Jack writes: If you had to choose Jim. Say the famous deserted Island, or, just someone to be your friend for life. Would you choose a Christian, Muslim, atheist, Jew, Buddhist? Who would you turn to on your deathbed?
ED: Bad question. Get down. Get off the question couch. *smile*
We choose friends all the time, and life is long and filled with them, no need for a desert island illustration. We choose books to read and music to listen to, by authors and musicians whose faith we often have no ideas about. But we still "befriend" their art and melodies that become a part of us. *smile* As for deathbeds, some die quick some die slow. Not everybody dies in bed. It's great to be surrounded by those you loved and who loved you, that's all anyone can hope for on their deathbed.
I have Christian, Jewish, Eastern and atheist, agnostic friends. In fact there are Christians, Jews and Muslims who range from conservative to moderate to liberal in their beliefs, not far from agnostic at the liberal end. Therefore I would put the question this way, do you want extremist volatile friends (of the far right or far left) or more moderate even-tempered friends? And who cares? I want somebody whose overall personalty and attutude I like, like Adam. Or Gary. Yes, they are Christians, albeit relatively open minded ones. I also enjoy my Jewish friend Bittner, and his sense of humor, and people I grew up with, or have known for years, ex-lovers, musician friends, chess friends, etc. I've known and met, a variety of folks. On my death bed, however, if I had a choice, I would want those closest to me, family and close friends, whatever their religion.
By the way there is a long history in Christianity of smearing non-Christians by passing along gossip about what "horrors" such people experienced on their death beds. For a debunking of many such slanderous tale tails from Christians.
For the many great contributions that "freethinkers" have made to America please see the book
Freethinkers : A History of American Secularism by Susan Jacoby
JACK: Chrstians waste their lives? I know you dont mean it this way, but maybe they sacrifice their lives for others.
ED: Some do. But in general, today most of the charitable organizations are secular, governmental, or non-denominational, and don't preach "Christ." In fact, if most Christian charities that spent time and money "preaching Christ" simply sent that money to the Red Cross, I think the world would generally be better off. The Red Cross (now called the Red Cross and Red Crescent!) was founded by a gay Christian, though I am unsure exactly what his Christian beliefs were, Guy Dunant. The American Red Cross was founded by a freethinking universalist Christian. Florence Nightingale was another freethinking universalist, who didn't allow preaching in her hospitals, or turning people away because they were not Christians. She said you must allow each sick person their own religion and their own priest or minister or whatever to visit them, without intrusions from others trying to convert them, not even on their deathbeds.
And there's tons more of backsliding Christians, moderates, liberals, heretics, apostates, infidels, etc. who work in the fields of medical science and agriculture, and who together have aided the world in a multitude of ways. One secularist agriculturalist in particular, and his scientific team, has produced cross-bred crops that staved off starvation and saved the lives of an estimated billion people, yet few people can even name him. Also, the simple invention of plumbing has led to the decrease of disease world-wide, even moreso than the inventions of antibiotics and vaccines.
JACK: If I was not a Christian, I would certainly behave differently, at least my goals and values would be completely different.
ED: Completely different? Or would force of habit ensure that you didn't change in a "complete different" way? Besides, Christians have killed in the name of their savior, rightly or wrongly, so I guess the influence of a society's "force of habit" also works in bad ways, equally badly for Christians as for anyone else.
JACK: As hard as it is, as much as it is against our fallen nature, Christians at least, strive for selflessness., and in a subtle long term way, not as in a suicide bomber. Honestly, which do you think is more difficult?
ED: I don't know. Put Christians in exactly the same place Muslims are at now, reverse everything. America is seen as an infidelic system, sucking up the world's last oil reserves (we may have reached Hubbert's peak), and sucking up re-building contracts, and imposing "democracy" via bombs. By the way, bombs or not, in a hundred years Muslims could grow to become the majority in Europe, simply via demographics, since the Europeans are not having a lot of children, while Muslims as a group, continue to do so. (And Hispanics may become the majority ethnic group in the U.S., and China might become Christian, though the Christians over there are growing more susceptible to violence against one another as numerous wild-eyed Christian sects in the country compete with each other for converts. I have an interesting Wall Street Journal article on that).
Also compare how famous Christians of the past and even the present, continue to react to the notion of "democracy":
John Winthrop, first governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, called democracy "the meanest and worst of all forms of government."
In 1800 the Christian president of Yale University, Timothy Dwight, said:
"The great object of democracy is to destroy every trace of civilization in the world and force mankind back into a savage state.We have a country governed by blockheads and knaves. [And after giving some horrible particulars he added] Can the imagination paint anything more dreadful this side of Hell?"
Pope Gregory XVI, the head of the Catholic church from 1831-1846, said, "From the polluted fountain of indifferentism flows that absurd and erroneous doctrine, or rather, raving, which claims and defends liberty of conscience for everyone. From this comes, in a word, the worst plague of all, namely, unrestrained liberty of opinion and freedom of speech.It is in no way lawful to demand, to defend, or to grant unconditional freedom of thought, or speech, of writing, or of religion, as if they were so many rights that nature has given man."
The Christian Right do not call upon their faith to certify their politics as much as they call for a country that certifies their faith. Fundamentalism really cannot help itself--it is absolutist and can compromise with nothing, not even democracy. It is not surprising that immediately after the Islamic fundamentalist attack on the World Trade Center's twin towers and the Pentagon, two prominent Christian fundamentalists (Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson) were reported to have accounted it a justifiable punishment by God for our secularism. In thus honoring the foreign killers of almost 3,000 Americans as agents of God's justice, they established their blood brotherhood with the principle of righteous warfare in the name of all that is holy, and gave their pledge of allegiance to the theocratic ideal of government of whatever sacred text.
--E. L. Doctorow, Reporting the Universe (Harvard)
Today's Reconstructionist Christians want America to become a "limited democracy under God," meaning under Old Testament Laws, the only known Laws of State that God ever devoted the effort to dictate.
The Bible tells us to be like God, and then on page after page it describes God as a mass murderer. This may be the single most important key to the political behavior of Western Civilization.
Robert Anton Wilson, Right Where You Are Sitting Now
HE READ THE BIBLE 53 TIMES.
AND PROCURED THE DEATH OF TWENTY THOUSAND PERSONS
Benedict Carpzov (1595-1666) [a jurist of strict Lutheran Christian opinions], lived to a ripe old age and looked back on an admirable life in the course of which he read the Bible fifty-three times, took the sacrament every week, greatly intensified the methods and efficacy of inquisitional torture [see his work, Neue sachsische Kriminalpraktik], and procured the death of twenty thousand persons.
Hugh Trevor-Roper, The European Witch Craze [See also Johannes Janssen (trans., A. M. Christie), History of the German People After the Close of the Middle Ages, Vol. XVI (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner and Co. Ltd., 1910), p.199-201]
Gary Leon Ridgway, 52, of Auburn, Wash., believed to be the "Green River Killer," has been charged by King County prosecutors with killing seven women. He was known for reading the Bible at work, trying to "save" others, going door to door for a Pentecostal Church, and bragging about picking up prostitutes. He would sit in front of a TV with his Bible open on his lap, and often cried at church services. There are 49 known female victims in the Green River murders, so-named because the first five victims were found in the Green River in 1982. Many of the victims were runaways or prostitutes. First arrested last November, Green directed
investigators to remains of another alleged victim in August.
--King County Journal, Aug. 8, 2003
BIBLE-RELATED STRESS AND ANXIETY
1994--Jacqueline Clinton, 29 was found guilty of manslaughter in Toledo, Ohio, in January in the shooting of her boyfriend. According to her, the shooting occurred during an argument over differing interpretations of the Bible. (Chuck Shepherd's News of the Weird on the web)
1995--Nathan Frederick Klimosko, 21, was sentenced to two year's probation in Kelowna, British Columbia, for hitting and choking his girlfriend into unconsciousness. The fight started in a car when the two disagreed over his interpretation of a certain passage from the Bible, and he reached over and smacked her in the face, blackening her eye. (Chuck Shepherd's News of the Weird on the web)
1996--Carlos Santiago was arrested in San Francisco, Calif., in May and charged with assault. Police said he stabbed his wife more than a dozen times because she refused his orders to read the Bible. (San Jose Mercury News, May 18, 1996)
1996--A Dadeville, Alabama man who lost an early-morning Bible-quoting contest killed the man who beat him. Taylor, a preacher's brother, and the suspect, were comparing their Bible knowledge outside an apartment complex, each quoting different versions of the same passage, police said. The suspect retrieved his Bible and realized he was wrong, and that made him mad, witnesses said. The man threatened Taylor, saying, "I'll kill you before the night is out," and left with two other people who had witnessed the exchange. (Associated Press)
1998--David Fleigelman of Brooklyn was stabbed by an unidentified man in his synagogue after they got into an argument over who knows more about the Torah. [The Torah = The first five books of the Bible, or the whole body of Jewish religious literature, depending on your definition.] (J. D. Bell, "Nuts in the News," The American Rationalist, July/Aug. 1998)
THE JERUSALEM SYNDROME AND THE BIBLE
Local psychiatrists now speak of a Jerusalem syndrome. A hundred-odd pilgrims and tourists are treated each year at Kfar Shaul Hospital, the government mental-health center serving the Jerusalem area, for breakdowns related to this syndrome, which involves messianic fantasies and delusions of being Mary Magdalene, John the Baptist, or other Biblical characters. They are mostly Americans and almost all are Protestant. Many have a strong grounding in the Bible. In Jerusalem, they suddenly take off their clothes or shout prophecies on street corners, only to revert to normal after a few days' treatment.
Amos Elon, Jerusalem: City of Mirrors
It's amazing all the goofy if not downright destructive things some people feel inspired to do after reading the Bible. Folks who would never take a road sign out of context ("Oh look, 'Speed Zone Ahead.' Guess I'd better punch it.") read Luke 10:19 ("Behold I give unto you power to tread on serpents and scorpions.and nothing shall. hurt you") and they join a church that passes not only a collection plate but a box of copperheads. Funny, they don't seem too keen on scorpions. Maybe "scorpion treader" doesn't sound as cool as "serpent handler?"
David Windhorst, "God May Kill You For Reading This. And I'm A Little Nervous Myself"
The North American Securities Administrators Association report, Preying on the Faithful: The False Prophets of the Investment World, described scams and cons by "religious" entrepreneurs. One outfit cited the blessing of the tribe of Asher by Moses in Deuteronomy that "the feet of the people will be bathed in oil" as the basis for drilling for oil. More than 15,000 Americans were swindled out of $450 million between 1984 and 1989 due to religious-affinity fraud. And at least 80,000 people lost $2 billion between 1998 and 2001 in religious scams. Religious scams are among the most common and Christians are easy targets. Investors are often following the advice of trusted leaders. Barry Minkow says that in just one year he has personally uncovered more than $1 billion in church-based scams and other fraud targeting Christians. Some schemes don't target Christians but spread quickly once introduced in a church. Others go unreported, or regulators can't shut them down because victims refuse to testify. In one case, Joe Borg (director of the Alabama Securities Commission) said church members "were told that if they spoke to us, they would be excommunicated and their souls damned to hell. We had a lot of folks who said, 'Look, I may have lost everything I own, but I'm not going to take a chance.'" Borg says they play on victims' greed (promising huge returns) while easing their conscience by saying that the investment comes from God or that the money is being invested in ministry.
Walter Hoops, "At Random," The American Rationalist, Jan./Feb. 1991; Ted Olsen, "Bilking the Brethren," and, Rob Moll, "The Fraud Buster: The Faithful Are Being Defrauded of Billions," Christianity Today, Vol. 49, No. 1, Jan. 2005