Friday, January 28, 2011

Obama Caused the Revolts in Egypt

For several years, the United States has given Egypt billions for the promotion of democracy. We believed that if we ensured Egypt's financial dependence on us, they would be forced to listen to our recommendations about installing democracy. Because those efforts have failed for decades, Obama began to pull funding from Egypt to invest it in more worthwhile prospects.

The United States still heavily supports the Egyptian military with around $1.25 billion per year. However, we used to give $45 million to programs for Governing Justly and Democratically.  Under Obama, it dropped to $20 million.

In the past few days many Egyptians Tweeted about the reasons for their protest and how poor things have gotten recently.  They blame President Mubarak for the deteriorating economy and conditions. They recognize his increasingly brutish tactics used to squelch independent thought and individual success. Coupled with the overthrow of their next door neighbor's dictator in Tunisia, the Egyptians feel quite empowered to reform the government in the way they see fit. I'm not saying it's a good thing.  It's too early for that. Based on the funding cuts by Obama, Jordan was predestined to protest and possibly revolt.

If Obama was truly committed to democracy in Egypt he would cut funding to the Egyptian Military as well.  After all, President Mubarak will inevitably use them against the protesters (I just heard that he has called them in).

I'm intrigued by all the events that led to this and how they will turn out.  I'm far from convinced that the overthrow of two semi-secular dictatorships and replacing them, almost certainly, with yet another Muslim theocracy will lead to anything more sanguine in the Middle East.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Why America is Losing its Religion

All recent studies about religion in America show a steady decrease in religious beliefs and an increase in non-belief and atheism. Distress has grown among American Christians who fear an Atheistic revolution that will seduce righteous youth and negate their religious majority. Fox News has launched an all out assault on anything Atheist. Ringleaders Bill O'Reilly and Glenn Beck demonize atheists and literally blame the country's problems on them--a la Salem witch trial style. Newt Gingrich openly admitted in his new book that he wants Congress to vote for Pro-Christian laws, a completely unconstitutional and anti-freedom concept. They have opened up with both barrels against non-believers, science, and the first amendment. The biggest fighters are mostly "mainstream" Catholics, Christians and Evangelicals. The "unaffiliated" Christians seem to acknowledge the rights of non-religious.

There are two dominant reasons why more Americans are turning away from religion. The two reasons work together. The first reason is because the religious have developed a sense of "literalism." American Christians, in the past two-hundred years, have demanded that their followers believe in the infallible and literal nature of the Bible. If the Bible says something happened, then by God, it happened just the way it was written. This mentality was not around during the early days of Christianity. It's roots were sown during Reformation when Martin Luther encouraged a personal relationship with God. When commoners began directly accessing the Bible (and believed they wouldn't go to purgatory for their actions) they started interpreting events differently from Roman Catholic Dogmatic law. Without access to other points of view or philosophies or leaders to help interpret the Bible, many sects began taking it literally. In America, literalism seemed to take a great hold on the country from 1800-1900. By comparing the texts of political leaders from the foundation of the country to those after the civil war (both groups primarily Christian), a literal fanaticism slowly tightened its grip on the country in between. The critical analysis of the Bible by John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison was replaced by Biblical authority over our national sovereignty and blind faith in its text. Around this time, "In God We Trust" was first printed on our money. Not just any God: The Christian God.

Literalism creates a dilemma for any thinking person. The events in the Bible, if we are to believe them literally, are at times contradictory and other times absurd. For instance, most people recognize the inconsitency of the Gospels (i.e. retelling of Jesus's story). Paul wrote the story about 50 A.D. and was around during the life of Jesus. He never mentions the Resurrection. Yet, 40-50 years later, John gives a detailed description of Jesus's ascension to Heaven and the miraculous Resurrection. Most people would realize something as important as a man rising from the dead would not escape Paul's attention. Some more astute observers would recognize Genesis has countless inconsistencies resulting from its four different authors, yet many Christians hold to the notion that Genesis was written by a single author, Moses, and it is infallible truth. What about the scholars who have found language that didn't exist during the time the Book of Samuel was supposedly written? What about the fact that Jesus wasn't even officially "Divine" until 325 A.D because too many Christians disagreed with the premise? At the risk of going on too long, just look at this chart or this list. It will cause any thinking Christian to question the literal infallibility of the Bible. Instead of reacting reasonably to queries about their faith, evangelicals respond with militant animosity, condemning anything that throws a monkey wrench into their outlandish belief system.

"Christianity" did not start the way literalists/fundamentalists/evangelicals would have you believe. Jesus never said he was the son of God and his followers argued whether he actually was for generations. Jesus preached that people need not appease God, we should rather attend to issues on earth, give to and take care of the poor, spread the wealth, love thy neighbor, don't give into selfishness, etc. God wasn't involved in the finite actions of humans. God was fine up in heaven doing his thing; he didn't need incessant praise. He's God, not a petty human. Humans needed to improve themselves, not beg God for help. Instead of following through with his message, within two generations of his death Jesus was worshipped as God himself, believed to have come back to life, and supposedly demanded fervent and active allegiance to God. A fuller critical analysis of the life and beliefs of Jesus can be found HERE.

Again, when questioned about the motivations behind Biblical texts and why several Christian communities saw fit to include them as holy texts, most American Christians demand blind compliance with the texts' messages. Instead of explaining to followers that these inconsistencies and absurd events are metaphors for proper Christian behavior or that it was written to fulfill Prophecy and not to be considered a factual retelling, or that the various books were written by competing communities with agendas of their own, not individuals, thereby convoluting Jesus's message, church leaders tell the curious to believe in the Bible or risk damnation in Hell for all eternity. Fear of a supernatural justice system keeps hold of many. However, blind compliance doesn't jive with anyone who has a brain, so most people will seek alternate explanations.

The second reason for the loss of faith comes after Christian leaders and churches refuse to give adequate answers to reasonable questions due to their rejection of anything contradicting Biblical literalism. This turns people to look things up for themselves. With all this wonderful technology, online access to scholarly studies, treatises, books, essays, and dissertations, they are quickly exposed to historical interpretations of the Bible, alternative viewpoints, and scientific evidence that thoroughly dismantles a literalistic interpretation of the Bible. They are exposed to massive Atheist communities who openly welcome new members and reassure former Christians that they are not alone, and they will not be condemned to damnation for turning their backs on a nonsensical belief system.

We need look no further than the Middle East to see a culture deformed by literalistic religious tyranny mounting strength on the backs of blind followers. This is a bit unappealing to Christians and they claim to be above it. However, colonial settlers fled religious persecution from Christians, not Muslims. Due to fear of a recurrence in Christian persecution, our First Amendment to the Constitution guarantees no matter how hard fundamentalists and Fox News and Newt Gingrich try, they will not succeed in getting God into the law. For that wonderful inclusion by our founders, I say God Bless America.

Judaism and Catholicism both reject literalism. Catholicism believes the Bible is "inerrant" but truth can be found in metaphor and allegory. Jews can actually disagree entirely with the Torah if they feel justified. They are encouraged to question everything. Judaism allows disagreements so extreme that Jewish Atheism recently evolved. Most Christians in America make their children choose literalism or the highway. "Literalism" is almost entirely an American phenomenon that has spread from Missions to third world countries. This type of Christianity is a self-perpetuating control mechanism that should be ignored and it appears that more and more people are starting to agree.