Thursday, December 27, 2007

Open letter: Response to chain email supposedly from Ben Stein about Christmas

Here is another open letter installment. I have had several in the hopper recently...


I would be interested more in which of the specific points below people actually believe in.  I can't imagine you believe in all of them, but maybe you do.  I'd be interested in the rationale.

I'll offer my point-by-point commentary below.

BTW, Ben Stein is surprisingly kind of a nut-job.  He's got a new documentary coming out that is full of crackpot conspiracy theories about Intelligent Design (which is NOT science) is somehow being suppressed by the scientific establishment.  Intelligent Design is the new name for Creationism.  It is also the banner for those on the religious right who simply want to criticize evolution, one of the most well-tested and fundamental scientific theories of our time.

I'll pose some very succinct questions here as well to hone in on what people who believe some or all of the below actually believe:
1. How do you think our society would fare any differently from the other theocracies?  e.g. most people loved the Taliban in Afghanastan but their society suppressed other beliefs and oppressed women and others under the auspices.
2. How do you think that our Government can guarantee religious freedom and tolerance for ALL beliefs if it is actively promoting the Christian beliefs and agenda?  How can you guarantee that competing beliefs will not be drowned out by the "tyranny of the majority"?
3. There are over 20,000 Christian denominations in the United States.  Which one should be the foundation for a Christian American nation?  A bonus question:  which version of Christian salvation is correct:  a) All you have to do is Believe and you are saved. b) You have to be a good person and can be saved even if you don't believe?  Christian religions cannot even agree on such a basic dogmatic tenet! 
4. If another religion or belief system became the dominant religion in America, should we change and have our Government promote that religion?  e.g. Judaism or Mormonism or Islam or even atheism (although it is not a religion)? 
5. What do you think about the author of this email (not necessarily who sent it -- the original author, and not Ben Stein) being dishonest and violating one of the 10 commandments by misattributing text below to Ben Stein that he never said in an attempt to get more people to believe it?  Is that Christian?
But be sure to read the below before you answer these. 


Vincent wrote:

Date: Tue, 11 Dec 2007 10:41:03 -0800
From: [email protected]
Subject: Fwd: FW: Ben Stein
To: [email protected]

Note: forwarded message attached.


--Forwarded Message Attachment--
From: [email protected]
To: [email protected]
Subject: FW: Ben Stein
Date: Tue, 11 Dec 2007 09:43:30 -0800


  If they know of him at all, many folks think Ben Stein is just a
quirky actor/comedian who talks in a monotone. He's also a very intelligent
attorney who knows how to put ideas and words together in such a way as to sway
juries and make people think clearly.
[Jason] Being intelligent and an attorney are supposed to somehow convince people to believe _opinions_ below about various subjects more than otherwise?  Those are irrelevant characteristics, especially when the topic has nothing to do with the law or intelligence.  Maybe if he were giving his legal opinion that might hold some sway, but the statements have to stand on their own regardless of one's credentials.

The following
was written by Ben Stein and recited by him on CBS Sunday Morning Commentary.

I am a Jew, and every single one of my ancestors was Jewish. And it does not
bother me even a little bit when people call those beautiful lit up, bejeweled
trees Christmas trees. I don't feel threatened. I don't feel discriminated
against. That's what they are: Christmas trees.
[Jason] Well, christmas trees weren't always associated with Christmas.  As with many Christian symbols, the Christmas tree was formerly a Pagan tradition.  Note that Ben Stein was not reputed as a historical scholar so I guess his error can be understood.  See for more info.

 It doesn't bother me a bit when people say, 'Merry Christmas' to me. I don't think
they are slighting me or getting ready to put me in a ghetto.
In fact, I kind of like it. It shows that we are all brothers and sisters celebrating
this happy time of year. It doesn't bother me at all that there is a manger scene on display at a key
intersection near my beach house in Malibu. If people want a creche, it's just as
fine with me as is the Menorah a few hundred yards away..
[Jason] So long as these are not on public lands supported by the Government in any way, then nobody should feel threatened.  But if they are, everyone should be a bit concerned when the Government starts taking sides in religious matters.  I've said it before and I will say it again:  Keeping the Government out of religious matters entirely is key to even you maintaining your ability to practice your brand of faith in the future.  The minute the Government starts taking sides, they threaten _your freedom_ as well.  Recall the revolutionary war that we won over England in 1776 that was in large part over religious freedom from the oppression of the Church of England over other denominations...

 I don't like getting pushed around for being a Jew, and I don't think
Christians like getting pushed around for being Christians. I think people who
believe in God are sick and tired of getting pushed around,
[Jason] Who is pushing who around?  He does not cite any examples.  He seems to be speaking in general about those who (rightly) want to keep Religion out of the Government.  Again, this is a Good Thing.  And it should not be perceived as threatening to religious people.  Keeping the government out of religious matters ensures religious freedom for ALL people.  Lack of religion in government does not imply lack of morals for society!! (I think we can see that government does just fine in the immorality department with or without religion...but that's another topic).  They are obviously mutually-exclusive. 

I have no idea where the concept came from that America
is an explicitly atheist country? I can't find it in the Constitution, and I
don't like it being shoved down my throat.
[Jason] What in the hell is he talking about?  This came out of left field!  Who is he claiming has the "concept" that America is an "atheist" country?  Nobody says that.  This is called a "straw man" argument.  Our founding fathers believed that our government must be a Secular institution, but that does not mean "atheist".  What does he think "atheist" would mean in this context?  It seems that he is conflating "atheist" with "anti-theists".  Atheists are not necessary ANTI-religion.  Atheism just means a lack of belief, which at its root is not a whole lot different than being secular, which as I mentioned already is a Good Thing for government.  Secular government ensures religious freedom for ALL people.  Imagine trying to be a Christian in Iraq or some other place under Sharia law?  Bad things have always happened in history when religion joined with governmental power.

Or maybe I can put it another way: where did the idea come from that
we should worship Nick and Jessica and we aren't allowed to worship God as we
understand Him? I guess that's a sign that I'm getting old, too.
[Jason] Again, what the hell is he talking about?  Certainly, I would agree with his suggestion that the public at large is overly obsessed with celebrity and celebrities.  But again, who is he saying actually claims that "[we] aren't allowed to worship God as we understand Him?".  Nobody says that.  This is another straw-man argument.  As espoused in our Constitution, everyone has the right to believe in their religion but the government has to stay out of it ("Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion...or prohibiting the free exercise thereof" from the very first amendment to the US Constitution)

Article 11 of the Treaty with Tripoli in 1797 (just years after the revolutionary war ended) declared that "the government of the United States is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion..."  This treaty was ratified by all of Congress and the first two presidents of our country.

Here is a lot more info on what our founding fathers actually intended (and many of them were actually Deists (not Christians!) and believed in god, but they knew the government needed to stay out of it).

But there are a lot of us who are wondering where Nick and Jessica came from
and where the America we knew went to.

[Jason] Just so you know, this is where Ben Stein's comments end.  The rest were tacked on later and dishonestly attributed to Ben Stein.  Source:

In light of the many jokes we send to one another for a laugh, this is a little
different: This is not intended to be a joke; it's not funny, it's intended to get you thinking..

[Jason] I'm really interested if anyone actually shares any of the opinions below, and what they believe about it.  Because there are a whole pile of different things here.

Billy Graham's daughter was interviewed on the Early Show and Jane Clayson asked her 'How could God
let something like this Happen?' (regarding Katrina)
[Jason] A very good question.  How is it that a loving God who cares about us and is all-knowing could let something so horrific happen to thousands of innocent people?  This is called "The Problem of Evil" -- as in, how can one reconcile the existence of so much evil in the world with a loving all-powerful God?  There have been many who try to answer this, but none satisfactorily yet.

Anne Graham gave an extremely profound and insightful response.
She said, 'I believe God is deeply saddened by this, just as we are, but for years
we've been telling God to get out of our schools, to get out of our government
and to get out of our lives. And being the gentleman He is, I believe He has calmly backed out. How can we expect
God to give us His blessing and His protection
if we demand He leave us alone?' (She said the same thing
when interviewed after 9-11)
[Jason] I don't think I would use the words "profound" or "insightful" to describe this.  Here is what she said (paraphrasing):
"God turns his back on everyone and does not protect us from any bad things because many (rightly) insist that the Government stay out of Religious matters."
What an petulant, indiscriminate baby that God is!  He'll show you by punishing innocent people instead of the ones he really should be mad at!  Wow, sounds just like one of those lovely old testament stories about the vengeful God that were supposed to be over after the "New testament/covenant"...  And he is supposed to love us?  Ouch.  Watch your babies 'cause this God may start killing some first-borns again...

In light of recent events...terrorists attack, school shootings, etc. I think it started when Madeleine
Murray O'Hare (she was murdered, her body found recently) complained she didn't want prayer
in our schools, and we said OK. Then someone said you better not read the Bible
in school. The Bible says thou shalt not kill, thou shalt not steal, and love your neighbor as yourself. And we said OK.
[Jason] I think "it" (our secular government) started when our country was founded on the principle of Religious Freedom (which includes the freedom to _not_ believe as well) as embodied in the Very First Amendment to our constitution.  Every society regardless of religion tends to believe in the killing and stealing are bad parts (well, there have been notable exceptions, such as the inquisition, the crusades, and 9-11).  But that doesn't mean the rest of it is widely believed or should be promoted.  For example, those same religions also do not condemn slavery.  They actually say that disobedient children should be stoned to death.  Oh, and women who marry but are not virgins deserve to be stoned to death.  Adulterers:  They should be put to death.  If you don't believe me, I can show you where to look in the Bible.

And for those of you who are pro-public-displays-of-the-ten-commandments, most of the 10 commandments have nothing to do with the law.  In fact, the very first is "Do not have any other gods before Me."  How can you reconcile putting that in a public square--it is overtly anti-any-other-non-christian-religion!  Oh, and surprisingly there are two sets of 10 commandments in the Bible but people only seem to be interested in the one set of 10 and not the other...  You should check out for more details on how even different denominations divide up the commandments differently.  How many of you honor this commandment from the second set (often known as the Ritual Decalogue):  "Sacrifice firstborn male animals to Yahweh. The firstborn of a donkey may be redeemed; redeem firstborn sons."?  

Then Dr. Benjamin Spock said we shouldn't spank our children when they misbehave because
their little personalities would be warped and we might damage their self-esteem
(Dr. Spock's son committed suicide). We said an expert should know what he's
talking about. And we said OK.
[Jason] Okay, they are going off the deep-end here.  How many people think that weaving in hitting kids here makes sense?  Oh, they must believe those parts about stoning to death disobedient children.

Now we're asking ourselves why our children have no conscience, why they don't know right
from wrong, and why it doesn't bother them to kill strangers, their classmates, and themselves.

Probably, if we think about it long and hard enough, we can figure it out. I think it has a great deal
to do with 'WE REAP WHAT WE SOW.'
Funny how simple it is for people to trash God and then wonder why the world's going to hell.
[Jason] Yes, their God is such a baby he is going to destroy everyone for the few who may not believe (but certainly not those few--that would be too easy).  I don't know what they are talking about by saying "trash God".  Nothing here mentioned any evidence that people are "trashing" God.  Keeping religion out of Government is NOT "trashing" God.  Typical straw-man argument again.

Funny how we believe what the newspapers say, but question what the Bible says.
[Jason] Well, most of the time, Newspapers report facts, and the Bible has stories that people have been arguing about the meanings of for centuries.  And there are so many conflicting accounts in the Bible that you _have_ to question it.  They must be running out of straw by now....

Funny how you can send 'jokes' through e-mail and they spread like wildfire but when you start sending messages
regarding the Lord, people think twice about sharing.
[Jason] Which people?  That's just paranoid crazy talk!  Of course, not everyone believes as you do so you would be right to think twice before sharing just as you probably would.  Again, more straw-men.

Funny how lewd, crude, vulgar and obscene articles pass freely through cyberspace, but public
discussion of God is suppressed in the school and workplace.
[Jason] Seems as if plenty of God-ladened articles pass through cyberspace.  This statement is a non-sequitur.  Religion and God are personal matters.  Only in America do people seem to think they should be public.  Take a trip to any other western country and you'll find far less of this.

Are you laughing?

Funny how when you forward this message, you will not send it to many on your address list because
you're not sure what they believe, or what they will think of you for sending it.
[Jason] That's probably a good thing to be considerate of other's feelings.  Not sure what your religion says about that, but "do unto others as you would have done unto you", right?  I'll send along some excerpts from Book of Mormon for you if you think it's okay to not care whether someone believes something or not...  There's this guy who was shown a golden plate by angels and he translated it using magical glasses and a seer stone...

Funny how we can be more worried about what other people think of us than what God thinks of us.
[Jason] Being considerate of others is not the same thing as being "worried about what other people think of us".  And this is a non-sequitur.  Even if we cared what others thought of us, how does that imply we therefore care _more_ about this than what god thinks of us? 

Pass it on if you think it has merit. If not t hen just discard it... no one will know you did.
[Jason] For the record, I'm not passing this on because it has merit.  I think the broader questions it raises and the hope that it will inspire some dialogue have merit.
But, if
you discard this thought process, don't sit back and complain about what bad shape the world is in.
[Jason] Oh brother.  If someone thinks this is crap, they have no right to complain about the world?  Nice childish debating tactic:  agree with me or you don't have any right to complain.

My Best Regards. honestly and respectfully,

[Jason] Again, Ben Stein did NOT write this last part.  This is a dishonest fraud typical of these kinds of chain emails designed to use someone's celebrity or authority to bolster a viewpoint that they don't necessarily share...  Isn't there something in the Bible about bearing false witness?  I guess they don't believe in _that_ part of the Bible and 10 commandments...

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