September 13th, 2012


various thoughts on religion + politics, abortion, and Obama's religion

Rather than getting work done on schoolwork, I ended up spending a lot of tonight in a conversation on a friend's FB wall, inspired by this picture. As you can imagine, that made for some pretty spicy conversation. I thought some people might be interested in some of my comments. The post itself was only available to this particular person's friends, so I'm only sharing my words.

My initial reaction:

FWIW, just like the majority of Democrats would not support this sentiment, I don't think the vast majority of atheists would either. If they do they no longer deserve the "rationalist" label they're so proud of because it's basically relying on a might makes right mentality. I engage with a lot of atheists, including the more activist variety that are actively trying to make society more secular and convince people to give up their religion - and very few if any would advocate violence in the name of their cause. They actually believe in the power of human reason and words.

Doesn't change the fact that this image makes me sick to the stomach. Even aside from the Chhristianity aspect - violence and violent rhetoric is the last refuge of small minds.

And then later on I added:

Some people have said that the Dems are happy to win this election without God. Most nonreligious people tend to be liberal, that's true, but that's largely because they see conservatives as trying to force their religion on other people through policy. But in my experience the Democratic Party (and liberals more generally) are much bigger than atheism. Many minorities (ethnic minorities) gravitate toward the Democrat parties, and as a New Yorker I can say few people are as thoroughly religious as ethnic enclaves living far from their birth-culture. Being religious is often the easiest way to stay connected to people from a similar background. That means there are some very religious people in the Democratic Party; I suspect much more religious people than atheists.

The Democrats got into trouble by removing the reference to "God-given talents" from their platform a while ago, but this ignores the fact that there's a whole section on the importance of faith. They're actually taking knocks in the atheist community for that one! :-) (Not sure if it's a new section or just getting publicity because of the God-language thing.) Personally, I prefer my politicians not to use my faith as a tool to get votes. But to the question at hand: as a religious person I've always found that part of who I am and what's important to me was honored by the Dems.

Another commenter then pointed out that the DNC had removed "God" from their official platform and that this proved the current administration was anti-religion, to which I replied:

It's not quite that simple. I don't know why it was taken out, but they didn't take out whole sections on the importance of faith (with the implication that that faith must be *in* something!) and the importance of faith communities in making America great.

But even if what you say is true... so what? The Bible has strong words for people who call on God's name, claim it on themselves, but then behave in thoroughly ungodly ways. We are specifically ordered to care for the widow and the orphan, and to have fair courts to hold the rich accountable, which I believed American policies are failing at shamelessly. You may disagree, or think there are other problems with Obama that trump those concerns. I can respect that. But whatever your position on these things, if we truly want to do as the Bible says, I think we should all be less concerned on calling on God's name, and more with doing what God commands.

"He has shown to you, O man, what is good; and what does the lord require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?" (Mic 6:8, NKJV)

Someone then said that if you were pro-abortion you couldn't really be Christian. As someone who is both pro-choice (which isn't the same as pro-abortion) and deeply Christian, I took issue. (She also questioned whether Obama was a Christian, and gave this as a reason not to vote for Obama.) I replied:

[on the idea that Christians couldn't be pro-abortion]

First of all, very few people if any are actually pro-abortion. Some people like me are pro-choice, but pray (and work!) for as few abortions as possible. But even if vast swaths of people were pro-abortion, I am simply baffled for where you get this idea that there's a simple litmus test test for who is a Christian and who is not (This is a question so unknowable we are told not to judge another person's salvation), let alone why you think this litmus test is our stance on abortion. I would have thought Christ or at least Paul would have focused more on it, but off the top of my head I can't remember any verses from either of them talking about abortion. Looking at what Jesus taught and rebuked people for, abortion simply doesn't come up.

But more to the point, even if abortion is the defining test for being Christian... so what? The Constitution explicitly says we're not to institute a religious test for who can be elected president. Surely being a good American means electing the best leader full stop and not imposing a standard the Constitution forbids?

Also: are you voting? I assume you're going to vote for the GOP nominee, who fully admits that he is not a Christian, Mitt Romney. I have no problem with Christians voting for non-Christians, but as you seem to, I'm curious with your connecting Obama's non-Christianness to needing to get him out of the White House.

[on whether Obama 2016 proved Obama wasn't Christian.]

I haven't [seen it], but I've seen clips and read reviews. I've also read the book it's based on, and found that book to be thoroughly unfounded propaganda (and of a pretty fringe variety). But even if the movie's true, I'm not sure what it proves about Obama's *religion*. It tries to show he's not a good American, that he's not really bought into the American dream. How in the world does that make him not a Christian

[I was asked whether Jesus would be okay with pushing abortion taking away religious freedoms]

I think Jesus would be more than a bit wary talking about "rights" the way you seem so comfortable doing here. He was faced with a government that was far more oppressive than anything Obama is charged with, and His response to that government was not to fight for general principles. Rather, he looked at the person in front of Him and dealt with that particular situation. Instead of lobbying for a law that made religious freedom absolute and inviolate, I think he would have sat down with the women who had to deal with unwanted pregnancies and make sure they had the options necessary to make good choices.

If someone thought that the poor should be denied health care so that the rich would not have to pay indirectly for something they personally disapproved of, I can well imagine how Jesus would respond. And I fully believe it would be more in line with how he reacted to Pharisees than the woman at the well.

We talked a bit more about abortion, and she also suggested if I read my Bible I would agree with her. I said:

I've never had an abortion and to my knowledge don't know anyone who has, so I'm in no position to speak on that [how painful abortion is to the mother]. But you're being a bit sloppy on some other points:

1. Does *banning* abortions minimize them more than supporting contraceptive availability, sex ed, etc. does?
2. Does the Bible say abortion's not only wrong, but the CENTRAL wrong - so if you get this right you're a Christian, and if you don't, you're not one?
3. Does the fact that a president isn't wanting to make abortion illegal enough of a wrong that it defines him as a bad president?
4. If you believe Obama's not being Christian makes him a bad president, how do you square that with voting for another non-Christian candidate?

As for the baby having its own DNA - that seems like a bad standard, since *any*thing that's alive has its own DNA. Abortion is a complicated issue, much more complicated than many people. If you're really interested, you might read my recent blog post on abortion:

As for whether I've studied the Bible... I'm a lifelong Methodist, and I've heard it preached on growing up. I also read it regularly on my own and have read it through several times as an adult. I'm also a philosophy grad student in philosophy of religion, meaning I work pretty much constantly with a lot of Biblical claims and see whether they run into logical problems or not. That's not devotional reading, but I think it's pretty save to say I'm thoroughly immersed in the Bible and the different traditions of how to read it. (Can't say I've sat in Chris's bible study since I'm not local, though I'm sure it's a blast.) I'm pretty insulted that you think that since I don't agree with you I must not be touched by the Bible, since my religion is so central to who I am, so close to my heart. But I'll pray for the grace to not get upset over that, and will truly try to think of you as a sister in Christ - I think you are one, even though we disagree here!

Finally, we got to talking about Obama's handling of the embassy attack, and in particular the fact that he was campaigning. My response:

the man has a cell phone, and he has aides and advisers around the world gathering information for him. He does not have to be physically in Washington to respond to the news of the day.

Frankly, I was much more upset with Gov. Romney taking the news and using this tragedy in such an obviously political way. I also kind of support the fact that Pres. Obama took the time to gather the facts he needed before making a statement with national security implications, rather than rushing into it. Speaking as the friend of a dead Marine who died in Iraq, I have a special admiration for presidents who understand the situation they're interacting with before making statements that could lead to Americans being put in harm's way.

But just to be clear, I'm not a diehard Obama fan. One can question attacks on his religion and the implication this disqualifies him as a president, without thinking the man can do no wrong.

I'm not asking people to agree with me; that's impossible since you only have my side of the conversation. But my blog posts are often so long and formal. I thought some people might enjoy seeing how my thoughts unrolled tonight. If you have thoughts or reactions to what I was saying (so far as you can tell!), or just general impressions, feel free to leave me a comment.

CamelsWithHammers moving to Patheos

My friend Dan Fincke is moving his blog on atheism from its old home on the FreeThought site to Patheos. You can find him at:

Patheos is a blog site featuring many influential bloggers on religion. Not necessarily theists; they also welcome atheists, and Dan is only their latest addition to a growing section of the site. They also have sections on major religions other than Christianity as well as pretty much every corner of Christendom. You can find more about Patheos here, or see a list of their available blogs here.

Some of my other favorite Patheos bloggers are, in no particular order:

(Full disclosure: I've emailed Patheos asking whether they'd be interested to mave me blogging there and would love the opportunity to join, though I don't know if anything will come of it.)

This isn't meant as the best of Patheos, but simply the bloggers who have caught my attention and kept it - often over several years. But it is fairly indicative of their variety of opinions if not necessarily of traditions; they have a lot more on eastern religion that simply isn't the kind of material I'm most interested in reading. I don't always comment or agree, but I usually find myself challenged. It's no accident that so often what I link to and respond to here comes from a Patheos blog. Just seeing all those perspectives in a single place can be really broadening.

And that's my wish for Dan: that he'll find new idols to break and that being a part of the conversation will help all involved.

in which I get my Colbert on one way or another

Well, I missed out on a bracelet for the upcoming Colbert/Dolan event at Fordham (, but I did score tickets to a Colbert Report taping in early November.

It's weird - I wasn't quite sure I wanted to attend the Fordham event until I missed out. I love Colbert but (no offense intended) Cardinal Dolan often makes me see red. I try to respect him and the office, but as entertainment I wasn't so sure I'd enjoy it. Now that the bracelets are all given out, I am more regretful than I thought I'd be! I want to see the event! I may go to one of the simulcasts at least.

This strikes me as insanely first world-ish of a problem. My major complaint is that I only got tickets to the report? I'll muddle through somehow. ;-)

bad day

Well, today just stunk. :-S

I was waiting for a bus and none came by for like forty-five minutes. Something about this really shook me up. I was sure there had been another terrorist attack or something. In hindsight it was ridiculous especially given other buses passed by in that period, just not mine. But I have this thing about people not showing up when I expect them to.

This goes back not only to knowing people my age who have died, but also to an incident when I was six when I ended up at the bottom of a mall escalator while my mum was at the top. This was an average, not at all negligent or anything moment in suburbia... but it happened at a young age, and for whatever reason it meant that I've always been antsy about unexpected delays. If you tell me we will meet at Starbucks at 3 PM and you don't show up until 3:15 I will assume you've been in some sort of accident getting there, not that you were just late getting out the door. I can be patient if I know to expect it, but having someone be late even by 5-10 minutes without expecting it... it is majorly anxiety-forming. The last several years hasn't helped matters, nor does the fact that I used to volunteer around kids with bad cancers (I'm taking some time off). I think given the 9/11 anniversary also pushed me to that conclusion, too.

Whatever the reason it didn't make for a good day. I was physically exhausted from the lack of seats on both the bus + train, and sweaty and generally none too happy. Also feeling stressed from being all panicky and clingy, and ticked off at myself for getting this upset over a late bus. I was also late for my hour on the couch, which is every bit as draining as occlumency lessons under the best of circumstances. And the fact that a late bus isn't the kind of thing that should have thrown me for a tailspin was in itself alienating; it just makes me feel so *different* (and not in a good way) from other people! By the time I got to therapy, when I banged my elbow on the wall, I just had to laugh and couldn't stop for a good bit. It's one of those days, I think.

I finally make it home and log in to FB for some zone-out time, and I stumble across this news story right away, about a tattoo Chris Brown got resembling a woman's skull bashed in. (Note, it was triggerish for me, so people with any kind of experience with DV, caveat emptor.) I don't blame the person who posted it; it was a reasonable story to get out there on an important topic. But today of all days... well, this is just one tough thing too many for today, I think.

It's not just the specific bad stuff, I don't think. When I get down I get really down. I keep thinking about that Marine friend I mentioned last night who died in Iraq, the way he loved to sing counter harmonies to old protest songs as we walked around campus at UNCG, and about Bear (my dog), and about this one kid I knew at the hospital who still had missing teeth and that had these little round ears stuck out, the way he looked about eight when he smiled.

And that's the sum total of my day. Nothing fun that I can remember. Certainly no productive work done since I left my apartment at around noon. I think I'm just going to turn off the lights and listen to Simon + Garfunkel, and probably make an early night of it.

Thanks for reading, btw; I know this is hardly upbeat stuff.