pardon my trespasses

8/17/08

I get it: it’s a free country, and people are allowed to congregate and practice religion wherever they want, and by golly, even CNN is allowed to film it. But I can still have my opinion, and in my gesamtkunstwerk, having a major policy debate for the American presidency at a evangelical Baptist megachurch is Complete Fucking Bullshit. I don’t care that 80% of Americans say they’re some form of Christian. I don’t care that no actual laws were broken. I am sick of my home country being held theological hostage by people who happen to believe in stories that I do not.

Here’s where the chorus comes in: “yes, but these Christians are sick of what they perceive as moral and ethical decay in their home country” – sure, whatever, but their so-called moral authority comes from a belief system that was explicitly separated from government by our founding fathers. No matter what statistics you’ve got, the United States IS NOT and WAS NEVER SUPPOSED TO BE a Christian nation. Our brilliance, now tarnished and faded almost beyond recognition, was always rooted in the firmament of secularism.

Besides, if history has left us any clues, Christianity and power do not mix. Any religion combining with power becomes toxic. The religion-power cocktail robs all drinkers of their ability to appreciate any culture other than their own; it turns otherwise-empathetic people into drunk triumphalists. No, I’m not talking about your hometown church with its supportive community and edifying brotherhood. The problem is not with the trees, it’s with the forest.

When America exploded the atom bomb in 1945, the rules of humanity changed, and the idea of a country being unduly influenced (or controlled) by religion suddenly stopped being funny. That means us, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, India – it doesn’t matter. For my daughters’ sake, for your kids’ sake, you had all better hope cooler heads prevail for the next 500 years. I’m not so optimistic.

In the meantime, there’s a few things the agnostics among us would like. At the very least, a mega-church like Saddleback, or any congregation that tries to influence elections because of a religious agenda needs to lose their tax-exempt status. It’s one thing to whisper in the future President’s ear about the death penalty, about denying rights to homosexuals, about how God gave the environment to Man to do with as he pleases, about womens’ right to choose… but it’s quite another to make me pay for it.

0 thoughts on “pardon my trespasses

  1. Schultz

    “…….but it’s quite another to make me pay for it.”
    I could not agree more with your sentiments but chuckled when I read the last sentence above.
    Welcome to our world.

    Reply
  2. Matt

    I find much to disagree with in today’s post, which seems mostly a general objection to Christians participating in politics in any manner — ironic since it is that which violates the spirit of the 1st Am — but what exactly are you “paying for”? A tax break isn’t a bill and no more of a burden on taxpayers than if the church never existed and a tax exempt status is only jeopardized by partisan electioneering, which clearly did not occur last night.

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  3. Schultz

    Matt,
    Tax exempt status is a huge burden on taxpayers. For example, the four biggest employers in my town are the city, a major university and two very large medical conglomerates. All are tax exempt. Imagine the property taxes avoided by their declaration of non-profit status.
    This has a major impact on other property owners and is generally considered to be a growing problem all around the country.
    Jis sayin

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  4. Matt

    Poperty taxes not levied is not a cost to the taxpayers, Schultz. Taxpayer’s aren’t paying anything to the church. And their tax exempt status is clearly not in jeopardy because of the debate held last night based on the law. The NAACP, on the other hand….

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  5. dean

    A church in California asks the 2 candidates to voluntarily show up. The candidates make their own decision to do so. The 2 candidates are asked the exact same questions and no editorial feedback is offered by the questioner following any of the respective answers. CNN chooses to air the sets of questions in their entirety. The church voluntarily allows them to do so. American voters are perhaps enlightened by the 2 sets of answers.
    What in the world is the actual objection?
    What is the violation of the Constitution?
    Where did the government play any role in establishing religion on Saturday?
    What did the church do to unduly affect the election in any manner different than if the event had been held at the local YWCA?
    Where is the liberal mindset of tolerance toward other folks’ standards and beliefs?
    The questioner on Saturday never claimed that the country was a Christian country. He once cited your stat of 80% of the population describing themself as Christian and he once stated that the country was created and formed under Judeo-Christian beliefs and principles. Is he wrong? If you believe so, have you read the D of I or the Const lately?

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  6. Terri

    Dean is right. Matt, on the other hand … (we get it already, you don’t like THOSE people – talk about beating a dead horse)…

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  7. Piglet

    I wouldn’t mind so much, except that the scientific community has been asking both candidates to speak with THEM about their plans for funding American scientific research, and both candidates have ignored them. But they’re more than willing to go to a church and discuss the Man in the Moon.

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  8. Piglet

    And, of course, it turns out the whole “Cone of Silence” thing was “bearing false witness”, and McCain had the opportunity to listen in on the questions when they were asked to Obama. And when confronted about it, the McCain camp had a blustering, Captain Queeg meltdown before lying about it.

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  9. Piglet

    I would have said all that in one post, except that I couldn’t figure out what part kept being “denied for questionable content.” In fact, I’m still not sure what the problem was.

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  10. Matt

    Terri, your baseless aspersion towards me is shameful. The organization I cited has a long record of partisan press releases and political activity, as opposed to the event held last night, which is the entire point of its mention. It is becoming something of standard fare to tarnish as a racist anyone who doesn’t worship at the altar of Obama, which is in fact what motivated your comment. I have never written anything on here to justify such treatment.

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  11. Matt

    The hundreds of thousands of bodies that Saddam piled up while anti-Iraq protestors stood by? And what is this nonsense about McCain cheating? Obama has a bad night and his aides make up some baseless accusation? (That seems to be a pattern.) McCain plainly denied it. You all know there was no actual “Cone of Silence,” right?

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  12. Scott M.

    I’m not going to join the pile-on against Matt, but I do have some comments regarding tax-exempt status for churches.
    Matt makes a good point when he asks, “what exactly are you “paying for”? A tax break isn’t a bill and no more of a burden on taxpayers than if the church never existed…”
    However, the same could be said for taxes for ALL businesses. If the Acme business didn’t have to pay taxes, then that’s no more of a burden to taxpayers than if Acme didn’t exist.
    And it’s the same for income tax. If I didn’t have to pay income tax, that’s no more of a burden on taxpayers than if I didn’t exist.
    Yet we tax both businesses and incomes.
    Churches should be treated like businesses and should have to pay taxes.
    They own land/assets, they have employees, they “sell” services (albeit for donations rather than set prices)… sounds like a business to me.

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  13. Terri

    No, Scott M., McCain is not the mind reader; Matt is. How else could he know the reason for my comment? Let me be clear, Matt: 1) I talk to/interact with people EVERY day who are not going to vote for Obama and they are about as racist as my cat, so sell that somewhere else; 2) I’m sure your attitude towards THOSE people was in place loooooooooooooong before you knew who Obama was …

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  14. Zel M.

    Oooh, comments like this from the supposedly “enlightened” progressives, get my panties in a twist.
    “(T)he United States IS NOT and WAS NEVER SUPPOSED TO BE a Christian nation. Our brilliance, now tarnished and faded almost beyond recognition, was always rooted in the firmament of secularism.”
    Absolutely incorrect. Have you actually read the Declaration of Independence, with its references to Natural Law as defined by God, inalienable human rights endowed by a Creator, and a relaiance on Divine Providence? Likewise, the Constitution specifially prohibits the establishment of a state religion (e.g. the Church of England) or the federal government prohibiting the free exercise of religion. At no point was the US intended to be areligious; this notion is mainly a product of court rulings in the last third of the 20th century. Our brilliance was not in secularism, but in the tolerance of religion of all kinds.
    “Besides, if history has left us any clues, Christianity and power do not mix. Any religion combining with power becomes toxic.”
    Well, yes and no. Have wars and injustices occurred in the name of Christianity? Absolutely. Any of those happening in modern times? Not much, not since the Crusades, anyway. Power is what is toxic – religion just gives it a different fervor. How did Hitler and Stalin do with power but no religious backing whatsoever?
    “When America exploded the atom bomb in 1945, the rules of humanity changed, and the idea of a country being unduly influenced (or controlled) by religion suddenly stopped being funny.”
    Wait a minute – are you trying to imply that America’s use of a nuclear weapon was somehow influenced (or controlled) by religion, and then unduly so? That is a very specious step to take, even for you. If the USSR had dropped the bomb on Japan instead (or on the US, for that matter), do the rules of humanity not change because the bomb-dropper was areligious?

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  15. Zel M.

    And another thing: Do you really think either candidate would go into a forum like that without some idea of what the questions would be? I mean, come on, you even get a pre-interview for the Tonight Show, so you can rest assured both McCain and Obama knew what was coming with some degree of certainty…

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  16. Matt

    Scott M wrote: “Churches should be treated like businesses and should have to pay taxes.”
    If that’s how we want to draw up the IRS rules, fine with me. The point is, at least as far as today’s topic was concerned, the church holding the debate wasn’t in violation of its tax exempt status and no one is “paying” anything (as was alleged) for the church to exist. Some folks look at an inability to tax something as a loss of revenue, as if our money belonged to the government and we should be grateful that we’re allowed to keep any of it.
    As for the “mind-reader” comment… Rick Warren said he spoke to each candidate by phone before the debate and told them several questions in advance (adoption was one of them) as well as several of the general topics to be discussed. The Kossacks are a bit paranoid.
    Terri, you can’t point to a single example of racism on my part. It really makes yourself look bad and I think all those who engage in this type of smear underestimate the impact it will have on the general election. No one likes to be falsely accused of being racist, and it’s happening all over the , blogs, TV and newspapers these days.

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  17. Ian

    Dean asked:
    “What is the violation of the Constitution? Where did the government play any role in establishing religion?”
    Please read my post. I never said anything about the Constitution, and in fact, reiterated the fact that everyone is free to do what they wish. I was stating MY OPINION that this kind of serious forum held in a place of worship is scary, unrepresentative of anything I believe in, and would be an affront to the people who founded our country.
    “What did the church do to unduly affect the election in any manner different than if the event had been held at the local YWCA?”
    Please, Dean, let’s not be disingenuous. Having a policy discussion inside an evangelical Baptist church MEANS SOMETHING and you know it. Specifically, let’s give one example: it means both candidates for president are appearing in a forum that works to make my homosexual friends desperately unhappy, and that sends a message to everyone in the world, let alone every voter in the country.
    “Where is the liberal mindset of tolerance toward other folks’ standards and beliefs?”
    Shit, man, I think we’ve been MORE than tolerant in accepting Christianity. Agnostics are asked to swallow a lot, and by god, we do.
    Zel M. writes:
    “Have you actually read the Declaration of Independence, with its references to Natural Law as defined by God, inalienable human rights endowed by a Creator, and a relaiance on Divine Providence? ”
    Such literalism! The use of so many euphemisms for a deity should tip you off that our founders meant “God as you choose to define Him”, the same way they do in Alcoholics Anonymous. It’s no stretch to imagine they didn’t mean Evangelical Baptists, that’s for sure.
    Better theologians and historians than you or I have weighed in on this question, but again, my research points to a very liberal description of what they meant by a Creator – and again, NO MENTION OF CHRISTIANITY IN PARTICULAR. That’s the WHOLE POINT of the beginning of this country.
    “…are you trying to imply that America’s use of a nuclear weapon was somehow influenced (or controlled) by religion, and then unduly so?”
    No. My point was this: jingoistic fervor is scary, but nothing is as scary as religious fundamentalism, because it is rooted in such irrationalism and blatant disregard for other viewpoints – and once atomic weapons were invented, it suddenly became in the world’s best interest to Keep Religion Out of Governments With Humanity-Erasing Bombs.
    As for who knew what, going into the debate, it’s been pretty-well established that McCain got preferential treatment, but as you say, Obama no doubt knew that going in.

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  18. FreshPaul

    Speaking of unrighteous Mammon, did anybody else catch this wee nugget about the price of a ducat to attend this forum?
    http://wrongintheirmindtanks.blogspot.com/2008/08/candidates-take-part-in-massive-church.html
    For what it’s worth, that wasn’t a debate; there was no interaction (other than a brief bro-grab) between the candidates and they were just asked questions of a similar nature. While Saddleback certainly has a right to stage (the operative word) such an event, utilising it as a fund raiser or what-have-you is more than a bit disingenuous. Yeshua bar Yosef would have been overturning some tables left and right up in there.
    Further, the old “our founding fathers judeo-christian just as I am without one plea” meme is tired as hell. As others have pointed out, belief in God/Creator/”life force” is a far cry from orthodox Christian belief; very few of those men would be members of modern Christian churches of most any stripe, nor would they want to be. Deism, Freemasonry, and the Enlightenment are what informed the ethical mode of understanding for a majority of those men…
    Also, I do have to say something nice about Rev Warren in that he has done very much within his movement to break the GOP strangle hold on mega churches and broaden the range of what are considered “values” issues beyond the fruitless political carousels of abortion and homosexuality…he also has mobilized considerable work towards confronting AIDS in Africa. Of course, his platinum best seller is theologically vapid and only a few clicks above Joel Osteen’s pap, but my grandma always told me to say something nice…

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  19. Matt

    “Such literalism! The use of so many euphemisms for a deity should tip you off that our founders meant “God as you choose to define Him”, the same way they do in Alcoholics Anonymous. It’s no stretch to imagine they didn’t mean Evangelical Baptists, that’s for sure.”
    The founders meant religious freedom for everyone except evangelical baptists?

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  20. tregen

    Generally, I find myself in some level of agreement with Matt but today I think you are way off.
    We do pay for Churches through subsidies. How does that work? Roughly like this:
    A city or other entity that is bound by a geographical area and taxes property has a limited amount of space (S) and a certain level of total revenue needed (TR), Each parcel of space is evaluated based on the particular demand for that space. (D) So roughly for the taxes to be calculated for any given parcel you get S*D/TR This means that better locations pay a higher tax that less desirable locations based on the amount of revenue needed to be collected. However, when large amounts of prime, high value space is removed from the taxable space, the overall space (S) is reduced meaning higher taxes for everyone else because TR remains the same.
    Why do I say “prime, high tax space”? Take a look around in any city, in the most desirable locations and see how many “tax exempt” buildings are there. Why do churches chose to build in these locations and how do they afford to do so? Through subsidies from everyone else. (yes, even renters pay a premium to cover real estate taxes, it is built into the rent) It is time for the subsidies to stop and for the most efficient use of the space to be decided based on market principles. The fact that God’s children decide to build a mega-church in downtown any town does not mean that it should not be subject to market forces (tax imposed are a function of markets since markets set the value of the land) Finally, I assure you that at a minimum the land that Saddleback Church was built on was taxed in some way before it was bought by the church.

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  21. Matt

    I don’t know the zoning of the land where the Saddleback Church is located or whether it was developed before or not, but I see your point, tregen. Nonetheless, I don’t agree with the assertion that Ian or any other taxpayer is “paying” the church. A loss of tax revenue is not the same because it wasn’t the government’s money to begin with. We are also talking about more than just churches who enjoy tax exempt status. Charities and not-for-profits do as well. Yet I never hear any complaints from Ian about the blatant partisan politics engaged in by Trinity United and St. Sabina, to name just two recent examples in the news. No doubt because he agrees with them to some degree, which belies his objection to Saddleback.

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  22. Ian

    Matt, for the record, any church that deliberately tries to sway election results directly – rather than reinforcing a general set of moral and ethical values as they see fit – is totally inappropriate, scary to folks like me, and DEFINITELY deserving of losing tax-exempt status. That absolutely includes Trinity United and St. Sabina, whose politics I do not agree with in whole.
    But come on… the reason I don’t mention those churches is because a Presidential policy forum didn’t take place at them. And the chances of McCain attending an event at St. Sabine’s are about the same as finding him in bed with a goat.

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  23. Matt

    Ian, an organization’s tax exempt status is dependent not on the mere presence of politicians or discussions of political issues, but on whether they engage in PARTISAN electioneering. That did not happen at Saddleback last weekend and no one (except for yourself) is alleging otherwise. Warren played it straight down the middle, giving the candidates equal time (giving Obama some extra benefits and kudos, according to some).
    Trinity United, on the other hand, most certainly did promote Obama’s campaign from the pulpit and routinely engages in partisan political sniping, as does a certain other organization whose name apparently cannot be mentioned. And St. Sabina’s Father Pfleger has undoubtedly violated his church’s 501(c)3 tax-exempt status by inviting Democratic politicians (and no Republicans) to speak from the pulpit. The church itself donated over $5,000 to various Democratic campaigns while Pfleger personally donated almost $7,000 to liberal politicians, including $1,500 to the Obama campaign.

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  24. wottop

    Sorry, the Consitution was designed to keep the government from mandating religeous belief, not to keep religious organizations from influencing the government. The Founding Fathers wrote it that way on purpose.
    Just like they meant that the right to bear arms had to do with maintaining a local militia, not to allow you to shoot the neighborhood kids if they wander into your yard.
    If you want to be agnostic, feel free. If you want to think that all Christians are homophobic morons, feel free.

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  25. T.J.

    “Just like they meant that the right to bear arms had to do with maintaining a local militia, not to allow you to shoot the neighborhood kids if they wander into your yard.”
    What are you talking about? Both ends of your statements are wrong. The right to bear arms is guaranteed under the Constitution for three reasons, as I believe it:
    1. To be able to protect yourself from individuals who would seek to hurt you;
    2. To be able to hunt and provide your own food; and
    3. To be able to protect yourself from the government.
    Whoever said the right to bear arms gave you the right “to shoot the neighborhood kids if they wander into your yard?” That’s patently ridiculous.

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  26. Bob

    “P[r]operty taxes not levied is not a cost to the taxpayers…”
    Baloney. If X doesn’t pay property taxes, Y, Z, and the rest of the alphabet have to pay more. Oh, sure, we could just lower spending instead. How’d that work out in the Reagan, Bush I, and Bush II administrations? Peachy, huh?
    Take away the tax exemption from *all* religious organizations, and maybe the Falwells and Robertsons will find some slightly more honest way to make a living, like sticking up convenience stores.

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  27. Matt

    “If X doesn’t pay property taxes, Y, Z, and the rest of the alphabet have to pay more.”
    Now this is beating a dead horse… If X isn’t paying the taxes he should, you might have a point; Y and Z would be shouldering X’s burden. But when X isn’t required to pay taxes, like charities and 58 million income-earning households who pay no federal income tax, then the government shouldn’t be spending as if they were (yes, very peachy). It isn’t the government’s money to begin with so it shouldn’t be looking at it like a loss! Your last line reveals some bigotry, if I may add.

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  28. Zel M.

    Ian wrote:
    “The use of so many euphemisms for a deity should tip you off that our founders meant “God as you choose to define Him”
    If you and your covey of better theologians and historians believe that a bunch of rich, Anglo, white males writing in the 1770s meant anything other than the Judeo-Christian God, then go right ahead.
    My larger point, and one which you back-handedly proved for me, is that what makes the USA singularly unique is not the absence of religion, as you purported, but its general tolerance and acceptance of all religions.
    “…a very liberal description of what they meant by a Creator – and again, NO MENTION OF CHRISTIANITY IN PARTICULAR.”
    But to think they meant Buddha, Allah, Vishnu, or Isidora Duncan (a little Bull Durham shout-out there) is a stretch.
    As for tax-exempt status of churches and other such entities, there are two kinds. Exemption from Federal taxes on generated income, and exemption from state and local taxes. Many, many organizations with political motives are non-profit, federally tax-exempt organizations.
    State and local taxes are another issue and vary widely from state-to-state. In NC, for example, the only truly tax-exempt entities are local governments. Everyone else, including schools, pays either sales tax and/or property taxes (but again this varies state to state). My church, for example, must pay property taxes and sales taxes. And remember, the whole premise of the movie “Blues Brothers” was to raise money to pay the orphanage’s property tax…

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  29. wottop

    “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

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