Links and Comments: Emperor’s New Clothes, Presidential Piety

Salon has been running essays by a contributing editor for The Atlantic [n.b.: ‘contributing editor’ might only mean, as it does in the case of Locus, that he is a regular contributor — he submits a column once a month; not an ‘editor’ exactly — to that magazine] named Jeffrey Tayler, who comments about religious and political matters in a take-no-prisoners manner, not afraid to call out what many of us see in religions as the emperor’s new clothes — for all the ceremony and deference to them, there’s actually nothing substantive there.

Bill Maher terrifies Bill O’Reilly: An atheist has the Fox News host running scared, subtitled: What flabbergasts O’Reilly & Coulter is nonbelievers are no longer keeping mum about Christianity’s rank stupidity

I’ve added some emphasis.

All in all, rationalists should applaud [Bill] O’Reilly and [Ann] Coulter for having the courage to so boldly air their mendacity, mischaracterizations, and lopsided analogies, which are in fact illuminating. Namely, they both argue from a premise so widely accepted that they leave it unstated: that those who believe, without proof, fantastical, far-reaching propositions about the nature of our cosmos and how we should live our lives have nothing to explain, nothing to account for, while those of us who value convictions based on evidence, reasoned solutions, and rules for living deriving from consensus must ceaselessly justify ourselves and genuflect apologetically for voicing disagreement.

Beneath this unstated premise lies another more insidious notion: that there are two kinds of truth – religious and otherwise. That, say, the assertion that God created the earth in six days and rested on the seventh might not be literally true, but it merits respect as “religious truth” (or, as Reza Aslan puts it, “sacred history”), as a metaphor for some ethereal verity, one so transcendental that boneheaded rationalists obsessed with superfluities like evidence cannot grasp it.

This is sophistry of the most contemptible variety. By such unscrupulous subterfuge the faithful (and their apologists) commit treason against reason, betray honest discourse, and hope to render their (preposterous) dogmas immune to disproof and open to limitless interpretation, depending on their needs of the moment.

What really flabbergasts O’Reilly and Coulter is that nonbelievers are no longer keeping mum about the rank stupidity embodied in Christianity. A virgin birth? A rib-cum-woman? A man walking on water? The vicarious redemption of “sin” through a cruel and unusual act of human sacrifice? All these fantasticalities offend thinking, sane individuals. No one should expect us to accept the truth of such fantasticalities or to allow dogma arising from them to determine discourse on how we live, which laws pass, and whom we marry, without fierce resistance.

The one thing both O’Reilly and Coulter do get right is that there is a war going on, but it’s not between hapless Christians and “vicious” atheists. It is between rationalists who seek to live in ways they reason to be best, and the faithful cleaving to fatuous fables and Paleolithic preachments inscribed in ancient books that should be pulped, or at best preserved as exhibits for future students majoring in anthropology, with minors in mental derangement.

This isn’t about Christianity in particular, of course; Christianity is just the latest and currently one of the most popular dogmas among human beings around the globe, out of many thousands that have existed throughout human history, all of them generally involving deference to authority, submission to group thinking, hostility to individual thinking and questioning, and so on and so on. (A kind of intellectual socialism, if you like.) The existence of such dogmas is evidence about human nature… not about the reality of the universe.

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Tayler brings the issue closer to home in a follow-up essay on April 19th: Marco Rubio’s deranged religion, Ted Cruz’s bizarre faith: Our would-be presidents are God-fearing clowns. Subtitle: Rand Paul, Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton all spout pious religious lies. We must grill them on what they really mean

Note he doesn’t excuse Democrats; for that matter, more than a few suspect Obama of being more-or-less atheist, spouting religious platitudes as a job requirement. It’s unimaginable that any political candidate could get into office *without* at least spouting religious platitudes… and Obama knows (knew) it.

Professing belief in a fictitious celestial deity says a lot about the content of a person’s character, and what sort of policies he or she would likely favor. So, we should take a look at those who have announced so far, and what sort of religious views they hold.

He examines the announced Republicans first, pointedly, e.g.,

Among the faith-deranged, Rubio stands out. He briefly dumped one magic book for another, converting from Roman Catholicism to Mormonism and then back again. (Reporters take note: This is faith-fueled flip-flopping, which surely indicates a damning character flaw to be investigated. Flip-flopping of a different sort helped sink John Kerry’s 2004 presidential bid.) Yet even as a re-minted Catholic, Rubio cheats on the Pope with a megachurch in Miami called Christ Fellowship. As religion and politics blogger Bruce Wilson points out, Christ Fellowship is a hotbed of “demonology and exorcism, Young Earth creationism, and denial of evolution,” and is so intolerant it demands its prospective employees certify they are not “practicing homosexuals” and don’t cheat on their spouses. (Check out its manifesto under “About Us – What We Believe.”) As regards evolution, Rubio confesses that he’s “not a scientist” and so cannot presume to judge the fact of evolution on its merits, and holds that creationism should be taught in schools as just one of many “multiple theories” about our origins.

And he does not ignore Hillary.

Yet Hillary does believe. Not only that, she claims to have grown up in a family elbow-to-elbow with none other than the Almighty: “We talked with God, ate, studied, and argued with God.”

Reporters, to verify her truthfulness, might ask her to be more specific: what type of cuisine did God prefer? Did God use Cliff Notes while hitting the books with you? How was God in a debate? Did he, being God, simply smite with thunderbolts those he disagreed with? If she replies that she didn’t mean to be taken so literally, then what exactly constituted evidence of the Almighty’s presence in her home? Did she actually hear a voice respond as she prayed? Did she have visions? If so, did she consult a psychiatrist? Which was more likely – that she was rooming with God or that she was suffering some sort of protracted, especially vivid mental disturbance? There are meds for that.

And to the point, he asks candidates in general, do you endorse your religious teachings?

So, if you accept the Bible in its totality, do you think sex workers should be burned alive (Leviticus 21:9) or that gays should be put to death (Leviticus 20:13)? Should women submit to their husbands, per Colossians 3:18? Should women also, as commands 1 Timothy 2:11, study “in silence with full submission?” Would you adhere to Deuteronomy 20:10-14 and ask Congress to pass a law punishing rapists by fining them 50 shekels and making them marry their victims and forbidding them to divorce forever? Given that the Bible ordains genocide (as in 1 Samuel 15:3:), will you work for the release of Athanase Seromba, the Catholic priest imprisoned for his role in the mass Rwandan slaughter of 1994? Will you call on Congress to repeal the Thirteenth Amendment and reinstate slavery, since the Bible, in 1 Peter 2:18, de facto sanctions the horrific practice and demands that slaves submit to their “masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the cruel?” Please clarify.

If any of the candidates have boned up on their Reza Aslan and laugh off your questions, telling you they don’t take the Bible literally, you might ask what scriptural authority they can cite that permits them to disavow some parts of their holy book but accept others. Answer: there is none.

Fortunately, times are changing. His second to last paragraph might well be true — *without saying* — within decades, in the US. It probably is true already, in some European countries. One can hope.

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