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Welcome to The Secular Gospel According to Jess! In this blog you’ll find everything from cartoons that make me laugh, to quotes that inspire me, to stories of my own personal experience when it comes to dealing with religion and pretty much everything in between. The title of my blog is intended to be ironic, as one doesn’t often hear the word, “gospel”, associated with secularism, but my intent is to preach, for lack of a better word, what I think gospel should really be about: love, rationalism, fairness, equality, human rights, science and truth. Enjoy!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

"The Great Mystery"

People often ask me what I, personally, believe in terms of God, life, death, the universe, and all kinds of other unanswerable questions. What I find myself telling them in reference to God is that it is not the CONCEPT of an unknowable force or "being" that may have played a role in the way things came to be, but solely the idea of God as the ANSWER to that unknowable thing that bothers me and drives me away.

My good friend Rohsler and I were talking about this very idea, and he told me that the Native Americans had a word for God, that translates as "The Great Mystery."

Now THAT is a definition I can work with.

I believe that the earth and its inhabitants have developed over billions of years by a process known as evolution by natural and sexual selection. As to how the earth came into existence in the first place...well, I confess I don't have an answer to that. Most people, especially the religious among us, like to call God that initial "cause" that brought the earth into existence. So far as I'm concerned, a better word (or phrase) for such an explanation is "The Great Mystery."

I like the phrase because while it does suggest that there is a reason for how and/or why the earth came into existence, it describes the process as it truly still remains: a mystery. It does not try to define unanswerable questions with words that only beckon the asking of more.

Monday, February 21, 2011

I stand with Egypt

During the youth protests in Egypt over Hosni Mubarak's corrupt, dictatorship-like rule I came across this message on the Facebook profiles of sadly, more than just one Jew.

Can one of you please get the following message to Egypt:

Please do not destroy the pyramids.

We will not rebuild them.

The Jews

It makes me sad that I am descended from a people who, in the face of a tragedy in Egypt of such political magnitude, they felt that making snide remarks about historical events was appropriate. These protests had absolutely nothing to do with the Jews; they had to do with a people trying to liberate themselves from corruption, from a President who didn't even care whether the citizens of his country had access to food. The Egyptians made history when Mubarak stepped down, therefore upholding the right people have to a Democratic government. The Jews, of all people, should have recognized the plight of the Egyptians during this time as something akin to what the Jews have struggled with throughout their own history. It was a time for the Jews to stand WITH Egypt, not against it. Are we still not beyond ethnic and religious prejudice enough to recognize that?

That is not to say that Egypt's government is supportive of Israel's right to exist, nor that it is not anti-Semitic, and more likely than not, the ruler who comes to power now that Mubarak has stepped down will continue to preach hatred of Israel. I'm glad to hear that probably for as many Jews that were spewing hatred through messages such as the aforementioned one, there were Israelis standing WITH the Egyptians in support of what they've accomplished in the name of democracy, but this fight is far from over, and truthfully, it may never be. It may be too soon to count on Egypt for support of Israel, but snide comments do nothing to help the situation. The people of Egypt have shown what they can accomplish. Maybe if the Jews continue to stand along with the Egyptians they can show their government that supporting Israel, or at the very least, a neutral attitude towards Israel, is what it should strive for in the future.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

I require no servant

My atheism, like that of Spinoza, is true piety towards the universe and denies only gods fashioned by men in their own image, to be servants of their human interests.
-George Santayana

Enjoy it while you can

It must require an inordinate share of vanity and presumption after enjoying so much that is good and beautiful on earth, to ask the Lord for immortality in addition to it all.
-Heinrich Heine

Teaching Creationism in Public Schools

Here is a paper that I wrote for my Publicity Workshop class at New York's Fashion Institute of Technology. We were instructed to pick an issue that has inspired a lot of debate and argue, as a Public Relations firm would, in defense of one side of the issue.

Topic: Should Creationism be taught in public schools?
Stance: No, it should not.

The men responsible for the establishment of the Constitution of the United States of America explicitly stated that The United States was not a Christian nation, and was in no way erected on Christian ideals. Moreover, nowhere does it say that America was founded on religious principles belonging to any particular religious faith. The First Amendment to the Constitution mandates the separation of Church and State, therefore requiring that public schools do not teach that one religion is superior to any other religion or that religion is superior to a secular lifestyle.

Creationism, creation science and intelligent design are ideas that are based on varying interpretations of the Bible. It was judged to be not a true science because it could never be falsified. This means that it was firmly held as a religious belief by its adherents and that no amount of contradictory physical evidence could change it. Consequently, any attempt to replace or even to supplement the teaching of evolution in public schools with Creationism would have the effect of advancing religious views. This, naturally, is unconstitutional. If our goal is to protect the right and ability of students to learn science that is not molded by religious doctrine, we must fulfill the promise and purpose of the First Amendment.

The theory of evolution is a fundamental concept of biology and it is supported by an overwhelming amount of scientific evidence. In fact, statistics show us that 95% of the general scientific community and 99% of scientists in the fields of biology and earth science accept the theory. Conversely, a 2008 Gallup Poll indicated that 44% of all American citizens believe that God “created life more or less in its present form less than 10,000 years ago” (Dawkins). This statistic alone shows us how far we have to go in terms of educating our youth about the theories that, after having undergone the scrutiny required for them to hold up under the scientific method, are still widely accepted. Simply eliminating evolution from the public school curriculum in order to ease community tensions would do a great disservice to all students. It would deny public school students an adequate science education, the need for which is becoming an absolute necessity for success in our high-tech world. According to the aforementioned statistics, the percentage of children who are receiving a scientific education of adequate caliber is only 56%. This earns the United States a failing grade, and to continue teaching Creationism as a viable alternative to evolution will prevent this percentage from increasing anytime soon.

It isn’t that “creation science” should not be taught at all. To be fair, the stories inherent to religion have a place when discussed in the proper context. Examining creation from a philosophical or allegorical perspective can certainly be positive for students, but there are churches and Sunday schools and Bible study classes where students can learn about it. The public school classroom is not the place. In fact, according to B.A. Robinson, “…this approach [to not teach creationism in public schools] makes sense and is ultimately good for religion because it leaves religious instruction to parents and to properly trained clergy. It also keeps government out of religious controversies, preserves quality science education, and ensures that public school classrooms remain hospitable to an ethnically diverse and religiously pluralistic society.” Children of all different religious faiths and belief systems attend public schools, and creation is not a story that is relevant to all of them. Evolution by natural and sexual selection, however, is indeed relevant. We are all products of it and it is the best method available to us in order to help us understand the world.

The Constitution refuses to acknowledge the United States as a government that upholds one religion over another because religion is not quantifiable. It is impossible to draw conclusions that would support one religion being better or truer than another. This is why we have freedom of religion in our country. A Dover School board member in Dover, Pennsylvania tried to make the same argument in relation to the theory of evolution. The board member said: “it’s a downright fraud to perpetrate on the students of this district to portray one theory over another [when it comes to the teaching of evolution as opposed to creation science].” Unfortunately, this is like comparing apples to oranges. While religion may not be quantifiable, the scientific method is, and evolution is a theory that holds up much better than Creation. The goal should not be to teach all ways of thinking about an issue; the goal should be to teach the best way of thinking about it, and right now, evolution is it.
Richard Dawkins, The Greatest Show on Earth

Monday, February 14, 2011

The Anti-Defamation League

The Anti-Defamation League was founded in 1913 "to stop the defamation of the Jewish people and to secure justice and fair treatment to all." Now the nation's premier civil rights/human relations agency, ADL fights anti-Semitism and all forms of bigotry, defends democratic ideals and protects civil rights for all.

A leader in the development of materials, programs and services, ADL builds bridges of communication, understanding and respect among diverse groups, carrying out its mission through a network of 30 Regional and Satellite Offices in the United States and abroad.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

25 Creationists' Arguments, 25 Evolutionists' Answers


Theory and fact

Evolution is a theory. It is also a fact. And facts and theories are different things, not rungs in a hierarchy of increasing certainty. Facts are the world's data. Theories are structures of ideas that explain and interpret facts. Facts do not go away when scientists debate rival theories to explain them. Einstein's theory of gravitation replaced Newton's, but apples did not suspend themselves in mid-air, pending the outcome. And humans evolved from ape-like ancestors whether they did so by Darwin's proposed mechanism or by some other yet to be discovered.
—Stephen Jay Gould

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

I came across this in the New York Times

This is exactly the type of story that confirms me in my belief that religion can be extremely dangerous. Thankfully the world isn't full of people who consider faith healing to be a viable solution to problems such as bacterial pneumonia in infants, but I think what disturbs me most about this article is the fact that the parents were sentenced to PROBATION and "ordered to ensure regular medical care for their seven surviving children", when a more appropriate charge would have been child abuse and neglect. These parents let their 2 year old son suffer for two full weeks, ignoring an obvious medical condition that was not improving on its own. I am deeply disturbed that bringing religion into the issue seems to have downgraded the crime and resulted in a punishment of probation because the parents had no "intent" of neglecting and killing their child, even though it was exactly what had happened.

This is a lesson in what brainwashing can do to people. It is sad mostly because the parents thought what they were doing was right.