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"It is better to be drunk with loss and to beat the ground, than to let the deeper things gradually escape."

- I. Compton-Burnett, letter to Francis King (1969)

"Cynical realism – it is the intelligent man’s best excuse for doing nothing in an intolerable situation."

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"

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Wednesday, 19 May 2004

Topic: The Culture

Today In Religion - Texas Theology

When you come across a statement like this, well, you want to investigate:
To the State of Texas in 2004, a money-making racket founded by a third-rate science fiction writer qualifies as a 'religion' and the faith of Ethan Allen and Daniel Webster doesn't. This is what barbarism looks like.
Say what?

Okay, it seems that Texas grants tax-exempt status to the Church of Scientology, founded by L. Ron Hubbard, who indeed has written more than a few science-fiction novels. Third-rate? I never liked them much, but to each his own. And I find most of what his Church of Scientology purports as the way things are to be massively silly, but any sillier than the grumpy invisible guy in the sky who will be sure you burn in flames forever if you are nice to gay people? Whatever.

What upset Patrick Nielsen Hayden, quoted above, is that the office of Texas Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn has taken away the tax-exempt status of Unitarian Universalist Church - you know, those nice folks who run the American Cathedral in Paris and hid any number of Jews from the Nazis and all that sort of thing. Those are the do-gooders who say all religions basically worship the same God, or universal force, or whatever. Carole Keeton Strayhorn says that is not religion, as the organization "does not have one system of belief."


Quoting from the Dallas newspapers, Hayden finds that one Dan Althoff, board president for one of the newly nonreligious congregations, is a bit unhappy - "I was surprised -- surprised and shocked -- because the Unitarian church in the United States has a very long history." And he points out presidents John Adams and John Quincy Adams were both Unitarians.

Yeah, well, both Tom Cruise and John Travolta belong to the quite legal and tax-exempt Church of Scientology.

Who would you think is more "correct" theologically?

Jesse Ancira, who is the comptroller's top lawyer, said Strayhorn has applied a consistent standard -- and then stuck to it. For any organization to qualify as a religion, members must have "simply a belief in God, or gods, or a higher power. We have got to apply a test, and use some objective standards. We're not using the test to deny the exemptions for a particular group because we like them or don't like them."

But if you read all this you see a problem. As the item notes, applying that standard could disqualify Buddhism because it does not mandate belief in a supreme being.

Okay, there aren't a whole lot of Buddhists in Texas so who cares about their tax-exempt status?

Lawsuits coming? Of course. And Carole Keeton Strayhorn vows to continue the legal fight to the U.S. Supreme Court, if necessary. "Otherwise, any wannabe cult who dresses up and parades down Sixth Street on Halloween will be applying for an exemption," she said in a April 23 news release.

Maybe I don't have this Unitarian thing right at all... A wannabe cult?

Well the father and son Adams team, like Jefferson and so many of our Founding Fathers (so to speak), were Deists and that led to the modern Unitarian Church somehow.

Over at one can find this:
It should be no surprise that Deists joined Unitarian churches. The rational, practical, free religion of the Unitarians shares much with Deist ideas:

1. Belief in One Unipersonal God (Channing, Unitarian Christianity - "The proposition, that there is one God, seems to us exceedingly plain.")

2. Generally reject the infallibility of revealed scriptures (James Freeman Clarke Manual on Unitarian Belief - "Unitarians do not believe in the infallibility of the Bible. Inspiration leads to the sight of truth and reality, but not necessarily to a perfectly accurate description of what is seen.").

3. Rejects the traditional interpretation of revelation (Alfred Hall, from "Revelation and Inspiration" in The Beliefs of a Unitarian - "Unitarians believe that revelation comes in a progressive order. As man develops intellectually, morally and spiritually, so are the truths of God's wonderful worlds made known. The discovery in every sphere of human activity has been gradual, and religion forms no exception to this rule.")

4. Believe that the natural order of the universe is testament to the existence of a Higher Power (Alfred Hall in The Beliefs of a Unitarian - "Unitarians believe that order prevails in the realm of nature. They are ready to accept the truths which science has discovered, and to adopt their theological conceptions to ascertained facts.")

5. Reject the idea that God would punish humanity as a whole for the misdeeds of an individual, and the idea of infinite torture for finite deeds: (George Burnap On Original Sin - "That the condemnation of mankind to endless misery on account of Adam's sin, would be unjust, is a proposition so plain, that it only requires to be stated to strike the intuitive sense of justice, which God has implanted in every bosom. It is so plain that no reasoning can make it plainer.)

6. Believe that humanity has true free will, and that God does not violate our free will by interfering with humanity (Channing On God and Free Will - "One of the greatest of all errors, is the attempt to exalt God, by making him the sole cause, the sole agent in the universe, by denying to the creature freedom of will and moral power, by making man a mere recipient and transmitter of a foreign impulse. This, if followed out consistently, destroys all moral connexion between God and his creatures."

7. The necessity of reason in religion (Channing, Unitarian Christianity - "We profess not to know a book, which demands a more frequent exercise of reason than the Bible.")
There's a lot of God stuff in all that. I'm not sure what the problem is for the Comptroller of the State of Texas. Not one system of belief?

Well, not hers. I think the last item just pissed her off - the necessity of reason in religion.

That just won't do. This is Texas after all.

Oh, and by the way, check out this:

Pleading the First
Scott Mclemee, Newsday, May 16, 2004

This is a review of -
FREETHINKERS: A History of American Secularism, by Susan Jacoby. Metropolitan, 417 pp., $27.50.

And Mclemee has some interesting comments -
For the past few years a friend of mine in the Midwest has been engaged in a war of words in the columns of a local newspaper. Every so often someone writes a letter to the editor claiming that the United States is a Christian nation and that, as the formula goes, "freedom of religion doesn't mean freedom from religion." In response, my friend writes a letter pointing out that the Founding Fathers tended to be deists, not Christians. They saw God as, essentially, a watchmaker. He created the universe, wound it up and then stood back to let it run. If Franklin, Washington, Jefferson and Paine had a religion, it was a faith in reason, not in the Bible.

It was a pretty avant-garde notion for the 18th century. And even, it seems, for the 21st, at least in certain regions of the world (some of them within our own borders). It hardly matters that my friend, a history professor, knows what he is talking about. Fundamentalist groups circulate leaflets containing stock responses to such arguments -- including quotations that, torn from context, "prove" that the separation of church and state was never a basic American value. (After all, even the least orthodox of the Founding Fathers occasionally said something nice about Jesus.)
Reason? Bad. Franklin, Washington, Jefferson and Paine were just kidding in chatting it up as something special. We all know that now. All Texans know it.

Posted by Alan at 17:48 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 19 May 2004 17:54 PDT home

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