It's Hard Out There For A Christianist

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A longish feature in the Texas Observer is billed as an expose of Warren Chisum, the fundamentalist Republican who runs the State House Appropriations Committee. Atheists, to your bunkers! Use your freedoms while you still can! Chisum is going to… well, he's going to…

[W]hat horrors from the far-right wish list would Chisum use his seat of power to extract? In the end, it seems, not many. He has not used the chairmanship to ramrod through his own bills, although they appear to have made it further along in the process than in past sessions. Chisum authored the abortion-trigger ban (which died in committee with a whopping fiscal note), some bills that encourage strong marriages (which were watered down by amendments on the House floor), and a bill that would require high schools to offer elective Bible classes (to which the Public Education Committee added teacher training, a textbook other than the Bible, the course will be elective for schools rather than required, and an established curriculum so as to ensure the book would be taught as literature rather than religion).

I'm sympathetic to the reporter here, Megan Headly. I've sat down with politicians who had long records of crazy statements (*cough* Tom Coburn *cough*) and gold-plated memberships in fundamentalist churches and come up dry. The story isn't "how will this dastardly Christian surprise us all with his… secret plan?" It's more like "Boy, fundamentalist power is on the wane."

NEXT: "Getting Shot Hurts."

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  1. “Atheist” is the correct spelling.
    And yes, right-wing fundamentalist power has been greatly exaggerated by the left.

  2. ‘The story isn’t “how will this dastardly Christian surprise us all with his… secret plan?” It’s more like “Boy, fundamentalist power is on the wane.”‘

    Or maybe, “These people play ‘values voters’ for suckers.”

  3. I think you’ll find a surprising number of atheists support exposing people to the Bible early. For many of us, it was precisely reading the Bible that forced us to conclude it was all a pile of steaming [redacted].

  4. I’m not surprised that it’s hard to get crazy or even amusing quotes from politicians. Colbert apparently interviews Congressmen for far longer than he shows on TV, and then excerpts a few choice tidbits. Even then, the funniest stuff is often their confused reaction to him rather than any scary quotes he got out of them. And even a lot of those scary quotes are things he had to trick them into.

  5. It may be that most fundamentalists are not really committed statists at heart, and so don’t push theocratic state-centered agendas all that hard.

    You’d be surprised how much of the “religious right” agenda is defensive, motivated by a desire to push back against various other agendas that they see using the tools of government to advance their goals.

  6. He’s just ronery. So ronery….

  7. “You’d be surprised how much of the “religious right” agenda is defensive, motivated by a desire to push back against various other agendas that they see using the tools of government to advance their goals.’

    I find most of them to be pretty harmless kooks who were minding their own business with little or no interest in politics until something really pissed them off. Ussually that something is some PC horshit going on at the local public school. The religous right such as it is got its start in school board elections.

  8. The problem isn’t so much your average Christian fundi, but innocent people get duped into voting for absurd laws by the serious fundis. Fear causes people to act in ridiculous and irrational ways (umm.. Intelligent Design anyone?)

  9. Most of us aren’t as bad as the evangelicals make us out to be either.

  10. Apparently, the watering down of the elective course on the Bible as literature didn’t get through to the folks in Odessa. The WSJ reports the high schools have been sued because, in part, the course teaches that Catholics (and there are a heck of a lot of Hispanic Catholics in Odessa) are “warped” for believing wine and wafers are the blood and flesh of Christ.

  11. I find most of them to be pretty harmless kooks who were minding their own business with little or no interest in politics until something really pissed them off.

    Let’s not get carried away; what pisses these kooks off is often other peoples’ business, like who’s having sex with whom, or whether they can sell vibrators, or whether they can have hospital visitation rights, or what’s on commercial TV (no one is forcing you to own or watch a television!). I’ll leave out abortion, because they’re mostly pretty sincere in their belief that they’re trying to save lives. To the extent that they were ever minding their own business, it was because religious minorities (i.e. liberals) didn’t challenge the status quo until recently – before then, most of the current evangelical goals were law. And any small-government principles usually mean keeping the federal government out of the way so that local entities can more effectively spread The Word.

    Take school prayer, for instance. I’m 100% in favor of allowing students to hold prayer groups on school grounds; I even think they ought to be allowed to advertise their presence, to the same extent as any other club. I wouldn’t be offended by people wearing WWJD shirts, and I was never offended by the Gideon’s people handing out New Testaments outside my high school (I own one of theirs, despite being an unrepentant heathen). And if they want to walk across the street during 5th period to a private evangelical school for Bible study class (which *they* pay for), I don’t see why they shouldn’t get credit. But what evangelicals want isn’t just this – they want to use the power of an open platform (i.e. class, athletics) to coerce students. Who wants to be the one Buddhist who isn’t praying to Jesus for a victory in the homecoming game? If you don’t think we should have public schools, fine, but we do – and they should only be used to teach critical thinking and vital skills, not for indoctrination.

    This apart, I mostly agree with RC Dean. The religious right is fighting a rear-guard action; nothing is ever going to turn back the clock on abortion rights, gay rights, smut on TV, pornography, blasphemy, premarital sex, and so on. I find the hysteria over their agenda premature and sometimes comical in its excess. I sometimes feel almost sympathetic – alienation from modern culture isn’t a new concept – but I generally don’t share their views (or at the very least, their political solutions). I really just think they’re wasting our time and money. The only real disaster of the past decade is Bush’s faith-based funding program, which is just corporate welfare for evangelicals.

  12. ),” I don’t see why they shouldn’t get credit. But what evangelicals want isn’t just this – they want to use the power of an open platform (i.e. class, athletics) to coerce students.”

    Oh no one ever uses schools to coerce and endoctrinate students. The evangelicals didn’t start pushing back at the schools until the schools started endoctrinating their kids into things they didn’t agree with.

  13. “Who wants to be the one Buddhist who isn’t praying to Jesus for a victory in the homecoming game?”

    Cry me a river. I went to school in the bible belt where 80% of my classmates gave me a hairy eyeball when I said I didn’t go to church. By high school I can think of at least two kids in my class who were self professed “Buddhists”. Granted they were just teenagers rebelling but they made a pretty serious go of it. No one ever picked on them for being Buddhists. Kids don’t give a shit about what religion you are. There too many more fun things to torture each other with like picking on fat kids or kids who don’t wear the right fashion.

    The only people I have ever known who felt obviously uncomfortable about their religion are Jews and considering western civ’s history regarding the Jews, they have good reason to feel uncomfortable. But, I would hazard to say that your typical nutroots atheist liberal teacher on an anti-Israeli bender probably makes Jews feel every bit as uncomfortable as some evangelical trying to convert them.

  14. John, do you think before you post? Before Madalyn Murray O’Hare’s lawsuit, Bible readings and official school-sponsored prayers were standard operating procedure.

    The evangelicals didn’t start pushing back at the schools until the schools started endoctrinating [sic] their kids into things they didn’t agree with.

    Evolution, for instance? Of course, evolutionary biology is empirically demonstrable and observable, but it conflicts with certain Christians’ interpretation of Genesis. Too bad, reality conflicts with your preferences.

  15. lution has been taught in school for years wihtout any problem and those “certain Christians” are a tiny minority. Further, those bible readings and prayer were not the result of evangelicals they were the result of the country being nearly completely Christian. That is just the way things were done in this country up until the 1960s. You may think that is a bad thing, but whatever it is, it wasn’t the evangelicals who produced that state of affairs, it was society as a whole. Do you think before you post? Do you ever read history or just get it by watching Inherit the Wind?

  16. Are we not men?

  17. John: The “tiny minority” apparently has a disproportionate impact, including removing evolution from the state educational curriculum in Kansas in recent years, ridiculous, inaccurate, and misleading warning stickers on textbooks in Georgia, and general biology textbooks for high schools carefully written to pass muster with the Christians who sit on the textbook adoption board in Texas, which has nationwide effects, since those are nationally used books written to satisfy Texas’ requirements.

  18. Is it me or is Reason backing off the “the Xtians are coming! the Xtians are coming!” thing? I’ve seen like 3 posts in last 2 weeks that were almost, well… tolerant? Playing down the threat of our forthcoming Theocratic Overlords? Ever since nick was on moyers…. maybe there is some connection.

    At the same time, if the point of Dave’s post is that it’s “not really news”…. than why post about it? It seems strange to post about something then declare it a non-event. Whats the message? That libertoid athiests can rest assured that the God-freaks are on the wane and they can revert to Code Yellow Alert Status for the time being…?

    I think Jesse’s thing about Dobson was interesting, possibly because JD’s pronouncements of Fitness for Candidacy may no longer be relevant. Sure, he speaks for some, but I think the importance of the guy’s imprimatur is way overrated

  19. Evolution, for instance? Of course, evolutionary biology is empirically demonstrable and observable, but it conflicts with certain Christians’ interpretation of Genesis. Too bad, reality conflicts with your preferences.

    So the state gets to teach the kids of weirdo evangelicals whatever they want, even if it’s against the religious convictions of their weirdo parents, just because it’s demonstrably true?

    Since when did reality trump a parent’s right to raise their own kids as they see fit?

    Also, it seems to me that being forced to pay with the fruit of your labor to propagate the teaching of a demonstrable fact that directly contradicts your religious convictions speaks to both free exercise and establishment. …”Too bad” doesn’t cut it.

  20. So the state gets to teach the kids of weirdo evangelicals whatever they want, even if it’s against the religious convictions of their weirdo parents, just because it’s demonstrably true?

    Yes. Demonstrable facts have a place in public education. Let parents teach their kids religious fantasy on their own time.

  21. Ken:

    So the state gets to teach the kids of weirdo evangelicals whatever they want, even if it’s against the religious convictions of their weirdo parents, just because it’s demonstrably true?

    um…yes. the mission of schools should be to educate about facts, first and foremost. if the topic is relevant and demonstrably true, then the answer to your question is yes.

    Since when did reality trump a parent’s right to raise their own kids as they see fit?

    regularly. to pick an extreme example, you can’t legally beat your children, although the Bible says “spare the rod, spoil the child”. further, nothing says that parents can’t contradict the teachings at home. no one has to “believe” in evolution (or chemistry or thermodynamics), but to earn school credit you can’t remain ignorant, whether you agree with the conclusions or not.

    as far as “free exercise and establishment” goes, if remaining ignorant (in a literal nonpejorative sense) is part of the exercise of your religion, stay home, keep your kids at home. I’m all in favor of eliminating required schooling, if parents don’t want to send their kids to school. Failure to indoctrinate children in any one group’s preferred religious teaching can hardly be considered “establishment”. Neutrality towards religions as a general principle isn’t “establishment” of atheism, regardless of what a few demagogues say.

  22. The fact of the matter is that as long as public schools exist they will inevitably step on a few toes, because the only unobjectionable curriculum is the non-existent one.

    As biologist pointed out, nobody is asked to believe anything, they’re just asked to demonstrate that they understand a body of knowledge. They are free to disagree with the conclusions that scientists draw, they are just asked to know why we draw those conclusions.

    FWIW, the same could be said about a social studies or literature class that mentions a religion. Yet there’s no way to study history without knowing at least something about the beliefs of the people under consideration. For instance, how could somebody discuss the history of the Middle East over the past 1500 years without at least mentioning Islam? Yet as soon as that happens, you run the risk of offending somebody, who might accuse you of being “insensitive,” or might accuse you of being “too sensitive.”

    Likewise, how could you discuss European history without mentioning the Protestant Reformation and the disputes associated with it? Yet as soon as you do so, you run the risk of stepping on somebody’s toes.

    Even the Civil War remains a topic that can generate controversy. Yet you can’t teach US history without mentioning it.

    Bottom line: Nobody is being asked to change any beliefs, just learn about something. You can draw whatever conclusions you want to draw.

  23. Shorter version: Avoiding all exposure to anything that you don’t like is not education. It’s insulation. If people don’t want to pay for compulsory education, then protest against that. But don’t try to change compulsory education into compulsory insulation.

  24. “Yes. Demonstrable facts have a place in public education. Let parents teach their kids religious fantasy on their own time.”

    Religious fantasies are protected by the First Amendment and the logic behind it.

    …the purpose of the state is to protect people’s rights–not to burst their religious convictions.

  25. Maybe evangelicals think they’re being discriminated against because of all the people who openly advocate government discrimination against them.

  26. Maybe evangelicals think they’re being discriminated against because of all the people who openly advocate government discrimination against them.

    Who?

  27. That wasn’t directed at you, thoreau.

    “The fact of the matter is that as long as public schools exist they will inevitably step on a few toes, because the only unobjectionable curriculum is the non-existent one.”

    Excellent point–which is why, as I’ve argued elsewhere, we can make common cause with Evangelicals on private education.

  28. Excellent point–which is why, as I’ve argued elsewhere, we can make common cause with Evangelicals on private education.

    True, but as long as public schools exist, there is the “What do we do in the mean time?” question. And on that one, I would say that exposure to scientific knowledge is not the same as indoctrination into a secular mindset. Any more than learning about the Bible or Koran in a literature or history class is religious indoctrination.*

    *Unless it’s done in a heavy-handed manner, of course.

  29. religious “fantasy” is indeed protected by the first amendment, which also prevents governmental establishment of one religious doctrine over another. too many of the religious seems to believe that failure by the government to establish their religion is discrimination against their religion. Rhywun wasn’t, nor was I, calling for legal bans on their religion, in fact Rhywun (albeit derisively) called for them to teach their children their beliefs, just not to expect the government or public schools to reinforce them.

  30. “True, but as long as public schools exist, there is the “What do we do in the mean time?” question. And on that one, I would say that exposure to scientific knowledge is not the same as indoctrination into a secular mindset. Any more than learning about the Bible or Koran in a literature or history class is religious indoctrination.”

    Yeah, and I’m not talking about changing policy in the meantime. Neither intelligent design nor prayer have any place in public schools. I maintain, however, that pushes for those things are in no small part a reaction to perceived discrimination.

    …and it’s one thing to talk about this as some kind of necessary evil given the impossible situation we’re in–quite another to declare that when the government teaches things to children that violate their parents’ religious convictions, well that’s okay.

    It isn’t okay.

    I’d argue that the freedom to raise your children as you see fit, even if it’s in the traditions of your forebears, is fundamental to a free society. …and that government meddling reeks of establishment and inhibits free exercise, but I’ve already said that.

  31. For a moment there, it seemed like religious instruction was being compared to child abuse, like it was being used as an example of when the government should interfere.

    …I think that’s a really bad analogy.

  32. Ken Shultz,

    My state, and virtually every state in the nation, contain in their constitutions the guarantee of a “free and appropriate education.” That’s why the school systems don’t just refuse to educate expensive special needs kids.

    “Religious fantasies are protected by the First Amendment and the logic behind it.” Your right to proclaim and teach religious fantasies is protected by the First Amendment. Your freedom from having the government proclain and teach religious fantasies – or even religious truths – is also protected by the First Amendment.

    That’s the reason schools can teach fundies’ kids about evolution, but can’t teach atheists’ kids about Jesus. Our government is forbidden from establishing religion, not science, art, or language.

  33. “I’d argue that the freedom to raise your children as you see fit, even if it’s in the traditions of your forebears, is fundamental to a free society”

    I agree. If creationist fundies are being forbidden by some municipality from teaching their kids how God created the world, we should send in the feds to protect those people’s rights.

    However, they do not have the right to insist that the government back them up.

  34. “That’s the reason schools can teach fundies’ kids about evolution, but can’t teach atheists’ kids about Jesus. Our government is forbidden from establishing religion, not science, art, or language.”

    That’s more or less what I meant when I said it was a necessary evil given an impossible situation.

    “However, they do not have the right to insist that the government back them up.”

    I’m not asking the government to back them up. I’m asking people to look and see. …that their perceived discrimination may have some basis in fact.

  35. A bit off topic, but not too far…

    What would you think, joe, of a school, sponsored by the American government, that went to, say, heavily animist parts of Africa or to the tribes in the Amazon, and taught the children there that their parents’ religious traditions were all a bunch of bullshit?

  36. Ken,

    I support teaching people in the Amazon about the germ theory of disease, EVEN IF their parents say that people get sick when they don’t burn enough incense for the spirits.

    Not because I hate people who believe in the traditional religions of Amazonian triblesmen, but because accurate knowledge of the world improves our ability to operate in the world.

  37. “Not because I hate people who believe in the traditional religions of Amazonian triblesmen, but because accurate knowledge of the world improves our ability to operate in the world.”

    Sure enough.

    But an awful lot of harm has been done in the past, both in this country (schools for Native American children come to mind) and elsewhere via colonialism, using schools to remake other people’s cultures, has it not?

    I don’t see why we should expect good results in this country. …maybe bad results on a smaller scale?

  38. “I’m not asking the government to back them up. I’m asking people to look and see. …that their perceived discrimination may have some basis in fact.”

    I’ve looked, Ken. Their perception is wrong.

    Is this analogy more pleasing that the child abuse one: previous interpretations of the Bible resulted in the belief that the Earth was the center of the solar system, galaxy, and universe. If there were currently a group of individuals who insisted on this interpretation as part of their fundamental religious beliefs, would you support their contention that teaching their children heliocentrism is tantamount to discrimination?

  39. I’m not sure I follow to be honest.

    I’m not asking anybody to make public schools stop teaching facts to anyone’s children as a matter of policy. Like I told joe, “Sure enough”, I don’t have a problem with teaching Amazonian kids the germ theory of disease.

    I’m not looking for a change in curriculum here. I don’t think there’s any way we can have public schools and not run into this dilemma. So I’d much rather have a school system where people picked and chose where they sent their kids and who they made the tuition check out to. …because as is, the system can’t function without someone suffering some discrimination.

    …in this case, that someone is often Evangelicals. And I think it’s important to remember that Christian fundamentalists would benefit mightily with a Libertarian solution here. And I wish more of them saw us as an ally in this fight. Maybe the reason they don’t, so much, is because we ignore, ridicule or advocate their suffering. I think we should stop doing that.

    I know it’s a bias but when it comes to government discrimination, when I hear about smoke, I tend to think there’s probably some fire. I don’t look to see if it’s a Christian fundamentalist doing the yelling either. I’m not saying you do that, but I think a lot of people do.

  40. Ken, I think that hard-core Christian believers are more likely to feel discriminated against, even if the system is neutral towards them because:

    1. historically, their preferences have dominated the system and that is no longer the case

    2. the Bible calls for people to be explicitly for or against God (“if you are lukewarm I will spew you out of my mouth”) so there’s no room for a neutral stance in their mindset

    those that complain that science class (earth science or astronomy, just for something different than organic evolution) violates their fundamental beliefs are denying the existence of an objective, empirical reality (young earth vs. old earth, heliocentrism vs. geocentrism)

  41. You raise a fair point, Ken.

    I must groove on it.

  42. @&cetera: Are we not men?

    NO WE ARE DEVO!

  43. I will note that evolution was verboten in many public schools in the U.S. until the 1960s.

  44. It’s more like “Boy, fundamentalist power is on the wane.”

    There are numerous examples during this decade of the excercise of religious viewpoints in the public square that have been successful.

  45. Grotius, at some point you must understand that while counter-examples and exceptions are sufficient to disprove absolutist statements such as “Nothing material can move faster than light,” they do not necessarily disprove statements about general trends, tendencies, movements and social phenomena.

  46. Stevo Darkly,

    One of the general trends is the enacting of anti-gay measures into law, particularly those concerning marriage. Another trend is the use of various pressures to close down abortion clinics. The idea that Christianists are in decline or in retreat is silly.

  47. Stevo Darkly,

    Then again, you are also not an atheist, are you? From my perspective, that is the perspective of a minority “religious viewpoint,” there is no decline.

    Here’s a question: say that tomorrow Israel’s very existance is threatened (or worse, it is “destroyed”). What do you think the response of large segements of the American Christian community will be regarding such an event?

  48. One of the general trends is the enacting of anti-gay measures into law, particularly those concerning marriage. Another trend is the use of various pressures to close down abortion clinics. The idea that Christianists are in decline or in retreat is silly.

    Okay, that is a much more convincing statement that your post of 11:11 p.m.

    I just was getting the impression lately that you often seemed to respond to arguments by citing counter-examples that were outside the main tendency.

    Personally, I don’t necessarily think the fundamentalist Christian influence is on the wane. On the other hand, I really don’t think we were ever teetering on the edge of a theocracy either. I think a lot of people are mistaking a few loud voices for broad-based fanaticism.

    Here’s a question: say that tomorrow Israel’s very existance is threatened (or worse, it is “destroyed”). What do you think the response of large segements of the American Christian community will be regarding such an event?

    It’s my guess that if Israel were destroyed, a large minority would shit themselves, because (as I understand it) they believe this is a sign that the end of the world is coming.

    If Israel’s very existence were threatened, I think most Americans would call on the USA gov’t to mount a vigorous defense. In some cases, partly out of apocalyptic fears. And partly out of a sense that Israel is our special ally in the Middle East, and that Ameerica bears a special responsibility for its existence and defense. The latter feeling will be more widespread, but you’ll probably find both in a lot of people. In many individual cases it would be difficult to tease out the religious justification from the purely secular foreign-policy one. I suspect the latter rationale would be sufficient to raise a big hooraw and the former would be secondary and supplemental.

    Beyond that there’s not much I can predict with confidence. I was raised in the R. Catholic religion, which doesn’t pay much attention to the status of Israel, or in interpreting signs of an impending apocalypse, so I don’t really know much about this, or what kind of response such Christians would demand from the government if their only concerns were religious ones.

  49. Stevo Darkly,

    I just was getting the impression lately that you often seemed to respond to arguments by citing counter-examples that were outside the main tendency.

    Well, that wouldn’t be the case.

    On the other hand, I really don’t think we were ever teetering on the edge of a theocracy either.

    Nor do I. Then again, I didn’t claim that was the case either. Then again, my life and the lives of other atheists could become far worse in a nation which fell far short of a theocracy.

    It’s my guess that if Israel were destroyed, a large minority would shit themselves…

    Oh it is likely that they would do far more than “shit themselves.”

    If Israel’s very existence were threatened, I think most Americans would call on the USA gov’t to mount a vigorous defense.

    What would happen if a majority didn’t want to defend Israel? How the religion plays out in U.S. politics is immanent in nature.

  50. Stevo Darkly,

    In other words, at base all revealed religions have their dangerous aspects to them. Something which the RCC has long recognized (though not always admitted).

  51. Ten years ago, there was not a jurisdiction in American that afforded any recognition whatsoever to gay unions.

    Today, Massachusetts has full marriage rights, and a half dozen or so other states have some kind of recognition. The direction of the trend is pretty clear – anti-gay marriage laws are a rearguard action.

  52. You, in the back, stop snickering.

  53. joe,

    The trend is this: except for a small number of states, the effort to formally outlaw same-sex marriage, unions, etc. has been very, very effective. Just over half of the U.S. states ban one or the other or both and they have only done so very recently (within the past decade or so). In other words, ten years ago very few American states had formal constitutional bans on same-sex marraige or unions; now a majority of them do.

  54. “I just was getting the impression lately that you often seemed to respond to arguments by citing counter-examples that were outside the main tendency.”

    Well, that wouldn’t be the case.

    My impression was obviously mistaken then. Thank you for reassuring me.

  55. “In other words, ten years ago very few American states had formal constitutional bans on same-sex marriage or unions; now a majority of them do.”

    Might that not have been a reaction to the acceptance of gay people into polite society generally?

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