Faithless

The uproars around Indiana’s new law and Scientology’s alleged abuses show how poorly we understand religious freedom

Source: Tablet

Author: Liel Leibovitz

Emphasis Mine

Just in time for Passover, that perennial blockbuster about a persecuted people struggling to free itself from the house of bondage, our hunger for sensational stories of religious intolerance was sated this week by a double serving of men of faith behaving badly. In Indiana, a state law designed to safeguard religious freedoms stirred controversy, with everyone from Hillary Clinton to Miley Cyrus crying out that the legislation is little more than a thinly veiled attempt to allow businesses to discriminate against LGBT customers. And on HBO, a new documentary about Scientology presented the Creed of Cruise as a sinister, violent cult designed to prey on the weak of heart and mind, a cabal of conspirators that has thrived largely due to its ability to muscle the authorities into exempting it from taxation. Spend too much time breathing in the fumes of the Internet outrage machine, and you’d be forgiven for thinking that we still had Pharaohs among us, mighty, imperious and bent on imposing their will on those yearning to be free.

Reality, thankfully, is far airier. Everywhere from Bloomington to Beverly Hills, our freedoms are doing just fine. The only thing that’s plagued is our religious imagination, that empathic quality necessary for envisioning a role for faith in public life. And that’s a big problem.

Consider the case of Indiana. The state’s law is a version of the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which that bearded zealot Bill Clinton signed into law in 1993 after it enjoyed the support of all but three members of the Senate. Indiana is the 20th state to pass a local version of the RFRA, as the act is commonly known, into law; it was preceded by hotbeds of religious extremism like Connecticut and Rhode Island. No one cared then; why should we care now?

Because, said the law’s opponents, Indiana’s version of RFRA extended religious protections to private disputes as well, which means, say, that if a pious pastry chef in Terre Haute is commissioned to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding, he could refuse on the grounds that his faith prohibits blessing gays with buttercream icing. To safeguard against such an alarming scenario, the state legislature, after much pressure, amended the law to exclude protections to anyone refusing “to offer or provide services, facilities, use of public accommodations, goods, employment, or housing” to anyone based on “race, color, religion, ancestry, age, national origin, disability, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or United States military service.”

It’s a soothing clarification, but one that may not have been altogether necessary. Under RFRA, anyone seeking protection on religious grounds has to prove that his or her core beliefs have been compromised. A Christian could compellingly argue, for example, that providing his employees with access to the morning-after pill stands in fundamental contradiction to his beliefs; this is what David Green, the owner of the Hobby Lobby chain of DIY stores, did in his now-famous—and successful—lawsuit. But search Corinthians as diligently as you will and you’re still not likely to find anything that might keep a florist from arranging a bouquet of peonies for two women who wish to exercise their state-given right and get married.

This isn’t to say that the original law’s purpose wasn’t to give weight to religious considerations when faced with other competing interests; writing in The Wall Street Journal, Indiana’s Gov. Mike Pence stated clearly that the law’s passage was influenced by the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby ruling. Nor is it to say that no business would ever use the new law—even with the existing amendment in place—to try and discriminate against customers, and some critics argue that the language of the Indiana law—covering religious freedoms that are “likely to be” compromised—is too vague. Still, federal and state public accommodations laws are likely to prove a major hurdle to any future attempts to invoke RFRA as a reason to refuse someone service, which may help explain why, in three decades of federal and state laws, such attempts have been without precedent. More important, any business practicing discrimination will face the ultimate arbiter, the market: In his op-ed, Gov. Pence wrote that he would never frequent a business that refused to serve gay customers, and it’s highly likely that many, many others, in Indiana and elsewhere, would feel the same way.

And yet, many wagged their fingers at Indiana this week, including the presumed Democratic presidential candidate, who came out publicly in support of gay marriage long years after so many of us took to the streets to march for this fundamental civil right. “Sad this new Indiana law can happen in America today,” Hillary Clinton tweeted. “We shouldn’t discriminate against ppl bc of who they love #LGBT.” That the law has nothing to do with love, and that it is far, at least for anyone with a dollop of intellectual honesty, from a clear act of discrimination against the LGBT community was beside the point.

Why, then, the uproar? You may want to look for clues in Alex Gibney’s Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief. The well-made film is a real-life thriller, and if you want to know whodunit you needn’t look further than its subtitle. The movie’s larger point isn’t that Scientology is particularly pernicious—although it goes to great lengths to portray its leader, David Miscavige, as a tiny, tanned tyrant—but rather that all faith is or may become so, what with its being so absolute and all. Scott Foundas, Variety’s chief film critic, reflected the same sentiment when he called Going Clear “a great film about the dangers of blind “faith”.

It’s a strange point to make about a film whose most prominent interviewees are longtime adherents of the faith who have chosen to leave the church. In lengthy, candid confessions, these men and women, even the ones with the biggest axes to grind, describe decades of faith that was anything but blind. They talk about feeling baffled by rituals, confused by the religion’s secret dogma, and put off by some of its more demanding practices. In other words, they sound exactly like every other current or former believer in America, struggling to balance the hawkish skepticism of modern life with the radical receptivity every religion requires as a precondition. Watching the documentary, you suspect that the only reason these lapsed believers are dramatically lit and seated in front of a camera is that their particular faith happens to have a relatively brief history; its foundational myths still haven’t hardened into gospel, and its originators have not yet transcended into sainthood.

You could subject any Mormon to allegations of a Founding Father suspected of charlatanism, accost any Catholic with tough questions about excommunication, and question any Jew about believing in a book filled with improbable miraculous stories. If Scientology seems strange to us, it’s because it’s still a religion busy being born, embryonic and turbulent and closely connected to its charismatic founding fathers. In this, it’s no different from any other religion, and like any other religion, it, too, should face scrutiny from outside observers wondering what it’s all about. And if it is indeed a major world religion destined to thrive millennia from now, such scrutiny will only make it stronger by forcing it to clearly define its practices and beliefs.

But any scrutiny ought also to be purposeful and respectful, not dismissive, and it should attempt to weigh Scientology on the same scale we use to take the measure of all other religions. The Scientological story about the evil galactic overlord Xenu and his atomic bombs—which the film presents as one of its most damning pieces of evidence against the religion—is not any more or less incredible than the tale of the Red Sea splitting in half or that bit about Moses summoning a downpour of frogs or any wonderful story about Jesus. Incredible stories are an indispensable part of religion; they challenge us to push past our reservations and into different planes of consciousness. Believers understand this, which is why even those of us who accept these tall tales process them first and foremost as metaphor. I can believe that my soul was physically present at Sinai and still read the story of the Exodus not as pure history but as a narrative designed to inspire me to contemplate liberty, justice, and oppression. And I can do all that while remaining committed to the standards of rational inquiry in other realms of life that do not involve the metaphysical. Faith does not turn its adherents blind; instead, it allows them to entertain several seemingly incompatible ideas, urging them to strike a balance between what they are willing to embrace a priori and what they demand to see empirically proven. This complexity is one of faith’s chief pleasures, but you wouldn’t know it from listening to those who can only imagine it as a prison.

Which brings us back to Indiana. Those alarmed over its RFRA legislation are vexed in part because they assume the worst about the men and women most likely to claim religious protection these days. In its editorial about the Indiana law, the New York Times was frank in admitting that the fault lies not in the law’s logic but in its likely champions: “Religious-freedom laws,” the Times wrote, “which were originally intended to protect religious minorities from burdensome laws or regulations, have become increasingly invoked by conservative Christian groups.” When you cannot imagine the faithful as anything but mindless boobs more likely to respond to coercion and hate than to reason, you’re likely to see the question of religious freedom not as an absolute good worthy of protection no matter who its benefactors but as just one component of a practical political worldview, colored by other considerations. This is why the Times—as well as many, one suspects, of those crying foul over the Indiana law—is willing to accuse local conservative legislators of harboring the most benighted schemes while simultaneously cheering on talks with the murderous theocracy in Iran. When professed in Indianapolis by domestic political opponents, religion is a tool of oppression. When expressed in Isfahan with calls of “Death to America,” it’s just a quaint cultural affectation.

It’s time we rejected this lazy relativism. Luckily, we’ve the perfect story of universal religious freedom coming our way this weekend at the Seder. May it, and the four mandatory glasses of wine required for its proper telling, leave us all a bit more imbued with divinely inspired empathy, imagination, and joy.

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See: http://tabletmag.com/jewish-news-and-politics/190030/faithless?utm_source=tabletmagazinelist&utm_campaign=4aa9285a62-Monday_April_6_20154_6_2015&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_c308bf8edb-4aa9285a62-206691737

Crucifixion and Resurrection: The Republican Warping of Christ’s Moral Lessons

Whether or not one believes in a god, Jesus Christ, or the Christian bible is irrelevant to basic humanity and caring for those in need

From: Politics USA

By: Rmuse

“All around the world today, multitudes of Christians are celebrating their opportunity for salvation and everlasting life because of their savior’s sacrifice to benefit all human kind. America is no different, but there are indications that many American Christians cannot bring it upon themselves to sacrifice anything for their fellow Americans in the present and it diminishes Christ’s sacrifice and the alleged altruism inherent in the meaning of Easter. The crucifixion and resurrection story are moral lessons for Christians that the greatest expression of love for fellow humans is sacrificing oneself to benefit all people, but the sentiments being manifest by the religious right and their Republican political leaders is more akin to the sinful greed and hate Christ condemned than his commandment to “love your neighbor as yourself.”

In the Christian bible, it says that “For god so loved the world that he gave his only son that everyone who believes in him might not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).  However, the bible also says that belief or faith in Jesus and his sacrifice is not sufficient to earn everlasting life and that a devotee must show their faith in Christ by following his example of having love for all human beings and expressing that love through charity and care for the least among us. In the New Testament, James, the alleged brother of Jesus Christ wrote that, “faith, if it does not have deeds, is dead in itself” and “faith without works is dead” (James 2:17, 26). The implication is that no matter how great one claims their belief and faith in Christ’s sacrifice is, without following his explicit commandments and examples of love for all people, it is better to have never known Christ or his sacrifice.

Every Christian has heard the bible’s stories of Christ’s directives to care for the poor and infirm even if it means caring for a hated enemy, and yet here are alleged Christians, supporting Republicans’ Draconian cuts to programs that feed, house, and provide healthcare for the poor, children, seniors, and minorities under the guise of fiscal conservatism and austerity to control the nation’s deficit. Even if the notion of reducing the deficit was sincere, Christ made no allusion to an exception for caring for the poor if a government needed help to control its deficit in the present or for future generations as Republicans are wont to claim. And yet, here are Christian conservatives in Congress and state legislatures slashing spending on food stamps, housing assistance, and healthcare for the poorest Americans and they have garnered support from the same Christians who assert their faith and belief in Christ and his ultimate sacrifice as payment for their eternal life. Christ had strong words for these so-called “Christians” and it did not include granting them everlasting life or praise for their rank greed and selfishness. Christ may as well have been speaking to 21st century Republicans, conservative Christians, and the religious right when he said, “Hypocrites, This people honors me with the lips, but their hearts are remote from me, and they adore me vainly, inculcating teachings that are commands of men” (Matt. 15:7-9).

The commands of Republicans to their loyal followers is to reward the wealthy at the expense of the poor, and they have convinced their “good Christian” adherents that it is virtuous to reject Christ’s admonition to help the poor as a requirement for being a good American. The conservative Christians supporting Republican Paul Ryan and Willard Romney’s budgets and economic plans have taken to heart not Christ’s teachings, but those of Ayn Rand and wealthy industrialists such as the Koch brothers and their think tanks that inculcate the proposition that instead of helping the least advantaged, Americans are duty-bound to heap the nation’s assets on the wealthy that Christ claimed would have great difficulty in profiting from his life-giving sacrifice.

There are millions of Christians who do not subscribe to the Republicans’ teachings that the wealthy deserve more sacrifices from Americans, and poll after poll demonstrate that, indeed, the majority of Americans believe the wealthy should share in sacrificing by contributing more to assist the poor and pay down the deficit. There are Christian clergy who have spoken out against the Republican Draconian cuts to programs for poverty-stricken Americans, and yet they have had as much success influencing conservative Christians as Secular Humanists who are closer to following Christ’s teachings than so-called Christian conservatives.

This is not necessarily an indictment of the Christian faith or all Christians,  because if its devotees followed Christ’s teachings exclusively and ignored the hate-filled exhortations of the apostle Paul and the Hebrew Scriptures’ god, then commentaries such as this would be unnecessary. But there are very few Christians who bifurcate Christ’s teachings of charity and assistance for the poor from the discriminatory, racist, and anti-woman dogmata inherent in the rest of the Christian bible, and it is the latter group that deludes themselves that Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection has any relevance in aiding their eternal life as believers and faithful followers of the Christian religion. Instead, these conservative Christians are the epitome of hypocrisy that Jesus cited for their “showy display” of lip service while their hearts are intent on rewarding the wealthy with ill-gotten gains from the poor, children, and senior citizens, and no amount of adoration for their savior, his instrument of death, or their claim of faithful devotion will save them.

Whether or not one believes in a god, Jesus Christ, or the Christian bible is irrelevant to basic humanity and caring for those in need, but when alleged followers of Christ offer their supreme devotion to Republicans who claim to be Christians while elevating the wealthy to god-status and eliminate crucial safety nets such as food, housing, and healthcare for the poor, they besmirch the Christian faith and the sacrifice of their avatar of goodness and love. However, as long as they clutch their bible to their bosom, do obeisance to the cross, and proclaim their faith in Jesus Christ, they are able to justify any actions that are contrary to Christ’s teachings. It leads one to wonder to what extent they really believe in his sacrifice on their behalf, and what reward they aspire to as adversaries of Christian charity and love for their fellow man, because their works belie faith in Christ’s sacrificial death and subsequent resurrection.

Republicans will always punish the poor to enrich the wealthy and no amount of Christian posturing or reverence for the bible will change their greed and contempt for Americans who are not wealthy. The Christians who are devoted to helping Republicans punish the poor are in the same calamitous position as their Republican heroes and one would think that at Easter, they would reflect and re-evaluate the meaning of sacrifice, but obviously they are consumed with bunny rabbits, tax cuts for the wealthy, and hatred for an African American sitting in the Oval Office. The lesson for Christians is simple; if they think that dressing up on Easter Sunday, coloring eggs, and acknowledging their savior’s death and resurrection guarantees them everlasting life at the same time they support the policies and hateful agenda of Republicans, their everlasting existence is about as likely as a Jewish man coming back to life after decomposing for three days in a tomb.”

Emphasis Mine

see:http://www.politicususa.com/easter-republican-christ/

5 Reasons the Religious Right Should Stop Whining About Being Persecuted

For decades Christian conservatives have claimed persecution. Their powerful hold on Washington tells a different story.

From: AlterNet

By: Rob Boston

“I’ve been writing about the Religious Right for nearly 25 years now, and one thing that never ceases to amaze me is when the leaders or supporters of these organizations claim they are being persecuted. Really? In a country that has a strong Christian culture and where at least 75 percent of the population professes some form of Christianity, it would seem odd that Christians would be persecuted. Yet the claim is made, constantly.

A new study on the power of religious advocacy groups in Washington by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life show yet again how absurd that claim is. Pew researchers examined 212 religious groups on the right and the left that engage in advocacy work in the nation’s capital. Their findings are illuminating. Anyone who believes the old saw that conservative Christians don’t have a voice in D.C. should take a look.  With that thought in mind, here are five reasons why the Religious Right should stop complaining about persecution:

1. Of the 10 largest religious advocacy groups in Washington, seven take the Religious Right line on most issues. 

Five of the top-10 groups (Family Research Council, Concerned Women for America, Home School Legal Defense Fund, Focus on the Family’s Citizenlink and the Traditional Values Coalition) are Religious Right organizations. The two other groups are the U.S. Catholic Conference of Catholic Bishops, which marches in lock step with the Religious Right on issues like abortion, same-sex marriage and taxpayer funding of religion, and the National Right to Life Committee, a more narrowly focused group that shares the Religious Right’s views on abortion. Marginalized movements don’t have this much representation in Washington.

2. These organizations raise a ton of money. 

The Pew report lists budget figures for each group examined. The numbers are staggering. In 2008, the Family Research Council, which, since the demise of the Christian Coalition has become the leading D.C.-based Religious Right group, took in more than $14 million. Concerned Women for America collected $12.5 million. Even the Traditional Values Coalition – a less prominent outfit run by gay-bashing minister Louis P. Sheldon and his daughter – raised $9.5 million. The figure for the Catholic bishops is even more impressive: $26.6 million. (Of course, not all of this money is spent on direct lobbying because these organizations advocate for their views in many ways.) Smaller Religious Right outfits didn’t make the top 10 but still raise considerable sums: the National Organization for Marriage brought in $8.5 million, and the American Life League raised $6.6 million. Remember anti-Equal Right Amendment crusader Phyllis Schlafly? Her Eagle Forum still exists. It raised $2.2 million in 2009.

If you add up the budgets of the seven conservative religious advocacy groups in the top 10, the figure tops $95 million. As infomercial pitchmen are fond of saying, “But wait, there’s more!” If you include budget figures for a few of the leading fundamentalist ministries (such as Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network and the empire created by the late Jerry Falwell), many of which are overtly political, and add in a handful of the top Religious Right legal groups, the numbers reach the stratosphere, exceeding $1 billion annually. No political movement that has control of that much cash can claim to be persecuted.

3. These organizations enjoy incredible access to legislators. 

Most advocacy groups woo lawmakers with money (through allied political action committees) or by implying that there are votes to be had among their respective constituencies. Some far-right religious groups can offer both. The Family Research Council, for example, runs several PACs, including a new super-PAC that, thanks to the Supreme Court, can raise unlimited funds to pour into races. Do politicians take notice? You bet. At last month’sValues Voter Summit” sponsored by the Family Research Council in Washington, both House Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor took time out to address the crowd, and every major GOP presidential candidate was there as well.

Religious groups that can’t or don’t sponsor PACs trade on their generally good image. Most Americans think well of religion but not so well of politicians. Savvy political leaders know that granting broad access to clerics just makes good sense. Some of that goodwill may rub off. If conservative Christians were being persecuted or were considered pariahs, politicians would hardly be tripping over themselves to be seen with them, would they?

4. Religious groups get special breaks when it comes to lobbying. 

Non-profit groups, whether on the left or the right, must abide by federal regulations that curb the amount of lobbying tax-exempt entities can do. They must also file disclosure reports that are available to the public, so it’s possible to see how much they are spending on attempts to influence legislators. But the purely religious groups – the denominations and church offices – are exempt from this rule. Thus, the Catholic bishops can drop a quarter of a billion or more on Capitol Hill without accounting for a dime.

Other denominations follow suit. Pew reports that the Southern Baptist Convention’s D.C. public policy office had a budget of $3.2 million in 2008. How much of that was spent on lobbying? No one knows because they aren’t required to say. A secular group that refused to disclose this information would quickly find itself in hot water with the federal government. Far from being persecuted, religious groups actually receive preferential treatment in this area.

5. Some religious groups have played the bigotry card to their advantage.

Religious Right groups have mastered the art of intimidating their opponents. Thus, anyone who dares to criticize groups for their anti-gay views is labeled a bigot who doesn’t believe in religious freedom. Anyone who offers spirited opposition to a right-wing religious group’s policy planks is accused of trying to keep that group from speaking out. This skillful manipulation of the language of victimology comes not from a truly oppressed minority but from those who have so much power that they’ve learned to game the system as a way of shutting down the opposition.

To these groups, religious freedom has a curious definition: It’s the right to force you to live by their religion. They have been wildly successful in putting across the idea that to speak against their political agenda is the same as speaking against their religion. No truly persecuted movement is this savvy in the game of politics.

Right-wing religious groups may claim persecution, but the numbers tell a different story. If you doubt this, just spend a day shadowing their employees in Congress, where, increasingly, they are greeted with warm smiles and open arms.

A final note in the spirit of full disclosure: The organization I work for, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, is number 15 on Pew’s list – even though we don’t consider ourselves a religious group. (AU is non-sectarian; some of our members are people of faith, but others are non-believers.) Our advocacy takes many forms – working with legislators, litigating in the courts and educating the public, to name a few. Sometimes we win battles, and sometimes we don’t. When we lose, we regroup to fight another day. We don’t whine that we’re being persecuted.

Rob Boston is senior policy analyst at Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

 

Emphasis Mine

see:http://www.alternet.org/story/153207/5_reasons_the_religious_right_should_stop_whining_about_being_persecuted?page=entire