Acts of Empathy

Handling explosive emotions demands five acts of Empathy

Excerpted and edited for ISHN by Dave Johnson

Everybody agrees that empathy is crucial to risk communication. Vincent Covello, for example, argues that caring/empathy accounts for 50 percent of trust; the other 50 percent, he says, is shared about equally by dedication/commitment, honesty/openness, and competence/expertise. He often quotes an old saying to the effect that people (especially people who are upset) don’t care what you know until they know that you care.

So if you do care, showing you care is obviously crucial. What isn’t so obvious is how to show you care, how to express your empathy.

Read more at http://www.ishn.com/articles/handling-explosive-emotions-demands-five-acts-of-empathy

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Empathy in Action – Erinn Phelan’s Selfless Act

By Arthur P. Ciaramicoli, Ed.D., Ph.D

We read about the poor character of celebrities every day but acts like Erinn Phelan’s attempt to save the life of her college roommate are buried in pages far from the headlines.

Erinn is a Brown graduate who had found her ideal job after graduation last summer working for Mayor Bloomberg in his new volunteerism initiative.

As Erinn and her college roommate Alma Guerrero crossed a street in Brooklyn this past Sunday they were hit by a car that didn’t stop. . .

Read more at http://www.balanceyoursuccess.com/empathy-in-action-erinn-phelan-selfless-act/

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Suffering Unleashes Goodness

By Arthur P. Ciaramicoli, Ed.D., Ph.D

A few weeks ago I was talking with one of my patients about his recent release from the hospital where he was treated for a major infection. He was telling me he had to get home to cook the turkey for Thanksgiving. He was bringing the meal to his elderly parents, his mother is recovering from her second bout of breast cancer and his dad is currently struggling with the effects of Leukemia. Joe also mentioned that he invited . . .

Read this and other articles by Dr. Ciaramicoli at http://www.balanceyoursuccess.com/author/docapc/

The ACLU on Religious Freedom: Watchdog or Attackdog?

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A child is born neither Christian, nor Jew, nor Muslim, nor atheist, nor an adherent to any other brand of religious or philosophical order. A child is born a human being with an ability to learn, and from this raw material society builds her walls of nationalism and religious certitude. (Thoughts of Professor Hale from the novel, The Empathy Imperative, by Max T. Furr)

Note: The following post concerns a highly emotional subject, the effect of which is an impediment to reason and understanding. Most of us have heard the admonition to never discuss religion and politics with family and friends. Yet, these are the very subjects that must be discussed with family, friends and strangers—with civility, empathy and an open mind—if we are serious about our desire for social harmony and, someday far in the future, world peace.

I believe that most of us can agree that the only path to social harmony is empathy with benevolent reciprocity. Real social harmony cannot happen through organized religion, as I shall explain. Social harmony begins when each individual brings about harmony within himself. This is a difficult task because it is within each individual where we find the strongest impediment to reason and understanding; our genetically based sense of insecurity—an inclination to xenophobia (mistrust or fear of strangers and foreign concepts).

So, how do we begin to remove these impediments to understanding? Each of us must come to understand that this roadblock to reason is what builds our walls of radicalism and self-righteousness in matters of politics and religion.

The first step is to realize that, for most of us, what we believe to be sacred truth was a thing taught to us as from tothood. Had I been born a Muslim, I would most likely still be a Muslim and one of radical persuasion had the environment in my formative years been so inclined. Were I born a Hindu or a Sikh, I would most likely be so today. No matter where I was born, I would have been taught the religious truths of my family and society and I would have believed those truths every bit as fervently as others believe theirs. This is the fundamental understanding we must accept for the sake of reason and empathy. Whether or not one’s religious truths are actually true is not in question here. The only appeal is to understand that they are a function of happenstance of birth.

So, what has the ACLU and other such organizations to do with helping us move beyond our impediments to understanding? The argument I pose above is not one that will meet very many eyes and likely not many open to my reasoning. The very existence of organized religion is to placate our genetically based insecurity. Thus it is most difficult for us to move out of that comfort zone and view other beliefs with objective and empathetic eyes.

It is unfortunate that social harmony—such as it is today—must be imposed by law in every nation on earth. The reason is because of our impediments to understanding and empathy. We do not see eye to eye and often passionately so. This is why we must have laws and organizations that help us move beyond our natural, social and political prejudices.

In the United States, it was the brilliance of our founders that provided our nation the necessary Constitutional tool—a means to help us remove the barriers to understanding. That tool is the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

Strong resistance to overcoming our walls of self righteousness is to be expected, but those who understand the intent of the clause must continue to use reason and civil debate in its defense. Even in the face of radical Islam we must not let go the means, but embrace it all the more.

It is common for a great many Christians to voice their believe that First Amendment watchdog groups like the ACLU and Americans United for the Separation of Church and State are all about destroying or at least suppressing Christianity. Yet these organizations are the protectors of the means—the tool that protects each religion from the overreach of others by providing a peaceful environment conducive to learning and, hopefully, understanding why others believe differently.

Since Christianity is the predominant religion in the United States, I want to point out some facts, some necessarily approximated, that demonstrate what the Establishment Clause has brought about and what the Constitutional watchdog groups protect.

Not counting all other faiths, we have 350,000 Christian churches/congregations in the United States and thousands more in private homes, old business buildings and defunct shopping centers. By comparison, there are 98,706 primary and secondary public schools. There are, therefore, about 3.55 times as many Christian churches as there are public schools in the United States. The congregations worship in peace and no one is denying them that right.

Five hundred-forty dedicated Christian radio stations fire up daily in the U.S. Thousands of others become religious broadcasters on Sunday mornings. There are 49 dedicated Christian television networks broadcasting the messages of  about 55 televangelists. And, the Internet is replete with thousands of religious websites and blogs. No one has ever suggested that any of these be shut down.

We find a Gideon Bible in virtually every hotel/motel room. In secular bookstores, whole sections are dedicated to religion. Drug stores and truck stops have dedicated Christian book racks. Additionally, there are about 8,000 full-blown Christian bookstores. No one is trying to shut these down or force them to add books on science.

The Campus Crusade for Christ flourishes on our college campuses across the nation. Hospitals and some large corporations have chaplains and rooms dedicated to religious worship. No one as far as I know objects to any of this.

Further, religious organizations, including Christian organizations, enjoy tax and zoning exemptions. It is the general public—whether or not they all agree with the various doctrines—who make up the lost tax revenue.

Some religious organizations are even exempt from health and child protection laws (sometimes resulting in child abuse).

As well, students may carry their Bibles to school and/or pray silently most any time (especially before a math test). Students may gather around the flag pole before or after school and pray. Bible clubs are allowed.

Check your local newspaper daily for religious news, messages and service announcements.

So why do First Amendment watchdog groups oppose prayer and proselytizing in public schools and on other public property? Because few student bodies, especially large ones, are religiously homogeneous—not all students were taught the same religion. It is the right of every parent to teach their children the religious beliefs they, themselves, were taught and which they believe to be correct. It is the duty neither of the state, nor any teacher working for the state, nor any elected official to promote a particular religion.

A public school or any other government agency, therefore, may promote neither Christianity, nor Hindu, nor Islam, nor Catholicism, nor Protestantism. The Establishment clause, then, demands government neutrality in matters of religion.

First Amendment watchdog groups, then, are mainly responsible for protecting and promoting, not destroying, the religious freedom of every individual. Such protections promote the peaceful environment necessary for introspection and understanding—a chance for each individual to remove his impediments to personal and social harmony.

sources:

The Virginia Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_religious_radio_stations#United_States

AmericanChurchList, Inc.

Digest of Educational Statistics, 1999

Religious Broadcasters on the Internet

Scientology & Dianetics

http://www.edreform.com/2012/04/k-12-facts/

Note: I am open to corrections on any data in this post.

My Journey From Religious Exclusivity: The Birth of “The Empathy Imperative”

Until now, I was not going to post about my novel because I felt it would sound too much like self-serving promotion for monetary gain. Yet, after reading an impressive post by another blogger concerning a similar journey, I’ve decided to post the preface of my novel, The Empathy Imperative.

The preface elucidates not only the reasons I left Christianity behind, but clarifies how I believe all people of faith should view the world around them. It is an appeal to reason—an appeal to look beyond the walls of exclusivity and sectarianism and understand what it would take to make this vehicle we call Earth a much better place to live for everyone.

I am not so naive as to think I could make a dent in the established citadels of theology especially given the deep emotional attachment of billions of people. I only invite the curious minded reader to understand my social philosophy and, perhaps, I can move just a few to begin their journey.

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Preface to The Empathy Imperative

In 2008, the Public Broadcasting System (PBS) aired the BBC/WGBH Boston production, God On Trial. It is a play, written by Frank Cottrell Boyce, based on an event told by Elie Wiesel in his book, The Trial of God. It is a story about a group of Jews, imprisoned at Auschwitz, a Nazi death camp, holding court and trying God in absentia.

The charge was that God broke His covenant in allowing Hitler to commit genocide against them. In testimony, they deal with questions of justice and purpose (e.g., if God is just, then why does He allow, not just suffering, but also suffering on a scale such as the inhuman savagery of the Holocaust?).

It is a powerful and riveting play so well written and with such passionate acting, one hardly notices nearly the entire story takes place within one room.

I began writing The Empathy Imperative long before this play aired and found, once having seen it, that many of the questions raised in the film I had included in the pages of this novel, although in greater depth and with a different verdict. They are profound questions that test the parameters of our view of God’s justice, mercy and benevolence, in contrast with our own. What is justice? Is our sense of justice good, such that God, Himself, approves? Is divine justice something other than what we believe to be just?

The Empathy Imperative, like God on Trial, is a theological and philosophical exploration, but goes further in suggesting what would be necessary, theologically or through secular philosophy, to move our world into a future where empathy, not personal gain, is our primary motivating force.

The questions addressed in the following pages are a source of consternation in the minds of many, often exposing popular but strongly held contradictory views. It is no easy matter for one to examine, with objectivity, the religious “truth” he or she was taught as a child, especially those propositions deeply believed by the society in which one lives. Nevertheless, it is something that I feel must be done if we are to move beyond the walls of sectarianism, and view the world with understanding, compassion, and reason.

My journey beyond those walls began during my high school years when Bible class was offered as an elective and I, desirous to be counted among the faithful, faithfully elected to attend. Having been raised a Bible believing, saved-by-perseverance Methodist, I had no doubt that God was in His heaven, that Adam was the first human being, that one of his ribs was appropriated to fashion his helpmate, Eve, and that humankind came by its various languages in one fell swoop at the Tower of Babel. I believed, as well, that two representatives of every species of animal on earth held first class tickets to a cruise aboard the good ship, Noah’s Ark.

For me, there was no alternative but to believe such propositions because the fundamentals of the Judeo-Christian faith were what I was taught from my diaper days. By the time I reached high school, I was vaguely aware of other religions by way of various derogatory comments I heard and condescending movies I saw, but that was about as far as it went.

Perhaps, had an objective, world religions course been offered in my high school my natural curiosity would have spurred my interest, but I will never know because there was no such course. As for human evolution, it wasn’t so much as mentioned in biology or earth science.

It was with poetic irony, then, that my first serious doubt emerged from reading the Bible and thinking about what I was reading.

Late one night after a hearty round of supplications, I was repeatedly opening the Revised Standard Version at random, expecting God to give me a message by way of the first verse on which my eyes fell. I did indeed get a message, but, apparently, it was not from God. The verse that captured my attention was Revelation 13:8;

And all the inhabitants of the earth shall worship [the beast], every one whose name was not written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the lamb that was slaughtered.

It was my first bout with an apparent conflict in my theology. There I was, a teen taught from tothood that I had a choice whether to follow the ways of righteousness and be rewarded with an eternity of blissful paradise, or to follow the ways of wickedness and reap an eternity of unrelenting torture.

Yet, try as I might to rationalize otherwise, the only interpretation I could deduce from the verse was that of predestination. If that were so, I reasoned, then God knew before the existence of humans, that most of them would be destined to eternal agony, no matter how good they may strive to be.

“Why would God,” I asked myself, “condemn souls to Hell before they were born?”

The next day, I prodded the teacher for a different interpretation. After a thoughtful pause she replied, “We’re not supposed to know everything.” I was taken aback as I had expected a bit more than a dodge, but I accepted it. Her answer, however, gave birth to another question. I wondered why a perfect god would not be perfectly clear in words He inspired someone to write and for us to read.

I suppose the verse could have been interpreted as meaning the Book of Life was begun with the first human, and then each name was added as each person came into existence and demonstrated he was worthy of salvation. However, that would be salvation through works, not through grace, and it would cause a problem with the King James Version of the same verse, which states:

And all that dwell upon the earth shall worship him, whose names are not written in the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.

This verse seemed to say the “Lamb”—taken to mean “Jesus”—was destined to be slain from the creation of the world. Thus, although the wording was different, predestination was still painfully clear.

For some time thereafter, I pondered and prayed, reread the chapter, and pondered some more. In time, I moved on, but the questions remained resident in my mind.

Not long after high school graduation, I found myself in Army Basic Training. One afternoon on a weekend as I lay on my bunk reading, some friends who knew me to be a devout Christian came in and asked me to assist them in a debate they were having with a professed atheist.

Never one to miss an opportunity to proselytize, I donned my godly armor of faith and sallied into battle. With my friends gathered around, I dodged and ducked every salvo of my foe’s arguments and responded with my own volleys of piety and scripture. The end of the battle came with a total rout—mine.

Thoroughly shaken, I laid out a smokescreen prophesying divine retribution for my faithless adversary and withdrew from the battle. Hastily applying a sturdy brain-splint of seasoned prayer, I retreated for weeks into mental convalescence.

It had been my first contact with the enemy and he had come to the field of battle with an awesome weapon entirely new to me—well reasoned, evidence-based arguments.

His knowledge of the Bible was greater than my own, his knowledge of other religions was far beyond mine and his knowledge of evolution caught my ship-of-ignorance broadside.

Bertrand Russell wrote of Pierre Bayle, French philosopher and critic in the late 17th century, that Bayle would compose lengthy arguments on the strength of reason over orthodox belief, but conclude, “So much the greater is the triumph of faith in nevertheless believing.”

Perhaps such sentiments are necessary to placate the troubled minds of a great many people, but for me, there was something deeply repugnant about willful self-deception.

It was this abhorrence for intellectual dishonesty that seriously weakened the walls of my theology and set me up for the final blow—my own, reasoned argument.

An acquaintance of mine, having noted my air of piety, invited me off post to dinner and conversation at his home. That evening, seated in his living room, he and two others engaged in a concerted effort to convert me to Mormonism. Among other arguments, they contended that baptism into the Mormon faith was necessary to achieve salvation.

Marveling at their confident posture, I asked, “How do you know you are right?”

“We know in our hearts we are right,” they replied.

“Yes,” I responded, “but so do the Jews, the Hindu, the Buddhists, the Muslims, and the Catholics. They all know in their hearts that they are right. Every person of every religion believes himself to be right.”

After dinner, having made no commitment, I thanked them for their hospitality and took my leave. Returning to the base that night, something was bothering me, the cause of which I could not ferret out.

When I awoke the next morning, the insight came in a flash. The rebuttal I had made in reply to their heartfelt belief that they were right, applied to me as well.

The logic was clear; I had no more reason to believe I possessed the sacred truth than did anyone else. I had grasped the indisputable fact that one’s religious beliefs have more to do with happenstance of birth than with truth. A person is most likely to believe the theology taught by his parents, which is most often the predominant religion of the society into which he is born and that belief is often unshakable for the rest of his life.

A cascade of questions followed, the foremost of which was: Could there be a good and compassionate god who condemns billions of souls to eternal torture for having been taught to believe the wrong religion? Since adherents to other faiths believe their “truths” every bit as passionately as the Christian believes his, how do I know I was taught the right one?

I decided, therefore, to place my faith in abeyance and view my beliefs with an objective eye. I would return to school and acquire a much wider breadth of knowledge so vital for sound reasoning.

I vowed to study with an open mind and follow the arguments to their logical conclusion. I promised myself that I would accept the conclusion no matter how uncomfortable it might make me feel, for if I refused to do so, I would live a life of intellectual dishonesty.

Throughout the ensuing years I applied a strong dose of reason to each of my attempts to fashion a new theology.

In pursuit of truth I opened my mind to philosophy, world religions and evolution. I read and contemplated the arguments of current and past theologians, scholarly evolutionists and philosophers.

It was during this process that I came across a famous statement by the German philosopher Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646-1716). In an attempt to reconcile the existence of evil with the idea that God is omnibenevolent (all loving), omnipotent (all powerful), and omniscient (all knowing), he suggested that God gave this world the best balance of all possibilities, good and evil. So that humans might act as free agents (possessors of free will), He gave us the ability to choose between the two. Therefore, Leibniz concluded, it must be that God blessed us with “the best of all possible worlds.”

Leibniz’s proposition that this is the best world possible stuck in my mental craw where it festered. I recall thinking about the world; its wars, its hungry masses, its disease-infested children (what is more innocent than a child?), the horrors humans inflict on their fellow humans and concluding that Leibniz’s best possible world conjecture was demonstrably false.

It was the age-old philosophical conundrum: If God is omniscient, then He knows of the intolerable suffering of billions of people through no fault of their own. If He is omnibenevolent, then it is reasonable to suppose that He would want to alleviate at least the depth of suffering. If He is omnipotent, then He could act on His desire. He does not alleviate the depth of suffering. Therefore, either He is not omnipotent and can do nothing about suffering, or He is not omniscient and does not know humans suffer, or He is not omnibenevolent as most of the world, astonishingly, thinks Him to be.

It was against this best-world proposition that I debated through my college years, but my post-college profession in quality management occupied so much of my time and raised my level of stress to such a degree that little time or inclination was left to ponder this primary interest.

In time, out of concerns for my health, I resigned from that profession and eventually became a long haul, professional driver. This occupation appreciably lowered my level of stress and allowed me the time I needed to read and ponder my philosophical and theological interests.

It was early in this new career, while again considering the best-world proposition, that I realized neither I, nor anyone with whom I had debated, thought to ask the obvious questions: If this is not the best of all possible worlds, then could it be that we do not have the best of all possible gods? In addition, if this isn’t the best world possible, then what would a better world look like and how could we get there?

These are the questions about which I began to research and write, and which The Empathy Imperative attempts to answer.

I do not presume to believe this book constructs the best of all possible worlds or gods and indeed, I am sure it does not. But I do not need to construct the best of either. I just need to demonstrate that, theologically, better gods and better worlds are possible.

Since any such qualitative construct necessarily deals with ethics and justice, I must deal with questions relevant to the omniperfection of God and it is with this discussion that I feel a word to the wise reader is necessary.

For the purpose of this exploration, I began by assuming the King James Authorized Version (AV) of the Bible was literally true—both the Old and New Testaments.

Obviously, I had to deal with some misinterpretations and inconsistencies in the scriptures, while at the same time trying to remain true to the fundamentalists’ view that the entire Bible is the infallible word of an infallible god. This struggle becomes evident in the progression of the narrative.

I am well aware of considerable controversy in matters of scripture analysis and translation, but my thrust is not to make arguments of interpretation. It is rather to demonstrate that, again theologically speaking, a better world could have been created, and if a better world could have been created, then it follows that the god of the Bible, Yahweh, was not the best of all possible gods.

Therefore, in order for the astute student of theology to appreciate the point of the book, he will need to suspend his urge to fractious debate over scriptural interpretation and tentatively accept my general premise that this is not the best of all possible worlds.

As for the version of the Bible, I chose the King James because it was the one believed and preached by the lead character’s father and because it was the version with which most Christians were familiar, at least during my early years of study.

Another note of interest for the Christian true believer—when the Time of Sorrows begins, the lead character, Mark Jefferson Hale (Jeff), is a politically aware, evolutionary biologist, and a causal determinist.

Jeff’s view of strict, causal determinism (cause and effect) is explained in the second chapter of part 1 as he attempts to avoid dealing with a culmination of unsavory events—the foremost being the death of his estranged, fundamentalist father.

To the Jewish reader, you are already aware that I spell out sacred words. I do this because I feel it is necessary for the integrity and flow of the narrative.

For the politically inclined reader, chapters three and four set up the political condition of Jeff’s time, suggesting what might happen if the political pendulum did not swing back, but became immobile far to the right, caught up in an entanglement of corporate greed and religious fervor, triggered by the beginning of the Tribulation—the Time of Sorrows. This political theme mingles with theology throughout part 1.

Part 2 begins an exploration into our view of the nature of justice in relation to events described in the Old Testament and in relation to the culmination of events described in prophesies.

I am sure many will say that I cannot judge the acts of God described in the Old Testament by modern, ethical standards, but they will be wrong.

I am exploring Christian theology and embracing the popular notion that the god of the Old Testament is the same god of the New Testament whose being and temperament does not change.

I am proceeding with the idea that we believe our sense of morality and justice is good and that it is God sanctioned. Therefore, in order to conduct this theological exploration honestly, I must view events in the Old Testament through the moral lens of modernity.

–Max T. Furr

Creationism in Science Class: Why Not?

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I recall reading a joke some years back that asked, If evolution is true and humans evolved from apes, why are there still apes? Answer – Well, because some were given a choice. I laughed, but there is a molecule of passive truth there. Natural selection, though not offering a choice, is in fact, selective, although blindly so.

I’ve been considering this article for months now. It is no easy task to attempt an empathetic approach to such an emotional and divisive subject—emotional and divisive, of course, for biblical literalists. Yet, in order for there ever to be some progress in finding common ground, first and foremost we must not approach the subject of human evolution in a confrontational manner. We are creatures of reason and through reason we can find solutions—if we want them.

The impetus for moving ahead with this article was provided by a follower of my blog who opined recently that even though he agreed with me that creationism does not belong in science class, he felt that neither does “Darwinism.”

I can understand the blogger’s frustration. There is a world of misinformation about the Theory of Evolution and the great majority of Americans have little or no formal education in evolutionary biology. The great majority of folks have been taught from tothood that God created the world and all thereupon much as we see it today.

But evolution is not a theory of the origin of life. It is a theory of the origin of species—not how life on earth began, but how it became so diverse.

In this article, my intent is not to convince anyone of evolution or creationism, but to try and dispel some misconceptions about science. Understanding these misconceptions is the only way common ground can possibly be achieved.

Many folks over the past century and a half have learned to accept the growing body of scientific evidence for evolution by deciding that evolution was likely the way God chose to create human beings and that the Genesis creation stories are meant as metaphors. That’s fine. After all, nowhere in the corpus of the Theory of Evolution does it deny that a supreme being started the “Ball of Cause and Effect” rolling.

For many, adding to the difficulty of accepting the science is the fact that reading scientific articles on the theory can be quite dry and boring. Most folks have enough on their hands just making a living and finding time to feel at one with the family—to maintain that sense of identity and belonging we humans need. Thus, there is little time or inclination to sit down and educate oneself about evolution.

Too, I am well aware that the idea of human evolution is considered by many theists to be cold, soulless, without purpose, and therefore quite frightening. It is no wonder that biblical literalists do not want their children exposed to the theory and want it replaced in science classes by Intelligent Design (creationism). It is thought, too, that if one accepts evolution, then he no longer has a moral foundation on which to build his life. This is a false notion. A philosophical foundation for a moral and empathetic life can be every bit as strong as a religious foundation.

Greatly complicating the issue of creationism and evolution is our own language, and topping the list of complications is the word, “theory.” Dictionaries offer several meanings and even some of these are lacking.

Merriam-Webster, for example, offers the scientific definition as: “a plausible or scientifically acceptable general principle or body of principles offered to explain phenomena <the wavetheory of light>.”

While this definition is true, it really doesn’t do justice to the word—i.e., it doesn’t explain the special method used to reach scientific acceptability. One is, therefore, left with something akin to the popular definition of the word “theory,” which is a “speculation,” or “hunch,” or “assumption,” as in, “that’s just a theory,” or, “It is my theory that the butler did it.” This popular definition is fine for the general public, but not for science.

Wikipedia has a decent definition in the last sentence of its first paragraph:

A theory is not the same as a hypothesis [Hypothesis: an intelligent deduction or guess based on known facts, experience and past scientific studies] . . . a theory is a ‘proven’ hypothesis, that, in other words, has never been disproved through experiment, and has a basis in fact. (Bracketed comment and italics mine)

Note that the word “proven” is in quote marks followed by a meaning not normally used in everyday language. That is because, ideally, science does not consider a theory to be the final and ultimate “proof.” For example, we all know that gravity exists, but science refers to it as the “theory of gravitation,” which is an ongoing field of science as is the theory of evolution.

Simply put, a scientific theory it is a systematically, methodically and independently tested, best explanation for understanding natural phenomena based on evidence—a theory was a hypothesis, but has withstood the rigors of the scientific method. Here is a simple example of the scientific method:

A scientist observes a natural phenomenon, the origin or nature of which is not fully understood.

The scientist attempts to explain the phenomenon by formulating a hypothesis based on her knowledge of a history of observations, studies and experiments that may be relevant.

The scientist then formulates ways to test her hypothesis such that, if it is true, a particular outcome is predictable.

If, at any time during her testing, she disproves her hypothesis—her prediction was incorrect—she throws out the hypothesis in favor of another that better fits the evidence. Then she sets about testing the new hypothesis.

If, after exhausting all tests, she cannot disprove it, then she publishes her findings and the details of her experiments in a peer reviewed, scientific journal. This allows other scientists in her field to independently duplicate her tests for validation and develop tests of their own in an effort to further verify the hypothesis or disprove it.

After many years of predictions and testing demonstrate that the hypothesis cannot be disproved, the hypothesis becomes accepted as a scientific theory. And, that theory is a tentative conclusion because, ideally, science is always open to new evidence that might render the conclusion false.

This is the scientific method and it is why the theory of evolution belongs in science class. Without it, so much of biology and medical science would not make sense.

On the other hand, a creationist begins with the conclusion that God created everything very much as we see it today (I call this the “Poof Hypothesis,” not meaning to be condescending, but descriptive). Most often the research of the creationist is trying to find ways to refute evolutionary science. He will search in nature or mathematics for facts that might be construed to place some aspect of evolution in doubt. All evidence found that may support evolution is discarded or reinterpreted. At no time will the conclusion—that God created all things very much as we see them today—be doubted. This is not the scientific method, and therefore, does not belong in science class.

So, why is there so much misinformation about the theory of evolution? Sadly, all too often in their zeal to debunk evolution as a science, creationists will propagate incorrect information by extracting out of context comments by evolutionary scientists, thereby misrepresenting what the scientist actually said. For more information on this, see http://ncse.com/book/export/html/6711

Too, we have the ridicule factor:

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I would highly recommend watching the free reenactment (video) of the Dover, PA trial, Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District. The site offers the trial transcript by which one may download to verify the authenticity of the reenactment. The reenactment, however, not only follows the transcripts closely but also demonstrates the unfortunate social cost to the community.

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Max T. Furr, author of the novel, The Empathy Imperative, a philosophical/spiritual drama.

EMPATHY IN POLITICS: Protecting Freedom of Religion

Note: This blog is a spin-off of my novel, The Empathy Imperative, and it is in tune with my social philosophy, which is laid out in the novel. For those who haven’t read my post, “Bringing Down the Walls, One Brick at a Time,” it would be best to read it before reading this post. It will give you a better understanding of my approach to the various issues.

In previous posts, I have written about the meaning of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, but it is clear that there is a great deal of misunderstanding throughout society about how our U.S. Constitutional rights are protected. Below, I’ve begun a list of sites dealing mostly with the American Civil Liberties Union and Americans United for the Separation of Church and State. I will be updating this information (adding to or changing) frequently.

I welcome comments from all sides on any subject.

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The ACLU Fights for Christians, too

The ACLU fights just as hard for INDIVIDUAL free exercise of religion as the ACLU fights against GOVERNMENT endorsement, sponsorship, or establishment of religion. Despite this fact, many people spread misinformation about the ACLU around the internet, innocently and maliciously, falsely claiming the ACLU is anti-religion or anti-Christian.

This list of FACTS counteracts that misinformation. These links represent just a few of the many examples of the ACLU defending the free speech and free exercise rights of Christians (for purposes of this list, the word “Christian” means a person who self-identifies as “Christian”).

In every example, the ACLU is defending the right of a Christian to speak as a Christian or to practice Christianity.

Find the list of links here: http://www.aclufightsforchristians.com/

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ACLU issues warning on Bible distribution in Kentucky

by Associated Press

LEXINGTON, Ky. — The American Civil Liberties Union has sent a letter to superintendents in Kentucky advising them to start following federal guidelines on distributing Bibles at public schools.

The Aug. 19 letter from ACLU attorney William Sharp says districts that don’t abide by the guidelines will face a court challenge.

Follow this link to the story.

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Muslims Blacklisted for U.S. Citizenship Under Secret Program, Says ACLU

LOS ANGELES — A government program to screen immigrants for national security concerns has blacklisted some Muslims and put their U.S. citizenship applications on hold for years, civil liberties advocates said today.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California said in a report that the previously undisclosed program instructs federal immigration officers to find ways to deny applications that have been deemed a national security concern. For example, they flag discrepancies in a petition or claim they didn’t receive sufficient information from the immigrant.

Follow this like to the full story.

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ACLU sues to remove Oklahoma 10 Commandments monument

The American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma has filed a lawsuit seeking to have a monument that bears the Ten Commandments removed from state Capitol grounds.

The Tulsa World reported that the civil liberties group filed suit in Oklahoma County District Court on Monday and names the Oklahoma Capitol Preservation Commission as the defendant.

Read more: http://www.foxnews.com/us/2013/08/22/aclu-sues-to-remove-oklahoma-10-commandments-monument/?test=latestnews#ixzz2cswCW8mW

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Conservative Group Files Lawsuit Against N.J. ‘ex-gay’ Therapy Ban

By Chris Johnson on August 22, 2013

A socially conservative group on Thursday filed a lawsuit in federal court in New Jersey that seeks to overturn the state’s ban on widely discredited “ex-gay” conversion therapy that Gov. Chris Christie signed into law this week.

The Liberty Counsel filed the 46-page complaint before the U.S. District Court of New Jersey against Christie, who signed a law on Monday barring sexual orientation conversation therapy for minors within his state, as well as other state officials.

Follow this link to the story.

Understanding the Establishment and Religious Freedom Clauses of the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States

Those among us who, with good intentions, want their religious beliefs spread among society with the help of, or complete absence of, government intervention and who believe the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment does not require the federal government to restrict religious activities from government property have a fundamental misunderstanding of the Thomas Jefferson’s intent in creating the foundation of the Establishment Clause.

While the First Amendment does not explicitly say that there must be a “wall of separation,” its underlying foundation is quite clear. There must be a wall and it must be untraversable in both directions.

In order to understand that this was Jefferson’s intent, it may be necessary for reader to read “The Virginia Act for Establishing Religious Freedom. This document lays out what Jefferson meant by the term “religious liberty.” Secondly, one should read his Letter to the Danbury Baptists, where he states that the Establishment Clause has established a wall of separation between church and state. I have provided the texts of both documents below:

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The Virginia Act For Establishing Religious Freedom

Thomas Jefferson, 1786

Well aware that Almighty God hath created the mind free; that all attempts to influence it by temporal punishments or burdens, or by civil incapacitations, tend only to beget habits of hypocrisy and meanness, and are a departure from the plan of the Holy Author of our religion, who being Lord both of body and mind, yet chose not to propagate it by coercions on either, as was in his Almighty power to do; that the impious presumption of legislators and rulers, civil as well as ecclesiastical, who, being themselves but fallible and uninspired men, have assumed dominion over the faith of others, setting up their own opinions and modes of thinking as the only true and infallible, and as such endeavoring to impose them on others, hath established and maintained false religions over the greatest part of the world, and through all time; that to compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves, is sinful and tyrannical; that even the forcing him to support this or that teacher of his own religious persuasion, is depriving him of the comfortable liberty of giving his contributions to the particular pastor whose morals he would make his pattern, and whose powers he feels most persuasive to righteousness, and is withdrawing from the ministry those temporal rewards, which proceeding from an approbation of their personal conduct, are an additional incitement to earnest and unremitting labors for the instruction of mankind; that our civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions, more than our opinions in physics or geometry; that, therefore, the proscribing any citizen as unworthy the public confidence by laying upon him an incapacity of being called to the offices of trust and emolument, unless he profess or renounce this or that religious opinion, is depriving him injuriously of those privileges and advantages to which in common with his fellow citizens he has a natural right; that it tends also to corrupt the principles of that very religion it is meant to encourage, by bribing, with a monopoly of worldly honors and emoluments, those who will externally profess and conform to it; that though indeed these are criminal who do not withstand such temptation, yet neither are those innocent who lay the bait in their way; that to suffer the civil magistrate to intrude his powers into the field of opinion and to restrain the profession or propagation of principles, on the supposition of their ill tendency, is a dangerous fallacy, which at once destroys all religious liberty, because he being of course judge of that tendency, will make his opinions the rule of judgment, and approve or condemn the sentiments of others only as they shall square with or differ from his own; that it is time enough for the rightful purposes of civil government, for its officers to interfere when principles break out into overt acts against peace and good order; and finally, that truth is great and will prevail if left to herself, that she is the proper and sufficient antagonist to error, and has nothing to fear from the conflict, unless by human interposition disarmed of her natural weapons, free argument and debate, errors ceasing to be dangerous when it is permitted freely to contradict them.

Be it therefore enacted by the General Assembly, That no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burdened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion, and that the same shall in nowise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.

And though we well know this Assembly, elected by the people for the ordinary purposes of legislation only, have no powers equal to our own and that therefore to declare this act irrevocable would be of no effect in law, yet we are free to declare, and do declare, that the rights hereby asserted are of the natural rights of mankind, and that if any act shall be hereafter passed to repeal the present or to narrow its operation, such act will be an infringement of natural right.

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Jefferson’s Letter to the Danbury Baptists

The Final Letter, as Sent:

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To messers. Nehemiah Dodge, Ephraim Robbins, & Stephen S. Nelson, a committee of the Danbury Baptist association in the state of Connecticut.

Gentlemen

The affectionate sentiments of esteem and approbation which you are so good as to express towards me, on behalf of the Danbury Baptist association, give me the highest satisfaction. my duties dictate a faithful and zealous pursuit of the interests of my constituents, & in proportion as they are persuaded of my fidelity to those duties, the discharge of them becomes more and more pleasing.

Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” thus building a wall of separation between Church & State. Adhering to this expression of the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience, I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore to man all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties.

I reciprocate your kind prayers for the protection & blessing of the common father and creator of man, and tender you for yourselves & your religious association, assurances of my high respect & esteem.

Th Jefferson

Jan. 1. 1802.

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Thus, the intent underlying the Establishment Clause and the Religious Freedom Clause is clear; the government must remain neutral in matters of religion.

But, how does this create the right of government to restrict religious activities from public property?

In 1971 the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) handed down its decision in  Lemon v. Kurtzman. In that decision, the Lemon Test was established. I will not go into details of the case or the decision, but simply restate the test:

1. The government’s action must have a secular legislative purpose;

2. The government’s action must not have the primary effect of either advancing or inhibiting religion;

3. The government’s action must not result in an “excessive government entanglement” with religion.

In a debate recently, my interlocutor implied that the Establishment Clause does not prevent government from establishing “a governmentally endorsed Church.” I pointed out that this assertion flies in the face all three parts of the Lemon Test.

Too, it is argued that the law should not be applied to the states.

The 14th Amendment says that no state may deny any citizen “equal protection under the law.”

Were a State or local government to establish/recognize a particular religion, then it is by that act recognizing an establishment of religion and raising its public status above all others. As well, the government would not be providing its citizens who adhere to other religions (or adhere to no religion at all), equal protection under the law and thus, the government is entangling itself in matters of religion. This has been upheld by the SCOTUS time after time and this is what establishes the government’s obligation to protect the right of all U.S. citizens to have their religious beliefs viewed as equal to all by any governmental organization. Otherwise their status would be unlawfully diminished in their community.

The logic behind disallowing any particular religion to have government endorsement has been established since America was first settled. Our schools tend to leave out certain aspects of this country’s history, leaving students with the impression that when settlers came to this continent to escape religious persecution, they found it. Omission of the details leaves students with a false sense of American Religious history.

Here is probably the first bloody religious conflict on the North American Continent:

Long before the Mayflower sailed, the French, Protestant Huguenots settled in Florida seeking religious freedom. The Catholic Spanish, already there, were incensed. They attacked, overcame the Fort Caroline French colony and then proceeded to hang every person left alive. The reason? As the Spanish commander wrote to King Philip II, “they were scattering the odious Lutheran doctrine in these Provinces.”

This was an example of bloody religious intolerance on this continent and there was much more as the centuries past, but I will spare the reader. Such factual history can easily be found online.

Still, even though such warfare no longer occurs in the U.S. (barring radical Islam, of course) there is an incessant cold war fought by Christian fundamentalists against those who understand the Establishment and Religious Freedom clauses of the First Amendment.

Most fundamentalists are open about their desire to promote Christianity in schools, and even Christian creationism in science classes. Many want to eradicate the teaching of evolution altogether. Some fundamentalist teachers impose their views on their students. But do we really want our schools divided, where Christian students and teachers tease and bully the obviously non Christian students (evidence of this can be found online)? Do fundamentalists  really believe Christians have a right to proselytize and coerce non Christian students? Do we want non Christians to remain silent and “go along to get along?” If you are protestant, would you want a Catholic teacher indoctrinating your child or vise versa? How about Wicca or Islam? The Establishment Clause protects all citizens and their children against such insensitivity and intolerance.

Parents of other religions (or no religion) have the right to bring their children up according to the dictates of their conscience without government interference, but with government protection.

Finally, secularism can indeed be carried too far by officials who don’t understand what expressions students are allowed with respect to their religion. I don’t object to–and I don’t think there is any law against–religious clubs in schools holding the same status as philosophy clubs. Such students cannot, however, in any way foster their beliefs on other students and teachers cannot show support for any particular religious club. This means, as well, that Muslim, Wiccan, and atheists students may have their clubs, and all of society may worship in their holy places or not worship at all, according to the dictates of their conscience.

This is true religious freedom, and this is empathy for every citizen’s beliefs in matters of religion, brought to us courtesy of Thomas Jefferson’s Wall of Separation–the Establishment Clause and the Religious Freedom Clause of the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America.

Max T. Furr is author of The Empathy Imperative

Malala Yousafzai’s speech to the United Nations


Video by ABC News

Malala Yousafzai is the Pakistani girl shot in the head by a fundamentalist Muslim for the crime of attending school and speaking out for equality and women’s rights in society.

This young woman’s attitude, courage and determination is the very spirit of universal empathy. She wishes no ill will even for the person who shot her, yet she refuses to be silent. She pushes fear aside and continues to speak out for freedom and education for all people.

May she come to no more harm. It would be a great loss for the world.

Video

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