James Dobson Needs My Money (and an Education)

Big wad of US currencyJames Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family, was good enough to send me a letter a few days ago.  Not a personal letter—he basically just wants me to give him some of my money—but a letter nonetheless.  He outlined some of his views about the Christian foundation our country was built on, reported how our country is going to hell in a jet-propelled handbasket, and made the irresistible swipe at homosexuality.

In case he forgot to send you one, I’ve highlighted a few interesting bits of his letter to reply to.

Our Founding Fathers clearly understood the relationship between Christian Truth and the stability of our (then) new nation. Here are just a few quotes that express that essential connection.

And he goes on to quote mine the founding fathers’ writings to find their most pro-Christian statements.

When pundits bring up quotes from the founders, you know that they’re out of arguments.  The U.S. Constitution is the law of the land, regardless of what the founders thought, wrote, or wanted.  They had their chance to define how the country should be run, and they seized it.  That document was revolutionary at the time and now, with a few amendments, effectively governs us more than two centuries later.  It supersedes the other writings of the founders.

Thomas Jefferson, … revisionists tell us, wanted a “wall of separation” to protect the government from people of faith.

No need for revisionists—Thomas Jefferson himself talked about “a wall of separation between church and state.”  And, to be precise, the First Amendment protects the people (whether or not of faith) from the government, not the other way around.

Dobson then goes on to give a long quote by Abraham Lincoln.  Well, not really by Lincoln.  This was a Senate resolution for a National Fast Day signed by Lincoln.  And this was the same Lincoln who said, “When I do good, I feel good; when I do bad, I feel bad.  That’s my religion.”

This was the same Lincoln who said, “The Bible is not my book, and Christianity is not my religion.”

This was the same Lincoln who said, “My earlier views of the unsoundness of the Christian scheme of salvation and the human origin of the scriptures have become clearer and stronger with advancing years, and I see no reason for thinking I shall ever change them.”

The private Lincoln wasn’t the strong Christian that Dobson imagines.  (And it wouldn’t change the Constitution if he were.)

We are witnessing an unprecedented campaign to secularize our society and “de-moralize” our institutions from the top down. …  Most forms of prayer have been declared unconstitutional in the nation’s schools. The Ten Commandments have been prohibited on school bulletin boards. …  In this wonderful Land of the Free, we have gagged and bound all of our public officials, our teachers, our elected representatives, and our judges.

Again: read the Constitution.  Prayer should never have been allowed in schools.  Ten Commandments in courthouses or in schools?  Clearly out of step with the Constitution.

I don’t want to see Christian citizens gagged; I want them to have the same public speech rights that I do.  But when you’re acting as a public official, teacher, or elected representative, the rules are different.  The First Amendment demands that you create an unbiased environment.  Evangelism with prayer or religious documents is forbidden.  Dobson somehow finds this a shocking new realization, but the First Amendment was adopted in 1791.

As a secularist, I know when to stop.  I’m only asking that the First Amendment be followed.  I want no Christian preferences—such as “In God We Trust” as the motto, prayers before government meetings, Creationism in schools, crosses on public land, and so on—but when we have that situation, I will stop.  I’m not striving for a society where Christianity is illegal.  (See what a good friend a secular Constitution is for the Christian?)

But I see no stopping point on the other side, no fairly unambiguous standard that Christians are pushing for.  If they got prayer back in schools, what would be next?

Since we have effectively censored their expressions of faith in public life, the predictable is happening: a generation of young people is growing up with very little understanding of the spiritual principles on which our country was founded. And we wonder why so many of them can kill, steal, take drugs, and engage in promiscuous sex with no pangs of conscience.

I wonder what happens when Christianity fades away?  Does that society devolve into the post-apocalyptic Mad Max world that Dobson imagines?

Let’s compare other Western societies to find out.  Looking at quantifiable social metrics (homicides, incarceration, juvenile mortality, STDs, abortions, adolescent pregnancies, marriage duration, income disparity, and so on) in 17 Western countries, a 2009 study concluded: “Of the 25 socioeconomic and environmental indicators, the most theistic and procreationist western nation, the U.S., scores the worst in 14 and by a very large margin in 8, very poorly in 2, average in 4, well or very in 4, and the best in 1.”1

Ouch—religiosity is inversely correlated with social health.  Sorry, Dr. Dobson.

It is breathtaking to see how hostile our government has become to traditional marriage, and how both Democrats and Republicans are increasingly antagonistic to parental rights, Christian training, and the financial underpinnings of family life.

I assume that “hostile … to traditional marriage” refers to same-sex marriage.

Help me understand this.  At a time when Christian traditionalists like Dobson lament the high divorce rate and the acceptability of couples living together and even having children without the benefit of marriage, they dismiss a group that is actually embracing marriage.

Same-sex marriage is a celebration of marriage, not an attack.

The hope of the future is prayer and a spiritual renewal that will sweep the nation. It has happened before, and with concerted prayer, could occur again. …  If we continue down the road we are now traveling, I fear for us all.

Yeah, following the rise in Christian fundamentalism does sound like a worrisome future.  We’ve seen that secular, gay-loving Europe eclipses the U.S. in social metrics.

Candidly, this ministry continues to struggle financially, and our very survival will depend on the generosity of our constituents in the next two months.

Translated: “Give me some money.”

Please pray with us about the future of this ministry.

Translated: “Give me some money.”  (I’ve written before about how prayer requests of this sort admit that prayer is useless.)

I suppose that this kind of lashing out at other people brings in the money.  But it’d be nice to see more credible arguments.

1Gregory Paul, “The Chronic Dependence of Popular Religiosity upon Dysfunctional Psychosociological Conditions,” Evolutionary Psychology, www.epjournal.net (2009).  7(3): 416.

Photo credit: 401K

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On 11/11/11, Let’s Crank it to 11!

An amplifier dial has volume numbers from 0 to 10 but it goes beyond to 11 (Spinal Tap)You only get one 11/11/11 each century, and today is it.  And if today is all about 11, it must be Spin̈al Tap Day!

The 1984 film This is Spinal Tap, a mocumentary of Britain’s loudest heavy metal band, has a scene where the lead guitarist explains why they’re so loud—the dials on their amplifiers don’t stop at 10 but go up to 11.  When the interviewer asks why they don’t just recalibrate the numbers so that 10 is the loudest, there’s a confused pause, after which Nigel repeats, “These go to 11.”

And isn’t every day Spin̈al Tap Day within Christianity?  Let’s look at a few areas where Christianity stares blankly into space and then repeats, “These go to 11.”

The Catholic Church is a great source of 11-isms.  To see immutable religion changing, look at the position of Jesus’s mother Mary within the Catholic Church.  By 1854 it concluded, without scriptural evidence, that she must have been born of a virgin herself and in 1950 that she couldn’t have died but must have risen to heaven.

Or consider Limbo, the place that’s neither heaven nor hell, where unbaptized babies go when they die.  The idea was discarded by the church in 2007.

The Trinity is always a fun topic.  The Jews in the Old Testament saw the move from polytheism to monotheism as foundational, but then Christianity (Judaism 2.0) invented the Trinity.  They had a have-my-cake-and-eat-it-too problem in that they wanted to keep monotheism except that their “single” deity would be formed of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  First off, we have a problem with language—can’t Christianity think of a better name for its god than “God”?

And if Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are the persons, what do you call the union of these into one god?  That is, Father + Son + Holy Spirit = who?  You need a fourth name.  Do you call it “God”?  But “God” is the one who created everything, and that’s supposed to be the Father.  The Father can’t both be the first person of the Trinity and the overall god at the same time.  You can use “the Trinity” as the umbrella name, but that’s an odd name for a monotheistic god.

There’s another way to see the problem.  Consider this passage:

I will gird you, though you have not known Me; that men may know from the rising to the setting of the sun that there is no one besides Me.  I am the LORD [that is, Jehovah], and there is no other. (Isaiah 45:5-6)

There’s nothing confusing here from a Jewish viewpoint, which was the intended audience.  Let’s ignore for now that the Old Testament uses several names, possibly for different gods (Jehovah, Yahweh, Elohim), that are conflated when convenient.

The verse says that there is no other besides Jehovah.  If Jehovah is a synonym for “the Father,” this means that he reigns alone and the Trinity is no more.  But if Jehovah is a synonym for the Trinity, then it makes nonsense of the singular pronouns (Me and I) in these verses and confuses passages such as “Then [Jehovah] spoke to Moses” (Ex. 40:1) or “After [Jehovah] had spoken these things to Job” (Job 42:7).  The problem, of course, is demanding a Christian interpretation of a Jewish text.

Here are a few more 11-isms.

  • Why blame Adam and Eve for disobeying God when they didn’t know that that was wrong?  Remember that they hadn’t yet eaten from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.
  • Why does the Bible contain nutty superstitions like the one about how you can change the appearance of animals’ young by changing what they see when mating (Gen. 30:37–9)?
  • Why does God give no new science, even information as simple and life saving as germ theory or the recipe for soap?
  • Why was slavery in Egypt that big a deal when the Israelites promptly enslaved a tribe once they returned to Canaan (Josh. 9)?
  • How can those in heaven enjoy the experience when they know of the suffering of billions in hell?
  • If God deeply wants us to make it into heaven and belief in Jesus is mandatory, why is he so hidden?
  • And why would he get furious because we’re imperfect when that’s precisely how he made us?

I’ve read more sensible things in Alice in Wonderland.  As Thomas Jefferson said, “Sweep away [the priests’] gossamer fabrics of fictitious religion, and they would catch no more flies.”

Let’s end with an 11-ism video.  This one weighs the profound love Jesus has for us against that whole hell thing.

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