SCOTUS’s Big FU to JC

SupremeandSupremeIt’s not every day that the US Supreme Court gets an amicus brief from their Lord and Savior. Even more surprising is that conservative Christian justices would ignore Jesus’ opinion so completely, as was the case in their Town of Greece, NY v. Galloway decision of May 2014.

My strong suspicion is that Jesus has no immediate plans of coming back to Earth, otherwise he couldn’t have picked a better time to appear as a surprise witness at the Supreme Court reminding the “Christians” that Christian public prayer is an oxymoron, the very definition of “UN-Christian.”

When you pray, you shall not be as the hypocrites, for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Most certainly, I tell you, they have received their reward. —Matthew 6:5

But wait, Jesus isn’t done yet:

But when you make your prayer, go into your private room, and, shutting the door, say a prayer to your Father in secret, and your Father, who sees in secret, will give you your reward. —Matthew 6:6

Pretty clearly the Son of God and King of Kings says only pray in “your private room” where you’re not “seen by men.”

But if Jesus says you can’t pray at your city council meeting, where else could you possibly pray? This time Jesus leads by example:

But he would withdraw to desolate places and pray. —Luke 5:16

In every gospel, Jesus heads off to the desert or the mountain to pray. That’s fine for him, but he never quite imagined his followers would eventually number in the billions. It really is impractical to start your governmental meeting with a quick trip to the desert.

The “Ceremonial” Argument

The 5-4 decision, by and for conservative Christians, claims that these prayers are acceptable since they are “ceremonial” and “part of the Nation’s heritage and tradition.”

As is often the case, these religious prayers or governmental references to God are claimed to be harmlessly “ceremonial” or “patriotic.” But yet at the same time the prayers are fiercely defended by the religious majority. So which is it? Are they negligibly religious or deeply meaningful and important to the believers?

It is just way too convenient that on this one issue these prayers and phrases are decreed to perfectly straddle the line between meaningful and meaningless. Meaningful enough to continue, but not meaningful enough for non-believers to complain about.

To get a sense of how “ceremonial” the Greece, NY prayers were, here are a few quotes from the prayers that were featured in Justice Kagan’s dissent:

Prayers evoking “the saving sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross,” “the plan of redemption that is fulfilled in Jesus Christ,” “the life and death, resurrection and ascension of the Savior Jesus Christ,” the workings of the Holy Spirit, the events of Pentecost, and the belief that God “has raised up the Lord Jesus” and “will raise us, in our turn, and put us by His side.”

The amicus brief from the Freedom from Religion Foundation reminds us that the American “traditions” of miscegenation and sodomy laws had been on the books for a ling time, but that “a longstanding practice can simply be a longstanding violation.”

“We do it that way because we’ve always done it that way” leads to this reasoning from Warren Burger’s 1986 (!) Bowers v. Hardwick opinion:

[H]omosexual conduct ha[s] been subject to state intervention throughout the history of Western civilization. Condemnation of those practices is firmly rooted in Judeao-Christian moral and ethical standards. . . . To hold that the act of homosexual sodomy is somehow protected as a fundamental right would be to cast aside millennia of moral teaching.

Religious Lack of Empathy

Why then are so many (though definitely not all!) Christians unwilling or unable to imagine how it would feel to be a religious outsider when public prayers are being said?

With any religion, just like with any sports team, there is an in-group who shares your core beliefs, and an out-group who doesn’t. What always amazes me is the callous attitude some believers have about the effect of their public prayers on their fellow citizens who don’t share their religious beliefs. What kind of religion does not teach and foster empathy, the ability and willingness to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and see the world from their perspective? Either that message just does not get through to some congregants, or some churches don’t see it as a priority.

The Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled this month that the phrase “under God” could stay in the Pledge of Allegiance when public school students are told to recite it. Again, their attitude toward these children is fairly callous: “Participation is entirely voluntary,” as if to assume there is no downside for a child who sits out the Pledge of Allegiance on religious or constitutional grounds.

Which brings us to Bible Funmentionables’ Core Principle #3: If your religion makes you a better person—more empathetic, understanding and accepting of others—then great! If your religion allows or encourages you to be hateful, self-righteous, and intolerant of your fellow human beings who are just trying to get along on this planet, you may have missed the point of your religion entirely.

Michael Morris is the author of Bible Funmentionables: A Lighthearted Look at the Wildest Verses You’ve NEVER Been Told!, which features all of the shocking and hilarious verses that your minister, rabbi, or charismatic cult leader is afraid to preach.

Claiming You’re Jesus’ BFF Can Prove You’re Sane . . . And Get You Killed!

One of the advantages of having Jesus as your BFF: imagine this kid’s batting average!

A Florida judge has decided that a certifiably insane man is actually sane because he sounds like a “relatively normal Christian.” John Ferguson, currently on death row in Florida, claims to be “the Prince of God” and is certain he’ll be spending eternity at Jesus’ side. The judge reasons that Ferguson’s beliefs are close enough to actual Christian beliefs to qualify him for his upcoming appointment with a lethal injection.

The judge states, “There is no evidence that Ferguson’s belief…is so significantly different from beliefs other Christians may hold, so as to consider it a sign of insanity.” So if enough people have the same beliefs as Ferguson, who has been repeatedly diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic, then he’s not crazy. The judge stated that Ferguson suffers from “grandiose delusion,” but incidentally didn’t say the same about the many Christians who hold views similar to Ferguson.

Finally, a teammate who won’t fumble and who can heal a torn ACL.

Now the Bible has its share of craziness, but let’s see how Ferguson’s crazy compares to the Bible’s:

John Ferguson

  • has hallucinations
  • hears his dead father’s voice
  • and thinks cockroaches have infiltrated his brain

The Bible

  • claims that burning a pigeon will take away your sins
  • forbids the eating of rock badgers
  • and asserts that plants were created a day before the sun came out.

The Bible does have some fascinating incidents of actual and feigned psychotic moments:

Nebuchadnezzar ate grass like a cow, and he was drenched with the dew of the sky. He lived this way until his hair was as long as eagles’ feathers and his nails were like birds’ claws. —Daniel 4:33

David does his best imitation of a madman:

So he pretended to be insane, scratching on doors and drooling down his beard. —1 Samuel 21:13

Even Jesus and Paul had people wondering about their mental conditions:

When Jesus’ family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.”           —Mark 3:20

On another occasion we hear Jesus saying,

“I have the authority to give my life, and I have the authority to take my life back again. This is what my Father ordered me to do.” Many of them said, “He’s possessed by a demon! He’s crazy! Why do you listen to him?”                     —John 10:18,20

Whereas too little education can be a problem for some people,

As Paul was defending himself in this way, Festus shouted, “Paul, you’re crazy! Too much education is driving you crazy!” —Acts 26:24

Isn’t the Bible sterotyping here? Just because you’re named Festus, the Bible automatically assumes you’ll call people crazy because they’re over-educated.

One of the Bible’s most nonsensical passages about the “possessed” was the following description of the secret lives of evil spirits, the assumed cause of mental illness in biblical times.

“When an evil spirit leaves a person, it goes into the desert, searching for rest. But when it finds none, it says, ‘I will return to the person I came from.’ So it returns and finds that its former home is all swept and in order. Then the spirit finds seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they all enter the person and live there. And so that person is worse off than before.” —Luke 11:24-26

Unfortunately, the notion persists—that mental illness has a spiritual basis and can be cured by religion. Recent reports tell of the horrifying mental health care treatment in “prayer camps” run by churches in Ghana. Often chained to trees and required to fast for days on end, patients are only released when the camp leaders are told to do so by God. Most of the world has come a long way in treating mental illness, but tragically, the skewed view of some religions are still hindering progress on this front and causing ongoing, horrific, and needless suffering.

This seems like a good time to state that I do not think that the Bible is all madness. Just when you think the Bible has lost its mind, it redeems itself with a “madman” analogy that describes that one neighbor that no one really likes:

Like a madman shooting torches or deadly arrows is a man who deceives his neighbor and says, “I was only joking!”    —Proverbs 26:18-19

Selectively read, the Bible can offer comfort and inspiration to believers. But for a judge to claim that a madman’s belief in Jesus makes him fit to be executed; that’s not just ironic (Jesus, a guy who was unfairly executed, would most likely not support the death penalty), but it’s hardly a rational basis for a decision.

Just because many people believe something, it doesn’t make it any more true.

  • More than a third of American conservatives believe that President Obama might be the anti-Christ.
  • Many people used to believe in Zeus. Does that mean he once existed, but now doesn’t?
  • Mormons used to get run out of town in their early days with few followers. Nowadays with their many adherents, their beliefs are just common enough to allow a Mormon presidential candidate.
  • Horoscopes are still printed in just about every newspaper in the country.
  • 12% of Americans are of the opinion that Joan of Arc was Noah’s wife.
  • Millions of Christians have come and gone, convinced that Jesus was coming back to Earth in their lifetime. (Jesus has never failed to disappoint, and I’m willing to wager any amount of money that he will continue to do so. Fervent believers are encouraged to prove that their belief in Jesus’ imminent return is NOT crazy by betting their life savings on it. I figure if I were to ever lose this bet, and Jesus were to return, Jesus would be so pissed at me [and my blog] that losing my money would be the least of my worries.)

The Bible has given its blessing to a lot of delusional thinking through the years. When your religion is judged to be just about as sane as a paranoid schizophrenic, it should make you stop and think. And when a judge claims that holding commonly accepted religious beliefs, like sitting at Jesus’ side in heaven, PROVES that you’re sane, well to me that sounds a little crazy.

Michael Morris is the author of Bible Funmentionables: A Lighthearted Look at the Wildest Verses You’ve NEVER Been Told!, which features all of the shocking and hilarious verses that your minister, rabbi, or charismatic cult leader is afraid to preach.