Stupider and stupider

And you thought a law saying that Christmas is important was stupid and a waste of our legislators time. Wait till you get a load of this one. I can’t believe I have to post this, but if you’re a US citizen, please check out this action alert from American Atheists.

Here’s more info:

On December 18, 2007, Congressman Randy Forbes (R-VA) introduced H. Res. 888, a resolution “Affirming the rich spiritual and religious history of our Nation’s founding and subsequent history and expressing support for designation of the first week in May as `American Religious History Week’ for the appreciation of and education on America’s history of religious faith.”

This resolution, which purports to promote “education on America’s history of religious faith,” is packed with the same American history lies found on the Christian nationalist websites, and in the books of pseudo-historians like David Barton.

Update: And an actual excerpt from the bill that makes me gag with it’s untruth (emphasis mine):

Resolved, That the United States House of Representatives—-
(2) recognizes that the religious foundations of faith on which America was built are critical underpinnings of our Nation’s most valuable institutions and form the inseparable foundation for America’s representative processes, legal systems, and societal structures;

Last time I checked America was a democracy and the “representative processes, legal systems, and societal structures” promoted in the Bible are based on theocracy and the rule of kings. That doesn’t sound like America at all to me. End of update.

Update 2: Here’s the original detailed story from DailyKos. End of update 2.

Even though I have possibly the stupidest Congressional representative in the country, I did it anyway.

Hmm, we don’t have a category for pseudo-history.


Donna Druchunas is a freelance technical writer and editor and a knitwear designer. When she's not working, she blogs, studies Lithuanian, reads science and sci-fi books, mouths off on atheist forums, and checks her email every three minutes. (She does that when she's working, too.) Although she loves to chat, she can't keep an IM program open or she'd never get anything else done.

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  1. I'm not sure most Americans can distinguish between real history and pseudo history any more.

    To be honest, I think they believe whatever big budget motion picture told them what happened.

    Now, where's that resolution that says "America was founded as a Christian Nation"? (…or is this it?…)

  2. Well, maybe we could use that week as an opportunity to publicize the religious based atrocities committed in this country. The missionaries destroying the continental and Hawai'ian natives, the KKK, Catholic priest molestations, etc. etc….

  3. If Huckabee gets elected, my status as a recent graduate of a UK university will come in mighty handy. Hooray for returning to the UK without having a job in advance!

  4. Many of my friends and acquaintances, representing a fairly broad political spectrum, think the "American Theocracy" scenario alarmist and ridiculous. Hopefully this will wake up a few of 'em.

  5. I think it's pretty cool! We get to learn about putting people in stocks, forcing loose women to wear the letter A, drowning people to determine whether they're witches, ostracizing religious nonconormists (or kicking them out of the state), and the unsurpassed religious tolerance of the Pilgrims.

    Just think — the fun-filled hobby of witch-hunting could take off again! Oops, I forgot about DHS. It already has.

  6. I live in MX, but I am very concerned about this issue.

    Wasn't this one of the arguments after 9/11 and that eventually helped justify the US toppling the government in Afghanistan – that religion should remain at the *personal* level?

  7. I have already sent my letter(email) to my Representative, have you? Action speaks louder than words.

  8. According to the THOMAS database, HR 888 has been referred to the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, two of whose members are Massachusetts representatives. Unfortunately, neither of them are from my district.

    I've had Spider-Jerusalem-esque hatred boiling through my system all weekend. We'll have to see what my letter looks like when it comes out. The American system of governance is, all its flaws considered, one of the best and most astonishing ideas tried out by the human race, and none of its particulars are to be found in the Bible. When the elders of Israel approached the prophet Samuel, they did not ask him for a Supreme Court Justice, but for a king (1 Samuel 8:4). When the three wise men approached Herod of Judea (Matthew 2:1), they did not ask to see the President of the Jews, but their king — and the Constitution makes no provision for a King of America.

    Faith should have no quarrel with truth. God should have no commerce with lies.

  9. Sadly, while I agree that our legal system is not taken from the bible, many of our laws are, and our tort law comes straight from the British system, which unabashedly accepts Christianity and the Bible as grounds for many of its laws.

    My knowledge of the topic is limited, but I did take a veterinary ethics class where we explored the current laws with respect to animal treatment/animal cruelty. In many states, the laws against animal cruelty cite the bible, and our legal underpinning for considering animals as human property is, once again, Christian theology.

    I don't know to what extent Christianity is built into other laws, but I suspect it is frequently present. That's not to say that the people who founded our legal system wanted it to be that way, or that it only works or works best that way, but I do want to point out that that is the way things are, whatever that means to anyone else here.

  10. Well, you have to start somewhere. If you want to create a set of rules, you might as well look to the bible and pick the ones you like. And then look elsewhere and pick a few more rules you like.

    Just because they also happen to appear in – or were perhaps even inspired by – the bible, doesn't mean they're christian laws.

    After all, many things appear in the bible that are anything but christian …

  11. “Last time I checked America was a democracy ”

    The United States has *never* been a democracy. It’s a *republic*. While a republic works on democratic principles, the two are not interchangeable.

    To the contrary, “democrat” was considered an insult when this country was formed. The best example of a democracy is a mob. Contrary to what many people believe, this country does not work under the “majority rules” principle, and should not. After all, if you believe that the majority should decide, then you should have no problem with the majority voting to kill someone because of their sexual orientation. After all, if the majority rules, it should be ok, right?

    The purpose of a republic- and this is lost on all those who think the general population should vote on everything- is to have a buffer between t those with power and those without. A republic helps protect the rights of the minority. It’s not perfect, but it’s better than a democracy. The direct election of senators has damaged this, and a direct election of presidents would make things worse.

    There is a difference, it’s an important difference, and we are all better off because of it. The United States is not a democracy and hopefully will never become one- because shortly after that, it will cease to be the United States in anything but name (and it’s rapidly heading there now).

  12. rebizman wrote:

    The United States is not a democracy and hopefully will never become one- because shortly after that, it will cease to be the United States in anything but name (and it’s rapidly heading there now).

    How dramatic … :roll:
    In my opinion, the United States is indeed rapidly heading towards something that’s only the US in name, and not what it was originally intended to be. But it’s not democracy that’s to blame for that, but rather the opposite. It’s because of the select few who have the power to change things, and have decided to changing it in their best interest, not in the interest of that of the people.
    The US has always teetered on the edge of theocracy, and has in the course of 200+ years managed to stay clear of the edge. But I feel that in the past 8 years it’s moved so much closer to the edge than during the rest of its existence.

    As for the majority rule, I think it’s odd you would object to the choice of the majority in favor of the choice of the elected elite. If the majority really would be crazy and demand people be murdered on account of their sexual arientation, no amount of republic is going to stop them from changing the composition of the government and impose their will. It is because the majority is against things like the death penalty that it’s slowly but steadily disappearing altogether.

    I couldn’t imagine living in a country where I’d be part of an oppressed majority. That would REALLY set the clock back 150 years to the time when the rich were the only ones who were allowed to vote, or they had more votes because they (allegedly) paid more taxes than the poor, who essentially had nothing anyway.

  13. "The US has always teetered on the edge of theocracy, and has in the course of 200+ years managed to stay clear of the edge. But I feel that in the past 8 years it’s moved so much closer to the edge than during the rest of its existence."

    Majority rules.

    Part of the reason for what you claim is a movement towards a theocracy is *because* the majority has been oppressed. The majority of the population claims a religious belief, and a vocal minority has been pushing more and more to suppress expressions of that belief through the use of government force.

    If, indeed, the United States was a democracy that worked under majority rule, daily prayer in school would have remained a requirement. It's because we do not have a majority rules system that the rights of the minority, who had been forced to participate in such prayers in the past, are protected.

    As to the "elected elite"- what do you think *Congress* is? An "elected elite" is a fundamental part of the Constitution and the republic form of government. It's the buffer that keeps the mob from running the show- at least it did until the public started voting based on who throws the most money at them personally by forcefully taking it from someone else.

    *You* may have meant something else by "elite", but that's what Congress is supposed to be, and more or less was when the Senate wasn't directly elected. Our Founding Fathers didn't create a republic because it was chic, they did it precisely because mob rule was a bad thing. As to the "quality" of the people elected, history shows that there's nothing "elite" about them.

    I'm not convinced that a "theocracy" would be worse than the current trend towards socialism. It's not the government's business to be the mommy and daddy of the people, or to be in the wealth distribution business. That's what states are for.

  14. Uhh, yes, congress is an elected Elite. Isn't that the point I was making?

    And the fact they're no "elite" in your opinion also makes the point I was making.

    The way things are going in the US, money is going to be more and more important in deciding who gets to say something. The people are still ultimately choosing who they want to represent them, but in the end, the people who get elected will do the bidding of those who pay their wage, and unfortunately, that's not the people, that's the campaign contributors. To paraphrase Penn Jjillette (I think): If you keep choosing for the lesser of two evils, things will only get more evil.

    As for the "freedom of religion" bits in the constitution, they are there specifically because a large portion of the people who came to the US were people who were trying to escape religious persecution and theocratic tirrany back in Europe.

    Although it would be very ironic if the US would turn out to be the very country that's now becoming a theocracy, there's plenty of reasons now already becoming obvious why that would be a bad thing (teen pregnancy, abortion clinic bombings, wars in far away places, etc… to name but a few).

  15. If the people want to be sheep, they'll keep reelecting the same people. Since the incumbents nearly always win, I rest my case.

    There's a reason why I don't want sheep directly voting for laws.

    Remember, the general population thinks wrestling is real and the space shuttle is fake. I don't blame Congress for the state of the nation. I blame an intentionally uninformed electorate.

    As to the original thread, this country does have a rich religious history. While it's true that many people came here to flee religious persecution, such as the Pilgrims, what's not taught is that the Pilgrims were just as intolerant.

    I also find it interesting that the same voices that stress *multi*culturalism in schools are appalled at the idea of teaching American religious ideas. It seems all cultures are equal *except* those from the United States.

    It's appalling how "skeptic" has changed from "promoter of reason" to "anti-religious fanatic". Religion does not equal antireason, and skeptic does not equal rational. Just because something is religious in nature doesn't mean it's bad or wrong.

    Intelligent Design is still creationism.

    Religious belief *is* a foundation of the American legal system, and cannot be separated from that foundation. Trying to yank religion from the American legal foundation would be like trying to yank the concrete from the floor of a house- the house would fall. However, the American legal system has long passed the foundation stage, and while religion did provide for much of the broad framework, the details have long since taken over. The Ten Commandments should be acknowledged as one of *many* legal systems that comprise the foundation of the American legal system, and there is no legal problem with posting them in the courthouse- so long as it's part of a display of legal foundations, including the Code of Hammurabi and the Magna Carta, and not standing by itself. That's what separates the Ten Commandments from religion- *context*- and that context is what makes a display legal.

  16. But the ten commandments were NOT the basis of the legal system.

    In fact, some of the ten commandments directly violate the constitution. The very first one as a matter of fact, which says you should believe in only one god, the judeo-christian god from the bible.

    The very first ammendment to the constitution in response, says congress is not allowed to establish any particular religion.

    And that also means not giving any religion preferential treatment, whether in the court, in public displays, or in schools. And that in turn means that "multiculturalism" also implies not teaching about an one particular religion unless it's in the context of teaching about various different religions.

    Besides, what would be multicultural about teaching christianity? That would be like going France, Italy, India, China, etc… and eating nothing else except McDonalds and drinking Coca Cola while there.

    If someone is incapable of seeing all cultures (of religions for that matter) as being on equal footing, they'll have a hard time being truly multicultural.

    It's so subtle and so pervasive that even most atheists have some christian biases they're not aware of.

    From my perspective though, it's amazing how, after all the advances we've made in the past 1000 years, "christian" still seems to be synonymous with "anti-science" in many cases. This is the only reason "skeptic" often seems to mean "anti-religious".

  17. Even a brief review of the history of law will show that the Ten Commandments most certainly is *one* of the foundations of our current legal system. So is the Code of Hammurabi and even the Magna Carta. That's precisely why the display of the Ten Commandments in one of the Federal buildings in Albuquerque was completely Constitutional- it was not displayed as promoting a religion, but rather, as part of the foundation of the law. This display also included images of the Code of Hammurabi, the Magna Carta, and other ancient legal codes, giving context to the Ten Commandments. The American legal code has all of these as its roots.

    Why shouldn't Christianity be included in a truly *multi*cultural education? As you said, "If someone is incapable of seeing all cultures (of religions for that matter) as being on equal footing, they’ll have a hard time being truly multicultural." On that basis, how could you *exclude* Christianity, unless you believe that some cultures are more equal than others? Moreover, without a thorough background in your own culture, how could you begin to understand and appreciate other cultures? My own children in public schools are being taught about Asian and African cultures, but haven't even been exposed to George Washington yet.

    A religious display in a public area is not, in and of itself, government promotion of religion. There's nothing wrong with the local government permitting Nativity scenes in the local park at Christmas. There *is* a big problem with the giant granite Ten Commandments placed on the courthouse steps (Google Dixie County Ten Commandments- you'll see what I mean). This display wasn't intended to provide a display of the roots of law, it was clearly intended to give the finger to the ACLU, and I found it particularly amusing because, of all the words to misspell, they chose "adultery". Now, if the same people that approved placing the Ten Commandments on the courthouse steps *also* approved and provided for equally prominent displays of the Magna Carta and the Code of Hammurabi, then their prior decision would be in compliance with the law. Since these folks tend to use fecal matter rather than gray matter to think with, it's unlikely they could even spell "Code", much less "Hammurabi".

    I am an actively practicing Christian who also is a firm believer in the scientific method. That's why I think the people pushing Intelligent Design are a bunch of wankers. Science and religion are both belief systems, but funadmentally different. Attempting to use science to prove the Biblical Creation is almost blasphemy- religion works on faith, and if you have proof, you don't need faith.

    The primary difference between science and religion has to do with the practitioners. The practitioners of religion (in my opinion quite wrongly) tend to avoid or even discourage asking questions. The Bible itself says to study to show thyself approved- thus completely eliminating *blind* faith. Willful ignorance isn't a sin, but it should be.

    The same applies to education in general. It's shameful how little is required in life. This makes it easy for the anti-science advocates to succeed. My personal experience with public school was, to put it mildly, disappointing. Even the few teachers who wanted to do their jobs weren't given the resources necessary. Fortunately, I had science and math teachers who were willing to give me private assignments to help me learn. For me, studying science *is* a requirement of my faith.

    Here's a completely unprovable hypothesis: God did not have to create humans with the level of complexity we currently have. He certainly could have created Adam out of dust. However, this would also require a continuous state of creation, because God would then have to continually add layers of complexity as our understanding and instrumentation got better. It wouldn't do for someone using amicroscope to discover that, in fact, all we are is dust in the wind :)

    I have a friend who uses evolution as the basis of her belief in God- if God did not exist, then something would evolve to fill that particular eco-niche. And as for the supernatural aspect of God- there is none. After all, any sufficiently advanced science is indistinguishable from magic. There's no reason to think that God works on anything but completely natural principles that we simply don't understand yet.

    In the end, religion, particularly organized religion, insists on making things far more complicated than necessary. To paraphrase Hilel (sic), the entire morality of the Bible boils down to "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you- all else is commentary." It's a terrible shame that some folks choose to blindly accept what they are told about their faith (*all* faiths), rather than learn on their own.

    There was a mural in Albuquerque that puts this in perspective, at least for me. It said "If you want to fix this" – a painting of Earth – "first fix yourself". Unfortunately it was painted over before I could get a picture. With that in mind, it seems that, if I want to convince you of my point of view (for example, get someone to express interest in learning about my faith), I first need to be the best example I can be of that faith. I just don't see how beating up gay people or calling others "whoremonger" is likely to convince them of the value of my point of view. As I see it, there is a generally inverse relationship between the energy put forth in professing a religion and that put forth in practicing it.

    I say it again- our dear Skepchick is correct- spirituality =/ religion.

  18. You can't really claim the ten commandments were used as a foundation of a legal system if the legal system didn't outlaw the things the commandments covered.

    In a very weak sense, you might claim a legal system had some parallels with a list of commandments in that both are lists of things people shouldn't do, but that parallel could be drawn with any list, even lists of forbidden things that had no relation at all to the content of the legal system, or which were diametrically opposed to it.

    Basically, pretending the ten commandments are some real kind of foundation seems little more than a political gesture only likely to be swallowed by people who don't think too deeply about it. I dare say saying it still gets whoops and cheers from a certain section of the population, which is why some politicians will carry on making the claim even if they know it doesn't really stand up.

    If a legal system doesn't outlaw covetousness, doesn't prescribe required and forbidden worship, doesn't mandate allowed and forbidden names of deities, doesn't require honouring of parents, doesn't forbid working on Sunday, etc, it's really hard to make a direct linkage.

    (Allowing for definitions of what murder, etc mean), not murdering, not perjuring and not stealing are close to no-brainer elements of *any* legal system, likely including informal community laws that were around well before the tales that became incorporated into the Bible were first invented.

  19. You are misinterpreting "foundation". In this case, "foundation" means "organized structure of behavior based on written codes, not whims of the leader". Thus, the Ten Commandments *is* a foundation of the law, because it represents one of the earliest attempts to provide a written code for everyone to obey, so they weren't dependent on regular pronouncements of the king. This was clear from the context I provided when I also included other foundations of the law, such as the Code of Hammurabi and the Magna Carta. In this case, it means a fundamental change in thinking to a government of laws, not of men. Since the Ten Commandments is one of the earliest attempts to provide a legal framework not dependent on the whims of the king, it is a foundation of our current legal system. "Foundation" =/ "direct linkage", where "direct linkage" means "copy and modify the previous".

    Unfortunately, the vast majority of people who aren't familiar with the law think of "foundation" the way you do, and that's why we get ignorant wankers who try to hang the Ten Commandments on the courthouse steps without any context.

  20. "To be honest, I think they believe whatever big budget motion picture told them what happened."

    Thus we have William Wallace and the battle of Stirling Bridge without a bridge, thus completely altering the events of the day.

    On the other hand, watching the English charging the Scots on a narrow bridge, thus confining them so they can be easily slaughtered by the Scots, wouldn't make for so much drama.

  21. It's got nothing to do with 'familiarity with the law', and I don't think I'm misinterpreting 'foundation'.

    'Foundation' does carry the meaning of something that is directly built on, becoming part of a final completed structure.

    If I see a rickety old building somewhere and make a different building somewhere else, the first building isn't a foundation for the mine in any meaningful sense of the word foundation. A partial inspiration, possibly, but even that is harder to claim the more different my building is.

    As far as I can see, it's hard to see making the claim that the ten commandments are a foundation of the law as an honest act if made by someone who understands what the commandments are, what the law is, and how people are likely to interpret the word 'foundation'..

    With *your* definition, the ten commandments could be a 'foundation' of a legal system that said "Hey, it's OK to kill people, there's no such thing as property, it doesn't matter if you lie and cheat, and adultery is positively encouraged. It's difficult to see many people thinking "But they're both written lists, so one is still the foundation of the other"

    A written legal system isn't incompatible with rule by a king or elite, and if the king or elite has the power to create laws, whether they are written or not may not matter greatly. Any state of a size such that the ruler can't judge everything needs some deputies to administer law, and they either have to be given a free hand, or operate within the bounds of tradition modified by verbal or written instructions from the ruler[s].

    A written system seems to be fairly likely to happen anyway in a large enough society where there is writing.

    Certainly, a written system has advantages both in terms of a standard to compare current judgements against (adding some kind of inertia) and as a way of having a written authority to *override* tradition when change is decided upon, but the fundamental issue is still *who* gets to make the laws.

    Whether on the one hand it's a king and/or people who claim to have talked to god[s] (or a king who claims to talk to gods), or on the other hand some kind of representatives of the people seems to me to be the major distinction between kinds of legal system.

    Of course, verbal systems of laws, however good, rational and long-lived, leave less in the way of a reliable historical trace in the long term.

    There could easily have been (primitive) law systems passed on in unwritten forms for thousands of years before the bible came to be written which are now unknowable, but which may well have been the basis for the obvious/nonreligious parts of the (primitive) ten commandments.

  22. PH, I can appreciate you point of view, but you're still wrong. The law is impossible to understand if you try to apply common sense. After all, common sense is nothing more or less than what the person using the phrase "common sense" thinks it is. The common definitions of words are often not the legal definition of those same words. Remember, it depends on what the definition of "is" is.

    I can absolutely agree with you about the possibility of *oral* systems of law (*all* systems of law are verbal, since they use words). That's the unfortunate part about oral history- it can be so rich, and yet so fragile.

  23. PH, although the Founding Fathers talked about rights being handed down from God, I've developed a model that I believe more accurately describes how rights are handled in the real world. I'd like your opinion.

    In order for something to be a right, three things must occur:

    1. The right must be something that the general public demands

    2. The right must be stated in writing

    3. The right must be actively protected by the government

    Absent these three, a right doesn't exist. For example, in England, there is no written constitution stating that the people have the right to a free press. It's something of a tradition, and it's generally accepted by the government, but there's nothing stopping the government from passing a law restricting or eliminating a free press. Thus, without #2 above, a free press is a privilege.

    Just as important, freedom of religion was written into the Soviet constitution- but exercising that right was suppressed, thus violating #3.

    Furthermore, if the public doesn't demand something as a right, the government won't recognize it.

    This model doesn't address any divine nature of rights, it just describes how rights are handled in the real world. #1 came out of an online discussion. I can't think of a #4, but maybe you can.

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