“Mr. Freshwater, an eighth-grade public school science teacher, is accused of burning a cross onto the arms of at least two students and teaching creationism, charges he says have been fabricated because he refused an order by his principal to remove a Bible from his desk.”
Would a 21st century Scopes-esque trial be helpful? I’m inclined to think it would. Let’s get the beliefs of this increasingly-fringe segment of the populace into the public consciousness, so they know what it is they are tacitly supporting when they sport the title of “religious moderate”.
One of the fascinating things about Catholicism is that you never know quite what to expect. Catholics have a strong presence on the uber-conservative and awesome-liberal side of the political and religious spectrum, some allying with the fundamentalist Religious Right and other working toward interfaith collaboration and separation of church and state. While there are exceptions, identifying as, for instance, Episcopalian or Mormon suggest progressives and conservative tendencies, respectively–and if a stranger wouldn’t always be right in making this assumption, they’d have a much higher rate of success than trying betting on which camp either any given unknown Catholic fell into.
Though I’m still a little miffed at the Pope for blaming atheists for global warming, today I’m more interested in his support for “positive secularism.” In its “On Faith” section online, the Washington Post reports that Cardinal Camillo Ruini, who is close to the Vatican, has also recently promoted America’s secular system.
There are plusses and minuses to this secular-friendly talk. For one, the Pope and the Cardinal have spoken about “positive” secularism, and a “new” secularism friendly to religion. As Agnes Poirier pointed out in the New Statesman last year after Pope Benedict XVI talked about positive secularism in France, is that implies the existence of a “negative” secularism. But Poirier writes, “Secularism is neutral”; she sees the Pope’s phraseology as a mask for the desire for special privileges for religion. While France has been frequently criticized for too much hostility toward religion, that is not an issue of secularism, positive or negative; if there have been excesses, it would be in deviating from the path of secularism. “From a strictly legal perspective,” she continues, “secularism is extremely positive: it creates a universal freedom to believe or not to believe, and protects individuals from any public interference in their belief, provided that their belief or lack of it does not disturb the peace.”
On the plus side, in a time when a term like “secular progressive” is demonized by the right wing, it’s nice to get even partial support from a religious body as powerful as the Catholic Church. A fact that often gets missed is that “secularism” and “atheism” are vastly different. America is–if the Religious Right is kept at bay–a secular state, but only a small minority of its citizens (and even fewer of its elected officials, openly) are atheist. Separation of church and state organization tend to be staffed by members of minority religions, who are protected by secularism. Catholic support for continuing American secularism fights back against attempts to turn this country into a Protestant nation–though the abortion wars may have pulled many conservative Catholics to the side of the fundamentalist Religious Right, let’s remember that “Protestant Nation” is really what is meant by “Christian Nation,” in a country where John Kerry’s Catholicism was still an issue in the 2004 presidential race.
As the Post article points out, Catholics are a much larger voting block than atheists. In preserving our secular tradition, we need these kinds of religious allies. Let’s just keep in mind that the term “positive secularism” is redundant–secularism is inherently positive for anyone who values tolerance, diversity of beliefs, and not living in a theocracy.
Higher teen birth rates are found in states characterized by more conservative religious beliefs, according to a new report analysizing data from the Center for Disease Control and the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.
Researchers state that these findings hold even taking into consideration a higher rate of abortion in less religious states; they hypothesize that religious influence is reducing use of contraception without preventing teenagers from having sex. Though the causation has not been proved to accompany the correllation, it calls attention to an issue neglected by the current abortion debates.
All the controversy of late over whether or not abortion will be covered by the new health care bill obscures the fact that unwanted pregnancies, especially in minors, are not incidents anybody should want happening–and neither denying federal funding, ramming abstinence education down students’ throats, nor indoctrination with conservative religious threats will solve that. Frank Schaeffer blaming Roe vs. Wade for the strength of the conservative movement, as discussed in last week’s post, also fails to aid young people.
Proper comprehensive sex education, not undermined by religious dogmaticism, is a start. Collaboration on contraceptive programs and support is a start. Significantly, researchers note that these findings may not hold true for states characterized by liberal religious beliefs. There is plenty of room for collaboration between secular and religious groups. Consider the Ryan-DeLauro bill, which has received support from both Faith in Public Life and Planned Parenthood, which is geared toward reducing unplanned pregnancies and the need for abortion. Too bad Republicans can’t see the beauty of compromise and win-win situations: they’ve refused to endorse the bill which in reality crosses the religious divide.
Frank Schaeffer, former radical right-wing evangelist reborn as a Obama campaigner, occasionally demonstrates that the residue of that conservative ideology remains in his bloodstream. His August 31 LA Times article, “Crazy ‘death panel’ claims? Thank Roe vs. Wade,” reveals a disturbingly “blame-the-victim” mentality.
Rather than blaming anti-health care reform lies on the right-wingers fabricating them, he opts to blame the 1973 Supreme Court decision, saying, “you can thank the hostility to all things government that Roe exacerbated.” The “bitterness over Roe,” he claims, is the only thing that “can explain the paranoia of the evangelical far right.” His proposed solution: overturn Roe vs. Wade, leaving the legality of abortion up to the states. He alleges that practically this would change little, leaving abortion legal in most states, “but half the population would also feel enfranchised and respected.”
Where, oh where, to begin.
The concept that abortion is the source of all the right-wing’s power is a ludicrous oversimplification. No one would argue that it is not a tool the Religious Right uses to manipulate Americans and drum up foaming-at-the-mouth support, but it’s hardly the be-all-end-all. Schaeffer argues, “Every time there is a new effort to curtail gay rights, you can thank Roe.” Yet the beginning of the culture wars had already designated abortion and homosexuality as the two demons for good conservative Christians to target by the time Roe vs. Wade rolled around in ’73.
Another means by which the right gained power would be the Civil Right Acts of the 60s. Causing an exodus from the Democratic to the Republican Party, racial prejudice and fears significantly boosted the power–and paranoia–of the radical right. Does that mean that we should repeal the Civil Rights Act? Even if Roe is a rallying point for right-wingers, that doesn’t mean we should sacrifice justice–the only message that sends is be violent, be unreasonable, and liberals will give you what you want in the hopes that you’ll let some of their other reforms through.
In September 2006, Rep. Mark Foley, Republican of Florida, was busted for salacious text messages he exchanged with underage Congressional pages. Take a moment to refresh your memory:
Maf54 (7:46:33 PM): did any girl give you a haand job this weekend
Xxxxxxxxx (7:46:38 PM): lol no
Xxxxxxxxx (7:46:40 PM): im single right now
Xxxxxxxxx (7:46:57 PM): my last gf and i broke up a few weeks agi
Maf54 (7:47:11 PM): are you
Maf54 (7:47:11 PM): good so your getting horny
Xxxxxxxxx (7:47:29 PM): lol…a bit
Maf54 (7:48:00 PM): did you spank it this weekend yourself
Xxxxxxxxx (7:48:04 PM): no
Xxxxxxxxx (7:48:16 PM): been too tired and too busy
Maf54 (7:48:33 PM): wow…
Maf54 (7:48:34 PM): i am never to busy haha
Xxxxxxxxx (7:48:51 PM): haha
Maf54 (7:50:02 PM): or tired..helps me sleep
Xxxxxxxxx (7:50:15 PM): thats true
Yeah, that Mark Foley.
Two weeks ago I was at a journalism conference in Washington, D.C. An attendee told me a story about an encounter his brother had with the infamous Congressman in the summer of 2006, not long before he was busted for the lewd IMs.
The brother had gone to a function at the State Department for lunch, and his party included Mark Foley. At the conclusion of the event, the brother recalled being shocked by the way Foley conducted himself. First of all, he got drunk… at the State Department. With a bunch of underage interns and low-level policy aids.
But there’s more. In the midst of his drunken revelry, Foley made several coarse remarks about gays, disparaging them in a way that created an uneasy tension in the room. What’s more, the meeting was on something completely unrelated to gay people or gay issues, so Foley actually went out of his way to mock a demographic group, without knowing whether or not any gay people happened to be present.
Well, it turns out that there was at least one gay person in the room, and it was Foley himself. In a case of hypocrisy that comes dangerously close to sounding like satire, Foley has proven what a difficult environment the Republican party — and by extension, many parts of America — can be for those who have a particular sexual orientation. Not only was he unable to be candid about his sexuality, but Foley actually went to great lengths to make sure people knew he was hostile towards gays. Maybe, as an ostensibly single man, he thought it was the only way to prevent a whisper campaign from developing.
It happened to Florida Governor Charlie Crist, who allegedly frequented a gay bar in his earlier political career, and ever since has had to deal with persistent speculation that he is gay. Crist was a long-time bachelor until tying the knot with an incredibly attractive young woman last year, but the rumor continues on. People know that politicians, especially Republicans, are known for keeping their sexuality under wraps if it might upset a portion of the electorate they are targeting.
Remember Larry Craig? The Republican from Idaho who, as a closeted gay man, resorted to soliciting sex from anonymous men in airport bathroom stalls? The one who ended up being caught in a sting operation to find such solicitors, and justified his actions by saying he simply had a “wide stance” in the stall? The guy who still denies he has any gay tendencies? No further evidence is needed to illustrate the impossible circumstances that many of these high-profile, gay people find themselves in.
That’s why one of the aims of the Secular Progressive movement should be to work in conjunction with gay activist groups and other liberal organizations to chip away at the societal impediments that force people like Foley and Craig to go underground with their lifestyles, until it inevitably manifests in some sort of political scandal. Yes, we should seek to improve the lives of all people, even Republican.s How we go about doing this is up for debate, but I know I’ll be working hard to make sure same-sex marriage becomes reality in New Jersey this fall.
To be sure, Mark Foley and Larry Craig would have been perfectly fine Congressmen if not for their sexual orientation. That is, they’d be fine the sense that their constituents would have been more or less satisfied with their public service. Yet they now cannot carry out their careers because of private transgressions which were meant to be kept private. Let’s do all we can to ensure that even people associated with the Republican party no longer resist revealing their true selves for fear of being ostracized and humiliated, and they are not so ashamed of who they are to the point that they must resort to rendezvous in public bathrooms. No doubt much of that shame is rooted in religious tradition, which is why we as S-P’s can rest assured in knowing that our efforts to lessen the grip of outdated and hurtful dogmas on society come not only from a desire to shed antiquated belief systems, but to effect social progress.
But that doesn’t make Mark Foley any less pathetic.
“Is it not true that inconsiderate use of creation begins where God is marginalized or also where is existence is denied?” -Pope Benedict XVI
According to Pope Benedict XVI, atheists are no longer responsible solely for undermining the moral fabric of society, but also for the destruction of the environment. In an August 26th speech, he argues that when “the human creatures relationship with the Creator weakens…the objective of existence is reduced to a feverish race to possess the most possible.”
Though Pope Benedict’s attack on materialism seem rather the-pot-calling-the-kettle-black, given the Catholic Church’s enormous wealth (and the existence of the saying, “more money than the Pope”), his rhetoric puts him on common ground with environmentalists concerned by our unsustainable lifestyle and culture of excess consumption. The Pope even added “polluting the environment” to last year’s snazzy update of the original Seven Deadly Sins, deemed one of the Best Inventions of 2008 by TIME magazine, prioritizing it up there with birth control, creating poverty, and…ahem, excessive wealth.
Unfortunately, in targeting nonbelievers, His Holiness diverts attention from the real problem and alienates potential atheist and non-believing allies. Yes, I am suggesting that the head of the Catholic Church put aside petty differences like whether or not a supreme being exists for the sake of saving the world we all have to live in from imminent environmental catastrophe.
Despite the Pope’s rhetoric, religion has a mixed record on the environment. Around Earth Day, the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion and Public Life published statistics gathered in 2008 that reveal that unaffiliated Americans are the most likely to believe in man-made global warming (58 percent), compared to 44 percent of white Catholics; white Evangelical Protestants do the worst at 34 percent believers. (I guess “nonbelievers” isn’t a particularly precise term to use to refer to those who don’t believe in the existence of God, since they do believe in environmentalism.) And in 2008, evangelical leaders launched the “We Get It!” campaign against “global warming alarmism,” at a time when virtually all respected scientist already recognized the dangers of climate change. Religious Right politicians constantly present obstacles to environmental protections, more concerned with Big Oil than Mother Nature.
Furthermore, a 2004 Pew survey reveals that those who are most observant or orthodox with the United States’ three largest religious groups (Evangelical Protestants, Mainline Protestants, and Roman Catholics) less likely to favor environmental protections than the moderate members of their respective faiths. Perhaps Roman Catholics are doing better on this count since the Pope ranked pollution with the major sins, but that doesn’t alter the fact that within the last five years it’s the most devout adherents of organized religion who have been setting back saving the environment.
Then there’s the rapture.
The last of the Kennedy brothers died yesterday. Senator Ted Kennedy succumbed not to an assassin’s bullet, but to a brain tumor–an assailant the most perfect bodyguard stands powerless against, and the best modern medicine still can only do so much against.
In recent months, Kennedy called providing quality health care for all Americans “the cause of my life.” With Washington and the country at large gripped by a debate over whether we will do the right thing in assuring basic care for those in need, his continuing commitment to this issue will be at the forefront of people’s memories. Yet this was not his only cause.
With accusations of death panels flying and town hall meetings characterized more by screaming and hate than an honest desire to find out the truth, Ted Kennedy’s October 1983 remarks “On Truth and Tolerance” seem appropriate to the day. While the call for understanding and civility resonates given the current situation over health care reform, Kennedy was speaking directly to the issue that concerns us the most at Secular Progressive: religion.
As food for thought, the words of Edward Kennedy, a man of many causes:
The more our feelings diverge, the more deeply felt they are, the greater is our obligation to grant the sincerity and essential decency of our fellow citizens on the other side. . . .
In short, I hope for an America where neither “fundamentalist” nor “humanist” will be a dirty word, but a fair description of the different ways in which people of good will look at life and into their own souls.
I hope for an America where no president, no public official, no individual will ever be deemed a greater or lesser American because of religious doubt — or religious belief.
I hope for an America where the power of faith will always burn brightly, but where no modern inquisition of any kind will ever light the fires of fear, coercion, or angry division.
I hope for an America where we can all contend freely and vigorously, but where we will treasure and guard those standards of civility which alone make this nation safe for both democracy and diversity.