Mayor Peyton's Insult to Atheists

Today I learned of this quote by the John Peyton, mayor of Jacksonville, regarding the city's “Day of Faith” in August 2006 and the subsequent lawsuit filed by American Atheists which resulted in the city having to pay $5,000 in lawyer's fees to the organization and to issue a new directive to avoid such violations in the future:

I think I’m doing pretty well in politics if the atheists sue me, especially in Jacksonville.
First, he would be doing pretty well if he solved the murder problem. Perhaps he could have spent $101,000 on increasing police presence throughout the city instead of wasting it on an ineffective prayer rally. Second, he would be doing pretty well if he fulfilled his oath to protect the constitution instead of shredding it to win him some more votes from believers by creating the illusion that he was actually doing something to address the issue of crime. Finally, the insensitivity of this quote cannot be fully appreciated, even by me, without substituting the word atheists with another minority:
  • I’m doing pretty well in politics if the blacks sue me.
  • I’m doing pretty well in politics if the Hispanics sue me.
  • I’m doing pretty well in politics if the Jews sue me.
  • I’m doing pretty well in politics if the Muslims sue me.
  • I’m doing pretty well in politics if the Mormons sue me.
  • I’m doing pretty well in politics if the homosexuals sue me.
  • I’m doing pretty well in politics if the senior citizens sue me.
  • I’m doing pretty well in politics if the handicapped sue me.
It's a sad day when you hear your elected officials say it's a good sign that their constituents successfully sue them for violating the constitution.



Blaming Everything on “Sin”

Today we find a confusing letter blaming the Virginia Tech massacre on sin. This letter by Bill Van Duyn was published today under the heading, “Society: Address the problem of sin.”

The horrible tragedy at Virginia Tech is yet another example of what this country and our world have come to, and it is going to get worse. The news media need to start helping our country wake up to what's going on. It is sin. Say it: S-I-N! How long has it been since you heard anyone say it out loud? It's politically incorrect.

Our sin burden is huge and growing. It effectively negates the benefits of advances in knowledge and technology. It is civilization in reverse. Think about how various things were when you were a child and how they are now, especially in the areas of security, trust and respect.

When I was a boy in Florida in the late 1940s and early 1950s, we had low taxes and no welfare system, yet society was pretty well off in the ways that count most. Much of our tax burden now goes to pay for our sin burden in so many ways. Our sin burden explains why it takes two or three jobs to keep a family going.

In Mandarin in 1949, my brother and I could flag down the Greyhound bus in the morning and take it to downtown by ourselves. We would see a movie and get our hair cut for 60 cents at Crowd's barber shop on Bay Street. We would walk all over town wherever our fancy would take us, then catch the evening Greyhound bus home again. When I was a young man, you could walk into any church at any time through an unlocked front door. I remember the day in the late 1970s when the doors of our church in Orange Park had to be locked for the first time.

It's not too late. But, if we won't address our sin problem, there's no need to bother ourselves with problems like global warming.

First, the author lacks geographical and historical perspective. School violence has occurred in such countries as Canada, Australia, the UK, France, the Netherlands, Germany, Russia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Israel, Lebanon, Yemen, Argentina, Thailand, China and Japan. They have also occurred for many decades. The worst incident occurred in 1927, long before all of the events mentioned in the letter.

Second, the reason that mentioning sin in public fora is “politically incorrect” is that we live in modern, multicultural and largely secular society. Many of us don't believe that sin, defined as an offense against a supernatural deity, even exists and there is no list of actions which theists can agree are sinful. It varies from religion to religion, from sect to sect, from person to person.

Third, the author seems to equate sin with crime. If he doesn't feel safe going downtown alone or leaving his doors unlocked, that is because he fears crime, not sin in general. He is afraid of muggers and murderers, not fornicators or religious skeptics.

Forth, what exactly is a “sin burden”? Assuming this means the costs of crime, I really doubt whether crime rates are the reason for major financial difficulties. Violent crime is at all-time historical lows. It just receives a lot of coverage in the press. If the author felt safer when he was younger, that's because the city was much smaller and smaller cities usually have less crime.

Fifth, the belief that “sin” poses a greater threat to human civilization than global warming depresses me. People have always believed that society was crumbling and that everything was better when they were younger. The ancient Greeks complained about their youth not respecting their elders and not caring about their traditions, yet somehow Greek civilization is still alive and well more than two millennia later. Global warming, on the other hand, is the result of industrialization and is a real threat to our way of life. And it's not as though we can only be concerned about only one issue.

Finally, the author completely fails to mention any specific proposals to “address our sin problem.” Does he think we should force people to pray or attend religious services? Teach the Bible in schools? Fund churches? I have two words for you, buddy: establishment clause.



Florida's “Imagine” License Plate

Florida has many specialty license plates for universities, professional sports teams, environmental causes and various charities. Today I saw this license plate:

If the image doesn't load, it's an “Imagine” license plate with that word at the top and John Lennon's drawing of himself in the center. According to the state's website, the extra yearly fee of $25 for this plate is donated to the Florida Association of Food Banks. Although the primary purpose is thus to relieve hunger, it strikes me as a good plate for a freethinker.

Imagine there's no heaven...



Chocolate Jesus

Although there has been much discussion of the Sweet Jesus sculpture by Cosimo Cavallaro, I have only chosen to address the topic as part of my newspaper monitoring policy. This letter by Richard Bohler was published on 7 April under the heading, “Jesus Christ: Sculpture is blasphemous.”

Could someone please explain why we all bow down and worship in the name of "art"? Granted, until the advent of the new art terrorism brought to us by liberal iconoclasts, art had stood in the camp of the noble and the beautiful. But, see now the depths to which it has sunk.

If the blasphemous depiction of the "anatomically correct" depiction of Jesus Christ sculpted in chocolate is any indication of what is in vogue among "artsy" folk, then perhaps a review of public funding for the brothels masquerading as art museums is in order.

Are we so complacent that we're willing to be mocked with our own tax dollars just so we can grovel at the altar of "art"? And, mocked we are. When St. Paul was knocked off his high horse, he heard the words: "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?" Jesus was saying that persecuting his church was the same as persecuting him. Conversely, when people mock him, they mock all Christians. Jesus is not diminished by these juvenile attacks on his person, but he weeps for the souls of those who shake their fists at their God.
First, no one is worshiping in the name of art. Second, art museums are not brothels. If you want to reconsider public funding, talk to your representatives. Third, a piece of chocolate isn't persecution; burning people at the stake is persecution.

There have been death threats from supposedly loving Christians over this piece of chocolate. It's deliciously ironic.


Flurry of Letters about Islam

At the beginning of the year, I adopted a policy of monitoring each opinion piece regarding religion and secularism appearing in the Florida Times-Union. Recently I have fallen behind in face of a flurry of articles and letters on the topic of Islam in response to the Secular Islam Summit. Instead of responding to each piece individually and in full, I will catalogue them, summarize them, and respond only to selected quotes. I will add more letters to this list until this episode is complete.

22 MarchPro & Con: Reforming Islam

The pro section was the exact text of the St. Petersburg Declaration from the Secular Islam Summit. The con section by Dr. Parvez Ahmed, chairman of the Council on American-Islamic relations, criticized the signers for being outsiders, failing to be specific, ignoring existent reform, and for promoting “Islamaphobia.”

22 MarchMuslims: Universal Principles

This piece praises the Secular Islam Summit and praises the United States' policy toward Muslims.

25 MarchSecular Muslims: Does Islam need reformation?

This letter says that Muslims will not assimilate into western culture and implies that the west may eventually become Muslim. There is one section I would like to quote:

These self-proclaimed secularists represent only a small minority of Muslims. The majority of Muslims, not only in the United States but worldwide, have different opinions. Yet, the media, governments and neoconservative pundits pay more attention to the secular minority.
There must be a perception bias somewhere. I find far more new stories about radical Muslims protesting in the streets than about secular Muslims publishing documents. The protests, however, generally occur in the Middle East and Europe, not in the United States.

27 MarchMuslims: Face reality

This letter is a response to the previous one. It says that although the west is accused of imposing its culture on the Muslim world, the original letter writer clearly states his desire for the Muslim world to impose its culture on the west. The author claims we are in a cultural war.

1 AprilIslam: Clash of cultures is in progress

This letter is another response to the same letter as above. It lists some of the details of Sharia, which the original author would like to see adopted in the west, and explains how these principles are in conflict with the western values.

3 AprilMuslims: No criticism of radicals

This letter is yet another response to the same letter as above. It discusses the clash between Islamic and western values.

4 AprilReligion: Aspects of our society aren't good

This letter is a response to the previous group of letters. The author agrees with their negative assessment of Islamic culture but reminds them that Christian culture used to be just as barbaric and has only become more enlightened relatively recently.

6 AprilIslam: Radicals are the problem

This letter says that moderate Muslims do not pose a threat. It provides a link to a website, which I cannot seem to load, of a moderate group and lists some of their positions.

7 AprilIslam: Religion is misunderstood

This letter claims that women are equal to men under Sharia. This is demonstrably false.

9 AprilIslam: Muslims can live in harmony

This letter claims that Sharia is consistent with the U.S. Constitution. This is demonstrably false. It also discusses Muslim assimilation, persecution by Christians, and a recent poll of American Muslims.

10 AprilMuslims: Women guaranteed rights

This letter discusses the supposed rights of Muslim women under Sharia.

11 AprilAmerica: Democracy is not secularistic

This letter claims that democracy is not linked to secularism. This is only partially true. While there is no inherent connection between secularism and democratic values, there is a strong correlation in actual practice. Almost every threat to freedom today comes from a religious source, such as censorship and denial of civil rights to homosexuals.

18 April - America: Peaceful Muslims are welcome

This letter discusses Muslim terrorism in India and Spain, the incompatibility of the US Constitution and Sharia, and the willingness of the the United States to accept peaceful Muslims as immigrants.