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Religiosity, Hitchens, O’Reilly and Coulter

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Below is an exchange between Ann Coulter and Bill O’Reilly on a secular display that was placed next to a Christmas tree and nativity scene in 2009:

Here, O’Reilly said atheists are “just stupid” (Here, Coulter gives a laugh after this empty and meaningless statement) because “all their doing is making people angry” by displaying an anti-religious sign next to the holiday displays at the Illinois State Capitol building posted and applied for by the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

I’m not going to here elaborate on the secular and pagan aspects of the holiday season, but I will point out that Christmas, with regard to the birth of Christ, is more of a traditional date rather than an historic one on the calendar. I point to this entry from Encyclopedia Brittanica:

The precise origin of assigning December 25 as the birth date of Jesus is unclear. The New Testament provides no clues in this regard. December 25 was first identified as the date of Jesus’ birth by Sextus Julius Africanus in 221 and later became the universally accepted date. One widespread explanation of the origin of this date is that December 25 was the Christianizing of the dies solis invicti nati (“day of the birth of the unconquered sun”), a popular holiday in the Roman Empire that celebrated the winter solstice as a symbol of the resurgence of the sun, the casting away of winter and the heralding of the rebirth of spring and summer. Indeed, after December 25 had become widely accepted as the date of Jesus’ birth, Christian writers frequently made the connection between the rebirth of the sun and the birth of the Son. One of the difficulties with this view is that it suggests a nonchalant willingness on the part of the Christian church to appropriate a pagan festival when the early church was so intent on distinguishing itself categorically from pagan beliefs and practices.

The sign to which O’Reilly refers indicates that there are no angels, devils, etc., and that religion enslaves minds, hardens hearts and deludes the masses. O’Reilly oversteps his bounds when he says that the sign implies that if you believe, “you’re an idiot.”

The sign says nothing of the sort. It says we exist in a natural world and that religion has the capacity, and more often than not does, cause great harm, physically and intellectually, to our species. Again, phrases like “you’re an idiot,” however wrong they may be, are hollow pronouncements that his audience, no doubt, laps up.

And it’s here that Coulter makes her less than triumphant entrance:

“The state officials are idiots too. I mean, even if they are going to use this crazy public forum, as if all religions are the same and the government, the establishment of America, makes no choice between god and no god, which is not the case, though it is the case with a lot of European countries. This country was founded explicitly on a belief in God, but even if you are doing this crazy public forum analysis, I mean it would be like having, um, you know, everybody is going to bring in a picture of his pet and people bring in pictures of their dogs, and then there’s one sign, you know, there’s Fluffy the dog, and then another sign, I hate Fluffy and Fluffy sucks, it doesn’t even fit within the public forum definition of what speech must be tolerated, so the government officials were being idiots to even allow these government signs.”

I’m glad she cleared that up for us about the travails of Fluffy. You will now see the meaning of my “laps” phraseology. In the first place, as this YouTube commenter noted about the video:

Coul(t)er has it backwards. A lot of European countries were founded on faith. It is America that was not. But she bashes Europe bec(ause) that’s what sells with her stupid supporters.

Here, I summon the case of Christopher Hitchens, a well-known anti-theist and native born Britishman. From his debates and books, it seems evident that he chose to become a citizen of the United States, in part, to flee from England’s religiosity, which still proclaims a national church, a concept that has long since been discarded in America. In fact, it’s a concept that never even gained footing. Indeed, our Founders were well aware of their ancestors’ flight from such theocratic leanings and were certain to exclude any mention of God from the Constitution and create a deep chasm between religion and the state. Here, critics might note that the Declaration of Independence includes references to the Creator and to God, but the Declaration isn’t the document on which this country was founded. The Declaration was just that, a declaration with no legal value, while the Constitution was toiled over and debated with much hand-wrenching, and non-religion still played the trump card.

In the second place, her point that all religions aren’t the same is wrong (Here, I assume she means that Christianity is the one true beacon among thousands of frauds). But most religions, including Christianity, are diametrically indistinguishable. Almost all of them involve an all-everything deity, sometimes many, and very often a self-resurrecting one(s) or a deity who can raise another; some notion of paradise or hades in the afterlife; sacrifice, both physically and spiritually; worse, blood sacrifice; some set of doctrines or commands; some promise of inner peace; a holy text; a creation myth, etc. And here’s a handy chart. Where Christianity differs, and the only point at which it differs, is the notion that, while in other religions, humans sacrifice to a god, in this one, God is the sacrifice. A unique, and at first, a noble twist on the usual story, I concede, but here again, I reference Hitchens:

… the idea of a vicarious atonement, of the sort that so
much troubled even C. S. Lewis, is a further refinement of the ancient
superstition. Once again we have a father demonstrating love
by subjecting a son to death by torture, but this time the father is
not trying to impress god. He is god, and he is trying to impress
humans. Ask yourself the question: how moral is the following?
I am told of a human sacrifice that took place two thousand years
ago, without my wishing it and in circumstances so ghastly that,
had I been present and in possession of any influence, I would have
been duty-bound to try and stop it. In consequence of this murder,
my own manifold sins are forgiven me, and I may hope to enjoy
everlasting life.

Let us just for now overlook all the contradictions between the
tellers of the original story and assume that it is basically true. What
are the further implications? They are not as reassuring as they look
at first sight. For a start, and in order to gain the benefit of this wondrous
offer, I have to accept that I am responsible for the flogging
and mocking and crucifixion, in which I had no say and no part,
and agree that every time I decline this responsibility, or that I sin
in word or deed, I am intensifying the agony of it. Furthermore, I
am required to believe that the agony was necessary in order to compensate
for an earlier crime in which I also had no part, the sin of
Adam. It is useless to object that Adam seems to have been created
with insatiable discontent and curiosity and then forbidden to slake
it: all this was settled long before even Jesus himself was born. Thus
my own guilt in the matter is deemed “original” and inescapable.
However, I am still granted free will with which to reject the offer
of vicarious redemption. Should I exercise this choice, however, I
face an eternity of torture much more awful than anything endured
at Calvary, or anything threatened to those who first heard the Ten
Commandments.

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‘When in the course of human events …’

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The second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epoch in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more. — “Letter from John Adams to Abigail Adams, 3 July 1776, ‘Had a Declaration…’“. Adams Family Papers. Massachusetts Historical Society. http://www.masshist.org/digitaladams/aea/cfm/doc.cfm?id=L17760703jasecond. Retrieved on 2009-06-28. 

In a particularly busy week at work — nothing unusual there — I was asked to compose the editorial for the week at about 9 p.m. the night before it would be published in the paper. I got started about about 10:30 p.m. or so that same night and this was the result. If I had to summarize what the July the Fourth holiday means to me, I suppose this would be pretty close to my personal feelings. (As a point of clarification, “institutional editorials” as they are called in the newspaper business, have no author, per se. They are supposed to be the “collective” position of the paper’s editorial staff, which would be me [news editor], the editor and the publisher.) I have to clarify that point because we get calls occasionally asking, “Who wrote that darn editorial!” which likely blasted some public official or another. We reply, “It’s the collective opinion of the paper and has no author, per se.” Anyway, I felt compelled to make that point because for practical purposes, although I was the author technically, I was only the vessel by which the editorial sprang forth … or something like that.

That said, as “we” laid out in the editorial, our very ability to be able to celebrate the liberties and freedoms we enjoy in this country were anything but inevitable, and it’s truly remarkable that we have come this far, given our sundry and violent history.

This weekend — and I’ve already started with a concert by some military orchestra band — I am covering a couple July 4th events including a Fun Run near one of the local lakes and a fireworks display the night of the Fourth. I have covered the fireworks show before, but I dare say Dillard, Ga. will again be brimming with locals hoping to catch the show. We in American have a bad habit of thinking too little about history and too much about the future. I do hope that as folks go out and shoot fireworks, grill, swim or whatever, that they will take a moment to reflect about how we got here. The path, as noted in the editorial, was not laid out so much by God’s providence, but by much sacrifice, sweat and tears … many of those tears coming from peoples we either oppressed, displaced or enslaved. The Enlightenment ideas, eventually, and quite slowly, took hold finally in the mid-1960s, and we today are less apt to publically denigrate our fellow man as we did for centuries prior. So, I wanted to quickly make the point to say that, as we celebrate where we are in this country and celebrate our place in the world, we need to also celebrate how far we’ve come. There was no “Ready and Easy Way,” to coin a phrase from John Milton, and the present reality we know was anything but a given and nearly resulted in a country torn asunder.

Adams got it right when he said July 2 (the actual day America made a resolution declaring  independence. The famous “Declaration of Independence” was an explanation of that resolution) will be ”the most memorable epoch in the history of America.”

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Written by Jeremy

July 3rd, 2009 at 10:41 pm

GOP vs. GOP

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Noxious as it is, the back-and-forth between Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele, other GOP leaders and Rush Limbaugh highlights at least one glaring truth: The GOP is in crisis mode, and the weaknesses continue.

Limbaugh, of course, exudes no such weakness. His fellow Republicans blasted him and other talking heads after Limbaugh’s 90-minute rant against Obama and the GOP leadership. (Consequently, in the speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference, he confused a line between the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, despite calling Obama’s plans a “bastardization of the Constitution.”)

Shortly after criticizing Limbaugh, one-by-one, GOP leaders either apologized or recanted altogether or skirted away from outright vilifying Limbaugh’s statements asserting he wanted the president’s policies, if they moved us closer to socialism, to fail:

  • Michael Steele: “My intent was not to go after Rush — I have enormous respect for Rush Limbaugh,” Steele told Politico in a telephone interview. “I was maybe a little bit inarticulate. … There was no attempt on my part to diminish his voice or his leadership.” What leadership?? He’s a talk show host. He holds no office or power. He’s not a leader, unless the definition of leadership now been reduced only to those with frantic, booming, irrational voices over the airwaves.
  • Rep. Phil Gingrey: “I regret and apologize for the fact that my comments have offended and upset my fellow conservatives—that was not my intent,” Gingrey said in a statement. “I am also sorry to see that my comments in defense of our Republican Leadership read much harsher than they actually were intended, but I recognize it is my responsibility to clarify my own comments.”
  • Rep. Eric Cantor: “Absolutely not,” Cantor said during a recent interview with George Stephanopoulos, asked if he accepts Limbaugh’s failure statement. “And I don’t — I don’t think anyone wants anything to fail right now. We have such challenges. What we need to do is we need to put forth solutions to the problems that real families are facing today.”

and in a recent press conference:

  • “Let me just say this: It is not about Rush Limbaugh. It’s not about Rahm Emanuel. It’s not about individuals right now. This is about real impact on families across this country.”
  • Gov. Mark Sanford: “I don’t want him to fail. Anybody who wants him to fail is an idiot, because it means we’re all in trouble.” and then a subsequent press release: “Asked to comment on Limbaugh’s statement, Joel Sawyer, Sanford’s Communications Director, said that ‘the governor was not referring to anyone’ in particular when he said that anyone hoping for Obama to fail is an ‘idiot.’ Rather, Sawyer said, Sanford was speaking ‘generically’ and did not know that Limbaugh had previously said he hopes that Obama will fail.”

Ok, that’s more than enough to prove the point that real GOP leaders did not unequivocally condemn Limbaugh’s statements in the first place, as they should have, and in the second, when pressed, either apologized or circumvented saying anything that could be considered harsh toward the talk show host.

Author Timothy Egan said in a March 4, 2009 New York Times column:

Smarter Republicans know he (Limbaugh) is not good for them. As the conservative writer David Frum said recently, “If you’re a talk radio host and you have five million who listen and there are 50 million who hate you, you make a nice living. If you’re a Republican party, you’re marginalized.”

Polling has found Limbaugh, a self-described prescription-drug addict who sees America from a private jet, to be nearly as unpopular as Rev. Jeremiah Wright, who damned America in the way that Limbaugh has now damned the nation’s newly elected leader. But Republicans just can’t quit him. So even poor Michael Steele, the nominal head of the Republican Party who dared to criticize him, had to grovel and crawl back to the feet of Limbaugh.

Republican strategist Ed Rollins calls this entire conflict “idiotic,” and one can’t help but agree. If Republican leaders cower to the influence of a talk show host, how we can expect them to be capable leaders in making truly tough decisions that affect the livelihood of their own constituents. They have been marginalized indeed. Rollins seems to understand that point as well, noting that the party needs new ideas, new leaders and strategies for reaching younger generations. That’s probably an understatement. Rollins was right when he said,

People who govern are the ones who will make the party relevant again, or not. All have to be long-term thinkers in addition to doing their daily tasks.

And that means that actual elected officials charged with moving us forward — not a talk show hosts who belittles someone with Parkinson’s, shows racists tendencies and confuses the two most important documents in the country;s history. Thus, Limbaugh is one of the archaic, anachronistic symbols of a Republican Party that is no more. For it to survive, it must reinvent itself, and it hasn’t as of yet.Or, as Egdan noted of Colin Powell:

When Colin Powell endorsed Obama during the campaign, Limbaugh said it was entirely because of race. After the election, Powell said the way for the party, which has been his home, to regain its footing was to say the Republican Party must stop “shouting at the world.”

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