Night Owl Mk. II

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Boldfaced statements are parts of the original essay (or a subsequent reply) to which the respondent has directed his comments.

Italicized/emphasized comments
prefaced by (R) are those of the respondent and are presented unedited.

My replies appear under the respondent's comments in blue text and are prefaced by my initials (MB).

This is the second of a three-part reply. Select the "Go to next reply" link at the end of each part to read the next part of the reply.

(R) Your argument that all religious believers bear the "mantle of responsibility" for the actions of a few is the biggest bunch of hooey you've spouted yet.
(MB) You forgot the last -- and most important -- half of my statement, which was "...and does not take those individuals to task for what they say". Your out-of-context complaint attempts to change the entire meaning of my point.

(R) Germany is seeing a resurgence of the Neo-Nazis movement, does this mean all Germans are guilty of racism and violence? What about our own Ku Klux Klan? Does the fact this group exists make all Americans guilty of the same things? The simple fact is, as long as we live in a free society, unless a Nazis or Klan member does something illegal, nothing can be done about them. Your claim that all those with religious beliefs are responsible for the actions of a few is worse than ridiculous. I can't believe you would use such an argument.
(MB) If somebody asks me what I think about any of the things you mentioned, I will condemn them in no uncertain terms. If nobody condemns such things, then they are given implicit support. Don't you want your own beliefs to be free from nonsense and black clouds? Should religious beliefs be exempt from the same standards as any other beliefs?

You say that my criticisms don't apply to all religious people. If that is so, I'd like to know where a church can be found that teaches its congregation that God is nothing more than a "personal preference".
(R) Your criticisms apply to only a very small percentage of religious persons, although you continually try to claim they all hold these views.
(MB) Once again, here's a refusal to answer a direct question.

(R) God is not a "personal preference," although belief or non-belief in him is, so you won't find a church which teaches such nonsense.
(MB) What's the difference? If God is not a "personal preference", then he is a fact...and we've already covered that ground.

(R) But you will find lots of loving, tolerant churches which recognize everyone's right to their different beliefs.
(MB) So long as those "beliefs" are only about minor things -- like whether grape juice or wine should be used for communion. Is there a "loving, tolerant" Christian church which will host a convention of atheists or Satanists or would allow a religious service to be celebrated by any group that does not worship God? What about the "right to different beliefs" of those people?

(R) Next time you're in Las Vegas, spend an hour on Sunday morning and take in a service at Central Christian Church. I guarantee you'll be impressed. The pastor, Gene Appel, is one of the best and most original public speakers I've ever heard.
(MB) Why would I attend a church service when I don't believe in the religion that is being practiced in that church?

(R) You also might do a web search under "Universalist-Unitarians" (I think I've got it spelled right) and see what you find out. It'll give you some idea of the diversity of beliefs out there.
(MB) I'm already aware of the diversity of beliefs out there. That should be abundantly clear by now. BTW, you've got it backwards, it's "Unitarian Universalist". They are one of the Christian sects that, among other things, does not believe in the divinity of Christ.

One needs not be a fanatic in order to hold the same beliefs. A fanatic is one who is strongly involved in promoting those beliefs -- sometimes to the extent of using violence, threats, or other aggressive tactics that do nothing to further support the actual beliefs themselves.
(R) I agree with this definition of a fanatic. What does it have to do with inserting honesty and eliminating bias from your Essay on Religion?
(MB) Nothing at all. My essay is already honest and bias-free. The fact that you disagree with what I say does not change that.

Why would you be saddened or worried if somebody doesn't share your beliefs?
(R) It's not about them sharing my specific beliefs, is has to do with the possible consequences of a denial of God's existence. I'm saddened and worried for anyone who engages in any type of potentially self destructive behavior. I worry about the effect such behavior has on themselves and others, and am saddened by the suffering of fellow human beings. If you lose your eternal soul because of your beliefs, I will be grieved. Would you rather I be happy about it?
(MB) I would rather that you give me some reason to believe that such things as "souls" - eternal or otherwise -- actually exist. Something that doesn't exist cannot affect me no matter what I choose to believe in. The fact that you can express any worries at all indicates that you have some reason to think that such things as souls actually exist. What evidence supports this belief?

Same for getting upset with any attack upon them. If you are secure in your beliefs, you would be immune to criticism -- especially since they are just personal preference in the first place.
(R) I believe America is the greatest country in history, and although I acknowledge that there is much (as in any nation, or indeed, humanity itself) in our past to be ashamed of, I also know there is just as much of which to be proud. I am perfectly secure in this belief, but if anyone slanders America, I will be upset and will surely respond. This is true of my other beliefs as well....and is also true of you and your beliefs.
(MB) While I certainly respect and agree with your views about America, it is also clear that there is abundant evidence to support such views and to give one good cause to be secure about them. If you consider your beliefs about religion to be comparable to your beliefs about America, then there must be comparable amounts of supporting evidence. Is there?

Once again, it's not the belief itself that I critique. It is the conclusions and arguments that are developed from those beliefs.
(R) You seem to be making a claim here that you do not criticize anyone's belief in God, but you do little but heap ridicule on such beliefs.
(MB) Wrong again. If I heap ridicule on anything, it is not the belief itself, but the notion that it is just as good as, or superior to, any other belief about the nature of the universe. Is that hard to understand?

If one wants to believe in the Great Green Arkleseizure, that's his business and more power to him.
(R) No one believes such a thing, because it is fictional. I challenge you to find a single person who actually believes in the Great Green Arkleseizure, or any other of the fictional (note I said fictional) paraphernalia you have used in an attempt to denigrate a belief in God.
(MB) And, if I did find such a person, how would your argument change? How can you be so sure that no such person exists?

If, however, he seeks to challenge science by claiming that his belief that the universe was sneezed into existence by such a being is equal to the theories of science, that's when I will take exception to it.
(R) Once again, this is not a contest between God and science, but between God and no-God.
(MB) No, it's a contest between sense and nonsense.

The facts are that there have been several state and local laws passed which have prohibited the teaching of certain scientific theories (usually evolution) in classrooms -- either outright or unless Christian mythology is given equal time and status. Many have, indeed, been struck down in the Supreme Court and none that have challenged have survived.
(R) Absolutely the way it ought to be, and the way it will undoubtedly continue to be, despite any cries of "Wolf!" by alarmists such as yourself.
(MB) The alarm arises from the very fact that such laws have to have been on the books prior to any challenges of them in the Supreme Court. Do you oppose the Supreme Court decisions or support the efforts to enact the laws in the first place? Don't you think that the success of such efforts is a cause for concern?

However, they are not all yet off the books and there are still schools where science is still unwelcome even though it is "legally" permitted. Funny how the "equal time" argument doesn't apply in the churches of those communities, eh?
(R) My wife is an elementary school teacher by training, although she currently works as the director of a very large child development center (she gets mad at me if I call it a day care center). She has worked in school systems literally all over the world during our travels, and she has never heard of anything like what you claim.
(MB) I wasn't aware that your wife was the definitive source of information on this topic. In any case, here in the Deep South, one can read in the newspaper a few times each year about school systems or teachers who have gotten into trouble for interjecting religious beliefs into science classes.

(R) My mother was a high school teacher for 40 years, throughout the Mid-West, and she has heard of no such thing, either. Until you provide a specific example or examples of such a school system, your claim is nothing more than unsubstantiated innuendo -- as is much else of what you say.
(MB) I never resort to such things. The most famous case resulted in the 1987 Supreme Court decision known as Edwards v Aguillard which overturned the Louisiana Creationism Act. Similar laws in Tennessee and Arkansas have also gone down in the courts in the past decade. I'm sorry that your mother hasn't heard about them.

After this case, the Creationists were forced to change their tactics and try to position their beliefs as being "science" instead of "religion". If they are successful in getting enough people to believe that approach, new attempts at pro-Creationist legislation could not be attacked as violating the separation of church and state.
(R) Yeah, and a boogyman lives in the bushes behind my house.
(MB) I suspect that this belief is nothing more than "personal preference" as well...

(R) The Supreme Court didn't have a unanimous decision on it, eh? So, what!
(MB) The "so what" is that the decision was not unanimous despite the overwhelming evidence against the Creationists and the self-contradicting and discredited testimony of their own witnesses.

(R) How many unanimous decisions do you think the Supreme Court has made in its more than 200 years in existence? I'll bet it's far fewer than an average of one per year. Most Supreme Court decisions are much closer than 7-2, due to the fact that only the most divisive and complex issues ever make it to the court. By its standards, 7-2 is an overwhelming majority.
(MB) And you accuse *me* of unsubstantiated innuendo? In the 1996-97 term, there were 80 signed opinions issued and 38 of them were unanimous verdicts.

(R) The fact remains that only a constitutional amendment, ratified by three quarters of the states, will allow any legislation of this nature to survive. The chances of such an amendment ever passing are slim and none.
(MB) Incorrect. The Creationists attempted to succeed by painting their brand of religion as "science" and they got the law passed on that basis. The law stayed on the books for five years before the glacial legal process even got it argued before the Supreme Court. This means that five years' worth of students in Louisiana high schools were affected by the provisions of that law before it was overturned.

Yes, they can, but that's not good enough for them. They don't want anyone else's children to learn science, either.
(R) More innuendo. Once again, we have your nebulous, ill-defined "them." You aren't by any chance a conspiracy theory buff are you?
(MB) It's anything but innuendo and/or conspiracy. Read the Creationist literature for absolute proof of what I say. In fact, pay attention to *any* argument based in religion that seeks to prevent certain things from being taught in schools. These folks echo much the same thing you did earlier in that they are all "worried" about the "consequences" of doing other than what they preach.

You see the same approach in the crowd who always protests the content of certain TV programs. Yes, they could choose to turn off the TV or to watch other channels, but they also feel the need to try to "protect" other TV watchers -- even those who choose to watch and enjoy those same programs.
(R) I feel pretty much the same way as you do about decency leagues. However, they don't have much success, do they? That's because what they are trying to do is unconstitutional.
(MB) They don't have much success? Have you noticed the ratings system that has been forced into use on TV now? When's the last time you watched a movie on non-cable TV where certain words and scenes haven't been "bleeped" out or censored? These groups pressure advertisers into pulling support from controversial programs and succeed. It's even illegal to show somebody drinking beer on a TV show. Unconstitutional or not, they have a great deal of success in forcing their beliefs and morality upon the rest of us.

There's another issue here, as well. Are parents doing their children any favors if they force them to go to a school that teaches the myths of one particular religion in place of real science? Are the parents so afraid of how those myths would stand up to basic science that they feel they must prevent their children from getting a complete education?
(R) Any parent has the right to send their children to the school they wish, or to home school them. The only requirement of truancy laws is that children receive a set number of years of instruction in certain basic subjects. Not you, not me, and not society as a whole has the right to make these decisions for parents. I certainly would not want to live in a place where the government took control of such decisions. The former USSR comes to mind.
(MB) Amazing! All those words and not one of them even begins to answer the questions I asked. I'll assume that you must agree with parents allowing their religion to supplant their children's science education.

Yet, most schools still do a lot of little things that imply support for God and/or Christianity and few even bring up the fact that other religions exist unless those religions were practiced by some nation or tribe that was utterly defeated in a war or was converted to Christianity.
(R) This has changed quite a bit in the 25 years or so since you and I were in high school. Cultural divisiveness is the current buzz word, and although its criticized by some, its a good thing.
(MB) "Multiculturalism" doesn't change any of the things I mentioned. Schools still have Christmas observances, but don't teach the true history of Christmas. They still take Easter breaks, but don't observe or teach about Ramazan. They're anxious to teach or respect different cultures, languages, and ethnic heritages, but non-Christian religions need not apply.

On the other hand, when I was in school and learned about the Crusades, it was taught from the perspective of "cleansing" the Holy Land from the invading, infidel Muslims. Of course, no mention was made of the rather shady nature of the Papacy in those days...*grin*
(R) I don't remember anything about cleansing the Holy Land during my study of the Crusades in high school. Must have been sick that day.
(MB) It was probably sterilized of its true purposes and presented as nothing more than another series of wars.

(R) My subsequent study of history has taught me the Crusades were part of several centuries of sporadic warfare between the peoples of Europe and the Middle-East. Islam put great pressure on the Iberian Peninsular in the centuries immediately after Mohammed's death, at one point reaching as far as modern day France.
(MB) I think you're confusing some of the minor wars fought between papal contenders in the 13th century with the Crusades that were fought exclusively over Muslim control of the Holy Land. Muslims never occupied more of the Iberian peninsula than the southern half of Spain and Portugal (part of the Dominions of the Almoravids).

(R) There was also constant warfare with the Byzantine Empire, the former seat of Eastern Orthodox Christianity, finally culminating in the conquest of Constantinople by the Turks in the early 15th century. The Muslims were an avenging, conquering host throughout most of this period, giving their defeated foes three choices: convert to Islam, pay heavy tribute, or be put to the sword. Under the circumstances, it's not surprising the Catholic Church launched a counterattack.
(MB) Were the Muslims "wrong"? Certainly they felt that their religion was "right" and all others should be converted or killed. Jerusalem was bound to be a bone of contention since it is a holy city for Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Certainly, the Christians would oppose exclusive Muslim control of the city and the attendant interference with pilgrimages. Yet, school textbooks tend to paint the Crusaders as "holy" while the Muslims are "infidels".

(R) The Crusades were not admirable, particularly the bungled 2nd Crusade, but they are perhaps understandable when considered in context with other events. As in much of history, it is difficult to lay absolute blame for anything at the feet of any particular group or individual.
(MB) Correct, but if history is taught objectively and completely, not only can we reach proper conclusions, we might also be better able to avoid the errors of the past.

(R) The shady nature of the Papacy is a salient point. Religion has been used through the ages by those with ulterior motives. It is an excellent vehicle for whipping up popular support for a cause.
(MB) Which goes to show that emotion is more popular with the masses than is intellect.

(R) However, it has been hugely surpassed by political, economic, and social forces during this century.
(MB) Perhaps. But, a visit by the Pope still produces a bigger public response than a visit by anybody else - including the President. Also, politics tends to seek extra support by appealing to religious beliefs.

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