I was reading the most recent version of the study questions for the civics portion of the Naturalization test. You can find it, along with a Naturalization self test on the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website.
A quick search of the study materials brought up zero mentions of God, Jesus, and Christianity. None whatsoever.
This is because the Constitution of the United States does not mention any deity. The only mention of religion is in Article VI - "...no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States."
People are losing their minds over the recent SCOTUS same-sex ruling, and claiming that America has lost its Christian foundation and that it is in its "last days" along with the rest of the world as Armageddon approaches.
But according to Christianity, we've been in our "last days" for the last 2,000 years. So pardon me if I don't hold my breath.
I'm also having fun reading Christian apologetics. (You are encouraged to recommend your favorite apologetics to me!)
I keep running into little tidbits in the Bible that make me wonder. Genesis 1:18-20 is one of my favorites.
Here's the setup. God has finished his creation. He worked for six days, and rested on the seventh. Rain wasn't invented as yet, so the plants and animals just dealt with a divine automatic drip watering system. God made the Garden of Eden, and an orchard, where he placed Man, plants and animals. He tells Adam to take care of the orchard, and to not eat the fruit from the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
Everything is set, but something is missing. To quote the Bible, (NET translation), Genesis 2:18-20:
2:18 The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a companion for him who corresponds to him.”
2:19 The Lord God formed out of the ground every living animal of the field and every bird of the air. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them, and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name.
2:20 So the man named all the animals, the birds of the air, and the living creatures of the field, but for Adam no companion who corresponded to him was found.
He has just figured out that Adam needs a mate, and instead of immediately creating one, he sees if Adam wants one from the laundry list of animals that God created. You get the impression of a long line of animals, presumably mostly female, and Adam saying, "Nope. Nuh huh. No. Not that one. No..." as he works his way through the lineup.
How different would our world be if Adam found just one animal to his liking?
Would a sheep be temped by the serpent? Would there be original sin?
The truth is that many different creation mythologies teach that humans and animals are equals in the distant past. Cultures predating the Bible have left evidence that they believed this. So it is no surprise that the idea finds itself in the Bible. Biblical stories often find their roots in the stories of earlier religions.
I've had religious people argue with me that I'm not interpreting this correctly, that this is a mistranslation, and that the Hebrew word עֵזֶר (’ezer) means "Helper" instead of "Companion". Which isn't true, this word implies an equal role in the relationship - not a subordinate role that the word "helper" would imply. (The same word is used elsewhere as a label for Eve.)
If you want to see a Christian tap dance, bring up this verse and watch how fast they try to explain it away. The truth is much more simple - the text is accurate as is because it taps into older creation myths.
|Paul Jennings Hill|
It is also possible for a Christian (like Christian minister, Paul Jennings Hill) to use their religion to justify murder as an ethical action.
When a Christian is serious about basing their ethical guidelines on the Bible, it is reasonable to ask how they interpret the Bible in order to find those allowed by the Bible. Mr. Hill, for example, had an interpretation that may be very different from other people.
But all of this is a different argument.
I contend that the belief in a divine lawgiver and enforcer actually precludes ethical behavior on the part of the believer.
Let's make it clear. The Bible states that people who act in a manner that pleases God will be rewarded, and those who do not will be punished. Matthew 25:31-46 is quite clear that our actions will be judged.
We must question whether it is even possible to act in a moral manner when a person's very thoughts are under constant scrutiny and their actions and thoughts are being weighed to see if they are a "sheep" or a "goat". Whether or not a divine judge actually exists would seem to be beside the point. The real belief that a divine judge actually exists will influence a person's actions.
If a Christian does good, by giving to the poor, comforting the sick, or just being a friend in a time of need, there must remain some awareness that God's judgement upon them is tracking their actions and adding those actions to their "book of life". And this is more than action - the Bible makes it very clear that a Christian is even judged by his or her own thoughts.
Even if a Christian has the best of motives, even if they are truly altruistic, they must be aware at some level that their actions and thoughts are being monitored by the being that will judge them as being worthy of Heaven, or condemned for that other destination (which varies among the different Christian denominations.)
This knowledge reduces all lofty motives to the level of merely covering one's ass.
If you do good, some part of you knows you will be rewarded. If you do bad, that same part knows that you will be punished. Knowing this, how can a person claim that they are acting out of a moral purpose? How can a person act ethically when that person is under constant surveillance and a promise of reward or punishment for their thoughts and deeds?
I submit that it is only possible to act ethically when one is sure that there is no reward or punishment for one's actions. The true belief in the existence of God precludes true morality - only those people who act without the expectation of reward or punishment, now or in some afterlife, are capable of morality.
A true example of morality is an atheist who does good in secret, free from the judgement of humanity and divinity.
Unfortunately that person was incorrect. Possibly they didn't know any better. But the truth is, there is most definitely such a thing as a "stupid question".
A stupid question is a question that is asked with the intent to halt discussion and interfere with learning. It is asked with the intent to belittle the subject at hand and the person talking about that subject. Stupid questions are used make black insinuations about the receiver's character and morals.
The person asking the stupid question will defend him or herself by saying, "It's just a question" or "Don't be so touchy" or "Why are you taking this so personally?"
"When did you stop beating your wife?" This is an excellent example of a stupid question. It impugns the recipient's moral character, and forces the recipient to take the time to unpack the question, dissect it and answer it. It could be an excellent "drive by" question that would derail any conversation. It is never asked in the spirit of conversation or learning. It is never asked by someone seeking truth.
"Were you there?" This is a favorite question of creationists. This isn't just an example of a stupid question, it is a very common question that pops up in discussions with creationists all the time.
Like any stupid question, the person asking the question is not looking for any sort of answer that increases knowledge or seeks truth. Instead, the creationist asking this question is trying to shut down the conversation in order to declare victory over the other person.
Again, a stupid question is asked in order to stop the discussion. And in order to answer the question, it must be unpacked, examined on its own and then answered. Which of course derails the conversation - which accomplishes the questioner's goal.
Creationists love this tactic of asking stupid questions so much that they actually instruct school children to ask these questions in science class.
Don't allow yourself to be tricked into asking a stupid question by people with an agenda. Instead, learn how to ask smart questions. Ask a question that is designed to elicit further explanation, to encourage teaching, to enhance your own learning.
Ask, "How do you know?" That is a smart question.
America has two mottos, the first is "E Pluribus Unum" proposed by John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson in 1776, and adopted in 1782. It is a Latin phrase that means "Out of many, One". Which by its very nature includes all Americans. It leaves no one out. This motto is part of the Great Seal of the United States.
Our second motto is, "In God We Trust". It was adopted in 1956, during the Second Red Scare and that period of McCarthyism where America was reacting to the "Godless Soviets". It is a motto enacted out of fear. This second motto is inherently divisive, since it divides those Americans who do not believe in a God, who do not believe in one god, or who do not agree that the God of America is a Christian God (as opposed to Hindu or Islamic).
This has led to secular efforts to remove God from American money.
I say that this is no longer necessary. God is on very little of my money.
Let me explain.
You can find lots of people online who will exclaim, "You don't like 'God' on your money? Then give it all to me!"
Yes, this is a "Gotcha" statement by immature people who believe they are being clever. But the reality is, lots of people - maybe most - just don't carry that much "God" money on us.
Let us assume that I would be willing to transfer to you all the money in my possession that has "God" printed on it, if you would agree to transfer all the money in your possession that does NOT have "God" printed on it.
Let me look around. I've got $40 in two twenties that I'll use to pay the gentleman who cuts my grass. I've got a couple dollars, and about three dollars in quarters. There may be an additional few dollars in pennies, nickles and dimes around my house. All together, it is probably less than $60 total - and that's being generous.
But what about my bank account you ask?
I have several bank accounts for various reasons. I'll look at the statement for my "personal allowance" account for March of this year. I deposit money in this account as my personal allowance, that I allow myself to use for things like eating out, buying toys or books, or shopping online. At the end of March I had a balance of $323.15.
In my statement, there are no photographs of this money. My online statement is more up-to-date than my printed statement, but even this lacks a hyperlink to images of my money. I can't point you to the actual hundreds, twenties, and ones that make up the balance of this account. That is because as long as it is in my bank account, it does not refer to bills or coins, but is instead merely numbers in a computer accounting system.
But surely those numbers are backed by actual paper and coin?
No. According to the Federal Reserve, the numbers in my bank account are backed by collateral - collateral chiefly represented by government securities. So perhaps some of the numbers in my bank account are backed by Gold or Silver, but more likely, they are backed by the National Debt of the United States - which is also columns of numbers in an accounting system.
Nowhere in these columns of numbers does "God" appear.
When I go shopping, whether to purchase gum, gasoline, or a new roof for my house, I don't pay with god-based money. Instead I pay with a debit card, a credit card, or in very rare cases - a cashier's check, money order, or personal check. None of these forms of payment have the words, "In God We Trust" on them.
In fact, I'm allowed to personalize my credit card. So I put a "terrible atheist" symbol on it. One that has been in use for over 130 years to represent secular, humanist, and atheist causes. I branded my atheist credit card with a field of Pansies. Every time I use it to purchase something, I am literally paying with atheist money. (Well, atheist credit, at least!) And at the end of the month, I make my accounts balance by going online to my credit card company, and transferring a column of numbers from my bank account to my credit card account.
No God involved.
So you can see that my bank accounts, my mortgage account, my retirement accounts, and my credit card account have no dealing with God or gods. They are not representing, nor represented by a deity. They are merely numbers in differing accounts, held by a polite fiction that our society has agreed to pretend means something.
So if I give you the approximately $60 that I have in Federal Reserve banknotes and coins that have "In God We Trust" printed on it, then you should give me all the money you have that does NOT have "God" printed on it. All those numbers in columns in your bank account.
No, you won't have to purchase banknotes to do this - I have my own debit / credit card reader. They are free to get, and easy to use!
Or, I'll happily take a cashier's check.