Wednesday, March 28, 2012

On the Separation of Church and State

A couple of topics have emerged in some "discussions" on social media ... the first concerns the tax-exempt status of churches.  There have been some pretty strident statements made by some churches that constitute political advocacy, thereby rendering them vulnerable to removal of their tax-exempt status by the IRS. However, it seems the IRS is really not very much into enforcement of the rules embodied in existing law.  As it now stands, like other charitable organizations, including secular ones, churches are granted tax-exempt status in return for their charitable activities.

Some religious radicals believe that churches are literally above the law of the land here in the USA and shouldn't even file for tax exemptions because they're not subject to the laws of our nation.  I think this is a pretty extremist position and won't dignify it with further discussion.

Some religious believers see the restrictions of political advocacy by churches, at risk of losing their tax-exempt status, as an abridgement of their right to free speech.  This is a specious argument!  Free speech is guaranteed to persons, not organizations, and no church member's free speech rights are being taken away by the Constitutional law requiring separation of church and state.  What's being prevented by the threat of loss of tax-exempt status is the "right" of churches to influence their congregation's votes in the political process.  When churches begin to take open, even flagrant stances of a political nature, they cease to be charitable organizations and become political, which should bring the wrath of the IRS down on them.  That is, if the IRS actually was able to enforce the laws, which it seems it's either unable to do, or reluctant to do so for fear of offending someone.

Any church seeking to influence the political process is clearly seeking to abrogate the principle of separation of church and state, which most thoughtful people acknowledge has been good for churches, as well as the USA's secular government.  State-supported religion is bad for religious freedom of any but the one favored religious denomination, and is contrary to the principles under which the USA was founded - despite the revisionist history being touted by advocates of an American theocracy.

The other topic concerns the evident futility of intercessory prayer - prayers asking for the deity to intercede on our behalf.  All scientific tests of the efficacy of intercessory prayer have produced the same result:  such prayers have about the same frequency of being answered as if no prayer at all were offered.  Praying for someone or something is a way to show your concern but such praying cannot be shown to have any effect on the outcome.  Therefore, it actually does nothing for the person(s) being prayed for, but it does make folks feel better, I suppose.  You can show your concern, which can be a comfort, without actually doing anything about the situation!

Anyway, imagine that the deity is what the abrahamic religions claim it to be:  infinitely powerful, infinitely wise, and infinitely benevolent.  Said being is said to have a mysterious "plan" that, conveniently, is beyond the comprehension of any mere human.  It's at least plausible to suppose that such an infinite being could well possess an incomprehensible plan.  Would it be too much to ask for some sort of crude explanation, anyway?  After all, an infinite being should have no trouble formulating an explanation to the dunces it created in the first place.  And if this being loves us, don't we deserve an explanation?  A loving human parent would never treat a child this way!

Thus, when our prayers aren't answered, the excuse apparently is that the deity's plan precluded changing that plan to accommodate human needs (including survival!).  If one grants this deity's infinite powers, we simply should accept our fate as dictated by that plan and acknowledge that the deity does whatever it wants to, irrespective of our pleading.  It seems presumptuous and arrogant to even entertain the idea that our human needs could cause an infinite deity to change the plan, just for us!  Our discomfort is all part of the plan, is it not?  Nothing happens on this planet without the deity's say-so, right? 

Of course, jesus promises in the new testament that the deity will indeed answer prayers from people of faith, in direct conflict with available evidence.  Apparently, the mysterious "plan" supercedes jesus's promises to answer prayers, so the bible should contain a disclaimer to the effect that the needs of the "plan" trump the needs of the supplicants!  Kinda like the needs of the Army, as I recall.  So the infinitely loving being is willing to break promises; that seems pretty evidently contradictory to me.  Couldn't that infinite wisdom have figured out a way to avoid breaking promises?  Oh, yes - I keep forgetting - abrahamic religion isn't based on logic, evidence, and rationality.  It's based on an irrational belief in the total absence of evidence:  the "virtue" known as "faith"!

It seems pretty evident to me that this putative deity is a fabrication - invented by humans in their likeness, not the other way around.  The abrahamic deity some humans have invented for themselves, like all such creations in our human past, is much more human than the believers want to admit:  self-centered, insecure, demanding, jealous, full of lies and contradictions, afraid that humans will seek knowledge and understanding, vengeful to the point of being psychotic - willing to cause everlasting pain and anguish on its creations who fail to accept it as the only true deity, a mass murderer who sees women and even slaves as mere property, etc.  Frankly, it's amazing to me how many otherwise intelligent humans are able to accept this manufactured myth as reality.  But here in the USA, everyone is free to pursue their religious beliefs (thanks to the separation of church and state) - or nonbeliefs - and I support wholeheartedly their right to do so. 

The evils perpetrated in the name of the abrahamic deity continue to result in a blood-soaked human toll.  Is this what we should accept as the philosophical and moral basis for our American society?  I most devoutly hope not!!  Long live the separation of church and state!!


okienurse said...

Can I just say hear hear!

Chuck Doswell said...

okienurse is, of course, my lovely wife Vickie!

Justin Reid said...

Chuck, I respect your views and I understand you have had some difficult times in your life (much more so than mine), however I still hold onto the Judeo-Christian faith because of personal reasons of my own. Yes, Christianity has caused terrible things in the past, but to *single out* my God as an intolerant murderer... wow, then what was Quetzalcoatl or Jupiter? I actually was taken aback when I read that paragraph.

About 4 years ago during the summer after my freshman year, I came out to the National Weather Center and I listened to your "Ownership" talk. Since that time I have endured both a stagnant meteorology job market, and the hyper-competitive grad school process which makes an advanced degree in my science appear almost impossible to receive. But through these challenges I have done well in my major and I hope to graduate in May. One of the things that helped to obtain "ownership" was and still is my religion. As many of your essays have stated, meteorology is nowhere a perfect profession and there have been many times where I would hope never to see even a research paper again, but I have kept my ground and my religion has been there to lift me through it.

I know my situation (and my reasons for belief) will appear like a mere defense mechanism in your eyes and others, but it has promised me things where logic has failed or has deemed me unworthy. In it's own subtle way that's how I've attained "ownership". Through patience and understanding that is sometimes truly hard to find.

Have a good day Chuck,
Justin Lynn Reid

Chuck Doswell said...

Justin ... you can hold on to your faith if you believe it helps you out. It matters not what I think about it.

But your judeo-christian deity wiped out almost all humans in the Noah flood, slaughtered or sanctioned the slaughter of whole cities and nations, etc. You can compare it to any other mythical deity if you wish but it's tough simultaneously to accept the bible and deny his culpability in murder.

Chuck Doswell said...

One more comment, Justin ... my life has been pretty darned good so far, so I'm a little unclear regarding the "difficult times" in my life! My only reason for rejecting the whole judeo-christian myth is that it has never made any sense to me, from the first time I began to understand the message with which I was being indoctrinated. It's certainly not as a result of some deep trauma in my past.

Justin Reid said...

Chuck, fair enough, atheists have different reasons for rejecting religiosity. Although it's my hope that this debate doesn't decay into anti-religious vitriol and discrimination.

Chuck Doswell said...

You mean like the anti-atheist vitriol being expressed openly and widely and the discrimination against atheists already in place? Atheists have little or no capacity to discriminate against the religious majority. I respect people's rights to believe (or disbelieve) as they choose, but I don't respect religion, per se. My comments about it may well become intense ...