Sunday, March 29, 2015

As the Snowmen Melt the Next Evil is Yoga

Father R. Kennedy, SJ - Zen
Catholic Priest
A few weeks ago I wrote about the Islamic war against snowmen. Today, I bring you the Roman Catholic Church’s war against yoga.

It appears that many priests, up to and including the Pope, accept the notion that yoga meditation is infringing on and redirecting the Catholic faithful from the Church. It appears that individual forms of meditation, which exclude formal Catholic doctrine, is viewed ecumenically as a real and growing threat to the billion plus member Church whose wealth and income, while never fully disclosed, is estimated to be in the multi-billions as well.

To bolster the Church’s position on denigrating yoga and other peaceful forms of meditation, Pope Francis has been quoted as follows:

“…A person can take a thousand catechism courses, spirituality courses, yoga courses, or Zen courses, but none of those things would free the person to be like a child of God.“

While this may seem like a situation based more on a falsely humorous story or Internet hoax the sad truth is…well…this is Catholic doctrinal truth. 

According to the Church’s ultimate leader, forms of meditation outside doctrine essentially leaves one hollow and spiritually lacking. I’m sure Sam Harris would disagree, as would many of the Catholic faithful (and those of other faiths) who also practice yoga and other forms of meditation.

But this is another indication of the Church's hostility towards ways of knowing outside its teachings. And we must see and call these constricting ideas for what they are - forms of intellectual imperialism. In fact the Pope’s view may be just a few shades lighter then those who practice more overtly violent faiths. This is because the aim is the same. Beheading a person or censoring curiosity for the sake of religious doctrine each lead to a deadened brain.

Clearly from an economic, political and market share perspective there is a lot on the line for the Catholic Church to rebuff yoga and Zen. The Church is organized religion’s version of Apple computer, Toyota, and Coca Cola. Market leaders who want to see their brand remain number one. So for church leadership, the doctrine of personal salvation through any philosophy or belief outside their interpretation is discounted and seen as an imposition to their religious ideology and goals.

If you thought this Pope was really a liberalizer and perhaps a bit more of a freethinker please think again. While the window dressing has changed, the core beliefs and the religious intolerance related to other faiths, differing philosophical ideas and beliefs and the acceptance of secularism has not occurred and cannot happen no matter who holds the title of Vicar of Christ.

Guess Who Scares All
Organized Western Religions?
Change really cannot happen because then it wouldn’t be the Church. It is a huge ship to turn in any one direction and after 2,000 years of spiritual rule, it can only feed upon itself since its teachings, mission, raison d'être, are all combined in an identity which is self-serving and irresponsive to change unless it is directly threatened.

If the Church was a truly nimble organization there wouldn’t have been a child abuse scandal and women would have been allowed to preach long ago.  When the church moves towards secular points of view, it does so through the kaleidoscope of a complex faith doctrine that attempts to associate and infuse some ideas but still firmly remains staunched in religiously spiritual metaphysics. Think of the Catholic Church trying to be an all-vegan McDonalds.  Such a change is never going to happen.

Of course if these were private beliefs no one would care. But the sad thing is that these anti-humanistic beliefs shared on high by the Church leadership are then taken and used by people to justify their violent actions. In the most extreme the Church has never taken responsibility or been held to account for its role in the Rwandan genocide, something that the Church fomented for decades. The Church seems to have dodged a bullet (or machete?) in being a root cause of the violence.

There is a news report coming from Texas where a woman set fire to a yoga studio to, in her words, “banish the demons.”  Clearly the woman is unbalanced but her goal was simple, destroy the devil.

This is the central problem with faith-based views of the world. I’m guessing the Pope and his emissaries would never suggest direct violence in this way. BUT because faith is an interpretation of reality rather than reality itself, all it takes is one aggressive, indoctrinated or mentally ill true believer to think they’re doing god’s bidding when they harm others and they will do so willfully and with distinction.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Barna Group 2015 State of Atheism in America Report

From the 2015 Barna Group Report
A few days ago the Barna Group published their State of Atheism in America report. Barna is a religiously focused research organization that documents faith and non-faith trends in the United States. 

Their research found that the “non-Churched,” those they categorize as skeptics and who fit the atheist or agnostic profile make up 25% of people who choose not to attend house of worship services. 

The other 75% are people who may be spiritual but who have not declared a faith. This group avoids house of worship services for three main reasons. Like the skeptics, they share a lack of trust in Church leadership, they believe that church teachings are unfair or outright cruel to minority groups including the LGBT community, or they accept the idea that morality, ethics and empathy come from within rather than through the external such as codified in a holy book.

Barna also found that the skeptic profile continues to expand and includes many demographic groups. According to their research, 34% of Nones are under thirty years old. This is a 16% increase since 1993. They also found in 2015 that as a group Nones are more college educated – 50% from 33%, and that 43% are women. This last statistic is up from 16% in 1993. 

Barna’s research also suggests that as a group Nones are more racially diverse and are more dispersed across the nation than in previous surveys. This data indicates that nonbelief is not only rising in the United States but that skepticism is no longer quartered in the big cities or amongst certain demographic groups. Both skeptics and skepticism, regardless of what nonbelievers or nonbelief is called, is everywhere.

The other thing that's striking about the report is the rather hopeless and "banging one's head against the wall" nature of the report's view related to trying to sway unbelievers to faith. The report notes:

"The data show that some cities—and younger generations—are more gospel-resistant than others. It is increasingly common among Millennials to dismiss religion, God, churches, authority and tradition. For years, some observers have claimed colleges and universities are a breeding ground for anti-God sentiment. The data does lend support to the notion that college campuses are comfortable places for young people to abandon God and assume control of their own lives.

“Yet in spite of clear trends and obvious needs, our research suggests that most of the efforts of Christian ministries fail to reach much beyond the core of ‘Christianized’ America. It’s much easier to work with this already-sympathetic audience than to focus on the so-called ‘nones.’ And it’s no mystery why: Figuring out how to effectively engage skeptics is difficult."

What this all means of course is that as nonbelief grows those who are most threatened by the expanding numbers of skeptics, humanists and atheists all over America will have to shout louder. But their ecumenical and other faith tradition calls will ring true to fewer and fewer ears.  

Preaching to the converted is the best outcome houses of worship can do at this point since they are not reaching the Nones.  Especially since they really cannot figure out a way to stick their delusional beliefs on others as fewer and fewer people give respect and credence to organized faith or trust those who lead these faith traditions.


Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Mayor de Blasio Bulldozes Separation of Church and State for his Signature Pre-K Initiative

NYC's Mayor de Blasio
While New York City is considered one of the secular movement’s capitals, a sad turn of events coming from its new Mayor seems to allow the seeping hand of religion to play an increasing role in the lives of the City's most vulnerable – its children. The politicking behind early childhood education, in this case focused squarely on the Mayor’s universal Pre-K initiative, not only violates the separation clause of the Constitution but it also violates labor and tax laws as well.

In 2014, the New York Times, ran a story highlighting that exceptions to anti-discrimination hiring practices had been approved by the Mayor's office. Anti-discrimination laws have brought diversity to the workplace and could never be instituted in public education, corporate or government hiring practices. But for the sake of the de Blasio Pre-K initiative these regulations are being swept aside. Essentially, the compromise allows parochial and other religious schools that use their facility for the Mayor's Pre-K program the right to exclusively hire teachers who are of the same faith found in the house of worship where the program is housed.  

Now if the schools were not receiving City tax dollars they could perhaps make the case that as private religious institutions they have the right to hire only those of the same faith. But this is YOUR money going to fund these schools and it is allowing them to bolster their staff while at the same time they are free and unaccountable to anti-discrimination laws. 

This of course is a deal with the devil. For the Mayor and his team, and for anyone whose ever tried to appease a faith-based organization should understand, once you make a concession based on "faith-rights" all other concessions become easier to make. Essentially as you lower the bar for secular fairness in hiring you also close the door further on other Constitutional guarantees and protections.

In yet another compromise, the New York Times is reporting that the Mayor is allowing religious prayer during secular hours of instruction during and not AFTER the school day. This ensures religious groups can indoctrinate the children in their care while manipulating the City’s mandate on non-religious instruction. What if the child has no faith or is a different faith than the one being taught? This immediately makes the most vulnerable feel like an outsider and which is why Constitutional guarantees against a state religion exist in the first place.

While the Mayor and his team wish to throw a huge blanket around the City’s children and afford them the opportunity to begin learning and socializing early in life, they are also putting secular education into the hands of those who both abhor and want nothing to do with secular education. All of these concessions are meant to meet a self-imposed mandate of 70,000 pre-k students drafted into the Mayor’s program.

There are many legal, financial and ethical issues swirling around the decomposition of the Mayor's pre-K program as it relates to separation of church and state. For instance, what if you’re a secular, atheist or humanist parent and wish to raise your child without religious faith. At the same time you also want to send your child to the Mayor’s program?

If the only schools around your neighborhood are religious ones you can't enjoin the program or you're forced to send your child and have them illegally bombarded with religious doctrine. Your third choice is to hope to find a less conveniently located center. But all three options limit one’s choices and negates the fairness of the program as I imagine it was originally intended.

To put it bluntly your secular earned tax dollars are now funding religious school education. A violation of the Constitution if there ever was one.  If you’re a nonbeliever that means any funding that goes to these pre-k schools should be considered an unfair use of your tax dollars.  And if let’s say you’re religious and are paying City taxes, your tax dollars are going to fund parochial education of children who are not of your faith. So I’m sure Jews, Christians and Muslims would agree that educating your child in a faith not practiced in one's home is unnerving and unfair as well.

There is so much ethnic, social, economic, racial, secular and religious diversity in New York City. The Mayor’s pre-k initiative as it relates to religious violations of the Constitution doesn’t stir the melting pot it burns its contents. It forces secular parents to make hard choices, it puts blind taxpayer dollars which are meant to fund all the people’s needs and redirects them towards religious indoctrination. It allows for violations of fair labor practices - many of which came out of the Great Society initiatives of the 1960s and 1970s.

Ironically, as a child growing up in Brooklyn, I had the opportunity to go to free head start as part of LBJ’s Great Society programs. But I went to a secular school in Coney Island and met wonderful people of many faiths. There was no unfairness then and so we have the right to ask why allow for such unfairness now?

And I am in favor of the Mayor’s initiative and support the program. But not at the risk of violating Constitutional and civil rights or the elimination of labor and fair hiring protections.

Of course we can look upon this shift as a road already paved by allowing Good News Clubs in public schools after teaching hours. And on the federal level, the Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships, which was started under President Bush and had its funds increased by President Obama, to me are equally poor decisions which also violate the Constitution. OFNP and other government agencies should not be directing our hard earned tax dollars into the hands of religious organizations that should not be receiving a penny of federal, state or local tax dollars in the first place.

In any case, if you are secular parent or even if you are a religious parent and wish to send your child to the Mayor's program beware! Your child may come home with ideas that are not traditional to your family or community's values, ideas or wishes.