Archive for the religion Category

Same-Sex Marriage, and Why the Church Should Just Drop It

Posted in current events, opinion, politics, religion with tags , , , , , , on May 11, 2012 by Kyle Fleming

In the past week, two vastly important events occurred regarding the LGBT community. First, North Carolinians make their voices heard in the voting booth on Tuesday, passing a state constitutional amendment prohibiting same-sex marriage by defining it as between one man and one woman.

Two days later, President Obama, in an interview with ABC News, came out personally in favor of same-sex marriage, becoming the first sitting US President to do so.

It’s been an absolutely bipolar week of achievements and heartaches, and it’s something that almost everyone has touched on, which is why I was hesitant to write this article. However, a Facebook friend of mine recently posted an article entitled Why Same-Sex Marriage Perverts the Relationship Between Christ and His Church. In it, the author argues that Christian marriage is defined in the Bible as between one man and one woman, because it is representative of the Church. Paul writes in his letter to the Ephesians:

Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. — Ephesians 5:22-27

Personally, I thought it was a very enlightening article. That is, if you believe that marriage is defined by the church, and don’t completely understand why the LGBT community is fighting for marriage equality.

Any church denomination would be hard-pressed to redefine their definition of marriage because there is so much biblical backing for the “one man-one woman” definition of marriage, as evidenced by the citing of Scripture in this article. Everyone in the LGBT community understands this. It would be pointless to make the Church do anything, since they are an entity all of their own, exempt from taxes and protected to their own freedoms by the Constitution.

What the LGBT community is fighting for is LEGAL marriage equality, as defined by the government. Legal marriage gives couples over 1000 rights as married couples, such as being able to visit your significant other in the emergency room, government assistance benefits, and tax breaks, among other things.

The problem with this fight is that same-sex marriage opponents often conflate the two, thinking that what the LGBT community is fighting is some kind of “war” on traditional marriage. That’s not even close to the truth. Individual churches may choose whether or not couples can be married in the church, but even when same-sex couples are denied, they should still be able to go to the court house and find a Justice of the Peace, just like any other couple who doesn’t want a church wedding can do.

Having a “Christian” definition of marriage, to me, raises up a bunch of other questions. Like, if marriage is a Christian institution, why are people not as angry when straight Muslim, Jewish, or atheist couples get married? What is it about same-sex couples, some of whom have been together for upwards of 30 years, destroying the “sanctity” of an institution that has a 60% divorce rate?

Someone in the comments thread on Facebook pointed out that the crux of the argument in the article is that, in a same-sex marriage, there is no one to submit to the other. Two men can’t submit to each other because the man is the ruler of the household. Two rulers means no one is submissive. Which would be correct, if people still valued traditional gender roles and were as two-dimensional as some would believe.

As far as I’m aware, two people getting married has little to no effect on a massive organization like Christianity. I really don’t see what the big deal is.

Politically Faithful

Posted in politics, religion with tags , , , on August 30, 2011 by Kyle Fleming

Last night, on the MSNBC show “Hardball with Chris Matthews,” stand-in host Michael Smerconish, along with contributors Richard Wolffe and John Heilemann, discussed the contents of Bill Keller’s New York Times article Asking Candidates Tougher Questions About Faith, which states that, despite the uproar stemming from asking Tea Party Presidential candidate Michele Bachmann how she defined being “submissive” to her husband (as dictated by the Bible), the American media, as well as the American people, should be asking tougher questions about a candidate’s religious beliefs. Keller’s point was that it doesn’t matter the religious beliefs of the candidates, but whether they, to quote the article:

[place] fealty to the Bible, the Book of Mormon… or some other authority higher than the Constitution and laws of this country. It matters to me whether a president respects serious science and verifiable history…. I do care if religious doctrine becomes an excuse to exclude my fellow citizens from the rights and protections our country promises.

This sentimate was echoed by Wolffe, who said, “Journalists have the right to ask any questions of these Presidential candidates or of anyone in public life. The question really should be more precicely focused [on] what their religion does to their positions on policy, on public affairs, on events in general…. Bachmann is making lots of pronouncements about her religion, how it affects her worldview. It’s perfectly acceptable to go after that….”

While I’ve only had an opportunity to vote in one Presidential election in my lifetime so far, I’ve never really understood why a candidate’s religious views mattered in the public debate. Maybe I’m one of those “weird people” who care more about what a candidate is going to do to benefit the American people rather than which church they’ll attend on Sunday morning. Maybe it’s strange to make sure that the person I vote for is someone who has common beliefs about the issues that are important to me, rather than how often they pray to the “right” God.

However, I also believe that the candidates should be held responsible for the statements they make. If someone is going to say that a cultural event or a natural disaster is a “sign from God,” I’d like to know why they believe that, and if at some point they backtrack and say that it was just a joke, I’d like to know what prompted them to say it in the first place.

A person’s religious beliefs shouldn’t be thrust into the limelight. I’m a fan of “live and let live” as far as religion goes. But if a candidate is going to flaunt their religious beliefs as a political tactic, then absolutely they should be questioned about it. If they’re confident enough to publicly state their beliefs, they should be confident enough to answer questions about it, no matter what the questions are.

Bill Keller went a step further, sending a list of questions to the GOP candidates about their religious views, even going so far as to send specific questions to the candidates. Some of my favorite questions on the questionnaire:

  • If you encounter a conflict between your faith and the Constitution and laws of the United States, how would you resolve it?
  • Would you have any hesitation about appointing a Muslim to the federal bench? What about an atheist?
  • To Rick Santorum: You signed a pledge circulated by the Family Leader, an Iowa conservative group, promising “personal fidelity to my spouse.” Do you think cheating on a spouse disqualifies a candidate from being president?
  • To Mitt Romney: In your 2007 speech on religion, you said that “freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom.” Where does that leave unbelievers, in your view?
  • These are not “gotcha questions.” These are questions that are important to a great majority of Americans. They’re questions based on statements that the candidates have made, and they should be held accountable for them. They’re questions that need answers. And if they don’t answer them, as Bill Keller says in the end of his article, “let’s keep on asking. Because these are matters too important to take on faith.”

    Pause

    Posted in opinion, religion with tags , , , on April 20, 2011 by Kyle Fleming

    I didn’t get to do a Lenten series this year because a lot of things went completely out of my control. Schoolwork and research totally consumed my life, and I barely had time to sit down and decompress before I had to move onto something else. It seemed like my world was crashing down around me, and on top of all of the academic pressures, there was the pressure not to get sick, and to turn in certain applications on time, not to mention find funding for an upcoming trip to Europe and just general trying to figure life out stuff.

    But I overheard something a few weeks ago that I didn’t get around to blogging until today. I can’t remember where I heard it, or even who said it, but I remember that this person was talking about their home church. This person said that their pastor had said that Lent isn’t a season of giving up or taking on something, but rather it was a period of reflection. We must take these 40 days and do some deep soul-searching. We must pause, even if only for 10 minutes out of our day, and think about the gravity of what is to come.

    Currently, it is finals week at Wartburg College. There are so many tests that need to be taken and papers and projects that need to be completed, that we forget it is also Holy Week. Tomorrow is Maunday Thursday, the day after is Good Friday, and Sunday is Easter.

    What have I done for Lent? I gave up my personal Twitter account, and made an effort to not be so much of a jerk. The former has been going strong, but the latter has faltered, mostly because it’s hard to change one’s personality in a day. But while I made a conscious effort to better myself, I also failed to take the time to sit down and let myself just be in the presence of the world.

    During this Holy Week, with everything that is going on that needs your immediate attention, don’t forget to find a quiet place, even for 10-15 minutes, and just let your mind wander. Clear your mind, and reflect on what the world has given you. You don’t need to be looking for any epiphanies, nor do you need to be mediating on a certain word for phrase. Just let life happen for a little bit. It’s amazing what you can find when you silence those reminders and looming deadlines.

    Atheism vs. Anti-Theism

    Posted in opinion, religion with tags , , on March 9, 2011 by Kyle Fleming

    In my experience with religion and religious people, I’ve learned that there are many different types of belief systems out there, even outside of the realm of Christianity. I’m proud to say that in my circle of friends, I have access to many different belief systems, which generally lead to some pretty good discussions. However, I also realize that within these different belief systems, there are some undesirable people. To me, there are two different types of “non-belief” systems: atheism, and anti-theism.

    In my personal definition, atheists are people who choose not to acknowledge the existence of God in their personal lives, but pretty much leave other belief systems alone. Sure, they’re more than happy to get into the philosophical discussion about the existence of God, and where the proof lies, but they also recognize that they will have just as much success changing another person’s religious views as that person will have changing theirs.

    Conversely, anti-theists are militant atheists. They are the atheists that are out in the world that choose not to acknowledge the existence of God in their personal lives, and try everything in their power to rid the world of all religion. Often, anti-theists are antagonistic and will resort to ridicule and button-pushing in order to “prove” that religion is for the weak.

    In my experience with these two types of people, they are generally good people. They are usually intelligent, and given any other topic, they can hold conversation. Religious beliefs generally have nothing to do with a person’s personality or their interactions with other people, so removing that aspect of a person, they are normal human beings.

    However, I’m not a fan of Anti-Theism. I don’t feel it’s my place to impose my beliefs on other people, and I feel that that same courtesy should be extended by everyone onto everyone. However, most anti-theists can’t extend that same courtesy. By simply believing in a higher power, I have apparently proven myself to be an inferior person, and only if I join forces with them and campaign against all religion will I become a worthy human being.

    I believe that religious beliefs are a personal decision. If you choose to be a Christian, a Buddhist, or an Atheist, that is your choice, and I can fully respect that. I may not agree with it, and I would love to discuss it further, but as far as my influence on your personal life, I have none. I can’t convince you to join my team, no matter how hard I try. I would love it, but I can’t force you to do anything.

    The practice of militant atheism is a confusing and disturbing one to me. There is no high score in religion. There is no prize in the afterlife for the belief system that gathers the most recruits. So there is no point for the antagonism.

    My message is one that goes out to all people, regardless of religious identification: respect the beliefs of those around you, and if you do win one over to your side, chalk it up to providing a good example and enough evidence to be convincing, and not whatever clever tactics you employed in your little game.

    New Pew Study: Upsetting, But Not Surprising

    Posted in current events, religion with tags , , , on September 29, 2010 by Kyle Fleming

    In a study released by the Pew Research Poll yesterday, it was discovered that atheists and agnostics know more about religion than those who subscribe to a faith. Out of 32 questions, atheists and agnostics answered an average of 20.9 questions correctly. An average score across all of those polled was 16 out of 32 questions correct.

    While these answers may enrage some people, it shouldn’t be entirely shocking. In the realm of modern society, it is often the atheists that are seen as well rounded and intelligent, while Christians are often seen as ignorant and unintelligent. The fact that atheists and agnostics are more knowledgeable about other religions can appear to play into that mindset, as the questions in the survey included all religions, from Christianity to Buddhism to Islam.

    These results also aren’t shocking because there are countless videos online of atheists proving that Christians are stupid and the Bible is flawed. When asked about the Bible or Christianity, Christians are continually shown to be unknowledgable about their own beliefs.

    Looking at these results logically, they seem to have a straightforward explanation. Atheists and agnostics, in an effort to find a belief system to subscribe to, explore the many different religions and beliefs that the world has to offer. They study and explore these faiths, and only when they have examined all avenues do they decide. This wide exposure to religion allows them to be well-versed in everything, which may be the cause of such high scores.

    While the results do seem disappointing, I feel that this should be a call for people of all faith to do the same. Explore your religion deeper (as the majority of people could not name Martin Luther as the initiator of the Protestant movement), and don’t be afraid to learn more about other religions, too. The biggest problem with religious debates, as I’m sure I’ve stated before, is that people are unknowledgeable about other points of view.

    People see Americans, especially American Christians, as ignorant because they refuse to see a different point of view. And the survey seems to prove that statement true. However, this doesn’t mean that it has to stay this way. As with everything in this world, things change. We can use this information to instigate some change.

    This study should be a call for people of all faiths and non-faiths to take the time to learn more about the religions of our world. I don’t know how to say it any clearer. Take the time to go beyond stereotypes and learn about the world around us. Improve your mind. Improve yourself.

    How to Have a Religious Discussion

    Posted in opinion, religion with tags , , , on August 25, 2010 by Kyle Fleming

    Recently, I got a chance to re-watch one of my favorite movies on religion: Religulous starring Bill Maher. It’s one of my favorites because it takes a look at all religions, and many of the idiosyncrasies involved with them. It’s brilliant, in that it cuts right to the core: there is no, “Tell me about the tenants of your religion,” or, “What should people of Faith X know about Faith Y?” It dives right in, with snarky observations and sharp wit that can only come from a comic great like Maher.

    My only problem with the film as a whole is that Maher is sometimes unnecessarily cruel. He goes into interviews, claiming that he wants to learn more about a religion or a culture, and yet every time, the interview descends into Bill “trapping” the interviewee into a question that they cannot answer, and then not allowing them to answer. This means that the interview is over, not because they were out of questions, or the conversation ran its course, but because the interviewee realizes that they aren’t getting a say, and would rather say nothing than look like a fool.

    “You guys are smart people,” Bill continually says, yet he doesn’t let them prove it.

    The interviews in this movie are a good start, but it still doesn’t address the big problem with religion: no one is listening to each other. Bill shows that while intentions are good at the start, it is human nature to be biased, especially toward something that you identify with. We start with an open mind, but before long, the things we disagree on are blown out of proportion, and we end up in a shouting match.

    I believe that we can have an intelligent, rational discussion about religion, one where we can all be on the same page. There just have to be a few ground rules.

    The first rule sounds obvious, but it needs to be said: Listen. The biggest problem with these sorts of discussions is that people ask a question, and they wait for an answer they want to hear, rather than the answer that is given to them. This sort of half-listening means that, while some valuable answers are being given, they don’t fit the narrative that already exists in the mind.

    The next rule is one that might be a little controversial: Get right to the point. Religion is a tough topic to discuss, especially with people of other faiths. In a world of political correctness and constant preaching of tolerance, it’s tough to discuss something like religion without seeming insensitive. Sometimes tough questions need to be asked, and while there still needs to be some cordiality, any fear or intimidation must fall by the wayside.

    Bill Maher was right in cutting right to the chase and asking tough questions in his interviews. Where he went wrong leads to the final rule: Don’t have an agenda. Religulous was a documentary that was meant to show that religious people are crazy people, smart people who were sucked up in the delusion of religion.

    This agenda he was trying to push meant that questions needed to be especially tough for the lay-person. This also meant that anytime someone was on a right path, he needed to twist words or constantly interrupt in order to make the interviewees look stupid or uninformed. Having an agenda is the worst thing to do in any conversation.

    It’s three simple rules. But they are rules that could mean the difference between a religious discussion and a religious shouting-match.

    How Sacred is 9/11?

    Posted in current events, religion with tags , , , , on August 18, 2010 by Kyle Fleming

    The biggest news out of any media outlet is the hubbub that has arisen from plans of a mosque being constructed within eyesight of Ground Zero, where over 3000 people died in attacks on the World Trade Center by Muslim extremists. Americans are up in arms about the idea of something so close to such hallowed ground, that it is a slap in the face for those who died and sacrificed themselves to help out in this tragedy.

    Then again, so was not passing health care for people involved with 9/11 and are now having serious health problems. But whatever.

    Glenn Beck said that the proposed mosque isn’t just a mosque, but a statement: you wouldn’t build a Christian megachurch in the middle of Saudi Arabia, or in the middle of Utah, unless you were trying to make a statement.

    This would be all fine and dandy, except what a lot of people aren’t getting is that the mosque isn’t going to be blatantly put in everyone’s face. In fact, there is already a mosque sitting within eyesight of Ground Zero that has been there before the World Trade Center even existed, and yet no one is holding rallies to shut it down.

    The heart of the problem, as much as I hate to say it, is a misconception about both the circumstances of the mosque, and also of Islam in general. Doing any preliminary research, one would know that it is a mosque inside of a cultural learning center. The center is probably so close to Ground Zero to make a statement, with the statement being that while, yes, is was Islamic extremists that flew the planes into the towers and killed so many people, there is more to Islam than blowing things up.

    Which brings us to the second problem: misunderstanding the Muslim faith. It’s a phenomena called Islamophobia, and it works much the same as homophobia or arachnophobia; you find someone that practices Islam, you project your prejudices upon that person, and then you fear or hate them.

    There is no doubt that the events of 9/11 completely shook up the world. There is also no doubt that there is some lingering fear from the 9/11 attacks, and no one is exactly sure who to trust. But blocking someone from building a house of worship, no matter where it is being built, is just wrong, especially when it is a belief system that you don’t agree with.

    Another pundit made the point that there is a church near the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, the same building that Timothy McVeigh, a Christian, bombed. Where is the uproar? Where is the incredulity? Where is the call to arms to shut down this church for the sake of the victims involved?

    All I’m asking for is a little consistency, something that seems to be lacking in this day and age. Either we need to go back to every terror attack site, and eliminate all houses of worship related to the attackers, or we can take a deep breath, and look at this new building for what it’s worth: a chance for people to better know a thing they fear so greatly.