Boys & Girls Club of the North

Fundraising for the BGCNorth will continue until the end of the Month. We have received a grant of $1,000 from the Non-Belief Relief fund (NBR) of the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) in support of this effort and want to increase the total donation we can make to the BGCNorth as much beyond that as possible. We are asking all GRAF members and friends of GRAF to consider making a contribution to GRAF for this effort. You can send your donation check made out to GRAF to our Treasurer:

Julie Legg
43854 Nature Ave.
PO Box 67
Palisade, MN 56469

Helping the BGCNorth get off the ground this fall is one of the most direct actions we can take as a service organization to this area of Minnesota. You can learn about the BGCNorth mission by visiting their website at: https://bgcnorth.org/grg/.

Please give this serious consideration and help us make a big impact.

Our monthly meeting for January 24, 2017 – Religion evolves?

This is the first post about the content of our monthly meeting in quite some time. Meetings in the recent past have focused on live presentations and discussions which were difficult to present in written format, but the most recent meeting featured discussion about the video embedded below.

The topic was the differences between christian churches representing different denominations and displaying very different views of what is important. Many churches cling to a very fundamentalist orientation while others have more flexible and “modern” versions of the dogma, rituals and atmosphere. Yet most of them are seeing a continued decline in membership as the number of people claiming no particular religious affiliation continues to grow. The “nones” as they are typically described don’t necessarily lose all their faith, they just don’t find church involvement to be particularly important.

In this environment, many churches are seeking answers as to how they should change or evolve to make themselves relevant for the future. This has often led them toward increasingly liberal positions on issues such as women’s rights, gay rights, etc. This evolution has been slow and sometimes painful as membership can decline further when members find the liberal positions less to their liking.

At our meeting we watched a video made in 2013 in which the pastor of a church in Toronto, Ontario Canada responds to question about here decision to define herself as an atheist and the difficulties reconciling this with the members of her church. While many left, others have stayed and the church has continued to explore its new role as a welcome place for those who have no faith or have a very limited faith.

The West Hill United Church of Canada has now begun exploring joining the Oasis program which connects other churches or groups embracing a secular humanist view and seeking to redefine Sunday morning services as serving a primarily humanistic purpose. We shall see if this evolution helps to preserve their existence or if they are just another step on the extinction of religion.

Vyckie Garrison – Quiverfull – Our monthly meeting on July 28, 2015

Vyckie Garrison has been steadily making a name for herself by launching a website and making presentations at national secular conferences on the topic of the “Quiverfull Movement”. The website is named “No Longer Quivering” and is a support service for mostly women who have managed to “escape” from the movement.

For those who don’t recognize the phrase, Quiverfull is the name given to a non-denominational group of people that seek to live a completely “biblical” life as in the Christian bible. In practice this means that they establish their families as complete patriarchies where the husband holds all the power and the wife is expected to produce as many children as possible. The most famous family in this group are the Duggers who managed to get a reality TV show contract and have been making tons of money by exploiting their family relationships and children as they extoll the Quiverfull lifestyle. They currently have 19 children. Most recently however, they have lost their show because it was discovered that one of their older children had been abusing more than one of his younger sisters and another girl from a different family. Now I may see this as a reflection of the reality of the bible given the stories about characters like Noah, but Christian types see it as a nasty embarrassment.

At this meeting we watched two different videos. In the first “The Patriarch’s Wife”, Vyckie describes her life as a quivering wife and how her marriage represented a classical abusive relationship in which her husband was acting as an abuser by simply following the patriarchal dictates of Jesus.

In the second video titled “Fertile Ground”, Vyckie goes over the basic theology of the Quiverfull movement to show how it is built on the interpretation of the bible present in many fundamentalist sects within the Christian community. The church itself lays the foundation for giving yourself up to a vision of life which was literally life threatening to Vyckie herself and destructive of the lives of many of the women caught in the cult.

All in all, a disturbing picture of what a blind commitment to religious dogma can do to families and an encouraging story of how Vyckie is seeking to help others, like herself, who wish to escape.

Why Can’t I Own a Canadian?

Let’s be honest, the religious in this country have an awful habit of cherry-picking from the Bible in order to add authority to whatever powerfully wrong claim they are making at the time.  Faced with this idiocy, I must assume that we’ve all wanted to call them on their crap, or take their arguments to absurd levels.

Well, someone did.

In response to Dr. Laura Schlessinger, an Orthodox Jew at the time, citing homosexuality’s evil by quoting Leviticus, an unknown person wrote an incredibly snarky letter that went on to become an internet meme.

We know not who wrote this letter, and I find it irresponsible to throw in the names of commonly assumed  perpetrators, but here is the letter in full (copied and pasted from RationalWiki).

 

Dear Dr. Laura:

Thank you for doing so much to educate people regarding God’s Law. I have learned a great deal from your show, and try to share that knowledge with as many people as I can. When someone tries to defend the homosexual lifestyle, for example, I simply remind them that Leviticus 18:22 clearly states it to be an abomination. End of debate. I do need some advice from you, however, regarding some of the other specific laws and how to follow them:

When I burn a bull on the altar as a sacrifice, I know it creates a pleasing odor for the Lord – Leviticus 1:9. The problem is my neighbors. They claim the odor is not pleasing to them. Should I smite them?

I would like to sell my daughter into slavery, as sanctioned in Exodus 21:7. In this day and age, what do you think would be a fair price for her?

I know that I am allowed no contact with a woman while she is in her period of menstrual uncleanliness – Leviticus 17:19-24. The problem is, how do I tell? I have tried asking, but most women take offense.

Leviticus 25:44 states that I may indeed possess slaves, both male and female, provided they are purchased from neighboring nations. A friend of mine claims that this applies to Mexicans, but not Canadians. Can you clarify? Why can’t I own Canadians?

I have a neighbor who insists on working on the Sabbath. Exodus 35:2 clearly states he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated to kill him myself?

A friend of mine feels that even though eating shellfish is an abomination – Leviticus 11:10, it is a lesser abomination than homosexuality. I don’t agree. Can you settle this?

Leviticus 21:20 states that I may not approach the altar of God if I have a defect in my sight. I have to admit that I wear reading glasses. Does my vision have to be 20/20, or is there some wiggle room here?

Most of my male friends get their hair trimmed, including the hair around their temples, even though this is expressly forbidden by Leviticus 19:27. How should they die?

I know from Leviticus 11:6-8 that touching the skin of a dead pig makes me unclean, but may I still play football if I wear gloves?

My uncle has a farm. He violates Leviticus 19:19 by planting two different crops in the same field, as does his wife by wearing garments made of two different kinds of thread (cotton/polyester blend). He also tends to curse and blaspheme a lot. Is it really necessary that we go to all the trouble of getting the whole town together to stone them? – Leviticus24:10-16. Couldn’t we just burn them to death at a private family affair like we do with people who sleep with their in-laws? (Leviticus 20:14)

I know you have studied these things extensively, so I am confident you can help. Thank you again for reminding us that God’s word is eternal and unchanging.

Your devoted fan,

Jim

 

Hope you all enjoy the snark.

Gay Marriage Legal!

It’s about time, but the Supreme Court finally did the right thing and ruled that marriage between GLBT people is legal.  Because this is a human rights issue, this is a victory not just for the GLBT community, but for all humans.

And for those conservative Christians who predicted the end of civilization if this happened, I now boldly predict that they will be proven wrong.

Duck Dynasty Dips**t

Phil Robertson is a bearded waste of flesh disguised as a cuddly Southern patriarch by the A&E show “Duck Dynasty.”  Fanatically Christian, Robertson has come under fire for the foul (foul/fowl pun not intended) comments he has made in the past about Muslims and gays, but I think his most recent comments take the cake.

Warning, these comments are graphic.

“Two guys break into an atheist’s home. He has a little atheist wife and two little atheist daughters. Two guys break into his home and tie him up in a chair and gag him. And then they take his two daughters in front of him and rape both of them and then shoot ’em. And they take his wife and then decapitate her head off in front of him. And they can look at him and say, ‘Isn’t it great that I don’t have to worry about being judged? Isn’t it great that there’s nothing wrong with this? There’s no right or wrong, now is it dude?’ ”

He continues with:

“Then you take a sharp knife and take his manhood and hold it in front of him and say, ‘Wouldn’t it be something if this was something wrong with this? But you’re the one who says there is no God, there’s no right, there’s no wrong, so we’re just having fun. We’re sick in the head. Have a nice day.’ If it happened to them, they probably would say, ‘Something about this just ain’t right.’ ”

These comments were made at a prayer breakfast in Florida (it’s time to let that state go) about the supposed need for religious rules.  The problem is that all this does is prove that Robertson is a psychopath.  Seriously, what kind of man thinks about this kind of stuff?  It’s horrible; Salon, the Huffington Post, and Patheos have all slammed him for these horrendous comment, but Breitbart came to his defense, insisting that he was just making a parable (though they consented that it was extreme) and that the attacks on him are “ignorant” and “bigoted.”

Seriously, decent people slamming this scum for commenting on the torture of a man, the murder of his wife, and the rape and murders of his daughters are bigoted for being good people?  And what kind of mind-fucked asshole decides that his parable needs child rape to make a point!?

To put it more plainly: if you need to bring up rape–whether it be of a man, woman or child–to make your point, then your point is wrong.

Fascinating

Idaho.  It’s a fantastic state, the land of potatoes and…um, well there’s, no that’s, that’s not…but there’s, uh.

Well, that’s unimportant.  You see, a bit of hilarity has come creeping from the land of spuds, an odd little factoid about the state legislature.  Republican State Representative Vito Barbieri supports a bill that would prevent doctors from prescribing abortion medication through telemedicine.  Ostensibly, this is to protect women who may have negative side-effects from the medications, though lawmakers are in no way shy about admitting that this is just another step in making abortions harder to come by in Idaho.

In 2013, the then-Representative Ron Mendive asked if the American Civil Liberties Union if their pro-abortion stance also meant they supported prostitution.  That snippet was to show you what living in a state where, apparently, no one gives any fucks whatsoever about the concept of correlation.

While hearing testimony from a doctor who opposed the bill, and who had just made an anecdotal statement about how colonoscopies may utilize cameras to better give doctors an idea of what’s going on, Rep. Vito Barbieri asked the question–and I shall directly quote here–“Can this same procedure then be done in a pregnancy? Swallowing a camera and helping the doctor determine what the situation is?”

The doctor, presumably trying to hide her astonishment at the rampant idiocy of this man, replied that swallowed objects do not find their way into the vagina.

“Fascinating. That makes sense.”

Rep. Barbieri later tried to pass off this comment as rhetorical, but I don’t believe this spud-muncher for a second.  Not only is the comment asinine in context (the context supposedly being that he wanted to show the lack of correlation between a colonoscopy and an abortion) but it fits with the complete lack of knowledge of female anatomy Republicans so eagerly trot out.  I’m not saying this is on the level of Todd Akin’s belief that vaginas have shields against dishonest sperm (which may just be the nicest way of summarizing his legitimate rape claims) but it completely fits the prevailing theme with Republicans that, when it comes to how the female body operates, they have no fucking clue what they’re talking about.

Conversations with the CPC – 4 and 5

As the title conveys, I’ve gotten behind on my reporting about our discussions with folks at the Community Presbyterian Church (CPC). Our 4th meeting took place in January and the 10th in February. Our 6th meeting is scheduled for March 10th. The content of meetings 4 and 5 was rather similar, but the participants were a little different so I will cover both with this post.

in January, we decided to discuss a list of values that could be agreed upon by both secular humanists and progressive religionists. The list had been created by Herb Silverman representing the secular perspective and the editor of the paper in Charleston, South Carolina where they both live.

While we could find some changes in the wording that we might prefer, there was reasonable consensus that most of the list reflected ideas we found as  a positive expression of our core perspective. We even found that many of us arrived at the same position by similar processes of examining the world and applying reason to ideas we found to express a positive, affirmative and humanistic orientation toward our fellow humans. Religion did not need to be a driving force in that process to get to the same place.

Having found, yet again, that we could avoid disagreement, we decided to expand the group to include a more diverse representation of religion and additional secular views from more GRAF members. That became the 5th meeting on February 10th. A storm on that night left us with a smaller group than planned, but we had two people from the Baha’i group in Grand Rapids and someone with a Jewish background, but not actively practicing that faith. The new assistant pastor at CPC was included as well. Some CPC members who had missed many of the earlier meetings, rejoined the group and were reintroduced along with the new members.

The expansion brought in some different perspectives, but not a lot of differences of opinion about the list of humanistic values. One of the Baha’is brought in comments that had been posted by someone claiming to be familiar with attitudes in east Texas. The vitriol and intolerance expressed in those comments either by the author or his neighbors, was enough to lead us to wonder if there was any hope for connecting with similar people sharing similar anti-humanistic values locally. One CPC member shared an experience trying to talk with a group of women from the local NRA gun group. Their close minded attitude regarding guns left him feeling that it was hopeless and did not bode well at all for trying to get more inclusive in our conversation with people similarly closed in their perceptions relating to belief and non-belief.

For our next meeting they accepted my suggestion that we read and discuss David Brooks article published on February 3rd in the NY Times on “Building Better Secularists“. This article was intended as a response to the rapidly growing number of younger people who decline to report any religious affiliation. Brooks feels there is a risk for our broader society is these “nones” do not find ways to replace what they have lost in giving up on religion. I presented this as an issue on which we might find grounds for at last finding disagreement without necessarily discovering that we could no longer feel comfortable in our conversation together. Several prominent atheists have already taken Brooks to task for his ideas and others have been more accepting of his view. Plenty of room for differences among all the CPC participants.

Subsequently in conversation with some of the GRAF participants, there was concern that maybe we were avoiding all the huge obstacles between us or that we were talking to people who really didn’t believe the faith claims either. Maybe they just enjoyed being part of the church. So they might all be atheists but for the name. It may be that we are in fact discovering the “dirty little secret” that interfaith dialogues are successful only to the degree that they avoid faith altogether. Faithiests like Chris Stedman may just be fooling themselve by never bringing up the giant elephant in the corner. They imagine good feelings, but ignore what all the pleasantness hides. I don’t think that will be true of our group in the long run. I’m very certain that some of them will vigorously defend their religious beliefs and notions of faith if pressed. And finding those points that can’t be resolved may be the ultimate test of whether the conversation can be held together or not.

With that in mind I’ve decided to supplement the Brooks article with a piece by Gregory Paul that describes the failing status of churches in much of the world including the U.S., wHich underlies the rise in secular numbers. They aren’t just not religious, they’ve actively left the churches. Why and what does it suggest for the future of the church and religion? An article I recently saw regarding attendance at Catholic Churches suggests that no more than 15% of supposed Catholics attend mass on any Sunday. That can’t be good for the church. It also noted that most of that 15% consisted of the elderly.

A second article by Paul and Phil Zuckerman, summarizes the research that shows secular countries like Denmark and Sweden, have much healthier societies than the U.S. We know that various political and social events led to the development of these more robust safety nets and support in these countries, but why did that also result in a drastic decline in religiosity? What does it say about the role religion plays? What will progressive religionists say about their religions? Is it really just a salve for untreated social harm and not a real help at all?

I know that some in the group will be a bit more uncomfortable with this direction since it challenges them to consider the idea that improving our country’s  care and support for its citizens would further hasten the loss of those who feel obligated to believe. Atheists can claim it’s not our fault that your faith could be irrelevant and people are figuring that out. We could keep quiet and it would likely happen anyway. The very humanistic values you agreed you supported and shared with us are the ones that may ultimately lead to the extinction of faith if we put them into action. Somewhat ironic I suppose.

 

 

Thomas Paine on Christianity

This blog has been sort of “dead” of late, so I was trying to think of something to post in the interest of keeping it going.

Over at Smilodon’s Retreat on the Skeptic Ink, network, there is a post on Thomas Paine and his views on religion.  The author of the post has apparently been in discussions with Christians regarding the so-called “Founding Fathers” and their religious views, and, not surprisingly, many religionists claimed that leading members of the Revolutionary Generation were Christians.  The Smilodon author checked for himself, and was particularly intrigued with what Thomas Paine had to say about Christianity.  He included a link to some of Paine’s writings, and I thought it might be useful to add a Paine quote to this blog.  So here it is:

“Of all the systems of religion that ever were invented, [190] there is none more derogatory to the Almighty, more unedifying to man, more repugnant to reason, and more contradictory in itself, than this thing called Christianity. Too absurd for belief, too impossible to convince, and too inconsistent for practice, it renders the heart torpid, or produces only atheists and fanatics. As an engine of power, it serves the purpose of despotism; and as a means of wealth, the avarice of priests; but so far as respects the good of man in general, it leads to nothing here or hereafter.”

Atheist Ten Commandments

Over at WEIT, there is a post (by Grania) regarding proposed “atheist ten commandments.”  It should immediately be pointed out that these are not meant as “commandments” in anything like a religious sense, but rather as items of discussion; I think they are good in that regard.  Anyway, since we have been discussing shared values with the CPC folks (and even though that discussion has already taken place), I thought they might be worth re-posting here.

What does everyone think?

Atheist Ten Commandments