Religion and Politics

on Tuesday, September 4, 2012

I found this in the comments section of this blog, which is devoted for the most part to debunking the claims made by pseudo-historian David Barton, who claims that the Founding Fathers, and Thomas Jefferson in particular, were Christians whose aim it was to create a Christian nation.


The Ten Commandments of our Founding Fathers

1. Your neighbor’s religion is none of your concern.

“But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.”

Thomas Jefferson, Notes on Virginia, 1782

“Religion is a subject on which I have ever been most scrupulously reserved. I have considered it as a matter between every man and his Maker in which no other, and far less the public, had a right to intermeddle.”

Thomas Jefferson to Richard Rush, 1813

2. You shall not mingle religion with politics.

And here, without anger or resentment I bid you farewell. Sincerely wishing, that as men and Christians, ye may always fully and uninterruptedly enjoy every civil and religious right; and be, in your turn, the means of securing it to others; but that the example which ye have unwisely set, of mingling religion with politics, may be disavowed and reprobated by every inhabitant of America.

Thomas Paine, Common Sense. PDF download from “The Lou Frey Institute of Politics and Government.” Pg. 51, Appendix.

3. You shall not establish any religion above any other.

‘We the subscribers, citizens of the said Commonwealth, having taken into serious consideration, a Bill printed by order of the last Session of General Assembly, entitled “A Bill establishing a provision for Teachers of the Christian Religion,” and conceiving that the same if finally armed with the sanctions of a law, will be a dangerous abuse of power, are bound as faithful members of a free State to remonstrate against it, and to declare the reasons by which we are determined. We remonstrate against the said Bill…

“3. Because it is proper to take alarm at the first experiment on our liberties. We hold this prudent jealousy to be the first duty of Citizens, and one of the noblest characteristics of the late Revolution. The free men of America did not wait till usurped power had strengthened itself by exercise, and entangled the question in precedents. They saw all the consequences in the principle, and they avoided the consequences by denying the principle. We revere this lesson too much soon to forget it. Who does not see that the same authority which can establish Christianity, in exclusion of all other Religions, may establish with the same ease any particular sect of Christians, in exclusion of all other Sects?”

James Madison. Memorial and Remonstrance against Religious Assessments. C. June 20, 1785

4. You shall not bar your neighbor from public office on the basis of his beliefs.

“The proscribing any citizen as unworthy the public confidence by laying upon him an incapacity of being called to offices of trust and emolument unless he profess or renounce this or that religious opinion is depriving him injuriously of those privileges and advantages to which, in common with his fellow citizens, he has a natural right.”

Thomas Jefferson: Statute for Religious Freedom, 1779. ME 2:301, Papers 2:546

5. All religions shall have equal recognition.

“The bill for establishing religious freedom, the principles of which had, to a certain degree, been enacted before, I had drawn in all the latitude of reason & right. It still met with opposition; but, with some mutilations in the preamble, it was finally past; and a singular proposition proved that its protection of opinion was meant to be universal. Where the preamble declares that coercion is a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, an amendment was proposed, by inserting the word “Jesus Christ,” so that it should read ”departure from the plan of Jesus Christ, the holy author of our religion” the insertion was rejected by a great majority, in proof that they meant to comprehend, within the mantle of it’s protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mahometan, the Hindoo, and infidel of every denomination.”

Thomas Jefferson, July 27, 1821, Autobiography. ME 1:67.

6. You shall be religiously neutral.

“Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, “thus building a wall of separation between Church
& State.”

Jefferson, Thomas. “Jefferson’s Letter to the Danbury Baptists: The Final Letter, as Sent.” The Library of Congress Information Bulletin: June 1998. Lib. of Cong., June 1998. Wednesday, 7 Aug.

7. You shall exclude the clergy of any religion from your public schools.

“Ministers of the Gospel are excluded [from serving as Visitors of the county Elementary Schools] to avoid jealousy from the other sects, were the public education committed to the ministers of a particular one; and with more reason than in the case of their exclusion from the legislative and executive functions.”

Thomas Jefferson: Note to Elementary School Act, 1817. ME 17:419

8. You shall not disturb the religion and peace of other nations with missionaries.

“I do not know that it is a duty to disturb by missionaries the religion and peace of other countries, who may think themselves bound to extinguish by fire and fagot the heresies to which we give the name of conversions, and quote our own example for it. Were the Pope, or his holy allies, to send in mission to us some thousands of Jesuit priests to convert us to their orthodoxy, I suspect that we should deem and treat it as a national aggression on our peace and faith.”

Thomas Jefferson to Michael Megear, 1823. ME 15:434

9. You shall not ban any books.

“I am really mortified to be told that, in the United States of America, a fact like this [i.e., the purchase of an apparent geological or astronomical work] can become a subject of inquiry, and of criminal inquiry too, as an offense against religion; that a question about the sale of a book can be carried before the civil magistrate. Is this then our freedom of religion? and are we to have a censor whose imprimatur shall say what books may be sold, and what we may buy? And who is thus to dogmatize religious opinions for our citizens? Whose foot is to be the measure to which ours are all to be cut or stretched? Is a priest to be our inquisitor, or shall a layman, simple as ourselves, set up his reason as the rule for what we are to read, and what we must believe? …. for God’s sake, let us freely hear both sides, if we choose.”

Thomas Jefferson to N. G. Dufief, 1814. ME 14:127

10. You shall question the Bible.

“The whole history of these books is so defective and doubtful that it seems vain to attempt minute enquiry into it: and such tricks have been played with their text, and with the texts of other books relating to them, that we have a right, from that cause, to entertain much doubt what parts of them are genuine. In the New Testament there is internal evidence that parts of it have proceeded from an extraordinary man; and that other parts are of the fabric of very inferior minds. It is as easy to separate those parts, as to pick out diamonds from dunghills.”

Thomas Jefferson, letter to John Adams, January 24, 1814

“And the day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus, by the supreme being as his father in the womb of a virgin will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerve in the brain of Jupiter. But may we hope that the dawn of reason and freedom of thought in these United States will do away with this artificial scaffolding, and restore to us the primitive and genuine doctrines of this most venerated reformer of human errors.”

Thomas Jefferson, Letter to John Adams, April 11, 1823

I do not believe in the creed professed by the Jewish church, by the Roman church, by the Greek church, by the Turkish church, by the Protestant church, nor by any church that I know of. My own mind is my own church.

The Age of Reason. Thomas Paine. Chapter I – The Author’s Profession of Faith.

EVERY national church or religion has established itself by pretending some special mission from God, communicated to certain individuals. The Jews have their Moses; the Christians their Jesus Christ, their apostles and saints; and the Turks their Mahomet; as if the way to God was not open to every man alike.

Each of those churches shows certain books, which they call revelation, or the Word of God. The Jews say that their Word of God was given by God to Moses face to face; the Christians say, that their Word of God came by divine inspiration; and the Turks say, that their Word of God (the Koran) was brought by an angel from heaven. Each of those churches accuses the other of unbelief; and, for my own part, I disbelieve them all.

Ibid. Chapter II – Of Missions and Revelations.

IT is upon this plain narrative of facts, together with another case I am going to mention, that the Christian mythologists, calling themselves the Christian Church, have erected their fable, which for absurdity and extravagance is not exceeded by anything that is to be found in the mythology of the ancients.

Ibid. Chapter IV – Of the Bases of Christianity.

Whenever we read the obscene stories, the voluptuous debaucheries, the cruel and torturous executions, the unrelenting vindictiveness, with which more than half the Bible is filled, it would be more consistent that we called it the word of a demon, than the Word of God. It is a history of wickedness, that has served to corrupt and brutalize mankind; and, for my own part, I sincerely detest it, as I detest everything that is cruel.

Ibid. Chapter VII – Examination of the Old Testament.

RIP Marty

on Saturday, May 19, 2012

Marty Sundvall (12/12/1965 - 5/13/2012)

WARNING: Some of this post may be too graphic for some readers.

My friend Marty was looking pretty bad back in February. His legs and feet got so swollen he couldn't even tie his shoes and his skin and eyes were taking on a sickly yellow hue. In his words:
I had been feeling weird for a couple weeks. In that time my energy was zapped, I was very disoriented, my abdomen and feet started to swell and my eyes were an ugly shade of yellow.
Being a stoic Minnesotan, he ignored it and continued life as usual, teaching classes at SCSU and the Minnesota School of Business, and having a few cocktails at the White Horse. But his Saturday and Sunday sojourns to the bar left him feeling sick and he was in bed by early Sunday evening.

Monday morning he could barely walk.
I got up in time to catch the bus to St Cloud State and opted to tough it out. Well, the bus stop is probably 500 feet from my office and I had to stop 4 times to bend over a garbage can or retaining wall before stumbling into my office. My department chairman took a look at me and immediately drove me to the hospital. Once there the admitting nurse looked at me and said, "liver disease."
He was admitted to the hospital where they pumped him full of fluids, did ultrasounds of his innards and took a lot of blood samples. He didn't sleep at all that night.

On Tuesday he got a visit from a worker from the Chemical Dependency Department of the hospital who asked him when he'd had his last drink. He told her that it had been on Sunday. She told him that when he came in on Monday his blood-alcohol level was .22 -- almost three times the legal limit. Marty started to cry.

They stuck a tube into his belly and drained a liter and a half of liquid which they sent to the lab for analysis. Tuesday night he slept, but it was one of the longest nights of his life.
I just had no answers.
Wednesday: more ultrasounds, more IVs, more blood samples... then some good news: the fluid they took showed no signs of cancer, all his hepatitis tests came back negative, all the veins and arteries to his liver were open and flowing, and although his liver was inflamed, there were no clots and it showed no signs of cirrhosis. That was the best news he'd gotten in days.

Meanwhile, however, his blood refused to clot, his magnesium levels were low and a few other items, so they kept running IVs and testing his blood. His arms were black and blue from all the attention they'd been getting.

A couple of CAT scans showed no other damage. A scope down his stomach and a colonoscopy showed no signs of varicose veins, which sometimes occur with liver disease. The doctor said that with time, maybe 6 months or so, Marty's liver would regenerate itself.

The rest of the week was spent getting his hemoglobin count up so that his blood would begin to clot again. By Monday all his levels were in the green and he was discharged.

Now the hard part starts. I cannot drink. Cannot. Cannot. Cannot. Cannot. I drink; I die. And I am limited to 2 grams of sodium a day. So a complete lifestyle change, and day one and two have been a success.
The next time I saw him he looked a little gaunt. He'd lost 70 lbs. off his 300 lb. frame and he looked like a man who had seen a ghost. But he improved, and those of us who know him would probably all agree that he kept improving and it looked like he was going to make a complete recovery.

He quit drinking completely, he cut sodium from his diet and actually started cooking for himself, rather than eating fast food, he started riding his bike again and his doctors said he was showing improvement. In fact, one day I saw him wearing a Buddha-like smile and he told me that his doctor had given him the okay to eat a Reuben sandwich, "It was delicious!"

That was that, Marty was supposed to make a full recovery in time. But that's not what happened.

The week before his death, Robert, his roommate, noticed that he was spending a lot of time lying down in his room, he was moaning to himself, which he would stop doing when he knew Robert was in earshot. He started doing little else than walking between the bathroom and his bedroom, a trip of around 10 feet. Robert had a few conversations with him through his bedroom door. On the Friday before his death, Robert asked him if he was okay and if he should call anyone, Marty replied through the closed door, "I'll be fine, I'm a hard-headed son of a bitch." As far as we know, those were the last words he spoke to anyone.

Several people tried calling him on Saturday, but got only his voice mail. More people tried texting him and received no reply. Robert was one of the ones who called. He tried again on Sunday, Mother's Day, still no answer.

Robert called Knuckles and asked if he could look in on Marty since he hadn't heard from him. Knuckles called me as I sat on my porch on a beautiful Sunday morning

"C'mon, man, it's Marty," I said, "he'll do what he always does on weekends: sleep until 2 PM. We'll see him at the White Horse tonight playing poker. Like always."

Then I got a call from Robert. Kate and I were out of the house and walking down the street to Marty's before we even hung up (their house is a block from ours).

When we got there we found Knuckles, a little frantic and very concerned. The house is a rambler that was built somewhere in the 60s, just like the house I grew up in, and they're not very difficult to break into if you have to. We found a basement window open with a loose screen and Kate, being the skinny one, was able to shimmy through and let us in the side door of the house.

All three of us approached Marty's bedroom door, I think we all expected what came next... we found Marty lying on the floor, face up, naked as the day he was born.

"Oh, my god! MARTY?!" Knuckled shouted.

I knelt down and was going to feel for a pulse in his neck. There was no need, he was cold.

We called 911 and waited for the police to show up. They took statements from each of us as we called person after person, friend after friend, to give them the bad news. Brad came over, as did Rebecca Rose, some other friends showed, too. We all stood there in shock and sadness.

A huge number of people gathered that night at the White Horse to remember our friend. We drank, we laughed, we cried, we stood in silent thought, we sang.

On Monday a group of us gathered to meet his mother and brother and to help them clean up his house.

On Thursday there was a memorial service, the best I've ever been to. People shared stories and memories of Marty. They spoke of friendship and kindness and told amazing and hilarious stories. He touched more lives than I'll bet he knew. Personally, I don't think I've ever met a kinder man.

At this point you may wish to stop reading as the following details may be too much.


I discovered that he died of a ruptured vein in his stomach. Judging by the position his body was in when we found him, I assume that he had gone to the bathroom and was on his way back to bed when the vein burst. He had an instant drop in blood pressure and passed out. He bled to death internally.

That's better than a lingering cancer, I guess, or a million other more nasty ways to die. He passed out and never woke up, and I suppose that's not so bad.


He's the first of my current circle of friends to die and that really puts my own mortality in a harsh light. I'll die, too, one day, but I'm trying my best to make that day be a long time off. I'll miss his laugh, I'll miss his jokes, I'll miss how he genuinely cared and how well he listened. And I'll miss hearing him say whenever he saw me, in his best Mel Blanc gangster voice, "Mugg-say!"

RIP, Martoon. You were truly on of a kind.

Risky Business

on Thursday, April 12, 2012

Have you ever heard of "lane splitting"? Some motorcyclists believe that their small size and agility makes driving in between cars on multi-lane highways an acceptable behavior, especially during traffic jams and slowdowns. In most states such action is illegal, and for good reason. In other states, however, it is perfectly legal. I think it's dangerous and stupid.

The risks are plentiful, any bicycle rider who has gotten "doored", any pedestrian who has been (or nearly been) hit by a driver who looked one way but not the other, any highway driver who has been nearly sideswiped by someone changing lanes can tell you that drivers, for the most part, don't pay attention to things unless they're right in front of them -- and there are a lot of drivers who don't even do that. Any motorcyclist who engages in this behavior is putting their very lives into the hands of other drivers.

Why is lane splitting dangerous? Because of this:

Granted, you can search YouTube and find all sorts of videos of people lane splitting successfully, but this one video is all I need to convince me that it's a stupid, risky behavior. If you engage in lane splitting and you get hit, you're asking for it, and I have no sympathy for you.

That goes for all kinds of risky behavior: play Russian roulette and lose? No sympathy. Use explosives as toys and lose some fingers or a limb? No sympathy. Throw blood in shark infested water, go swimming and get bit? No sympathy. Reach into a fire and then complain that you got burned? No sympathy.

Now, should my lack of sympathy be regarded as advocating the death, dismemberment or injury of motorcycle riders, gun enthusiasts, ocean biologists and campers? No. Not at all. Not even a little. My point is that if you engage recklessly in risky behavior you need to be prepared to accept the possible consequences of your action. The thing with lane splitting is that it's not only the rider who is effected, the driver has to live with it too.

The best thing for motorcyclists, in my opinion, is to stay off the freeways whenever possible. Drivers on the Interstates are idiots and you should minimize your exposure to them. Take back roads whenever you can, monitor your speed, keep your eyes open at all times and don't engage in the risky business of lane splitting. You'll still make it home in time to watch Surviving With The Dancing Stars Factor.

Skeptical Questions That Need To Be Asked

on Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The following is an adaptation of a list from the Rational Enquirer (Vol. 6, No. 4 if you can find it), a now defunct skeptic magazine as near as I can tell. Regardless, it sums up my way of thinking about "mystic woo," such as dowsing, numerology, telekinesis, ESP, UFOs, homeopathy, and any phenomenon that uses the word "psycho" as its prefix, such as psychokinesis and psychoenergetics.

Adherents to the above mentioned pseudo-sciences and their followers will often claim that they have some sort of "proof" of their claims. However, much of what they present is anecdotal at worst or just bad science at best.

These questions need to be asked before a claim can be given any consideration:

  1. Has the subject shown progress?
  2. Does the discipline use technical words such as "vibration" or "energy" without clearly defining what they mean?
  3. Would accepting the tenets of a claim require you to abandon any well established physical laws?
  4. Are popular articles on the subject lacking in references?
  5. Is the only evidence offered anecdotal in nature?
  6. Does the proponent of the subject claim that "air-tight" experiments have been performed that prove the truth of the subject matter, and that cheating would have been impossible?
  7. Are the results of the aforementioned experiments successfully repeated by other researchers?
  8. Does the proponent of the subject claim to be overly or unfairly criticized?
  9. Is the subject taught only in non-credited institutions?
  10. Are the best texts on the subject decades old?
  11. Does the proponent of the claim use what one writer has called "factuals" - statements that are a largely or wholly true but unrelated to the claim?
  12. When criticized, do the defenders of the claim attack the critic rather than the criticism?
  13. Does the proponent make appeals to history (i.e. it has been around a long time, so it must be true)?
  14. Does the subject display the "shyness effect" (sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't)?
  15. Does the proponent use the appeal to ignorance argument ("there are more things under heaven … than are dreamed of in your philosophy …")?
  16. Does the proponent use alleged expertise in other areas to lend weight to the claim?
If an idea fails to come out of that list unscathed it isn't worth considering, in my opinion, and should be rejected. Continued belief in such things is nothing but fooling one's self, and that's not the way I want to live.

Energy and Toxins

on Tuesday, January 10, 2012

One of the things that has always bothered me in the world of "woo" is the bandying about of the terms "energy" and "toxins." Energy, in the world of "woo" is a positive or negative influence, it can effect one's emotions and health, and can have an effect others. A bad day can be attributed to "having bad energy," an illness can be caused by "a blockage of energy flow," and getting picked last for the kickball team can be blamed on either your own "bad energy" or that of the people doing the picking (losing the game could be blamed on "bad energy" on the part of the whole team).  I'll address "toxins" later.

In science, specifically physics, energy is:
...the capacity of a physical system to do "work," the product of a force times the distance through which that force acts. In physics, energy is a term to express the power to move things, either potential or actual. Energy is not a thing itself, but an attribute of something...
-- the Skeptic's Dictionary
Energy is not a substance any more than "mass" or "volume" are, and nothing can be "made of" energy any more than something can be "made of" mass or "made of" volume.

In physics, energy can be measured, calculated and even manipulated and harnessed and it is not measured in terms of "good" or "bad." In the "New Age" world there are no measures, no joules, no footpounds, no volts or calories and it is classified as either "good" or "bad." Also, "New Age" adherents claim that such energy can be "channeled" or "influenced" by such things as crystals, sounds, pyramids and even colored lights.

Let's say that someone goes to a New Age healer and they are subjected to a series of soft, colored lights while they are told to lay motionless with their eyes closed and relax. At the end of the "treatment" they may feel more rested, perhaps more energetic and they get the sense that their "energy" has been "cleansed" or "redirected." But laying down motionless and relaxing with one's eyes closed for a half-hour can elicit the same relaxed and energetic feeling with no colored lights required, it's called taking a nap. The feeling that one's "energy" has been "cleansed" or "redirected" can easily, and more likely, be attributed to both the placebo effect, confirmation bias and good old ignorance -- one believes that colored lights will help so they do. There is no scientific basis for believing that colored lights will do anything, positive or negative, for a persons well being, likewise for crystals, pyramids, and a myriad of other so called "treatments."

"But," say the woo-meisters, "the subtle energies of the universe cannot be measured." Then how do they know they're there? How do they know they are manipulating them? How do they know that it is the manipulation of these "subtle energies" that bring about their desired results and not something as simple as the subject/customer just took a nap? If they want to use terms like "energy" and borrow terms from quantum physics then they have to adhere to the terms and measures defined by quantum physicists.

The subject of "toxins" takes less time to debunk. There are a number of "New Age treatments" that are supposed to "remove toxins from the body." Ear candeling (the burning of hollow candles that are placed, obviously, in the ear), cupping (glass cups are placed on the skin and the air inside is heated), and even foot pads are said to "remove toxins" from one's system. Unfortunately, the exact toxins are rarely or never named nor are they measured, exactly how the candle/cup/foot pad "removes" said "toxins" is never explained and where the supposed "toxins" go is never clarified.

The only way to ascertain whether these "New Age" practices were effective or not would be to first define exactly which "toxins" are going to be removed, to confirm the presence of said "toxins" and their quantity and then to measure them again once treatment was completed. Since no one takes these steps, the claims that the treatments are effective is anecdotal at best.

There is a perfectly sound way of removing toxins from your system however, it's called your liver, kidneys and urinary tract.

"What's the harm?" you may ask. People spend millions of dollars every year on quack cures like ear candeling, light therapy and crystals, and that's their prerogative, but if one person gets sicker or even dies after believing they have been treated by a "New Age" cure, when all they've actually done is waste their money and ignore the actual cause of their illness... well, that's harm a-plenty.