Have always and will always December 1, 2013Posted by Ezra Resnick in Belief, Law, Religion.
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It is often argued that beliefs (especially religious beliefs) are a private matter, and that it’s wrong to criticize people’s deeply-held faith. The problem with “let everyone believe whatever they want”, however, is that our beliefs inevitably influence our actions. If, for instance, you believe that doing X is extremely important, you’ll naturally try to get others to do it. In extreme cases, you might even try to force people to do X for their own good — or for the good of their children. For example, I believe that saving children from disease and death is extremely important; so if a parent were withholding lifesaving medication from their child, I would advocate using the power of the law to override that parent and medicate the child. Most people would presumably agree that such action is reasonable — but it’s only reasonable insomuch as the underlying beliefs (e.g., regarding disease, death, and medication) are themselves reasonable.
On the other hand, consider this:
The Supreme Rabbinical Court for Appeals in Jerusalem has upheld a ruling demanding that a mother pay NIS 500 [$140] every day until she agrees to have her son circumcised…
The panel of three rabbinical judges of the Supreme Rabbinical Court said in their decision on Monday that the mother was objecting to the procedure as a way of gaining better terms in the divorce settlement and dismissed her appeal…
The mother said, however, that after looking into the matter she decided she did not want the boy to be circumcised on ethical grounds.
“I don’t have the right to cut his genitals and wound him, and the rabbinical court does not have the right to force me to,” she told Channel 2 news…
“The Jewish people have always and will always see in the brit mila [circumcision] the completion of the act of creation,” [the judges] continued.
“This matter lies within our purview because the minor’s educational experience will be defined by the decision on circumcision,” the rabbinical judges wrote in their ruling…
In Israel, rabbinical courts are entrusted with the marriage and divorce of Jewish couples. As such, they can rule on a wide range of issues when they hear a case.
The woman appealed to the Great Rabbinical Court in Jerusalem but the court refused to overturn the lower court’s ruling. “If the issue of circumcision is now left to every individual to decide, how will the rest of the world view this? It would be unthinkable to have authority in this matter stripped from the rabbinical sages of the people of Israel.”
Authority in this and all legal matters needs to be immediately stripped from rabbinical sages, priests, mullahs, and all others who value faith and adherence to tradition over reason and evidence; while the irrational belief systems that motivate them need to be treated with the same scorn those “judges” showed a mother and her son.
Reconcile ourselves with the irreconcilable May 25, 2013Posted by Ezra Resnick in Ethics, Religion.
In the Huffington Post, Rabbi Shmuley Boteach opines that to claim the Holocaust was punishment for sin is “ignorant, repulsive, and wrong.” Also, “abhorrent” and “factually absurd.” Moreover, those who make such arguments aren’t doing God’s reputation any favors:
Let’s say for a moment that they’re right. God bears no responsibility for the gas chambers at Auschwitz because the Jews of Europe had it coming. They earned death by virtue of their iniquity. They deserved to be turned into ash because they had abrogated God’s covenant.
Now, how many of you feel like praying to a God who could do that? How many of you feel like loving a God who enacts the death penalty for eating a cheese burger? How many people would want to worship a God who cremates children when their parents drive on the Sabbath?
Good point! I wonder where anyone could possibly have gotten the “abhorrent” idea that God would do things like that… Well, I guess there is this:
But if ye will not hearken unto Me, and will not do all these commandments; and if ye shall reject My statutes, and if your soul abhor Mine ordinances, so that ye will not do all My commandments, but break My covenant; I also will do this unto you: I will appoint terror over you, even consumption and fever, that shall make the eyes to fail, and the soul to languish… And if ye walk contrary unto Me, and will not hearken unto Me; I will bring seven times more plagues upon you according to your sins. And I will send the beast of the field among you, which shall rob you of your children, and destroy your cattle, and make you few in number… And ye shall eat the flesh of your sons, and the flesh of your daughters shall ye eat…
Ye shall keep the sabbath therefore, for it is holy unto you; every one that profaneth it shall surely be put to death; for whosoever doeth any work therein, that soul shall be cut off from among his people.
for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate Me;
But if, like Boteach, we choose to ignore the main theme of the Bible, and maintain that God is worthy of love and worship, surely the only position left available is that God is incapable of influencing our world at all — because horrible things happen to innocent people every fucking day. I mean, it wouldn’t make any sense to give God credit for the good things that befall us, while absolving him of responsibility for the bad things! Right?
I don’t know why God allowed the holocaust. Nor do I care. Any explanation would not minimize the horror of it. Nor would it bring back my six millions murdered Jewish brothers and sisters. Indeed, asking for an answer is itself immoral insofar as it is an attempt to reconcile ourselves with the irreconcilable. What we want is for God to fulfill his promises to the Jewish people, that they might live a blessed and peaceful existence, like so many other nations that are not perennial targets for genocide.
True, God has sustained us, for the most part, and we alone have survived from antiquity. We are grateful to God for our longevity. But it should not take the deaths of innocent Israeli soldiers to guarantee our survival.
It is high time that God show Himself in history and bless a people who have been, for the past three thousand years, the most devoted and religious of nations, deeply faithful to God, practicing charity, promoting scholarship, fostering hospitality, and spreading light and blessing to all nations of the earth.
High time, indeed. In fact, if God doesn’t show himself soon, some skeptical-minded individuals might interpret the consistent lack of divine intervention in our world as evidence that he doesn’t exist at all! Like, for instance, this Oklahoma woman whose home was ravaged by a tornado: CNN’s Wolf Blitzer told her she’s “blessed,” then asked her if she “thanked the Lord.” She replied that she’s actually an atheist.
Rabbi Shmuley doesn’t know why his God allowed that tornado to kill two dozen people, including ten children; nor does he care. Indeed, he considers asking for an answer to be itself immoral. Nevertheless, he continues to pray for God’s blessings and to thank him for lovingly sustaining us. For the most part.
One of the highest April 8, 2013Posted by Ezra Resnick in Ethics, Law, Religion.
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Suppose that in some community of your city, a newborn baby is taken by his parents to a tattoo parlor, where they have the family emblem tattooed on his backside. The tattoo subsequently becomes infected, causing the infant to suffer brain damage and, eventually, die.
What would be the appropriate response? Should we shrug our shoulders, maintaining that parents are free to do whatever they want with their children? Or should we hold the parents (and the tattoo artist) accountable?
And what kind of parents would perform such a procedure on an infant, anyway?
Two infants in the last three months in New York City’s ultra-Orthodox Jewish community have been infected with herpes following a ritual circumcision, according to the health department. The boys were not identified.
In the most controversial part of this version of the Jewish ritual, known as metzitzah b’peh, the practitioner, or mohel, places his mouth around the baby’s penis to suck the blood to “cleanse” the wound.
One of the two infected babies developed a fever and lesion on its scrotum seven days after the circumcision, and tests for HSV-1 were positive, according to the health department.
Last year, the New York City Board of Health voted to require parents to sign a written consent that warns them of the risks of this practice. None of the parents of the two boys who were recently infected signed the form, according Jay Varma, deputy commissioner for disease control at the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
Varma said it was “too early to tell” if the babies will suffer long-term health consequences from the infection.
Since 2000, there have been 13 cases of herpes associated with the ritual, including two deaths and two other babies with brain damage.
Neonatal herpes infections can cause death or disability among infants, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“First, these are serious infections in newborns and second, there is no safe way an individual can perform oral suction on an open wound,” said Dr. William Schaffner, chair of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University. “Third, these terrible infections are completely preventable. They should not occur in the 21st century with our scientific knowledge.”
Some rabbis told ABCNews.com last year that they opposed on religious grounds the law requiring parents to sign a waiver, insisting it has been performed “tens of thousands of times a year” worldwide. They say safeguarding the life of a child is one of the religion’s highest principles.
“This is the government forcing a rabbi practicing a religious ritual to tell his congregants it could hurt their child,” Rabbi David Niederman, executive director of the Hasidic United Jewish Organization of Williamsburg, told ABCNews.com. “If, God forbid, there was a danger, we would be the first to stop the practice.”
We must not inform parents of the demonstrable dangers posed to their child, because safeguarding the life of a child is one of the religion’s highest principles, and if, God forbid, there was a danger, we rabbis would be the first to stop the ritual, and since we haven’t stopped, there must not be any danger. So mind your own business.
Still, perhaps we should identify the infected mohel and stop him from harming more children?
The health department could take no action against the rabbi who performed the circumcision because the parents would not reveal his identity.
Safeguarding the life of a child is one of the religion’s highest principles. Not, however, the highest.
An Islamist lexicon March 17, 2013Posted by Ezra Resnick in Equality, Language, Religion.
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The Muslim Brotherhood is extremely concerned:
The 57th session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), taking place from March 4 to 15 at UN headquarters, seeks to ratify a declaration euphemistically entitled ‘End Violence against Women’.
That title, however, is misleading and deceptive.
Does the Brotherhood mean to say that the UN declaration is not actually aimed at eliminating the disenfranchisement, maltreatment, and subjugation of women? Well, not exactly.
That title, however, is misleading and deceptive. The document includes articles that contradict established principles of Islam, undermine Islamic ethics and destroy the family, the basic building block of society, according to the Egyptian Constitution.
This declaration, if ratified, would lead to complete disintegration of society, and would certainly be the final step in the intellectual and cultural invasion of Muslim countries, eliminating the moral specificity that helps preserve cohesion of Islamic societies.
A closer look at these articles reveals what decadence awaits our world, if we sign this document:
1. Granting girls full sexual freedom, as well as the freedom to decide their own gender and the gender of their partners (ie, choose to have normal or homo- sexual relationships), while raising the age of marriage.
2. Providing contraceptives for adolescent girls and training them to use those, while legalizing abortion to get rid of unwanted pregnancies, in the name of sexual and reproductive rights.
3. Granting equal rights to adulterous wives and illegitimate sons resulting from adulterous relationships.
4. Granting equal rights to homosexuals, and providing protection and respect for prostitutes.
5. Giving wives full rights to file legal complaints against husbands accusing them of rape or sexual harassment, obliging competent authorities to deal husbands punishments similar to those prescribed for raping or sexually harassing a stranger.
6. Equal inheritance (between men and women).
7. Replacing guardianship with partnership, and full sharing of roles within the family between men and women such as: spending, child care and home chores.
8. Full equality in marriage legislation such as: allowing Muslim women to marry non-Muslim men, and abolition of polygamy, dowry, men taking charge of family spending, etc.
9. Removing the authority of divorce from husbands and placing it in the hands of judges, and sharing all property after divorce.
10. Cancelling the need for a husband’s consent in matters like: travel, work, or use of contraception.
These are destructive tools meant to undermine the family as an important institution; they would subvert the entire society, and drag it to pre-Islamic ignorance.
The Muslim Brotherhood urges the leaders of Muslim countries and their UN representatives to reject and condemn this document, and to call upon this organization to rise to the high morals and principles of family relations prescribed by Islam.
So, ‘End Violence against Women’ isn’t really a “misleading and deceptive” title for the UN declaration, after all. On the other hand, I think I might have spotted a euphemism or two creeping into the Brotherhood’s heartfelt protest (which could non-euphemistically be titled ‘More Violence against Women’). Here, then, is a handy lexicon listing some common Islamist code words along with their actual meanings:
undermine the family: make it harder for men to control their wives and daughters
complete disintegration of society: a society where women are free and equal members
intellectual and cultural invasion of Muslim countries: concern for the wellbeing of all inhabitants of Muslim countries
the moral specificity that helps preserve cohesion of Islamic societies: brainwashing, ignorance, and coercion
decadence: anything not prescribed in the worldview of a 7th-century tribal warlord
(via Butterflies & Wheels)
Darkness and light December 8, 2012Posted by Ezra Resnick in Reason, Religion.
I will not light a candle for miracles: I will not celebrate gullibility, ignorance, self-deception, wishful thinking. I will light a candle for skepticism, for intellectual honesty, for experimentation, for evidence-based thinking.
I will not light a candle for tribalism: I will not celebrate sectarian, parochial worldviews that arbitrarily divide humanity into separate categories. I will light a candle for equality, for empathy, for solidarity.
I will not light a candle for worship: I will not celebrate submission, propitiation, servility. I will light a candle for self-respect, for independence, for human dignity.
I will not light a candle for militarism: I will not celebrate violence, aggression, retribution, revenge. I will light a candle for those who put themselves in harm’s way, who defend those that cannot defend themselves.
I will not light a candle in yearning for some idealized past: we have struggled long and hard to overcome many historical errors and injustices. I will light a candle for progress, for learning from past mistakes, for continuing to expand our knowledge and raise our standards and improve our society.
I will not light a candle and pray for some all-powerful being to save us in our hour of need: the universe doesn’t care about us and wouldn’t notice if our planet went dark. I will light a candle for rational decision-making, for responsible public policy, for building a sustainable future — so that the lights may stay on a bit longer.
I will not light a candle just because I am commanded to: I will not celebrate dogmatism and blind obedience. If I choose to, I will light a candle for individuality, for critical thinking, for personal liberty.
Also, I will not light a candle for fried food — that stuff will kill you. Go eat an apple.
On either side September 25, 2012Posted by Ezra Resnick in Politics, Religion.
It’s a joke, right? A parody? A satirical mockery of the suicidal, cowardly, obscene, morally-bankrupt farce that postmodern, politically-correct multiculturalism has become?
The European Union has issued a joint statement with the African Union, the Arab League, and (I kid you not) the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation.
We share a profound respect for all religions. We are united in our belief in the fundamental importance of religious freedom and tolerance. We condemn any advocacy of religious hatred that constitutes incitement to hostility and violence. While fully recognizing freedom of expression, we believe in the importance of respecting all prophets, regardless of which religion they belong to.
The anguish of Muslims at the production of the film insulting Islam, posting of its trailer on the internet and other similar acts, is shared by all individuals and communities who refuse to allow religion to be used to fuel provocation, confrontation and extremism.
We condemn any message of hatred and intolerance.
We know that the behaviour of small groups of people does not speak for the larger communities from which they hail; but the damage they can inflict can be considerable. We must ensure that the recent events do not undermine the relationships of trust and respect we have built up over so many years among our peoples, communities and states. The international community cannot be held hostage to the acts of extremists on either side…
We reiterate our strong commitment to take further measures and to work for an international
consensus on tolerance and full respect of religion, including on the basis of UN Human Rights Council resolution 16/18.
Yes, that’s clearly what we need: More respect for religion. Full respect, in fact. For Islam, and Mormonism, and Scientology, and Voodoo, and Wicca — we must respect them all, equally and profoundly. And all prophets, too — no matter what they preach. (Don’t they all preach the same thing, really?) We must take “further measures” against the extremists — on either side — who are holding the international community hostage: those who murder diplomats, on the one side, and those, on the other side, who provoke and incite by posting insulting films on the internet.
It must be a joke, right?
Although, come to think of it, not really very funny at all.
(via Butterflies & Wheels)
Crimes and insults September 22, 2012Posted by Ezra Resnick in Freedom, Law, Religion.
As U.S. embassies were being attacked and innocents murdered throughout the Muslim world, the Prime Minister of Pakistan had this to say:
The Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf has called upon the world community to declare blasphemy despicable and a criminal act.
Addressing Ishq-e-Mustafa Conference held at the Prime Minister House, he said denial of holocaust is met with punishment but Muslims’ sentiments are absolutely disregarded, adding it is incumbent upon all as a Muslim to protest against any insult to the Holy Prophet (PBUH).
“The anti-Islam movie has harmed the sentiments of all Muslims including me,” he asserted, adding the issue does not pertain to the freedom of expression as it was intended to provoke the feelings of Muslims…
He said if denying Holocaust is a crime then demonizing holiest personalities is not less a crime. Prime Minister Pervez Ashraf said an attack on the Prophet Hazrat Mohammad [Peace Be upon Him] is an attack on the core belief of 1.5 billion Muslims.
The Prime Minister of Turkey agrees:
Erdogan said he will continue to give messages at the next UN General Assembly meeting about adopting international legislation against insulting religion. “I am the prime minister of a nation, of which most are Muslims and that has declared anti-semitism a crime against humanity. But the West hasn’t recognized Islamophobia as a crime against humanity — it has encouraged it. [The film director] is saying he did this to provoke the fundamentalists among Muslims. When it is in the form of a provocation, there should be international legal regulations against attacks on what people deem sacred, on religion. As much as it is possible to adopt international regulations, it should be possible to do something in terms of domestic law.”
He further noted, “Freedom of thought and belief ends where the freedom of thought and belief of others start. You can say anything about your thoughts and beliefs, but you will have to stop when you are at the border of others’ freedoms. I was able to include Islamophobia as a hate crime in the final statement of an international meeting in Warsaw.”
Erdogan said the government will immediately start working on legislation against blasphemous and offensive remarks. “Turkey could be a leading example for the rest of the world on this.”
The only thing more depressing than the depths of moral confusion and ignorance displayed by heads of state in the 21st century, is that the international community’s response so often consists of apology rather than derision.
Allow me to offer some remedial civics instruction for those who are stuck in the Iron Age: One person’s freedom of speech ends only when another person would be materially harmed. The classic example is incitement to violence — which, incidentally, is widespread in the Muslim world. Antisemitism, like racism and sexism, should only be illegal when it is codified into discriminatory policy (also widespread in the Muslim world).
What must never be curtailed, however, is the right to freely criticize people and ideas — no matter how offensive or blasphemous such criticism may seem to some. Surely, anyone who cares about the truth has nothing to fear from allowing dissenting voices to be heard. If the opinions being expressed are clearly stupid and wrong, that should make them all the more easy to refute. And if the critics are simply too repugnant for words, if they’re being deliberately provocative and insulting, then everyone is free to ignore them. But not to harm or threaten or imprison them.
Holocaust denial, by the way, should not be illegal, even though it currently is illegal in some countries (not in the United States). The way to deal with liars and bigots is by exposing their lies and shaming them with evidence.
Are we all clear, now? Illegal: violence and discrimination. Stupid but legal: voicing nonviolent antisemitic opinions; denying the Holocaust; respecting Islam and its barbaric Prophet.
Forced ignorance is legal in Virginia September 15, 2012Posted by Ezra Resnick in Education, Freedom, Religion.
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Denying children a basic education severely harms them for life: it restricts their opportunities and limits their ability to think for themselves and make informed choices. Obvious, right? That’s why we have compulsory education laws, right?
Nearly 7,000 Virginia children whose families have opted to keep them out of public school for religious reasons are not required to get an education, the only children in the country who do not have to prove they are being home-schooled or otherwise educated, according to a study.
Virginia is the only state that allows families to avoid government intrusion once they are given permission to opt out of public school, according to a report from the University of Virginia’s School of Law. It’s a law that is defended for promoting religious freedom and criticized for leaving open the possibility that some children will not be educated.
I’ll bet you saw that coming: “promoting religious freedom.” I wish I didn’t have to keep repeating the obvious: The religious freedom of a parent does not include the freedom to harm his children. Not by abusing them physically, and not by keeping them ignorant (which is also a form of abuse). Parents are free to teach their religion to their children as persuasively as they can, but they have no right to keep them cut off from the world, denying them the freedom to decide for themselves how they want to live their lives.
Home-school advocates say the law is essential to preserving the rights of families who believe that any state control of their children’s education would violate the tenets of their faith. It takes on particular importance in the state where Thomas Jefferson helped define religious freedom as a bedrock principle for the country.
“They feel that their deity has given them that responsibility,” said Amy Wilson of the Organization of Virginia Homeschoolers. For such families, she said, to have to file paperwork and evidence of progress would put them in a crisis of conscience.
What about parents who believe that any state control over their ability to beat their children would violate the tenets of their faith and put them in a crisis of conscience? Must the law preserve those parents’ rights, too?
The statute does not allow exemptions for political or philosophical beliefs “or a merely personal moral code,” but the beliefs do not have to be part of a mainstream religion.
In other words, you don’t need any rational justification for your position; you just need to say the magic word — “religion” — and you’re exempt from the law that applies to everyone else.
In Fairfax County, which reported nearly 500 children who had been granted the religious exemption as of the 2011-12 school year, parents and children older than 14 must submit a letter explaining their religious beliefs, and letters of support vouching for the authenticity of their beliefs.
Steven Staples, executive director of the Virginia Association of School Superintendents, said that once families have written to the district to request the exemption, superintendents tend to honor the families’ wishes. “Most folks who choose religious exemption have some very strongly held beliefs that we want to respect,” Staples said.
I’m asking you now, Mr. Staples: Would you honor and respect folks who very strongly believed in beating their children? Regardless of how many letters they submitted vouching for the “authenticity” of their beliefs?
Parents who seek the exemption, [Yvonne Bunn of the Home Educators Association of Virginia] said, “would probably rather go to jail rather than put their children in school, because they have very strong convictions that they’re following what God has directed them to do.”
Actually, jail sounds like an appropriate place for them — together with all the other abusive parents. Better to imprison the parents than to let them imprison their children’s minds.
(via Butterflies & Wheels)
Dominion over the faith of others September 2, 2012Posted by Ezra Resnick in Equality, Freedom, Politics, Religion.
The Republican Party’s 2012 platform talks an awful lot about freedom and equality, but it seems to apply them rather inconsistently. For instance, it says this:
We are the party of the Constitution, the solemn compact which confirms our God-given individual rights and assures that all Americans stand equal before the law… We will strongly enforce anti-discrimination statutes and ask all to join us in rejecting the forces of hatred and bigotry and in denouncing all who practice or promote racism, anti-Semitism, ethnic prejudice, or religious intolerance.
But just a few paragraphs later, there’s this:
… Congressional Republicans took the lead in enacting the Defense of Marriage Act, affirming the right of States and the federal government not to recognize same-sex relationships licensed in other jurisdictions… We reaffirm our support for a Constitutional amendment defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman. We applaud the citizens of the majority of States which have enshrined in their constitutions the traditional concept of marriage, and we support the campaigns underway in several other States to do so.
In other words, discrimination and bigotry towards homosexuals is to be applauded and supported.
On the subject of religious freedom, the platform invokes Thomas Jefferson’s Virginia Statute,
which declared that no one should “suffer on account of his religious opinion or belief, but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinion in matters of religion…” That assurance has never been more needed than it is today, as liberal elites try to drive religious beliefs — and religious believers — out of the public square… The most offensive instance of this war on religion has been the current Administration’s attempt to compel faith-related institutions, as well as believing individuals, to contravene their deeply held religious, moral, or ethical beliefs regarding health services, traditional marriage, or abortion.
But the current Administration has not been attempting to compel anyone to use a health service, marry, or get an abortion in contravention of his or her religious beliefs; the Administration has merely been attempting to ensure that these options are available to those who want them. Whereas Republicans are saying that if something goes against their religious beliefs, no one should be allowed to do it.
It’s a shame they didn’t read the rest of Jefferson’s Statute:
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 endeavouring to impose them on others, hath established and maintained false religions over the greatest part of the world and through all time…
He divides us against each other September 1, 2012Posted by Ezra Resnick in Politics, Religion.
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At the Republican National Convention this week, Florida senator Marco Rubio gave a speech introducing Mitt Romney — and reminding Americans what makes them special:
Under Barack Obama, the only “Change” is that “Hope” has been hard to find. Now millions of Americans are insecure about their future. But instead of inspiring us by reminding us of what makes us special, he divides us against each other…
We are special because we’ve been united not by a common race or ethnicity. We’re bound together by common values. That family is the most important institution in society. That almighty God is the source of all we have…
Our national motto is “In God we Trust,” reminding us that faith in our Creator is the most important American value of all.
Well, that motto was adopted only in 1956, whereas the U.S. Constitution makes no mention of a “Creator” and mandates separation between religion and the secular government. And obviously, faith in an almighty God — the “most important American value of all,” according to Rubio — is not, in fact, common to all Americans. What, then, would a Republican administration’s attitude be towards nonbelievers, and towards the separation of church and state? Who is actually dividing us against each other?