Monday, May 06, 2013

Acts 27 test, 4: But, raising a finger to God in thanksgiving on winning a race is unsportsmanlike bullying by taunting -- the implications of marginalising, scapegoating, stereotyping and demonising sincere and mainstream Christian faith as "extremism" parallel to Al Qaeda, Hezbollah and Taliban terrorism or Ku Klux Klan racism, etc.

We need to ask ourselves some serious questions about the implications for freedom, democracy and good government in our civilisation, of ongoing marginalisation, denigratory or even demonising stereotyping and scapegoating of Christian faith and its common expressions. (For instance, why is it that some now pretend to take offence at "Merry Christmas" or "Happy Easter"? Or, to view John 3:16 as hate speech? Etc?)

Something is wrong, and it has potentially serious implications.

 For simple instance, a few days ago, it briefly surfaced in the news that -- believe it or not -- a High School relay race team in Texas had been disqualified after an amazing win, because the anchor runner had, on winning, raised his forefinger to the sky in acknowledgement of God.

This was held to be unsportsmanlike taunting, i.e. in effect bullying.

As Fox news recounts:
Derrick Hayes, the anchor of the Columbus High School 4×100 relay team had just crossed the finish line when he raised his finger to the sky – thanking the Lord for winning the race that would send them to the state finals.

But a judge with the University Interscholastic League, the governing body for high school athletics in Texas, ruled that the gesture was a violation of the taunting rule – and the Cardinals were stripped of their victory.

“I think it’s a travesty,” said K.C. Hayes, Derrick’s dad. “It’s a sad deal. Those kids worked hard.”

Robert O’Connor, the superintendent of the school district filed an appeal, but so far the UIL is standing by its rule.

“It’s a harsh consequence for what some people may deem a small gesture,” O’Connor told “The rule states no celebratory gestures including raising your arms.”

The team was officially disqualified for “unsporting conduct.”
Something is wrong here, and it smells strongly of anti-christian bigotry. Nor, does the official talking point in reply to questions mollify such concerns:
"You can do whatever you want to in terms of prayer, kneeling or whatever you want to once you get out of the competition area. You just can’t do it in the competition area. It goes back to the taunting rule. I can’t taunt my opponent,” the superintendent told

Excuse me, something does not add up. Since when is prayer or a gesture that is acknowledged to be prayer, reasonably to be equated to taunting opponents, or even deemed a celebratory gesture rather than acknowledgement of God?


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This one comes across as insult added to injury: the hostile treatment of prayer is injury. The notion that we would swallow that sort of clever excuse is an insult to our intelligence and to our concerns about the protection of freedom of conscience, worship and expression.

 Now, if that were an isolated incident, that would be of little weight.

But it is not.

For instance, a few weeks back, a US Army reserve unit in Pennsylvania had a presentation on religious extremism. And -- reportedly tracing to the claims of the Southern Poverty Law Center about "hate groups," this is what the presenter developed as a slide listing extremist groups:

 You got that right: THE FIRST LISTED GROUP IS "EVANGELICAL CHRISTIANITY," and "CATHOLICISM" is in the list as well.

Since when could any reasonably educated and informed person in C21 come to view current, on the ground, people next door, Bible - believing Evangelical Christians and Roman Catholics as a whole as religious extremists worthy of being listed with Al Qaeda, Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood, known terrorist or terrorism supporting groups? On what possible basis could such be even imagined?

What sort of poisonous warping of hearts and minds could be at work here?

Could we try this (for one example), by the man recently voted by 10,000 participants in an online survey of a UK magazine to be the leading thinker of our day:
“The God of the Old Testament [= The God of Israel and of the Judaeo-Christian Scriptures . . . ] is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully . . . ” [Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion, Great Britain: Bantam Press, 2006, 31. Cf. Lennox- Dawkins debate, here. For a quick initial response to this sort of rhetoric, cf. CARM here and JPH of Tektonics here, here, here and here. Also cf. Vox Day's short book length critique of the new Atheists in a free to download format here. (Available from Amazon here.)]
Now, I went on to balance and correct:
The rebellion-rooted anger at God, the dismissal as "fiction[al]," the demonised strawman caricature, the multiple inaccuracies practically leap out. 
At least, to the reasonably informed reader who knows the balance of the Biblical and OT teachings and records on the good and just God who loves, is concerned, and therefore redeems, forgives, often relents even on the brink of destructive judgement (once there is penitence), and as a rule rescues a remnant -- whether a Noah and family, or a Rahab, or even the brands plucked from burning who save themselves from an untoward generation in the New Testament -- even in the midst of destructive judgement.  Given the rising intensity of especially the poisonous and polarising snide insinuations deeply embedded in the above --  
i: that Bible-believing Christians
ii: [and by probably unrecognised implication (so poisonous is this) Jews . . . this is the OT and "the God of the OT" Dawkins would stigmatise is the God of Israel . . . ]
iii: are held to be followers of an imaginary, barbarous bronze-age tribal deity and so 
iv: are would-be theocratic tyrants, terrorists and 
v: supporters of racially-tinged genocide --  
. . . the resulting rising tide of outright hostility or even hate, is predictable, but ill-warranted. Instead, we should pause and notice how a more responsible and more widely informed reading would approach troubling texts.

Especially, those on God's destructive judgement of the nations, in his governmental roles as Creator of the nations who calls them to repentance and righteousness, as Righteous Lord, as Lawgiver who has written core morality on our hearts, and as Dread, utterly just Judge.

In particular:

a: Instead of the sort of incendiary rhetoric cited above, a responsible view would have first highlighted that: our civilisation, historically, has had a strong respect for life, for justice and for protecting innocent life shaped by a moral climate deeply influenced by its Judaeo-Christian, biblical foundations.
b: In that light, many people in our civilisation, Christians and otherwise, struggle with the apparent meanings of instructions given to the Israelites during the Canaanite conquest. 
c: This conquest is presented as a divine judgement of seven nations that — after 400 years of warnings dating to Abraham and the exemplary judgement from heaven against Sodom and Gomorrah — had defiantly filled up the cup of divine wrath [and as foreshadowing a similar fate hovering over Israel (and by extension other nations) if it too would forget and utterly rebel against God]; and there are other similar cases. d: There are different final views taken on these texts, but none -- including the dismissive -- are without fairly serious difficulties of one form or another.

(NB: This is part of why these passages, across the centuries, have deeply troubled many concerned readers. [Cf recent discussions accessible online: Craig, Woods, Chin, WadeCopan, Miller. (Also, cf. Boteach here and here, as well as Torley here, for Jewish views and wider issues.)  . . . )
But, we must recognise that in an increasingly radically secularised and theologically illiterate, historically ill-informed, manipulated day, such toxic rhetoric will have significant appeal. And that poison, once taken in, has sobering potential consequences unless one has the antidote and takes it in good time.

Which, already highlights a serious and widespread problem for democratic self-government today: too many are ill-prepared, have taken in rhetorical spin-tactics poison in quantity, and are intoxicated with its addictive "see we are better than they" sweetness.

 Rush Limbaugh, commenting on the above slide [yes, he makes an adjustment on learning that this is a particular presenter, not an Official, signed off at the top Army document . . . ] gives a highly relevant wider context:
I don't know quite how to get my arms around this.  In the homosexual marriage debate, one of the things that's really intertwined there is the desire to effectively erase the 2,000 years of Christianity, Judeo-Christian values, if you will, as a governing force, as a positive influence on cultures and society.  It is tantamount to  erasure, an attempt to erase.

Not just homosexual marriage, but all of the attacks that are taking place here, the attempts to equate mainstream American religions with terrorism is done purposefully with an objective.  And the objective, of course, is to discredit mainstream American and worldwide religions.  If they succeed in this discreditation [sic], then everything that has flowed from and everything that has descended from these mainstream religions, everything that has found it's way into American cultural life, will also thus be discredited, which is the objective.
In short, we are in the midst of a major culture conflict, with the very foundations of our worldviews, societies and civilisation in the balance. And, a major focus of ideological effort, is to poison, silence and discredit our civilisation's Judaeo-Christian heritage in the marketplace of ideas and values, the better to replace it with all sorts of seriously questionable agendas.

Limbaugh, in his corrective footnote on learning this does not come from an Official manual, notes:
. . . The presenter of this briefing, to show you how pervasive all this is, the presenter at the briefing who prepared this slide to a bunch of people in the Army Reserve in Pennsylvania that equated mainstream Catholicism, evangelical Christianity, and Islamophobia with Al-Qaeda, the presenter of briefing said she got her information from the Southern Poverty Law Center
In short, one of the major advocacy groups against traditional religious views. A group that routinely labels as hate groups, anyone who does not toe the line with the radical agenda. Recently leading to someone -- apparewntly actually following SPLC's map -- invading the premises of the Family Research Council, intending to shoot it up, killing as many people as he could.

So also, it is not really surprising that this seems to be coming to a head in our civilisation's leading nation, the United States. Indeed, here is an onward development in the same institution, the US Military. And this time, this is not the opinion of some lone instructor out there in a presentation. Todd Starnes:
Religious liberty groups have grave concerns after they learned the Pentagon is vetting its guide on religious tolerance with a group that compared Christian evangelism to “rape” and advocated that military personnel who proselytize should be court martialed.

The Military Religious Freedom Foundation is calling on the Air Force to enforce a regulation that they believe calls for the court martial of any service member caught proselytizing.

President Mikey Weinstein and others from his organization met privately with Pentagon officials on April 23. He said U.S. troops who proselytize are guilty of sedition and treason and should be punished – by the hundreds if necessary – to stave off what he called a “tidal wave of fundamentalists.”

“Someone needs to be punished for this,” Weinstein told Fox News. “Until the Air Force or Army or Navy or Marine Corps punishes a member of the military for unconstitutional religious proselytizing and oppression, we will never have the ability to stop this horrible, horrendous, dehumanizing behavior.”
You got that, we here have the US Military taking serious consultation about potential Court Martial offences, with a group that characterises simple witness to the truth and impact of the gospel in such patently outrageous, rage-driven terms.

If you think that such terms are over the top, let me clip more from Weinstein, in his own words from an April 16th blog post at the well known left-leaning American news and views site, Huffington Post (presented there without editorial correction or disclaimer, though there are some who try in the comment box . . . ):
Ladies and Gentlemen, let me tell you of monsters and monstrous wrongs. And let me tell you what these bloody monsters thrive on.
I founded the civil rights fighting organization the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) to do one thing: fight those monsters who would tear down the Constitutionally-mandated wall separating church and state in the technologically most lethal entity ever created by humankind, the U.S. military.

Today, we face incredibly well-funded gangs of fundamentalist Christian monsters who terrorize their fellow Americans by forcing their weaponized and twisted version of Christianity upon their helpless subordinates in our nation's armed forces. Oh my, my, my, how "Papa's got a brand new bag."

What's Papa's new tactic? You're gonna just love this! These days, when ANYone attempts to bravely stand up against virulent religious oppression, these monstrosities cry out alligator tears in overflowing torrents and scream that it is, in fact, THEY who are the dispossessed, bereft and oppressed. C'mon, really, you pitiable unconstitutional carpetbaggers? . . .
It rather seems the shoe is actually on the other foot, but the turnabout false accusation tactic that allows blaming the victim then imposing "justice" in retribution for "heinous crimes," is an ever popular and ruthlessly effective rhetorical -- or even, propaganda -- device.

It will help to pause for a moment and give the actual text of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, of 1789 - 91:

Amendment I

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

In short, reading in light of the relevant Westphalia settlement of 1648, this is an application of the principle of locality and tolerance in religious matters to republican circumstances. There was to be no Church of the United States as a whole (and so the Federal Government was ruled out of jurisdiction to legislate on that topic), but the federal government was to protect freedom of religion. Local states could have established churches (as nine of thirteen apparently did at ratification) based on the will of the majority, but dissenters were to be protected, including by the Federal Government. AND IT IS IN THAT SPECIFIC, IMMEDIATE CONTEXT OF FREEDOM OF CONSCIENCE, RELIGION AND WORSHIP THAT FREEDOM OF SPEECH, FREEDOM OF THE PRESS, FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY AND FREEDOM TO PETITION FOR REDRESS OF GRIEVANCES WERE PROTECTED.

So, what about the usual way this is referred to these days, "separation of church and state"?

Not in the text of the US Constitution or its Amendments. The original citation was from a letter of reply to dissenter Baptists by Jefferson in 1802, speaking of protecting churches (and thus believers) from state abuse. Unfortunately, in recent decades, that has been informally inserted into the jurisprudence and has been used as a wedge to push in a de facto quasi-establishment of the informal anti-"church" of secularist atheism.

Which is the context of Mr Weinstein's threats.

Retired Lt. Gen. Boykin is right:
It’s a matter of what do they mean by "proselytizing." . . . I think they’ve got their definitions a little confused. If you’re talking about coercion that’s one thing, but if you’re talking about the free exercise of our faith as individual soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines, especially for the chaplains, they I think the worst thing we can do is stop the ability for a soldier to be able to exercise his faith.”
This graphic (HT: Fox) is powerful:

In short, we are facing a rising tide of hostility to the Christian faith in influential circles and institutions of our civilisation, that poses grave dangers to basic civil liberties. And that holds far beyond the US Army or Air Force, or High School sports in Texas, or the web pages of the Huffington Post, or the Southern Poverty Law Centre, or the pages of Dawkins' bestselling "The God Delusion" etc.

We therefore need to inform ourselves of the issues of nationhood and Government under God, and to come to terms with both the sins of Christendom and the major contributions of Christendom to the rise of modern liberty and democracy (as well as that of science). 

In so doing, we will see that the real threat to liberty is not religious worldviews or principles [which here would include The Golden Rule, let us cite from Paul in Rom 13:8 - 10: 
"Owe no one anything, except to love one another, for the one who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, “Do not commit adultery, do not murder, do not steal, do not covet,” (and if there is any other commandment) are summed up in this, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. (NET)"]

. . .  but the rise of unaccountable and often corrupt or corruptible elites to power. Centuries ago, that indeed happened with religious leaders and institutions, as well as with allied monarchs. But over the past century, with over 100 million ghosts warning us, we should note the same problem happened with secularist, atheistical, and neopagan, often anti-clerical elites. Indeed that pattern has repeatedly played out since the days of the French Revolution.

So, a more balanced view would seek to adequately ground rights in sound principles of morality (contrast here on), and would seek to assure that the state and civil society operates in a transparent, responsible fashion.

And, we would be very wary indeed of those who -- as we saw above -- sow subtle or blatant seeds of hostility, atmosphere poisoning and abuse, by setting up stereotypical scapegoats. In this regard, we should be thankful that Mr Weinstein is so angry that he has been unable to control his tongue and pen enough to hide his evident intent.

For, plainly, one criminally investigates and prosecutes then punishes "gangs."

That is, we have here someone intent on a REAL C21 witch hunt.

So, we must now be vary wary of abusive manipulation of anti-bullying or anti-harassment law, to twist them into tools of marginalisation, silencing and persecution.

We have been forewarned, so let us be forearmed, to stand up for justice, genuine democracy and liberty under God. END