Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Separation of Church and State?

This is a taken from a Huffington Post article posted today. I just found it interesting and figured some of you would too.

The Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) team put our heads together and came up with the following top religion and politics research findings in 2010. These issues are sure to follow us into the new year. Let us know in the comment stream what you would add to the list.

1. Nearly half (47 percent) of Americans who identify with the Tea Party movement also identify with the Christian right.

2. Pew found that nearly 1-in-5 (18 percent) Americans wrongly believe President Obama is a Muslim, and PRRI found a majority (51 percent) say his religious beliefs are different from their own.

3. Fifty-seven percent of Americans are opposed to allowing NY Muslims to build an Islamic center and mosque two blocks from ground zero, but 76 percent say they would support Muslims building a mosque in their local community if they followed the same regulations as other religious groups.

4. Americans are about five times more likely to give an "F" (24 percent) than an "A" (5 percent) to churches for their handling of homosexuality. Two-thirds see connections between messages coming from America's churches and higher rates of suicide among gay and lesbian youth.

5. Forty-five percent of Americans say the values of Islam are at odds with American values and way of life, while a plurality (49 percent) disagree.

6. If another vote similar to Proposition 8 were held now, a majority (51 percent) of Californians say they would vote to allow gay and lesbian couples to marry.

7. At least 7-in-10 Americans say that protecting the dignity of every person (82 percent), keeping families together (80 percent), and the Golden Rule are important values that should guide immigration reform (71 percent).

8. In his new book American Grace, Robert Putnam found that between one-third and one-half of all American marriages are interfaith marriages, and roughly one-third of Americans have switched religions at some point in their lives.

9. Despite high levels of religiosity, Pew found on average that Americans only answered about half of 32 questions correctly on their Religious Knowledge Survey.

10. The 2010 congressional election revealed relatively stable voting patterns by religion compared to past elections. GOP candidates held an advantage among white Christians, while Democratic candidates held an advantage among minority Christians and the unaffiliated.

And 11 for 2011. Nearly 6-in-10 Americans affirm American exceptionalism, that God has granted America a special role in human history. Those affirming this view are more likely to support military interventions and to say torture is sometimes justified.

Robert P. Jones, Ph.D., CEO and Founder of Public Religion Research Institute.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Books Read in 2010 and the 2011 Queue

In case you weren't aware, I like to read. In fact, come join Goodreads and we can be book pals. I tend to read a lot of comic collections (103 books so far) mixed with a few non-illustrated books peppered in. Here is my non-illustrated list for 2010:

1. The Measure of a Man - Sidney Poitier
2. The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide To Personal Freedom, A Toltec Wisdom Book - Miguel Ruiz
3. Crooked Little Vein - Warren Ellis
4. Tuf Voyaging - George R.R. Martin
5. The Secret History of the American Empire: Economic Hit Men, Jackals, and the Truth about Global Corruption - John Perkins
6. World's Most Evil Psychopaths: Horrifying True-Life Cases - John Marlowe
7. Deism: A Revolution in Religion - A Revolution in You - Bob Johnson
8. Peter Pan - J.M. Barrie
9. Flin's Destiny: Cobble Cavern - Jon Erik Olsen
10. A Game of Thrones - George R.R. Martin
11. Me Of Little Faith - Lewis Black
12. Live From Death Row - Mumia Abu-Jamal
13. The Time Machine - H.G. Wells
14. Enemies & Allies - Kevin J. Anderson
15. The Hunger Games - Suzanne Collins
16. Catching Fire - Suzanne Collins
17. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde - Robert Louis Stevenson
18. Mockingjay - Suzanne Collins
19. United We Stand: How We Can Take Back Our Country - Ross Perot
20. The Tales of Beedle the Bard - J.K. Rowling
21. The Silence of the Lambs - Thomas Harris
22. The Darwin Conspiracy - John Darnton
23. Twilight - Stephenie Meyer
24. The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values - Sam Harris
25. New Moon - Stephenie Meyer
26. 1984 - George Orwell
27. Civil Rights: Rhetoric or Reality - Thomas Sowell
28. Speaker For The Dead - Orson Scott Card
29. The Old Man and The Sea - Ernest Hemingway
30. Eclipse - Stephenie Meyer
31. A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens

I am still currently reading "The Grand Design" by Stephen Hawking and "The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul" by Douglas Adams. I may finish one, or both, of those before the year ends.

That means my average is about 2-3 novels per month (not counting comic graphic novels). Here are 28 that are in my 2011 reading queue, in alphabetical order by title but I'm going to need a few more suggestions.

A Clash of Kings - George RR Martin
A Confederacy of Dunces – John Kennedy Toole
Animal Farm - George Orwell
Brave New World - Aldous Huxley
Breaking Dawn - Stephenie Meyer
Frankenstein series (4 books) - Dean Koontz
Gregor the Overlander - Suzanne Collins
His Dark Materials (3 books) - Phillip Pullman
Pathfinder - Orson Scott Card
Rich Dad, Poor Dad - Robert Kyosaki
The Assault on Reason - Al Gore
The End of Faith - Sam Harris
The First Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever (3 books) - Stephen R. Donaldson
The Foundation Trilogy (3 books) - Isaac Asimov
The God Delusion - Richard Dawkins
The Name of the Wind - Patrick Rothfuss
The Secret - Rhonda Byrne
The Stand - Stephen King
What's So Great About America - Dinesh D'Souza

So, what else should I read?

Monday, December 13, 2010

Is There Room At The Inn...for an Agnostic?

Three years ago I wrote a post called “The What and Why of Christmas.” I reread it recently and realized some of my sentiments have changed. While I’m no longer the staunch advocate for Christianity that I once was, I still believe in many of the morals involved with the movement. I’m definitely not at the level of frustration Thomas Jefferson felt to utter, “I do not find in orthodox Christianity one redeeming feature.” I find myself leaning more towards the words of Gandhi when he said, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”

I’m not quite ready to embrace Ingersoll’s snide reminder to Christians that they don’t own Christmas. To me, Christmas is inextricably connected to Christianity, especially in America. I realize that if I just go back to my original post and read quickly my summarized history of Christmas, logically I can very easily dismiss that connection. However, since the connection still exists, it obviously goes deeper than logic. What is occasionally more powerful than logic and damn near impossible to control? Ah yes, emotion.

Even though I no longer attend church, I still have a number of spiritual experiences that I hold to as faith/hope defining. They are what cause me to ascribe to agnosticism over atheism. I still do not know how to deal with them in light of the separation between church and my state of being. At least two of those experiences directly relate to Christmas. The reality is that I’m emotionally/spiritually connected to Christmas.

I still get the warm fuzzies when I hear certain Christmas songs. Don’t get too excited about that or jump to identify the promptings of the Holy Spirit. I also had them the other night watching an episode of Dexter. There is nothing quite like a homicidal psychopath exhibiting the gentle, genuine love of a father love to his step-daughter to tug at my heartstrings and cause an introspective analysis on the evolving relationship with my own daughter. I almost shed a tear. Really…

Back on point, is Christmas exclusively for Christians? Or can an optimistic agnostic (that means “I don’t know but I hope so”) celebrate in the yuletide festivities too? I’m not asking for a Christ-less Christmas. I don’t want that nor is it realistic. I live in a state that makes Santa’s robe look pink by comparison. I just don’t belong to the “Jesus is the Reason for the Season” club any longer.

Is it enough to simply hope for something more, even if I can’t define it? I think my current position is best described by Albert Einstein: “My religion consists of a humble admiration of the illimitable superior spirit who reveals himself in the slight details we are able to perceive with our frail and feeble mind.”

Considering the evolution Christmas, and most particularly, the American celebration of Christmas, has experienced over the last few centuries, I don’t really see the need to have a defined position for now and going forward. If history teaches anything, it is that Christmas in America is not yet done evolving. John Burton Brimer once said, “America is a place where Jewish merchants sell Zen love beads to agnostics for Christmas.”

Ahhh, Consumerism. The true Scrooge of my Christmas nightmares. Bah! Humbug! Most of my Ebenezer-like attitudes of Christmas’ past have revolved around the perceived requirement of monetary gift-giving. Maybe that was because growing up, we had one pair of grandparents that clearly favored one set of grandkids over us but gave us the obligatory cash-in-a-card gift, while the other set of grandparents saw time spent with their grandkids as the Christmas present worth giving.

Anyone who knows me knows how loathe I would be to give credit to capitalism for much. ‘Cap’ has a huge ego so I try to feed into it as little as possible. So, imagine how humorous it is to me that the thing most Neo-Con Religious Right Republicans cling to as political scripture, free market capitalism, may be the very thing that they accuse liberals and their “War on Christmas” of trying to do but never accomplishing. Nothing has brought more disconnect between Christianity and Christmas than capitalism…but I digress.

Historically, Christmas has been a time of Christian reflection for me. Am I progressing towards Christ as a husband, father and man? How did I do in the previous year? In my quest for heaven, what about me stands in need improvement? Years ago, a past Mormon leader, Hugh B. Brown, once said, "For one day, at least, Christendom practices Christianity." I consider the attributes implied in Brown’s statement as humanist qualities, not specifically unique to Christianity alone. Christmas then becomes ‘for one day, at least, (when) humans practice humanity’.

Presently, Christmas stands as a reminder that when we, as fellow travelers of life, extend the familial hand of benevolence towards one another. Christmas is about an ever-evolving tradition made personal through symbols and emotion. Let us take Christmas and make it our own. If that means remembering the birth of Christ, embrace it. If it means being compassionate humans, do it. If it means simply celebrating the spirit of the season, which most religions coincide on in the basic principles of love, kindness, compassion, charity and peace for mankind, then please, if only for one time of the year, celebrate a truly wonderful tradition.

Merry Christmas from the optimistic agnostic to...whatever you are.