Tag Archives: Christian

Just Words

You may have read a story in the last week about an airman who may be forced to sue the United States government to regain his right to re-enlist in the U.S. Air Force.  The gentleman in question, a technical sergeant based at the Creech Air Force base near Las Vegas, Nevada, has been barred from continuing his service because, as an Atheist, he refuses to recite the final words of the required oath.

Those words being: “So help me God.”

When he entered the Air Force, the rules allowed for the omission of those words, but that rule was changed only last year, and now the unfortunate airman, and many more like him, are stuck with the difficult choice between duty and deception.

This is a choice no one should be forced into, and thankfully, it seems that he has chosen the third option — fight for change!

Christian Air Force

The thing about this situation that horrifies me, I mean beyond the pure religious coercion which seems to have become a staple within the Air Force, is that so much public opinion on this matter seems inclined to have this fellow simply mouth the words that are placed before him.

I don’t understand what people are thinking.

How can anyone with even the slightest sense of honor or integrity suggest that anyone of any belief, should perjure themselves rather than stand up against an injustice?

Bit of a rhetorical question, I suppose.

The reality is that this proposed lawsuit will very likely not go far enough.  I’m sure the complaint will request that the airman, and many like him, once again have the freedom to skip that particular line in the oath of service.  For justice to be truly done, however, there should be no religious language in the oath whatsoever.

The expectation among a certain majority, that Christianity is going to be the religious standard, and that an ‘opt out’ provision should be made available for some unspecified minority, does one thing very clearly – it establishes that Christianity is the national religion.  And that is an action that the U.S. Constitution very specifically prohibits.

All of which brings me back to public opinion, at least some of that which I have seen expressed within the comments sections of the various news stories which detail this case.  The more troubling of these responses fall into one of a few categories:

The Un-Specified God

“God,” so many like to claim, “is an entirely generic term that could mean any deity, from the God of the Bible to Allah or even Zeus, and is therefore not prohibited by the Constitution’s non-establishment clause.  Sadly, over the years we have been at the mercy of a few Supreme Court justices who share in this misguided notion.

Who else, but certain Monotheistic sects, are so strangely squeamish about addressing their deity by name?  Who else, but the Christians and Jews, are so particular about using that word in the singular form, and capitalized, as if it were a proper name and not a title, which is carried by multitudes of other beings.

This ‘generic’ God is a farce.  Everyone knows which God is being spoken of.  To pretend otherwise reflects poorly on those making the claim, and the silent majority who would benefit from this fiction.

Still, there are those who will claim that because a singular sect of Christendom is not thusly enshrined as the state religion, that there is no ‘establishment’.  And how, I might ask them, does such a philosophy look from the outside, from the eyes of a Buddhist, a Pagan, or an Atheist?

The Christian Nation

“This nation was founded on christian principals and if you don’t agree with that, you don’t belong.”

This is just another instance of the ‘If you don’t like it, get out’ defense, which I have already dealt with recently here.

There are no Atheists in the Foxholes

The thinking here, is that anyone who does not believe in the Christian God, will, when under the threat of death, feel compelled to hedge their bets, just in case there IS a lake of fire awaiting them in the here-after.

The basic assumption being made by those who use this argument is that everyone is a coward at heart and that the Atheists (and others) are really just lying to themselves.

And this, in turn, brings us to the final category of arguments against changing the Oath of Service…,

They’re Just Words

“If you don’t believe, then the words have no meaning, so it’s no harm to say them.”

“It’s just words to them, they could say ‘so help me Scooby Doo’ and it would mean as much.”

It never ceases to amaze me how so called ‘people of faith’ can have so little understanding of what an oath really is.  How do you center your life around the writing in a book, and still have such low regard for the true power of the spoken word.

To swear an oath is to place the whole of ourselves, our reputation and standing, our very name and worth, behind the words which we utter.  It is not a thing to be done on a whim or by rote, and cannot be accompanied by falsehood.  If you cannot stand behind every word pronounced, they are, every one of them, worthless.

This is why I have always spoken out against having the words “Under God” within the Pledge of Allegiance.  To those who say I should just skip that section, I respond that I cannot, in good faith, just pretend that the offending words are not there.  How can I pledge my allegiance, when to do so would mean bowing to religious coercion?

I do not believe in your god and I will swear no oath to him.

And meanwhile, how many millions of school children begin their day with ‘the Pledge’.  They recite it by rote, most of them mumbling through words they don’t even understand, while themselves under the authority of a specific deity whom they were never given a voice in choosing.

Oh but they are “just words” I am told, again and again.

Is THAT what we want to teach our children, that words are only important if you mean them, that the promises we make are ‘just’ words and have no real power in and of themselves?

What if, instead, we taught them that their promises should be composed of ‘just words’, as in justifiable – words that we believe in our very hearts to be true, words that form the utmost foundation of ourselves, words with no hint of deceit or evasion?

They will learn that lesson best if they see that the words of their elders are those of truth and honor rather than equivocation and conformity.

Let our words be just and our oaths be true.

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Filed under Culture, Modern Life, Proselytizing, Religion

Sacred Space: Spirit in the Tree

My neighbors must think I’m crazy.

I’ve been spending a lot of time in my backyard recently, staring up at the dead tree which stands at its center.  Every few days, I find myself walking in circles through the high grass (ugh, I really need to mow) and stopping at various points to look up into the barren branches.

After two or three orbits around the trunk of that old oak, I’ll head back inside and go about the business of the day.  The sun may set and rise again a few times before I return, to gaze again into those twisting limbs.

I am looking for the shapes that I know must be hiding under the bark.

I am looking for the spirit in the tree.

One face among the many that adorn the ‘Trinity Tree’ in the churchyard of St. Mary’s in Dingle, Co. Kerry.  Carved by Juan Carlos Lizana Carreño.

One face among the many that adorn the ‘Trinity Tree’ in the churchyard of St. Mary’s in Dingle, County Kerry. Carved by Juan Carlos Lizana Carreño.

In thinking about how we create a sacred space, it seems to me that part of the job of a temple or a shrine is to remove us from the everyday world of our mortal lives.  While the gods may walk among us as we go about our daily routine, we might never notice their presence because we are conditioned, over a lifetime, to expect only the ordinary.

Our ancestors believed that to experience the divine, we must enter into an altered state of awareness.  There are many means to do this, but the temple is the physical manifestation of that altered state.  The temple sets the mood, it removes us from the ordinary and offers us a glimpse of the otherworld where the gods reside.

Dingle Tree Friar

In my travels, I have encountered a few places that felt as if they were set apart from the world around them.  Most I have sought out, but a few I stumbled upon by accident.

Such was the case a few years ago while traveling along the western coast of Ireland.

Upon arriving in the town of Dingle, in Co. Kerry, and checking into our Bed & Breakfast, the kindly Hostess of the establishment sat us down and offered us a number of suggestions as to what my girlfriend and I should see and do while touring the area.

Now I am very much the planner, when it comes to mapping out my explorations, but I do like to leave some room for chance encounters, and something that our Hostess said grabbed my attention.

“Oh, and you really must visit the Angel Trees!”

“Angel Trees?”

“Oh yes, they are like nothing you have ever seen.”

At the top of the Pilgrim Tree we see the pagan Ulster king, Suibhne, transformed into a birdlike creature by the holy magic of St. Ronan.

At the top of the Pilgrim Tree we see the pagan Ulster king, Suibhne, transformed into a birdlike creature by the holy magic of St. Ronan.

In the town of Dingle, in the west of Ireland, off a narrow street that seems more like an alleyway than something you would actually want to drive through, in the garden of a rectory that sits beside a rather pedestrian little church, there is a doorway to another world.

In this otherwise simple garden, stand a handful of tree-trunks, ash and oak, that are carved in such a way that standing among them I felt as if I had been transported somewhere else entirely.

The imagery, while Christian in theme, had a primitive, tribal nature to it, which seems quite out of place with the rather mundane surroundings.  And yet, while you might expect a certain dissonance between the trees and their surroundings, in my experience, the sculptures draw you in to their world, leaving the mortal realm far behind.

Here we see Saint Michael the Archangel, doing battle with the Christian Devil.

Here we see Saint Michael the Archangel, doing battle with the Christian Devil.

And now, several years later, as I gaze up into the branches of the dead oak behind my house, I am looking for the shapes that will have that same effect on those who see them.

When I first began planning this project I assumed that after limbing the tree and shortening the trunk, I would enclose in within some structure.  Yet, thinking back to those unexpected trees in Dingle, I realize how much more powerful it would be, to have an open air temple with that great carved trunk as its focal point.

And so I wander into my backyard at odd hours of the day.

I gaze upward, looking for the shapes that must be hiding under the bark.

I am looking for the spirit in the tree.

In this detail we see the Devil riding upon the shoulders of Death itself.

In this detail we see the Devil riding upon the shoulders of Death itself.

****

This is the third post in a series following my progress in the planning and construction of a small temple space on my property.  If you wish to follow along with my progress you may see other posts in this series by clicking here.

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Filed under Art, Ireland, Photography, Religion, Sacred Space, Spiritual Journey, Travel

A Better God

At the end of every election cycle comes that special moment when you can sit back and relax, satisfied in the knowledge that you have watched your last campaign ad.  This time around it feels as if we have been bombarded with more than ever before and however the election itself plays out, I will be very glad of the reprieve.  However, in these final hours, I ask that you indulge me by watching just one more, an ad narrated by Mike Huckabee titled “Test of Fire”.

“Your vote will affect the future and be recorded in eternity. Will you vote the values that will stand the test of fire?”

If you are a Christian, Mike Huckabee is telling you not only what you should believe but who you should be voting for.  The arguments being used in this ad are not based upon a political or economic ideology but on singularly religious grounds.

Poorly hidden within all that imagery of a pretend blacksmith haphazardly pounding on forged words, is the threat of damnation for those who choose to vote the wrong way.

While most Christians seem to believe that their god created mankind with the power of free will, Mr. Huckabee and his ilk suggest that a vote for the wrong candidate could land you in hell.  These men and women would have you believe that you should vote not for the candidate of your choice, but of Gods.

What good upstanding Christian would want to defy their almighty God and risk an eternity of suffering on the off chance that someone with a low paying job my need access to inexpensive contraceptives, or that their gay friends may someday want to marry?   This despite the fact that, last I checked, their god had failed to officially endorse any candidate on the ballot.

Well, I have this to say to Mr. Huckabee and all those who believe as he does:
If your god is so small minded and petty as to condemn you to an eternity of suffering because you voted for the candidate who best represented your personal values in this, or any election, maybe you need a better god.

Some of you might suggest, at this point, that it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of election season and lots of people will say some pretty crazy things to make their respective partisan points.  Political contests do tend to polarize us to a greater than normal extent.  I concede that point.

It is at times like this that we really need something to pull us together as a singular people.  If there is any silver lining to be found in the devastation left behind by Hurricane Sandy, it must be that a natural disaster of this magnitude can force us to put aside the insanity and join together in common purpose.

Right?

“Hurricane Sandy is hitting 21 years to the day of the Perfect Storm of October 30, 1991.  This was the day that President George Bush Sr. initiated the Madrid Peace Process to divide the land of Israel, including Jerusalem. America has been under God’s judgment since this event.”

—Pastor John McTernan

Or perhaps not…,

“The Great Flood in the time of Noah was triggered by the recognition of same-gender marriages.  The Lord will not bring another flood to destroy the entire world, but he could punish particular areas with a flood.”

—Rabbi Noson Leiter, discussing the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy

Think I’m just singling out few token crazies to make my point?  I truly wish that these folks were alone in their hysteria, but they are not.  Among all the prayers and outpouring of support I have seen on Facebook and Twitter over the last week have been similar accusations from otherwise ordinary citizens who honestly believe that Hurricane Sandy was a punishment sent by their god against our nation.

And then, there was this:

“Destroying everything by the command of Allah, these punishing winds serve as a just recompense for their disbelief and crimes against Islam. It is the answer to the prayers of the oppressed Muslims across the globe and a response to the silent whispers of the Muslim prisoners.  So we call upon the Kuffar in the U.S. to reject their falsehood before it’s too late, embrace Islam and enter to the fold of the faithful.”

—Statement from the Al Shabaab cell of al-Qaeda

You shall know them by the company they keep.

So we have a sampling of Christians, Jews and extremists from a radical Islamic terror group who all see Hurricane Sandy as a judgement upon the decadent citizens of the United States for our collective sins against the Most High.

I suppose it’s nice to know that Christians, Jews and Muslims can still manage to find some common ground.

Allow me to say this one more time because I think it bears repeating:
If your god has aim so poor that he has to smite an entire area of the country with hardship instead of just the people he is angry with; if he is so feeble that he is unable to strike his enemies on his own or properly defend his chosen people without American military involvement; if he demands that adulterers and witches be stoned in the streets, that homosexuals do not receive the same rights and freedoms as everyone else and that rape victims carry the seed of their attackers to term; if he requires you to pass a “test of fire” when you enter the voting booth and vote for the candidate he chooses…,

Maybe you need a better god!

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Filed under Culture, Modern Life, Politics, Religion