Rick Perry, Michelle Bachmann, Sarah Palin and other fundamentalist Republicans Are a Threat to American Democracy

by Don on September 2nd, 2011
in Religion

I have good news and bad news.

First, the good news. Not even the three most maniacal Christian fundies (Rick Perry, Michelle Bachmann, or Sarah Palin) among the extremist Republicans who want to be president want to stone adulterers, whip or cut off the hands of thieves or impose the death penalty on those who leave Christianity. Before you conclude that no humans could be so inhuman or barbaric, consider this poll from the Pew Research Center:

Views of harsh punishment by Muslims shown as a percentage who favor A) stoning people who commit adultery; B) whippings/cutting off hands for theft and C) death penalty for people who leave Islam. (Percentages estimated from bar chart   - numbers could be one or two percent off.)

Egypt
A. 81
B. 79
C. 82

Pakistan
A. 80
B. 80
C. 78

Jordan
A. 70
B. 58
C. 84

Nigeria
A. 58
B. 63
C. 54

Indonesia
A. 41
B. 38
C. 30

Lebanon
A. 22
B. 16
C.   4

Turkey
A. 18
B. 17
C.   2

So, let me start by acknowledging a little gratitude about our random good fortune that modern day Christianity, even at its irrational worst, is still less toxic that the breed of Islam that infects Egypt, Pakistan, Jordan, Nigeria, Indonesia and other Islamic nations. (Not included in the Pew survey for obvious reasons are some of the most virulent theocracies, such as Saudi Arabia and Iran, where one suspects the enthusiasm for such atrocities is at least as strong as in the nations polled.)

The bad news is that the Right Wing Christian worst here in America is still god-awful. This is especially so for those who (like myself) do not share the extreme theocratic "fires in the belly" fervor of Rick Perry, Michelle Bachmann, Sarah Palin and others of that ilk. This terrible threesome are Christian nationalists. They reject secularism, including separation of church and state. They want the United States of America to be become an official Christian nation, as they think the Founders intended. They do not consider other religions or no religion equal under the law and thereby entitled to the same safeguards, rights and status as followers of their brand of Christianity. Perry, Bachmann, Palin and their Christian Right backers cite some version of Ten Commandments as the foundation of American law, the better to carry out Biblical principles.

What kind of America might follow the election of one of these three horses-ass, wet-dream, rapturous Apocalypse apostles? What kind of America would remain for First-Amendment enthusiasts and defenders of the civil rights that all, including secularists, enjoy today? What would be in store for dissenters and those these super Christians consider adulterers, perverts (i.e., homosexuals), disobedient children and, believe it or not, demonic agents? What are the chances that the election of Perry, Bachmann or Palin would usher in an era of fascism? What brakes might remain to constrain the godly men and women who believe they were chosen to carry out God's will?

Karen Armstrong has warned of the possibility that Christians would welcome a totalitarian state that "leaves no room for any other view or policy, no democratic tolerance for rival parties, no individual freedom.? (Source: Chip Berlet, "Inside the Christian Right Dominionist Movement That's Undermining Democracy," AlterNet, September 2, 2011.)

Other likely goals of Perry, Bachmann and Palin are to convert Americans to their ideology, enshrine biblical codes into the legal system and proceed to see that God??s will, which they divine via voices and other heaven-sent revelations, is done on earth - starting here in these more or less still united states.

It's time, I think, for media people to start probing the Christian beliefs of these three presidential candidates, and exploring for the American voter the implications of such beliefs for insights into the agenda they would seek to impose upon the nation, if elected.

While non-believers can hardly cry, "God help us," we can take comfort from our beliefs that at least no gods will be helping any of them, either. Let's just hope that, as their form of Christianity becomes better understood, no Americans who care about freedom as enshrined in our godless Constitution give Perry, Bachmann or Palin much help in the year to come.

The Republican Presidential Primary Is Too Important to be Left to Political Bloviators and Mountebanks: Speak Out Before It's Too Late!

by Don on August 26th, 2011
in Politics

The population of the United States is more than 300 million and it includes some of the best and brightest that the human species has to offer, probably more so than any other country in the world. There is surely something wrong with a system for choosing a leader when, given a pool of such talent and a process that occupies more than a year and consumes billions of dollars, what rises to the top of the heap is George W Bush. Or when the likes of Rick Perry or Michele Bachmann or Sarah Palin can be mentioned as even remote possibilities. Richard Dawkins. This except is from Professor Dawkins' response to Governor Perry for On Faith, the Washington Post??s forum for news and opinion on religion and politics.

United States of Theocracy

Now is the time, I believe, for all good women, and men, too, to pay attention to the Festival of Wingnuts, aka the GOP (God's Own Party) Presidential Primary. The leading candidates are farther to the right than Attila the Hun, more Christian than the Pope and more pro-business and dismissive of the interests of the middle class than John D. Rockefeller. They are a hazard to the Republic. All quality of life enhancement-seekers, that is, wellness enthusiasts, should therefore become highly engaged - the time has come for everyone to rise up and speak out, each in his/her own fashion, at every opportunity. The way to most effectively do so, in my opinion, is to take up the fine art of bloviating. But, not any bloviation - rather, bloviation with reason, exuberance, passion, humor and perspective. Wellness enthusiasts - help safeguard our liberty and the decency of America.

In case you are not familiar with this splendid term, here is a simple definition: Bloviate - to discourse at length in a pompous or boastful manner. However, that definition applies to Right Wing bloviators who lack class, wit, wisdom, dignity and all of the common decencies - mountebanks such as Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck and Bill O'Reilly. There are good and decent bloviators who perform a public service by offering trenchant reflections on public affairs from a REAL wellness perspective. The latter communicate with reason and exuberance in service to our liberties, as opposed to Republican bloviators - angry twits who are irrational and grim, mean and selfish. And these are their better qualities.

Here is where you come in. While all ordinary wellness enthusiasts recognize their right to be heard, some have been holding back for any number of reasons, particularly the following three:

  1. They are a bit shy - not sure they have original, earth-shattering ideas likely to change the world in 24 hours. This might be a standard too high. Settle for influencing someone, even if the beneficiary does not, at first, fully appreciate the watershed contribution your commentaries on Republican wingnuts has on her.
  2. They are so very busy - Americans are not engaged in healthy lifestyles for the most part, so time is of the essence. Every waking moment of the ordinary wellness promoter has been focused on the search for and application of creative approaches to motivate, inform and guide the porcine populace to adopt and sustain more healthful, sensible attitudes and behaviors.
  3. They are a bit intimidated - wellness promoters try not to offend anyone. While this is a good thing most of the time, desperate situations require a willingness to stir the waters by voicing resistance to the rabble.

In order to carry out my plan, namely, sound the alarm about the menace of crazed Republicans seeking the presidency, regular wellness enthusiasts must be willing to generate and deal with controversy. Such a role requires audacity, bravura, dauntlessness, fortitude, gallantry, hardihood, heroism, intrepidity, mettle, pluck, pugnacity, resolution, stoutheartedness, temerity, tenacity and yes, valor as well.

Which is why all wellness enthusiasts are hereby asked to please come forward and speak out before it's too late. It is time to evolve into a REAL wellness enthusiast. Real wellness enthusiasts not only have the qualities noted above and others of a noble nature, too numerous to list - they channel such talents in the public interest.

So, to paraphrase a few lines from the greatest speech ever given by an American not named Robert Green Ingersoll, I say, And so, my fellow Americans, ask not what a wellness lifestyle can do for you; ask what you can do as a REAL wellness promoter, for your country, when the out-of-control Republican Party is led by the likes of Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann an Sarah Palin. My fellow citizens of the world, ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do to prevent wingnut Republicans from destroying the freedom of man.

Breakthrough Scientific Studies Can Be Hazardous to Your Health: In Praise of Doubt

by Don on August 17th, 2011
in General Wellness

Doubt is a wonderful thing. It is associated with skepticism and even cynicism, and tends to make one suspicious and not at all receptive to news of amazing new findings that revolutionize one thing or another and lead to a promised land.

I recommend doubt be your first line of defense in life's three great delights, challenges and hazards, namely sex, politics and religion. It can also come in handy when dealing with news about the medical system, wonder drugs in particular.

Often, people think that it is enough to ask if the evidence supports a given treatment. "Has any scientific research been conducted, assessed by peer review, corroborated by experts and published in scholarly journals?" If the answer to all these queries is "yes," could you possibly go wrong?

Well, yes, it turns out you could - and tens of thousands, maybe millions of consumers have gone wrong relying on study findings of the highest order that were simply bogus.

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal documented many instances of published studies in peer-reviewed scientific journals that were found to be misleading or worse. In most cases, the problems that distorted the study findings were not discovered for many years, long after doctors around the world prescribed ineffective, even harmful medications based on the flawed studies. (See Gautam Naik, "Mistakes in Scientific Studies Surge," WSJ, Health Industry, August 10, 2011.)

The lesson here: Consumers should be doubtful, skeptical and cautious about breakthrough proclamations in the media based on the latest studies - as should doctors who practice medicine in accord with such dubious findings.

Among the worst cases of research reports described in medical journals, hyped in media stories and influential in the medications doctors prescribed were the following:

  • Drugs for high-blood-pressure drugs found to be much better in combination than either alone and so described in a Lancet article, leading to 100,000 prescriptions for double does over a period of eight years before the findings were reevaluated and "retracted" as bogus. (The patients were rendered more vulnerable to potentially life-threatening side effects, but tens of thousands of patients are still on the dual therapy.) According to the above noted WSJ report, the number of articles retracted from journals has "leapt more than 15-fold." It is happening so often, there are blogs devoted to retractions of medical research findings!
  • More than ten years of cancer research at the Mayo Clinic was found useless and misleading because data from research done seeking to harness the immune system for the purpose of fighting cancer were fabricated. According to the WSJ article, no fewer than seventeen scholarly papers published in nine research journals had to be retracted.
  • Elsewhere, 89 published studies by a German anesthesiologist published in numerous journals had to be retracted.
  • Retractions related to fraud showed a more than sevenfold increase between 2004 and 2009, according to the WSJ story. One skeptic studied 742 medicine and biology papers withdrawn from scholarly journals between 2000 to 2010 - and found 73.5% were retracted for error, 26.6% for fraud.

Doubt, my friend. Be skeptical. Be wary. Remember that the R in REAL wellness stands for reason as a vital skill in crafting and sustaining a lifestyle that enables a high quality of life. Critical thinking is as important as exercise, nutrition and stress management.

Good luck out there - it's not easy being or staying well, especially when tempted by spectacular new medical findings. Modern medicine is a wonderful things, but there really are two problems: people expect too much of it and too little of themselves.

The Divisive Misuse of a Religious Symbol, An Act Both Obnoxious and Irrational

by Don on August 5th, 2011
in Religion

Helen Thomas turned 90 last week. I wonder what she thinks about the destroyed remnant of a t-joint rubble beam hoisted as a centerpiece of the World Trade Center (WTC) Memorial in New York?

Well, I hope someone asks the good lady. I have an idea what she would say about the intrusion of religion into a public event that belongs equally to all Americans, of all religions and no religions.

Here is an exchange from a line of questioning Ms. Thomas had with the president at George W. Bush's first press conference in 2002:

Helen Thomas: "Mr. President, why do you refuse to respect the wall between the church and the state? And you know that the mixing of religion and government for centuries has led to slaughter. I mean, the very fact that our country has stood in good stead by having the separation - why do you break it down?"

Pres. Bush: "Helen, I strongly respect the separation of church and state..."

Thomas: "Well, you wouldn't have a religious office in the White House if you did . . . You are a secular official. And not a missionary. Atheists pay taxes, too."

Just so. And besides paying taxes, atheists (and Jews, Buddhists, Muslims, etc.) also died with Christians on 9/11. All died when 19 faith-based fanatics hijacked passenger planes to get to their blind dates with 72 virgins. Every one of these devout martyrs was hell-bent seeking eternal bliss. A bonus was the chance to exact a good measure of revenge against those with different ideas about religions different from theirs (i.e., "infidels").

But, the bogus Christian symbol, bogus because it is no more a sign of anything from the great beyond than the likeness of a god or goddess seen by some true believers in cookies, cloud patterns or the aftermath of tornado rubble. ("Look - the steeple remains. It's a sign from above. Praise Jesus.")

Ellery Schempp, a champion of the First Amendment who was instrumental in the protest against compulsive prayer in public schools leading to a Supreme Court ruling against the practice in 1963, stated that "public prayer is not intended to promote religious values but to enhance the authority of some churches and some political views over others.  (Speech at the convention of the Freedom from Religion Foundation annual meeting, Oct. 13, 2007.) 

Some, including Jon Stewart of "The Daily Show," a prominent liberal non-Christian, believe objections to the Christian cross at ground zero are ill advised. Why make a big deal of it? "Hey, it gives people comfort. Don't make waves. Let it go."

Well, that's what many advised Helen Thomas and Ellery Schempp and everyone who challenges creeping theocracy to do. We are better off, I believe, that many citizens, including more than a few believers, have not thought much of this advice. We are fortunate, I think, that so many do take separation of church/state seriously, and are willing to make waves and discomfort the faithful who push their religions into our public places. To stop it, believers in the Constitution must object.

Remaining quiet and meek, making no objection in order to keep the peace is certainly an option. However, it is unwise. A lot of non-Christians suffered from 9/11 events, including believers and freethinkers who favored reason over revelation. What does a cross contribute to their thoughts and feelings about the tragedy? What if another faith group were involved, say, Islamists who also lost family and friends on 9/11? How would the Christian cross enthusiasts feel about a crescent and star t-beam (Islam) or a Shinto beam at the WTC memorial? Actually, because Jewish folks have substantial political power in New York, a Star of David (man-made, not plucked ready made from beam rubble), has since been added to go with the Christian crossbeam. Why stop there? Would it not be more appropriate to give all religions representation or, to keep things simple, clean and religion free, none at all on public land? Why not represent all faiths - or none - equally?

A 9/11 memorial should be religion neutral. Let's have the focus on the event with a genuine symbol of recovery from it, not a symbol of religion, which in fact inspired the disaster in the first place.

Crazy Talk in the U.S. Senate Reflects Badly on the Nation

by Don on July 31st, 2011
in General Wellness, Religion

Could you define or explain any of the following mysterious phrases?

  • Freedom??s holy light. What's that? What makes a light holy? How much energy does it require?
  • The pit of disunity and discord. Where is this pit? What happens if you fall into it? Can you get out? How did the pit get there? Why has it not been filled?
  • Bridges of cooperation. Where are such bridges? Who built them? Were they expensive? Are they like bridges to nowhere?
  • The one and only constituent in America that U.S. Senators absolutely MUST please. Who's that? Rupert Murdoch? Which Koch brother? How much did he have to contribute for such influence? What if he's not pleased absolutely?
  • Counsel that can stand forever. How does that work? Are there any examples?
  • Ears and eyes that are "quickened." What happens when such parts are quickened? Does this mean powers like Superman?
  • God on Capitol Hill. Has this ever happened? When? Why did he leave?

If these phrases seem weird or incomprehensible, well, you must not be a member of the U.S. Senate. It turns out that someone addressed the senate last week and talked like that. I'm not kidding - you can look it up.

These phrases and others as bizarre were uttered last week by a Seventh-Day Adventist minister named Barry C. Black. Mr. Black is the Senate's official "chaplain." He asked the Almighty, in a prayer, to ??give to our lawmakers the wisdom to know the role they should play in keeping freedom??s holy light bright.? Well, there you have it. Obviously, nothing happened. We see once again that nothing fails like prayer.

Language of this kind in any forum should be viewed as a mental health issue. However, a grotesque custom privileges religious talk - no demented babble, however ludicrous, raises eyebrows, let alone sets off 911 calls for the looney wagon.

If we were a rational people with a secular Republic, there would be no chaplains funded by taxpayers. There would be less crazy talk in the U.S. Senate, though Republicans and Tea Party types would supply some, no doubt. There certainly would be no expectation by the representatives of the people that an invisible sky god (for which there is no evidence whatsoever) would have any interest in becoming involved in our politics.

Besides, are we not still committed to government of the people, by the people and for the people? Why have a Congress at all if we have to rely on a deity to solve our problems?

Peace.

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