Ninth place — Grad student essay contest: Neil Heacox

Evangelicals and environmental responsibility

FFRF awarded Neal $400.

Neil Heacox

By Neil Heacox

Bible passages are common justifications used by evangelical climate-change denialists to excuse harming our planet for personal gain. This religious group uses the bible and its outsized political strength to quash science-based public policy and the functioning of our government, hurting society and everyone on Earth.

The 2018 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report finally roused mainstream politicians to acknowledge the urgent threat of human-caused climate change. Since then, we get seemingly daily reports of increased frequency of extreme weather events, higher levels of carbon dioxide contributing to lung disease and respiratory problems, and even warnings that corn production could fall 50 percent by century’s end.

Findings from scientific research on climate change have become so dire it can almost seem fictional, but fact-based, peer-reviewed analyses are the only logical sources for governmental guidance.

Sadly, the White House sided with climate denialists, despite compelling evidence from its own scientists. Trump’s administration withdrew from the Paris Climate Accord, approved new mining leases for coal, cut water and air pollution regulations, proposed expanding offshore drilling, and more. Why? His administration is chock-full of evangelicals, the one voting block consistently resistant to climate change. As Vice has reported, Trump has put a number of biblical literalists in his cabinet, giving fundamentalists an enormous amount of power. It’s been argued, in fact, that biblical literalism is what’s keeping Americans from an agreement to fight climate change.

The most influential evangelicals in his administration have included Vice President Mike Pence, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue (who questioned the link between climate change and weather events), former EPA head Scott Pruitt (a climate-change denier), and former White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders (“We’ll leave climate change to a much, much higher authority.”).

With evangelists in power, environmental progress is backsliding. Two core evangelical beliefs (biblical literalism and Jesus’ return / apocalyptic imminence) are taught in a way that discourages concern for nature’s stewardship.

Biblical literalism is the first defense evangelicals use to shirk responsibility.Genesis 1:28 is the most popular verse, in which God instructs humans to “have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and all living things that crawl on the Earth.” At first glance, this translation seems straightforward, but scholars don’t agree. The bible often uses dominion as a synonym for authority and self-sacrificial love, rather than exploitation, as when it mentions parents’ dominion over their children and God’s relationship with humans. Unfortunately, fundamentalists use biblical texts in an overly literalistic way, ignoring cultural, historical or literary context. Another passage contradicts the “exploitation” argument: “God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.” Evangelical leaders are promoting particular verses over others to advance their denialist agendas.

The next most commonly used passages are apocalyptic. Some evangelicals point to God’s promise to Noah that he won’t flood the Earth again. Others cite the apocalypse in Revelation, Hosea and Psalms as a good thing: that the Earth giving way, animals dying, and seas frothing are God’s plan to save the righteous while Earth and everyone else are disposable collateral. Some even use Jesus to excuse responsibility: Luke 21:25-28 states that roaring seas and nations in peril signal his second coming, so the faithful need not fear.

Evangelicals pick and choose what God has promised them — will he not destroy the Earth, or is it a sign they’ll be saved when he does? Bible verses can function like horoscopes: You can change their meaning to fit your worldview. Using such an ambiguous text for public policy is dangerous. Our laws and Constitution, while not perfect, are generally better guides for lawmakers. The Constitution strongly advocates for separation of church and state, something the forefathers considered a necessary safeguard for a multicultural society. Using a bible for public policy then is not only unfair and problematic, but unpatriotic.

The undue political influence these evangelical denialists have is troubling.

Our current leaders justify corruption and greed at the expense of destroying our planet as their win-win ticket into heaven, while the rest of us face environmental collapse and death. The fact that this is our current reality and not some fictional horror movie should terrify everyone.

Neil, 29, is from San Diego and attends Cal Poly Pomona, where he is working toward a master’s degree in landscape architecture. “I moved to New York City to work in graphic design and along the way was disheartened by the lack of nature in the lives of everyday urbanites,” he writes. “When the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released its 2018 report, I decided rearranging pixels on a screen wasn’t enough of a purpose, and decided to pursue a major in landscape architecture with the goal of better interweaving the natural world with the human world.”

Tenth place (tie) — Grad student essay contest: Sam Hyde

The dangers of a blind land

FFRF awarded Sam $300.

Sam Hyde

By Sam Hyde

Have confidence in your leaders, and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you. — Hebrews 13:17

There are themes in the bible that some would consider to be against the best interests of modern society — verses that endorse slavery, gender subordination and sexual subordination. The passage of time and sift of cultural beliefs have worked against these practices, and they’ve fallen out of favor among many sects. There are, however, other tenets in the bible that have successfully resisted time’s ravages, yet have the capability to damage civilization — including Hebrews 13:17. It tells readers to not only obey their leader, but to have confidence in them, to not make their work “a burden.” This type of obedience is blind, in that it suggests that people should never question authority, but merely follow along like sheep. This line of thought is dangerous, stymying scientific innovation and enabling despotic regimes.

First and foremost, blind obedience stifles scientific innovation because it discourages questioning authority. Science, as a discipline, hasn’t had a perfect track record when it comes to getting things right on the first try. Diseases were once thought to be caused by bad air, the solar system was considered to be geocentric, and slaves only ran away because they suffered from drapetomania. Each of these theories ended up being overturned by later researchers, working from newer models and with new information. Overturning these erroneous models often meant going against existing authority, sometimes enduring ridicule by peers and superiors to do so. A large part of scientific research has arisen from individuals questioning accepted explanations and investigating alternative possibilities.

Obedience of the kind embodied by the above bible verse rejects this type of questioning. Instead, readers are simply told to believe in their leaders, and to not make life difficult for them. In such a society, scientific progress would slow to a crawl. This would leave erroneous and dangerous models, such as the theories that led to asbestos — now known to be carcinogenic — being used as a construction material. Science needs to be able to question authority to develop and adapt, something that the obedience preferred by the bible is incompatible with.

Blind obedience also leads to the enabling of despotic regimes. Hebrews 13:17 instructs readers to just believe in their leaders, and have confidence in their actions. However, questioning leaders is an important tool in the political arsenal, especially in a democracy such as the United States, where public displeasure is the only thing reining in representatives. The United States itself was born out of colonists questioning and eventually disobeying the British Empire in order to form a new country. Questioning leaders is the central pillar of current democratic regimes. If politicians were never held accountable by the populace for their actions, they wouldn’t need to take actions to benefit the citizenry. Despotic regimes often take advantage of this, indoctrinating their citizens into a state of total obedience, enabling the regime to get away with self-benefiting behaviors without having to worry about revolts. The regime in North Korea uses this method, having formed a cult of personality around the head of state, in which citizens are indoctrinated to be blindly obedient to whoever the current Glorious Leader is, regardless of the failings of the nation around them. This, obviously, is not an ideal state for society.

Civilization has reached the point where the status quo is no longer workable. The crises that will come in the next decades are global, in effect, and will require innovation in both science and policy to overcome. Blind obedience of the type proselytized by Hebrews 13:17 stymies both of these matters. It quells the populace and prevents them from holding their leaders to account for failing to deal with issues in an appropriate manner. It stymies the development of new scientific theories and inventions that could help mitigate the issues before us. These cause society to simply sit in place and stagnate, unable to break free from a rigid status quo. Given the global crises coming upon us, this simply is not an option.

Sam, 26, is from Tallahassee, Fla., and attends the University of Florida Levin School of Law. He is interested in reading, chess and the occasional delivery of a lengthy philosophical argument to his cat.

Tenth place (tie) — Grad student essay contest: Jonathan Ortiz

The bible as a scapegoat

FFRF awarded Jonathan $300.

Jonathan Ortiz

By Jonathan Ortiz

In U.S. politics, the Christian bible commands an astounding amount of respect from voters and politicians. While some forms of government support of Christianity have successfully been advocated against or ruled unconstitutional, it is disturbing how much power politicians still wield in political discourse and public policy when armed with the bible.

Romans 13:1 is one such verse that is used by politicians today to justify and guide bad public policy. It reads that “everyone [is] subject to the governing authorities” as “the authorities that exist have been established by God.” In context, Paul the Apostle does not call for subservient obedience to government and its public officials under all circumstances, but rather refers to the view that human governance is transcended by God’s divine governance and is therefore included as a part of the divine order. This nuance, as with all other widely used bible verses, is not understood by most, and so its superficial interpretation is used to justify restriction of the most basic values of freedom and opportunity upon which our republic was founded.

In June 2018, then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions cited Romans 13:1 as justification for the Trump administration’s harsh policy stance on immigration, separating children from their parents and holding them in facilities where living conditions are tantamount to those that exist within concentration camps. Sessions stated that people should “obey the laws of the government because God has ordained them for the purpose of order.” Instead of addressing serious concerns about the inhumane conditions under which these migrants and their children are being held, he derailed that discussion entirely by alluding to the bible as reason why these conditions are, in fact, just: In short, the U.S. government has laws against persons illegally entering the country, and because the government and its laws are ordained by God and these migrants are entering illegally, they deserve the consequences. What is interesting is that Romans 13:1 is not cited when evangelical zealots illegally bring religion into our classrooms or into our public spaces, or when they attempt to restrict a woman’s constitutional right to make use of family-planning services.

Sessions further stated that “orderly and lawful processes are good in themselves and protect the weak and lawful” — except that these policies do not protect those individuals. In late June, Francisco Erwin Galicia, an 18-year-old Dallas-born U.S. citizen, was unlawfully detained for more than three weeks by border officials when he could not present a passport to officials while traveling within the United States. He reportedly lost 26 pounds during his detention time, was not allowed to shower, and even considered self-deporting to escape the conditions. It is clear from this case and others like it that this administration’s stance on immigration is not about enforcing laws or maintaining order, but rather about perpetuating white privilege and systemic racism.

Until politicians and voters quit giving such inordinate deference to religion, Sessions and others will continue to use the bible to restrict liberties and repress the American people into submission. It is, after all, much easier to garner public support with a bible verse than it is with a statement declaring your bigotry and goal to force said bigotry onto all Americans.

Romans 13:1 is just one example of the way in which the bible continues to harm people today, especially those people whose civil liberties are already compromised. We must begin to call out appeals to the bible for what they really are: cowardly excuses. As then-White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders stated, it is “very biblical to enforce the law,” especially when those laws attempt to mainstream the racist, regressive and atavistic worldviews of those devoid of compassion or empathy.

Jonathan, 21, is from Gainesville, Fla., and attends the University of Florida, where he is studying economics and working toward a master’s degree. He was born and raised in Germany. He would like a job in the public sector.

Honorable mention — Grad student essay contest: Miranda Percy

A woman’s shame

FFRF awarded Miranda $200.

Miranda Percy

By Miranda Percy

I remember years ago, when I was in middle school, I would wrap my menstrual pads in a white T-shirt in hopes of camouflaging it when I needed to be excused at school. The mere thought of anyone knowing that I was having my period was mortifying. Now that I am older, I have had time to put thought toward the feelings of shame and embarrassment that women feel surrounding the topic of menstruation. Where did this feeling originate? As in many other instances, the root cause of the discrimination and damnation of women can be traced back to the archaic teachings of the bible.

According to Leviticus 15:19-20, “When a woman has a discharge, if her discharge in her body is blood, she shall continue in her menstrual impurity for seven days; and whoever touches her shall be unclean until evening. Everything also on which she lies during her menstrual impurity shall be unclean, and everything on which she sits shall be unclean.”

The impact this kind of teaching has on society can still be seen in today’s socioeconomic system. Women are constantly fighting for equal rights and simply want to be treated as equals. This verse has the exact opposite effect by promoting that we ostracize women for something that is natural. Women who are menstruating are still not allowed to pray in the mosque among other men, and women and are forced to pray from home.

An odd “tradition” or “old wives’ tale” that may also have originated from the Leviticus verse is the fact that many in the black community believe that it is not right to hold a newborn baby while menstruating. The fact that there is no scientific basis behind this makes me question if this notion centers on the thought that women are unclean when menstruating. Although this is far from the truth, the shame around menstruation can still be seen in today’s society. Perhaps if the bible were more focused on the miracle that is a woman’s body, rather than condemning her, religion could then be more of an ally to making women feel that they have nothing to be ashamed of.

The conflict between religion and science has long existed. As a scientist myself, I find it hard to understand much of the teachings of the bible, but this verse made me particularly disturbed because of its sheer ridiculousness. Without menstruation, humankind would not exist. Therefore, it is my belief that the bible should teach the celebration of women and take note of all of the miraculous things that her body can do. With verses such as Leviticus 15:19-20, it is no wonder why children and some women are ashamed of their bodies. The effect that this lack of self-esteem causes on our society is clear to see. Men are clearly valued more than women, even though the power of life resides within a woman’s womb.

Perhaps verses such as Leviticus 15:19-20 exist to keep women feeling inferior in this patriarchic society that we live in. By not taking the verses of the bible literally, and using my own moral compass as a guide, I now feel less shame about my body and I am proud to be a woman.

Miranda, 30, is from Arlington, Texas, and attends Texas Tech University Health Science Center, where she is majoring in clinical laboratory sciences. She is recently married and has a poodle and a cat. “I learned about the importance of laboratory work through a very personal experience,” she writes. “I was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer in 2014 and, without lab work, I surely would have succumbed to the disease.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Honorable mention — Grad student essay contest: Amber Osborn

The loss of self

FFRF awarded Amber $200.

Amber Osborn

By Amber Osborn

And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” — Luke 9:23. Variations of this same verse are repeated in Luke and Matthew in the New Testament. These verses call for humankind to deny themselves and give control of their lives to their god. This loss of self is detrimental to the individual psyche, produces a group mentality that excludes outsiders to make them feel isolated, and gives people validation of their bigotries. As a whole, the teachings the bible support only a group mentality, losing the individual along the way.

The psychology of religion has been studied by many of the most notable psychologists throughout history. Carl Jung, Alfred Adler and Sigmund Freud were colleagues with differing views on the subject. Jung’s work confirmed his personal affiliation as a Christian, but contradicted the typical teachings. To Jung, religion was a way for individuals to find themselves, yet the bible paints humans as here to serve God. Adler never addressed the subject in his own writings, but his co-author Ernest Jahn asserts that Adler’s point of view was that God is an ideal, not reality. Most of Adler’s concepts revolved around the individual and the distinct need to succeed. Meanwhile Freud, like Adler, viewed religion as an illusion, that humans’ infantile need for a father figure was the behind the need for religion. Each psychologist found the good with the bad in religion, explaining the uses for the social self and our connection to the past. They also felt that there was an element of delusion and deflection with religion that hindered the growth of the character.

This group mentality created by isolation and losing one’s self to the greater church can cause anxiety and fear in individuals who don’t agree. A great example of this is the Westboro Baptist Church, notorious for harassing the funerals of veterans and protesting against LGBTQ rights. People from all over have stepped up to protect individuals from their protests in recent years. When grieving the loss of a loved one or for those working towards being accepted for their sexuality, this can be a harmful message. Churches use the bible to support anti-LGTBQ, racist, sexist and many more views that judge others life choices. They band together to fight against these people’s rights, sometimes splitting families apart along the basis on religious belief.

We often find that people use the bible for their own prejudices. We often find people citing the bible for controversial issues like abortion and LGBTQ rights. These people turn to their church for support, hiding behind the group instead of admitting their own bias. This is extremely harmful when there is a large assembly of people seeking to alter another’s lives to their own desires, all based on a book written by humankind centuries ago. Within the bible there are many viewpoints some conflicting leading most to pick and choose their truth to their perspective. There are also the issues created from transcribing the texts. Transcribing can cause messages to be misunderstood between languages when there is no equivalent meaning in the language being transcribed into. It is believed that often times the transcribers would choose to copy it in a way that conveyed their own interpretations.

Putting oneself aside may seem like a novice idea to those who choose to be Christians. The reality of losing oneself to the church and giving it control can be much more frightening to society as a whole. This ideal causes a group mentality that shuns outsiders, and allows people to blame biases on their religion, without repercussions. Psychologists throughout history have had their reservations regarding the bible and its teachings due to the lack of individual growth it coaches.

Amber, 29, is from Piedmont, Kan., and attends Butler Community College, working on an associate’s degree in nursing. She has worked mostly in the service industry, but hopes to get into research nursing.

 

Honorable mention — Grad student essay contest: James Bingaman

The bible verse that allows governments to do as they please

FFRF awarded James $200.

James Bingaman

By James Bingaman

Romans 13 states the following: “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.” This passage has been used to defend demonstrably cruel and horrific policies enacted by governments across history. You can see why governments in power would use such a quote. It takes the onus off of them and puts it on a higher power.

During the American Revolution, Romans 13 was “the most commonly cited biblical text” used by loyalists as the revolution itself did not “honor the king.” Jump forward almost 100 years and you’ll see defenders of slavery use this same justification for the Fugitive Slave Act. In Germany, Lutheran churches used Romans 13 to justify their collaboration with the Nazi regime. In South Africa, the white Dutch Reformed Church defended apartheid by quoting scripture. Individuals who have instituted unpopular or controversial policies used this bible verse in the hopes of silencing criticism.

In 2018, then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions quoted Romans 13 to defend the Trump administration’s controversial zero-tolerance immigration policy. When Sessions was criticized for the use of this biblical passage, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders responded that she was not aware of what Sessions was referring to, but added that it is “biblical for a government to enforce the law.” This defense further deepens the idea that the bible is relevant in governing. One of the main criticisms of Sessions’ use of this quote was that it was cherry-picked. In fact, those criticizing Sessions point to Romans 13:8, which states that “love is the fulfillment of the law.” The fact that critics then invoked what they deemed as “good” parts of the bible further shows the pervasive influence that religion has on society.

This appeal to authority, while a fallacy, plays on one of Aristotle’s fundamental aspects of persuasion: ethos. Ethos is a method of persuasion in which the speaker attempts to persuade an audience by demonstrating their own credibility. There are a few ways in which this works. The first of these is intrinsic credibility. This means the credibility comes from the speaker themselves. The second of these is borrowed credibility. This credibility usually comes from a cited source. The final kind of credibility is what has been described as the “oh, that makes sense” credibility. This is often a reinforcing statement based on the audience’s beliefs or experiences. In people’s minds, there is no greater authority than God, so of course they will be persuaded by it. Sessions has neither the credibility himself nor sources to back up his administration’s immigration policy, so he tried to gain favor by appealing to the bible — something the majority of Americans believe in. But, as authors M. McIntyre and J. McKee state in their book Ethos, “just because something sounds right to you or makes you feel good about what you believe does not mean that it is true.” So, dissenters, don’t call them out by citing scripture; call them out for the errors in their reasoning.

As the rise of nonreligious affiliation grows among younger generations, and as these younger generations move into positions of power, we will start to see a transition from ethos predicated on already established beliefs to ethos based on intrinsic knowledge. As we have seen, if policies are not based on science and reason, we open ourselves up to erroneous and disastrous laws intended to persecute, silence and demean minorities, LGBTQ individuals, immigrants and a slew of other ostracized groups.

James, 26, is from Chandler, Ariz., and attends the University of Delaware, where he is working toward a PhD in media and communication. He is a dual citizen who moved from Australia to the United States in 2010 to play collegiate baseball. He graduated from San Jose State University with a B.A. in communication studies. In 2018, James graduated from Texas Tech University with an master’s degree in mass communications.

Honorable mention — Grad student essay contest: Chelsea Robinson

The importance of wives

FFRF awarded Chelsea $200.

By Chelsea Robinson

Chelsea Robinson

“Wives, be subject to your husbands as you are to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, just as Christ is the head of the church.” — 1 Corinthians 14:34-35

 While it seemingly posits moral values, the bible contains antiquated and potentially harmful information when viewed within the context of today’s social climate. One of the most egregious views that the bible supports is the subservience of wives to their husbands. This is a prevalent theme throughout the bible that fails to protect women from harm and inevitably sets up a dangerous precedent that a husband’s actions cannot be disputed.

Commerce, women’s rights, and, most importantly, lives are at stake when the real-life implications of this verse are upheld among Christian communities. Quality of life for men, women and children are greatly increased when wives are acknowledged for their social and familial autonomy.

In 2007, women controlled 30 percent of all private firms in the United States. That’s over $1 trillion in profits, and it portrays the vast economical influence that women can yield. In ancient times, wives primarily tended to domestic duties and rarely held positions outside of the home. Today, many women are pursuing advancement on their own, or they are able to balance family life with their career. Further, our collective psyche has evolved to seek intellectual pursuits as supported by Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. The psychologist Abraham Maslow postulates that once our basic needs have been fulfilled (food, shelter, safety), humans seek weightier goals such as belonging, prestige and recognition for their accomplishments. With free thinking

abilities, women can seek a more purposeful life for themselves. Husbands who discourage their wives from pursuing their own goals would hinder the progress of the entire society.

Women should be guaranteed the same rights as men for equal societal representation.

By asserting that “the husband is the head of the wife,” the bible removes the free will that women possess as living, breathing human beings. With the 19th century advent of free nations, many people were able to democratize their ideas for the betterment of their communities. Free men were able to vote for their town leaders and the laws that would affect their daily lives. Unfortunately, women were not guaranteed the same rights until 1920. This new world order aligns with the bible in that a specific, homogenized group would make decisions that affect a whole, unhomogenized group of individuals. Historically, this has been shown to create massive inequality and social unrest. Further, the well-known philosopher Aristotle states that the “having of a mind is essential to being human.” The bible removes the wife’s humanity and definitive rights by declaring that the husband is her “head.” Many laws that we have today (abortion, education, feminine hygiene taxes) directly affect women and they should be able to have greater influence over their lives.

By being subservient to men, women are at risk of physical or mental harm and in some cases, death. According to a 2018 report for National Crime Victims’ Rights Week, 35 percent of heterosexual American women have experienced intimate partner violence. The bible quote implies (“just as Christ is the head of the church”) that husbands can commit spousal abuse and deter their wives from seeking help or leaving them due to these abuses. The verse also supposes that wives should worship their husbands as they do the Lord, which directly compares husbands to the Lord and contradicts their infallibility. This could further be construed that a husband’s abuse of his wife is godly should she “deserve it” (another subjective clause), and therefore, inadmissible by God. In 1948, 48 countries signed the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which declares that “nobody has the right to hurt us or torture us.” Among nations with more than 50 million Christian inhabitants, Brazil, Mexico, the Philippines, Germany, Ethiopia and the United States signed the document. Inherently, wives have the right to be safe from the potential perils of their husbands.

As a society, Americans are moving toward full gender equality. Gay marriage was federally legalized by the Supreme Court, and more women than in any time in history are delaying or even eschewing the institution of marriage. The bible’s quotes pertaining to wives underpin their larger potential as contributors in society, and uphold archaic values that have no relevance in today’s increasingly progressive world. Our society can’t risk teaching future generations such harmful bible verses, since women have made great strides in equality for thousands of years since.

Chelsea, 30, is from West Hollywood, Calif., and attends the University of Southern California, where she is working toward a master’s degree in marketing and consumer behavior. She has been instrumental in acquiring new business for Fortune 500 brands and high-growth startups. In her spare time, she teaches yoga, watches foreign films and volunteers for a local animal rescue. She also travels frequently and has visited 50 countries in the past 10 years.

 

Honorable mention — Grad student essay contest: Kristina M. Lee

The use of the bible in the anti-gay movement

FFRF awarded Kristina $200.

By Kristina M. Lee

Kristina M. Lee

“If there is a man who lies with a male as those who lie with a woman, both of them have committed a detestable act.” — Leviticus 20:13

Leviticus 20:13 has become an increasingly political verse from the bible, as it has been used to fight against marriage equality. In thinking about how this verse has been used to target civil liberties and adversely affect individuals, I contend that the use of this verse demonstrates the power of theistnormative structures and mindsets within the United States. In this essay, I will define theistnormativity (a phrase I coined), explain how Leviticus 20:13 is used in conjunction with theistnormative ways of thinking, and urge the need to challenge theistnormativity in order to fight against those who use the bible to defend public policy.

Theistnormative thinking assumes that people will or should embrace religious recognitions, rituals and symbols. In the United States, theistnormativity typically takes the form of Christian privilege while often claiming to be simply reflecting the values of the United States. While theistnormative ways of thinking have been promoted throughout U.S. history, its use became more strategic during the 1950s with Congress implanting theistnormative legislation, such as the addition of “under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance and the official declaration of “In God We Trust” as the national motto. Such theistnormative legislation gives people “evidence” of the theistic nature of the United States.

There are numerous political situations where people have relied on theistnormative assumptions to make their cases. One of the most vocal in recent years has been the fight against marriage equality, in which the opposition relied almost entirely on theistnormative and biblical arguments. Leviticus 20:13 is one of several bible verses that has been used to argue that being gay is a sin. Another common verse used is Genesis 2:24, which claimed that men shall “leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh,” which is presented as “proof” that marriage is only between men and women. These examples are not just used to convince Christians, but all Americans, that gay marriage was wrong. Those using these arguments assume that all Americans do or should have belief, respect and/or acceptance of the reasoning in the bible. Those using the bible to support their reasoning often rely on the already established theistnormative structures to support this thinking. Anti-gay advocates often refer to the Pledge of Allegiance to justify their use of the bible to support their political claims, and people have noticed. It is no accident that several books and documentaries about the anti-gay movement include “under God” in their titles. The authors and producers have come to realize how powerful the phrase has been for the movement’s justification of using the bible to advocate for anti-gay policy.

While there is plenty to be said about the erroneous and contradictory nature of the bible, our First Amendment gives people the right to believe the concerning ideas espoused in it. This does not mean, however, that individuals have the right to force such ideas into policy affecting all Americans. Unfortunately, theistnormative rhetoric has become so common in politics that people feel justified trying to force all Americans to believe, respect, and accept Christian logics when passing policy. While it is important to challenge the verses in the bible that target civil liberties and adversely affect individuals, ultimately, people have the right to believe what they want. As such, it is imperative that we challenge theistnormative ways of thinking that lead people to conclude that everyone else in the United States is somehow obligated to follow these same logics of the bible. If people can no longer rely on the examples of “under God” in the pledge, “In God We Trust” as our national motto, National Prayer Breakfasts, and presidents beseeching “God Bless America” in every inaugural address as “proof” that we are a Christian nation, or at least a God-fearing one, then their arguments that their biblical verses should shape public policy, such as gay marriage, become far less convincing.

Kristina, 28, is from Fort Collins, Colo., and is attending Colorado State University, where she is working toward a PhD in communication studies. Her research focuses on the intersections of political and religious rhetoric, with a particular interest in the marginalization of atheists within the United States. Kristina grew up in Montana and has been strongly inspired by her grandma, who was not only one of the first women to get a degree in chemistry at Montana State University but who also walked out of a church in the 1940s after telling a priest he was being ridiculous.

 

Honorable mention — Grad student essay contest: Amber Wright

How the bible continues to violate women’s rights

FFRF awarded Amber $200.

By Amber Wright

The principle of religious freedom is one of America’s core values. The story of how the Pilgrims came to America to have freedom of religion has been taught in classrooms across the country from children in kindergarten just learning about the first Thanksgiving to high schoolers taking AP U.S. History. There’s more to the story of the Pilgrims and why they really came to America, but what has been passed down is the inspiring tale of their escape from religious persecution by the Church of England. Through the early stages of the nation, lawmakers juggled with the structure of religious policy. It came to be that freedom of religion was a constitutional right and America vowed to separate church and state in its policies.

Despite claiming “freedom of religion” and the separation of church and state are American rights, the United States uses the bible, a book with the teachings of Christianity, as a basis of morality, ethics and law. Christianity has been intertwined into America’s being from small instances such as “In God We Trust” on currency to larger and more influential areas such as policy. Policies in the United States based on the bible and Christianity have been and continue to be unfair to and disenfranchise groups such as women, the LGBTQ community and people of color. These beliefs continue to prevail today and prevent progressive social change.

Women, who can fall into all three of the aforementioned disenfranchised groups, have been fighting for social change and equal rights much longer than necessary and yet are still treated like second-class citizens in U.S. society, much of which stems from antiquated beliefs. In America, women are rapidly losing more rights and most recently have lost some rights over their reproductive systems in multiple states, a decision exclusively made by politicians of the opposite gender. Many Christian politicians will use the bible to support their stance on women’s rights, equal pay or even why a woman shouldn’t be president.

The inferiority of women is present throughout the bible starting from the book of Genesis, which states that Adam was made in God’s image, making him and thus all subsequent men holy, whereas Eve was created by God taking one of Adam’s ribs (Genesis 2:22) and not made in God’s image, but only as an extension of Adam. While in the Garden of Eden, Eve partakes in the forbidden fruit, thus inciting God’s wrath on all humankind. This passage implies that Eve, and consequently all women, are the root of all sin and evil because of Eve’s actions, whereas Adam is blameless. The passage is also used as a reference point as to why women aren’t “as smart” or “as capable” as men and therefore are inferior. As punishment for Eve’s actions, God cursed her and all women with the pain of childbirth and deemed maternity as a sin (Genesis 3:16).

An abortion ban was recently passed in some states, which now limits women from making decisions over their own reproductive systems; it is a blatant civil rights violation. Policies like this police and restrict women’s bodies and their choices. In many ways, this ban is reminiscent of Genesis 3:16, in which God cursed all women with motherhood and with pain during childbirth. Women are punished for being sexually active and must suffer by carrying a pregnancy to term whether it’s their choice or not.

Women have been lacking autonomy since before biblical times and that continues in society today. This theme of women’s inferiority is not only present in the Old Testament, but also the New Testament. I Corinthians 11:8-9 states, “For the man is not of the woman; . . . Neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man.” This reinforces that women weren’t created for themselves, but rather to be a submissive companion for men, as

Amber Wright

the bible devalues women and reduces them to property. Women aren’t allowed to make decisions about their own lives, much less about their own bodies, without a say from the opposite gender. With the recent violation of civil rights against women, the abortion ban shows that Christianity still heavily influences policy in the United States. The bible is a piece of literature that has no place to shape public policy as it deprives minority groups of civil rights and prevents our society from achieving equality and equity.

Amber, 26, is from New York City and attends The New School, where she is working toward a master’s degree in media studies. She enjoys traveling and experiencing new cultures, and speaks Spanish and Italian. Amber has worked at media companies such as NBCUniversal and Viacom and hopes to combine her interest of media, psychology, and activism in her career.

 

Honorable mention — Grad student essay contest: Samaya Shuput

Lack of sex ed stems from the bible

FFRF awarded Samaya $200.

By Samaya Shuput

Some of my backstory: I am a graduate student studying to become a clinical pharmacist, and I am passionate about healthcare, community service and infectious diseases. I am also an ex-Muslim and an atheist. I am not familiar with bible-specific passages, but the Qur’an has similar verses (many ideas copied from the bible), so I have a good idea of the societal problems that stem from both of these books. Many religious verses promote baseless, unscientific viewpoints. One example: “But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband.” 1 Corinthians 7:2. This bible verse, among others, frustrates me immensely. This verse implies that sex before marriage is immoral. It implies that abstinence is the only permissible sexual state unless the individual is married as a heterosexual. It is not inclusive of the LGBTQ+ community, adolescents and teenagers, or even unmarried sexually active individuals. These ideas are harmful for many reasons, however, I would like to address two reasons that are related to healthcare: First, in the areas where abstinence-only education prevails, research has shown that sexual risk is higher, leading to an increased risk of sexually transmitted diseases. Second, abstinence education can be correlated to higher amounts of both teen pregnancies and birth rates.

Abstinence-only sex education does not deter the rates of sexually transmitted diseases.

Research shows it likely increases sexual risk among adolescents. Many of the United States government’s current policies and procedures are not rooted in scientific reasoning. Since the 1980s, the government has continued to fund abstinence-only education to try to prevent STDs. Although sexual abstinence is 100 percent effective at preventing STDs, many people will choose to be sexually active. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, there are an estimated 20 million new cases of STDs yearly. I believe that abstinence education is more harmful than helpful, and that safe-sex education should be the forefront of combating the spread of STDs. Abstinence should not be a part of the equation of STD preventions. The heart of the issue is how to stop the diseases from spreading when people choose to be sexually active.

Currently, the most effective method is practicing safer sex, such as using a condom. Additionally, the promotion of regular STD testing for sexually active individuals could shift the mindset of preventing STDs. Only honest, scientific and informative sex education and discourse could help to reduce the number of STDs in the United States.

Abstinence-only education does not avert teen pregnancies; instead, rates of teen pregnancies correlate to states that promote it. Additionally, there are currently nine states with no mandatory sex-ed at all. Five of those states — Mississippi, Texas, Arizona, Arkansas and Louisiana — are not only allowed to omit sex-ed but are teaching abstinence-only education. These states are leading in the highest teen pregnancies per 100,000 people. Furthermore, according to the Guttmacher Institute, the most women at risk for unintended pregnancies (18 percent) who are not using any contraceptive methods are between the ages of 15 to 19. Again, I believe this event can be attributed to the absence of evidence-based sexual education. Statistics provided by the Guttmacher Institute show that contraception is often used inconsistently, which causes it to be highly ineffective at preventing pregnancy. Only 5 percent of unintended pregnancies occur when contraceptives are used correctly. Health care providers and public health educators should be teaching their communities on how to properly use contraceptives.

I believe that some biblical passages aim to control a person’s sex life. This leads to policies that will not allow for proper information on sex in fear of implying that a person can choose to be sexually active if they are responsible. I believe the strongest tool we yield for societal change is our knowledge. We can teach our communities that they can choose to be sexually active and they can avoid consequences if they are responsible. We can teach our adolescents that they can have low-risk sexual encounters by getting tested, using contraception, and receiving appropriate vaccinations. We can teach our students that they can have sexual freedom without fear mongering. As atheism is not a religion — it is lack of religion. Abstinence- only sexual education is not education — it is a lack of education.

Samaya Shuput

Samaya, 29, is from American Fork, Utah, and attends Roseman University of Health Sciences where she is working toward a doctor of pharmacy degree. She is an ex-Muslim who separated herself from her family when she was 19. She is passionate about the health sciences, community service, animals, and environmentalism.