7 Quick Takes Friday — 7 Things That Drive Me Batty

7 Quick Takes

I’m in a car heading south so I’m putting this in the queue on Thursday to post Friday morning. I thought I’d take a break from atheism to post on things that drive me batty.

–1–

Allergies. Nothing is working for them this year. I can’t remember a year where they’ve caused me insomnia like they are now.

–2–

People who get to the front of line and then dither about what they want to eat. Seriously… you just stood in line for 10 minutes, had menus available to you, and you can’t figure out what you want?!?!?!?!? Mind moving aside and letting the rest of us get on with our lives while you dither?

–3–

People who stick their carts in the center of the aisle. You’d think this would be self-explanatory but I encounter it every freaking time I go to the grocery store or Target. It takes all my self-control not to have an icy tone when I say “excuse me” and much of the time, I don’t succeed.

–4–

Insurance companies. This bumper sticker applies.

–5–

People who fail to control their dogs. I’m not a dog person for a reason — I’ve dealt with too many stupid people who think that their dog charging me and jumping on me is funny. I wonder how funny it will be when I call the city and have their dog impounded.

–6–

People who park in the library parking lot on flea market days. The sign says “library parking only” in two languages (this is California after all) and I’m pretty sure you can read at least one of them. I’m sorry that you’re too lazy to find parking on the street but you’re really screwing things up for those of us that want to use the library and not have to lug our heavy tote bags of books 4 blocks.

–7–

People who smoke right outside public buildings. I think I’ve explained this before: smokers have no rights where my air supply is concerned. They need to be at least 15 feet from the entrance to a building and you had better darn well believe that I’m going to make sure that the distance is enforced as strictly as possible. Their filthy habit is not worth an asthma attack on my part.

(For more of this, head to Conversion Diary.)

Reflections on Atheism (IV)

This post was going to be on atheism and morality but I received a long comment on my last post from Sean, a reader of Blag Hag, and it was pertinent enough that I thought I’d address it in a post. Welcome, Sean. I appreciate you engaging me and doing it civilly and thoughtfully.

So…

My impression is that they [churches] cannot directly run campaigns or parts of campaigns on these issues, not that they cannot preach about them. The line is, unfortunately, rather fuzzy, but I don’t know that your statement is very precise, and I’m unaware of any church that has actually lost tax-exempt status solely because of something being preached against. In fact, I suspect that any such case would involve a very strong First Amendment defense for said church. A probable exception is endorsing political candidates, which is obviously explicitly ruled out by 501(c)3 rules.

This happened to an Episcopal church in Long Beach in 2003. (I can’t remember the name of the church. I think it was All Saints or something.) It’s one of these things that happens very infrequently so I take notice when it does happen. I’m sure that there are churches that *did* endorse candidates but did so in ways that weren’t blatant enough for people to react to.

But it’s not clear to me that a church can not, for example have a generic pro-life stance and encourage people to consider those issues while voting, or get involved in protests so long as they do not directly contribute money or labor to pro-life political lobbying. In fact, I strongly suspect that the many churches near here that do precisely this (I live in Denver) have not had their tax-exempt status threatened. But I’ll certainly yield to counter-examples.

It’s one of these things, I think, where it’s a slippery slope and you only hear about it happening when the act is fairly egregious or when it’s an issue where there’s enough people opposing them that petitions can be filed. I know that my husband’s parishes have tended to be very pro-life and there are pamphlets for the nearby “Walk for Life” but unless he gets up in the pulpit and preaches out very specifically against abortion and irritates people, most people on the opposing side are content to leave well enough alone.

I also will admit that I have no idea what you mean by “the state has no jurisdiction over churches, synagogues, mosques, and temples.” It’s certainly the case (and very fortunate) that the First Amendment prevents the state from regulating which religious doctrines are taught, and also from competing by promoting specific religious viewpoints. But I don’t see what this has to do with taxation. I mean, churches are certainly subject to state jurisdiction in matters of criminal law, and there are certain financial tricks that churches obviously can’t pull (such as affinity fraud, pyramid schemes, or absorbing businesses solely to exempt them from certain taxes). I’m not certain why taxation in particular, on churches in particular, is a problem with jurisdiction in particular.

No problem. Because of the separation of church and state, the state cannot claim jurisdiction over a church (or mosque or synagogue — let’s use “church” in this example) because the church is outside the power of the state. The whole 501(c)3 status of churches has only been in effect since 1954 and was enacted by then-senator Lyndon B Johnson. You are correct in stating that churches are still subject to local law and criminal law. The way this affects taxation is that churches are not classified as businesses and are therefore not subject to taxation as such. As I said before, clergy are considered self-employed by the government though church workers like secretaries and janitors would be subject to normal payroll taxes because their employment is that of a normal private sector employee.

It’s also notable that the same rules apply to atheist and secular 501(c)3 groups, although those are generally considered “educational” groups rather than churches (obviously the same rules are supposed apply across the board). Frankly, I think that this issue is a bit overhyped, and comes more from atheists being irritated at a handful of peculiarly rich religious leaders than anything more substantive.

Believe me, a number of Christians get really ticked off about peculiarly rich religious leaders as well. 🙂 I should probably explain that some churches (like the LDS) track tithing and income and actually have members settle their tithing to the penny at the end of the year while other churches don’t have an offering plate and members give what they can and do so in different ways. The most well-known pastors frequently are not the richest. Rick Warren, for example, practices “reverse tithing” where instead of giving 10% and living on the remaining 90%, he lives on the 10% and gives away the other tithing. His royalties for all his Purpose-Driven stuff are given to charity. In fact, it’s a sign of spiritual immaturity when the really rich pastors have things like private jets and villas. There is *nothing* about prosperity in the Gospel — the opposite is true.

I feel somewhat the same about the National Day of Prayer and all that, which is more of a symbolic issue than anything (same with the Cold War era symbolism, such as “under God” in the pledge and “In God We Trust” on various things). I think these things are not so much bad in themselves as annoying in the context of rhetoric about a “Christian nation” that often goes overboard. It’s certainly the case that all these minor endorsements of religion cumulatively add weight to the idea that being nonreligious somehow makes you less of a proper citizen.

I’ll address the last sentence of this in a future post. For the record, I agree with you.

Items like Rick Perry’s bill are somewhat more annoying because they cross two lines. Besides being inherently an endorsement of religion, made from a governmental platform, they also are endorsements of the idea of supernatural intervention. This is definitely something that bothers atheists insofar as so many other atheist issues involve supernatural intervention. Intelligent design is an obvious example, but a more appropriate analogy would be when certain believers (notably many Christian Scientists) who refuse medical treatment for their children out of the hope that miraculous assistance will come instead.

I figured that this would be an annoyance. (I heard about the call for prayer on one of the Christian radio stations I listen to in the car.) I don’t know that such a call to prayer would happen in California because we’re a much less “churched” state than Texas is. (I could be wrong so please tell me if I am.) It’s kind of a fine line for me because of the way it gets worded — it would be less of an endorsement (at least to me) if it was worded along the lines of “would those who pray please pray for rain for Texas?” Thoughts?

There’s also some annoyance at the privilege involved. Lots of politicians obviously feel that playing up their faith will gain them some political advantage (or at least it won’t hurt). This is not usually the case with someone playing up how little faith they have. There’s a feeling that Perry gets to be as Christian as he wants since he’s in the majority, and especially because he’s in a conservative state, while politician with nonstandard beliefs in Texas would have to instead play up how moderate and sympathetic to the majority they are. So the prayer stuff seems like just a cheap tactic to win enthusiasm from certain segments of the population.

I think that it is indeed unfair that politicians are more likely to be elected if they happen to be Christian or a member of a faith tradition. (I’m sure Muslim politicians are getting the short end of the stick on this given the Islamophobia of the nation.) I think the reason Christian politicians get so much favor is that people expect them to have higher standards of morality because of the religion they claim to follow. As I plan to address in another post on atheism, someone claiming to be Christian can be much less moral than a politician claiming to be atheist or agnostic — the only difference is that they theoretically *should* know better than to misbehave. On the other hand, Kay Hagan’s purported ties to an atheist group got her some donations that she probably wouldn’t have had otherwise — I know my dad tossed some “godless money” her way after hearing the smears from Elizabeth Dole. 🙂

Sean also left me some other great comments on my post regarding Christians subjugating atheists. I’m going to post his comment in its entirety because I think he makes some great points.

I think that, if you want to look at the personal rather than the general stuff, a big concern for a lot of atheists is how to handle family and friends. It’s certainly the case that about half or maybe a bit more than half of the atheist/agnostic community is made up of people who used to be believers and then deconverted. And it can be seriously disconcerting to have people who you used to be very close to, suddenly change attitude, or avoid you, or show direct intolerance. Or people who were very warm at first, become more and more uneasy as they realize that you don’t believe in the same things.

I’ve heard a few dozen of these stories, and some of them can be quite harsh. Some people have had family members pray for something bad to happen to them, apparently believing that atheists will immediately convert when confronted with misfortune or the specter of death. Others have simply been shunned. Last week I was talking to someone who had asked his father why he never called anymore. The father replied “What does light have to do with darkness?” and that was that.

There’s also an anxiety that keeps people in the closet. A lot of people don’t come out at work, not out of fear of a specific type of retribution, but because they worry that, the moment they come out, they’ll change from a “normal” person to someone who is the target of questions, hostility, or attempts at conversion.

I suppose if there are two simple things to change, it would be these: First, people shouldn’t assume in public that everyone they meet is a Christian, or that all the nice people are Christians, or that they would all at least like to be told about Christianity right here and now. This especially goes for asking strangers questions that atheists at school or work often dread, such as asking “What church do you go to?” instead of something more general like “Are you religious?” or “What religion are you?” or something. Obviously this happens more in the Bible Belt and in rural areas. Secondly, Christians need to understand that atheism is a description of what people might think about the universe at large, and doesn’t mean that atheists just all have some kind of burning anger towards all religious people and religion. Some of us probably do, but that’s beside the point; it’s a stereotype that doesn’t describe how most of us feel most of the time.

Obviously the morality issue also plays a role, but I think that my second point above may actually play a bigger role in mistreatment of atheists. People don’t normally act hostile to strangers. But I think that some people have interpreted my calling myself an “atheist” as implicitly an attack on religion all by itself, and so they get kind of defensive before I even have the opportunity to say anything specific about my beliefs. And that defensiveness leads to being more willing to label me as getting something morally wrong, or to misinterpret what I say as being much more of an attack than I intend it to be (which in turn frustrates me, increasing the chance that I actually do say something offensive).

Thank you Sean for engaging me on these things. I appreciate it.

Reflections on Atheism (III)

I went long in my last post so now we’ll address…

On Churches Allegedly Being State-Supported Institutions
Churches are classified by the IRS as “501(c)3 religious organizations” which puts them in the same class as charities and foundations, making all donations tax-deductible. They are this way as a result of LBJ trying to shut them up. How does this “shut them up”? Well, churches cannot preach against anything the government deems “legal” such as abortion, homosexuality, the war in Iraq, or tell their parishioners how to vote. Doing so can jeopardize their 501(c)3 standing. Recent examples include a church in southern California who either lost their standing or were threatened with it for preaching about the idiocy of the war in Iraq as well as the petitions that went around trying to get the LDS’s 501(c)3 status revoked after their efforts to get Prop 8 passed in California. (This wouldn’t happen because the LDS has a HUGE presence in Washington with the delegations from Utah, Idaho, and Nevada.) Another example would be Catholic churches denying the Eucharist to those who vote for pro-choice politicians — it’s a sneaky way to get around the 501(c)3 issue. (Not trying to pick on Catholics or Mormons here — I’m citing examples that I know of that have been in the media.)

There is also the issue of how one would tax a church because the government has no jurisdiction over them due to the separation of church and state. Clergy are self-employed — we pay our own FICA, taxes, and such instead of having payroll taxes. Unless we are eligible for food stamps or Medicaid or WIC, the government does not give us any money or assistance. Clergy salaries come from the churches they serve just as the salaries of employees for a charity or foundation come out of donations to that organization.

Having said all that, I fail to see how religion is state-supported fiscally because the state has no jurisdiction over churches, synagogues, mosques, and temples.

There is another aspect however. There’s the National Prayer Breakfast, the National Day of Prayer, Governor Rick Perry asking Texans to pray for rain… These are things that fall under what are referred to in church polity as “local options”, meaning that observances happen as local custom dictate.

The Republican presidents tend to hold gatherings for the National Day of Prayer whereas the Democrats don’t. (The wiki article even talks about the lawsuits associated with it.) I don’t think I have ever participated in it for the simple reason that it’s usually on a Thursday morning and I have other things to do. I’ve seen and heard of occurrences where faiths other than Christians participate and this would honestly be the best way to do it IMHO. However, how it is done really does depend on the culture of the place where the occurrence is taking place. If it’s a place like the Midwest or the South, it’s going to be all the Christian clergy there unless there’s a synagogue or mosque in town. I have never lived in a place where attendance has been required of all citizens and where it’s the only thing on the radio, so I really don’t know how it’s government-imposed religion. (I just saw this which shows a good atheist alternative to that day.)

The National Prayer Breakfast is actually pretty benign and has a social justice focus rather than a “praying for the infidels in the nation” one. [/tic] The focus is more on addressing the problems of the nation and the world and truthfully, it’s not one of those battles that atheists/non-theists should fight. You *want* our government to address social issues and this is a means to that end.

As far as Governor Rick Perry asking Texans and the rest of the country to pray for rain, it’s another place where local customs dictate the response. Is God going to magically produce rain because the people prayed? Not necessarily but it probably wouldn’t hurt and it gives people something that they can do. Is it the government forcing religion on the atheist communities in Texas? I wouldn’t say that the governor is forcing religion on them — they have the option to say “screw this!” and roll their eyes.

I know that one argument of some atheists reading this is that I have no right to address this because I’m in the majority. Actually, I’m not. Other than living in the rural Midwest and Ohio, I’ve never necessarily been the majority. Even when I lived in Newark, only 50% of the town actually identified with a particular church. Most people would probably be classified as culturally Christian or may identify with a faith group but not attend worship services.

I’m sure my argument is probably circular and not all that great but I’m writing this late at night to try and get myself tired enough to sleep. My contention is this: religion is not state-supported. The only way it could be truly stated that the state supports it is if we had a national church like the Church of England and one paid church taxes.

The next post will be on the contention that atheists have no morals (which I don’t believe) and why atheist politicians have a hard time being elected.

Reflections on Atheism (II)

I should probably start by apologizing if this post seems disjointed. I’m writing it in spurts while taking care of a very ambulatory two year old who likes to climb on furniture and get himself “treed”.

One thing I’ve seen prevalently (is that a word?) on the atheist blogs I read is that Christians are subjugating the rights of atheists and that religion shouldn’t be tax-supported.

Huh?

I thought that we had freedom of religion in the U.S. and that people were free to believe as they chose. I also know that the U.S. doesn’t have a state religion and that clergy are considered self-employed so it begs the question of how religion is supposedly tax-supported. Reading further, I saw that those making that argument cite the fact that churches have 501(c)3 status which means that contributions to them are tax-deductible. In essence, they have the same status as charities and foundations do.

So…

On The Subject of the Subjugation of The Rights of Others
This is kind of a weird idea to me because I was raised in the San Francisco Bay Area in a non-theist family. We did sing religious music in my choirs in middle school but it was more in the tradition of sacred classical music than “let’s convert the kids” and we did both Christmas and Hannukah music in December. In high school, we had to read the Bible for my honors English classes but it was for the purpose of having background knowledge for discussing American literature (i.e. Genesis and the Steinbeck novel East of Eden). My high school *did* have a baccalaureate service but it was completely voluntary and held at a megachurch off-campus with a variety of clergy leading it. I went to a very secular university and was a minority on campus as a moderately-conservative practicing Christian. My Christian group wasn’t nasty about the fact that it existed and one of the things that was very much ingrained in us was that we needed to be tolerant of others. (My church even baked cookies for the LGBT center on campus after the Matthew Shepherd killing to show that we weren’t evil.)

I would completely dismiss this idea of Christians persecuting non-Christians if I hadn’t moved to Ohio after graduation and lived in small-town rural America (Minnesota and Montana) from 2004-2010. It showed me that my experiences in California aren’t how it is normally and it did cause me to think about the effect that my church and its programs had on the community. I don’t know that we really had an atheist/agnostic/non-theist presence anywhere that I lived during that time — religion is pretty ingrained in rural culture and it’s hard to evangelize to one’s church because doing so is effectively “sheep-stealing” from another place. The local radio station in our small town in Minnesota broadcast church services on Sunday because it’s what the populace wanted — it was a public service to shut-ins and those who missed church due to planting/harvesting/hunting.

The one place I could totally see Christianity being a complete irritation to more secularly-minded people was Ohio. When I lived in Columbus, it was a metropolitan area with enough diversity that I think people could practice their right not to believe in peace. The year and a half I spent in Newark was another story. I don’t know that the high school had its baccalaureate on campus but the choirs at the local high schools did a whole lot of sacred music. Singing Handel’s Messiah is one thing — it’s classical music and a piece that is recognized as much for its musical amazingness as much as it is for the subject matter. Singing solely Christmas music in December is another. I don’t know if there was a synagogue in the county, I’m sure there wasn’t a mosque, and I can’t think of other religions that were present unless one wants to count Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses as non-Christians (which I’m not). What made me really wonder about how “tolerant” people were was some of the comments made at one of the Bible studies we attended where someone (in their 60’s) talked about how his government teacher gave him the choice of memorizing the Lord’s Prayer or the preamble to the Constitution. That struck me as odd and given my background, a violation of the separation of church and state. If it had been a Christian school, that would have been one thing. This was a public high school, however, and I felt like it was wrong. (Being the vicar’s wife, I had to choose my battles and reacting to comments from this Bible study was not a battle I really wanted to fight.) The culture was very much in favor of a more evangelical flavor of Christianity and it was really strange to be in the majority for a change.

Those who have spoken out on this issue have been from rural areas like Jen McCreight (Indiana) or have lived in the south (Hemant Mehta). Having not lived in the South (though Ohio was close), I can’t speak to the amount that religion entangles itself with the culture and it wouldn’t surprise me a bit to find non-theists that feel persecuted there. One of the characters in a series of murder mysteries by author Margaret Maron talks about going to worship and Sunday School when she was campaigning as a judge in rural North Carolina. While these are, of course, works of fiction, I can see it actually being pretty accurate because if you’re going to run for office in a place like that, you have to go where the people go.

So what can non-theists do if they feel persecuted by Christians? One thing would be to somehow network with other non-theists so that you don’t feel like you’re completely alone. Leah at Unequally Yoked has posed the question on atheism and community and I’d love to know exactly how this works for people not in metropolitan areas. Another thing is to do as Hemant Mehta does and be the friendly atheist so that people can get to know you and maybe your connections with people can help create some dialogue. I’m not saying that this is the easiest thing to do and that it will work, but it’s worth a shot.

Above all, please know that the VAST majority of Christians out there are not interested in making your lives hard. Would we like it if you accepted Christ and became Christian? Yes, but that’s more because we love you as people and not because we’re gleefully happy that you may/may not be hellbound. (My official position is that your salvation is between you and God and I’m not the one who makes the decision.) We’d be more than happy to not trample on you but YOU HAVE TO SPEAK UP. (Doing it respectfully helps.) I’d be more than happy to help non-theists find ways to integrate their beliefs (or non-beliefs) into their communities.

So… could my atheist readers tell me how you’re being subjugated? I promise to listen and see what I can do to help.

I guess my commentary on tax exemption for churches will be another post…

The Simple Woman’s Daybook: April 25, 2011

Simple Woman's Daybook

FOR TODAY April 25, 2011

Outside my window… sunshine with some clouds.

I am thinking… about some comments on discussion threads.

I am thankful for… Easter with my parents, brother, and sister-in-law. I’m also thankful for the discussions I’m having via the atheism posts on this blog.

From the kitchen… barbequed pizza from dinner last night.

I am wearing… navy blue maternity shirt and jeans

I am creating…this post. 🙂

I am going… back up to the Gold Country later.

I am reading… Murder by the Slice by Livia J. Washburn. I’ve also been immersing my self in Denise Swanson’s Scumble River mysteries.

I am hoping… we can get all the Medi-Cal stuff straightened out for Daniel this week.

I am hearing… the talking heads my dad is watching on TV.

Around the house… cleaning up after Daniel and doing dishes.

One of my favorite things… getting to watch my mom and Daniel bonding.

A few plans for the rest of the week: heading to LA this weekend for a wedding.

Here is picture for thought I am sharing… Freya on Daniel’s table

Freya on Daniel's table

Hosted by The Simple Woman’s Daybook

A Song For Today

In only a moment truth
Was seen revealed this mystery
The crown that showed no dignity he wore
And the king was placed for all the world
To show disgrace but only beauty flowed from this place

Would you take the place of this man
Would you take the nails from his hands
Would you take the place of this man
Would you take the nails from his hands

He held the weight of impurity
The father would not see
The reasons had finally come to be to
Show the depth of his grace flowed with
Every sin erased he knew that this was
Why he came

Would you take the place of this man
Would you take the nails from his hands
Would you take the place of this man
Would you take the nails from his hands

And we just don’t know the blood and
Water flowed and in it all
He shows just how much he cares
And the veil was torn so we could have
This open door and all these things have
Finally been complete

Would you take the place of this man
Would you take the nails from his hands
Would you take the place of this man
Would you take the nails from his hands
From his hands
From his hands
From his hands
From his hands
From his hands
–“This Man” by Jeremy Camp

Reflections on Atheism (I)

Given how I have a habit of irritating atheists over my claim that it *IS* a religion or at the very least a system of beliefs, I should probably be keeping my mouth shut right now. Anyone who knows me is going to laugh at the thought of that happening.

So.

I have a couple atheist blogs that I read daily and I just finished I Sold My Soul on eBay: Viewing Faith through an Atheist’s Eyes by Hemant Mehta. One of the blogs is by an atheist Yale student who is arguing faith issues with her boyfriend and the other two (Blag Hag and Friendly Atheist) are atheist activists. Friendly Atheist is the blog that grew out of Mehta’s book.) I occasionally comment along the lines of “that’s so not how we Christians are” and I generally keep my mouth shut on other entries because they’ve become “let’s rag on Christians” threads and I have no interest in those.

One thing that seems to be a common thread is how Christians subjugate the rights of atheists and how Christians believe that atheists have no morals. In the next few weeks, I’ll be addressing these two subjects in blog posts.

First, however, I should probably make it clear that I’m a convert to Christianity and that I spent the first part of my life as an atheist/agnostic. My family isn’t religious and my dad can actually be quite anti-religious, especially when it comes to fundamentalism of any kind. If nothing else, I *do* understand how obnoxious it is when people come up to you and try to “win your soul” or “convert” you. In my case, it made me afraid of finding a church after I converted because I was afraid people were going to yell at me about why my family wasn’t there. (The opposite was true — people were chill about it.) Having said that, I’m not going to mock any atheists/agnostics/humanist/freethinkers though I reserve the right to say that the way they are going about things is wrong.