Hip-Gnosis: July 2007: Archives

July 31, 2007

Is Treating The Indigent A Measure Of Morality? genre: Hip-Gnosis & Little Red Ribbon-Hood & Six Degrees of Speculation

Medicine And Morality

A popular topic of debate between people of faith and those who do not believe in a deity centers on moral behavior and the motivations that influence people to act appropriately. Many believers argue that in the absence of god, civility would evaporate since the fear of god serves to keep people's unsavory inclinations in check.

Non-believers of course disagree and cite numerous examples of improprieties committed under the guise of divine inspiration as well as great acts of altruism executed by those who denied the existence of god.

Every now and again a piece of research into actual human behavior is released which provides some scientific measure of relevance to the debate...as well as some intriguing insight into the complexities of human nature. Such a study, conducted by the University of Chicago, is being reported by Reuters.

CHICAGO (Reuters) - U.S. physicians who identify themselves as religious are no more likely to care for poor, underserved patients than those who have no religious affiliation, researchers have found.

The study suggests doctors in the United States who see religion as a "master motive in their lives" are not more likely to care for the poor than others.

"Religious physicians are not disproportionately caring for the underserved," Dr. Farr Curlin, of the University of Chicago, said in a telephone interview on Monday.

Curlin, who considers himself religious, said he undertook the study because many religions include a call to serve the poor.

"I was curious about whether doctors who are more formed in their religious beliefs are more likely to take care of patients who are poor," said Curlin, whose study appears in the Annals of Family Medicine.

What they found was physicians who were deemed more religious as reflected by intrinsic religiosity or frequency of attendance of religious services were not more likely to report caring for underserved patient populations -- those that tended to be poor, uninsured or on Medicaid, the federal program for the poor.

"It suggests, I think, that when doctors are making the connection between being people of faith and the practice of medicine, that connection does not seem to lead them ... to an added commitment to caring for the underserved," Curlin said.

I realize that one study is far from conclusive but it begins to confirm what non-believers have argued for many years...that morality is not the exclusive domain of those who assert a belief in god. Further, the fact that one may report to be religious may not necessarily indicate that one's actions will be altruistic or morally superior.

In my opinion, one of the key identifying traits found in many who report a belief in god is a certainty about what is and isn't moral...regardless of their ability to uphold that morality. Further, such beliefs frequently lead these individuals to feel comfortable in making judgments about others; with particular attention paid to those who do not believe.

Granted, the above statement involves a degree of generalization...and while I feel comfortable in making the anecdotal observation...by no means am I suggesting that all believers act accordingly...just as I don't believe that all atheists act with a definitive consistency.

Nonetheless, the study suggests that acts of altruism are not dependent upon religious faith and, as such, it serves to invalidate the notion that immorality would ensue in the absence of a prevailing belief in god.

As I've previously argued here at Thought Theater, morality born of a fear of god may well be a lesser morality than that which is chosen voluntarily without fear. Ultimately, what resides in the heart of the individual is the essence of the individual...and it no doubt supersedes whatever we may choose to self-report. Perhaps that simply affirms what has been stated for years, "Actions speak louder than words".

Lastly, the study reinforces an argument I've made on a number of occasions with regard to issues of morality. Morality lived is far superior to morality espoused. As such, acts of altruism need not be motivated by a belief in god or a fear thereof. A simple belief in the sanctity of our fellow human beings can and should be ample motivation.

I'll close by taking liberty with a well known saying reserved for those in the medical field...one that should arguably hold true for all of us...and one that I'm suggesting is relevant to people of faith, "Christian, heal thy self".

Tagged as: Atheism, Christianity, Healthcare, Morality, Physician, Poverty, Religion

Daniel DiRito | July 31, 2007 | 3:23 PM | link | Comments (0)
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July 30, 2007

Out Of Focus...On The Family genre: Gaylingual & Hip-Gnosis & Uncivil Unions

Out Of Focus

Occasionally, I like to see what the Christianists are up to and what they have to say about current topics of interest. Today I was treated to some of the best rhetoric I've heard in a long while...and I just had to share.

The folks over at Focus on the Family have two articles of interest posted on their website. Mr. Dobson runs a mean propaganda machine and these two offerings won't disappoint the flock. I hope you'll enjoy them as much as I did.

Marriage Down, Cohabitation Up

Expert says the U.S. is near a tipping point.

Marriage is declining, according to the annual “State of our Unions" report. The study from Rutgers' National Marriage Project also shows cohabitation is sharply on the rise.

David Popenoe, the report's author, said the long-term trends do not look very optimistic.

“You’re going to see it in children being kind of aimless, shiftless, having relationship problems," he said. “They grow up into adults who don’t marry, cohabit, have instability of relationships – basically, it’s a tragedy."

Carrie Gordon Earll, senior director of issue analysis at Focus on the Family Action, said the study reflects the self-centeredness of today’s culture.

OK, so children of people who live together...as opposed to children living with parents who have a document stating that they are married...are "aimless" and "shiftless" and "have instability of relationships". Wow! Who would have known?

Now you'll have to excuse my skepticism but I'm slightly confused since I've known "aimless" and "shiftless" people who were married...came from married parents...and attended church on a regular basis. If I were to use the same reasoning found in this article, couldn't I offer the exact same hypothesis for children from married parents?

On the simple basis of logic, the assertion is absurd. Drawing a correlation between marriage and the attributes mentioned by Mr. Popenoe would be akin to me arguing that marriage is bad since the vast majority of homosexuals are the product of heterosexual relationships. Hmm...I guess that should lead me to be in favor of family values, eh?

The second article may be even better.

U.S. Votes to Accept Gay UN NGOs

The United Nations has accepted two radical gay-rights groups as official non-governmental organizations, or NGO’s. The vote to include them was made against the recommendation of a UN-panel. In favor: The United States.

The Swedish Federation for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Rights and the Gay and Lesbian Coalition of Quebec are now officially able to have input into United Nations policy. Samantha Songson of the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute says the head of the Canadian group is wasting no time in spreading his message.

The U.S. was among the nations that voted for the groups’ inclusion. Thomas Jacobson of Focus on the Family says it’s been U.S. policy since last year.

“There was a decision made that the US would support non-governmental organizations that were homosexual and lesbian based as long as there were not direct connections to pedophilia."

“They can do enormous damage. The primary battles that we’ve had for years at the UN are over sexual issues and over the construct of the family."

Huh?! So the United States government decided they could support LGBT NGO's if they weren't connected to pedophilia? I guess I missed the debate and discussion of this topic within the government of the United States as well as the press release that reported on this interesting decision.

I guess that must mean that the U.S. government wouldn't support the Catholic Church or the Vatican having any influence at the United Nations. After all, they allowed rampant pedophilia to exist for decades. Perhaps I'm wrong but the Pope routinely has a voice at the UN...maybe he gets an exception because of his Christian beliefs.

I certainly hope this also means that the government will object to NGO's that are affiliated with any church whose spiritual leader has committed adultery or hired male prostitutes for clandestine sexual encounters. It just wouldn't be good practice to allow such people to have a voice on the world stage.

Frankly, this is the kind of crap that organizations like Focus on the Family like to disseminate to their followers. Much like the Bush administration, they believe that if they repeat erroneous information often enough, people will start to believe it to be true. Isn't there a commandment that condemns that type of behavior?

Perhaps god grants exceptions to those who lie and deceive in the name of promoting family values and Christian living? I'm sure it must make perfect sense to Mr. Dobson...given his affinity for divinity.

They say god works in mysterious ways...so I guess his followers are simply doing the work of the lord when they encourage the perpetuation of more shiftless Christians. Yea, that's the ticket.

Tagged as: Christianity, Family Values, Focus on the Family, James Dobson, LGBT, Religion, United Nations

Daniel DiRito | July 30, 2007 | 5:44 PM | link | Comments (0)
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The GOP Dilemma: "Pro-Life For Hire" Candidates? genre: Hip-Gnosis & Polispeak & Six Degrees of Speculation

Pro-Life Or Pro-Choice

They say it’s not nice to enjoy the misfortune of others...and while I generally support that notion...when it comes to politics, I'm willing to make some exceptions. I have to confess that a New York Times article discussing the predicament facing the Republican Party in the 2008 presidential election with regards to the issue of abortion makes me happy.

That is not to say that the issue of abortion should make anyone happy; rather it is to say that I'm pleased that GOP voters are having to confront the issue with a level of practicality that has been absent from their equation for many years. I find the potential for lessening the influence of absolutism a welcome change.

Six months before the Iowa caucuses, abortion opponents are trying to adjust to a strikingly different political landscape. For the first time in a generation, they face in Rudolph W. Giuliani, the former mayor of New York, a front-runner for the Republican nomination who supports abortion rights.

Most of the Republican candidates are scrambling to demonstrate both their anti-abortion credentials and their ability to win. Phyllis Schlafly, the conservative stalwart, said she sensed “concerns" at the grass roots about all the candidates at the front of the pack.

What many abortion opponents say they crave these days is certainty. Analysts say the Supreme Court could now be just a vote or two away from a major rollback of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision declaring a constitutional right to abortion. But the next president will be crucial.

Hadley Arkes, a professor at Amherst College and a leading social conservative legal thinker, said he had recently gotten “feelers" from some in the Giuliani camp. But Mr. Arkes, an opponent of abortion, said he could not fathom a way the party could nominate Mr. Giuliani and remain the same “pro-life" party it has been for 25 years.

“You change the constituency of the party," Mr. Arkes said — either by showing that anti-abortion voters are not necessary to win, or by showing that anti-abortion voters are willing to subsume their cause to other issues.

Even so, Andrew Kohut, president of the Pew Research Center, said recent poll analysis suggested that some anti-abortion voters may be willing to consider that possibility.

For far too long the issue of abortion has been characterized as an all or nothing construct...one that ignores the realities of the human condition and that places an unwarranted emphasis on one narrow aspect of morality...which often disregards numerous other concerns deserving of consideration and attention.

I understand the argument made by those opposed to virtually all abortions and I realize that their beliefs are not apt to allow for some degree of flexibility. Notwithstanding, those beliefs do not comport with reality and if the 2008 election can force a meaningful dialogue that leads to the entertainment of some reconsideration, then I'm all for it.

Those opposed to abortion are frequently opposed to contraception, against comprehensive sex education, and in favor of abstinence pledges as a means to combat unwanted pregnancies...and the immorality they attach to sexuality. Portraying sex as wrong and immoral, in my opinion, contributes to the problem. Instead of giving young people a healthy perspective on sexuality, it promotes deceit and denial...both of which establish sex as a forbidden pleasure rather than as an expression of love.

If the 2008 election can serve as an impetus to change this antiquated construct and signal the beginning of the end to this virtual demonization of sex, perhaps we will have turned the corner on thirty years of the politics of regression and repression. I'm all for finding ways to reduce the number of abortions...but not by adopting the mentality of moral measurement and criminal consequence that has permeated the Republican Party.

If the current GOP candidates fall short of the ingrained standard, perhaps it will force fundamentalists to consider the views of those they routinely discount as inadequate and intolerable. Unfortunately, I'm afraid many Christian conservatives are going to have to be led to this newly emerging reality kicking and screaming.

In the meantime, pardon me for taking pleasure in the contortions that will inevitably illuminate the intransigence that has dominated the issue. My sarcastic side wants to watch the GOP candidates prostitute themselves to a constituency that seems to abhor all things remotely sexual. Indeed, before it’s over, it should make for some rather strange bedfellows. Rather tawdry, don't you think?

Image courtesy of MSNBC

Tagged as: 2008 Presidential Election, Abortion, Giuliani, GOP, Religion, Roe v. Wade, Romney, Sexuality, Thompson

Daniel DiRito | July 30, 2007 | 11:54 AM | link | Comments (0)
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July 27, 2007

Richard Dawkins Interviewed On The Hour genre: Hip-Gnosis & Video-Philes

The following video is from an appearance by Richard Dawkins on The Hour. The program begins with host George Stroumboulopoulos providing a biographical look at Dawkins and his views on religion.

In the interview Dawkins discusses his book, The God Delusion, and what motivated him to write the book. Dawkins posits that religion leads people astray with myths and stories that have little basis in truth.

Dawkins also discusses the benefits that people believe they receive from religion and though he understands the dynamic, he feels religion often leads people to ignore the discernable truths that exist in the modern world.

Part One

Part Two

Tagged as: God, Religion, Richard Dawkins, Science, The Hour

Daniel DiRito | July 27, 2007 | 12:15 PM | link | Comments (1)
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July 24, 2007

James Dobson: Harry Potter Dangerous To Children genre: Hip-Gnosis & Six Degrees of Speculation

Ties That Bind

Thank goodness James Dobson of Focus on the Family is looking out for the interests of the world's children. In a statement posted on the organizations web site, Dobson corrects a report by the Washington Post that suggested he approved of the Harry Potter book series. The statement from Dobson follows below.

Dr. James Dobson wants all friends of Focus on the Family to know about an error involving him that appeared on Page 1 of Wednesday's Washington Post. In a story about Christians' views on the Harry Potter books and films, reporter Jacqueline Salmon wrote that "Christian parenting guru James Dobson has praised the Potter books."

This is the exact opposite of Dr. Dobson's opinion — in fact, he said a few years ago on his daily radio broadcast that "We have spoken out strongly against all of the Harry Potter products." His rationale for that statement: Magical characters — witches, wizards, ghosts, goblins, werewolves, poltergeists and so on — fill the Harry Potter stories, and given the trend toward witchcraft and New Age ideology in the larger culture, it's difficult to ignore the effects such stories (albeit imaginary) might have on young, impressionable minds.

I wonder if Dobson is opposed to children attending the zoo...what with all those lions and tigers and bears...oh my! Plus I would suspect that James Dobson would find the zoo to be a poor representation of Noah's Arc. I'm sure he would rather they visit the Creation Museum.

Apparently Dobson prefers that children only embrace the magical stories found in the Bible. If anyone is going to fill children's head with fanciful imagery, Dobson prefers it be his organization and their brand of absolutist ideology.

I wonder if Dobson thinks children's imaginations are inherently evil and need to be extinguished...or if he simply wants to dictate what inhabits their imaginations. The notion that a book containing characters with magical powers will lead children to embrace witchcraft seems rather outrageous.

In my opinion, Dobson's opposition to the Harry Potter books only demonstrates the degree to which men of his ilk would go to control those in their fold. What a disgusting example of obtuse and overbearing opining.

Tagged as: Bible, Evangelical, Focus on the Family, Harry Potter, James Dobson, Witchcraft

Daniel DiRito | July 24, 2007 | 2:07 PM | link | Comments (2)
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July 22, 2007

Richard Dawkins Explains His Views On God & Truth genre: Hip-Gnosis & Video-Philes

In the following video clip, Richard Dawkins, the author of The God Delusion, speaks about his views on god and truth and his lofty goal of persuading people to understand that there is nothing wrong with disbelief...that it is a reasonable position to hold.

He touches on the comfort a belief in god can provide as well as the danger it can present when one thinks that one is being directed by a divine being. In that regard, he references George Bush's thoughts on the war in Iraq and the fact that many evangelicals actually seek the end of the world since it is the promise of the return of Jesus Christ.

Tagged as: Atheism, Religion, Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion

Daniel DiRito | July 22, 2007 | 4:08 PM | link | Comments (0)
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July 21, 2007

Hitchens Offers An Explanation Of Anti-Theism genre: Hip-Gnosis & Video-Philes

Christopher Hitchens has appeared on numerous programs and forums following the release of his latest book, God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything.

The following video clips are the second half of a two part Thought Theater posting of a panel discussion including Hitchen's views on atheism...or what he prefers to call anti-theism. The first half can be found here.

I have seen Hitchens on a number of programs and, in my opinion, this may be his most educational comments on the subject. Anyone seeking to understand the basis of Hitchens' thoughts on god and religion would benefit from viewing this program.

Part Four

Part Five

Tagged as: Atheism, Christopher Hitchens, God, Religion

Daniel DiRito | July 21, 2007 | 8:37 AM | link | Comments (0)
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July 20, 2007

Can An Atheist Be Elected President Of The USA? genre: Hip-Gnosis & Polispeak & Six Degrees of Speculation

Conventional wisdom suggests that an atheist could not be elected president of the United States despite the fact that our constitution grants no fewer rights to those who do not believe in a higher being. I find that improbability rather troubling since most atheists have no fundamental objection to those who do believe in god. In fact, by and large, atheists vote for theists in virtually all elections even though they may not hold such beliefs.

The obvious question is why would this be the case? BBC News explores the question in a new article. I’ve always found the European perspective rather insightful if for no other reason than they tend to be amused by our somewhat strict adherence to connecting religion and politics…something that many inhabitants of European countries take for granted and assume that it would not and should not occur.

In the last election, President George W Bush, a born-again Christian, won the support of the vast majority of evangelicals, while his Democratic opponent John Kerry talked as little as possible about his own Catholicism.

But in the crowded field of candidates this time, it is the Democrats who are finding it easier to describe how their faith in Jesus informs their political beliefs and experience.

Three of the Republican candidates at a recent primary debate were happy to admit that they did not believe in Darwinian evolution, due to their Biblically-founded beliefs.

So what lies behind the new Democratic candidates' confidence in professing their faith in public? Is it just a question of - in effect - playing the "God card" with a view to peeling off as many evangelicals as possible?

But in purely electoral terms, there is a danger for Democratic candidates in lunging too far towards the faithful, and away from the secular, non-religious voter.

John Green is the senior fellow in religion and American politics at the Pew Forum, in Washington DC. He said: "It's possible that too much talk of religion might drive those votes away."

I tend to agree with Green and might even take the thought a step further. I suspect that the 2008 election will mark a shift away from faith based politics as many voters will be suspicious of those who attempt to capitalize on the subject in order to win voter support.

That skepticism will likely come from both the liberal left and the religious right. I say as much because the left has found the politics of faith to be very divisive and some on the right feel that the actions of their elected officials failed to match the campaign rhetoric.

Given that prospect, I think it is safe to argue that 2008 will usher in a sea change in the dynamics of U.S. politics. While I don’t expect those on the religious right to be any less focused on their issues; I do think they may find themselves with a choice of lesser evils rather than another candidate cut from the George Bush born again evangelical cloth.

At the same time, I would caution Democratic candidates to avoid too much of a shift towards faith and a focus on moving further right on values issues in order to appeal to more independent voters as well as secular Republicans. My hunch is that the independents that supported Democrats in 2006 will continue to be concerned about the war in Iraq and the image of the United States in the world…an image that many believe was jeopardized by the words and actions of a president who sought to characterize his authority as an adherence to a “theological perspective".

On Capitol Hill, it is a sign of just how important religion is to US politics that only one member of Congress has ever admitted to being an atheist - and that admission came just a few months ago.

The BBC's Heart and Soul programme visited Democratic Congressman Pete Stark, of California, in his busy ground-floor office, to find out what reaction there had been to his declaration.

He said the vast majority of e-mails he had received were from secularists around the world, praising his courage, and most of the critical response had been from Christians who said they "felt sorry" for his inability to embrace God.

On the presidential race, he had blunt advice: "Who can say more rosaries than the next person in a certain given amount of time, hardly seems to me, to be a qualification.

"I'd like to hear much more specifics about how they plan to get us universal health care," he said.

I think Congressman Stark’s views will mirror the views of many voters in 2008 especially if the issues that led to a Democratic sweep in 2006 continue to plague the country…something that seems to be likely given the President’s ever advancing ideological absolutism. The fact that polls show a strong dissatisfaction with Congressional performance indicates the degree to which voters want change.

It also affirms the anger that was included in the message they delivered in 2006. Any significant deviation from those relevant issues will not be met with favor and overlaying the discussion with an air of religious rhetoric will only accelerate the anger and frustration that is palpable in the electorate.

In the US, where freedom to practise religion - or to have no religion at all - is enshrined in the constitution, the consequences of being an atheist are electorally dire for anybody seeking public office.

Until a few years ago, the Colorado businessman Dave Habecker had served on his local town council for 13 years.

One of his fellow councillors successfully introduced the reciting of the national pledge of allegiance - in response to the Iraq war - as a sign of support for US troops, said Mr Habecker.

Ever since the mid-1950s, the pledge has contained the phrase "Under God" and at the height of the anti-communist era, US bank notes were also changed to include the inscription: "In God We Trust".

Mr Habecker refused to stand and recite the pledge, and after being branded unpatriotic, was forced to enter a fresh election contest to remove him from office. He lost by some 300 votes.

"Deep down they know that I was removed for my religious beliefs, which is anti-American. We brag about being the freest country in the world. Why do we coerce our citizens to stand and recite a pledge of allegiance? It's a paradox."

While it may be virtually impossible to survive in office without faith in a supreme being, it remains to be seen how successful the Democratic Party's new confidence in the power of personal testimony will prove to be with a divided and volatile electorate.

While Habecker may have been ill-advised to object to the pledge of allegiance, his actions should not be construed as a repudiation of his patriotism or his love of his country. In fact, his choice to object to the religious inferences in the pledge was in fact an expression of all that this nation was founded upon…a freedom to believe as one chooses without the loss of the liberties afforded by the Constitution and the Bill Of Rights.

America is a fine nation and an example of the value of freedom…but the fact that
Mr. Habecker would be removed from office for exercising his freedom suggests that we have yet to achieve the potential our forefathers likely envisioned.

I have no idea if or when an atheist might be elected to the presidency. At the same time, until the issue of one’s belief or disbelief is irrelevant to the decision making process, I believe it is safe to conclude that America will be viewed as an anomaly by those who have moved beyond the bias that can accompany a belief in god.

Tagged as: 2008 Election, Atheism, BBC News, John Green, President

Daniel DiRito | July 20, 2007 | 1:36 PM | link | Comments (0)
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July 19, 2007

The Daily Show On Recent Headline Topics genre: Hip-Gnosis & Tongue-In-Cheek & Video-Philes

Jon Stewart and Samantha Bee cover the latest headlines with The Daily Show's typical irreverence. In the first clip, Stewart gives the viewer a primer on the appointment of James Holsinger as Surgeon General...including some insight into the plumbing metaphor.

In the second clip, Stewart explains how the Catholic Church's settlement of the sex abuse claims in the Los Angeles Archdiocese will be resolved. Apparently, the money will be distributed based upon an evaluation of the nature of the sexual abuse...or as Stewart suggests, everyone will have to report to the claims adjuster for a determination.

In the final clip, Samantha Bee gives us an update from LA on the reaction to the huge sex abuse settlement. Her report is offered in a format reminiscent of an E! for "entertainment" segment. Her report also includes some "statistical" information on the most popular religions in the Los Angeles area.

Silencing The Surgeon General

Hot & Fathered - Cardinal Mahoney & Sexual Abuse

Samantha Bee On The LA Molestation Settlement

Daniel DiRito | July 19, 2007 | 9:31 AM | link | Comments (0)
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July 18, 2007

Brooks, Douthat, & Ponnuru On Bush's Big Ideas genre: Hip-Gnosis & Just Jihad & Polispeak & Six Degrees of Speculation

Big Ideas

The other day David Brooks wrote about the President’s belief that freedom is a god given right and that our efforts to democratize Iraq and advance the spread of freedom around the world is a principled position. Brooks suggests that this belief serves to motivate an otherwise declining presidency.

Since Brooks’ piece appeared in the New York Times, the debate in the blogosphere has focused upon two prevailing premises. One is the existence of god and this presumed promise of freedom and the other is the degree to which the United States was founded upon that very precept.

From The New York Times:

Bush is convinced that history is moving in the direction of democracy, or as he said Friday: “It’s more of a theological perspective. I do believe there is an Almighty, and I believe a gift of that Almighty to all is freedom. And I will tell you that is a principle that no one can convince me that doesn’t exist."

Conservatives are supposed to distrust government, but Bush clearly loves the presidency. Or to be more precise, he loves leadership. He’s convinced leaders have the power to change societies. Even in a place as chaotic as Iraq, good leadership makes all the difference.

Tolstoy had a very different theory of history. Tolstoy believed great leaders are puffed-up popinjays. They think their public decisions shape history, but really it is the everyday experiences of millions of people which organically and chaotically shape the destiny of nations — from the bottom up.

If Bush’s theory of history is correct, the right security plan can lead to safety, the right political compromises to stability. But if Tolstoy is right, then the future of Iraq is beyond the reach of global summits, political benchmarks and the understanding of any chief executive.

Frankly, I find Brooks’ article troubling evidence of the growing need to marry religion and politics into a virtually irrefutable equation for governance. Let me be clear…I have no objection to politicians holding religious beliefs. Notwithstanding, I have huge reservations when those religious beliefs are allowed to form the basis for justifying policies and actions that have been demonstrated to fail on their own merit.

In other words, I reject those who suggest that history is more a function of divine destiny driven by “deciders" who simply need time and determination to convince, persuade, or impose god’s vision. While that model can be found to have been employed at various junctures in human history, it has also been fraught with violence and intransigent imposition. That approach stands in direct opposition to a measured dialogue amongst disparate doctrinaires who each profess to have societal success as their primary goal…which is then ultimately decided by those who elect the preferred social contract and choose to enact and live under a structure that acts accordingly.

In simple terms the latter is, in many ways, an affirmation of the Tolstoy philosophy and evidence that the views of the many will almost always exceed the visions of the few…a view that is logically based upon an acknowledgment that those humans espousing a divine inspiration are instead more than likely delusional and desirous of the power reserved for a deity…hence they co-opt that authority and set out to achieve that objective.

Worse still, the means which they’re willing to employ will frequently discount the worth of those who disagree such that humans are artificially partitioned into subsets that are defined as good and bad, right and wrong…all of which defies the very freedom and equality supposedly intended by the supreme being.

In that regard, the invocation of a higher being to determine the interactions of human beings simply becomes another means of manipulating the masses. The promise of freedom therefore emanates from an acknowledgment by all humans that all humans are entitled to it…not from one human dictating it to all others. Democracy by dictation is not freedom just as dictation by democracy is not freedom…regardless of an assertion that it comes from a higher source.

Ross Douthat was outraged at the Bush notion that suggests our actions in Iraq are an attempt to transform god’s promise of freedom into a promise of universal democracy. Douthat points out that while the belief that freedom is a gift from god is consistent with Christian principles, it is, by no means, a political construct.

In response to Douthat, Ramesh Ponnuru takes umbrage to Douthat’s assertion that the Bush doctrine is neither conservative nor Christian…stating that while a liberty promoting foreign policy may not be a conservative concept and while Christians are not compelled to believe as much, “it is a commonplace observation in the context of American political history."

I understand Ponnuru’s scholarly position, but I think he may misunderstand Douthat’s issue with the Bush doctrine. No doubt one can trace our historical belief in a god-given freedom…but conversely, one would be hard pressed to cite those historical instances whereby our actions as a nation began with a belief that we needed to preemptively export our beliefs and then set out to do so as a matter of foreign policy. In fact, our actions supporting the notion of a god-given freedom have primarily been exercised when other human beings sought to limit those freedoms either at home or abroad. We acted out of obligation to uphold a belief; not to implement or impose that vision upon those who currently don’t embrace as much.

Granted, the United States has enacted clandestine efforts to usurp regimes that routinely limited the freedoms of its citizenry. However, those actions were primarily motivated by the perceived threat that those in positions of authority in such countries posed to our way of life (they sought to remove our freedoms). On the other hand, in most instances, if a freedom denying regime posed no threat to the United States, we had no design on becoming the purveyors of freedom for those living under such conditions…nor did we see it as our obligation…especially an obligation that was divinely derived or for that matter from any other legitimately ascertained reason.

I think the relevant issue is to understand the role our benevolent beliefs played in our interactions with the world…regardless of their origin. I say as much because one would be hard pressed to argue that our benevolent actions were solely the result of those individuals in this country who held Christian beliefs.

Perhaps it comes down to nothing more than the unresolved chicken/egg conundrum…meaning it would be difficult to determine if our national origin and our identity emanated from our belief in freedom or from our Christian beliefs that endorsed freedom. Keep in mind that our formation didn’t result from oppression by a godless nation…it resulted from our displeasure with a freedom limiting…though Christian nation.

Hence, I would suggest that freedom and democracy are not fundamentally Christian concepts. Yes, they can be Christian concepts but history also suggests that a belief in god did not always equate with the granting of freedom. At the same time, democracy has almost exclusively had freedom as its fundamental construct…and that a’priori belief in freedom exists regardless of any god-given notion of freedom or human rights. In fact, democracy and/or freedom are, despite Ponnuru’s assertion to the contrary, human constructs that were derived from human experience. Perhaps the application of god to those beliefs serves to reinforce their worthiness but it by no means served to create them. We have human rights because we choose them.

In fact, our founding structure suggests as much. Our fundamental documents placed freedom before faith while acknowledging the value of faith to the individual though recognizing the threat it posed to the unbiased application of freedom by the state. The origin of our republic culminated from an understanding that the application of absolute religious doctrine would likely serve to undermine the equitable distribution of freedom.

George W. Bush has a propensity to disregard this essential distinction and in so doing his actions erode our most fundamental freedoms…the right to self-determination and the right to choose.

In the end, when George Bush places faith front and center, he once again injects someone’s arbitrary interpretation of god’s will between one human being and another and he begins a process of dividing…a process that values imposition over independence; doctrine over dialogue; and rhetoric over reality. We simply cannot allow this to continue.

Daniel DiRito | July 18, 2007 | 4:08 PM | link | Comments (0)
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July 17, 2007

Vatican On LA Sex Scandal: Misery Loves Company genre: Hip-Gnosis & Six Degrees of Speculation

Priest Abuse Scandal

The day after the Los Angeles Archdiocese agreed to a settlement of $660 million dollars in the lawsuit alleging a pattern of sexual abuse on children by members of the clergy, the Vatican spoke out on the issue. Some forty plus years after a concerted effort to hide the illegal actions of numerous priests throughout the United States, the Vatican asserted its desire to lead the fight against pedophilia.

In my cynical view, it is hard to accept the latest mea culpa and to believe that it would have been issued had the Church been successful in hiding the abuse for another forty years. Further, in the statement released by the Vatican, the Church sought to point out that they were not alone in needing to address the problem...suggesting that other institutions needed to step forward and take responsibility.

Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi spoke to Vatican Radio after the Los Angeles archdiocese reached a $660 million settlement with more than 500 alleged victims of clergy sex abuse, the largest-ever U.S. payout.

"The church is obviously above all saddened by the suffering of the victims and their families, by the profound wounds caused by the inexcusable and grave behavior of various church members, and is determined to commit itself in every way to prevent the repetition of such wickedness," he said.

However, he said, other institutions should also take similar responsibility.

"They too should take decisions and necessary measures," he said, without naming any institutions.

Regardless, Lombardi said the church would lead "the fight against pedophilia, which today involves growing sectors of society in many countries of the world."

Is it possible that drawing others into the mess is an act of moral relativism...a misery loves company rationalization? Maybe I should be more forgiving but it seems to me that the Vatican's apology would have been more powerful if it hadn't also asked everyone to jump into the "prevent pedophilia pool" with them in their initial reaction to the huge settlement.

In light of the belief by many that the settlement was simply the only way to prevent the Church and Cardinal Mahoney from divulging the actions of the Church with regards to covering up the transgressions, an unmitigated apology would have seemed more appropriate and likely more beneficial.

As I recall my experience with the sacrament of confession, had I amended my act of contrition to include a statement that there were many others who had committed similar offenses, I suspect I would have first received a lecture on personal responsibility and the irrelevance of the sins of others...followed by a penance that made note of my effort to draw others into my situation and to minimize my own failings.

Fortunately for me, I learned many years ago that religious leaders were far more adept at writing rules than at following them. Perhaps that is the beauty of constructing a doctrine premised upon absolutist rhetoric.

Daniel DiRito | July 17, 2007 | 12:26 PM | link | Comments (1)
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Evangelical Extremists Rail Against Hate Crimes Bill genre: Gaylingual & Hip-Gnosis & Six Degrees of Speculation

Stop The Hate

If one reads the propaganda of evangelical extremists, one might think that a hate crimes bill to punish crimes committed upon gay individuals is intended to silence all statements of religious opposition to homosexuality. The right wing rhetoric machine is in full gear to characterize Senator Ted Kennedy's legislation as a virtual "thought police" measure that not only punishes the faithful but also will punish our military because the bill is attached to a defense appropriation and may force the President to sign the bill.

From World Net Daily:

Sen. Edward Kennedy's "hate crimes" plan – feared by Christian leaders as a way to censor biblical condemnations of homosexuality – has been proposed as an amendment to a defense spending bill, a maneuver opponents are calling "shameless" and "manipulative."

The Kennedy plan, which earlier was introduced as separate legislation, would classify gender and sexual orientation as specially protected classes of people under federal law. Opponents say it would require law enforcement personnel to become "thought police" to determine whether a crime already addressed by existing law could be prosecuted under an enhanced standard of "hate crime."

The White House already has suggested the proposal is unneeded and a veto would be in order if it is approved. But Kennedy has proposed inserting it into the defense appropriations plan, which Bush wants to pass.

"The maneuver is one clearly calculated to put the president in the position of ending up vetoing a defense appropriation," Mathew Staver of Liberty Counsel told WND.

Joe Glover of the Family Policy Network said the move is "shockingly manipulative."

"It is a shameless attempt to push the homosexual agenda on the American people by exploiting American soldiers who are currently in harm's way around the world," he said.

Just how many cases do we need to cite before America stands up and stops the bill that will criminalize Christianity?" she asked.

"It will criminalize not just those willing to speak the truth and spread the Gospel in the public square, but those pastors, authors, radio hosts and anyone who 'counsels, commands, induces or procures [the commission of a 'hate crime']'," she said.

Rev. Rick Scarborough, president of Vision America, said the plan will "punish Christians for preaching certain biblical principles and lead to pastors being jailed in violation of their First Amendment rights as we have already witnessed in Europe."

"If this bill passes, a pastor who preaches about homosexuality being sin could be prosecuted if someone who has heard his message commits a crime against a homosexual. The implications for conservative biblical pastors who have broadcast ministries are staggering. We cannot allow Christians to be dragged into court for simply fulfilling their biblical mandate of preaching the gospel," said Scarborough, a Southern Baptist pastor who now is participating in a "70 Weeks to Save America" campaign.

"It is clear the enemies of the cross are wickedly shrewd," said Rusty Lee Thomas, of Elijah Ministries.

"Hate crimes legislation that includes sexual orientation is bad law because it criminalizes speech and does nothing to prevent violent crimes. All crimes are motivated by hate. Hate crimes laws will not be used to punish the perpetrator, but will be used to silence people of faith, religious groups, clergy, and those who support traditional moral values," said Staver.

So let me see if I understand the logic of these fanatical fundamentalists. The fact that homosexuals are the victims of violent hate crimes ought not be subject to heightened punishment because the hateful rhetoric of Christians might face scrutiny.

Aren't these the same people who feel that radical Islamic clerics need to be silenced when they suggest that Western civilization is evil? So the bottom line is hate speech is acceptable as long as it fits the doctrine of Christians. Perhaps they should also have state sanctioned authority to open Guantanamo like camps to imprison homosexuals or maybe they prefer the right to execute homosexuals in order to cleanse society of the infidels?

If one were to take this same faulty logic, then wouldn't it be acceptable to accuse those who voice extremist rhetoric against homosexuals of being terrorists’ intent on fomenting violence against gays? Perhaps I simply need to establish a religion so that I can preach hatred towards Christians? Would that allow me to spew whatever venomous animosity and hatred I felt was warranted...no, make that required... by my anti-Christian beliefs?

Frankly, the growing practice of faith based hatred is an issue in need of attention. Look, I have no problem with those who hold religious beliefs that suggest that homosexuality is sinful...just as I am amenable to other religions holding beliefs I find to be little more than fanaticism. The problem arises when religious leaders move beyond just pointing out that their doctrine is opposed to a particular behavior and towards calls for extinguishing those behaviors and characterizing those who practice those behaviors as militant activists with radical agendas who must be silenced.

Specifically, there is nothing radical about homosexuals asking that they not be discriminated against by employers...there is nothing radical about homosexuals wanting the right to visit their partners in the hospital...their is nothing radical about homosexuals wanting the same benefits afforded to committed couples able to exchange marriage vows...their is nothing radical about wanting to be able to walk down the street hand in hand without fear of being assaulted.

If equal rights and equal opportunity are radical concepts in America, then the radicalization of America has already been perpetrated by those who seek to deny such basic rights. This practice of bait and switch being espoused by extremist evangelicals is detestable. Their effort to portray Christians as victims is little more than a sham to couch their own radical actions as family values and to deny their fellow Americans the very same basic rights. Portraying gays as a threat to all they hold sacred is the guise by which they seek to deny homosexuals their fundamental rights and to paint them as militant extremists who are bent on destroying the established order.

The growing practice of faith by division is unacceptable. Instead of focusing on positive and proactive messages, religious leaders have chosen the easy route...they have capitalized on existing hatreds in order to obtain power and line their pockets with the cash that comes from the creation of conflict. They may prefer to call that the practice of Christian values but I doubt Christ would recognize the value of such divisive and deceitful doctrines.

Daniel DiRito | July 17, 2007 | 9:29 AM | link | Comments (0)
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July 16, 2007

Hitchens Offers An Explanation Of Anti-Theism genre: Hip-Gnosis

Christopher Hitchens has appeared on numerous programs and forums following the release of his latest book, God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything.

The following video clips are the first half of a two part Thought Theater posting of a panel discussion including Hitchen's views on atheism...or what he prefers to call anti-theism.

I have seen Hitchens on a number of programs and, in my opinion, this may be his most educational comments on the subject. Anyone seeking to understand the basis of Hitchens' thoughts on god and religion would benefit from viewing this program.

Part One

Part Two

Part Three

Tagged as: Atheism, Christopher Hitchens, God, Religion

Daniel DiRito | July 16, 2007 | 6:46 PM | link | Comments (0)
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Silver Ring Thing Student Loses Appeal genre: Hip-Gnosis & Uncivil Unions

Silver Ring Thing

Lydia Playfoot, the sixteen year old student in the UK who sought to wear her purity ring to school, has lost her appeal to the High Court. Thought Theater previously wrote about the case here.

The Court ruled that the schools dress code did not discriminate against Playfoot. The judge argued that the ring was not a fundamental element of religious faith; rather a piece of jewelry. He suggested that the prohibition against the ring was not intended to silence Playfoot's views on abstaining from sexual activities prior to marriage.

A 16-year-old girl was not discriminated against after she was banned from wearing a "purity ring" in school, the High Court has ruled.
Lydia Playfoot was told by Millais School in Horsham, West Sussex, to remove her ring - which symbolises chastity - or face expulsion.

The school had denied breaching her human rights and said it was "delighted" with the outcome.

Miss Playfoot said she was "very disappointed" by the decision.

She said the ruling would "mean that slowly, over time, people such as school governors, employers, political organisations and others will be allowed to stop Christians from publicly expressing and practising their faith".

Headmaster Leon Nettley said: "Whilst we are clearly delighted with the outcome of the court hearing today, our success is tinged with regret that proceedings have needed to progress to this level."

"We have always respected Lydia's right to hold and express her views and believe there were many ways in which it was possible for her to do this during her time with us," he said.

Terry Sanderson, president of the National Secular Society, said: "This is entirely the correct decision.

"The case was a manipulative attempt to impose a particular religious viewpoint on this school and, presumably, on other schools if this case had been won."

The judge ordered Miss Playfoot's father to pay £12,000 towards the school's legal costs.

Playfoot's case is a further demonstration of efforts by religious groups to challenge the prevailing laws that have long kept religion separate from the state. Further, it also highlights the attempt to characterize opponents of religious practices in the public sphere as anti-Christian thereby portraying religious groups as victims.

What proponents fail to realize is that if the state began to allow certain religious symbol and practices, they would be inundated with other requests and the school environment would soon become the battleground for a virtual religious war...which should clearly not be the primary focus of the education system.

Unfortunately, Playfoot's parents were likely behind the effort and they represent an increasingly vocal group of parents who seek to use their children as the vehicle by which they seek to contest existing laws in order to push their particular religious agendas.

Daniel DiRito | July 16, 2007 | 8:23 AM | link | Comments (0)
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July 14, 2007

BBC: The Most Hated Family In America - The Phelps' genre: Gaylingual & Hip-Gnosis & Video-Philes

The following three video clips represent the second half of a two part posting at Thought Theater of a BBC documentary by Louis Theroux of the Fred Phepls family and his Westboro Baptist Church titled The Most Hated Family In America. The first half of the documentary can be found here.

Theroux's documentary actually preceded the Keith Allen documentary Keith Allen Will Burn In Hell which was previously presented at Thought Theater here and here. Theroix has made a number of documentaries for the BBC...frequently featuring what one might call unusual people.

Theroux spent a full three weeks at the Westboro Baptist Church compound. His style is decidedly different than the aggressive approach taken by Keith Allen. Theroux is far more subtle and one can watch him looking for chinks in the armor of those he interviews. His laid back mannerisms seem to have allowed him to be more disarming with some of the Phelps clan.

Part Four

Part Five

Part Six

Daniel DiRito | July 14, 2007 | 9:02 AM | link | Comments (1)
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July 13, 2007

Is Fear Of God Evidence Of Morality? genre: Hip-Gnosis & Six Degrees of Speculation

Many of those who believe in god labor endlessly to refute those who do not...and in that effort lie the answers to the questions they often pose to atheists. The latest attempt comes from Michael Gerson of the Washington...

Tagged as: Atheism, God, Hitchens, Morality, Religion

Daniel DiRito | July 13, 2007 | 9:03 AM | link | Comments (3)
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July 12, 2007

Christian Intolerance Erupts In Senate Chamber genre: Hip-Gnosis & Six Degrees of Speculation & Video-Philes

The following video is another demonstration of religious intolerance and the scourge of absolutist beliefs. Three protesters with the Christian organization Operation Save America traveled from North Carolina to disrupt the opening prayer in the Senate because it was...

Daniel DiRito | July 12, 2007 | 5:37 PM | link | Comments (0)
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Bill O'Reilly Blathers On About Gays At Ball Park genre: Gaylingual & Hip-Gnosis & Six Degrees of Speculation

If you haven't heard about the latest Bill O'Reilly pontification, you're in for a treat. The San Diego Padres sponsored a night celebrating gay pride in San Diego which included the San Diego Gay Men's Chorus singing the National...

Daniel DiRito | July 12, 2007 | 3:04 PM | link | Comments (0)
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July 11, 2007

BBC: The Most Hated Family In America - The Phelps' genre: Gaylingual & Hip-Gnosis & Video-Philes

The three video clips below represent the first half of a Thought Theater presentation of a BBC documentary by Louis Theroux on the Fred Phelps family and his Westboro Baptist Church titled The Most Hated Family In America. Theroux's...

Daniel DiRito | July 11, 2007 | 9:59 PM | link | Comments (1)
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APA Reviewing Gay Counseling & Reparative Therapy genre: Gaylingual & Hip-Gnosis & Six Degrees of Speculation

In a move that may signal the repudiation of gay reparative therapy...an effort to convert one from homosexual to heterosexual...a task force of the American Psychological Association will conduct a review of its policies with regard to the counseling...

Daniel DiRito | July 11, 2007 | 11:31 AM | link | Comments (0)
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July 10, 2007

George W. Bush: Get Your Religion Out Of Our Science genre: Hip-Gnosis & Little Red Ribbon-Hood & Six Degrees of Speculation

It looks to be one of those days...a day that one might argue is filled with moments of hyper-reality...a day where the news is a constant reminder of all the things one finds wrong with the state of one's...

Daniel DiRito | July 10, 2007 | 3:53 PM | link | Comments (1)
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GWB: Promoting HIV One Missing Condom At A Time genre: Gaylingual & Hip-Gnosis & Little Red Ribbon-Hood & Six Degrees of Speculation

I've written about the Bush administration's HIV/AIDS efforts in Africa a number of times...here, here, here, and here...and while I applaud the expanded funding that have been committed to that effort, one cannot ignore the fact that a significant...

Daniel DiRito | July 10, 2007 | 12:45 PM | link | Comments (0)
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Tim Russert: Hitchens & Meacham Discuss God genre: Hip-Gnosis & Video-Philes

This is the second half of a two part posting. The following video clips are of a discussion on god and religion. The dialogue is moderated by Tim Russert and the participants are Christopher Hitchens and Jon Meacham. The...

Daniel DiRito | July 10, 2007 | 11:55 AM | link | Comments (0)
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Pope Asserts Catholicism Is The Only True Church genre: Hip-Gnosis & Six Degrees of Speculation

Many Thought Theater readers have been following the dialogue in the comment thread of my open letter to Michael Glatze. In that comment thread, there has been ample debate about the notion of truth and where one might actually...

Daniel DiRito | July 10, 2007 | 9:53 AM | link | Comments (1)
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July 8, 2007

Tim Russert: Hitchens & Meacham Discuss God genre: Hip-Gnosis & Video-Philes

Christopher Hitchens has been featured on a number of programs discussing his new book, God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. This posting is the first of a multiple part series at Thought Theater which will include the...

Daniel DiRito | July 8, 2007 | 11:15 AM | link | Comments (0)
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The Creation Museum Is Built Upon Proof Of Evolution genre: Hip-Gnosis & Video-Philes

For those who may not know, The Creation Museum was recently opened in Petersburg, Kentucky. The primary goal of the museum is to defend the Biblical version of the origin of life and to refute the science of evolution....

Daniel DiRito | July 8, 2007 | 10:33 AM | link | Comments (1)
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July 7, 2007

2008: A Turning Point In The Politics Of Absolutism? genre: Hip-Gnosis & Polispeak & Six Degrees of Speculation

I have no problem with other people’s marriages. In fact, I’m in favor of expanding the definition of marriage to include same-sex couples. All too often, those who venture into the topic, do so with a religious construct and...

Daniel DiRito | July 7, 2007 | 6:04 PM | link | Comments (12)
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Colbert Report: Elaine Pagels On The Bible genre: Hip-Gnosis & Video-Philes

The following video clip is from an interview of Elaine Pagels conducted by Stephen Colbert on The Colbert Report. While we know that the program is primarily about comedy, the clip does offer some worthwhile dialogue. Elaine Pagels has...

Daniel DiRito | July 7, 2007 | 9:22 AM | link | Comments (0)
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July 6, 2007

This & That: News In Brief genre: Gaylingual & Hip-Gnosis & Polispeak

Fred Phelps' Westboro Baptist Church: Shirley Phelps-Roper has been charged with a number of violations related to a recent protest by the group at a funeral for a soldier killed in the war in Iraq. The charges include flag mutilation,...

Daniel DiRito | July 6, 2007 | 3:17 PM | link | Comments (2)
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July 5, 2007

Keith Allen On Fred Phelps' Westboro Baptist Church genre: Gaylingual & Hip-Gnosis & Video-Philes

The following video clips are the second half of a two part posting here at Thought Theater presenting a documentary called Keith Allen Will Burn In Hell, a look at Fred Phelps and his Westboro Baptist Church. You can...

Daniel DiRito | July 5, 2007 | 10:27 AM | link | Comments (0)
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July 3, 2007

An Open Letter To Michael Glatze genre: Gaylingual & Hip-Gnosis & Uncivil Unions

Today, Michael Glatze, a well known figure in the gay world and a former proponent of gay rights, wrote of his rejection of homosexuality in an essay posted at World Net Daily. I have posted Michael's essay below and...

Daniel DiRito | July 3, 2007 | 2:56 PM | link | Comments (129)
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Keith Allen On Fred Phelps' Westboro Baptist Church genre: Gaylingual & Hip-Gnosis & Video-Philes

The following video clips are the first half of a two part posting here at Thought Theater presenting a documentary called Keith Allen Will Burn In Hell, a look at Fred Phelps and his Westboro Baptist Church. Keith Allen...

Daniel DiRito | July 3, 2007 | 9:48 AM | link | Comments (0)
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July 1, 2007

Floods In UK God's Punishment For Yadda Yadda... genre: Gaylingual & Hip-Gnosis & Six Degrees of Speculation

If I had a nickel for every time a religious leader said that natural disasters were god's punishment for some behavior they didn't condone, I'd give religion a run for its ill-gotten coffers. The latest pontification comes in response...

Daniel DiRito | July 1, 2007 | 6:24 PM | link | Comments (0)
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Christopher Hitchens & Al Sharpton On Hardball genre: Hip-Gnosis & Six Degrees of Speculation

The following video clips are of the appearance by Christopher Hitchens and Al Sharpton on Hardball with Chris Matthews. Anyone interested in a discussion of religion and how it relates to politics should enjoy this exchange. The topic is...

Daniel DiRito | July 1, 2007 | 1:41 PM | link | Comments (0)
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Love, Marriage...And A Baby Carriage? genre: Hip-Gnosis & Six Degrees of Speculation & Uncivil Unions

James Dobson must be scratching his head. While opponents of gay unions tout the argument that marriage should be reserved for the joining of a man and a woman in order to procreate, the average American seems to see...

Daniel DiRito | July 1, 2007 | 8:33 AM | link | Comments (0)
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