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How to Raise Your Very Own Religious Evangelist

31 August 2009
by digitalsean

by digitalsean

The mother of 10 year-old Amanda Kurowski was recently ordered by a court in New Hampshire to stop homeschooling her daughter and send her to public school.   The story is related in a relatively unbiased manner by OneNewsNow in this article, and in a more biased manner by these two Christian sites: (here and here).

It’s a big brouhaha because the decision was based on Amanda’s rigid religious views, not her academics.  Apparently Amanda was doing excellent academically, and was taking three classes at a public school (gym, art, and Spanish) which provided her with a chance to make friends and meet new people.  (The whole reason that her education was being monitored has to do with the fact that her parents are divorced, and her father wished her to attend public school – he believes that public school is necessary for adequate socialization.)

The court order stated: “According to the guardian ad litem’s further report and testimony, the counselor found Amanda to lack some youthful characteristics. She appeared to reflect her mother’s rigidity on questions of faith.” The guardian noted that during a counseling session, Amanda tried to witness to the counselor and appeared “visibly upset” when the counselor purposefully did not pay attention.

The guardian also noted that Amanda’s relationship with her father suffered because she did not think he loved her as much as he said he did due to the fact that he refused to “adopt her religious beliefs.”

According to the court order, the guardian concluded that Amanda’s “interests, and particularly her intellectual and emotional development, would be best served by exposure to a public school setting in which she would be challenged to solve problems presented by a group learning situation and…Amanda would be best served by exposure to different points of view at a time in her life when she must begin to critically evaluate multiple systems of belief and behavior.”

One of the blogs reporting on this case added that according to the counselor’s statement: “Amanda challenged the counselor to say what the counselor believed, and she prepared some highlighted biblical text for the counselor to read over and discuss, and she was visibly upset when the counselor (purposely) did not complete the assignment.” Now, the blogger goes on to say:

I did find it a little comical that the counselor in this case got rattled by a ten year old girl. This little girl was confident enough to defend her own faith, and had the moral courage to challenge the counselor to state what he or she believed and why. And how many ten-year-olds do you know that could highlight Bible texts (I assume to support her Christian faith) and be prepared to discuss them with an adult who holds a Masters Degree? I doubt that there would have been many adults up to that challenge. From the language of the report, it is obvious that the counselor felt threatened by the moral character and fortitude of this young girl, and allowed his or her anti-Christian prejudice to cloud his/her “independent thought.”

That’s just stupid. The counselor wasn’t there to talk about religion with the girl… the counselor was there to determine whether or not she had a sufficient academic education and social skills.  I don’t see the counselor’s decision to ignore the girl’s “witnessing” as a result of “feeling threatened”.  And as to the question “how many ten-year-olds do you know…” Um. None. And that’s the way it should be.  At ten you should still be learning and questioning everything, not highlighting bible passages and trying to evangelize everyone around you.  That’s just messed up, and frankly, doesn’t sound like the way a socially well-adjusted young girl behaves.

And let’s not forget that the religion her mother has spoon-fed her has also caused her relationship with her father to break down.  She feels like her dad doesn’t love her as much as her mother because he doesn’t agree with her religion?  Does anyone else see a girl being manipulated by her mother to distrust her father?  It’s like some sick power-struggle, with the girl caught in the middle.

So while I don’t know how legal the judge’s ruling was (I haven’t gone to law school yet… I’ll let you know in four years or so), I do know that I can’t help but agree with the judge.  This girl sounds like she’s being brainwashed by her mother.  And really, they’re just making her go to public school, it’s not like they’re taking the girl away and putting her with another family or something.  They require the Amish to allow their children to experience life with modern-day technology and systems, so that they can make an informed decision about what kind of life they wish to lead.  Why not require this girl to experience other types of schooling, religion, etc. so that SHE can make an informed decision?

It’s a complicated and delicate question to be sure, how far do parents’ have the right to control their children?


Godless Girl recently posted to her blog about this issue, and she was more successful than I in finding information about the case – she found a PDF of the ruling; apparently the court ruling was also affected by the mother’s giving false testimony, which obviously hurt the rest of her case. Also, it would seem that Amanda wasn’t doing as well academically and socially as initially reported: a later interview with her Spanish teacher indicated that her relationship with the other students was not particularly strong and she had a number of absences which prevented her from completing projects.


Questions, Not Answers

31 August 2009

The Dallas News (.com) had a nice story today about the new Camp Quest in Texas.  The article discussed some of the events that made up the program – writing creation myths, playing with animals, and examining fossils, to name a few – but it also discussed why kids and parents alike are motivated to attend the camp, and acknowledged the  difficulty of being an atheist in Texas.  It was good to see the news doing this kind of unbiased, informative reporting. So cheers to the organizers of the Texas Camp Quest (hopefully next year they’ll organize a full week program), and cheers to the Dallas News for letting people see that atheists are just regular people, and that Camp Quest isn’t about indoctrination, it’s about people coming together, sharing experiences, and asking questions.

Flying under the radar?

26 August 2009

Yesterday I was speaking with my mom about this post, regarding the experiences of an officer in the military, and in particular, at the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York.  The officer (at the time at least) was Jewish, and faced a surprising amount of persecution and hostility for it, considering that the military, as an arm of our government, is supposed to be secular.  Just to give you a taste of some of what he suffered through:

During my second year at the West Point, my Squad Leader for summer training expressed disapproval on numerous occasions with my being Jewish, and, during one mission, he grabbed my MRE (a military meal) as we sat down for lunch and handed me another. He ordered me to eat the pork chop and I reminded him that I refrain from pork for religious reasons. He told me that I could eat the pork or eat nothing. … The next day, my cadet Platoon Leader presented me with a written counseling statement detailing my signs of “anorexia” and a “troubling” refusal to eat which was detrimental to my health and indicative of “incapacity for leadership.” I was filled with righteous indignation. I went through the Cadet and Commissioned Chain of Command and my rebuttal culminated with a conversation with the Active Duty Major in command of the summer training. When I explained the events in detail, he told me that my Cadet Chain of Command was right to be concerned, and spoke words I will never forget: “the Army is not in the business of catering to people like you.” Those words have haunted me throughout my career as an Officer. They were the turning point for me–when I finally understood the message several of my leaders had been expressing to me all along: the Army has no place for people like me: dissidents who stray from the unofficially mandated military religion; conservative fundamentalist Christianity.

Unfortunately, this is only one of many stories that have been coming to light regarding the inundation of religion, of fundamentalist Christianity, into our military.  Instead of fighting for a country where the ideals of freedom of speech, expression and religion are supposed to be inviolable, where equal rights for all is supposed to be of paramount importance, it seems that now our soldies are simply fighting for Jesus Christ.  Disgusted by this? So am I. Outraged? Me too. Wish you could do something, anything to rectify the situation, even if it just means blogging about what’s going on so that more people become aware of the problem? Word.

I was raised to stand up for my beliefs; trying to right the wrongs I see around me is like second nature at this point. So I was pretty shocked to hear my mother’s response.

Me: Can you believe this? It’s horrible!

Mom: Yeah. All you can do in life to try to fly under the radar.

Me: That’s not right!

Maybe when I’m 60 I’ll feel differently, and all I’ll want to do is live a comfortable life, free from the interference of others. But in the meantime, that outlook is pretty horrifying (and really unexpected from someone who lived through the Vietnam War era, with all its protests and marches). If we don’t do something, then who will? Ignoring this kind of thing will only allow it to grow worse, and pretty soon “under the radar” won’t exist anymore.

Religious faux pas

23 August 2009
by Fergal OP

by Fergal OP

Many of you probably heard about the Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s little faux pas back in July. The furor caused by the PM allegedly pocketing his Jesus-wafer has pretty much died down by now, but it reminded me of my own embarrassing brush with Catholic ceremonies.

Now, I was baptized a Catholic because my mom did not want an epic battle royale with her own mother, but after that I never set foot in a church, let alone a Catholic one.  I think both my parents had had all the church they could stand well before my brother and I were born.  However, when my mom’s younger siblings started popping out kids, we dutifully trouped to church to see them baptized.  The occasion of my embarrassment was one of those baptisms.

When I was 11 my uncle and his wife had their first child, and as a half-Polish, half-Italian baby my cousin didn’t stand a chance: he had to be baptized. So we all went to church for the baptism and a full Catholic mass. As my parents were the designated god-parents they were part of the ceremony. So  I was left sitting with one of my aunts in the front pews, trying to stand up and sit down at the right time.  Finally, the priest came to the part of the mass where he asks a member of the congregation to participate in the “presentation of the gifts” (for the uninitiated: basically bringing the bread and wine up to the altar to be blessed).  Because there was a baptism this day, the priest thought it would be appropriate to have a young child present the bread and the wine… and guess who was picked!  I protested vehemently, but my aunt (clearly unaware that I knew nothing about church) pushed me up to the altar.

Before or after presenting the bread and wine (my memory is a little hazy, I mostly just remember sheer panic) I was told to dip my hand in the holy water and cross myself.  After pretty thoroughly soaking my hand, I lifted it to cross myself… only, I didn’t know how. I’d never been to church, and clearly I hadn’t been paying attention when people did it in movies or on tv.  I knew I was supposed to touch my forehead first, and then I touched my shoulders, and finally I touched my sternum.  I made a nice lightening bolt symbol, but not so much a cross. Oops.

I’m pretty sure my grandmother, sitting in the pews, almost succumbed to a heart attack.  Mercifully she didn’t say anything to me, although she may have given my parents an earful after the service.

Needless to say, for the baptisms of my subsequent cousins I made sure to sit behind pillars and away from my aunt, fearing that I would be called on again. I also made sure I learned the proper way to cross myself, although I’ve never once done it since.

Anyone else have embarrassing church/temple/mosque stories?  Saying the wrong words? Spilling the wine? Eating the bread before the blessing? Dropping some important religious symbol?  I need to know I’m not alone when it comes to humiliating myself in a place of worship.

No chewing gum, no evangelism

20 August 2009
(via biphop)

(via biphop)

Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has spoken out against aggressive preaching and attempts by religious groups to “enter [the] civil space”.  He claims such religious public agendas threaten the city-state’s stability, as Singapore’s “most dangerous fault line” is race and religion.

The government is taking a strict line against actions that may stir up religious conflict (not surprising in a government that bans chewing gum because they don’t want a lot of old gum on the sidewalks); a Christian couple was jailed earlier this year for distributing religious pamphlets that were deemed offensive by those of different faiths.  That seems a bit extreme to me… as much as I dislike people killing trees to try and push their beliefs on me, I feel like they ought to have the right to do so.  Labeling pamphlet distribution as “seditious” seems a bit much.

However, I do applaud the prime minister’s condemnation of “those who try to convert ailing hospital patients ‘who don’t want to be converted.'” and I can’t disagree with his observation that “You push your religion on others, you cause nuisance and offense.”

The real money quote comes later though; after giving examples of how religious organizations have tried to hijack NGOs and stressing the need for Singapore’s government to remain secular, the prime minister has this to say:

“We have to keep religion separate from politics,” he said. “Religion in Singapore can’t be the same as religion in America or in an Islamic country.”

OUCH! I’ll be the first to admit that the Religious Right in this country are invading our politics trying to push their religious moral agenda (witness anti-gay marriage rhetoric, anti-abortion laws, pharmacists’ ability to deny birth control, the halting of embryonic stem-cell research, etc), and have deteriorating effect on the separation of church and state (Creationism doesn’t belong in public schools people), but honestly, comparing us to Islamic-run countries?  That’s a bit strong there fella.  Last time I checked women weren’t getting stoned for talking to men they aren’t related to, and despite a fight against gay marriage most gays aren’t being killed for their lifestyles.  But maybe the prime minister wasn’t actually equating the two, maybe he’s just saying that either example is undesirable.  I’m going to hope that’s what he meant.

Now excuse me while I enjoy some chewing gum.

#howgoodisGod Twitter asks…

18 August 2009
tags: , ,

I’m kind of surprised this is a trending topic on Twitter, popular enough to make it to number 2 on the twitter home account page.  I guess someone felt the need to create a poll and it’s just one of those things that exploded. I was going to vote (they very thoughtfully put in an option for non-believers) but then I realized I had to give the app full access to my account and I decided not to. I just have trouble trusting such things, and it didn’t feel worthwhile to risk my pretty new computer just for the sake of one poll.

However, it’s interesting to read some of the things people are saying when the tweet about the poll.  A lot of it is just taken from the poll itself, which asks how good is God?  You get 4 choices, “He’s awesome”; “He’s the reason we all exist!”; something like “Terrible! Look at all the awful things that happen” (I had to paraphrase, I couldn’t get back to the site) and “I don’t believe in God”.  Apparently non-believers aren’t that excitable, because that is the only choice without an exclamation point.  But anyway, most people are just saying “He’s awesome”, “He’s the reason we all exist” etc, but there are some delightful ones that seem out of the ordinary. A selection for you below:


(this person apparently thinks CapsLock is cruise control for awesome and has a poor grasp of grammer)

#howgoodisGod ? i love because HE IS LOVE. i live because HE IS LIFE. That’s how good GOD is. I’m so blessed that this is a trending topic!”

(I can’t figure out why the fact that this is a trending topic is a reason to feel blessed… anyone care to explain it to me?)

#howgoodisgod friend was in a car WRECK, they had to use the jaws of life … she walked away and is still here todayyy.”

(yeah, God is great because he didn’t prevent the car wreck and left your friend to be saved by competent and dedicated EMTs)

#howgoodisGOD this is a topic that is beyond explantion n beyond all topics eva shown this should b on the topic charts for a while.”

(I’m still not getting why this topic is such an awesome unexplainable miracle)

#howgoodisgod well he doesn’t exist so… not very?”


They’re going to cap and trade babies? Oh noes, what will I eat?

18 August 2009

Well, Mr. R. Albert Mohler, Jr. has managed to frighten himself with a rather ridiculous idea by liberally interpreting a study recently done by two scientists, Paul A. Murtaugh and Michael G. Schlax, at Oregon State University.  He also apparently forgot to link to the actual report… but I guess he figured if people actually read it they might not be so willing to believe his twist on things.

As far as I can gather, Mr. Murtaugh and Mr. Schlax decided that an integral part of calculating an individual’s environmental impact was being ignored by current popular measures. Namely, the effect their reproductive choices would have:

“Much attention has been paid to the ways that people’s home energy use, travel, food choices and other routine activities affect their emissions of carbon dioxide and, ultimately, their contributions to global warming. However, the reproductive choices of an individual are rarely incorporated into calculations of his personal impact on the environment. Here we estimate the extra emissions of fossil carbon dioxide that an average individual causes when he or she chooses to have children. The summed emissions of a person’s descendants, weighted by their relatedness to him, may far exceed the lifetime emissions produced by the original parent.”

Now, I’m not sure I agree with everything these scientists are saying; I confess, I don’t have the necessary math skills and etc. to know if their calculations are correct, so I am leery of taking everything they say at face value.  Plus, I’m a little miffed that they decided to choose  a female individual for their example, as if men had nothing to do with reproduction (they never say that, and in their generalizations they include both men and women, but still, it’s annoying).  However; I definitely have to disagree with Mr. Mohler, Jr.’s argument that

“While these two researchers have addressed their report to the scientific community, they openly acknowledge that their argument should be taken into consideration by those concerned with the policy challenge of climate change.”

Apparently, because these scientists think that it’s important to consider progeny when calculating an individual’s “carbon footprint”, they suddenly want the government to step in and set up a cap and trade policy for having babies.  The quote Mr. Mohler pulls for his evidence is the scientists’ assertion that “Clearly, the potential savings from reduced reproduction are huge compared to the savings that can be achieved by changes in lifestyle.”  Indeed, with their math I don’t understand, they prove this to be true. However, they then go on to say that:

“It is important to remember that these analyses focus on the carbon legacies of individuals, not populations... Clearly, an individual’s reproductive choices can have a dramatic effect on the total carbon emissions ultimately attributable to his or her genetic lineage. Understanding the ways that an individual’s daily activities influence emissions and explain the huge disparities in per capita emissions among countries (Table 1) is obviously essential, but ignoring the consequences of reproduction can lead to serious underestimation of an individual’s long-term impact on the global environment.”

(emphases mine)

The study is totally focused on the individual, and never once mentions government policy regarding carbon emissions. They only talk about the measurement of carbon emissions and how it can be improved.  Besides, the last time I checked the government wasn’t suggesting cap and trade for individuals anyway, so why on Earth would they ever put cap and trade on having babies?  Ridiculous.