Sunday, October 22, 2006

The Heart of Catholicism - Part 2

The CurĂ© of Ars church in Merrick, which recently was host to the heart of a French priest who died more than a century ago, is in the news once again. Newsday reports that the church received complaints regarding a pamphlet displayed in its literature racks titled “Homosexuality & Hope”. According to the brochure, homosexuality is a disorder that is preventable with psychotherapy and lists possible causes of homosexuality in at-risk children.

Father Charles Mangano, the same priest who was so thrilled to have the heart of Father Vianney in his bedroom as he slept, said he had ordered the pamphlet from the Catholic Medical Association in response to “a parishioner seeking guidance during a sexual identity crisis.”

"The content of this pamphlet was intended to offer direction to those who are struggling with their sexual identity and those seeking guidance and conformity with the teaching of the church," Mangano told Newsday. In response to the complaints received, Mangano pulled the pamphlets from the church’s literature racks.

As a former Catholic and current atheist, I am of two minds on this issue. I believe the church was wrong for displaying the “Homosexuality & Hope” pamphlets. Yet at the same time, the Catholic Church is what it is. Those who belong to the Catholic Church believe that it embodies the teachings of Jesus and the will of God, and that God’s truth is contained in that collection of books known as the Bible. The teachings and commandments of the church are not like a cafeteria menu where you can pick and choose which ones you will accept and obey and ignore the ones that go against your values. The same holds true for any other Christian church, as well as religions such as Judaism and Islam.

Face it, if you are gay and consider yourself to be a Catholic, then you have a problem. The Catholic Church considers homosexual conduct to be a sin and an abomination, and that homosexuality is a disorder that is treatable with psychotherapy. Either you choose to be a Catholic and not engage in homosexual conduct, or you really need to reconsider if the Catholic Church is for you.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

The Jesus Project - Part Two

During the course of my readings of the Gospels to find teachings of Jesus that had some validity for me, I also could not help but make certain observations about the Gospels themselves.

One thing that struck me in particular when reading about Jesus’ peregrinations throughout Judea and Galilee was the numbers of demons that he is reported to have encountered. In Matthew 8:14, Jesus is staying at the house of Peter and “many who were demon possessed were brought to him.” A little further on, in Matthew 8:28-32, Jesus encounters two demon possessed men in the region of the Gaderenes. In Matthew 9:32-33, a demon possessed man is brought to Jesus and another demon-possessed man is brought to him in Matthew 12:22, though it seems to be a repeat of Matthew 9:32-33. Another demon encounter is described in Luke 4:33-34. There are other examples, but I think you get the point.

For a land that is supposed to be God’s Holy Land, it seems that there were an awful lot of demons roaming the countryside. In Mark 3:14, Jesus even gives his disciples “authority to drive out demons.” Apparently, there were more demons than even HE could handle! Heck, the Galilee must have been the demon capital of the world, if the Gospels are really to be believed.

Of course, this begs the question, if Christians believe that the Gospels are true stories and the Holy Land was infested with demon possessed people, then why isn’t the land filled with demon possessed people today? Or are we to believe that Palestinian suicide bombers are really possessed by demons rather than by a cold blooded and callous certainty that they are striking a blow for their cause regardless of how many innocent Israeli civilian lives they destroy?

Other Christians will probably say that the people described in the Gospels as being possessed by demons really suffered from mental illnesses such as schizophrenia and that Jesus was really healing these mental illnesses. The people who suffered from these mental disorders were believed by their contemporaries to be possessed by demons because these disorders were not medically diagnosed during the time of Jesus. This then begs the question as to why Jesus is not quoted in the Gospels as telling his followers that people reportedly suffering from demon possession in fact had psychiatric problems. After all, if Jesus was really the son of the all-knowing and all-powerful Creator of the Universe, surely he must have known this to be the case. Imagine how many skeptics today could have been convinced that Jesus really was divine if Jesus was quoted in the Gospels educating his disciples about schizophrenia. Instead, we are treated to parables about how the Kingdom of Heaven is like a mustard seed.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

The Jesus Project - Part One

This is the first in a series of posts I will be writing regarding my thoughts about the Jesus of the Gospels, covering such topics as the things he is alleged to have said, the deeds he is alleged to have done, how his personality in the Gospels is different from how he is represented in movies, art, and so forth.

For the first installment of my Jesus project, I read the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John and highlighted in green the sayings of Jesus that I consider to be meaningful moral teachings. As an atheist, I wanted to re-examine the teachings of Jesus and see whether I could find anything in his teachings that was relevant to me. Specifically, what I was looking for were things that Jesus said that if practiced in real life made one a better person and/or promoted decency and justice in society.

To my surprise, I did not find very much that I considered worth highlighting. And much of what I did deem worthy is repeated in at least one other Gospel. The version of the Bible I relied upon is the New International Version. Here is what did make the cut:

1. “Be careful not to do your acts of righteousness before men to be seen by them” and “So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets to be honored by men.” (portions of Matthew 6:1-2). Of course, I do not believe that one’s charitable works or good deeds should always be kept a secret, because by making good deeds known, the doer can serve as an example to inspire others. But we all know where Jesus is coming from here. He is talking about people who publicize their good deeds because they are really just trying to draw attention to themselves. For example, if Paris Hilton publicly donated $100,000 to an AIDS charity and then proceeded to go on a spending binge, buying a new Ferrari, expensive jewelry and other pricey and useless baubles, she would be a hypocrite.

2. “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you will judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” (Matthew 7:1-2). Former Congressman Mark Foley is probably a good current example of the wisdom of this teaching.

3. “Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand.” (Matthew 12:25). Now the context of this quotation is Jesus responding to the accusation that he is casting out demons because Satan, or Beelzebub, is giving him the authority to do so. But from a practical real life perspective, this quote is valid when people who should be united in a single purpose undermine or turn on each other. There are many examples from history wherein a person who aspires to rule a particular kingdom starts a civil war that ends up weakening the kingdom and making it vulnerable to invasion from outside powers.

4. “What goes into a man’s mouth does not make him unclean but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him unclean” (Matthew 15:11) and “Don’t you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man unclean. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what make a man unclean; but eating with unwashed hands does not make him unclean.” (Matthew 15:17-20).

5. In response to a man’s question about what he must do to lead a good life and get into heaven, Jesus answers “Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and mother, and love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 19:19). Now of course, I do not believe in the existence of heaven, but if everyone did as was spoken above, the world would indeed be a better place. Jesus also says in Luke 6:31 “Do unto others as you would have them do to you.” The Parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:20-37 is an example of putting this teaching into action.

6. “Watch out! Be on your guard against al kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” (Luke 12:15). Pretty much speaks for itself.

But I would also add that these teachings are not original to Jesus. In an upcoming post, I will compare the teachings of Jesus that have validity for me and compare them to the teachings of other religious leaders or philosophers who said the same things either before Jesus or afterwards by those who lived in cultures that were not aware of Christianity at the time. The purpose of the comparison is to emphasize that there are certain universal moral truths that existed in many disparate cultures and that it is these truths that are important in and of themselves, regardless of whether they were spoken by Jesus, Buddha or Confucius. At the same time, as an atheist, I should not discount the teachings of Jesus that have validity for me that also appear in the texts of other religions simply because I do not accept Jesus as some divine savior.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

One Nation Under Zeus

Last month my son started Kindergarten. As an atheist parent, I anticipated that the Pledge of Allegiance issue would come up. This was confirmed the second week of class, when the parents were invited to the Kindergarten Center to meet the principal and the teachers. In my son's class, the teacher explained to us the daily routine that was followed in the classroom, and that each morning the class would recite the Pledge, with a different student leading the Pledge each day. I knew this meant that my son would end up leading the recital of the Pledge at least once a month.

I had given some thought as to how I would handle this matter and decided that the best way was to simply have my son skip the "under God" portion when reciting the Pledge. Not wishing to bring attention to myself in front of the other parents, I waited until after the meeting was over and asked the teacher to speak to me in private. I explained the situation to her and told her that if my son skipped "under God" when reciting the Pledge, that it was deliberate. She thanked me for letting her know and did not seem phased by it.

Those of us who are atheists, agnostics, or even members of religious minorities, inevitably find ourselves in situations where we are confronted with the reality of living in a nation where the overwhelming majority of the population profess to being God believing Christians. In each situation, we have to decide based on our own principles and beliefs whether or not to be confrontational or accommodating. With respect to the Pledge of Allegiance, we all know that a parent named Michael Newdow filed a lawsuit to have "under God" removed from the Pledge and that he lost. While I agree with Newdow that "under God" should be removed, having only been added in the mid-1950's during a time of Cold War hysteria, I also personally believe that at least at this time it is not a battle worth fighting. I believe that there are far more important battles for atheists and agnostics to fight, such as the attempts to replace or complement the teaching of evolution with intelligent design, placing restrictions on birth control and reproductive freedom, and discrimination against gays because "the Babble" says that God doesn't like such things. Substance is more important to me than symbols.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

The Heart of Catholicism

Below are excerpts from an article that appeared in the October 8, 2006 edition of Newsday, which is Long Island’s local daily newspaper.

“In the late 1800s, parishioners who had committed the most egregious sins would come to the hidden back door of the church of the French priest Jean-Marie Baptiste Vianney to confess.

Yesterday, hundreds of the faithful lined up outside the front door of Curé of Ars church in Merrick to bow their heads at the altar and venerate the heart of that same priest, who is now a French saint.

They stood in a line that stretched out the church's door to the sidewalk along Merrick Avenue for much of the morning. A sobbing young priest and a teenager who took a quick photo of Vianney's heart with his cell phone camera were among those who gathered to glimpse a relic that is in the United States for the first time.

Margo Almeida, 45, knelt at the altar, her eyes welling with tears. She said she wanted to be close to a saint revered for hearing confessions for up to 16 hours a day. "I could feel that love," Almeida said of her reaction to the relic.

Three priests were on hand to take confession, including one in a trailer in the church parking lot. Many who came said they experienced a spiritual connection to the saint. Vianney's body was exhumed as the church was preparing to beatify him in 1905. His heart was found to be intact and has been stored in a glass box since.”

“Beatrice Cameron, 75, came from Amityville to see it. She said she was moved by the experience and amazed at the heart's condition. "It awesome to think that the heart is just incorrupt," she said. "It's almost like a miracle. Why would that happen?"

The Rev. Charles Mangano described feeling overwhelmed and said he slept with it in his bedroom Friday night. "It was surreal," he said.”

Yeah, I’m just glad Father Vianney’s penis wasn’t still perfectly preserved.

Ted Kennedy wants to make your children gay!

At least that is what Beverly LaHaye of Concerned Women for America says in the latest mailing I received from that nutty group today.

For some reason, I am on the mailing list for Religious Right extremist groups like CWA. I think it is because I used to be a subscriber to National Review and they share their list of subscribers with right-wing groups.

Anyway, the objects of Ms. LaHaye’s vitriol are Senator Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts and his sponsorship of a bill called the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, or ENDA. You see, if ENDA is passed into law, it will be the end of American civilization as we know it. Little school boys will be forced to perform fellatio on their male gay kindergarten teachers as a graduation requirement. Christian heterosexuals will be prohibited by law from getting married. Barney Frank will become President of the United States and Clay Aiken will be his First Lady. Your company will have to allow male employees to show up for work in makeup and a dress! (Yes, the previous sentence actually appears in CWA’s letter, the others I just made up.)

According to LaHaye, “ENDA is built start-to-finish on lies”. For example, LaHaye claims that there is no evidence that homosexuals are suffering from economic or employment discrimination in this country… unless of course you are a patriotic homosexual who wants to serve in the United States armed forces: And we all know that the economic prospects for gay Americans would dramatically improve if people like Beverly LaHaye were running this country.

LaHaye also trots out the tired old argument that gays cannot compare their struggle to the civil rights movements for women and African-Americans, because women are born women and blacks are born black, whereas gays choose to be gay. Uh, no Beverly, gays are born gay, biblical fundamentalist Christians choose to believe that a tribal god invented by some Bronze Age Hebrew priests some 2,500 years ago is really the Creator of the Universe, and that he gets really really angry when two men fool around in a cabin while on a fishing trip in Wyoming.

LaHaye warns that once ENDA is the law of the land, “even churches and religious organizations, such as Christian-owned bookstores, TV and radio stations, childcare centers and camps” will be forced to hire gays, pedophiles and all manner of perverts. Yeah right, a gay man who has to pay rent, phone and electric bills every month is going to actively seek to work at a Christian bookstore for seven bucks an hour out of sheer spite. Oh wait, I forgot, once ENDA is passed into law, all gays will be provided with free housing and medical care as well.

So hurry up and write to President Bush and your Congressional representatives to stop ENDA, or else the faggots will take over America!

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Frank Russo's Gay Obsession

Several years ago, while I was in a libertarian phase, I was mildly involved in school choice activism. Eager to become involved with groups on Long Island that promoted school choice, I e-mailed an organization based in Nassau County called the American Family Association of New York (aka AFA-NY), which is headed by a man named Frank Russo. Russo is a local right-wing Catholic activist who has a weekly public access program and occasionally gets an op-ed published in Newsday.

Mr. Russo responded to my e-mail by calling me at work. We spoke on the phone for several minutes, and in the course of my discussion, I got the impression that Mr. Russo was a little too right wing conservative for my tastes. But since he told me that promoting school choice was one of the most important issues for AFA-NY, I felt I could overlook my disagreements with Mr. Russo on other issues. He took down my address and told me he would put me on the mailing list for the AFA-NY newsletter.

After reading several issues of the newsletter, which Mr. Russo published on a quarterly basis, I could not help but notice that Mr. Russo devoted several articles in each issue to bashing homosexuals and railing against the gay agenda and the liberal media that he accuses of promoting that agenda.

Not long after setting up this blog a couple of weeks ago, I received the Fall 2006 issue of the AFA-NY newsletter. Sure enough, it contained a couple of articles dealing with homosexuality and "pro-gay bias." One article discussed an organization called NARTH (National Association for Research & Therapy of Homosexuals). The article states that "NARTH counselors will review the underlying causes for same sex attraction and will work to diminish and sometimes eliminate those desires."

Below the NARTH article is another article titled "Channel 13 Does Not Merit Your Support". Russo complains in the article that Channel 13, which is a local public television station, has a "distinctly strong pro-gay bias". Specifically, Russo complains that Channel 13 refused to air AFA's video "It's Not Gay", which, according to Russo, "responsibly presents an alternative message on the controversial subject of homosexuality." On the other hand, claims Russo, Channel 13 broadcasts a monthly pro-gay program called "In The Life" and also aired a "pro-gay" program called "Free to Marry." Russo whines that Channel 13 is using public funds to air only one side of the issue when it comes to homosexuality, and he concludes the article by calling on AFA-NY members to not contribute to Channel 13.

Of course, what Russo is guilty of here is arguing that his views on homosexuality should be aired on Channel 13 in order to promote "balance." If Channel 13 airs a program that portrays homosexuals in a positive light, then "balance" requires that another program be aired that portrays gays as abnormal and in need of being cured. But what Russo and others don't want to see, because they are blinded by their own religiously sanctioned bigotry, is that the call for "balance" is a bogus argument. For example, if a newspaper or a magazine contains an article about the unearthing of the fossilized skeleton of a previously unknown dinosaur that lived 100 million years ago, balance does not require that author of the article feature quotes from a Young Earth Creationist arguing that the dinosaur could not have lived more than 6,000 years ago. Because Frank Russo believes that the Creator of the Universe revealed its inerrant truth in a collection of books known as the Bible, and that this Bible contains several quotes which suggest that homosexual acts drive this Creator into an uncontrollable rage, that Channel 13 should air AFA's program which portrays gays in a negative light.

Lastly, the latest AFA-NY newsletter contains a blurb about Robert Johnson, a former Newsday publisher, pleading guilty of downloading child porn movies to his computers. Russo describes Johnson as "a staunch liberal", obviously intending to convey the idea that only a "liberal" would be into kiddie porn or other perverted acts. In the wake of the Foley e-mail scandal, I could not get help but be mildly amused at Russo's smear.

In conclusion, I'm thinking of sending a contribution to Channel 13 along with a letter thanking them for not airing anti-gay propaganda.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Give Up Your Religion

Let me cut right to the chase. The God of the Bible and the Quran does not exist. The Bible does not represent the holy word of the Creator of the Universe. The Israelites are not the chosen people of the Creator. Jesus was not born from a virgin and he did not rise from the dead. Neither God nor some angelic being spoke to Mohammed in the deserts of Arabia.

In upcoming posts I will elaborate on these statements, which Bible and Quran believing people will find shocking and offensive. But the above are statements of fact and it is high time people got their heads out of the mental prisons they have constructed for themselves.