The Selfish Get to Live as Angels, and All Good People Will Be Damned

December 24, 2019

Amanda Marcotte explains how the word “Christian,” when used by today’s conservatives, has little to do with faith, and a lot to do with whiteness:

Trump has simply revealed the large majority of white evangelical Christians for who they are: Not people motivated by sincere faith, but people who see “Christian” primarily as an identity marker that accompanies being white, a disdain for urban or metropolitan areas, and their self-identification as “conservative.” All of which is used to justify their belief they and members of their tribe are the only legitimate Americans, and deserve to hold and wield a vastly disproportionate share of political power.

Paul A. Djupe writes at the Washington Post about research he did with Ryan Burge on what exactly white evangelicals are so afraid of:

… we found that 60 percent believed that atheists would not allow them First Amendment rights and liberties. More specifically, we asked whether they believed atheists would prevent them from being able to “hold rallies, teach, speak freely, and run for public office.” Similarly, 58 percent believed “Democrats in Congress” would not allow them to exercise these liberties if they were in power.

Long story short, it’s not true. However…

… we found that a smaller proportion of white evangelicals would behave with tolerance toward atheists than the proportion of atheists who would behave with tolerance toward them. … White evangelical Protestants express low levels of tolerance for atheists, which leads them to expect intolerance from atheists in return. That perception surely bolsters their support for Trump. They believe their freedom depends on keeping Trump and his party in power.

Meet Matt Shea, Washington State Representative, anti-government militant, aspiring secessionist, and, I dunno, god-emperor of the Pacific Northwest? The New York Times profiles this, um, guy, who is ready and eager for civil war:

The documents called for setting up sheriff’s posses, community kitchens, a “militia-based military” and communications carried out by ham radio operators. The planners called for “constitutional changes” to “sanctify to Jesus Christ” in the new government. … the group also gathered military manuals on how to operate various weapons, such as an AT4 antitank weapon.

Jack Jenkins at RNS watches as Christians of various stripes lob Bible verses at each other in order to support or defend Trump. Here’s a good point from R. Marie Griffith, director of the John C. Danforth Center on Religion and Politics:

“I don’t remember hearing a lot of prayer talk around the impeachment of Bill Clinton — on either side but especially the Left — or in relation to the crimes of Richard Nixon,” she said. “There does seem to be something new about public talk regarding ‘prayerfulness’ among liberals as it relates to something so seemingly secular as impeachment.”

Christian ministers in Tennessee are arguing that same-sex marriages issued in the state are actually invalid because the state constitution doesn’t say anything about same-sex marriages, apparently unaware that Tennessee is part of a federal union with superseding jurisdiction.

Emily McFarlan Miller talks to Anne Klaeysen of the New York Society for Ethical Culture about how one might take secular meaning from the various religious traditions of the season:

The Christmas story, I think, can be interpreted as being inclusive when you think about the magi, the story of these kings coming from different nations. There’s that sense of offering a gift to the world, a light unto the world. I think the story of Jesus is certainly one of being inclusive because he’s breaking from tradition. […] there’s the humility of it, being born in a manger and having the shepherds and all the different animals. There is such a wonderful message there about the humility of it and that it reaches out to everyone. I think that’s why it’s such a powerful narrative or powerful story for everybody.

Rudy Giuliani is more Jew than any Jew, apparently:

Don’t tell me I’m anti-Semitic if I oppose [George Soros]. Soros is hardly a Jew. I’m more of a Jew than Soros is. I probably know more about — he doesn’t go to church, he doesn’t go to religion — synagogue.

Yes, he doesn’t go to religion. I know windmills very much. I can has cheeseburger. All your base are belong to us.

Tom Whyman at The Outline laments the religion of billionaire-worship:

… in capitalism, even if atonement — and salvation — is denied to God, it is not denied to billionaires. The fact is, today’s billionaires really do have everything that Christ once promised those who follow him: through their wealth, they can feel assured of eternal life — their names forever resplendent on those of higher education institutions; new wings of hospitals; art collections. Through their wealth, they can afford to access — although perhaps few do — something like paradise on earth. …

… Every billionaire is thus more than a simple failure of policy. Every billionaire is evidence of a basic glitch in the fabric of the moral universe: their lives, and acts, ring out with the gospel that only what we call evil will be rewarded — that the selfish get to live as angels, and all good people will be damned. Challenging capitalism also means challenging its religion.

At the Post, education professor Adam Laats of Binghamton University says historians may be able to save us from [gestures around] all this by becoming more involved in public discourse. He uses the battles of creationism as a case in point:

. . . the history of creationism’s culture wars also offers a ray of hope. Over the course of decades, creationist attempts to insert religiously motivated “creation” science into public schools have been met with defeat after defeat. In 1968, the Supreme Court ruled that evolution could not be banned from public schools. Influenced by a statement signed by 179 leading scientists, Justice Abe Fortas concluded that banning a scientific idea for religious reasons went against the grain of “the modern mind.” Decades later, in 2005, another federal judge ruled that creationist intelligent-design ideas could not be included in public-school science classes. Like Fortas, Judge John E. Jones III ruled that creationist science could be ruled out of bounds because of its roots as a religious, not scientific idea.

Historians can bring this attitude into our current debates. They must move aggressively — not just exhort Americans to study the past, but help the public to dismantle historical interpretations that have been bent and twisted the past to support short-term political convenience. Further, historians must explain to Americans that historical interpretations change over time as scholars dig into archives and discover more about the past.

At The Conversation, Jaimie Arona Krems and Jordan W. Moon look at why people seem to distrust atheists, and according to their research, it may not be just about religion, but perceptions about their love lives:

To determine whether this inference that atheists are sexually uncommitted actually caused distrust, we conducted a second experiment. We recruited 445 U.S. participants and showed them the same profiles, but with one additional piece of information: The person in the profile was also described as keen to either “get married” or “play the field.”

Adding this scant bit of information about sexual behavior – “dating preferences” – was enough to override the assumptions people made about atheists. Atheists who wanted to “get married” were thought to be just as trustworthy as religious people, and they were thought to be even more trustworthy than religious people who wanted to “play the field.”

Statistically, a person’s dating preferences explained approximately 19.7% of participants’ trustworthiness ratings – a fairly large effect for social sciences. By contrast, the person’s religiosity explained less than 1%.

Former Scientific American editor Mark Alpert wonders whether science can actually “rule out” God, and of course quantum theory gets into the mix:

To spur humanity’s search for meaning, we should prioritize the funding of advanced telescopes and other scientific instruments that can provide the needed data to researchers studying fundamental physics. And maybe this effort will lead to breakthroughs in theology as well. The pivotal role of observers in quantum theory is very curious. Is it possible that the human race has a cosmic purpose after all? Did the universe blossom into an untold number of realities, each containing billions of galaxies and vast oceans of emptiness between them, just to produce a few scattered communities of observers? Is the ultimate goal of the universe to observe its own splendor?

Susan Jacoby writes at the New York Times that another massive threat looms that, like climate change, there is a lot of denial about. Oldness:

The problem is not just the shortcomings of Medicare, or the inadequate savings of many Americans, or the absence of effective treatment for Alzheimer’s. It is all of those things. …

… No single “program” can deal with the intimate, painful problems associated with the growing proportion of old people who experience long but not necessarily healthy lives. Facing our own fears about what it means to grow old, without resort to soothing euphemisms, is the essential psychological shift that all Americans must make before we can meet the deadline to create a better reality for the old and their families.

According to Forum 18, a Norwegian group that supports religious freedom (the real kind), a pro-Russian chunk of Ukraine that has declared itself an independent state is banning Baptist books in a “secret document for official use and for limited distribution.” Why? Because they’re “extremist”:

In March 2019 officials raided Protestant Sunday meetings for worship, and in April raided the Ukrainian Orthodox Church’s Holy Trinity Cathedral in Luhansk, diocesan offices, and the homes of two priests, taking priests away for interrogation. Such raids have involved the planting by raiders of allegedly “extremist” material, as happened during a February 2019 raid on an independent Baptist Church. Throughout 2019, after raids Protestant pastors have been fined and had property confiscated for leading meetings for worship without state permission.

Baba Ram Dass, the new age guru, dies at 88.

Is Frozen 2 pro-homeopathy? If so, all is lost.

Here’s a lovely correction tweeted by the Jerusalem Post:

To clarify, the International Cricket Council was inadvertently tagged in the above tweet. They did not accuse Israel of war crimes, but rather the International Criminal Court (@IntlCrimCourt) made the statement.

Good to know!

Merry Christmas! We brought you six new exoplanets! That are being vaporized by their stars. Never mind. I hope you saved the receipt.

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