Monday, November 30, 2009

Banning Minarets in Switzerland?!

Well, the latest on the European angst over Islamic incursion has taken place. The normally tolerant, politically neutral Swiss have voted a referendum into place, banning the construction of Minarets anywhere within Switzerland. This doesn't prohibit the practice of Islam, nor does it require that the four existing Minarets which currently exist on Swiss soil to be torn down, but it does mean that no more can be put up.

This move has been decried by Muslim leaders as a violation of religious freedom. It has been called an act of religious intolerance by the Swiss populace. And (I shudder to say it) the Muslims are actually right for once! It IS religious intolerance. It's certainly a violation of religious freedom, to say nothing of free property rights.

That having been said, I understand completely why the Swiss, and before them the French, have begun taking measures that are rather blatent violations of the general principle of religious freedom. Why are Europeans banning the burqua? Or the hijab? Why are girls being told that they cannot wear headscarves in school, and men being told to pray more privately instead of on city street corners?

The answer is because of Islamic intolerance.

Yes, banning new Minarets is wrong. But don't be fooled that any private land owner who decided to take one down on property that had been rightfully sold or forclosed to a non-Muslim would be met with angry protests and threats of violence. In nations where the population is predominantly Muslim, tolerance for other religions is unheard of, and they would not hesitate (make no mistake about it!) to ban the wearing of the crucifix or the building of Churches. Do you really think that a worldview that nearly executed a teacher for naming a teddy bear Muhammed would think twice about outlawing Judeo-Christianity? Again and again, Islamist interests have repeatedly attempted to pass blasphemy laws outlawing the defaming of Allah. Yes, they want to be able to criticize other people's religion, but they want it made against the law for anyone to criticize theirs, essentially destroying free speech while simultaneously enjoying all its benefits. They combine the tactics of violence and hatred with silver-tongued spokespersons who remind people that Islam is presumably a religion of peace, and that most Muslims are decent, hardworking and law-abiding people.

Maybe so, say the Europeans, but why is it that those decent, hardworking, law-abiding Muslims never seem to lift a damned finger to stop the violent outbursts against those who disagree with them in a non-violent way? It's no wonder many in the Old Country are beginning to say that they've had enough. I can't say that I blame them.

On the other hand, as an atheist I've tasted religious intolerance of a different sort quite frequently in this country, and I know how it feels to be a persecuted minority. It's hard to be hated, believe me, I know. People wrongly blame you for all sorts of shit that you didn't do. So I can sympathize, to a limited extent. I know how it is.

The difference is, that atheists are called monsters, while Muslims, on occasion, actually are.

Yes, on the one hand, I defend freedom of speech and religion, but then I USE that freedom of speech and religion to criticize Islam right back. You guys who are protesting the banning of Minarets? You fucking ASKED for it, people! You've been asking for it for decades! How many riots and bombings, and angry demonstrations did you think it would take before Europeans finally decided that they would risk losing freedom of religion just to get rid of YOU? How long did you think it would take before they got sick and tired of you guys going on and on about how the majority of Muslims are decent folk, while watching those decent folk do nothing about the minority who aren't so damned decent? We know how it works. First you use Western tolerance to get in, and then you take away western tolerance to STAY in, and the next thing we know, Europe is finally Muslim, just as you guys have wanted since A.D. 700. I know, I know, first it was the Christians who stood in your way, meeting your intolerance with equal intolerance, and then it was the secularists, who keep telling you that you don't get undue favoritism just because you think your religion says you do. It's frustrating, isn't it? The way science tells you that your beliefs are full of shit? Yeah, so you're out to weasel your way in, and shut it down from the inside. Look, Muslims, you may have come up with a clever way to use our principles of tolerance and political correctness against us, but don't think we who are part of the Freethought movement aren't on to you. We are watching.

For the rest of you out there, who are neither atheist nor Muslim, there is an even more important lesson here. It's that if a majority want to take away the rights from a minority, a democracy tends to do that, even though it's wrong. If a majority of whites want to take away the rights of a minority of blacks, that can be done. But it's wrong. If a majority of Muslims want to take away the rights of a minority of Christians, that can be done. If a majority of Swiss want to take away the rights of a minority of people who want to built Minarets on their own property, that can also be done. Democracy's primary pitfall is that the minority can be, and often is, wrongfully stomped upon. We should bear this in mind here in America, where similar situations of injustice arise, so that we can act appropriately to NOT make the same mistake.

Such as when a majority of straights tell a minority of gays that they can't live free.


Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Manhattan Declaration

So, Chuck Colson, James Dobson and his ilk have come out with something called the "Manhattan Declaration." Basically, it is a manifesto of intent for Christians to take a stand on various issues which they feel to be of special import, and calls for the faithful believers everywhere to sign on to it. The issues it outlines are really no surprise: Sanctity of life, sanctity of marriage, and freedom of religion. But its interpretation of them is what I have an issue with. These old men really do have it wrong.

Sanctity of life? We all know what that means to the likes of Colson and Dobson. They mean opposition to abortion. And this is built around the ridiculous and unscientific position that conception, and not the formation of a fetus' brain, defines the point at which an individual life begins. This, as determined by a ninteenth century declaration by Pope Leo XIII (1886) which reversed many earlier Church positions that "ensoulment" happened long after conception. You'd think we might take a more sensible approach than that.

Look, I'm not afraid to say it: Opposition to abortion is un-Christian. Science supports the spiritual view that the "soul" (for want of a better word) enters the body at a point long after conception takes place, and the cerebrum has fully formed in the fetus -- something which dosen't happen until 4.5 months in. Scripture supports the view of an Old Testament God which outright slaughtered post-born children, and says nothing blatant about abortion at all since abortion was simply unheard of in Biblical times. Anyone who says that God says life begins at conception is just plain wrong. Life-at-conception is a doctrine of HUMAN origin. Clergy and congregation alike therefore need to knock it the hell off about this one.

Sanctity of marriage? Again, we know what they mean by this: Opposition to homosexuality. I mean, really, gay marriage is simply a flashpoint. Given the means, they would find a legal excuse to ban homosexuality altogether and reinstate all sodomy laws. However, realistically, they cannot do this, so they entrench at the next best fallback line. But they've lost an entire generation of young people over this. Stubborn insistence over this one is guaranteed suicide for Christianity in America. Not that I'll cry crocodile tears over that, but in the meantime, the right of pursuit of happiness is denied a segment of our population, and that pisses me off. I'm not exactly willing to wait two or three decades for some stupid old men to die off before this is fixed.

As I pointed out in an earlier blog post, sanctity of marriage has basically already been shot with common divorce and even more common promiscuity. In that post, I think I forgot to mention Carrie Prejean, who became the most famous Miss Congeneality in the world when she took a stand against gay marriage in the Miss America Pageant. This artificially-boobed and butt-less stick figure then turned out to have made a sex video beforehand, as if this could have made her any more of a conservative hypocrite than willingly participating in a sexuality glorification contest in the first place. (I'm actually shocked this cliche fake-blond even came as close as second place. Will somebody please find someone other than J. Lo to have a REAL ass in Hollywood?) I'll give credit to the Manhattan Declaration for calling out popular culture on this point and saying that the media needs to stop glamorizing sexuality and extramarital affairs -- but come on. Let's be realistic, here. This effort is a lot like Mickey Mouse trying to bail out the overwhelming flood of his spell gone awry in "The Sourcerer's Apprentice" segment of the movie, 'Fantasia.' There's just no way that Christianity can stem out the tsunami flood of sexual freedom in America with its tiny bucket of "sexual purity." And "promise rings" just make the teenage girls who wear them a greater target. (Another five atheists come about for each one of them that gets pregnant, too. And they DO!) This fight was lost way back when Mae West first said on the silver screen, "Come up and see me sometime."

Let the gays have their nuclear family, seeing as how Christians are incapeable of sustaining one.

Lastly, the Manhattan Declaration champions freedom of religion. They rightly state that all citizens have a right to be free of religious coersion. I give them full credit for finally admitting what we secularists have been telling them since the dawn of America. But their interpretation of this idea gets a little twisted, as they say how private hospitals which receive tax subsidies should somehow be allowed to have employees, paid with those tax dollars, be able to deny other taxpaying citizens abortion referrals or "morning after" drugs. Their idea of a "private hospital" is also somewhat twisted, in that they feel that a Christian hospital is about proselytizing or promoting a religious agenda instead of caring for the sick! This, when those paying for said care, out of pocket or through private insurers, come from ALL faiths (including the lack thereof).

It's wrong to admit that citizens have a right to be free of religious coersion on the one hand, and then fight for the ability to religiously coerce on the other. Such hypocrisy has no place in any aspect of America, least of all in medical care. Religious freedom means that no creed gets favoritism. Recent developments have caused some favoritism which was previously given to Christianity to be taken away as government increasingly awakens to this fact. But this removal of undue and unearned privileges should not be construed as an attack upon the Christian faith. It is simply telling Christianity, which has been hogging the couch for generations, to finally stop it, move over, and make room for everybody.

The authors and signatories of the Manhattan Declaration would do well to remember that.


Global Warming Hoax?

Well, a couple of people have sent me the news stories about the hacker who broke into the computer files of the University of East Anglia's CRU (Climate Research Unit), making public lots of confidential e-mails that seem to show scientists being candid about the evidence for global warming not being there. They're calling this incident, "Climategate," and it's a story which, admittedly, has really grown legs.

So what do I think? Well, Darwin himself admitted rather candidly to some lack of fossil evidence for evolution. But that didn't prove evolution wrong, and the evidence later bore evolution out. Milton Friedman bluntly admitted to some shortcomings in his supply side economics model, but that didn't prove Hyak economics and free market strategies were wrong, either, and the evidence later bore him out. The disaster of the Columbine shootings did not prove the need for greater gun control. Piltdown Man being a hoax did not prove that evolution was made up. The fact that NASA did not follow proper quarantine procedures for the astronauts of Apollo 11 after they landed does not prove that the Moon landings were faked.

By the same token, these disclosed e-mails do not prove that global warming is a fraud.

There are other confirmations for global warming besides what the IPCC has shown. I visited with one of the scientists working on global warming at UWM just the other week to invite him to my students group and give a talk. He's been working for decades on the progression of plant cycles, noting that they've been blooming earlier in spring, and deciduating later in fall, as the years go by. I saw the data charts myself! His talk will be given sometime early next year. (For members of Freethinkers of UWM, I'll keep you posted.) And there are other more pragmatic indications. Last February and the February before that, we had extended periods where we had to go around wearing shorts. Meanwhile, it's Thanksgiving, and students at UWM are walking around campus wearing flip-flops! The glaciers are visibly disappearing as satellite photos clearly show. Glacier National Park is now virtually a misnomer. Just recently a man did a 2km swim across the very point of the north pole -- something that the permanent ice sheets would have been impossible only 10 years ago, even in summer. Ice sheets in Antarctica are disintegrating before our very eyes.

You know, we all say unguarded shit sometimes, and even scientists occasionally let their hair down, too. So what?

Look, I'm not saying that everyone who is skeptical of global warming needs to jump to the conclusion that global warming is real. But for heaven's sake, don't jump to the conclusion that global warming is false, either!

In only a couple of weeks, a global summit on climate change will be held in Copenhagen. Our President has recently announced that he will be there. It will be interesting to see how this story plays out at that meeting, if at all.


Tuesday, November 24, 2009

New Jobs! And More...

Well, key signals in the economy indicate that there may be an upturn, but we all know that the most important indicator, jobs, is still lagging behind. Critics of the current administration are raising a pretty damned good question: Where are the new jobs going to come from? Well, I think I know some of the answers to that. And I'll reveal them to you! But first, a couple of quick hits regarding issues I've raised before...

Health care. Okay, you're sick of it too. But here's a thought: We like our military, right? Certainly every conservative does. We know a strong military is necessary to protect our country. Well, actually, these days our military is necessary to protect OTHER countries, but that's beside the point. Ostensibly, the purpose of the military is to prevent our nation from being invaded by foreign attackers. Well and good.

Hang on, though. Just what is the difference, fundamentally, between protecting our nation's borders from invasion and protecting our citizens' individual borders from invasion? In other words, if we can protect our national boundaries, why can't we protect the boundaries of every citizen as defined by his or her skin?

You see, viruses and bacteria are invaders! They are foreign influences that want to seize United States territory (that is, the cells of its citizens) for their own purposes which are contrary to national goals. These invading attackers differ from foreign armies only in terms of size, and the fact that they bear no national emblem of identity. But hell, we've been fighting terrorists who have no national identity for almost a decade, now. If we can protect our national borders from invasion, we can protect our individual citizens from invasion. National healthcare IS national defense! If the Pentagon is to justify its expenditures, then we must, to avoid being a nation of hypocrites, completely fund medical care.

Chew on that!

Next up, Sarah Palin.

You know, I was actually willing to let the beauty queen have one more bite at the apple with her book tour. Yes, I know she's probably part of the "Left Behind" crowd of Tim LaHaye whack-jobs, but I thought I'd give her one more listening-to, just to see if she sounded like a competent leader after all. But then, during a Barbara Walters interview, she was asked about the issue of Israeli settlements into Palestinian territory, and the Obama administration's opposition to it. She then laid this incredible, colored egg:

"I disagree with the Obama administration on that. I believe that the Jewish settlements should be allowed to be expanded upon, because that population of Israel is, is going to grow. More and more Jewish people will be flocking to Israel in the days and weeks and months ahead. And I don’t think that the Obama administration has any right to tell Israel that the Jewish settlements cannot expand."

In other words, she actually supports doing the one thing that is absolutely guaranteed to spark World War Three!

That does it! She's had her second bite of the apple, folks. This broad needs to put on her "sexist" jogging shorts and run straight back to Alaska. And STAY there!

Her followers see her as an instrument of God. But then, according to the Bible, so was Sampson. And like Sampson, Sarah Palin will pull the entire temple down upon our heads!

(Christ, how bad to you have to be to fail in front of Barbara Walters?)

Okay, that's off my chest. Now to the jobs issue. Where are all the jobs going to come from? How can we generate more jobs for people? Like, right NOW?

Let me start with a concession: The Republicans actually have a good suggestion about this. Built more nuclear power plants, they say. What a great idea! Sequester away more nuclear material under lock and key away from terrorists, and generate more power to free us from oil. Plus, it puts millions of people to work constructing, and creates millions of permanent high-paying jobs after the construction is done! It's a win-win-win-win situation! All we have to do to make it happen is stop being such pussies about nuclear energy. (Riiiight!) Still, way to go, Republicans! You came through for once!

The democrats also have a suggestion: Put people to work rebuilding our roads, bridges, and power grids. Not bad, not bad. Certainly they need rebuilding. But that's a temporary solution, and one that involves only government spending. I say let's do it, because it's a job that needs to be done, but we might first want to spend money on things that will create jobs first before we turn to bridges and roads. They'll hold up for another year or two.

So here's an idea: Build trans-continental bullet-trains! A bullet-train is as fast as an airplane, but uses only a tiny fraction of the fuel! Once built, it leaves behind permanent, self-sustaining jobs, and adds to the economic vitality of the cities it connects! Since America emerged as one of the first national powers to have transcontinental railroads, our trains have died a slow death. Every other major industrialized nation has a bullet train of some sort. And we? We have outdated Amtrak connections that barely exceed 80 MPH using systemics that haven't changed since the 1970's. How embarassing!

Boy, would this one help out Milwaukee with Midwest Airlines getting mergered in with another airline, and possibly getting snuffed out of our city as a result. But any bullet transit connecting the Pacific Northwest with New York would logically have to go through Milwaukee. Just imagine jumping on a train and being in Chicago in 15 minutes! Or going to Las Vegas and getting there in five hours! Or to D.C. in four! Or Los Angeles in six!

Plus, trains hardly ever lose your luggage! Hell, that'll sell any member of congress!

Okay, good. But what else can we do? Well, the government could certainly grow a pair and start strong-arming state governments to release brainless restrictions on green energy, or outright order the building of solar and wind farms. There's precedent. The Tennessee Valley Authority was a government initiative to get bureaucrats off their lazy asses to generate power. It's time for more of the same. How about some huge tax cuts or outright tax forgiveness programs for companies which build more wind turbines or solar panels, and in so doing create more home-grown jobs? These things are long overdue.

Here's one: How about the feds put pressure on the oil companies to release patents they've been hoarding regarding green energy? We know they've been buying up these patents for years in preparation for the day when oil dries up. But those technologies are needed right now. Solar shingles, for example. Various breakthroughs in battery technology have also been sequestered. Enough, already! The government can go to any oil companies holding U.S. patents on green technology and basically say, "Fork them over, or suffer some severe tax penalties." Better yet, the U.S. Patent Office is an arm of the government, so the President has the power to declare a national state of emergency (which we certainly have) and simply take the patents and feed them to any private U.S.-based companies who are willing to develop them and create jobs with the products. That's an instant jump-start! I think that's exactly what President Obama should do!

And I have to beat upon this drum once again: It's time to legalize cannabis and prostitution. Let America be America for a change! Repeal of prohibition created jobs for people by adding the liquor industry. Adding the cannabis market will also generate jobs overnight. People will have living-room hydroponic victory gardens! And as for prostitution, well, I'd rather have well-regulated and disease-free call girls rather than pimps and crack whores on our streets. Wouldn't you? We can tax both and easily pay for government-option health care, eliminate the deficit, and pay off the national debt all in one stroke.

Those are short-term and intermediate-term solutions. The long-term solution is, of course, a firm commitment to fund education, especially at the high school and college level. We need to emphasize the proper and correct teaching of science so that colleges and universities don't have to waste so much time undoing all the damage done from the teaching of creationist and intelligent-design crap. Plus, I think that economics should be a required high school course, so that citizens can stop voting for economic boneheads.


Saturday, November 21, 2009

Senate Health Care Bill, & Other Stuff

So, the Senate has finally brought their health care bill to the floor for a debate. They had the 60 votes needed to avoid filibuster. Damn good thing, too. I really don't like filibusters, even when they're on my side. Frankly, it bugs me when one dude can gum up the whole works indefinitely. Don't get me wrong, filibusters often represent minority opinions -- of which I sometimes happen to be -- and minority opinions need to be protected if America is to be at all free, but I don't think filibusters ought to be done by just anybody. If I were to wave my magic wand and revise the Senate rules, one of the things I would do is restrict the number of filibusters which could be done. Seriously, filibusters should be something like instant replays in football -- you only get three per alotted time period, and then that's it, you're out of filibusters. Maybe two or three per year, maximum. That way, Senators will think twice before launching a filibuster over unimportant shit.

The more I think about this, the more I like it. Yeah! Write your representatives!

Anyway, part of the funding for this new bill comes from what is essentially a luxury tax -- a tax levy upon elective plastic surgeries. Interesting.

I have to say that the more I think about THIS one, the more I like it too. Here, perhaps for the first time ever, is a tax which truly targets only the affluent, and in a way which they cannot dodge. It's not like a cigarette tax, where something really unhealthy is discouraged with an increased tax, but which is paid for by the poorest people whose nicotene addiction is one of their only creature comforts. It's also not like a tax on items like yachts, which only typically results in the rich not buying so many yachts anymore, thus depressing the marine vehicle industry and causing thousands of blue-collar boat-builders to get laid off. No, this is only for the botox, the boob jobs, and the laser treatments - stuff which the rich cannot truly get around if they want to stay pretty.

But is it sexist? That's an excellent question since over 90% of cosmetic surgery is undertaken by women. But I'm not so certain that this necessarily means its sexist. After all, even if over 90% of the procedures are done on women, who is paying for those procedures? Their husbands? Their boyfriends? No, it may be the corpus femme which is getting the cosmetic surgery, but the impact upon the pocketbook is quite gender neutral. Besides, women have been condemning artificial boobs for decades, now. Here, finally, is some vindication for that form of feminism. The underground movement of men who belong to the "home grown only" club of breast afficionatos has decried fake boobs as well -- making for a curious area where feminists and male chauvanists actually agree on something.

Can men get around this tax by not prettying up their wives? Perhaps. They could always divorce their wives and marry younger women. But then, they could always do that. And divorce usually costs a good deal more than any plastic surgery ever could. By that rationale, plastic surgery has done more to preserve the sanctity of marriage than opposition to gay marriage ever could! But it's really not much of an impact, there. Really, aren't the shopping trips to Macey's and Bloomingdales, and the ridiculous diamond jewelry purchases just a normal part of the wealthy lifestyle? Yesterday it was fur coats. Today, it's botox. And let's understand, men do get their cosmetic surgery too. Let's hear it for the laser removal of back hair! Let's hear it for the old farts looking a little less decrepit. The rich will always want to look good, and that means they'll pay just a tiny bit more so that the rest of us can pay a whole shitload less. There are no cosmetic surgeons whose livelihoods are threatened, here. Those doctors will do just fine. And so will the doctors who provide basic health care -- finally!

It's just a shame they couldn't have enacted this BEFORE Barry Manilow got his new face.

Speaking of plastic surgery protecting the sanctity of marriage, I have to chat briefly about something that's been coming up in the news again and again. Recently, Governor Don Carcioni of Rhode Island vetoed legislation that would have allowed same-sex couples to have the right to plan the funerals of their departed partners. Carcioni said that this legislation represents "a disturbing trend" of the erosion of heterosexual marriage.

So, after a lifetime of living with a beloved someone, this dick says that the surviving partner can't even have the simple right to plan the damned memorial?! It isn't bad enough to deny the rights of those who engage in the American pursuit of happiness in a way which harms no one their rights in life -- they must now also do so in DEATH? What an unbelievable asshole!

Let's take a good look at this "disturbing trend" of crumbling heterosexual marriage Carcioni is talking about. It begins with 30% of the very conservative Christians who decry gay marriage getting divorced! Hell! If you're going to preserve the sanctity of marriage, look to your own damned house first! With conservatives dropping their marriages all over the place like hot potatos, it's amazing that they dare to champion marriage at all. There's the Rev. Ted Haggard and his gay lover giving him crystal meth. There's Governor Mark Sanford of North Carolina, who took his prolonged vacation with his South American mistress. There's Senator John Ensign of Nevada, who refused initially to resign after his sexual affair came to light. There's Larry Craig, the Republican Senator from Idaho, who tried to solicit a plainclothes police officer in a Twin Cities airport bathroom stall. Conservative states and communities consistently show a higher unwed teenage birth rate than liberal states and communities. Sarah Palin's own family illustrates this disturbing trend as Bristol Palin had her child out of wedlock. And please, before anybody gets mad at me for attacking Bristol, please understand I'm not attacking her, I'm attacking Sarah. Because Sarah thinks she can run the Republican Party, and probably the nation as president, when she can't even manage her own family.

Let's be completely honest, here. The sanctity of hetersexual marriage has been -- well, fucked for many decades now. Even Ronald Reagan was divorced. Mixed families are now commonplace -- so much so that no public school child feels at all out of place for being in one (though there are still plenty of other reasons for teens to feel awkward). Married couples routinely take lovers, teenagers routinely screw around, and it is now considered the norm for a couple to have sex together or live together before they get married. Conservatives want to deny gays & lesbians the right to get married in order to preserve the sanctity of marriage. People, THAT SHIP ALREADY SAILED! Rome has already been sacked and burned by the vandals -- and the poor conservatives are lining up a defensive posture around what's left of the walls, completely oblivious to the smell of the smoke. The culture war is over on this one, folks. The religious right lost.

In the meantime, the fight against gay rights somehow goes on, waged by the very same people who have enjoyed the freedoms of extramarital heterosexual sex. But you know what? Sooner or later we've got to realize that this is fucking AMERICA! When our citizens have to flee to France in order to gain freedom, there's something severely wrong here. Freedom, people! It's what America stands for. Without it, there is no America. And YES, that sometimes means people choose to excercise their freedoms in a way which the rest of us find disgusting. They'll get nose piercings. They'll tatoo their genitals. They'll die their hair neon purple. They'll get married to Larry King. We need to at least put gay marriage into this same category: Bizarre, maybe a little gross to some of us, but PROTECTED.

Sort of like plastic surgery to give a woman with a 24" waistline a 64 EEE bra size.

Or maybe conservatives would feel better if we legalized gay marriage, but taxed it to help pay for healthcare?

I guess that completely busts that argument.


Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Christianity caused our current financial crisis?

Boy, do I have a lot to blog about, as I've put this off for way too long. Basically, I dumped a ton of time into my Cell Biology midterm, and it payed off big time. But it's only just begun. I still have a Genetics exam to deal with.

Still, this item came along, and I just had to say something about it. A recent article in The Atlantic ascribes some of the blame for our current financial crisis to mainstream churches. The reason? Apparently, because of Prosperity Doctrine.

The article points out how prosperity preachers are so popular as to be among the bulk of mainstream evangelical churches these days. Any church that's a "big box" denomination of some sort is almost certain to have a prosperity preacher at the heart of it. After all, nothing attracts those who want to store up treasures in heaven quite like a gospel which teaches that you can also store up treasures here on earth.

But what is prosperity preaching? For those who are unaware, it's a descendant of the idea of faith-healing. Essentially, it comes from Mark 11:22, where the disciples of Jesus, amazed that Jesus had cursed a fig tree and it had withered within only a day (after the fig tree dared to have no figs out of season for him, the nerve of that dendrite!), exclaimed their surprise. Then Jesus says, "Verily I say unto you, whosoever shall say unto this mountain, 'Be thou removed, and be cast into the sea!' and shall not doubt, but shall believe that those things which he saith shall come to pass, he shall have whatsoever he saith." I'm probably getting some small detail of the quote wrong, since I'm too lazy to go to my bookshelf and look it up to make sure, but I'm getting the essence of it right.

Well, this idea has been used to promote the idea of the Lord giving you the power to be healed by faith. It works like this: Believe that you've been healed, and bam! You ARE healed. Of course, it's not always that simple. If you end up not being cured of your M.S., for example, it's probably because your faith is weak. (I actually saw this first-hand back when I was a Christian. So sad for the woman who languished away, trusting that God would heal her.) Anyway, the idea easily was extended to other things. After all, if you can claim healing by faith, then you can claim any other success in your endeavors, provided that your wishes are in accordance with God's will. So if you want to build a successful church, you believe that it's already done in God's plan for you, and it happens. Naturally, this gets further extended into personal finances. God wants his children to have the means to be able to do His will on earth, you see. And that means you don't have to be poor! You can be financially successful to be able to do God's glorious work with the money! Ah, but you have to be in accordance with God's will, and that means that FIRST, you must faithfully tithe. God will then give back to you, "good measure, shaken together, and running over."

It sounds at least somewhat biblical. Certainly there are plenty of scriptures where God rewarded His faithful servants with financial reward, such as Solomon or Job. Besides, what better way to get the attention off the fact that the preacher is wearing an Italian suit and a gold chain than to say that you too can have such success? The problem is, of course, that it tricks all kinds of well-meaning souls into giving 10% of their income, such as it is, to said rich minister in hopes that their financial woes will soon be over. What this usually results in is the poor sods being 10% poorer, and no closer to being Donald Trump. The prosperity preacher, on the other hand, sets a good little example of what one could hope to someday be. (Hem hem!)

The worst part of this is that the majority of churches, by number, struggle just to keep the lights on. But the few that don't, that are rolling in it due in large part to the gospel of financial wealth, are claiming the lion's share of church membership. They are ecclesiastical Wal-Marts, promising great deals, and sucking the surrounding area dry.

Okay, fine, but what does this have to do with the housing market? Well, enough people follow the prosperity doctrine these days to create a false expectation of the hope of future wealth among as much as 20% of the population. These people, believing by faith that God will grant them future riches, are far more likely to enter into home loans which they shouldn't. And if enough people do that, the housing market sets itself up for a fall. This, says the article in The Atlantic, is quite possibly what set up the conditions for collapse in 2008.

Is this article correct? Well, there is, of course, the role that predatory lenders played in all of this, deciding to grant loans to people with unworthy credit prospects in exchange for exorbitant interest rates. There is also the role of government removing key checks and balances from the moneylending industry. But aside from that, yes, the role of evangelical churches did contribute heavily to the problem. That, and talking heads shows like Oprah, telling families everywhere that personal wealth began with home ownership -- an idea which has always been a monetary mirage in a fiscal desert. No, the prosperity preachers didn't cause the housing bubble, nor did it cause that bubble to burst. But it definitely inflated that bubble to a great degree.

So why does this intrigue me? Only because I repeatedly hear people asking me, "What's the harm? Really, what's the harm if people believe something which gives them personal comfort?" The answer is myriad, of course. But at its basic element, it has to do with clinging to false hope when one could have a harder, but at least genuine hope. These people had faith in God to grant them wealth, and all they got was an empty wallet, and a foreclosed mortgage. It's sometimes counter-intuitive, but it is always better to have the cold-hard, prickly truth than the softest, most lovaby comfortable illusions.