us that mysteries are sometimes unravelled, and all unravellings-to-date show the rational. Perhaps that means that I am patient with the mysteries of the universe, and you rush to the conclusion of god.

    Perhaps that is the difference among people. Some people say “bless you” after someone sneezes, a practice started by Christians who thought a sneeze made one susceptible to demonic possession. I say “gesundheit”, the German word for “to your health”, which is a polite wish that the person does not get sick. Why did the early Christians conclude demonic possession? Patience would have been more dignified.

    March 24, 2009
  588. Jerry Friedman said:

    Kiffi: Even worse, sometimes “eyewitnesses” made no statements. In one verse, it’s written that there were 500 witnesses to a miracle. No witness names were taken. No statements were taken. Just the sweeping statement of 500 witnesses.

    Completely unrelated, did I tell you that 1000 people witnessed me swim from San Francisco to Hawaii after I overdosed on Red Bull? It started as a dare and ended with a small vacation on a tropical island.

    March 24, 2009
  589. Obie Holmen said:

    To David L

    Kiffi suggests that the gospel accounts were not written by eyewitnesses. Let me add to that comment with data from your own Catholic tradition:

    Re Gospel of Mark:

    “Although the book is anonymous … it has traditionally been assigned to John Mark [perhaps an associate of Paul and/or Peter]… [but] modern research often proposes as the author an unknown Hellenistic Jewish Christian, possibly in Syria, and perhaps shortly after the year 70 [nearly forty years after the death of Jesus].” Quoted from the Catholic Study Bible preface to Mark which adds that the author used a variety of oral and written sources rather than the author’s own experience.

    Re Gospel of Matthew:

    “The ancient tradition that the author was the disciple and apostle of Jesus named Matthew is untenable because the gospel is based, in large part, on the Gospel according to Mark” also quoted from the Catholic Study Bible which adds that Matthew’s date of composition was at least a decade later than Mark.

    March 24, 2009
  590. Patrick Enders said:

    David, you wrote,

    Dawkins’ claim that the existence or non-existence of God should be subject to scientific inquiry is a myopic vision of human inquiry.

    Why? Given that many people choose to order their lives based on the premise that a God exists, it would seem to be a very important sphere of scientific inquiry.

    Thousands of years of scientific inquiry have yielded the following proposition in which science places its total faith: the universe is rational. Proof of this proposition, which is the heart and soul of atheism, is impossible, just like the proof of God is impossible.

    You have a couple separate points here. First, the heart and soul of atheism is simply a belief that “there is no god or gods.”

    Second, the main reason that “the proof [or disproof] of God is impossible” is that “God” means so many different things to so many different people.

    If one is merely talking about a God which was there at the start of the Universe, created it at that instant, and has not been present in – or interacted with – our Universe since that time, then I agree that such a proposition is probably untestable. How, after all, could we measure something (or the effects of something) that exists solely outside our own Universe? (Interestingly, Dawkins suggests that the existence of such a Deist God could be testable. I look forward to seeing how he argues that.)

    However, most Theists don’t believe in such a God. The God of most Theists – Christian ones anyway – is one which actively meddles in His creation in an ongoing fashion, and often in its very small detail: determining the outcome of football games, choosing who lives and dies in airplane crashes, etc. If such a God is acting in the world, its presence should be measurable and testable by scientific methods.

    Such evidence, of course, will have to be quite strong – given that it will have to face the principle of Occam’s Razor, and the simple premise that “What You See Is What You Get.”

    Again, some good concrete evidence supporting the possible existence of an omnipresent, omniscient, interventionist Creator God which took human form in Jesus of Nazareth might include something like:

    – Physical evidence of the supra-human nature of Jesus.

    – Strong, independently verifiable indirect evidence, as free from as many confounders as possible, of God’s special Grace towards his particular Chosen persons.

    Note that things like “weekly churchgoers live longer than non-weekly-churchgoers” (they do) doesn’t cut it, because the ability to attend church is related to one’s physical health.

    A good example of a testable hypothesis might be: When biologically similar persons are seated in the same area of the same kind of airplane in the same kind of plane crash, (INSERT CHOSEN GROUP HERE) miraculously survive at a far greater rate than their Heathen peers.

    March 24, 2009
  591. Patrick Enders said:

    MPR update: The speaker this hour is David (sounds like Block?), a Jewish journalist describing what he discovered when he read the Bible cover-to-cover.

    March 24, 2009
  592. Patrick Enders said:

    (Jewish American, that is. Seems relevant to his starting point for a reading of the Bible.)

    March 24, 2009
  593. Jerry Friedman said:

    Obie: Luke is also largely based on Mark.

    March 24, 2009
  594. Anthony Pierre said:

    Mark has no mention of the virgin birth and resurrection either

    March 24, 2009
  595. Obie Holmen said:


    Yes, of course — the synoptics. And John, which offers the highest christology, is later still.


    Right again.

    David L,

    It may seem like we’re ganging up on you, and I guess we are. But the point is that use of the New Testament apologetically doesn’t really work very well.

    March 24, 2009
  596. David Ludescher said:

    Kiffi: I didn’t mean literally written by the eyewitnesses. I meant written based upon eyewitness accounts. Granted, it is not very good evidence. But, it is some evidence.

    March 24, 2009
  597. David Ludescher said:

    Obie and Jerry: It’s pretty easy to flip the argument and say, “Prove there is no God.”. In the absence of any proof that there isn’t a God, should I believe there is a God?

    Given that there are “mysteries”,(Jerry) atheist and theist alike believe (“have faith”) that there is a supra-rationality to what now escapes rationality. My preference is to use the same name that my ancestors have used, “God”.

    That there is much that escapes rationality seems to be a self-evident fact needing no proof.

    March 24, 2009
  598. Patrick Enders said:

    David L, you wrote,

    It’s pretty easy to flip the argument and say, “Prove there is no God.”

    Not needed except for the most ardent, avowed Gnostic Atheists. I do not assert that there is no God. I assert that there is precious little evidence to support the hypothesis that there IS a God.

    In the absence of any proof that there isn’t a God, should I believe there is a God?

    If you want, sure, go right ahead.

    Given that there are “mysteries”,(Jerry) atheist and theist alike believe (”have faith”) that there is a supra-rationality to what now escapes rationality.

    Actually, the point of atheism is the proposition that there is NOT “a supra-rationality to what now escapes rationality.”

    That there is much that escapes rationality seems to be a self-evident fact needing no proof.

    Actually, it’s not. Empiricism, observation, and rationalism have shown that there is precious little that cannot be addressed by these methods. As an example of how the Scientific Method might be applied to the idea of an interventionist God, see my previous post.

    March 24, 2009
  599. Jerry Friedman said:

    David: Mysteries are not supra- or super-rational. They are unknown. History has persistently shown that mysteries, that the unknown, become known and rational. History has never shown that mysteries, that the unknown, becomes known and irrational. Why do theists see the unknown and conclude “god”?

    I demonstrated this with sneezes. Sneezing does not mean someone is susceptible to demonic possession. Erupting volcanoes do not mean that god(s) are angry. A pregnant woman claiming to be a virgin does not mean she was inseminated by Biblegod. Fantastic claims do not mean that god(s) intervened.

    It’s pretty easy to flip the argument and say, “Prove there is no God.”. In the absence of any proof that there isn’t a God, should I believe there is a God?

    No. That is contrary to logic, rationality, and the burden of proof. In the absence of proof that there is no Flying Spaghetti Monster, should I believe that there is one? No. Nor should you believe in anything that has no evidence. Unless you have faith. What is key here is that faith is not equal to evidence.

    You claim that much escapes rationality. I can’t think of one. Can you elucidate?

    March 24, 2009
  600. kiffi summa said:

    Sorry, David L. … I don’t think there’s any ‘wiggle room’ there…

    March 25, 2009
  601. David Henson said:

    You have lots of eye witness accounts of the existence of God … John George right on here on this blog. There are, at least, millions who can attest to feeling his presence.

    If you are wearing ear plugs and I say I hear fire crackers going off in the distance. Then you pull out your ear plugs and say I don’t hear anything … there never were any fire crackers … prove it with verifiable data. Then who is ignorant ?

    March 25, 2009
  602. Anthony Pierre said:

    David, are you saying there is no way to verify there were firecrackers? I guess you haven’t seen the crime dramas on TV lately.

    March 25, 2009
  603. David Henson said:

    You are correct Anthony, I have not seen the crime dramas on TV therefore I doubt they exist.

    March 25, 2009
  604. I can paste you a youtube of a crime drama, can you paste me a youtube of god?

    (click on my name)

    March 25, 2009
  605. Patrick Enders said:

    If one searches the area from which the sound of firecrackers came, it should be possible to find the remnants of the exploded firecrackers.

    I have already proposed one way to possibly measure the effect of a God’s actions upon this universe (see airplane crashes, above). If you really want to prove that God exists, I’m sure you could come up with other testable hypotheses.

    March 25, 2009
  606. kiffi summa said:

    Because of some of the negative remarks about homosexuals here, and also false information related to ‘hate speech’, I ask that you remember that the largest percentage of hate speech is directed to issues of personal sexual orientation.

    In 2007 our Congress passed Hate Speech legislation , but Pres. Bush refused to sign it into law. This legislation, the Matthew Shepard Law is again coming through Congress, and I urge you to work for its passage this time.
    There is a 1 minute video to watch if you need to be refreshed on the violence directed against self determined sexual orientation.

    You can go to the Human Rights Campaign website to give a contribution or contact your congress rep. (John Kline sends a letter back saying he does not wish to establish a special interest group; I say never mind about basic human rights, Mr. Kline ? )

    IMO, it is a test of the nature and humanity of our society, whether this legislation passes all the way through this time.

    March 25, 2009
  607. Jerry Friedman said:

    David: A few things.

    As Patrick says, firecrackers leave evidence even if no one was present to hear them. An amateur investigator could conclude “firecrackers” even if he was deaf.

    All the same, you and I agree that some things happen that leave no evidence. This is especially common with ancient and pre-history. I heard recently that 700 species of dinosaurs have been discovered. It’s reasonable to conclude that dinosaurs, having lived over a span of 150 million years, would have many more than 700 species (we have identified more than 4600 species of mammals presently living, after over 65 million years of evolution While we have no direct evidence of dinosaur #701 or later, there is enough direct (fossils) and indirect (evolutionary process) evidence that she existed along with thousands of other species.

    Biblegod does not get the luxury of the doubt that the missing dinosaurs get.

    1) Biblegod is purportedly omnipresent. Being omnipresent means that we should be able to detect Biblegod everywhere yesterday, today and tomorrow. But we cannot, which means either Biblegod is not omnipresent or Biblegod does not exist.

    2) Even if Biblegod is less than omnipresent, there is no evidence of it. We have massive evidence of dinosaurs, we have some evidence of the beginnings of life, and zero evidence of Biblegod.

    3) A “feeling” is not evidence. A billion people having a “feeling” is not evidence. While I trust that you have a “feeling”, there is no way for you to know, for me know, what that feeling is. If I have euphoria because I believe the Earth is flat, because I believe my late grandmother visited me while I was awake or asleep, because I took cocaine, because I enjoyed a rainbow, because I read a book that promises a happy afterlife, because an angel gave me golden tablets from which I wrote a book, etc., a “feeling” is not evidence that any of these things are real. I might be completely convinced that a vision is real, but except for the cocaine, there is no way to know if it is real, if it is a hallucination, or if it is a prank.

    All this to say, that I expect more than a “feeling” of evidence from an omnipresent deity. Something so big should leave some evidence. Something more than a “feeling”.

    Even the apostles purportedly had more evidence. They experienced the travels of Yeshua and purportedly witnessed miracles. Why do they get such direct evidence, but people 2000 years later — with no benefit of evidence — are condemned by Christians and supposedly Biblegod?

    Do you accept the Book of Mormon as inspired and genuine?

    March 25, 2009
  608. David Henson said:

    The discussion above was about a lack of eyewitnesses. I disagree with that specifically – whether they have seen, heard, felt or smelled ‘God’. I trust you Anthony about the crime shows so I require no verification of your claims. Personally, in the case of Atheism, I think the answer comes before the question (Jerry – I stole that line from somewhere). Why have a philosophical position that something does not exist unless you secretly think it actually does exist – it would sort of be a waste of time. I’m not sure how I can even verify that you don’t believe in God with accepting the same sort of evidence you reject from people who do believe in God?

    March 25, 2009
  609. Jerry Friedman said:

    David: I don’t think the question is testing whether people actually do or don’t believe in a deity. The question has been whether there is evidence of a deity, particularly Biblegod.

    Carl Sagan once said, “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” I agree.

    Your belief in Biblegod is not extraordinary. I trust you at your word. The existence of Biblegod is extraordinary. I hope for extraordinary evidence. I am sad to inform you that your feeling is not extraordinary evidence, nor are vague witnesses, nor are stories retold for thousands of years.

    You have not answered me: Do you accept the Book of Mormon as inspired and genuine?

    March 25, 2009
  610. Anthony Pierre said:

    David, I really don’t know if there is a god/goddess/deity or isn’t, I am leaning toward isn’t at this point.

    March 25, 2009
  611. Patrick Enders said:

    David, you wrote,

    Why have a philosophical position that something does not exist unless you secretly think it actually does exist.

    Huh? I do not follow your reasoning in this at all.

    I believe (small ‘b’) that fairies probably do not exist, because there is an utter lack of evidence supporting their existence. It’s not a philosophical position; it is my assessment of the available evidence. If someone can produce convincing evidence of the existence of fairies (for example, a fairy), I would revise my position/belief.

    March 25, 2009
  612. A question that sometimes occurs to me to ask: How is this world any different from a hypothetical world that has no god but where people believe in one anyway?

    Forgive me if I restate notions anyone has already presented — I’ve not been able to read all nearly-500 posts in this thread. I think animal brains, including human brains, have evolved to downplay the role of chance and to favor the perception of patterns and causation, even when there are none (it’s safer than a propensity NOT to associate a possible cause-and-effect). And we have evolved to trust our parents as teachers. And we fear death. These propensities and others explain satisfactorily to me mankind’s tendency to believe in a higher power or powers that control what we cannot and whose existence would help explain what we cannot.

    So my answer to the question I first posed is that I don’t think there is any difference at all unless we can demonstrate miraculous interventions — not just unlikely outcomes, but outcomes contrary to the physical nature of our world. An amputated leg regrows overnight. A gigantic hand reaches down from the sky to crush an army. Stuff like that. And even then you’d still need to decide whether it was “Biblegod” or some other supernormal or paranormal being.

    March 25, 2009
  613. David Henson said:

    I never said what I believed in but I should rephrase the above … I don’t know how I can verify that you have not perceived a God without accepting the same claims you reject from people who claim to have perceived God.

    As to Mormons I have two memorable experiences: 1) As a teen at the Mormon Church in UT I asked one of their spokesman about my having a wee bit of native American blood. He said if I did not accept Mormonism that my kids would go back to being red skinned wild Indians (I didn’t convert but he may have been on to something) 2) At the Apple Valley Taco Bell there was kid who gave us the very best service and took exceptional pride in his work (work that many can only drudge through). He really stood out so I had to quiz him and it turned out he was a Mormon ~ I still not converting but I would not shy away from hiring Mormons.

    March 25, 2009
  614. David Henson said:

    I never said what I believed in but I should rephrase the above … I don’t know how I can verify that you have not perceived a God without accepting the same evidence you reject from people who claim to have perceived God.

    As to Mormons I have two memorable experiences: 1) As a teen at the Mormon Church in UT I asked one of their spokesman about my having a wee bit of native American blood. He said if I did not accept Mormonism that my kids would go back to being red skinned wild Indians (I didn’t convert but he may have been on to something) 2) At the Apple Valley Taco Bell there was kid who gave us the very best service and took exceptional pride in his work (work that many can only drudge through). He really stood out so I had to quiz him and it turned out he was a Mormon ~ I still not converting but I would not shy away from hiring Mormons.

    March 25, 2009
  615. Patrick Enders said:

    If you (or anyone else) say that you have perceived the presence of a God, I take you at your word, and believe that you truly had such a feeling. I have no reason to believe that you would lie about such a thing, and – certainly – your assertion is a fairly common one.

    Why would you find it hard to believe me if I told you that I have not experienced such a feeling?

    March 25, 2009
  616. David Henson said:

    Patrick, my point was that I can no more understand being an atheist than I can understand being a antifairyista. How can one build a philosophical position around a negative? Now saying you are a materialist I can understand but to disprove the super-material I suppose you would have to build a man starting from non-biological inputs.

    How can you prove that you have not experienced the presence of a God without resorting to the same type of evidence offered by those who have experienced the presense of God?

    March 25, 2009
  617. Bright Spencer said:

    It just twizzles my mind that people are sitting around at computers sending thoughts that travel all over the globe within seconds and that those same people have no sense of what a miraculous set of circumstances they find themselves in through no doing of their own. How do people think we got here? And don’t give me the fizzy theory, please. 🙂

    March 25, 2009
  618. David Ludescher said:

    David: In fairness to Patrick, I think he and Jerry have been arguing in favor of a rationalistic approach to unresolved questions.

    Your criticism of building a religion around atheism has always been one of my objections to atheism. If someone believes that God does not exist, or at least it hasn’t been proven, nothing is proven by the proposition. At its worst, atheism can be lead to nihilism, which believes in nothing except raw power. At its best, all atheism has to offer is a critique of other systems. This is extremely valuable for discovering false beliefs, and thereby, make the remaining beliefs more believable, but it offers nothing positive.

    For example, in the same sex debate, atheism could offer a purely rational approach to a solution. But, the solution which atheism offers is neither pleasant, nor politically correct.

    March 25, 2009
  619. David Ludescher said:

    Penny: Excellent question. I will offer you my explanation.

    The global warming debate has led to much discussion about Mother Nature or Mother Earth. Mother Earth is not a tangible “thing” but the entire environment that we call Mother Earth is a manifestation of our concept of Mother Earth.

    If we personify Mother Earth, we can understand her much better than trying to coordinate and keep all the scientific facts in mind. If we heat up Mother Earth, she will exact her revenge on us.

    Does it make a difference if we think that Mother Earth exists or not? Yes. If we think of the Earth as a “dead” thing, we lose the concept of the Earth as a living, breathing organism, and thereby act differently than if we consider her our “Mother”.

    March 25, 2009
  620. David L:

    I think there is great power and beauty in metaphor. But I think there is also power and beauty in understanding beyond the level of metaphor. You don’t have to personify the Earth to recognize that plants, animals, air, water, soil and sun are all part of a dynamic, interconnected system that sustains life as we know it – and it’s certainly important that our biologists and other scientists understand its workings. Loving the Earth as our mother doesn’t necessarily teach us the right way to take care of her. Speaking as a mom, I know that children often assume their mother will always take care of them and don’t give much thought to what’s best for her!

    March 25, 2009
  621. john george said:

    Jerry, Patrick, Kiffi, et. al.- I haven’t had a chance to keep up with the thread, but I have a theory to propose. It seems to me that the basis for not wanting to believe in God doesn’t lie in whether He can be scientifically demonstrated or not. If you all are really honest, I think you agree with some of the opinions stated in this excerpt from an article by Frank Turek on :

    Atheist Julian Huxley, grandson of
    “Darwin’s Bulldog” Thomas Huxley,
    famously said many years ago that the
    reason he and many of his
    contemporaries “accepted Darwinism
    even without proof, is because we
    didn‘t want God to interfere with our
    sexual mores.”

    Professor Thomas Nagel of NYU more
    recently wrote, “It isn’t just that I
    don’t believe in God and, naturally,
    hope that I’m right in my belief.
    It’s that I hope there is no God! I
    don’t want there to be a God; I don’t
    want the universe to be like that. My
    guess is that this cosmic authority
    problem is not a rare condition and
    that it is responsible for much of the
    scientism and reductionism of our

    Certainly the new atheists such as
    Christopher Hitchens and Richard
    Dawkins have problems with cosmic
    authority. Hitchens refuses to live
    under the “tyranny of a divine
    dictatorship.” Dawkins calls the God
    of the Bible a “malevolent bully”
    (among other things) and admits that
    he is “hostile to religion.”

    It’s not that Hitchens and Dawkins
    offer any serious examination and
    rebuttal of the evidence for God.
    They misunderstand and dismiss
    hundreds of pages of metaphysical
    argumentation from Aristotle, Aquinas
    and others and fail to answer the
    modern arguments from the beginning
    and design of the universe. (Dawkins
    explanation for the extreme design of
    the universe is “luck.”)

    Instead, as any honest reader of their
    books will see, Hitchens and Dawkins
    are outraged at the very thought of
    God. Even their titles scream out
    contempt (god is not Great: How
    Religion Poisons Everything and The
    God Delusion). They don’t seem to
    realize that their moral outrage
    presupposes an objective moral
    standard that exists only if God
    exists. Objective morality—as well as
    the immaterial laws of reason and
    science—cannot exist in the
    materialist universe they attempt to
    defend. In effect, they have to
    borrow from a theistic worldview in
    order to argue against it. They have
    to sit in God’s lap to slap his face.

    While both men are very good writers,
    Hitchens and Dawkins are short on
    evidence and long on attitude. As I
    mentioned in our debate, you can sum
    up Christopher’s attitude in one
    sentence: “There is no God, and I
    hate him.”

    I think the real reason you don’t want to believe in God (Biblegod, as Jerry says) is that you don’t want to have to answer to Him for the way you live. This is not to say that you are living immorally, however you want to define that, but that you would then need to give acount for your motivations and recognize that there is a transcending “cosmic authority”, as Prof. Nagel states.

    Last fall, we debated at length the Cognitive Revolution in a thread that Griff began, and it might be good for anyone interested to go back and read some of those posts.

    March 25, 2009
  622. Oh, John… With affection, I can only say: Oy!

    Can’t the argument be turned on its head: Those who believe in one or more gods fundamentally WANT to believe, WANT to be governed, WANT there to be immutable laws, RAGE against the idea that life ends, RAGE that there is no higher purpose to life than all the kindness and understanding and skill and truth and mutual support we can offer each other in this life?

    I don’t think either argument proves anything, really. You’ll say, “No I don’t,” and I’ll say, “No I don’t,” and there we are.

    March 25, 2009
  623. Patrick Enders said:

    I don’t “want” to disbelieve in God. I don’t “want” to believe in God. As I have mentioned before, I take no hard line position on the question of divine existence – except “there is a remarkable lack of evidence supporting the hypothesis that a God or Gods exist.”

    I am a curious person. I am also a skeptical, and doubting person. What I *want* is to understand the true nature of the Universe. The method that seems (to me) to offer the most potential for understanding the true nature of the Universe is a combination of empiricism and rationalism, as expressed in some iterations of the Scientific Method. This is not merely an intellectual exercise; this is the way I try to understand the nature of anything that has an objective reality that can be measured – in my work, as well as in my personal life. (You can refer back to the ‘Cognitive Revolution’ thread

    If you wish to believe that you understand my ‘true’ motives better than I do, that is your right, and go right ahead and speculate away. Personally, I take you at your word when you state your motives, and I wouldn’t presume to tell you why you ‘really’ believe the things you do.

    March 25, 2009
  624. john george said:

    Penny- You touched upon something very important in your post:

    I don’t think there is any difference
    at all unless we can demonstrate
    miraculous interventions — not just
    unlikely outcomes, but outcomes
    contrary to the physical nature of our

    There is a scripture, “…NAS:1 Corinthians
    {2:4} and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power,
    {2:5} so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God.
    2002 (C) Bible,” that we the Church are not walking in today. I believe we should be, but as much as we have compromised our Theology with theories from the world and have not lived lives Holy to the Lord, we have lost the ability to do what the Apostle Paul did- demonstrate the power of God. It is written that if My people will humble themselves, then I will hear and heal their land. We the Church have not been honest with our own sin- not to God, each other, or those around us. Instead of humbling ourselves, we have focused on humiliating others. There is, and has been for a few years, a shaking going on within the church. Those who profess to live righteously but have hidden sin in their own lives have been and will continue to be exposed. This, I perceive, is God’s way of cleaning up His church. It is not for condemnation that sin is exposed, but it is for the opportunity of repentance and cleansing.

    I have witnessed broken bones (bent 90 degrees) straightened before my eyes. I have seen demonized people set free to where their countenance and complexion, and even their aroma, has changed right before my eyes (and nose). I believe that kind of outpouring of miraculous power is coming again, and it will be released by genuine repentance and revival within His people.

    March 25, 2009
  625. john george said:

    Penny- You are exactly correct. That is why Paul wrote what he did, and the one thing I long for is the demonstration of the power of God in this world so that you can truthfully say, “I believe in Him, not because of what John said, but because of what I experienced firsthand.”

    March 25, 2009
  626. How do people get their posts to be numbered “497.1” etc.?

    March 25, 2009
  627. john george said:

    Patrick- Sorry, I see I misstated my true feelings, and I didn’t mean to come across as knowing exactly what motivates you. Accountability is not the only underlying reason we resist authority. I think you deal with enough children in your profession to know that this is one of the underlying characteristics of children in general that we as parents have to learn to deal with, and one that they seem to come by naturally. We certainly don’t set out to teach them how to resist authority just to reverse that teaching later.

    I love your candor about yourself, “…I am also a skeptical, and doubting person…” You are the best kind, because you have no guile in you. It is just your skepticism that is a defense against deception. You just want something real, and so do I. See my comments to Penny about demonstrating the power of God. I think you will agree.

    March 25, 2009
  628. john george said:

    Penny- Just click on the little blue “Reply” in the lower left hand corner of the post you are responding to, like I just did.

    March 25, 2009
  629. Patrick Enders said:

    David H, you wrote:

    Patrick, my point was that I can no more understand being an atheist than I can understand being a antifairyista. How can one build a philosophical position around a negative? Now saying you are a materialist I can understand but to disprove the super-material I suppose you would have to build a man starting from non-biological inputs.

    David, you misunderstand Atheism. As Jerry explained at the beginning of this thread so very long ago, what you are describing is “Antitheism” – an active opposition to a “Theistic” belief in a God or Gods, or perhaps “Gnostic Atheism,” the active, knowing belief that There Is No God.

    “Atheism” is not that. “A” means “wothout.” That is, Atheism is simply the *lack* of belief in the existence of a God. Notice the key difference: Atheism is *Lack of Belief*, NOT *Active Disbelief.*

    How can you prove that you have not experienced the presence of a God without resorting to the same type of evidence offered by those who have experienced the presense of God?

    I’m not trying to prove that I have not felt the presence of God. I don’t care whether you believe the truth of my statement or not. I’m just sharing my observations. Just like you share yours. Neither my feelings nor yours will prove anything regarding the question of the existence of a divine entity.

    Patrick, my point was that I can no more understand being an atheist than I can understand being a antifairyista.

    Have you ever met an Antifairyista? That would be a very strange thing to get worked up over.

    I simply doubt that fairies exist. If it turns out that they do in fact exist, I will probably be very pro-fairy – assuming of course that they are as cute and benevolent as they are portrayed to be in fiction.

    How can one build a philosophical position around a negative? Now saying you are a materialist I can understand

    Again, see the distinction between Atheist and Antitheist, above. If you like, substitute “materialist” for “atheist” when reading about Atheism. Atheism is closer to materialism than it is to the Antitheism that you seem to believe it to be.

    but to disprove the super-material I suppose you would have to build a man starting from non-biological inputs.

    I’m not following you here, at all.

    David L, you wrote:

    Your criticism of building a religion around atheism has always been one of my objections to atheism. If someone believes that God does not exist, or at least it hasn’t been proven, nothing is proven by the proposition. At its worst, atheism can be lead to nihilism, which believes in nothing except raw power. At its best, all atheism has to offer is a critique of other systems.

    It is also possible that it may be a correct understanding of the true nature of the universe. If true, that’s got to be worth something.

    For example, in the same sex debate, atheism could offer a purely rational approach to a solution. But, the solution which atheism offers is neither pleasant, nor politically correct.

    Good God, David – you really don’t get tired of that issue, do you?

    March 25, 2009
  630. Patrick Enders said:

    Penny, do you like it? I’m not sure it helps all that much, and it can lead to missed comments.

    March 25, 2009
  631. Patrick Enders said:

    David L, you wrote:

    Mother Earth is not a tangible “thing” but the entire environment that we call Mother Earth is a manifestation of our concept of Mother Earth.

    If we personify Mother Earth, we can understand her much better than trying to coordinate and keep all the scientific facts in mind. If we heat up Mother Earth, she will exact her revenge on us.

    Does it make a difference if we think that Mother Earth exists or not? Yes. If we think of the Earth as a “dead” thing, we lose the concept of the Earth as a living, breathing organism, and thereby act differently than if we consider her our “Mother”.

    Would you similarly suggest that – in order to encourage ‘good’ behavior – we should all worship a God – whether it exists or not?

    If you want to conceive of the Universe as a living, vibrant whole, and call it “God,” you’ve come across a working definition of a God that I could endorse reverence for – and that I would agree can be observed to exist.

    As Einstein wrote,

    “What I see in Nature is a magnificent structure that we can comprehend only very imperfectly, and that must fill a thinking person with a feeling of humility. This is a genuinely religious feeling that has nothing to do with mysticism.”

    March 25, 2009