So I got this email from a religious friend about how god should be in our lives... it was attributed to Ben Stein.  Some was Ben Stein and some was added to drive home the religious aspect.

Email 

Commentary.

My confession: 

I am a Jew, and every single one of my ancestors was Jewish.  And it does not bother me even a little bit when people call those beautiful lit up, bejeweled trees, Christmas trees..  I don't feel threatened.  I don't feel discriminated against. That's what they are  Christmas trees. 

It doesn't bother me a bit when people say, 'Merry Christmas' to me.  I don't think they are slighting me or getting ready to put me in a ghetto.  In fact, I kind of like it  It shows that we are all brothers and sisters celebrating this happy time of year. It doesn't bother me at all that there is a manger scene on display at a key intersection near my beach house in Malibu   If people want a creche, it's just as fine with me as is the Menorah a few hundred yards away. 

I don't like getting pushed around for being a Jew, and I don't think Christians like getting pushed around for being Christians.  I think people who believe in God are sick and tired of getting pushed around, period   I have no idea where the concept came from that America is an explicitly atheist country.  I can't find it in the Constitution and I don't like it being shoved down my throat. 

Or maybe I can put it another way: where did the idea come from that we should worship celebrities and we aren't allowed to worship God as we understand Him?  I guess that's a sign that I'm getting old, too.   But there are a lot of us who are wondering where these celebrities came from and where the America we knew went to. 

In light of the many jokes we send to one another for a laugh, this is a little different:  This is not intended to be a joke it's not funny, it's intended to get you thinking. 

Billy Graham's daughter was interviewed on the Early Show and Jane Clayson asked her 'How could God let something like this happen?' (regarding Katrina) Anne Graham gave an extremely profound and insightful response.  She said, 'I believe God is deeply saddened by this, just as we are, but for years we've been telling God to get out of our schools, to get out of our government and to get out of our lives.  And being the gentleman He is, I believe He has calmly backed out.  How can we expect God to give us His blessing and His protection if we demand He leave us alone?' 

In light of recent events... terrorists attack, school shootings, etc.  I think it started when Madeleine Murray O'Hare (she was murdered, her body found a few years ago) complained she didn't want prayer in our schools, and we said OK.  Then someone said

you better not read the Bible in school.  The Bible says thou shalt not kill, thou shalt not steal, and love your neighbor as yourself.  And we said OK. 

Then Dr. Benjamin Spock said we shouldn't spank our children when they misbehave because their little personalities would be warped and we might damage their self-esteem (Dr Spock's son committed suicide).  We said an expert should know what he's talking about.  And we said OK.

Now we're asking ourselves why our children have no conscience, why they don't know right from wrong, and why it doesn't bother them to kill strangers, their classmates, and themselves.

Probably, if we think about it long and hard enough, we can figure it out.  I think it has a great deal to do with 'WE REAP WHAT WE SOW.' 

Funny how simple it is for people to trash God and then wonder why the world's going to hell.  Funny how we believe what the newspapers say, but question what the Bible says.  Funny how you can send 'jokes' through e-mail and they spread like wildfire but when you start sending messages regarding the Lord, people think twice about sharing.  Funny how lewd, crude, vulgar and obscene articles pass freely through cyberspace, but public discussion of God is suppressed in the school and workplace. 

Are you laughing yet? 

Funny how when you forward this message, you will not send it to many on 
your address list because you're not sure what they believe, or what they 
will think of you for sending it. 

Funny how we can be more worried about what other people think of us than what God thinks of us. 

Pass it on if you think it has merit.  If not then just discard it... no one will know you did.  But, if you discard this thought process, don't sit back and complain about what bad shape the world is in.  

My Best Regards,  Honestly and respectfully, 

Ben

THIS WAS MY RESPONSE... 

I agree that talking about religion should be a more open and frequent occurrence.   Unfortunately, some people are so connected with their religion (or lack of religion) that they can’t separate a spirited debate from an attack on their beliefs.  

 

This article raises some interesting questions.  While I am not insulted, I am concerned that the religious of the world hold beliefs that are counterintuitive to accepted historical events, and even the bible itself.  Additionally, the whole religious persecution angle is old and tired.  Our Country is religious, atheist make up just 12 percent of the nation, and recent polls suggest that you’d have an easier time getting elected to office being gay and religious than an atheist.  If you live in a big city, I can see how you would feel a little disconnected, but rest assured you’re brethren are out there.

 

America should be, according to our founding fathers, a country where church and state are separate.  Religious people argue all the time that we were founded on Christian values.  Which values were those?  There are some good “Christian Values” and some really bad Christian Values.  I don’t think I have to go into the roll of Christianity as a justification for the subjugation, murder and enslavement of indigenous populations of the world.  

 

Here are some great quotes from our founding fathers:

I love this first one:  and I even have a jpeg (above) to hammer home its importance-

This is the 1796 treaty with Tripoli it states that the United States was "in no sense founded on the Christian religion" This treaty was written under the presidency of George Washington and signed under the presidency of John Adams.

 

“In a sermon that was reported in newspapers, Episcopal minister Bird Wilson of Albany, New York, protested in October 1831: "Among all our presidents from Washington downward, not one was a professor of religion, at least not of more than Unitarianism."  The attitude of the age was one of enlightened reason, tolerance, and free thought.  The Founding Fathers would turn in their graves if the Christian Extremists had their way with this country.”  (reference- Freethought.mbdojo.com)

 

"It may not be easy, in every possible case, to trace the line of separation between the rights of religion and the Civil authority with such distinctness as to avoid collisions and doubts on unessential points.  The tendency to unsurpastion on one side or the other, or to a corrupting coalition or alliance between them, will be best guarded against by an entire abstinence of the Gov't from interference in any way whatsoever, beyond the necessity of preserving public order, and protecting each sect agst. trespasses on its legal rights by others."
  James Madison, "James Madison on Religious Liberty",

 

 

"I almost shudder at the thought of alluding to the most fatal example of the abuses of grief which the history of mankind has preserved-- the Cross. Consider what calamities that engine of grief has produced!"
 John Adams -letter to Thomas Jefferson 

 

"The divinity of Jesus is made a convenient cover for absurdity.  Nowhere in the Gospels do we find a precept for Creeds, Confessions, Oaths, Doctrines, and whole cartloads of other foolish trumpery that we find in Christianity." 

John Adams

 

And on and on

 

One could argue, and someone has (see below The Founding Sachems July 4, 2005) that we weren’t even founded on Christian Values.  There really wasn’t a clear and concise concept of freedom in the bible.  Humans were beholden to the will of god and required to accept his son, OR ELSE… that doesn’t sound very free to me.  The article below argues that we got our system of Government from the Native Americans.  They had a clear concept of personal freedom… read for yourself.  There’s also a book on it.

 

 

Religion in Life

The article then addresses religion in every day life, schools and politics, starting with a quote from Jane Clayson concerning “how could God let something like this happen? (Katrina)”  She said, “I believe God is deeply saddened by this, just as we are, but for years we've been telling God to get out of our schools, to get out of our government and to get out of our lives.  And being the gentleman He is, I believe He has calmly backed out.  How can we expect God to give us His blessing and His protection if we demand He leave us alone?”

 

WHAT THE F?  Really? Is That supposed to be an insightful response?  Either God is omniscient, all powerful, and omni-benevolent or he is not.  The Europeans of the 14th century were a pretty religious bunch.  I don’t think they were asking god to step aside in their lives, but that still did not stop the bubonic plague from wiping out 25-50 million of them.  The black death took out 30-60 percent of Europe (wikipedia) during a very Christian time.  All of a sudden when we modern folk don’t want prayer in our schools he allows terrorist attacks and a few storms to strike us.  I don’t think he’s all that upset about our independence considering some of the things our forefathers went through.  

 

This black death outbreak wasn’t the first, from 541 to 700 50% of Europeans died.

Cholera had outbreaks all through the 1800s that severely diminished populations.

Spanish Flu of 1918-1919 killed 17 million people in 18 months…. Now that is some god like fury.  I can go on and on, but you get the point.  I would be terrified if there was a god who had an ego as brittle as man’s.

 

And then there’s Predestination:

"And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified." (Rom. 8:28-30, NASB)

"So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy. [verse 17 omitted] So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires." (Rom. 9:16-18, NASB)

 

There is biblical support for and against Predestination (both in Romans and other places) Calvin liked it, but it does make it hard to get people to do what you want them to if they think god has already decided their fate.

Romans 10:9 that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. - No Predestination here.

 

The Bible and Right and Wrong

Does the bible have a monopoly on morality?  I can’t think of another book or document that has caused more bloodshed, justified more slavery and caused more misery.  Paradoxically, I am sure there aren’t many other books that have enriched, enlightened and educated more people.  Its an odd mix, but then again so are humans.  The bible can reflect what we are, back to ourselves.  There are terrible atrocities in the bible, even Jesus threatened to kill Jezebels children:

"20 Notwithstanding I have a few things against thee, because thou sufferest that woman Jezebel, which calleth herself a prophetess, to teach and seduce my servants to commit fornification, and to eat things sacrificed unto idols. 21 And I gave her space to repent of her fornification, and she repented not. 22 Behold, I cast her into a bed, and them that commit adultery with her into great tribulation, except they repent of their deeds. 23 And I will kill her children with death, and all the churches shall know that I am he which searcheth the reins and hearts: and I give unto everyone according to your works."

AND god in the Old testament is downright grumpy.  I’ll spare the quotes. (see below)

My point is this; Imagine being an atheist hearing all the time that Christianity = morality.  And those that aren’t Christians aren’t moral.  Its so accepted that even a presidential candidate felt comfortable saying this in an interview:

 

Robert I. Sherman, a reporter for the American Atheist news journal, fully accredited by the state of Illinois and by invitation a participating member of the press corps covering the national candidates had the following exchange with then Vice President Bush.

Sherman: What will you do to win the votes of the Americans who are atheists?

Bush: I guess I'm pretty weak in the atheist community. Faith in god is important to me.

Sherman: Surely you recognize the equal citizenship and patriotism of Americans who are atheists?

Bush: No, I don't know that atheists should be considered as citizens, nor should they be considered patriots. This is one nation under God.

Sherman (somewhat taken aback): Do you support as a sound constitutional principle the separation of state and church?

Bush: Yes, I support the separation of church and state. I'm just not very high on atheists.

 

Now replace the word Atheist with another religious group like Jews, or mormons…. Scary stuff.  But that’s what atheists deal with.  Looks of utter disbelief, from the believers of the world.

 

Back to Morality

The road from Jesus to present time is a long and sorted one, advancements in culture, medicine, technology, and so on have really changed our lives.  Its more important now more than ever to “interpret” the bible to make it relevant to todays issues.  Who interprets the bible?  Who makes those decisions?  MAN…  We don’t stone blasphemers anymore (Leviticus 24:10-16), sell daughters into slavery(Exodus 21:7), forbid the wearing of mixed fabrics (Leviticus 19:19( or any of that crazy old testament nonsense… Who told us it was ok to ignore parts of the bible?  Jesus?  Yes he did change up some doctrine, ex: eye for eye, turn the other cheek, but he was relentless in his assertion that we obey god’s will.  Anyway, it gets confusing.  

 

My morality was given to me by my father.  He stressed empathy above all else, and that’s really enough to get you to form a sound and moral personal philosophy.  Do unto others as you would want done to you.  SO SIMPLE, SO EFFECTIVE.  No religion necessary.  Just teach kids how to put themselves in their peers’ shoes.   The simple and effective teachings from my father have helped me to live a moral life.

 

There are some differences between my dad’s simple rules and religious doctrine.

First off, my decision to live morally, and to be empathetic to others is my choice alone (of course upbringing instilled it in me, but I’m keeping it alive).  If I were to deviate for convenience sake or to get ahead, I’m not worried I’m going to hell, if I live pure and clean, I don’t believe I’m going to heaven.  Religion’s punishment/reward system has no affect on me.  My good deeds, or lack of bad deeds are my choice alone,  no coercion, no threats of retaliation.

 

Morality that is instilled by religion can boast no such claims.  A strict punishment/reward system underlies most religious doctrine and ensures that even the purest deeds are tainted by coercion.  The system employed by religion is similar to that used to control a child or a pet.  If you do good, you get a reward- heaven.  If you do bad, you get punished- hell.  This is not a very enlightened system and true believers could hardly be called moral (def: concerned with the principles of right and wrong behavior and the goodness or badness of human character).  The definition of moral does not apply to the religious.  The definition of “moral” starts with “concerned with the principles of right and wrong.” I would argue that religion has embraced a system of obedience that encourages followers to be concerned with rewards and punishments.  The faithful are taught to fear the consequence of a bad deed and strive for the rewards of a “good” deed.  This could hardly be called moral.  The faithful are less concerned with the principles of right and wrong and more concerned with saving their souls from eternal damnation.  The punishment/reward system encourages the faithful to do what’s right for themselves, not what’s morally right.

 

That seems harsh, but when you’ve grown up in a country where even a Vice President feels comfortable advocating revocation of citizenship for atheists, there’s a tendency to vigorously defend your position.

 

I have nothing against the religious, I love religious history and would never tell someone to stop believing.  I would just like people to see that religion does not have a monopoly on morality.  

 

July 4, 2005

The Founding Sachems

By CHARLES C. MANN

SEEKING to understand this nation's democratic spirit, Alexis de Tocqueville journeyed to the famous centers of American liberty (Boston, Philadelphia, Washington), stoically enduring their ''infernal'' accommodations, food and roads and chatting up almost everyone he saw.

He even marched in a Fourth of July parade in Albany just ahead of a big float that featured a flag-waving Goddess of Liberty, a bust of Benjamin Franklin, and a printing press that spewed out copies of the Declaration of Independence for the cheering crowd. But for all his wit and intellect, Tocqueville never realized that he came closest to his goal just three days after the parade, when he stopped at the ''rather unhealthy but thickly peopled'' area around Syracuse.

Tocqueville's fascination with the democratic spirit was prescient. Expressed politically in Americans' insistence on limited government and culturally in their long-standing disdain for elites, that spirit has become one of this country's great gifts to the world.

When rich London and Paris stockbrokers proudly retain their working-class accents, when audiences show up at La Scala in track suits and sneakers, when South Africans and Thais complain that the police don't read suspects their rights the way they do on ''Starsky & Hutch,'' when anti-government protesters in Beirut sing ''We Shall Overcome'' in Lebanese accents -- all these raspberries in the face of social and legal authority have a distinctly American tone. Or, perhaps, a distinctly Native American tone, for among its wellsprings is American Indian culture, especially that of the Iroquois.

The Iroquois confederation, known to its members as the Haudenosaunee, was probably the greatest indigenous polity north of the Rio Grande in the two centuries before Columbus and definitely the greatest in the two centuries after. A political and military alliance formed by the Seneca, Cayuga, Onondaga, Oneida, Mohawk and, after about 1720, the Tuscarora, it dominated, at its height, an area from Kentucky to Lake Ontario and Lake Champlain. Its capital was Onondaga, a bustling small city of several thousand souls a few miles south of where Tocqueville stopped in modern Syracuse.

The Iroquois confederation was governed by a constitution, the Great Law of Peace, which established the league's Great Council: 50 male royaneh (religious-political leaders), each representing one of the female-led clans of the alliance's nations. What was striking to the contemporary eye was that the 117 codicils of the Great Law were concerned as much with constraining the Great Council as with granting it authority. ''Their whole civil policy was averse to the concentration of power in the hands of any single individual,'' explained Lewis Henry Morgan, a pioneering ethnographer of the Iroquois.

The council's jurisdiction was limited to relations among the nations and outside groups; internal affairs were the province of the individual nations. Even in the council's narrow domain, the Great Law insisted that every time the royaneh confronted ''an especially important matter or a great emergency,'' they had to ''submit the matter to the decision of their people'' in a kind of referendum open to both men and women.

In creating such checks on authority, the league was just the most formal expression of a regionwide tradition. Although the Indian sachems on the Eastern Seaboard were absolute monarchs in theory, wrote the colonial leader Roger Williams, in practice they did not make any decisions ''unto which the people are averse.'' These smaller groups did not have formal, Iroquois-style constitutions, but their governments, too, were predicated on the consent of the governed. Compared to the despotisms that were the norm in Europe and Asia, the societies encountered by British colonists were a libertarian dream.

To some extent, this freedom reflected North American Indians' relatively recent adoption of agriculture. Early farming villages worldwide have always had less authoritarian governments than their successors. But the Indians of the Northeast made what the historian José António Brandão calls ''autonomous responsibility'' a social ideal -- the Iroquois especially, but many others, too. Each Indian, the Jesuit missionary Joseph-François Lafitau observed, viewing ''others as masters of their own actions and themselves, lets them conduct themselves as they wish and judges only himself.''

So vivid were these examples of democratic self-government that some historians and activists have argued that the Great Law of Peace directly inspired the American Constitution. Taken literally, this assertion seems implausible. With its grant of authority to the federal government to supersede state law, its dependence on rule by the majority rather than consensus and its denial of suffrage to women, the Constitution as originally enacted was not at all like the Great Law. But in a larger sense the claim is correct. The framers of the Constitution, like most colonists in what would become the United States, were pervaded by Indian images of liberty.

For two centuries after Plymouth Rock, the border between natives and newcomers was porous, almost nonexistent. In a way difficult to imagine now, Europeans and Indians mingled, the historian Gary Nash has written, as ''trading partners, military allies, and marital consorts.''

In a letter to Thomas Jefferson, the aging John Adams recalled the Massachusetts of his youth as a multiracial society. ''Aaron Pomham, the priest, and Moses Pomham, the King of the Punkapaug and Neponsit Tribes, were frequent visitors at my father's house,'' he wrote nostalgically. Growing up in Quincy, Mass., the young Adams frequently visited a neighboring Indian family, ''where I never failed to be treated with whortleberries, blackberries, strawberries or apples, plums, peaches, etc.'' Benjamin Franklin was equally familiar with Indian company; representing the Pennsylvania colony, he negotiated with the Iroquois in 1754. A close friend was Conrad Weiser, an adopted Mohawk who at the talks was the Indians' unofficial host.

As many colonists observed, the limited Indian governments reflected levels of personal autonomy unheard of in Europe. ''Every man is free,'' a frontiersman, Robert Rogers, told a disbelieving British audience, referring to Indian villages. In these places, he said, no person, white or Indian, sachem or slave, has any right to deprive anyone else of his freedom. The Iroquois, Cadwallader Colden declared in 1749, held ''such absolute notions of liberty that they allow of no kind of superiority of one over another, and banish all servitude from their territories.'' (Colden, surveyor general of New York, was another Mohawk adoptee.)

Not every European admired this democratic spirit. Indians ''think every one ought to be left to his own opinion, without being thwarted,'' the Flemish missionary monk Louis Hennepin wrote in 1683. ''There is nothing so difficult to control as the tribes of America,'' a fellow missionary unhappily observed. ''All these barbarians have the law of wild asses -- they are born, live, and die in a liberty without restraint; they do not know what is meant by bridle and bit.''

Indians, for their part, were horrified to encounter European social classes, with those on the lower rungs of the hierarchy compelled to defer to those on the upper. When the 17th-century French adventurer Louis-Armand de Lom d'Arce, Baron de Lahontan, tried to convince the Huron, the Iroquois's northern neighbors, of Europe's natural superiority, the Indians scoffed.

Because Europeans had to kowtow to their social betters, Lahontan later reported, ''they brand us for slaves, and call us miserable souls, whose life is not worth having.'' Individual Indians, he wrote ''value themselves above anything that you can imagine, and this is the reason they always give for it, that one's as much master as another, and since men are all made of the same clay there should be no distinction or superiority among them.''

INFLUENCED by their proximity to Indians -- by being around living, breathing role models of human liberty -- European colonists adopted their insubordinate attitudes. Lahontan was an example, despite his noble title; his account highlighted Indian freedoms as an incitement toward rebellion. Both the clergy and Louis XIV, the king whom Lahontan was goading, tried to suppress these dangerous ideas by instructing French officials to force a French education upon the Indians, complete with lessons in deferring to their social betters. The attempts, the historian Cornelius J. Jaenen reported, were ''everywhere unsuccessful.''

In the most direct way, Indian liberty made indigenous villages into competitors for colonists' allegiance. Colonial societies could not become too oppressive, because their members -- surrounded by examples of free life -- always had the option of voting with their feet.

It is likely that the first British villages in North America, thousands of miles from the House of Lords, would have lost some of the brutally graded social hierarchy that characterized European life. But it is also clear that they were infused by the democratic, informal brashness of American Indian culture. That spirit alarmed and discomfited many Europeans, aristocrat and peasant alike. Others found it a deeply attractive vision of human possibility.

Historians have been reluctant to acknowledge this contribution to the end of tyranny worldwide. Yet a plain reading of Locke, Hume, Rousseau and Thomas Paine shows that they took many of their illustrations of liberty from native examples. So did the colonists who held their Boston Tea Party dressed as ''Mohawks.'' When others took up European intellectuals' books and histories, images of Indian freedom had an impact far removed in time and space from the 16th-century Northeast.

The pioneering suffragists Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Matilda Joslyn Gage, both Finger Lakes residents, were inspired by the Great Law's extension of legal protections to women. ''This gentile constitution is wonderful!'' Friedrich Engels exclaimed (though he apparently didn't notice its emphasis on limited state power).

Just like their long-ago confreres in Boston, protesters in South Korea, China and Ukraine wore ''Native American'' makeup and clothing in, respectively, the 1980's, 1990's, and the first years of this century. Indeed, it is only a little exaggeration to claim that everywhere liberty is cherished -- from Sweden to Soweto, from the streets of Manila to the docks of Manhattan -- people are descendants of the Iroquois League and its neighbors.