Fellow Atheists/Agnostic Atheists - Let's Chat: Do you feel it is risky being "out" these days?

Kraint wrote:

The absence of evidence doesn't show proof that there isn't any sort of god (like Russell's Teapot, a god that doesn't interact with the physical universe could 'exist'), but it is a good reason to not believe in the involved, interested deities of most religions. Matt Dillahunty also frequently uses the courtroom evidence analogy, but he points out that not guilty != innocence. Saying god doesn't exist based on the lack of evidence would be the equivalent of declaring a person innocent, which we do not do. The person may well be guilty, but the evidence to prove that is insufficient.

This is the critical point.

Apart from my basic point (that "knowing" anything, for a defective little meat-machine such as a human, is essentially impossible), what we do "know" (to the best of our own limited faculties) is seriously at odds with the motives and behaviors which are generally ascribed to the Abrahamic God.

If the Abrahamic God appears to not exist as advertised, we really have no reason to assume that any of the other assumptions posited by that mythology are true either, even though we cannot directly contradict all of them.

There's a clear and powerful difference between allowing for the possibility of something and believing that thing to be true. I allow for the incredibly remote possibility that there could be some kind of deity, because I recognize that I cannot ever know with certainty that there is not. I strongly doubt that there is such a thing, because the tools I have at my disposal do not give me reason to believe that there is.

On the scales of plausibility, the general "deity of some variety" is more plausible than the specific "Abrahamic God," which is a thing that seems ludicrous on its face (though, again, a little meat puppet can only "know" so much).

And an uninterested, unproven deity is indistinguishable from a non-existent one.

NSMike wrote:

And an uninterested, unproven deity is indistinguishable from a non-existent one.

Absolutely correct. But it is an important point to make in the discussion, especially when talking about gods/beliefs with theists. I can specifically believe that certain gods, by their definitions of involvement and interaction with the physical world, do not exist. Much like I can actively believe that there is not a standard-issue diamond pony in my office cubical at the moment. What I cannot reasonably do, based on current conditions and evidence, is claim that no divine/extra-sensory and uninvolved beings exist.

You could go one step further. I would argue that you could have a higher power without any sort of intent. An entity that accidentally created life seems like it could still qualify as a higher power.

The 'simulation argument' applies here, too -- start a Universe running, just to see what happens. We do things like that ourselves. This could be the pet project of a bored youth with too much time in its many tendrils.

So Pulpit Freedom Sunday

For years the IRS has not exactly enforced its provisions to remove tax exempt status when preachers engage in political speech. More often it is the multimillionaire ones who are sent up.

Early words and judicial opinions were Taxes could and would ruin the 1st amendment. But in recent years the opinion has moved to focusing on the religious groups involved in hate or discrimination.

I am not sure if political speech from the pulpit is as much of a threat as some people state. I see it as mostly serving to decrease the parish even more. Going up to the charts, most religious people disagree with their preachers when it comes to abortion, family planning, gay rights, marriage equality, etc.

I think a more salient argument can be made when a person running for office is allowed to speak at a church in a campaign capacity. That is a clearer breach of separation.

There's an easy solution to that. Churches are no longer tax-exempt. Done. Now they can say whatever they want.

DSGamer wrote:

There's an easy solution to that. Churches are no longer tax-exempt. Done. Now they can say whatever they want.

Things is, the implication by doing that is that giving *any* church tax-exempted status is A Bad Thing.

Which feels like a losing proposition, at least at the legislative level. Not to mention (potentially) punishing the many for the sins of the few.

Jonman wrote:

Which feels like a losing proposition, at least at the legislative level. Not to mention (potentially) punishing the many for the sins of the few.

I actually don't get this idea. If anything, the rampant appeals to the evangelist base shows that churches, intentionally or not, have dramatic effects on voter positions. It's not necessarily a "sin," as it were, but I think they're pretty inexorable. Religions will affect public policy, be it moderate or extreme. The idea that they will not simply because you can't campaign from the pulpit is, in my opinion, a bit naive.

Well, part of why I stopped going to churches initially was due to election year shenanigans. Painting a swath of your church members as nigh-evil due to their political beliefs is not a good way to build community.

Jonman wrote:

Things is, the implication by doing that is that giving *any* church tax-exempted status is A Bad Thing.

But it is A Bad Thing. Tax-exempt status just perpetuates the idea that religion is special. That it is both above government and above any serious examination by the society it preys upon. It's the idea that it's rude to question someone's religious beliefs, no matter how idiotic or contradictory, writ large.

Jonman wrote:

Not to mention (potentially) punishing the many for the sins of the few.

You mean like kicking humanity out of the Garden of Eden because someone ate an apple? Or slagging Sodom and Gomorrah? Or flooding the entire world?

If anything, religious folks should be entirely comfortable with the idea of punishing the many for the sins of a few since it's something their god does quite often.

NSMike wrote:
Jonman wrote:

Which feels like a losing proposition, at least at the legislative level. Not to mention (potentially) punishing the many for the sins of the few.

I actually don't get this idea. If anything, the rampant appeals to the evangelist base shows that churches, intentionally or not, have dramatic effects on voter positions. It's not necessarily a "sin," as it were, but I think they're pretty inexorable. Religions will affect public policy, be it moderate or extreme. The idea that they will not simply because you can't campaign from the pulpit is, in my opinion, a bit naive.

Yes, religions will, insomuch as one's religion (or lack thereof) influences one's position on the issues. But that's a wholly different kettle of fish from a church directly influencing one's vote.

It just feels like throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Should my local Buddhist temple lose it's tax-exempt status because the evangelical preacher at the church down the street from it is exhorting his congregation to vote for Romney?

Maybe we need to back the bus up a little and discuss the historical reasons why the tax exemption for churches exists in the first place. As much for my benefit and lack of knowledge as anything else

Jonman wrote:

Maybe we need to back the bus up a little and discuss the historical reasons why the tax exemption for churches exists in the first place. As much for my benefit and lack of knowledge as anything else :)

From my understanding, it provides another buffer between church and state which limits the influence of one on the other. Freedom of religion receives some protection in this way as well as the freedom of people from unwanted religious influence. (Some being the operative word.)

LouZiffer wrote:
Jonman wrote:

Maybe we need to back the bus up a little and discuss the historical reasons why the tax exemption for churches exists in the first place. As much for my benefit and lack of knowledge as anything else :)

From my understanding, it provides another buffer between church and state which limits the influence of one on the other. Freedom of religion receives some protection in this way as well as the freedom of people from unwanted religious influence. (Some being the operative word.)

So there's two sides to that coin, right?

Preserving the tax exemption continues to protect the churches from influence of the government. Isn't that something worth preserving?

Jonman wrote:
LouZiffer wrote:
Jonman wrote:

Maybe we need to back the bus up a little and discuss the historical reasons why the tax exemption for churches exists in the first place. As much for my benefit and lack of knowledge as anything else :)

From my understanding, it provides another buffer between church and state which limits the influence of one on the other. Freedom of religion receives some protection in this way as well as the freedom of people from unwanted religious influence. (Some being the operative word.)

So there's two sides to that coin, right?

Preserving the tax exemption continues to protect the churches from influence of the government. Isn't that something worth preserving?

Yes. That was part of my intended meaning. Taxes imply a greater degree of influence both over and from those who are taxed.

LouZiffer wrote:
Jonman wrote:
LouZiffer wrote:
Jonman wrote:

Maybe we need to back the bus up a little and discuss the historical reasons why the tax exemption for churches exists in the first place. As much for my benefit and lack of knowledge as anything else :)

From my understanding, it provides another buffer between church and state which limits the influence of one on the other. Freedom of religion receives some protection in this way as well as the freedom of people from unwanted religious influence. (Some being the operative word.)

So there's two sides to that coin, right?

Preserving the tax exemption continues to protect the churches from influence of the government. Isn't that something worth preserving?

Yes. That was part of my intended meaning. Taxes imply a greater degree of influence both over and from those who are taxed.

Thanks for that. I didn't know that, honestly. I assumed it was just their general status as non-profit entities. That makes sense.

For me separation is a wall, not a 1 way mirror. We keep government out of church, and church out of government. Sanctioning "political speech" is too nebulous. Even using the churches as the vehicle to sanction those that let people campaign is a tough one. I think most people could agree the latter is a clear breach of the 1st amendment (insofar as you understand what the separation clause implies). But I see it as the only way to curb candidates from taking the pulpit.

Additionally, it seems to be self correcting. People are attending service less and less.

Jonman wrote:

Maybe we need to back the bus up a little and discuss the historical reasons why the tax exemption for churches exists in the first place. As much for my benefit and lack of knowledge as anything else :)

I think they have the non-specific exemption under 501C. Purposes considered exempt from taxation are:

charitable, religious, educational, scientific, literary, testing for public safety, fostering national or international amateur sports competition, and preventing cruelty to children or animals. The term charitable is used in its generally accepted legal sense and includes relief of the poor, the distressed, or the underprivileged; advancement of religion; advancement of education or science; erecting or maintaining public buildings, monuments, or works; lessening the burdens of government; lessening neighborhood tensions; eliminating prejudice and discrimination; defending human and civil rights secured by law; and combating community deterioration and juvenile delinquency.

A church loses the exemption becomes an "action organization." It can't "attempt to influence legislation as a substantial part of its activities and it may not participate in any campaign activity for or against political candidates."

KingGorilla wrote:

So Pulpit Freedom Sunday

So, I read the article. I'm not an expert by any means but I was doing a little wiki and web reading over lunch on 501(c) and other tax-exempt classifications. Apparently they all operate under different rules but most of them (for example: unions and fraternal/guild organizations such as police or firefighters) can advocate politically in some fashion. Even then, 'tax-exempt' due to non-profit or not-for profit status doesn't mean 'never pays any taxes ever'. Religious organizations look like they fall under the same 501(c)3 category as PETA, which is hardly apolitical. This classification is allowed to advocate for issue awareness, just not speak on specific elections or candidates, a point that might be getting missed here. Tax-exempt status is not and never has been about never doing any advocacy, even if it's promoting a cultural paradigm or the individual planks that might coincidentally inform a political platform.

Then, there's a separate classification for tax-exempt non-profits organized explicitly for candidate and election advocacy. (527) These include tax-exempt organizations such as ... get this...political parties Also, it includes PACs that are created specifically for the purpose of advocating for political candidates and the outcomes of elections. I guess what I'm wondering is, what would (or should) prevent religious organizations from re-establishing its own tax exempt status for political activities under a separate, yet still somewhat tax-exempt definition? Or, organizing a partner or affiliate organization specifically for that purpose? Or even a holding company that owns both organizations. This is how unions worked around rules barring them from political speech. They just form a 527 PAC. Every ad you see sponsored by 'Fraternal Association of Whatever' was paid for by a tax-exempt organization.

If he's advocating that *any* political speech should be subjected to taxation in the same fashion as a for-profit corporation, then he's inadvertently casting the net too wide, since it's not just churches doing it with added tax relief. It seems what he's advocating is that religious organizations shouldn't be tax exempt period. His last two paragraphs indicate that he's biased against churches in general, so it feels like he's giving them special treatment on the political item. Maybe what he really should be doing is advocating that they be reclassifed in much the same way as chiropractors and food supplement products. "For Entertainment Only" Protip: Both of those industries still lobby heavily.

I guess my point is that it's not cut and dry. And if the IRS does try to put this in front of a judge, it's highly likely that they'll lose. And given the point that any church apparently has a myriad of ways to work around it already, it's just not worth fighting about. 'Solving' this is just not as simple as he's making it out.

Fun IRS PDF, with lovely template
http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/p1828...

Well Churches are subject to 501(C)(3).

Key differences are Churches are assumed tax exempt. All other organizations must apply to the IRS for status. They also do not have to justify their status with submissions to the IRS the same way other 501 organizations do, IE many are required to report their revenues and expenditures to justify that status, essentially reapplying each year. So we have assumed non profit protection, and they can keep their books largely secret.

To state that other non-profits like Unions and Charities participate in political speech are not an excuse for churches, but an example of the problem. The UAW publicly endorsing a candidate is just as bad, maybe worse. Churches and PACs need to be evaluated on even ground.

While not directly related to taxes, church organizations also have special status under OSHA and the EEOC. But recent losses at the highest courts are showing they are still subject to The Civil Right's Act and the ADA.

If you take a look at some of the megachurches in this area, they are just about indistinguishable from media and/or entertainment empires except for the fact that they enjoy the ability to evade taxes legally.

If I ever decide to open a bar or strip joint, I will make sure to start a religion around it just so I don't need to pay for stuff like police and fire protection.

Jonman wrote:

Preserving the tax exemption continues to protect the churches from influence of the government. Isn't that something worth preserving?

No, it's not. Religion should and must be completely subservient to the state.

Do you really want Mormons to say "we've gotten another revelation from god and he says polygamy is AOK again, deal with it"? Or Muslims to say that they're going to ignore existing laws and courts decisions because they believe Sharia law trumps all? Or allow religious employers, such as a Catholic hospital, to ignore labor laws and impose their sense of morality about things like birth control on non-Catholic employees?

LouZiffer wrote:

Yes. That was part of my intended meaning. Taxes imply a greater degree of influence both over and from those who are taxed.

The only problem is that religious institutions essentially get representation *without* taxation. They get to influence politics and yet they don't contribute to the nation's financial well-being.

Funkenpants wrote:

A church loses the exemption becomes an "action organization." It can't "attempt to influence legislation as a substantial part of its activities and it may not participate in any campaign activity for or against political candidates."

So it just funnels its "action" effort through another organization, just like the LDS did with Prop 8. Then it gets the best of both worlds: it can dramatically influence politics and it gets to keep all the money it takes from its parishioners.

OG_slinger wrote:
Jonman wrote:

Preserving the tax exemption continues to protect the churches from influence of the government. Isn't that something worth preserving?

No, it's not. Religion should and must be completely subservient to the state.

Do you really want Mormons to say "we've gotten another revelation from god and he says polygamy is AOK again, deal with it"? Or Muslims to say that they're going to ignore existing laws and courts decisions because they believe Sharia law trumps all? Or allow religious employers, such as a Catholic hospital, to ignore labor laws and impose their sense of morality about things like birth control on non-Catholic employees?

That's different. Religion needs to be completely subservient to the law. And it is. Last I checked, none of the examples you quoted exist in this country, and if they do, they're taken to court and struck down.

What if an evangelical president decides that Muslims are filthy savages, and declares that all mosques should be bulldozed? Isn't that what the kind of governmental influence over religion that we ought to be seeking to prevent?

Right, it's a two-way street. There's probably nothing scarier than a church with guns, both internally and externally. Keeping religion and government separate means that the social monopoly on violence is kept out of religious hands.

This protects everyone, whether religious or secular.

It can still be misused, clearly, but from a historical perspective, there is nothing more dangerous than an army that thinks it literally cannot be wrong.

Malor wrote:

Right, it's a two-way street. There's probably nothing scarier than a church with guns, both internally and externally. Keeping religion and government separate means that the social monopoly on violence is kept out of religious hands.

This protects everyone, whether religious or secular.

It can still be misused, clearly, but from a historical perspective, there is nothing more dangerous than an army that thinks it literally cannot be wrong.

Doh. I forgot about that. My strip joint church will have a gun store in the back.

When the Evangelicals took power, first, they came for the Muslims.

But I was silent, because I was Catholic.

Then, they came for the Protestants.....

Jonman wrote:

That's different. Religion needs to be completely subservient to the law. And it is. Last I checked, none of the examples you quoted exist in this country, and if they do, they're taken to court and struck down.

What if an evangelical president decides that Muslims are filthy savages, and declares that all mosques should be bulldozed? Isn't that what the kind of governmental influence over religion that we ought to be seeking to prevent?

The only problem is that what you described as the kind of governmental influence you think we shouldn't have is exactly why some of the examples I quoted don't exist in this country.

Polygamy? The government outlawed it in 1890.

Think about that. The government basically stepped in and said "Hey Mormons, you know that treasured religious belief you have? Yeah, you can't do that anymore." And now, a century and change later, the Mormon Church and the rest of the country recognize what the government did as being the right thing to do.

And that's because there have to be limits on religion and religious beliefs simply because we don't have a state religion. Multiple religions and multiple--often clashing--belief systems have to coexist in this country. On top of that, those belief systems can't clash so much with the rest of our society or with the basic rights every citizen has.

The example you raised would be all but impossible to do. First, how would that evangelical president do that? Issue an executive order? It would be in the courts instantly and struck down. As Congress to pass a law? Lawmakers would have every religious organization and their lobbyists up their asses and, if they did manage to pass something, it would be in the courts instantly and struck down.

I simply don't see that religious institutions need protection from the government. I do, however, believe that the government needs protection from religious institutions and their followers.

Either way, none of this explains why religious institutions shouldn't have to pay taxes. Right now they get all the benefits of government and bear none of the costs of maintaining it.

OG_slinger wrote:
Jonman wrote:

That's different. Religion needs to be completely subservient to the law. And it is. Last I checked, none of the examples you quoted exist in this country, and if they do, they're taken to court and struck down.

What if an evangelical president decides that Muslims are filthy savages, and declares that all mosques should be bulldozed? Isn't that what the kind of governmental influence over religion that we ought to be seeking to prevent?

The only problem is that what you described as the kind of governmental influence you think we shouldn't have is exactly why some of the examples I quoted don't exist in this country.

Polygamy? The government outlawed it in 1890.

Think about that. The government basically stepped in and said "Hey Mormons, you know that treasured religious belief you have? Yeah, you can't do that anymore." And now, a century and change later, the Mormon Church and the rest of the country recognize what the government did as being the right thing to do.

And that's because there have to be limits on religion and religious beliefs simply because we don't have a state religion. Multiple religions and multiple--often clashing--belief systems have to coexist in this country. On top of that, those belief systems can't clash so much with the rest of our society or with the basic rights every citizen has.

The example you raised would be all but impossible to do. First, how would that evangelical president do that? Issue an executive order? It would be in the courts instantly and struck down. As Congress to pass a law? Lawmakers would have every religious organization and their lobbyists up their asses and, if they did manage to pass something, it would be in the courts instantly and struck down.

I simply don't see that religious institutions need protection from the government. I do, however, believe that the government needs protection from religious institutions and their followers.

Either way, none of this explains why religious institutions shouldn't have to pay taxes. Right now they get all the benefits of government and bear none of the costs of maintaining it.

I feel like we're both talking out of both sides of our mouths here

The two passages I highlighted in your post utterly contradict one another, don't they?

More to the point, I think that they actually concur with my assertion that religions must be subservient to the law. OK, the government made polygamy illegal, but they didn't make Mormonism illegal. Freedom of religious belief is boundless, freedom of religious action is bounded by the law of the land.

Jonman wrote:

I feel like we're both talking out of both sides of our mouths here

The two passages I highlighted in your post utterly contradict one another, don't they?

More to the point, I think that they actually concur with my assertion that religions must be subservient to the law. OK, the government made polygamy illegal, but they didn't make Mormonism illegal. Freedom of religious belief is boundless, freedom of religious action is bounded by the law of the land.

Perhaps we are!

I'm not sure that my two passages necessarily contradict each other. If an evangelical president tried to bulldoze every mosque he'd be stopped by the courts because doing that would first and foremost violate the sh*t out of property rights. That would be the primary defense offered up: the government can't simply do what it wants with my--or someone else's--property.

The case of polygamy is trickier. That's because the government made a targeted law that outlawed a specific practice that only Mormon's followed, essentially what you skewered me on in the hypothetical bulldozer example: the government somehow passing a law that targets a single religion. The only problem is that we as a nation almost universally feel that polygamy is bad. We felt that way 125 years ago and we feel that way now.

So if it's bad to have a law to bulldoze all mosques, then why is it OK for us to have a law that outlaws polygamy? Or, to make the two a bit closer, why would it be bad to have a law here in the US similar to France's ban on head coverings--something that would essentially only target Muslims--but totally OK to have a law banning polygamy?

I think the answer to that is that there's more than laws involved. There's also societal norms and values. The Mormon practice of polygamy was very far removed from what the rest of America was comfortable with and so we made it illegal. We tossed the First Amendment out the door and the Supreme Court backed us up on that call, basically saying anything other than one man marrying one woman was an "offense against society."

There's something in your concept of religious action, but that just really loops back to what our society will tolerate. Would we tolerate a ban on head coverings? Yeah, I think we would, especially if it was actually a proxy for the lack of assimilation of Muslims as it is in France.

One of the more obvious examples (Polygamy is a good one, though) is the grey area around how government handles religions that forbid modern medicine. These frequently end up in court cases between the family child services folks and the church.

Yeah, the whole anti-polygamy thing is very much Christian religionism posing as government. The separation is often not as good as it should be, as many in both government and religion think it shouldn't be there at all, and often have the power to do something about it.

Fortunately, the worst of the abuses have been contained, and mostly you end up with little bits of bullsh*t, like no buying booze in Georgia on Sunday, or at all in Tennessee, in some counties. Blue laws are one of the better examples I can think of for religion actively interfering with non-believer's daily lives -- who the heck are you to tell me I can't drink on Sunday? Well, you can't, but you can make it as difficult as you possibly can, by making it impossible for me to buy booze on Sundays.

Fortunately, that Georgia law was recently made optional, and now individual counties can choose whether to enforce the blue laws or not. I know some have, but many have not. The Costco where I do a lot of shopping, for example, just over the Georgia state line, is still under a blue law.