January 25, 2011

In God Some Trust: Some Left Feeling Disenfranchised

Quarter Dollar with "In God we trust"
By Francis Nye

Lake Forest, California has become Orange County's 14th city to support placing the motto "In God We Trust" on the walls of its City Council chambers.

"It is the original motto to become part of our decoration," Councilwoman Marcia Rudolph said. "If we don't follow history we will be doomed to follow our mistakes."

I must admit I am not sure what this statement made by the councilwomen really means. What mistakes does she refer to? And is she saying that the motto, “In God we trust” is the original motto of the United States? What I do know, since I am an avid coin collector, that the motto was first used on our coinage in 1864. First appearing on the two-cent coin and since 1938, all coins have borne this motto.

The United States has had many mottos during the founding of the nation but “In God we trust” is not among them. Moreover, this motto does not appear in any of the founding documents of this nation. The earliest recorded record of this motto that I have found is from the final stanza of The Star-Spangled Banner. Written in 1814 by Francis Scott Key (and later adopted as the U.S. national anthem), the song contains an early reference to a variation of the phrase: "...And this be our motto: 'In God is our trust'.

The motto is opposed for a variety of reasons, but is still widely supported by a majority of Americans. According to a 2003 Gallup Poll, 90% of Americans approve of the inscription on U.S. coins. It is interesting to note that President Theodore Roosevelt took issue with placing the motto on coinage as he considered it sacrilegious to put the name of God on money.

Some critics contend that the motto's placement on money constitutes the establishment of a religion or a church by the government, thus violating the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment and the Separation of church and state. The motto was first challenged in Aronow v. United States in 1970, but the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled: "It is quite obvious that the national motto and the slogan on coinage and currency 'In God We Trust' has nothing whatsoever to do with the establishment of religion. Its use is of patriotic or ceremonial character and bears no true resemblance to a governmental sponsorship of a religious exercise." However I disagree. True the government is not selecting one religion over another however in the eyes of Atheists the government is giving its seal of approval on the very existence of a God. This is something that our founding fathers did not intend. They intended that the government stay out of ALL religious affairs.

The Lake Forest council voted, 3-2, in favor of installing the motto; Mayor Peter Herzog and Mayor pro tem Mark Tettemer voted against the idea.

Other cities including Brea, Rancho Santa Margarita, Mission Viejo, Buena Park, Fountain Valley, Huntington Beach, Tustin, Cypress, Yorba Linda, Westminster and San Clemente have voted to have "In God We Trust," displayed at their city halls.

Bakersfield’s Councilwoman Jacquie Sullivan has been working for nearly a decade to bring the words "In God We Trust" to city, county and state chambers across the country. In California, 75 cities and two counties – Imperial and San Bernardino – have added the motto.

I personally oppose this motto. It violates the principle of the separation of church and state. If the government asserts a religious identity, then the government exceeds the scope of its authority. The motto says “in God ‘WE’ trust” “We” all do not recognize the existence of God. So what are “We” really saying? If you do not believe in God you are not a true American. That you are some how unpatriotic, that you are not part of the American society. It makes one feel like an outsider in his own country. This motto itself is really an un-American statement when you think about it. It forces a way of life on an otherwise free society. Maybe the motto should be changed to say, “In God SOME trust” or “In God MOST trust” this is a more accurate and acceptable motto in my view. It doesn’t presume that all of us believe in God or that all of us are forced to believe against our free will.

I think a better national motto should be; “E pluribus unum” which translated from Latin is, “Out of many, one”. This motto is found on the reverse side of our currency. This is a more accurate statement regarding the United States. From many states or peoples we are one people; one people with a common identity; citizens of the Untied States.

I think Bruce Gleason founder of Backyard Skeptics, an atheists group may have said it best, "The motto may make you feel more righteous, but religion is best kept at a distance in a secular government."


January 18, 2011

Gov. Chafee Understands the Danger of Mixing Government and Religion

By Francis Nye

Bishop Thomas J. Tobin, of the Diocese of Providence in Rhode Island, took to his computer to complain about the decision by Governor Lincoln Chafee to not hold a prayer service before his inauguration. While saying that he is not surprised or disappointed in the decision, he spent about two pages lambasting the Governor’s rationale for not holding one.

Governor Chafee decided not to hold a public prayer service because, as his spokesman put it, the governor’s “point of view is that his inaugural day needs to respect the separation of church and state. Separation of church and state is an important constitutional principle.”

I agree with Governor Chafee.  Religion should have no government affiliation. Richard Shenkman an associate professor of history at George Mason University wrote in, I Love Paul Revere, Whether He Rode Or No the following, “…several of the first presidents, including Jefferson and Madison, generally refused to issue public prayers, despite importunings to do so.”

There is some solid logic in this idea of “separation of church and state”.  I think Henry Clay (12 April 177729 June 1852) who was a leading American statesman and orator that served in both the House of Representatives and Senate said it best when he said, All religions united with government are more or less inimical to liberty. All, separated from government, are compatible with liberty.”

Let’s look at a real world example of the dangers Mr. Clay alluded to if there was no separation of religion from government. Ms. Aasia Bibi, a mother of five, which has been sentenced to death under the Blasphemy Law by a court in the Nankana Sahib District of Punjab in Pakistan.Ms. Bibi is languishing in prison since 2008. A newspapers and human rights advocates said that she had been also paraded in the streets and gang-raped.

So, can this happen in the US?  If we as a people set aside the philosophy of separation of church and state that our founders envisioned then maybe it can.  If religion, any religion is left unchecked then it could influence lawmakers to enact laws taking away individual rights in favor of religious doctrine.  Situations like the Ms. Bibi example occur all over the world each day and not just in Pakistan.
As Thomas Jefferson so eloquently put it in a letter to Horatio G. Spafford, March 17, 1814:
“In every country and in every age, the priest has been hostile to liberty. He is always in alliance with the despot, abetting his abuses in return for protection to his own.”
Whether you believe the founders of this county to be religious people or not is really not relevant.  They knew the first hand dangers of allowing religion into government. 
James Madison said it best in 1803 when he said, “The purpose of separation of church and state is to keep forever from these shores the ceaseless strife that has soaked the soil of Europe in blood for centuries.”
I think Bishop Tobin should rethink his position and spend more time worrying about his flock than imposing his dogma on our elected officials.

January 11, 2011

David vs. O’Reilly

By Francis Nye

Anti-Religion Billboard
David Silverman, president of the American Atheist Group, went on The O'Reilly Factor to defend the billboard ads his group has put up around the country calling religion a scam.

Bill O'Reilly began by telling Silverman that his organization is insulting religious people, an accusation Silverman denied, insisting that his message was simply the truth so how could it be offensive. The conversation then took a strange turn as the host played what he believed to be his trump card of the why God exists.

O’Reilly argument as he puts it, “I'll tell you why [religion's] not a scam, in my opinion: tide goes in, tide goes out. Never a miscommunication. You can't explain that.”

Silverman was initially taken aback by this proof. To tell you the truth so was I. What does tide goes in, tide goes out mean?

O’Reilly goes on to further explain after seeing Silverman’s expression of confusion by that statement, “See, the water, the tide comes in and it goes out, Mr. Silverman. It always comes in, and always goes out. You can't explain that.”

Really? No one can explain how tides work? When O’Reilly stated he is not the smartest man in the room I think that spoke volumes about his intellect and the direction of this interview. The fact of the matter is, science has a very good explanation for why the tides occur on such a regular basis:
Tides are the rise and fall of sea levels caused by the combined effects of the gravitational forces exerted by the Moon and the Sun and the rotation of the Earth.

Most places in the ocean usually experience two high tides and two low tides each day (semidiurnal tide), but some locations experience only one high and one low tide each day (diurnal tide). The times and amplitude of the tides at the coast are influenced by the alignment of the Sun and Moon, by the pattern of tides in the deep ocean and by the shape of the coastline and near-shore bathymetry.

So you see it has everything to do with gravity and nothing to do with a man sitting on a cloud pulling the ocean to and fro each day in perpetuity.

It just slays me how people like Mr. O’Reilly can come up with the silliest proofs for the existence of God. Forget science and logical explanations. I often ask myself why would some believe such fantastic notions when physical, tangible, and logical proofs already exists for such things as ocean tides? Why is it easier for people to believe that an invisible man is pulling the oceans back and forth, to and fro everyday than it is to believe the moon and sun which are visible to everyone and are clearly at work here. Besides doesn’t God have better things to do than yank on water all day and night?

I must say O’Reilly is typical of a zealot. Throughout the interview he puts words in Silverman’s mouth and he mocks him personally. O’Reilly says that because the billboard states religion is a scam that Silverman and his group are insulting people. That is not what I took away from that sign when I saw it. I saw it as more of a warning about religion than an insult to its followers. O’Reilly insisted that Silverman was stating that people of faith are stupid. If O’Reilly would have shut his yap for a minute and let Silverman explain maybe he would have understood this.

Anti-Atheist Billboard
Silverman points out the fact that this country is filled with billboards that attack atheists. However, O’Reilly says that he has never seen any. I guess O’Reilly doesn’t get out much because I have seen them and there is no doubt those boards are insulting. For example the two billboards below come straight out and state that atheists are un-American. This is ridiculous when you think about it. I know of several famous patriotic American atheists. Men like Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Paine, and James Madison just to name a few.

Anti-Atheist Billboard

What I find really repulsive about the whole affair is O’Reilly is unwilling to listen to Silverman’s point of view and invited him on his show for what appears to be a false pretence. What is almost laughable is O’Reilly asks Silverman questions then he cuts him off when he starts to speak every time. It appeared to me that O’Reilly was not interested in what Silverman had to say on the subject of his billboards at all. It appeared O’Reilly was more interested in proselytizing to his viewers. A “Larry King” O’Reilly is not. At least King was interested in what is guests had to say when they were on his show.

O’Reilly doesn’t have to agree with anything Silverman has to say but he should at least extend him some basic courtesy and allow him to finish a sentence. Silverman for the most part allowed O’Reilly to speak. As much as atheists are criticized and made out to be barbarians by our society it looks as if in this case the non-believer had more manners and bearing than the believer. I think O’Reilly did more to show the unwillingness of people of faith to act in a civilized manner when it comes to what they believe in. That’s the way to win them over Bill.

January 4, 2011

Changing the Face of Christianity Inc.

By Francis Nye

Concerns about the face of Christianity have led a former atheist to form a non-profit to address the perceived hypocrisy of the church. The Texas-based non-profit Changing the Face of Christianity Inc. is a direct response to non-believers who believe all Christians are intolerant, judgmental, hypocritical and homophobic, explains its founder R. Brad White.
I know I am one of those who have been very derisive of Christianity.  Even to the point that I have myself been accused of hating Christianity.  This is not true of course.  I don’t hate Christianity. My incessant criticism stems from what Christianity has come to represent today. I feel it has come to represent doctrines and teachings that are designed to amass great wealth and power at the expense of society and to the detriment of mankind’s forward progress.  It smears the good works Jesus whose true intent was to better our relationship with God and our fellow human man.  Anything else is just window dressing for a very poorly articulated religion.
The actions of many Christian followers have caused a surge in non-believers, skeptics and agnostics; that now constantly label Christians in an unfavorable light. These labels are preventing others like me who where formally Christians from returning to the church.
White is quoted as saying, "Where if 75 percent of people were coming back in the past, 35 percent of people are coming back now".
With this, White created Changing the Face of Christianity, Inc. to be a resource to reform those spreading the negative stereotype and to educate younger Christians from following in their footsteps.  I was very impressed with his message that I found on his internet site: changingthefaceofchristianity.com
White's insights are not new however. Dan Kimball opines in the beginning of his book, They Like Jesus but Not the Church, that the emerging generation is spiritually open to talk about Jesus but are very disinterested in joining or being associated with church.
White has taken the argument a step further and states that church members and leaders have blatantly turned off followers by "hating the sin and the sinner." He said this is most evident with homosexuality. Church leaders have mixed the Bible with politics to condemn homosexuals for their lifestyles.
Though the sentiment may be based on the Bible, he noted, "The things we say and the way we say them turn them off."
According to a 2008 survey by LifeWay Research, 72 percent of un-churched Americans believe the church is full of hypocrites. An earlier LifeWay survey also revealed that 17 percent of those who formerly attended church left because they felt church members "seemed hypocritical" and "were judgmental of others.”
Changing the Face of Christianity is focused on launching an awareness and education campaign to help Christians reverse the negative stereotypes. The nonprofit is designed to “save the Christian religion from self-destruction, by helping Christians become more like Jesus Christ.”
I think it is a step in the right direction that someone in the inside is finally and publicly admitting that there is a problem.  I wish all of them the best of luck in their endeavors.  This is will be a steep uphill climb fraught with many conflicting points of view as the ones in power will not willingly have their message diverted.  Christianity has been tainted with bad dogma, out right deception and bad practices for many centuries.  It will be interesting to see if this non-profit is up to the task of washing away all the blood of innocents and ill will that has marred today’s Christians.  This is such a daunting task hopefully it will not prove a folly in the making.