Monday, August 24, 2015

Donald Trump: I Love the Bible and Other Panders

by Catherine Giordano

Donald Trump Alabama Rally
Donald Trump at his  Alabama Rally
Donald Trump is at it again--pandering to the Christian Right. He picked Mike Pence as his VP, a man who said "I am a Christian, a conservative, and a Republican--in that order." Funny, how he left out "American." Pence is evangelical and he has no compunctions about mixing religion with government.

Trump's new pander is his stated intent to allow religious organizations--churches--to have BOTH tax exemptions and the right to endorse politician and be openly involved in political campaigns. 

Donald Trump pandered to the Christian right from the very beginning.  At one of his first political rallies in in Mobile Alabama. he wanted everyone to know how much he loves the Bible. “What’s my first favorite book? The Bible! The Bible!.” His second favorite book is, of course, his own book The Art of the Deal, but he was quick to add that his own book “doesn’t even come close” to the Bible."  

He piled on with “The War on Christmas.”  “It is the greatest assault on Christianity ever." And “I go out of my way to say “Merry Christmas.”

And then he threw in Billy Graham for good measure. Referring to the size of the crowd that had turned out to hear him (about 20,000 people) he said, “I know how Billy Graham felt.” And “I love Billy Graham.”

Donald Trump began his campaign for the Republican nomination for president by speaking his mind. If nothing else, he was honest. His refusal to be politically correct or to pander was the basis of his appeal. Now, the polls have gone to his head. He’s still politically incorrect—the Republican base likes that. What else does the Republican base like? Religion!. So now Donald Trump who never had much use for religion –he called the communion wafers “crackers” just a few weeks ago—talks about religion as if he was a Christian revivalist.(In reality, Donald Trump is a Presbyterian who seldom goes to church.)


A few days later,  an interviewer asked Trump, "What are one or two of your favorite Bible verses?" It could have been a gotcha moment. Trump sidestepped the question. "I wouldn’t want to get into it because to me that’s very personal. You know when I talk about the Bible it’s very personal.I don’t want to get into it.” The interviewer pressed him for an answer and Trump continued to evade the question. His final comment was "The whole Bible is incredible.... I think the Bible is something very special."  Nice try, but Trump is not so easy to catch. 

On September 15, another interviewer—this one from the Christian Broadcasting Network-- tried to get Trump to reveal his favorite Bible verse. This time he had an answer. "Proverbs, the chapter 'never bend to envy,'" he said. "I’ve had that thing all of my life where people are bending to envy." Only one problem—that phrase is not in the Bible.

Remember Trump has now had several weeks to actually take a look at the Bible and choose one. (Or have one of his assistants do it.). Evidently he did finally have one of his assistants look it up for me and they found one that at least included the word “envy.” Trump aides told called the interviewer and said that the candidate was referring to Proverbs 24:1-2: "Be not thou envious against evil men, neither desire to be with them. For their heart studieth destruction, and their lips talk of mischief."  Is Trump casting himself as an “evil man” who people should not be with because they “study destruction” and “talk of mischief.” It seems so. Maybe Republican primary voters should study Proverbs 24:1-2 very carefully.

Trump made a fool of himself again on January 18, 2016 when he tried to quote the Bible at Liberty University (a Christian school). "In Two Corinthians ..." he began. He meant "Second Corinthians," which appears in the Bible as "II Corinthians." (Evidently, the Roman numeral threw him off.) 

Trump is so easy to parody. Donald Trump talks in superlatives and makes short simplistic statements. He doesn’t have to deal with pesky facts. His campaign is like religion in that way. His pronouncements don’t have to make sense, they just have to make people feel good.

Bill Maher gave us the King Trump Bible for his mid-show comedy segment on 9/18/2015. It’s hilarious. See it for yourself. 




The Art of the Deal Donald Trump
CLICK HERE for 
The Art of the Deal

It should offend sincere Christians that Donald Trump often uses the Bible as a segue into his pitch to buy his book. He said his book, The Art of the Deal, is his second most favorite book (after the Bible.). And it is not even close to his first favorite book, The Bible. 

But which book does he hold up for the television cameras at every opportunity? The Art of the Deal. He's still a businessman and he doesn't earn royalties from the Bible.
Maybe you would like to get the truth about Donald Trump, instead. Read the unauthorized biography, Never Enough, and/or The Truth About Trump.  by Micheal D’Antonio, a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist. This book answers the question, “Who is Donald Trump?"  The book reveals that he is a promoter, builder, performer, and politician who from his earliest days has pursued success with a drive that some might call obsession.
   
CLICK HERE for 
Never Enough
Truth Trump book
CLICK HERE for 
The Truth About Trump

You might also like these essays: 

Is the United States a Christian Nation?: Democracy, Not Theocracy

Does Religion do More Harm than Good?

Should Churches Be Tax Exempt?  


Donald Trump: Move Over Jesus


Bill Maher’s Guests: September 18, 2015  

Jorge Ramos:  Anchor of Fusion’s America with Jorge Ramos Univision’s Noticiero Universidad. Everyone knows who Jorge is--He’s the one Donald Trump threw out his press conference. He has written several books about the immigrant experience, including A Country for All: An Immigrant Manifesto 

Mark Cuban: Entrepreneur, owner of the Dallas Maverick’s basketball team member of the Shark Tank team. (The 7th season begins on September 25th.)  He is also the author of How to Win at the Sport of Business: If I Can Do It, You Can Do It

Chris Matthews: host of MSNBC’s  Hardball with Chris Matthews. He is the author of six best-selling books; his most recent book is Tip and The Gipper: When Politics Worked.

George Pataki: Former Governor of New York and a candidate for the Republican nomination for president. He is also the president of The Pataki-Cahill Group which works in energy, infrastructure, and clean-tech. In 1998 he wrote an autobiography (with Daniel Paisner) Pataki: An Autobiography

See the full recap and review of this episode at High Energy

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Charlatans in the Pulpit: John Oliver Exposes the Prosperity Gospel

Charlatans in the Pulpit: The Prosperity Gospel
Charlatans in the Pulpit: The Prosperity Gospel

by Catherine Giordano

Bill Maher likes to joke that “Pope Frank” (as he calls Pope Francis) may just be an atheist. He has said that gay people shouldn’t be marginalized and that atheists will be welcome in heaven. He has a lot about the problems of income equality  and climate change while not saying very much on issues like contraception and abortion.

It wouldn’t surprise me if Pope Francis was an atheist. I researched the issue of religious leaders who are secret atheistS. I discovered that this is a lot more common than you may think. It seems that one of the fastest ways to become an atheist is to attend a seminary. I wrote about my findings in an article titled, Atheists in the Pulpit: Non-Believers in the Clergy.
From Apostle to Apostate
CLICK HERE
(A group called the Clergy Project is an online group led by volunteers to provide educational, charitable, and peer support to current and former religious professionals who no longer hold supernatural beliefs.  It was founded in March 2011. You can read about it in this book, From Apostle to Apostate: The Story of the Clergy Project, written by Catherine Dunfrey, a founder of the organization, with a forward by Richard Dawkins.)
I think that many ministers who are atheists are not deliberate hypocrites. They began their studies and careers with sincere belief; and by the time they realized that the dogma of their religion was false, they felt trapped. Some did not want to leave their profession because they felt that they were helping people and doing good in the world, and this is what they genuinely felt they were called to do. Some felt that being a minister was the only way they could earn a living and they often had a family to support. Some felt that they could not bear the consequences of “coming out” – they would lose the respect of their community and the love of their families.

Your friendly neighborhood preacher may be one of those trapped in the clergy. These people are mostly good people who made a mistake and they don’t know how to get out of it.

However, there are others who are deliberate charlatans. They preach the prosperity gospel because they are greedy; some may even be authoritarian personalities with a sick need to have power over others.They become millionaires and billionaires preaching the prosperity gospel and bilking the poor and the desperate. "Send a faith offering to me," they implore, "and God will reward you—your credit card debt will vanish, you disease with be cured, your life will be blessed." The charlatans live in mansions and own private jets while their flock of suckers are induced to hand over their last penny.

It’s just one of the ways that religion does more harm than good. Here is a good article that enumerates the little bit of good and the enormous harms done by religion. Does Religion Do More Harm than Good These charlatans do a tiny bit of good--they give people hope--but an enormous amount of harm when their hopes are dashed and they don't have enough money left to live on.

It’s all legal. The law can’t touch them. If your stockbroker promises you unrealistic returns or simply takes your money and never puts it into any investments (like Bernie Madoff) he can be sent to prison or at least be sued. But this is religion and the law can’t lay a glove on it.
John Oliver, a comedian, exposed this brilliantly on his HBO show, Last Week Tonight, which aired on August 16, 2015. (Each week's show premieres at 11:30 pm on Sunday night on HBO.)

He began with an exposé. He presented it in a hilariously funny way, but the comedy was overshadowed by the pain of the sympathy I felt for their victims. Fortunately for comedy, the second half was unadulterated parody and comedy gold. John Oliver actually set up a church named “Our Lady of Perpetual Exemption” (that is, tax exemption, folks) and mimicked the exhortations of the charlatan preachers. He even brought in a gospel choir.

It was wonderful. Watch it here.



James Randi The Faith Healers
CLICK HERE

John Oliver used his comedic skills to expose the preachers of the prosperity gospel. James Randi, a magician, used his skills as a master of illusion to expose the faith healers. He wrote about their tricks and how he exposed them in his book, co-authored by Carl Sagan, The Faith Healers.

CLICK HERE
Take a scholarly look at the prosperity gospel—its origins, unifying themes, major figures and its effects on Christians and Christianity.. Kate Bolwer, the author, an assistant professor of the history of Christianity in America at Duke Divinity School, does a complete examination of the topic in her book Blessed







Update

The “Reverend” John Oliver returned on Sunday, August 23,t2015 to lead another service with congregants of his “Our Lady of Perpetual Exemption” church. He preached the gospel of “the seed” once again, only this time he stressed he did not mean actual seeds. He wants only U.S. currency, thank you very much.


As he sat in a room full of United States Post Office crates piled high with the mail he received, he told us that the response was greater than he expected. Since the money will eventually go to Doctors without Borders, please keep the donations coming.


Here is a video clip of the follow-up segment. [Sorry, it has been disabled for now.  You can watch it if you CLICK HERE )




Final Update

The “Reverend” John Oliver shut down his church on Sunday September 13. The Gospel of the Seed had gone a little too far. Lots of people sent in money, all of which will be donated to Doctors without borders. That part was just fine. Some people continued to send in actual seeds—the kind you plant in the ground to grow vegetables. That part was just silly. But a few decided to take “seed” to a new level and sent in “man-seed” as Stephen Colbert used to call it on The Colbert Report. Yes, I'm talking about semen. That part was just gross.

So Rev. Oliver decided the ministry had run its course, and with his lovely wife, Wanda Jo, by his side, he announced the end of his ministry, as workers disassembled the set around him. 

His final words were, "If you want to send money to a fake church, send it to Scientology. "

Here is a video of the final update. CLICK HERE



Monday, August 17, 2015

Any Word from God? The Republican Debates, Bill Maher, and Atheism

by Catherine Giordano

Republican Debate Lineup
The Republican Debate Lineup
On Thursday, August 6, 2015, the nation got to witness the first debate presenting the candidates for the 2016 Republican nomination for president.  A record 24 million people watched it. In comparison, only 3.2 watched the first debate for the 2012 Republican nomination.

The huge ratings were because Donald Trump, the clear frontrunner for the nomination at this time, was going to be on stage. We all tuned in because Donald Trump is so entertaining.

The last question for the Republican candidates lucky enough to make it to the prime-time debate on Fox News was a question submitted by a viewer and selected by the moderators:

 "I want to know if any of them have received a word from God on what they should do and take care of first."

The premise of the question stunned me. God is talking to the candidates about what they should do when they become president? The fact that a cable news station would actually ask that question also stunned me. It is like no one in that room had ever read the Constitution. 

Article VI Section 3
"No Religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States."

I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised. Fox News isn’t about news, it is about Republican propaganda. And the principle of the separation of church and state, so clearly stated in the first amendment is routinely violated by politicians. You can read more about this in this essay: Is the United States a Christian Nation?


Senator Ted Cruz of Texas was first up. He deftly avoided a hidden trap in this question. It wouldn’t look good to be seen saying that God has you on speed dial.


Ted Cruz said. “Well, I am blessed to receive a word from God every day in receiving the scriptures and reading the scriptures. And God speaks through the Bible.


Governor John Kasich of Ohio was next. It looked like he was going to evade the question entirely, but he finally got to it, being careful not to say that he was God’s chosen one, but kind of implying that he was the one who would do what God wanted.
John Kasich said: “… the lord is not picking us. But because of how we respect human rights, because that we are a good force in the world, he wants America to be strong. He wants America to succeed. And he wants America to lead.

Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin was not afraid to get all holier-than-thou. He concluded his answer by implying that union-busting is God’s will. (Walker brings up union-busting every chance he gets.)


Scott Walker said: “It's only by the blood of Jesus Christ that I've been redeemed from my sins. So I know that God doesn't call me to do a specific thing, God hasn't given me a list, a Ten Commandments, if you will, of things to act on the first day. What God calls us to do is follow His will. … . living my life in a way that would be a testimony to Him and our faith.


Senator Marco Rubio of Florida wanted us to know that he is blessed by God. He said blessed about a dozen times in the space of 30 seconds like he had a verbal tic. It’s pretty clear that Rubio wants us to think that he is so God-blessed that he should be president.


Marco Rubio said: “I think God has blessed us. He has blessed the Republican Party with some very good candidates. And I believe God has blessed our country. This country has been extraordinarily blessed. And we have honored that blessing. And that's why God has continued to bless us.”


Dr. Ben Carson was the next candidate to answer the question, Ms. Kelly threw in a secondary question about race relations. That’s right, the only person asked to speak about race was the only black guy on the stage. Carson loves to talk about God, but the race question clearly annoyed him, so much so that he even quoted Obama’s famous 2004 speech at the Democratic national convention.


Dr. Ben Carson said: I'm a neurosurgeon... when I take someone to the operating room, I'm actually operating on the thing that makes them who they are. The skin doesn't make them who they are. The hair doesn't make them who they are. …our strength as a nation comes in our unity. We are the United States of America, not the divided states.

After that, the debate moved to closing statements. The remaining five candidates were did not get a chance to tell us how blessed they are, and how much scripture they read, and how well they know what God’s will is.  

Four of the other candidates--Chris Christie, Rand Paul, Mike Huckabee, and Jeb Bush—would probably have given us more of the same so perhaps we were mercifully spared more of this religious drivel.. However, I really wanted to hear what Donald Trump had to say.

Donald Trump is not a particularly religious person; maybe the only one on that stage not dripping religious clichés. I really would have liked to see how he would have answered the question. Would have stayed true to his political incorrectness or would he have bowed to the pressure to sound pious.

On his Friday night show, Bill Maher on Real Time with Bill Maher (#259, aired on August 7, 2015) said that he timed his return so as to be able to comment on the Republican debates. He asked the audience, “Did you ever take ecstasy? He followed up with, “This was the opposite of that. It was a tsunami of stupid.” “It was like a Comedy Central roast of the Constitution.”

Maher asked the panel if they thought it was appropriate for the moderators to ask the candidates about what God was telling them to do. Lt. Governor Gavin Newsome CA, D) said it was a “cringe-worthy” moment.

The conversation veered away from the debate into a discussion of atheism. Maher said that atheists and agnostics are the same thing. I’m glad he said that because that is what I have been saying and getting a lot of pushback from some in the non-believer community who prefer to split semantic hairs. He pointed out that 38 million people in the U.S. are “Nones”, the second largest group surpassed only by evangelical Christians.

[Maher was referring to the 2014 Pew Poll. I wrote about it in Polls Show Christianity Declining, Nones Rising ]

Mary Matalin, Republican operative, would have been right at home on that debate stage. Earlier she hissed at Maher imitating a snake, and said, "I have never seen someone work so hard to deny the existence of something." She was referring to what Maher called her "imaginary friend." Now she again showed her ignorance by saying “Atheism is a belief.” Maher explained, “No it’s not. It’s an absence of belief. Saying atheism is a belief is like saying abstinence is a sex position.”

Matalin responded by shouting, “But it is! It is! It is!” [Maybe abstinence is her favorite sex position—she was very insistent-- and maybe that is why both she and her husband, James Carville, always seem so emotionally anorexic.]

Maher said that Dana Perino, former press secretary to President George W. Bush, once said “If they [atheists] don’t like it, they don’t have to live here.” Matalin tried to deny that Perino said it, but when forced to back down, she sanctimoniously replied, “I believe in tolerance—it is the essence of my faith.”

Maher pointed out that the debate had time for questions about religion but no time for the really important issues like global warming and other real problems. He said that the candidates apparently think ISIS and Iran are the same thing, when in fact they are bitter enemies.  

Steve Schmidt (former Republican campaign manager for McCain Palin), said, “They [the moderators] should have asked if they knew the difference between Shia, Sunni, and a kangaroo.” This gave Maher the opportunity to say, “Once again you say these people are utter idiots and they are my people.” [It appears that Schmidt sometimes forgets what team he plays for and gets as exasperated with the tsunami of stupidity as the rest of us.]



I like to think that if God existed he’d be on the side of intelligence and not stupidity. Or maybe to paraphrase a common saying, “God must love stupid people, he made so many of them.”  

I hope, going forward, we can at least try to keep God out of politics. [Ha! Fat chance!]

An excellent book about religion and politics is The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion. Author Jonathan Haidt, a social psychologist who doesn’t take sides as to who is right or wrong, shows why liberals, conservatives, and libertarians have such different intuitions about right and wrong. (Click the link to see this book and many others on the topic of religion and politics.)

  
See the full review and recap of Real Time with Bill Maher episode 359, 8/7/2015: Tsunami of Stupid

In the December 15 debate, Carly Fiorina one-upped all the Republican candidates with her big Christian cross necklace. I bet the male candidates were furious. 








Bill Maher’s Guests:  August 7, 2015
Michael Mann: Professor of Meteorology at Penn State University, co-founder of realclimate.org, co-author of Dire Predictions: Understanding Climate Change

Caitlin Flanagan: Journalist, national correspondent for The Atlantic, former staff writer for The New Yorker The September issue of The Atlantic will feature Flanagan’s new article, “That’s Not Funny: Today’s College Students Can’t Seem to Take a Joke.” She is also the author of To Hell with All That: Loving and Loathing Our Inner Housewife and Girl Land

Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom (D-CA): Former Mayor of San Francisco, candidate for the Democratic nomination for Governor in 2018. He is the author of Citizenville: How to Take the Town Square Digital and Reinvent Government

Mary Matalin: Political analyst, television and radio host, former Assistant to President George W. Bush, and Counselor to Vice President Dick Cheney. She is author of several books--the most recent is Love & War: Twenty Years, Three Presidents, Two Daughters and One Louisiana Home (with James Carville)
 
Steve Schmidt: MSNBC analyst, Vice Chair of Public Affairs at Edelman Public Relations, former Senior Advisor to the McCain-Palin presidential campaign 

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Debunking Jesus: A Reading List

by Catherine Giordano

Debunking Jesus
Is Christianity based on a myth?
Bill Maher is a well- known atheist who is outspoken about his views. Sometimes I imagine his friends saying, “Don’t get him started.” In his comedy he sometimes pokes gentle fun at religion, but at other times he comes down hard debunking religion.  

In his documentary-style movie, Religulous, Maher makes the point quite clear that religion is ridiculous. 

I've written a few articles on religion about Jesus and Christianity. I did not believe that Jesus was a miracle working “son of god” of course, but I did think that the man whom we today call Jesus Christ did actually exist. Or maybe there were a group of self-named messiahs and their stories were conflated into one. I did some research and changed my mind about Jesus being an actual person. I now believe that Jesus is no more than a myth. This school of thought is called mythicism.

There are three main reasons for this belief. 

There is no evidence that this person whom we call Jesus Christ ever existed. No contemporary accounts and no records to show that a person (Jesus Christ )was preaching, fomenting rebellion, and/or getting crucified exists. (There are a couple of references to Christians, but no details are given. It could have been a cult worshipping a sun-god.) 
The story of Jesus Christ and the practices of the early Christians strongly resembled the stories of the gods and the practices of the mystery cults devoted to these gods.
The Gospels and the Bible are not history (and except for some of the Epistles of Paul) were written by unknown authors 100 to 300 years after the time of Jesus Christ. The accounts are full of obvious factual errors, contradictions, copying and translation errors, and deliberate amendments and deletions.

At one point in the movie Religulous, (about 40 minutes in), Maher compares the god Horus to Jesus saying they both had a virgin birth, they were both baptized, they both walked on water, etc. Unfortunately, my research showed that most of what Maher says about this is wrong. There are some resemblances, but not as many as Maher thinks. Actually, the story of Jesus may be closer to the story of Mithra (or Mithras) than Horus. 

You can read my articles on the subject by clicking the following links. (The third one specifically addresses the similarities between Jesus Christ and Christianity and the myths and mystery cults.)
Did Jesus Exist or Is it All a Myth Jesus Who?
The Historical Record Doesn’t have a Clue
The Mythical Origins of Christianity: True or False
I have put together a reading list of a few books on the subject. I’ve given a brief review of each book. You can click the links for more information.



The Jesus Puzzle
CLICK HERE
Earl Doherty provides a richly-detailed and entertaining account of how Christianity began without an historical Jesus of Nazareth, who existed only on the pages of the Gospels. He provides a full and comprehensive survey of the early Christian record, the Pauline epistles, the gospels, the second century apologists, along with Jewish, Gnostic, and Greco-Roman documents of the time. He provides historical context with a discussion of the philosophy of the era, the pagan mystery cults, and other historical events. He was one of the first scholars of the modern mythicism school of thought. A great read for the general public and scholars alike.

CLICK HERE
Richard Carrier re-examines the whole premise that Jesus existed as a real person and concludes that the Jesus story as we know it today is a blending of the historical, mythical, and theological. Carrier finds compelling reasons to suspect that the view of many religious scholars that Jesus actually existed is incorrect.  (Note: This book is for people with an academic bent. There are lots of footnotes, and it is packed with references. However, it is the most comprehensive and well-documented.)


This book by David Fitzgerald sheds light on ten beloved Christian myths. The author gathers evidence from historians across the theological spectrum, and shows how it points to a Jesus Christ created solely through the allegorical alchemy of hope and imagination; a messiah that is a theological construct-- in short, a Christ that is pure myth.



Deconstructing Jesus
Robert Price, professor of scriptural studies at the Johnnie Colemon Theological Seminary, shows how the Jesus Christ of the gospels is very likely a fictional amalgam of several first-century prophets and messiahs, as well as of purely mythic Mystery Cult redeemers and Gnostic Aions.




CLICK HERE
Deconstucting Jesus
CLICK HERE




New Testament scholar, Robert M. Price, one of America's leading authorities on the Bible, has assembled in his book evidence that shows that almost the entire "biography of Jesus" is a conscious reworking of earlier literature.

Bart Ehrman is a Biblical scholar who believes that Jesus Christ existed as a real person, but even he recognizes that many books of the New Testament are not only not written by people to whom they are attributed, but that they are deliberate forgeries.
 
CLICK HERE



Just to be fair I’m including a few books that posit the theory that Jesus Christ did exist.

  

A meticulously researched biography that challenges long-held assumptions about the man we know as Jesus of Nazareth.


The original disciples did not believe that Jesus was God—and it is not what Jesus claimed about himself. This book explains the evolution of a belief that looked very different in the fourth century than it did in the first.

How Jesus Became God is so often quoted to me to prove Jesus existed as a real actual human. If you read this book, you should also read this book by Earl Doherty, The End of an Illusion: How Bart Ehrman's "Did Jesus Exist?" Has Laid the Case for an Historical Jesus to Rest  It is a point by point refutation of Erhman.  



How Jesus Became God Bart Ehrman
CLICK HERE


Zealot by Reza Aslan
CLICK HERE

























Writing on this topic has brought me both praise and a lot of harsh criticism. Even the mere suspicion that a historical Jesus did not exist as god or man can tumble the typical Christian’s entire worldview. This is very threatening. However, the answer to the question, “Did Jesus exist?” makes no real difference to me. It is only an intellectual puzzle. Whether the answer is yes or no, my life will not change at all. If the answer is yes, I will remain an atheist because I do not believe in God. If the answer is No, I still remain an atheist.