Archive for religion

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.”

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    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.

    The Stigma of Christianity

    Posted in religion with tags , , , on August 4, 2010 by Kyle Fleming

    Shocking news broke last week in the world of literature: author Anne Rice has quit Christianity. The status updates on her Facebook page spell out exactly how she feels:

    For those who care, and I understand if you don’t: Today I quit being a Christian. I’m out. I remain committed to Christ as always but not to being “Christian” or to being part of Christianity. It’s simply impossible for me to “belong” to this quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious, and deservedly infamous group. For ten years, I’ve tried. I’ve failed. I’m an outsider. My conscience will allow nothing else.

    … I’m out. In the name of Christ, I refuse to be anti-gay. I refuse to be anti-feminist. I refuse to be anti-artificial birth control. I refuse to be anti-Democrat. I refuse to be anti-secular humanism. I refuse to be anti-science. I refuse to be anti-life. In the name of …Christ, I quit Christianity and being Christian. Amen.

    It’s a decision that doesn’t come lightly. The day before, Rice posted several links of unChristian-like behavior in the world, including the punk rock ministry group You Can Run But You Cannot Hide stating that Muslims that kill homosexuals are more moral than American Christians, and children of Westboro Baptist Church members firmly believing that all Americans are going to Hell.

    Anne Rice’s decision to quit Christianity but still remain in Christ is an interesting, and all too common, decision. And in one status update, she poses and interesting question: “When does a word become unusable? When does it become so burdened with history and horror that it cannot be evoked without destructive controversy?”

    The history of Christianity is one that is mired with controversy. From the Crusades in the 13th Century, in which European Christians slaughtered Muslims and Jews in an attempt to win back the Holy Land, to the hate-filled preachers and actions of today, Christianity is a label that many people try to avoid. In fact, the difference between being a Christian and being a follower of Christ is so profound, that many people have written about it. It’s such a big topic of discussion that one church has outlined the difference in a series of video parodies.

    It’s a topic that I’ve turned in my mind many times, and still do to this day. Being a Christian has a certain stigma to it. As an outsider looking in, it seems that being a Christian means to hate groups that are not like yours, to live the opposite of what is preached, and to vote straight-ticket Republican.

    That kind of stigma could explain why so many people are turning away from organized religion, and instead searching for their own religious affiliation. Ghandi once said, “I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” For many, this is a wake-up call to find something better.

    And it should be a wake-up call. When Christians are called to love but instead go out and spread hate, they are acting completely against the narrative. There needs to be a major paradigm shift, and it needs to happen now.

    I wish Anne Rice the best of luck. I hope she realizes she has a massive support group of like-minded people, and that she is not alone in trying to confront the hypocrisy.

    Is The Bible Infallible?

    Posted in religion with tags , , , , on June 30, 2010 by Kyle Fleming

    Of all of the differences between denominations in the Christian faith, one of the biggest and most important to many is whether or not the Bible should be treated as the infallible Word of God, or whether the Bible should be treated as partly historical, and partly allegorical.

    In this article from Religious Tolerance, interpretation of the Bible falls into three categories: the complete Word of God, completely infallible and always relevant to the user; contains the Word of God, but also contains items that we should reject because they go against the Word of God; and a wide-ranging human document, written by humans with agendas, containing folklore and myths, and was compiled and edited by other humans.

    Different denominations in Christianity have different ways of interpreting the Scripture. Fundamentalist Christians, like Baptists, tend to view the Bible in the first interpretation, being the infallible Word of God. They believe that the Holy Spirit intervened in the minds of the authors and editors of the Bible, making it divinely inspired. This sort of believe means that the creation stories and the stories of Noah, Jonah, and the rest of the cast of characters is undeniably true.

    Meanwhile, the “religiously liberal” believe that the Bible, being written, compiled and edited by humans, is bound to have some errors. I believe that Wartburg College can be part of this “religiously liberal” sect, as I remember learning in my religion class that several stories in the Bible–including the stories of Job, Noah, Jonah, the Tower of Babel, the Battle of Jericho, the Creation, and several others–are merely folktales, and did not actually happen.

    Personally, I’m of the camp that says that while the Bible may contain the Word of God, it was also handled by humans, so there will be human biases in some of the writings. Some of the Bible is not relevant in today’s world, such as the directions on how to treat your slaves, and not allowing midgets or cripples to take communion. Of course, I also believe that this sort of thing also permeates into the New Testament as well, because although the Apostle Paul wrote most of the Epistles, a lot of the Epistles don’t follow the same voice and ideals as the others. The same guy who wrote that we should not conform to this world cannot be the same person who wrote that women are inferior to men.

    But the question also arises: how do we determine where the biases lie? If we believe in a Loving and Caring God, obviously, the biases lie in anything that does against that narrative; any sort of Scripture that goes against loving other people unconditionally is obviously against the will of God, and must be rejected. However, because God is also a Jealous God, maybe some of those biases really don’t exist.

    It’s an interesting thing to consider, because many times the issue of Scriptural interpretation makes or breaks relationships between denominations. This is one of those topics where I’m curious as to what you believe: is the Bible infallible, or can it be up for interpretation?

    There is No High Score for Christians

    Posted in opinion, religion with tags , , , , , , on June 23, 2010 by Kyle Fleming

    There are many perks to being a Christian: a huge support group, opportunities to personally grow in one’s faith, and a whole genre of music/literature/television/movies, just as in any religion.

    Unfortunately, just as with any religion, with all of those positives come quite a few negatives. Christianity has its fair share of extremists and whack-jobs, people who claim to be preaching the love of Christ and practice hatred instead. The biggest offender is probably Fred Phelps, of Westboro Baptist Church fame, though occasionally we will see appearances by Pat Robertson, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, and nearly every politician (mostly Republican) lobbying for legislation that oppresses a group of people.

    But despite all of that, the thing that most disturbs me is the fact that many Christians feel that, in the quest for eternal life, we must rack up a high score of sorts. Good works + converted souls = Eternity with Christ.

    Unfortunately, that is not the case. I’ve not read anywhere in the Bible where it says that God favors those who turn the most people to Christianity. But for some reason, people are all about converting the masses rather than living like Christ.

    I see this most often in retreats or conferences I attend. Out of the multitude of speakers with a variety of hit or miss messages, there is always one preacher or presenter that gets up and talks about how the world is on a slippery slope into damnation, and it is up to us Christians to win the world back for God. I’ve heard stories of a battle cry being established, but I personally have not seen nor heard any.

    While the idea itself isn’t necessarily bad, the means by which those people achieve ends is frightening. Thinking back throughout history, the conversion of souls to Christianity usually involves a lot of bloodshed, like in the Crusades, or the violent conversions of the Native Americans. And while there is little to no bloodshed in the modern age, scare tactics and violence are often the method of choice for showing people that Christ is a loving deity.

    Who hasn’t heard the fire and brimstone preacher shout to his congregation that non-believers will be thrown into a lake of fire for all eternity, forever suffering the stench of seared flesh and the crushing pain of eternal torture? Because it’s certainly not a metaphor or anything. But that’s another entry.

    The point is, being a Christian isn’t like playing Halo (or for the older crowd, Super Mario Brothers). After you die, you don’t enter your initials into Heaven and hope like crazy some punk with a few extra tokens is going to beat you. Most rushed conversions don’t really blossom into anything meaningful anyway; like the parable of the seeds, sometimes the seed is choked out by weeds, and sometimes it is eaten by birds.

    I’m sure I’ve led my fair share of people to Christ. In fact, I can think of a couple of instances of where by purely loving someone and being there for them, I’ve helped them see that Christianity isn’t a religion of ignorance, but one of acceptance. Thing is, I’m sure there are many more that I’m completely unaware of.

    I’m not in it to see my name in flashing lights. I’m in it because there is nothing better. Shouldn’t it be the same way for everyone else?