Berning Bright

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(Source)

It has been interesting to watch my more progressive Christian friends excuse Bernie’s lack of apparent religiosity. Some friends have taken to calling him “a spiritual man” instead. Here is one comment a friend posted online:

Each to their own. Trump has the racist, sexist, ageist, ableist, and narrow-minded ignorance and greed that would suit this nation to its demise. But each to their own. Many people probably recognize Bernie Sanders as a passive, tree hugger, atheist, but I have to disagree. He is much more than just some atheist. I am glad to hear from you though, even if it is on political disagreement!

Let the record show that I am just some atheist.

Bernie is not openly atheist. He is openly humanist.

Unless there is some better source stating Bernie’s atheism? I am shamelessly delighted that a video from Jimmy Kimmel Live! is all we have to discuss his religiosity.

All this begs the question: Why are Christian democratic voters excusing his lack of religiosity? In short, atheism has a negative appeal. Supporting an atheist in an election is inconsistent with their worldview, and so they choose instead to simply dismiss the lack of religiosity rather than confront and rationally assess it. It’s much easier to ignore than to an accept someone’s deviance from religiosity. Just ask my parents; they’re experts.

From what I have seen, secular groups are endorsing Bernie. They never quote Bernie as an atheist, but they are apt to quote some of Hillary Clinton’s more religious remarks. For instance, in 2014, during an interview, Hillary said: “At the risk of appearing predictable, the Bible was and remains the biggest influence on my thinking. I was raised reading it, memorizing passages from it and being guided by it. I still find it a source of wisdom, comfort and encouragement. [1]” It’s enough to make my skin crawl. Hillary has made anti-extremist statements, but secular groups are painting her with a particular brush at the moment. Humanist groups have also quoted and supported Hillary in the past. Even their social media has taken a dramatic tern for the bern.

No matter who is elected, I imagine atheists can expect to see much of the same congressional ritual, the same Bibles passed along and used as ceremony, just one more token piece of evidence that fanatics cite when claiming that the United States is a “Christian nation.” We in a period of unhealthy nationalism, and we have been here for a long time.

Superstition

Since moving to North Carolina, I have started teaching ESL to adults. At one point, I was teaching students five nights a week. It was overwhelming, and I wasn’t very good at lesson planning yet. One of my South Korean students has been dedicated throughout this process. He keeps an organized three-ring binder and shows up to lessons on time. His English has improved significantly since we first started working together.

My student and I were talking about families and cultures recently. I had created a discussion-based activity with an imaginary character for the exercise. There was a question in the activity that asked about religion. My student pointed to the question and shook his head. “I don’t understand.”

“Which word?” I asked.

He tilted the paper with his finger below the word “religion.”

“Christianity, Buddhism, Catholicism, and Hinduism are all examples of religions,” I said.

He immediately made the connection and nodded. Since we were talking in the context of family, he first answered for his mother and father. When I asked if he was religious, he said, “No, no. I’m not superstitious.” The word was awkward, more than three syllables, the /er/ sound muddled in his pronunciation. Never cross a black cat in the middle of a road. Don’t knock over the salt. Leave an apple on the tree at the end of the harvest. Hold your breath when you pass a cemetery. That was always one of my favorites. I would ride our horse through the cemetery near my grandmother’s home, pretending I was a character from The Legend of Sleepy Hollow or some unknown female figure from the American Revolution, and hold my breath the whole time, spurring the horse faster and faster and faster until we were both thick with sweat, wondering if we would ever get caught.

Superstition remains a compelling force where I grew up, and these superstitions and images from my childhood live somewhere in the back of my mind as comfortable rituals and absurd mysteries. Maybe I could argue that these memories opened me up to a richer world, or maybe I could argue that they are evidence of a culture deeply flawed and clinging to its own suspension of disbelief. Other days, I just try to see the magic in it and remember myself as a girl sitting on a hardwood floor next to my cousin during a lightning storm, lining up acorns on the windowsill, and thinking we were furthest thing from death.

Jesus Goes to Hobby Lobby

At my university, I manage a student organization for creative writers. In addition to workshops, readings, etc., we host craft nights that pertain to writing and literature. Since we are located in a smaller town with few available art-centric resources and since I am admittedly not always the best planner, I occasionally end up buying some of our supplies from Hobby Lobby, the begrudged craft store not far from campus. For example, the organization’s Writer’s Block Party required acrylic spray that would add a glossed finish to members’ works, and I (poor planner that I am) ended up at Hobby Lobby on the day of our event asking an employee to help find the product. Alas.

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Me with that damned Hobby Lobby acrylic spray. *pitch forks! fire!*
Someone! Quick! Mop that floor.

With a more liberal-leaning membership and support system, some people voiced concerns about purchasing products from Hobby Lobby. Our more conservative members were silent. They didn’t praise our “support” of Hobby Lobby. When asked, many of them said they didn’t care at all and thought the whole thing was being “blown out of proportion.”

The popular view in the media was that conservatives were going wild over the Supreme Court decision to favor Hobby Lobby’s charged mandate against providing female employees with contraceptive coverage. Hobby Lobby has claimed to be a reflection of Christian values. (I guess, this explains why I never see any snazzy Margaritaville signs in their stores.) Many conservatives who support the pro-life movement thought Hobby Lobby was making a crucial stand for their freedoms and quickly joined in the crusade by posting their opinions on social media websites. The most popular question being, “How can the Government make Christians pay for abortions?”

On June 30, 2014, the Supreme Court decision was made, and conservatives celebrated. Many considered this ruling to be a success for freedom of religion and began writing posts on Facebook and Twitter about a “rare triumph. . . in the war against Christianity.”

During all this yaysaying and war victory celebrating and liberal head shaking, we failed to see one simple detail:

“The most straightforward way of doing this would be for the Government to assume the cost of providing the four contraceptives at issue to any women who are unable to obtain them under their health-insurance policies due to their employers’ religious objections.”

Burwell v. Hobby Lobby

Who is “the Government” exactly? Well, taxpayers. Me, the conservatives and their pro-choice neighbor. In celebrating the rights of for-profit corporations to have religious freedom, many conservatives failed to see the scope of this detail. Corporations were the winner in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby. Not conservatives or Christians or protesting activists. Hobby Lobby decided not to pay their share and thus burdened taxpayers. None of this is a new story. Pacifists have long been paying taxes that go to military support. Atheists have shouldered a larger tax responsibility, because many churches are tax-exempt.

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Hobby Lobby sold its case as being a huge victory for the conservative pro-life movement to garner customers and higher sales. It made Christians believe that their corporation was carrying some huge burden for them on the front lines of the “war against Christianity” when really this court ruling was a huge loss for everyone but Hobby Lobby and other future corporations that could possibly pass off their fiscal obligations to taxpayers.

It does make me feel somewhat disgusted to find myself shopping in Hobby Lobby and to know that I will probably end up there again sometime in the next year, but it’s not because of my anti-religious leanings. It’s because of my feminist ideology. I am exhausted at women being treated like objects again in some sort of religious contest. I am exhausted at seeing the working class woman disproportionately affected by a demagogic corporation. I am exhausted by reading another ridiculous gender-based legislative act. Here is to hoping that we remain conscious of the disingenuous nature in these acts and the consequences of such ubiquitous crusades.

Question: Examining The Ten Commandments Controversy

[Dog-faced Atheist] Ask
What is one of your unpopular opinions?

Over the past ten years, there have been movements that attempt to extract the Ten Commandments from courthouses. I am against removing the Ten Commandments. I think we should add all types of philosophy to courthouses in no particularly hierarchical fashion. The idea of eliminating Ten Commandments monuments is essentially the removal of a type of literature, art, and philosophy. I think we should add quotes from the Quran, Torah, Tao Te Ching, the whole big shabang of holy books to courthouses. Let’s get crazy and add Benjamin Hoff’s The Tao of Pooh while we’re at it.

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In all seriousness though, I do think we should add more culturally diverse influences to the art and literature aesthetic of courthouses. This means expanding beyond just political quotes and portraits of dead white Presidents.

There are a couple of reasons that this might be considered an unpopular opinion:

  1. Adverse Public Reaction
  2. Separation of Church and State
  3. Arbitrary Decision Making & Favoritism

The repercussions of this idea have to be considered equally.

Adverse Public Reaction

In 2013, I remember reading news articles about atheists unveiling a monument in front of a Florida courthouse and feeling excited. However, my excitement soon faded. The protests against the monument didn’t stop for a time. Some bloggers were even criticizing the local news agencies for not doing a more accurate report on the public backlash.

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Photo Credit: Matt Stamey,  Washington Post

This is one of my biggest fears when it comes to introducing more philosophies inside (or outside) courthouses. It could easily invite intolerance. It’s the mindset of “How dare you desecrate the word of my God by putting that filth alongside scripture?” To some viewers, it wouldn’t matter if both sets of scripture were equally uplifting or viable as long as it came from a different faith system. Nonetheless, I don’t think it’s wise to view this idea of implementing multiple documents and art pieces as unassailable. Giving movements or ideas the title of “unassailable” is a dismissive practice. (I am looking at you, Salon reporters.) It gives oppressors the power to control someone’s actions. Civil rights, for example, were probably once viewed as being “unassailable.”

If you’re using the word unassailable right now, it better have an economic basis. And even then, I’m not sure that I will agree with you entirely. (Side note: Can you imagine reading this “Local Economic Professors Riot: Karl Marx Quote Engraved At Courthouse” as a news headline? Too funny. Finance junkies, unite!)

Separation of Church and State

When asked, a majority of my secular friends said they were for the removal of the Ten Commandments, because they wanted to keep the church and state separate. Having the Ten Commandments posted at the courthouse was thus an invitation for the church to enter the judicial system. This makes complete sense to me, but I don’t like the idea of removing literature or art from courthouses. It just sounds too much like something from a dsytopian novel. Likewise, only having one philosophy represented sounds a lot like a dystopian novel too.

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Conceptually, the idea of promoting diversity relies on acceptance and respect. This means understanding the ways in which everyone is unique but also the same. Courthouses, a model built on the idea of corrective education and justice, could become a venue for nurturing diversity. They could further develop into an empirically stimulating advocate for the promotion of understanding, moving beyond tolerance, and embracing the cultural richness of various worldviews and philosophies.

None of this is to say that I am espousing some flagrant ideas about adopting multiculturalism. Multiculturalism is a whole other ballpark, my friends.

Arbitrary Decision Making & Favoritism

Arbitrary decision making and favoritism is the argument that the people choosing the quotes from literature and soliciting the art pieces would only select ones that supports their personal ideas. A courthouse, for instance, might choose theologically-based rules or quotes that make people feel guilty. This repercussion can be seen in the ACLU v. McCreary County court case. A Ten Commandments display was challenged by the people, so the courthouse added more text that referenced religion and God. The display was later declared unconstitutional, because the County only chose documents that expressed favoritism toward religious mindsets. It didn’t include any type of secular representation.

At the end of the day though, all I’m really talking about are matters of interior design which makes me feel kind of silly.

If you would like to submit a question or blog topic, feel free to visit my Ask Box and fill out an anonymous form there. Thank you, Anon! This was a great question. Writing this blog entailed communicating with some old friends, and I appreciated reconnecting with them. All the love.
– Sarah Key

Aronofsky’s ‘Noah’ Adaptation: The Roar of a Heavy Shower

The US premiere of Darren Arnofsky’s Noah is upon us.

I have been thinking a lot about why people enjoy watching the depiction of religious figures on film. In some ways, cinema is just another medium engaging in the act of religious critique. Perhaps people watch these films to see the characters as more personable. Maybe some viewers have a white savior complex or merely wish to visually experience the human divine. The possibilities are endless and subjective.

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In the past few weeks, I have seen both negative and positive responses to Noah. Some Christians are excited for a high-budget, religious film while others are more hesitant. I can already foresee the critique on skin color. (It happened with The Hunger Games. It will happen again here, as it should.) Nonetheless, I understand the skeptics’ point-of-view. People do tend to be more critical when looking something that has been classified as a religious interpretation, and many have been very quick to write off religious films as a type of marketable Hollywood fetish piece.

My biggest apprehension when it comes to religious films is an underlying fear for the actors and actresses. By becoming the face of a contentious film, they are opening themselves up to a new type of ostracism and social commentary.

Even while setting my personal opinions about Noah’s story aside, I admittedly found Russell Crowe’s thoughts on the benevolence of Noah controversial. His ideas seem to cast Noah’s character in a more “negative” light. For me, however, Crowe is making Noah more humane by recognizing imperfection. Crowe addresses “the preconceived notions” of the story and describes Noah’s task as “the worst job you could get.”

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Emma Watson, who plays Ila the adopted daughter of Noah, describes the film as being similar to an “epic Shakespearean drama.” I am sincerely interested in what feminine voice and quality Watson will provide a traditionally male-dominated tale. Even Watson notes that Noah is a “dark story.” She carefully calls the film “all his [Aronofsky’s] imaginings” which points to the screenplay’s direct reliance on Aronofsky’s graphic novel, Noah. Thereby giving one reason to say that while Aronofsky’s film is influenced by the Biblical story, it is not an interpretation of the Biblical story at all, but rather a script conditioned and guided by Aronofsky’s graphic novel.

Many laughed at the film’s “untold story” claim, but Aronofsky says the film is about breaking expectations. He sought to delve deeper into the darker world that God wished to eradicate through the great flood hence the apocalyptic nature of the film. Aronofsky understood the delicate process of expanding Noah’s story, and he attempted to accomplish this expansion by surfacing the themes of righteousness and parenthood. Aronofsky immediately notes that the act of destroying creation is an inherently dramatic theme. While Aronofsky claims the film is “for believers and non-believers,” he does seem to have the “21st century [Christian] believer” in mind primarily. He described the film as not another one of “your grandmother’s Bible movie[s].”

Some critics have noted that the film carries a more environmental message than a theological one. Honestly, that just makes me want to see Noah more. I am interested in the landscape which was filmed in Iceland and the portrayal of the animals. I want to see how Aronofsky has balanced the theological with the environmental challenges present in Noah’s tale. As a side note, here’s to hoping the animators of the film actually get paid. (Looking at you, Life of Pi.)

I would like to see Noah at some point in theatres once the fuss is over and the crowds have dispersed. I can’t promise that I will write a formal review of the film so much as a meditation. If nothing else, at least there will be popcorn.

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Religious Bullying: “I’ll pray for you.”

When I was younger, I used to say things like, “It’s easy to know if you are being bullied or not.” And I was wrong. With time, it has become exceedingly accessible to call people bullies, in the way that introversion and gluten-free diets have also turned into something more popular. Some people are taking the topic of bullying that affects a percentage of people and misapplying it to fit a broader range for purposes largely related to attention and the self. Now, anyone who disagrees with another person is a strong-fashion bully, just as how anyone who doesn’t like playing frisbee golf is suddenly an introvert.

In light of this aversion to the word bully, I want to discuss a phrase:

“I will pray for you.”

I have never been the type of atheist who grimaces at sayings like “Merry Christmas” and “God bless you.”

I hear the words “I’ll pray for you” or a paraphrased equivalent frequently. There are two ways this statement can be made. The first healthy way is to allow a person know that the speaker genuinely cares for the subject and wants him/her to feel relief. Prayer thus being the pursuit of healing (Part 1).

The second way a person can say these words is when the religious bully makes himself or herself apparent. When the religious bully says “I’ll pray for you,” that person is communicating two things:

1. I have a special relationship with God that you lack, because you are an outsider/sinner.
2. I will use my special relationship to see that you are forgiven or censured.

Both the religious and non-religious have heard the contempt behind “I’ll pray for you” at one point and the goodness behind those words at another. Sometimes, it’s difficult to know the connotations behind the phrase, and that is when discussion needs to occur and remove the gray area of assumption. When I tell someone I am an atheist and he/she replies with “I’ll pray for you,” I generally think those words are an unconscious statement of contempt in the guise of goodness; and that’s the thing to remember about contempt, it comes in many faces.

There are other equivalents to “I’ll pray for you” that include:

“I will hope for your eventual enlightenment.”
“Someday you’ll figure it out.”

These words are typically said when one person views another as lesser due to their lifestyle, views, choices, etc. At that point, “I’ll pray for you” or a similarly correlating statement becomes a verbal tool for judgement and personal denouncement.

So what exactly makes “I’ll pray for you” religious bullying then?

In this instance, the bully connotation comes from:

  • Creation of a power imbalance
  • Assumption of authority or precedence over another person
  • Establishment of an “outsider” group and subjective assignment of people to that group (also called, ‘social exclusion’)
  • Repetitive behavior
  • Gaslighting

The religious bully says “I’ll pray for you” with a dismissive tone to someone often seen as “in the wrong.” You, the subject, the nonbeliever, the homosexual, the recently divorced, the promiscuous unmarried woman, etc. do not know the path to God because of your identity, sexuality, situation, and so forth. My advice to the recipient of this phrase’s contempt would be to speak. Be indignant. Practice voice. Remind the speaker of their unnecessary verbal and mental abuse . Tell the religious bully why you are not in need of that prayer, because there is absolutely nothing wrong with you.