Maybe the Craziest Person in America

Jesse Lee Peterson, a tea party activist who calls himself a “reverend,” frequently appears on Faux News. Peterson is the founder of an organization where Sean Hannity serves as an advisory board member, probably explaining how he gains access to the airwaves.

Peterson recently had a sermon of his go viral on YouTube in which he said that America’s greatest mistake was allowing women the right to vote, adding that back in “the good old days, men knew that women are crazy and they knew how to deal with them.”

In the video Peterson explains that he believes women simply can’t handle “anything,” and that in his experience, “You walk up to them with a issue, they freak out right away. They go nuts. They get mad. They get upset, just like that. They have no patience because it’s not in their nature. They don’t have love. They don’t have love.”

Despite his statements, Hannity welcomed Peterson on his show recently to castigate the Obama administration over “taking credit” for the Osama bin Laden assassination — but the segment didn’t exactly go as planned.

In his sermon he even doubles down, saying that he believes America went wrong when it gave women the right to vote.

“I think that one of the greatest mistakes America made was to allow women the opportunity to vote,” Peterson says. “We should’ve never turned this over to women. And these women are voting in the wrong people. They’re voting in people who are evil who agrees with them who’re gonna take us down this pathway of destruction.”

“And this probably was the reason they didn’t allow women to vote when men were men. Because men in the good old days understood the nature of the woman,” he adds. “They were not afraid to deal with it. And they understood that, you let them take over, this is what would happen.”

On the Sean Hannity shortly after having given his sermon, Peterson was challenged by a female guest who accused him of misogyny. Peterson replied, “I don’t know if you noticed or not, but the liberal Democrat womens are calling themselves whores. They came out with their so called group of women who are within the Democrat party, and they are admitting that they’re whores and they are saying that they are proud of it. I’m okay with that, I just don’t want to pay for it.”

“I have a responsibility to tell the truth,” he added “You’re on the side of lies. Why shouldn’t I be on the side of truth? And it’s the truth that’s gonna make us free. Somebody gotta tell the truth, so I’m going to tell the truth.”

That “truth,” it would seem, isn’t just about liberal women, or even women in general. Peterson made headlines in January after telling a reporter that he would like to see black people put “back on the plantation so they would understand the ethic of working… They need a good hard education on what it is to work.”

In another post, he explains what he calls “the end of one-sided defense,” in which Peterson insists that men should re-take the right to physically strike women. “While I certainly do not sanction men attacking women, neither is it right for men to allow themselves to be beaten by a woman,” he wrote. “It’s time for men to re-assert their right to self defense.”

Neither Peterson nor a Fox News spokesperson responded to requests for comment.

Religion and Why I Lost It

This is a long post. I would understand if some of you didn’t want to read it. However, I hope you do, and I hope it makes some sense to the reader. This article originally appeared in the Nov/Dec 1995 issue of The Skeptical Review magazine. I am reprinting it here to share with those who care and didn’t read the original printing.

“Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” These lyrics constitute one of my earliest memories of religious instruction or the concept of religion. They may formulate the base experience for many others as well.

Even if the song itself does not elucidate such a memory, the concept implied in these lyrics may. This may comprise the primary religious training of the preschool child, a training based on unqualified love directed from this brotherly figure, Jesus, to the lowly little child, a source of warmth and comfort, a contrast to the child’s own fragility. No matter where we go or what we do the rest of our lives, that image will remain in some part of our being. It may be the one feeling that is hardest to shake when we grow to question and doubt this religion called Christianity.

We next learn that God is the creator of all that we behold and all that we will never understand. He is the grandfather many of us never knew or an extension of the grandfather on whose knee we sat when young. We also become aware of God’s propensity for wrath, and we are told not to tempt him or displease him. Then we are introduced to the Holy Spirit and the unfathomable tale of the Trinity. That three can equal one is totally outside of our ability to understand. In fact, few, if any, adults can comprehend this one. The story continues to become more muddled and confusing, and yet we are told we must believe, and we oblige. Belief becomes a habit driven by fear of the unknown or the fear of rejection if we doubt or question, so our questions are internalized, and we begin to feel guilt.

We now learn a more rigid set of moral values. We learn that thinking a wrong thing is the same as committing the act. Our guilt grows, and our ability to deal with it overwhelms us. The feelings of inadequacy wash over us, challenging the depth and the coldness of the baptismal immersion. Thoreau said it well: “They think they love God! It is only his old clothes, of which they make scarecrows for the children. Where will they come nearer to God than in those very children?”

Theists base their belief on faith, belief based on emotion and culturalization. When reason and rationale challenge that faith, then the reason can have no value and the rationale must be incorrect. Faith is irrefutable and errorless because it must be in order to validate all in which they believe. They then raise their children into the habit of accepting absurdities, mysteries, convoluted thinking, and supplication. They do this while the children’s minds are supple and moldable. They know that the habits of thought thus formed stand a good chance of lasting a lifetime.

Belief existing in such a vacuum serves to alienate the faithful of each new generation from the world around them. They either live in judgment of anyone who does not believe as they do, or they begin to question their own values. The following poem by John Dryden may best express this phenomenon:

By education most have been misled;
So they believe, because they were so bred.
The priest continues what the nurse began,
And thus the child imposes on the man.

What I thought of as an honest and critical look at the religion I had embraced all of my life had gone on for years as a halfhearted effort. I wanted to find the truth, yet I wanted that truth to support that in which I had always believed. In other words, I was front-loading my search by trying to find corroborating evidences, not by searching for the real truth.

As I delved into the questions raised by rational thought, I increasingly found more questions. Each answer ended up raising dozens of other questions. I finally had to face the fact that the only way I would ever find the answers I sought would be to let the truth lead me to its destination. I then stumbled onto the following quotation. It is known as the Maxim of Freethought: “He who cannot reason is defenseless; he who fears to reason has a cowardly mind; he who will not reason is willing to be deceived and will deceive all who listen to him.” This struck home. I realized my cowardice and resolved to overcome it. I threw myself anew into research but with a new approach.

Biblical literalism and inerrancy appear to be enemies to the truth, and subsequent study on my part has led me to believe this to an absolute degree. Biblical literalism, as defined and interpreted by various denominations and individuals, has produced such things as the Amish shunning of modern lifestyles and snake handling to prove one’s faith and refusing medical treatment to oneself or one’s family. Biblical literalism has led to prejudicial actions against nonbelievers, including imprisonment, censure, torture, death, and even wars. Religion, says Feuerbach, is self-estrangement. There is the separation of the world into one spiritual and one earthly. Man sees himself, first, as an individual with limitations, then as a self without limits, empowered by his God.

A major purpose of fundamentalist religions is to supply a safe harbor for those who are insecure, fearful, lost or lonely, by justifying a way of life with narrow, defining principles and prejudices. The authority of the Bible is the final arbiter of any question. The inerrancy of the Bible is the final argument to justify or indemnify, becoming the central focus of such a life. The main philosophy of fundamentalists is one of constancy in which they find solace against an outside world filled with questions. They insulate themselves against such assaults by finding answers in these words and ideas, no matter how flawed they may prove to be.

To be human means we are doomed to explaining our world, not simply and directly, but only indirectly, through these interpretations. We dwell in our interpretations. In explicating a phenomenon, we always put it in terms limited by our ability to understand, always based in our own prejudices and preconceptions. This means that we will understand things partially and inadequately, through language rather than a godlike omniscience. Therefore, we internalize our belief structure, i.e., that which causes and enhances our beliefs. At the same time, we externalize its effects on our lives and that of those about us. This duality of nature does not lead us to understanding or knowledge but to faith. Faith in an improperly arrived at conclusion based on illconceived thought processes becomes so entrenched that it is often thought to be the truth even when it flies in the face of reality.

No reasonable person can believe that the guesses of preliterate man, upon which the myths of gods and the supernatural are based, were true. The beliefs of these primitives, however, were more reasonable in terms of their limited and insignificant knowledge, than the beliefs of today’s religionists who have masses of information available to them.

It is apparent that such faith is based upon emotion, rather than reason. Emotion needs no proof and rejects all questioning. Reason demands answers, questions conflicts, and objectively studies the issues from every available source and viewpoint. Reason is fearless thought, undeterred by legal, spiritual, or social penalties. Dissenting viewpoints do not alarm those who seek truth. The knowledge seeker who has a passion for truth fears nothing except error.

I have found the average skeptic to have a much broader knowledge of the Bible and theological issues than the average Christian. Whether led to skepticism by knowledge or led to the knowledge by their skepticism, the truth of the skeptic is that he is ultimately led by a search for truth.

Few Christians can delineate the reasons and evidences for their faith. Almost any attempt to elucidate qualitative responses on the subject elicit catch phrases and incoherent babbling. If one believes, based on naivety or innocence, it may appear charming or quaint, such as a child believing in Santa Claus. If one believes culturally, because he was raised to believe certain things, it can be understood, even if there is no other basis. If one believes as a result of erroneous information or faulty study, it is lamentable. When one defends, propounds, and propagates such error as fact and refuses to examine other information objectively, it is intellectually reprehensible, and I will challenge that type of belief every time.

Biblical literalism presents more questions than answers. It offers a god we cannot respect or understand, a god who changes vastly from passage to passage and event to event, a lack of consistency in what should be consistent if our faith is not to be shaken. What is impossible for our minds to believe our hearts cannot worship.

BIBLICAL BASIS FOR AMERICA?

I recently got into a discussion with a co-worker about the role of religion in the governing of the United States. He thinks that Christianity is central to the founding philosophy of our nation, and that the Bible has inspired our Constitution and our laws. I disagree with all of those premises.

Only through selective reading of the Bible and supporting literature dealing with the history of western culture can one make the inference that supports the notions that human rights, liberty, and equality come from the Christian god, or any other god for that matter. Objective reading and understanding of those same sources would clearly negate those claims.

Thomas Jefferson, for instance, was one of the main expositors in his time, of the concept of inalienable human rights. While Jefferson had a deistic belief in a god of the universe, he rejected nearly every single tenet of Christian orthodoxy. This can be seen in his letter from Oct. 31, 1819 to William Short, in which he named and rejected the following: The immaculate conception of Jesus, his deification, the creation of the world by him, his miraculous powers, his resurrection and visible ascension, his corporeal presence in the Eucharist, the Trinity; original sin, atonement, regeneration, election, orders of Hierarchy, etc. So whatever belief in inalienable rights depends upon, by Jefferson’s viewpoint, it does not depend upon believing in those central tenets of Christianity. We can then reasonably infer that it is not by virtue of belief in those things that our notions of inalienable human rights derive.

Another point I made to my friend that deflates the argument he was trying to make, involved the legal slave trade in early America. If our concept of human rights rests with the Bible and come from the god of that book, then slavery would still be o.k., or it would never have been alright. While many religious traditions have allowed slavery, the Bible never condemns it nor calls for its abolition. During the American debate over slavery, so-called Christian defenders of slavery could cite specific biblical passages in the Old and New Testaments supporting slavery. Opponents of slavery had to argue using general doctrines such as the creation of man in God’s image that denied the justice of slavery, yet they couldn’t cite any specific passage of the Bible in defense of their position. This would appear to be a clear case of the moral teachings of the Bible needing the reader to come to it with a prior moral viewpoint that must then be read into the Bible. If that’s the case, then this view of what is clearly a higher moral definition, does not then come from the Bible, but is read into the Bible by those holding to this moral principle.

Thus, the history of Christianity itself is a very strong argument against any connection between human rights and that particular belief system. If there were a connection, why did it take almost nineteen hundred years for that basic human right to disallow being owned by another person to be recognized by Christian society as an absolute? The obvious answer is that Christianity had nothing to do with it. It was the result of social and cultural changes entirely independent of Biblical philosophy.

Moreover, the very concept of universalism of the Bible is in serious doubt. I don’t see a universal morality in the Old Testament. Moses ordering the slaughter of the innocent Mideanite women and children, for example, manifests a xenophobia that runs through much of the Old Testament. And yet, as I pointed out to my friend, other cultures which are not even theistic at all do exhibit universal moralities that match or supercede those of Christianity. Buddhism is a perfect example of a non-theistic philosophy that has among the highest order of morals on the planet. Even many purely secular societies and their systems of governance have very high moral concepts exhibited within their social and constitutional frameworks. Even the United States can make the claim of secular morality not being dependent on any religious edicts. Nowhere in the Constitution is there a mention of religion of any sort or denomination, save the instruction that no office of the land will ever require a religious test for one to accede to it or hold it. This would seem to negate the claim of religion being central to the Constitution to an even more finite degree.

Now, of course, the New Testament does seem more inclined to a universal humanitarianism. Yet Jesus is quoted as teaching that those who follow him must hate their families in order to attain the kingdom he was promising. A very troubling viewpoint in the light of the claims of brotherly love and peace made by Christian apologists. Also, the Book of Revelation teaches that at the end of history the saints will destroy the Antichrist and the unbelievers in bloody battle. The bloodiness of this vision has been dramatized throughout the history of Christianity.

Should those who believe in the distortions that negate the role of secular societal constructs in the founding of America be allowed to make their arguments unchallenged, then their view will someday be the only one that gets heard in the marketplace of ideas. I challenge them and their allegations at every turn. Whether I change one mind or no minds on these topics, I at least have a clear conscience on the matter.

THE LORD GIVETH AND THE LORD TAKETH AWAY

I have real empathy for people who suffer and endure, especially those good folks who have bad things happen to them through no fault of their own.

Having said that in order to establish that I’m not a Scrooge nor a Grinch, I sometimes don’t have patience with people who look to the supernatural to fix their problems or to explain them in the first place.

What brings this to my blog page at this time is a recent encounter I had with a co-worker. She has a masters degree, teaches special needs children, and is very good at what she does. Yet she is still a babe with no education or wisdom when it comes to dealing with the adversities of her life.

Within the last year her three year old son developed an infection that still has not been diagnosed and which had him in a coma for several days during which time he nearly died. He still is taking medication and seeing the doctor on a regular basis, and they are told that he could have a flair up again at some future time.

Also within that time she gave birth to a new baby son who was born with congenital birth defects that affected the heart and lungs. The baby spent two months in the intensive care ward at Riley Children’s Hospital during which time he was revived from apparent pending death on numerous occasions. He still has some of the problems and must be monitored closely.

During the time that she was dealing with the baby in the hospital, her husband was in a terrible auto accident and sustained severe head trauma and is now mentally and physically impaired. Probably in an irretrievable state from what she is being told. During the next few weeks they are going to be taking him to various medical centers to learn the actual extent of his injuries and find out the prognosis for improvements in his condition.

Now like I said, I have extreme empathy for people is such situations. I’m not sure that I could bear up under the adversities this lady is dealing with, and I admire her greatly for her apparent ability to do so. I have donated to a fund being raised among our coworkers to help them out financially with some of the costs they will incur not covered by insurance. Things like travel costs, lodging, meals, etc. while they go to the various clinics and specialists in search of some good news. I have personally wished her and her family well and offered any help I can give.

Her reply was, “Just pray for us.” Thinking that she meant that in a generic sense, kind of like saying, “Just be there for moral support,” I replied, “Sure. You know that we’ll all be thinking of you and hoping for good news soon.”

She shook her head and said, “No, not hope. We need prayer. If everyone prays for us, God will intervene and everything will be o.k.”

No matter how nice I was trying to be, and no matter how much I wanted to support her and her family in this time of turmoil, I couldn’t keep my mouth shut. I replied, with a smile, “So you’re saying that if everyone you know just prays for a good resolution to this, that God will fix it, and everything will be o.k.”

She nodded, “Yes. Of course. God answers prayer, and I know that he’ll make everything right if everybody prays for us.”

Again, I couldn’t just let it go. “So God will make right the injury he caused or allowed to happen in the first place? Don’t you see the contradiction there?”

She shook her head, “No, not at all. God is simply testing our faith and the faith of those around us. If we pray, and everybody else prays, God will listen and everything will be o.k.”
I went on, “So, not to beat you over the head with this, but what if everybody prays, and prays diligently, for a good outcome and it simply doesn’t happen?”

Her response was, “If that was what happened, then obviously we didn’t pray hard enough, or our faith wasn’t strong enough, because if we do, the Bible tells us that God will answer every prayer. Along with the prayer we have to have faith and put it all in God’s hands, and if we do, things will be alright.”

I paused at this and thought before I replied. Still I replied in a fashion that probably wasn’t the best in this situation. “Don’t you see that you are setting up a straw man with this thinking? If your husband can be treated and things improve, then your faith and everybody else’s faith was true and strong. If nothing can be done, then your faith or everybody’s faith who prayed for you was inadequate in number or in sincerity. God gets the credit but he doesn’t take the blame. The same bible that tells you that God answers all prayers also tells you that nothing happens without God causing it or allowing it. So he either caused or allowed this and every other tragedy you’ve dealt with, into your life, and now you think that he’ll take it all away if you and all of us just pray hard enough? There is no logic in that.”

She smiled and said, “Apparently the Lord sent you to test my faith at this time, and I appreciate what you’re saying, but God will not give us more than we can endure, and he is always testing our faith and our resolve. Thank you for your questions, and I know that they are simply rhetorical, and not actually doubt on your part, and rest assured that you’ve helped me to focus more on my faith by merely asking these questions.”

With that she walked away with a smile on her face, thinking that I was doing the Lord’s work by helping her to face her doubts and still answer from a position of faith and resolve. But that wasn’t what I was doing. I truly don’t get how people can believe that the same God who caused their problems, if indeed there is a god out there who could do that, is the same god they turn to, to fix those problems. It would be kind of like if an arsonist burned down my house, I would then go to him to rebuild it for me and I paid him to do it. It just doesn’t make sense.

Those people I see on TV after a tornado or a hurricane, or whatever, who have just lost their home, their family, their neighbors, etc., and they praise the Lord for saving them. “I wouldn’t be here right now if God hadn’t reached down and spared me.” Never mind that God just tapped their loved ones and friends on the shoulder and selected them to die. It’s all about God sparing those who survived. If God was real, and God was the magnificent, beneficent being his believers envision him to be, there wouldn’t be tornados and hurricanes, and other disasters to kill hundreds or thousands of his faithful in the first place. If God was real and he actually was the omnipotent, omnipresent being some believe him to be, he wouldn’t make children sick or kill children just to test the faith of their parents, or their parents friends or coworkers.

This line of thinking isn’t the only reason that I don’t believe in any gods, or in demons, or in anything else supernatural, but it is part of the reason. I actually have many more reasons, and I emphasize the word, reason.

I wish this woman I mentioned above, all the best. I hope her husband makes a full and complete recovery, that he can forget all the pain and agony that he endured to get back to that place he was before God inflicted injury upon him. I wish her children the best and hope that they never again are ill or injured. I wish her the best, for she is a truly nice and compassionate person who I admire and like. But right along with those wishes, I also hope that she comes to a point in her life where she can use the rational side of her thought processes to root out the superstition and illogic that holds sway over much of what she believes.