Cyberguy's Blog

Encouraging religion to "beget" off!

Religious Americans are NOT doing more to help others than the nonreligious

Chris Stedman takes the old Christian idea of “works” vs “belief” and tries to use it to compare atheist charity to their religious counterparts. Is atheism without works dead? The shifting landscape of nontheistic service.

However the issue goes much deeper that this shallow tit-for-tat article makes out. Lets look at the bigger picture…

Why do Americans put such a high value on “service” compared to most other countries? Because there is a massive under-investment in publicly funded social services to deprived sectors of the community. So the giving is necessary because it is sorely needed.

Why the under-funding? Because the American right-wing’s religious dogma demonizes “big government”, and in recent decades their government’s social programs have been hugely scaled back by the Republicans, strongly supported by religious lobby groups.

So if you take all the U.S. religious giving, but then subtract all the programs that have been cut due to religious influence, you get a massive net deficit on the religious side.

So this article misses the main point. In the U.S., atheists tend to favor the Democrats and the intelligent use of social programs to close that gap as a fairer and more efficient way of addressing social inequalities. Why should atheists put such a high value of service when the social system itself is so broken? “Service” in this context is only the smallest band-aid over a gaping wound. You have only to compare the U.S. to other countries to see this.

Jesus was “ALIVE”

Jesus was “alive”, but now he is “evil”. Fun with letters.

 

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Religion in Schools – a Role-Focus Analysis: The Tradition Preacher

This continues the series A Role-Focus Analysis of Religious Arguments.  To get the background, read the post at the preceding link first if you haven’t already.

This is the fifth category of theistic support for religion in schools. It is the “Tradition Preacher” – which characterises an assertive appeal to utility. We have seen it recently with an inflammatory opinion piece in the NZ Herald (Hugh Dickey: Ignore the roots of our values at society’s peril – Opinion – NZ Herald News)

Role \ Focus

Revelation

Tradition

Authority

Martyr But we are teaching values! Christianity has values. What are we doing wrong? You secularists are causing the trouble.  Why can’t we just all get along like we used to? It is intolerant to not want Christian RI in schools. We’re being oppressed.
Preacher Religion is what gives us values.  It’s in the stories. Religion prevents the breakdown of society. Christian RI is necessary for our religious freedom.
Crusader The Christian religion must be taught, because the Bible says so. New Zealand law, culture and heritage are Christian.And the Bible? Bestseller! The majority rules!  Stop complaining, or go to another school.

Objection 4 – The Tradition Preacher (assertive appeal to utility)

Rejecting religious instruction is symptomatic of the breakdown of society, where everyone “does their own thing”.

Examples:

  1. “As a Christian, I think we ignore its truths at our peril. Already we are sadly witnessing the breakdown of society as we get rid of the moral absolutes through adhering to post-modern, humanistic thinking in which everyone does ‘right in their own eyes’. In fact, there’s a bible story about just that point.”
  2. “Mr Harrison, if you are not basing values on that “archaic document” what, may I ask, are you basing them on? Once you reject God, all values become subject to personal opinion. Who is to say we should be loving, kind and honest? And who are we to tell children they should be? Society is reduced to doing what “feels right for me” and children are left to “work it out for themselves”. And we wonder why we have such massive social problems like youth crime, excessive drinking, drugs and suicide.”
  3. “In times of disaster, such as in Christchurch and the West Coast, the country has seen the vital role that churches play in holding their respective communities together. At a time of crisis, it is to Christianity that we turn. Yet we constantly pick away at the Christian fabric of this country and then wonder why our society begins to unravel.”

Responses:

  • We are not rejecting religious instruction. We are just rejecting religious people using the schools as their recruiting ground.
  • You don’t need religion to be good. Secular ethics existed long before Christianity – think of the ancient Greek philosophical tradition that preceded Jesus by centuries.
  • In any case, society does not break down without religion. We still have the police and the rule of law. Around the world, the least religious countries (such as the Scandinavian countries) have better social conditions by any measure than more religious countries.
  • The world is currently at its least violent state in the whole of recorded human history. Wars are smaller, take fewer lives, and are over quicker than ever before – and this trend is continuing. There is no breakdown of society – actually the opposite.
  • Are you really saying the only thing stopping you from going on a violent orgiastic rampage of murder and mayhem is that you are being personally monitored 24/7 by supernatural surveillance?
  • If you want your own children to have religious instruction, put them into Sunday school. No-one is stopping you.

This category of religious argument is a fairly common one, taken by those people who see religion as a civilizing force for good.   The myth that society is breaking down is the driving fear, which is quite easily refuted.

Religion in Schools – a Role-Focus Analysis: The Revelation Preacher

This continues the series A Role-Focus Analysis of Religious Arguments.

The fourth category of theistic support for religion in schools is common with “moderate” Christians. It is the “Revelation Preacher” – which characterises an assertive appeal to values.

Role \ Focus

Revelation

Tradition

Authority

Martyr But we are teaching values! Christianity has values. What are we doing wrong? You secularists are causing the trouble.  Why can’t we just all get along like we used to? It is intolerant to not want Christian RI in schools. We’re being oppressed.
Preacher Religion is what gives us values.  It’s in the stories. Religion prevents the breakdown of society. Christian RI is necessary for our religious freedom.
Crusader The Christian religion must be taught, because the Bible says so. New Zealand law, culture and heritage are Christian.And the Bible? Bestseller! The majority rules!  Stop complaining, or go to another school.

Objection 4 – The Revelation Preacher (assertive appeal to values)

Religion is what gives us values. And the Bible has such nice stories for children.

Examples:

  1. “Peter Harrison, the founder of Keep Religion out of Schools, says his group supports secular values teaching and would support something covering common values like tolerance, love and integrity. These very values are indeed taught to the children, along with other values such as it is not OK to bully, learning how to get along with one another, inclusion and respect of others, caring for the environment, etc. These values are interwoven with stories from the Bible.”
  2. “If they feel they are missing out on something – well yes they are — they are missing out on learning about the best-selling book of all time (not some mere ‘archaic document’). A book which teaches early world history as well as essential moral values. I have dozens of notes and cards from children who have thoroughly enjoyed the programmed and say they have “learned a lot” — and this includes faith and hope — something to believe in when life gets hard.”
  3. “As a teacher, I welcome the idea that children in state schools are taught biblical stories. A lot can be learned from the Bible’s narratives and many from the older generation will remember with pleasure the stories and values it contains.”

Responses:

  • Religion is not the source of values. Values are human constructs, rooted in our evolution and maintained through our shared culture.
  • There are no values taught in the bible that were not taught for hundreds, if not thousands, of years prior. For example the Golden Rule (the ethic of reciprocity) predates Christianity by over a thousand years.
  • Teaching values from the Bible involves cherry-picking the best and ignoring the rest. Avoiding the bad teachings from the Bible proves that our values do not actually come from the Bible after all.
  • Schools can teach ethics already. No need for religion.
  • Whose religion do you want to teach? If you are going to teach one, why not teach all the major world religions?
  • “Religion is an insult to human dignity. With or without it you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.” – Steven Weinberg, American physicist.

 

Religion in Schools – a Role-Focus Analysis: The Authority Martyr

This continues the series A Role-Focus Analysis of Religious Arguments.

The third category of theistic support for religion in schools is a very common and well-practiced one. It comes from the “Tradition Martyr”. This type of argument resorts to a defensive appeal to power.

Role \ Focus

Revelation

Tradition

Authority

Martyr But we are teaching values! Christianity has values. What are we doing wrong? You secularists are causing the trouble.  Why can’t we just all get along like we used to? It is intolerant to not want Christian RI in schools. We’re being oppressed.
Preacher Religion is what gives us values.  It’s in the stories. Religion prevents the breakdown of society. Christian RI is necessary for our religious freedom.
Crusader The Christian religion must be taught, because the Bible says so. New Zealand law, culture and heritage are Christian.And the Bible? Bestseller! The majority rules!  Stop complaining, or go to another school.

Objection 3 – The Authority Martyr (defensive appeal to power)

It is intolerant or bigoted to not want Christian Religious Instruction taught in schools.  Help, help, we’re being oppressed.

Examples:

  1. “Peter Harrison says “something covering common values of tolerance, love and integrity… can be taught without referring to some archaic document”. Where is the tolerance he speaks of in referring to the Bible as some archaic document? If this group doesn’t want what the Bible programme teaches or their children exposed to it, isn’t this the perfect opportunity to teach their kids that people are different in their beliefs and “and our family believes such and such” and in that way the family teaches tolerance.”
  2.  “…what made me laugh was Mr Harrison’s comment that he wanted secular values taught, like tolerance. Tolerance for everything right, except a little religious education? Funny how religion is so often accused of intolerance and yet so often the victim of it. Mr Harrison goes on to say other values should be included like “love and integrity … without referring to some archaic document”. That’s cool, but we better not look into the history of those values; it might be that archaic document had a part to play? We can’t tolerate that.”
  3.  “Mr Harrison, who supports keeping religion out of schools, asks for values “like tolerance” to be taught. He is not modelling tolerance when he calls the Bible an “archaic document” and is calling for the Values in Action programme to be removed from schools.”
  4.  “The larger issue appears to be that having the option to opt-out of something we don’t agree with is no longer enough – we now have to campaign to have that which doesn’t line up with our beliefs, expunged entirely from existence. This harks back to many nasty periods of mankind’s history…”
  5.  “The issue around school closure and the Education Act is it’s really never been tested in terms of what that actually looks like. The Courts have never given us a definitive answer of what it means for a school to shut down“ – Simon Greening , CEO of Churches Education Commission (CEC) interviewed on Radio Rhema, Wednesday, 09 May 2012.

Responses:

  • It is not intolerant to want fair treatment for all.
  • It is intolerant to expect people of different or no faith to exit the room while your faith gets special treatment.
  • It is intolerant to impose the teaching on the classroom so that some children are forced to opt out.  It should be an opt-in scheme outside of school hours.
  • Teach values by all means, but not the spiritual aspects of religion. That’s up to each family and individual to choose for themselves.
  • State primary schools are, as the name suggests, run by the state for everyone’s benefit. For that reason they must remain religiously neutral (that is, secular) and not take sides – for everyone’s benefit.
  • Your objection is completely disingenuous! You are merely pretending religion is the victim here. What you really want is to infiltrate religion into a secular institution to infect another generation of kids with this mind virus.
  • If the school is unlocked, the school office is open, there are cars in the car park, the teachers and pupils are at school, and the teachers are getting paid, I would say that the school is 100% open, wouldn’t you? Why would you need a court to explain that to you, unless you were being deliberately perverse?

 

Religion in Schools – a Role-Focus Analysis: The Tradition Martyr

This continues the series A Role-Focus Analysis of Religious Arguments.

The second category of theistic support for religion in schools comes from the “Tradition Martyr”. This type of argument resorts to a defensive appeal to utility.

Role \ Focus

Revelation

Tradition

Authority

Martyr But we are teaching values! Christianity has values. What are we doing wrong? You secularists are causing the trouble.  Why can’t we just all get along like we used to? It is intolerant to not want Christian RI in schools. We’re being oppressed.
Preacher Religion is what gives us values.  It’s in the stories. Religion prevents the breakdown of society. Christian RI is necessary for our religious freedom.
Crusader The Christian religion must be taught, because the Bible says so. New Zealand law, culture and heritage are Christian.And the Bible? Bestseller! The majority rules!  Stop complaining, or go to another school.

Objection 2 – The Tradition Martyr (defensive appeal to utility)

Religion is just like something else that is accepted, such as science or sport. You secularists are causing the trouble. Why can’t we just all get along like we used to?
Examples:

  1. “There are so many other teachings in the Bible that are not controversial and can be revealed to children and adults without espousing a one-sided opinion with no avenue for discussion. Christians as a whole want children and adults to be encouraged by the inclusive and embracing power of Jesus Christ, the love for our fellow human beings, whatever their status, and marvel at the evolving beauty of the world around us.”
  2. “Surely, in matters such as the universe and even life itself, belief in an intelligent creative power is equal to lots of scientific theories based on theories based on theories. They haven’t even finished tweaking relativity yet. Isn’t creation also a scientific theory within the prevailing standards?”
  3. “Surely if a child is feeling ‘punished’ when opting out of *any* class – be it religious, sport or whatever the context – that should be the responsibility of the school to correct, rather than whomever is running the programme being opted out of? Should the facilitators of said programme provide a 2nd class for those whose parents have opted them out? Would those parents not also protest that class?”

Responses:
A lot of confused arguments seem to be made in this category. They imply a false equivalence between religion and something else that is generally not protested, and therefore anybody objecting to religion must be wrong.

  • Religion is not the same as, for example, sport or science. Religion is a set of beliefs and opinions that are very much open to debate. And in the marketplace of ideas religion is no longer going to get a free ride.
  • Tradition is not a measure of truth or right. Just because something has been done for a long time is no reason not to challenge it if it is wrong.
  • It is the privileging of religion by forcing it into our secular schools through a deliberate legal loophole that is divisive, not the people objecting to that.

Religion in Schools – a Role-Focus Analysis: The Revelation Martyr.

Following on from my earlier article A Role-Focus Analysis of Religious Arguments, we turn to the first category – the “Revelation Martyr”.

Role \ Focus

Revelation

Tradition

Authority

Martyr But we are teaching values! Christianity has values. What are we doing wrong? You secularists are causing the trouble.  Why can’t we just all get along like we used to? It is intolerant to not want Christian RI in schools. We’re being oppressed.
Preacher Religion is what gives us values.  It’s in the stories. Religion prevents the breakdown of society. Christian RI is necessary for our religious freedom.
Crusader The Christian religion must be taught, because the Bible says so. New Zealand law, culture and heritage are Christian.And the Bible? Bestseller! The majority rules!  Stop complaining, or go to another school.

Objection 1 – The Revelation Martyr (defensive appeal to values)

But we are teaching values! Christianity has values. What are we doing wrong?

Examples:

  1. “Jesus’ life of radical love, justice, and peace was so extraordinary that it would change this world forever. What do we fear by holding his life up as an example for our children? The argument that if Christianity is to be taught then all other religions should have equal airtime is a misnomer, akin to saying that because English is taught in schools all other world languages should also be included.”
  2. “I think what we’re trying to say is that we’re here to educate kids about Christianity – we’re not there to make them Christians, which is Harrison’s kind of argument. We’re not there to make them Christians; we’re there to educate them about Christianity.” – Simon Greening , CEO of Churches Education Commission (CEC) interviewed on Radio Rhema, Wednesday, 09 May 2012.

Responses:

  • You can teach moral values without invoking religion. It’s called “Ethics”.
  • Confusing religion and values is wrong. “Values” is used as a smokescreen to sneak religious proselytising into the classroom.
  • Most values that the Bible actually teaches are completely ignored – such as stoning adulterers, not allowing a witch to live, or selling all your possessions. Instead, the few that we find acceptable today are cherry-picked based on our modern cultural norms. So our real values clearly come from outside of the Bible.
  • The widespread abuse of children by priests around the world is further proof that religion and values are two completely separate things.
  • What moral value really lies in Jesus’ life? That an inherited guilt can be assuaged by the blood sacrifice of a scapegoat – and that if you don’t believe this story you will be tortured for all eternity? What kind of moral lesson is that?
  • Teaching about only one religion by partisan proponents of it, without teaching about negative aspects, other religions, or of none, is religious indoctrination and is not compatible with a secular education.
What do you think?  Do you have any more examples or responses?

A Role-Focus Analysis of Religious Arguments

“But now I want to [...] warn you against three bad reasons for believing anything. They are called ‘tradition’, ‘authority’, and ‘revelation’.”

- Richard Dawkins letter to his 10 year old daughter

“There’s all the difference in the world between a belief that one is prepared to defend by quoting evidence and logic and a belief that is supported by nothing more than tradition, authority, or revelation.”

- Richard Dawkins, Published in the Humanist, January/February 1997

I support the campaign to “Keep Religion Out Of School (NZ)”.  This campaign recently hit the headlines of a local newspaper, The North Shore Times, and generated a large number of letters to the editor, plus some feedback on the Facebook page.

I decided to collate the main religious arguments against removing religion from New Zealand schools, to group them into related themes, and develop a set of rebuttals as a resource. While doing this research, an interesting pattern arose that I want to share.

The letters almost grouped themselves by how defensive or aggressive they were. The extremes were “Funny how religion is so often accused of intolerance and yet so often the victim of it”, to “If there are parents who don’t want CRE in the school programme, the solution is simple – find a school near you that doesn’t include it”. In the middle was “At a time of crisis, it is to Christianity that we turn. Yet we constantly pick away at the Christian fabric of this country and then wonder why our society begins to unravel.”

The defensive, assertive and aggressive tones were so marked that the writers could easily be characterised into one of three religious roles:

  1. The Martyr (defensive)
  2. The Preacher  (assertive)
  3. The Crusader (aggressive)

The letter-writers had one obviously recurring theme among others, namely “tradition” – the building of a primarily Christian nation, our Christian heritage, the origin of our laws, the lessons of our history, etc.  I remembered that Richard Dawkins has pointed out that religious faith is founded on three main pillars – those of Revelation, Tradition and Authority. I decided to see if this pattern also fitted the letter-writers’ responses.

In practical terms, I took “Revelation” to mean an appeal to a set of God-given values. “Tradition” was marked by an appeal to a time-honoured utility. And “Authority” was an appeal to power – imposing, asserting or defending it.

The letters supporting religion in schools slotted into the Revelation/Tradition/Authority categories like Mickey Mouse’s three fingers into his glove.

In table form it appears like this:

Generic Role-Focus Analysis

Role \ Focus

Revelation

(appeal to values)

Tradition

(appeal to utility)

Authority

(appeal to power)

Martyr(defensive) You are attacking my religious values. You are attacking my religious traditions. You are attacking my religion.
Preacher(assertive) My religion has important values. My religion has an important traditional role. My religion is important.
Crusader(aggressive) You must comply with my religious values. You must comply with my religious traditions. You must comply with my religion.

When this breakdown is applied to the letters and other commentators defending religious instruction in New Zealand schools the summarised results look like this:

Religion in Schools – a specific Role-Focus Analysis

Role \ Focus

Revelation

Tradition

Authority

Martyr But we are teaching values! Christianity has values. What are we doing wrong? You secularists are causing the trouble.  Why can’t we just all get along like we used to? It is intolerant to not want Christian RI in schools. We’re being oppressed.
Preacher Religion is what gives us values.  It’s in the stories. Religion prevents the breakdown of society. Christian RI is necessary for our religious freedom.
Crusader The Christian religion must be taught, because the Bible says so. New Zealand law, culture and heritage are Christian. And the Bible? Bestseller! The majority rules!  Stop complaining, or go to another school.

I think this way of grouping religious apologist’s arguments into nine general categories might be a useful way to analyse and rebut them. It turns an apparently random collection of arguments into a manageable and structured whole.

In the example of Keeping Religion Out Of NZ Schools, I will go into these nine defining categories in more detail in subsequent posts, along with some of the associated rebuttals.

Posts to date on the 9 Role-Focus Categories:

  1. The Revelation Martyr – a defensive appeal to values
  2. The Tradition Martyr – a defensive appeal to utility
  3. The Authority Martyr – a defensive appeal to power
  4. The Revelation Preacher –  an assertive appeal to values
  5. The Tradition Preacher - an assertive appeal to utility
  6. The Authority Preacher - an assertive appeal to power
  7. The Revelation Crusader - an aggressive appeal to values
  8. The Tradition Crusader - an aggressive appeal to utility
  9. The Revelation Crusader - an aggressive appeal to power

What if they ran NZ hospitals like NZ schools?

Reposted from my comment at Keep Religion Out Of School (NZ):

What would you think if once a week each New Zealand hospital was declared “closed” for half-an-hour while a group of preachers came in and lectured to the patients?

The doctors and nurses had to stand around not working for that time.

Any patient who did not like it was expected to leave their ward and sit it out in the waiting area. Opting-out patients were not allowed to receive medication or any other treatment during that time because the hospital was “closed”. If they complained, they would be told they should have gone to a private hospital instead.

That is exactly the same as what is happening in our schools today.

Repeating the lie

In the NZ Herald column “Sideswipe” today they claim that “20th century was the bloodiest in human history and its violence was largely instigated by atheists”.

My response to columnist Ana Samways is as follows:

Ana

The comment in Sideswipe today that “the 20th century was the bloodiest in human history and its violence was largely instigated by atheists” is totally false. A quick google search would have disabused you of this outrageous slander against atheists that is spread by religious ideologues despite repeated rebuttals.

Hitler was never an atheist. He was born into a Catholic family, and he never renounced his Catholicism.

Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot were all Marxist-Leninists. All three dictators attempted to control religion to suppress any alternative viewpoint that might threaten their own political personality cults. Their brand of communism was essentially a secular religion that required subservience to “the state” instead of a god.

Shame on you for repeating this piece of bigotry against the non-religious.

Regards,

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