Archive for the ‘Religion’ Category

by Pete Talbot

Abortion, birth control, women’s health care and religious freedom have all been in the news lately, often in the same story.

As a man, I’m not even sure I get to comment on this but since knotheaded dudes write letters to the editor all the time decrying a woman’s right to choose and a couple of Montana Catholic Bishops, neither whom are women, have made pronouncements, here goes.

Let’s start with Congressman Rehberg’s response to the Obama administration’s rule that birth control should be provided in insurance plans for Catholic schools and hospitals:

“This order is government intrusion into the private lives of Americans under the guise of health care reform and infringes on the religious liberty of women and men of faith in direct opposition to the religious freedom enshrined in the First Amendment of the Constitution,” says Rehberg.

So, some non-Catholic woman working in St. Patrick Hospital’s cafeteria will not have access to affordable birth control because of some archaic religious belief.  Talk about infringing on the “religious liberty of women” as “enshrined in the First Amendment of the Constitution,” right Denny?

To the uber-Catholic women who happen to work at St. Pats and are opposed to birth control: just don’t use it (you can always use the rhythm method.  That works, sometimes).

Closer to home, the Ravalli County Commissioners, by a 3-2 vote, are accepting Title X family planning funding.  This would seem like a no-brainer — around $40K for birth control, annual exams, pregnancy and pap tests, testing for sexually transmitted diseases, nutrition education and counseling, on a sliding scale.

But of course these commissioners have issues that deal with a lack of parental notification for minors.  They’re willing to sacrifice low-cost women’s health programs for their narrow ideology.

Granted, I’d want my kids to talk to me about their sexual concerns.  I’d rather they have access to an STD or pregnancy test, birth control, or sexual education and counseling, if they choose not to confide in me .

Again, I’m always amazed by the less-government intrusion crowd dictating their moral imperatives to the rest of us, via government programs.  The overused but accurate “hypocrite” comes to mind.

All this news comes on the heels of the Susan G. Komen controversy.  If you believe that attacks by the right on women’s health care issues aren’t still in play, often under the misnomer of “religious freedom,” you’d be wrong.

By Duganz

I’m an atheist, but more than that I am a moral person. The two are related despite what many people say or think.

Atheism informs most, if not all of my morality. My views on everything from taxes to the death penalty start with where I am on existence. I believe that this is it. We live. We die. There is no eternal place. We have this planet, our life, and each other.

At the end of our lives we have nothing, as bleak as that may seem to some. Myself, I sometimes get emotional when I take a minute to think that I’m part of humanity, an ape with a brain that has helped us make everything from arrowheads to iPads, and travel everywhere from Antarctica to the Moon. To be part of this for even a few decades has been wonderful; I can only imagine how happy I will be when I’ve lived something like 80 years.

Life is just so beautiful, and we are lucky to have it.

And so I embrace life, and guide myself not by fear of the unknown or the things I cannot see (death, gawd…ninjas), but by the love of life, and the belief that everyone has a right to it (just fyi, that is not an anti-abortion statement).

Sam Harris writes in his book The End of Faith: “[E]very person you have ever met, every person will suffer the loss of his friends and family. All are going to lose everything they love in this world. Why would one want to be anything but kind to them in the meantime?”

When we strip away heaven, hell, 72 virgins, nirvana, and all other pieces of the religion-pie we are left with each other, and each of us will have roughly the same life: We are born, we live, we die. In between so much else happens, but regardless the outcome is the same–be it cancer, car wreck, or any other means. We start as one, we end as zero.

A worldview built around putting mankind first, and believing in the best for man is usually referred to as humanism (though, I am giving quite a tiny summary of it). Humanists believe in a human-centered world, which is very different from a religious worldview, which puts gawd first. A humanist, for instance, would see a famine and say, “We need to get food in here.” A religious person may agree about the food, but would also waste valuable time praying for food, or rain. Or ninjas. (Another quote from Harris, and I’m paraphrasing, says that if you saw someone muttering to a hairdryer you’d find them crazy; remove the hair dryer and you would say they were praying.)

On a recent post I engaged in a light battle of philosophy with Rev. Timothy Gordish, a man whom I respect greatly for his willingness to defend his belief. I believe reading our “debate” may aid some of you in asking the big question: “Do I really believe in gawd?”

If you read the contradictions I point out (And Rev. Gordish denies) and think that they say a lot about the inaccuracy of the bible, I encourage you to explore that idea by looking into humanism and reading a book like The God Delusion, which I found utterly inspiring. So much in fact that at the end of it I was inspired to out myself as an atheist.

You may also find it useful to attend a meeting of the Missoula Area Secular Society. Though I haven’t myself they seem like a nice group of people and they are obviously passionate about what they think. (And if you’re thinking “Why do atheists need a club?” my wife said it best, “Humans are social creatures. Everyone needs to congregate.”) Don’t be afraid to lack belief, many people do (please see the included video below).

If you read our “debate” and think Gordish makes perfect sense, I encourage you to attend his church in Ronan and support him (though if you could, please be more pro-gay than the Rev). Don’t be afraid to believe.

This post is only the first of many I plan on writing about atheism in the coming months. I just want to introduce the idea here because of what Rev. Gordish and I have been throwing around. Please feel free to debate among yourselves about gawd, JESUS!, the bible, ninjas, my lord and savior the invisible pink unicorn, or his father the Flying Spaghetti Monster. But keep it on topic. Debate ideas, not persons.

By Duganz

Oh man. I love me some nutty Christians. I do. I love them because every time a nutty Christian makes a big fuss I get to do a little atheist jig (which, by the way, looks like this). And after my jig I get to write snarky blog posts gently mocking the wee gentiles.

Many of you have probably already heard about Harold Camping, an adorable old man whose cute shar pei-like appearance is only matched by his adorable nuttiness.

Harold says that the Rapture, the Christian version of Mardi Gras (ironic, no?) where good Christians get to be taken up to Heaven while the rest of us heathens get to party (much like Mardi Gras, I suppose), is coming. Soon.

Hans Moleman, er, Harold, says the Rapture will happen on May 21–only 10 days from now. That means that we’ve only got 10 more days to put up with The Phelps Family Players, President W., and many more. Camping’s followers claim that 3percent of the world’s population, around 200million will be gone.

And you know what that means: JOBS! What’d you think of the bail out now Ron Paul?


New York Magazine actually interviewed this guy in a serious way, which seems to me like a waste of time, but, whatever. They at least went to the trouble of pointing out that this is Harold’s second prediction on the end of the world. I guess that’s okay because they got him to say this:

[The] Bible has every word in the original language — it was written by God. … [blah blah blah*] … In other words, when we get to May 21 on the calendar in any city or country in the world, and the clock says about — this is based on other verses in the Bible — when the clock says about 6 p.m., there’s going to be this tremendous earthquake that’s going to make the last earthquake in Japan seem like nothing in comparison.

And Harold knows what he’s talking about. Not only has he read the Bible (a book a friend once used in lieu of rolling papers), but he’s also got a camper painted with his prediction. And we all know how accurate Van Art is.

There’s also this exchange from the article that I think shows Harold’s critical thinking capabilities:

You haven’t thought about what you’ll tell your followers on May 22 if the Rapture doesn’t take place?
I’m not even thinking about that at all. It. Is. Going. To. Happen. Because I trust the Bible implicitly, the Bible is God’s word — it’s not from a man, it’s not from an organization of some kind where there’s plenty of room for error. It is the word of God. When God speaks that it is going to happen, the Bible is a very factual book, and God gives many examples of how he has made prophesies and it always has happened in exact accord with what God has prophesied.

I’ve underlined a few sentences from Harold’s quotes as a way for you to test yourself. But here they are again:

“…the Bible has every word in the original language — it was written by God.”

“…the Bible is a very factual book…”

If you read them and nod, then you’re on Camping’s side, please feel free to skip ahead to the comment section and call me atheist scum or post poorly Photoshopped effigies of me. If you read those sentences and gave a chortle, guffaw, chuckle, hoot or laugh, then you’ve obviously taken a science, or history class, or have read the Bible making notes of the constant inaccuracies and inconsistencies found throughout the text.

Regardless, good for you. Unfortunately if Camping is right you’ll be roasting ‘mallows with Lucifer, Dawkins and me (actually that sounds like a good time).

I’ll be in Hawaii during the Rapture, which means that you’ll be dead, ascended, or partying about 4 hours before me. Remember a few things: Drink lots of water, and always know your dealer.

Oh, and if anyone ever tells you they have intimate knowledge of a godhead take the time to point out that if said godhead was knowable it would cease to be a godhead. Point out that to be supernatural is to be unknowable, and then ask the person why their godhead would pick them of the 6billion living people to give this revelation to. Particularly if the crank telling you this jive looks like Hans Moleman.

*blah blahs added for emphasis.


It would seem that we in America are once again experiencing a kumbaya moment in which we all hug, hold hands, and say things like “America, Fuck Yeah!” and chant “USA, USA.” All because of the killing of one man. But in watching the news reports of celebrations taking place outside of the White House and where the twin towers used to grace the skyline of NYC, I couldn’t help but see parallels between how some Americans reacted and how some Muslims reacted after 9/11.

When we were surprised by this:

Some in the Muslim world reacted like this:

In many respects we couldn’t understand why there would be anybody in the world that would be happy with an attack on America. We collectively scratched our heads seeking answers to why people hated us. And because we have no understanding of history, of cause and effect, we smugly came to the conclusion that it was because they hate our freedom, or that Islam was simply a naturally violent and barbaric religion.

Yet when we final got revenge with this:

Some in America reacted like this:

Now, I’m not saying that the attacks that occurred on September 11th and the killing of Osama Bin Laden are equivalent acts of violence. The people in the Twin Towers were innocent, Osama had crimes to pay for. The deaths of 3,000 unsuspecting people on that morning can not be rationalized, while Osama had to have known what fate held in store for him, he knew he was a hunted man. Otherwise, he would not have been hiding out in a high security compound. Osama Bin Laden deserved to be punished for his actions, to be brought to justice for the atrocities he set in motion.

But what the two events share is their symbolism. The attacks on 9/11 weren’t so much aimed at the people in those buildings as they were the symbols of American strength, both financial and martial. Osama struck at the heart of our empire, attempting to unveil the corruption and moral degradation that lies at the core of our world spanning reach. Our strike this weekend, cutting off the head of Al Qaeda, was just as symbolic. We proved that no matter how long we have to wait or how far we have to go, America will hunt down every last terrorist and we will show no mercy. There will be no day in court for the likes of Osama Bin Laden. Others like him will be put down like the dogs that they are.

News that we got Osama was an emotional release… an end to a chapter in our current American story. But for all the celebrating there needs to be a more focused and inward reflection of what this event really means for our current situation. And my guess would be that beyond the symbolism, beyond the feel good moment, little will change. Our quest for hegemony will continue unabated and the world’s reaction to such a geopolitical reality will continue.

I’ll leave you with this somber reflection…

By Duganz

Back in 2001 I read an article about some people trying to get “Intelligent Design” taught in classes alongside science. I laughed it off because any five year old can disprove the Biblical story of creation. Here’s a script you’ve surely heard:

Mother: What’s your favorite dinosaur Billy?

Billy: By answering that question, Mother, I will be disproving the Biblical creation story because it of course makes no mention of dinosaurs, but instead begins with the creation of man, which we know didn’t happen because we’ve found dinosaurs much older than man. It’s called carbon dating, it’s a complex analysis of bones or tissue at the atomic level, counting… well, honestly, it’s a bit complex, Mother, so I will conclude that my dinosaur preference is meaningless, but I do enjoy our talks.

Okay, maybe it’s different and the kid actual names a dinosaur and doesn’t give a monologue like he’s in an Ayn Rand novel. But the point is that I didn’t think these people were a threat. No one, I thought, was stupid enough to elect people who thought things like that.

I felt the same way when I would see Fred Phelps on TV. No one is that stupid to believe him. God hates fags? Who actually reads Leviticus 18:22 or 20:13 and thinks, “Sure. Of course”?

Well… I’ve underestimated the stupidity, cruelty, and ignorance of the average person.

HB516, which has been talked about plenty, will legitimize the discrimination of LGBT individuals for religious zealots who enjoy the Bible when they can use it for gain (hatin’ those gays!), but never mention the parts that give credence to the unpopular beliefs (Lot’s daughters rape him? Noah was a drunk? Genesis chapter one is completely different than Genesis chapter two and yet tells the same story? Jesus kills a fig tree?)

But what’s more important and more terrifying is that these people are winning.

And before anyone gets out the “We’re not all liberals!” flag, just remember this: Neither was Goldwater when he got on TV and said that he loved his gay grandson.

So, yeah, I’m a pretty socially liberal guy who has kissed at least five other dudes (that’s off the top of my head, maybe more… I drank a lot in college). But when it comes down to it we all know that the government has no right to tell us who or how to love. They should stay out of our bedrooms, our homes, and our lives as much as possible.

I’m starting to ramble and get angry just thinking about how the Session has gone so far with these “small government” people in power. I hope Brian has a lot of pens handy. He’s got some vetoing to do if he has a modicum of respect for personal rights.

Let’s hear it folks… what’s everyone thinking?

by jhwygirl

Wulfgar! at Left in the West gets the hat tip on this one.

From Friday’s hearings, detailed in several posts below. Watch Superstar State Representative Ellie Hill (HD-94) take on the Montana’s Christian Taliban’s Reverend Harris Himes.

Rep. Hill? THANK YOU.

This is a civilized society. It seems that some of the GOP running these committees forgets these things. Every statement does not fall under “free speech” and inciting violence is not anything that should be tolerated.

And Rep. Ken Peterson, of Billings? 10 minutes is not a public hearing.

You represent ALL, not just those than elected you. You are a disgrace to the state bar (if you hold it); a disgrace to the House Judiciary; and a disgrace to the Montana Legislature.

And pulling for seventeen executive actions in House Judicary on Monday morning, in less than 4 hours? That leaves no time for meaningful discussion between legislators – but that’s exactly what you want now, isn’t it?

You are a disgrace to democracy.


I have been remiss in my postings of political cartoons. So today I have something special for you: 4 5 cartoons! So let’s just have a nice civil, down-to-earth open thread, shall we? Hehehe

Me thinks there may be some correlation here amongst these goodies!

By Duganz

This post could really use a picture of Seattle-based Molly Norris. I just didn’t think it ethical to post one because she is now in hiding on the advice of the FBI due to threats by stupid, misguided fools who want to kill her.

They want her dead for a joke she made at the expense of the Prophet Muhammad––also not pictured… for, um, obvious reasons.

I will however post a picture of this guy: His name is Anwar al-Awlaki, and he’s a Yemeni-American cleric who is alleged to have inspired the Fort Hood shooting, among other attacks. He’s also the one who put Norris on a “hit list.”

He’s a bastard-coated bastard with bastard filling.

Back in April Norris drew a cartoon lampooning the fact that certain (not all; let’s not generalize) Muslims become so angry at depictions of the prophet Muhammad, which Islam kind-of-but-not-really forbids. This was at the time when Comedy Central was punking out because South Park was making jokes about Muhammad depictions. So Norris drew a cartoon declaring May 20th “Everybody Draw Muhammad Day.”

WARNING!!!!!! Clicking “Continue Reading” will lead you to the dreaded cartoon.

Continue Reading »

By Duganz

This Sunday the Hockey Mom herself is on her way to Missoula for a day of speechifying amazingingitty. And you can see her (in person!) if you are willing to give your money go to Teen Challenge, a faith-based program geared toward keeping kids off drugs.

I could give a damn about Hockey Mom. She’s become a fly––a pest that darts in and distracts, but adds nothing but static. Teen Challenge (TC) on the other hand, is a tragedy in motion––even when we’re not talking about the number of depressing stories relayed on sites (Sad, also sad) dedicated to covering the organization’s darker moments.

Continue Reading »

by Pete Talbot

This is cool.

An email/press release from my Buddhist friend Simone Ellis: the Dalai Lama will be visiting Western Montana. The Garden of 1000 Buddhas in Arlee seems to be the main draw for His Holiness.

I don’t have a specific date but a press conference is being held Friday, so I guess that’s when we’ll get the details.

Now, I’m not a strict Buddhist. I’m not a strict anything. But to me, this is bigger than a visit from the pope. Here’s what the news release says:

Everyone knows who the Dalai Lama is, but for the record, he is the 14th Dalai Lama, and the first to travel extensively outside of Tibet. Born Tenzin Gyatso, in 1935, recognized as the next Dalai Lama at an early age, he is both the head of state and the spiritual leader of the Tibetan government in exile, seated in Dharamsala, India, where he has lived since having to flee his homeland in 1959. He won the Nobel Peace prize in 1989, and is the author of dozens of books.

Also from the news release:

WHO: Tulku Sang-ngag Rinpoche, spiritual head of Ewam International, and the founder of the Garden of 1,000 Buddhas, announcing the pending visit of His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

WHERE: Inner Harmony Yoga Studio, 214 East Main Street, entrance in the alleyway north of the Union Club. Parking on Main or on side streets to Broadway.

WHEN: 1-2 PM Friday March 19, 2010.

We’ll keep you posted.

(Update: Joe Nickell has the skinny, here. Looks like a fall arrival for the Dalai Lama — if the Garden of 1000 Buddhas is completed, that is.)

(Update #2: No disrespect but I think this might be a premature announcement. One million dollars needs to be raised, thousands of stupas, reliquaries, nimbuses and gabyuls [thanks, Joe Nickell, for making me drag out a dictionary] need to be built, there’s no firm date but Fall 2011 is being discussed — lots of maybes here.)

by Pete Talbot

The letter below, sent by an alert reader who wishes to remain anonymous, has been making the rounds on the tubes.

It is in no way meant to make light of the suffering occurring in Haiti. The tragedy there is beyond our imagination. I post this to show the callousness of televangelist Pat Robertson’s comment that Haiti must have “made a pact with the devil” to incur such wrath. This guy gives Christians a bad name.

Jhwygirl provides us with some good links if you’d like to help in the relief effort.

Dear Pat Robertson,
I know that you know that all press is good press, so I appreciate the shout-out. And you make God look like a big mean bully who kicks people when they are down, so I’m all over that action.
But when you say that Haiti has made a pact with me, it is totally humiliating. I may be evil incarnate, but I’m no welcher. The way you put it, making a deal with me leaves folks desperate and impoverished. Sure, in the afterlife, but when I strike bargains with people, they first get something here on earth — glamour, beauty, talent, wealth, fame, glory, a golden fiddle.
Those Haitians have nothing, and I mean nothing. And that was before the earthquake. Haven’t you seen “Crossroads”? Or “Damn Yankees”? If I had a thing going with Haiti, there’d be lots of banks, skyscrapers, SUVs, exclusive night clubs, Botox — that kind of thing. An 80 percent poverty rate is so not my style. Nothing against it — I’m just saying: Not how I roll.
You’re doing great work, Pat, and I don’t want to clip your wings — just, come on, you’re making me look bad. And not the good kind of bad. Keep blaming God. That’s working. But leave me out of it, please. Or we may need to renegotiate your own contract.

by Pete Talbot

Well, she’s at it again — my lamebrain (distant) relative who sends obnoxious, right-wing emails to my poor wife. This was last week’s. Here’s today’s (I apologize for some of the small fonts. This email arrived in a strange format — at least one that I wasn’t able to manipulate. The line above the stamp reads, USPS New 42-Stamp!!! Celebrates Muslim holiday.):



The final line in the email says, They (MUSLIMS) don’t even believe in Christ, & they’re getting their own Christmas stamp! BUT, don’t dare to dream of posting the ten commandments on federal property! This is truly UNBELIEVABLE !!!

Unbelievable is an understatement. This email comes from a self-proclaimed Christian, too. Guess she missed those teachings of Jesus’ — you know: tolerance, understanding, loving one’s fellow man.

Of course the greatest travesty here is lumping all Muslims into radical extremists and terrorists. This comes from small minds. I was fortunate, back in my film making days, to have traveled to many different countries — some of them Muslim. I met many exceptional people in these Muslim nations who treated me as if I were family (and were way more tolerant than this so-called Christian relative).

The Christian religion doesn’t exactly have an unblemished record. Think the Inquisition, the Crusades, burning “witches” at the stake, and the slaughter of so many “heathens” throughout history.

I’m also pretty sure that President Obama hasn’t “directed the United States Post Office to REMEMBER and HONOR the EID MUSLIM holiday season with a new commemorative 42-cent First Class Holiday Postage Stamp …” although it wouldn’t be that big a deal if he had. I believe he has a few more pressing things on his plate.

I like to think this stuff comes from the lunatic fringe but it’s still scary. I’ll keep posting these emails to offer some insight into the mind of a paranoid, right-wingnut.

Perhaps someday this relative will find a link to these posts of mine and she’ll disown me. I can live with that.

[UPDATE: Here is some background information on the stamp from an older press release from the USPS.  According to the release the stamp in question would be in, at least, its third re-issue (the first being on Sept. 1, 2001, during the George W. Bush administration).  Hat tip to Craig Moore.]

by jhwygirl

The Missoula Independent rarely fails to disappoint. This week my favorite supermissoulareporter Jesse Froehling relegated himself to cameo status for the Indy since he’s seeking what will, I’m sure, be a successful quest for a juris doctorate. I wish him the best of luck – but jeez! Now I have to find myself another favorite reporter…

In the running for my next favorite Indy reporter is Matthew Frank. Frank’s been with The Indy for a while – and before that I remember his great natural resource stuff at NewWest. I have been a fan….I’m sure he’ll pass the muster, but for now I must mourn the loss of Froehling.

The Indy’s Matthew Frank catches a good one today…former South Hills Evangelical Center (SHEC) pastor John Erbele was busted in a prostitution ring bust in St. Paul Minnesota on Tuesday evening, after having solicited and paid for services.


Google for it, and boy – you realize that Erbele’s “Ouch!” is one big “Oww-wee!!”

Honestly? This false morality that we see repeated over and over should be getting old, but hypocrisy abounds. This guy, who served as senior pastor for eight years, headed up an organization that started its ministry catering to skateboarders and basketball players – i.e., kids. SHEC is a ministry that caters to families, and often holds concerts and gatherings and all kinds of parties geared towards children. They’ve held a summer camp for kids for the last few years.

Then there’s the apologists – those that attempt to rectify the church’s (any church’s) position and the acts of a person who’ve they’ve propped up or held in esteem. Check the comments over there at Frank’s Indy post – one blames it on the liberal media for exposing a sinner.

We’re all sinners, you know – only when the liberal media exposes you, the real evil is the liberal media.

by Pete Talbot

From AP Medical Writer Mike Stobbe and Pope Benedict XVI: keep cranking out those babies, and spreading AIDS.

It started out with this headline:

US births break record

” … Behind the number is both good and bad news. While it shows the U.S. population is more than replacing itself, a healthy trend, the teen birth rate was up for a second year in a row.”

Obviously, an increase in the teen birth rate is bad news (although Sarah Palin might not agree).

But the U.S population “more than replacing itself” is good news? A new, bigger baby boom is cause to celebrate? There aren’t enough people in the world? There are just too many natural resources to go around?

These would be rhetorical questions.

The old economic model of popping out babies to ensure an adequate labor force and a big enough tax base to take care of us old folks is still in play, according to the AP writer:

“Countries with much lower rates — such as Japan and Italy — face future labor shortages and eroding tax bases as they fail to reproduce enough to take care of their aging elders.”

The word “sustainable” must not be in the vocabulary of this writer, or at least the economists/statisticians that he’s quoting, because this model is not sustainable.

And then El Papa comes out with this zinger: condom use will increase AIDS. Huh?

Of course, taking sex advice from the pope is like taking financial advice from Bernie Madoff.

There’s also the added benefit that condom use might prevent unwanted pregnancies. The continent he’s visiting, Africa, is already suffering from inadequate supplies of food and clean water. Its women, many of them barely adolescents, are having kids they can’t care for, often with the additional burden of having contracted HIV.

But I guess the pope doesn’t just want the ravages of AIDS decimating a population, he wants that population awash in malnutrition and starvation, too. What a guy.

by jhwygirl

Personable, banjo bass -playin’ and loved by evangelicals, Huckabee has been the odds-on favorite for McCain’s VP pick – especially given McCain’s woes with Pastor Hagee and Pastor Parsley.

So why is he taking a job as a Fox News commentator?

In Texas this weekend, at the Texas Republican Convention, evangelicals were reluctant to back McCain. Huckabee and Romney spoke at the convention, with both urging folks to come together to support McCain.

Geez – you wouldn’t think it’d be that hard, at this point, for McCain. Especially in Texas.

Maybe Huckabee’s Fox News platform is more valuable to the party than having Huckabee on the ticket?

by Rebecca Schmitz

Yesterday the Board of Pharmacy ruled the Legislature should decide whether or not Montana’s pharmacists will follow a single ethical and professional standard.

The Montana Board of Pharmacy took no action Wednesday after hearing comment on the issue of pharmacists who refuse to dispense contraceptives because of religious beliefs. Board member Mark Meredith of Helena added that a decision on whether new regulations are necessary should come from state lawmakers, not the six-member pharmacy board. “I think we should wait and see what happens in the Legislature,” he said.

I agree; I said as much last December. Although I do find the attitude of the Board odd. Its executive director, Ron Klein, in a story aired on MTPR’s Montana Morning News (and unfortunately not available online) said pharmacies should be allowed to operate like any other retail business, a view reflected in his comments after John Lane’s hearing last month. This argument is disingenuous. If a pharmacy was just like any other store, then there wouldn’t be the need for a Board of Pharmacy–or Ron Klein. Obviously, the very presence of both indicates the state has a strong interest in regulating this profession, an interest it doesn’t take in other retail businesses. After all, there isn’t a Montana Board of Underpants, a Montana Board of Camping Gear, or a Montana Board of Stylish Yet Comfortable Shoes.

So I guess it’s up to us–the voters–to make sure pharmacists dispense all legal prescriptions. We need to elect people to the Legislature who will make sure these professionals respect the decisions made by Montana women and their doctors. Missoulians are lucky. We’ve got a solid delegation of local legislators, with one notable exception. As Bill Vaughn pointed out on Dark Acres, HD 100 Representative Bill Nooney, who’s up for re-election, has an “A+” rating (let’s hope he got a gold star or a scratch ‘n’ sniff sticker) from the less-than-transparent Montana Family Action of Laurel, home of Senator Dan “All Flawed” McGee and Representative Krayton “Blood Sport” Kerns. Bill’s 100% means he can’t be counted on to introduce the bill creating the law the Board of Pharmacy needs, but I’m sure some of these fine folks can help us.

by Rebecca Schmitz

If you want to know why I will never vote for a Republican, or why I loathe the Religious Right, you don’t need to look any farther than this:

The Rev. Harris Himes, pastor of Big Sky Christian Center in Hamilton, said this election was an important one for Christians. Since Republicans support the sanctity of life and marriage and “recognizing that any Democrat is entirely against those principles, there’s no way any Christian can sit out this election,” Himes said. By not supporting Republicans in the election, “you will do something absolutely that God abhors,” he said.

Pardon my French, but how has this asshat been able to keep his tax-exempt status for so long? Does anyone want to start taking a drive down the Bitterroot on Sunday mornings with me to document Himes’ political activity within the walls of the Big Sky Christian Republican Center?

Maybe we could pick up some brioche and coffee from Le Petit on the way.  Lord knows I’ll need the calming influence of delicious pastry just to sit through the sermon.

by Rebecca Schmitz

In honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. I wanted to post a link to what is, in my opinion, Dr. King’s most moving speech, “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop“. He gave it the night before his assassination on April 4th, 1968.  Beacuse of that, his final words are some of the most poignant in American history.

Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now. Because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land! So I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!

If you have the time, I really encourage you to listen to the audio file (others are available here). The words above are beautiful, but Dr. King’s delivery is meant to be heard.

The Missoula Project

by Jay Stevens

This week’s feature story in the Missoula Independent profiles the “Missoula Project,” an effort to plant a church here to create a church community for believers and unbelievers alike. It’s an attractive idea, isn’t it?

Call me dubious. I wrote about them just over a year ago, when I stumbled on their “mission statement” for their church in our community:

Nestled in the heart of the mountains, Missoula, Montana, sits like a crown jewel in the Last Best Place. It is a beautiful city to live in, but it’s a barren wasteland spiritually. Nearly 70% of those who live here are completely unchurched. Many have rejected modern religiosity and are looking elsewhere for answers.Burned-out ex-hippies, liberal intellectuals, rugged individualists, and bulletproof college students – all are on a quest for meaning and fulfillment. These people hunger for something more, but they are not finding it. Very few have any real understanding how Christ and the Gospel can quench their thirst.

To be fair to the Missoula project, Christian Cryder admitted in the comments that the statement was written in part to convince church elders of the necessity for starting a church in Missoula, and apologized for the “barren wasteland” comment. He wasn’t interested in changing what Missoula is, just offering us a little more community.

And, indeed, throughout the article and on their blog, pastors Cryder and Sutherland emphasize that their church’s members’ relation to Christ is irrelevant, and that they’re not setting up this project solely as a means to prosthelityze.

Still, if Cryder and Sutherland were interested in creating a nondemoninational community of believers and non-believers alike here in Missoula, a good start would be to renounce their ties to the Presbyterian Church in American (PCA), with its hostile historical stance towards the Civil Rights and Vietnam peace movements, and its slightly disturbing current stance towards gays and prohibition against women pastors.

And if the Missoula Project really isn’t interested in prosthelityzing as its missionary goal, they’d rearrange their leadership to include non-believers and members from other denominations and religions. (There’s a very healthy Buddhist presence in Missoula!)

Otherwise, to me, the group is what it seems: a mission from the PCA with clever packaging. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with that, either.

by Rebecca Schmitz

One hundred years ago your local pharmacist doubled as the owner of the town’s soda fountain, dispensing both lemon phosphates and cocaine to customers without fuss.  Nowadays, you might be able to pay for most of your purchases at the pharmacy counter in the back of CVS or Walgreens, but don’t expect a milkshake while you wait for your prescription to be filled.   And don’t expect to purchase birth control from the pharmacy at Larry’s IGA in Broadus.  That’s right.  John Lane, the 21st Century’s version of the soda jerk, has decided to stop filling birth control prescriptions in Broadus because of his personal religious convictions.  Since he’s the only pharmacist in town, Powder River County residents now have to either drive 80 miles to Miles City or receive their pills by mail.

Lane believes a little inconvenience shouldn’t outweigh his ability to work and provide for his family — he and his wife, Amy, have six children ranging in age from 5 months to 9 years — while living out the convictions of his faith.

Powder River County, and all of Montana, can do something about this.  We can insist Mr. Lane and others, like the owners of Snyder Drug in Great Falls, simply do their jobs.  Since no other licensed professions allow their members to practice without a basic belief in and understanding of the tenets of their chosen profession, (A teacher who doesn’t teach?  A hairstylist who can’t cut hair?  A doctor who doesn’t cure patients?) let’s make it easier for John Lane to “work and provide for his family”.  Let’s elect folks to the 2009 Legislature who will introduce and pass a law requiring pharmacists to fill all legal prescriptions and requiring the Montana Board of Pharmacy to revoke the licenses of those individuals who cannot perform their jobs.  That way, Mr. Lane can practice his faith by finding employment in a less-demanding field.  Like making banana splits at Baskin Robbins.

by Rebecca Schmitz

Here’s the latest from one of our key allies in the, as the Bush Administration now calls it, War on Islamofascism: the Saudi gang-rape victim has been pardoned by King Abdullah. Remember this poor soul? She and an ex-boyfriend were raped by seven men because they were sitting…oh, hell. Who cares why? There’s no reason for this rape that any rational mind can process. Nor can the mind wrap itself around the victim’s punishment for meeting a male other than her husband: 200 lashes (the other rape victim, the guy, got 90 lashes).

Okay, so His Majesty completely understood that her sentence was outrageously unjust, and, to put it plainly, barbaric?

Saudi Justice Minister, Abdullah bin Muhammed, told the newspaper that the pardon did not mean the king doubted the country’s judges, but instead acted in the “interests of the people.”

Oh well.  At least they’re our ally.  That’s all that matters, right? I mean, when our country is fighting a global war for freedom and human rights against those who, in the words of President Bush,

…aggressively fund the spread of radical, intolerant versions of Islam in unstable parts of the world. Under their rule, they have banned books….and brutalized women. They seek to end dissent in every form, and to control every aspect of life, and to rule the soul, itself…

it’s important to find allies who don’t do any of that stuff.  Because then using the catchphrase “Islamofascists” to describe our enemies would be meaningless, right?  

by Rebecca Schmitz

Yesterday morning I answered my phone at work like I always do: “This is Rebecca.  How can I help you?”  The woman on the other end of the line said, “Merry Christmas!  I have some questions.”  “Good morning,” I replied without thinking twice, “let’s get you some answers.”  There was a long pause on her end.  Then, in a voice hard enough to cut glass, she spat, “I. Said. Merry. Christmas.”

Ah, she was one of those people.   You know, bound and determined to be unpleasant in an effort to shove her wretched politics down my throat.  She was a believer, not in Santa Claus or the message of Jesus Christ, but in Bill O’Reilly and Fox News.  There’s nothing remotely sincere about wishing someone else a Merry Christmas if lurking behind it is the need to embarrass and vilify a complete stranger.  That’s the sad thing about O’Reilly’s fake “War”: the second those words are used as a bludgeon they’ve lost the essential meaning so cherished by those who also like to remind us Jesus is the reason for the season.  Remember?  A larger meaning about peace on Earth and good will to men, perhaps?  Although Bill O’Reilly declared he won his “War” last week when the House of Reprensentatives took the time to pass a bill “recognizing the importance of Christmas and the Christian faith” (I guess Congress doesn’t have enough to do, what with two wars, a massive national deficit and a domestic agenda in chaos), those of us who have to deal with his soliders know otherwise.  There are plenty of petty people out there willing to make a mockery of their own faith just to make a point. 

“Yes, I heard you,” I said to the woman in my most pleasant and professional tone. “Now, how may I help?” 

by Rebecca Schmitz

Even though I was raised without religion (My parents came from intensely religious families.  My father was an altar boy at St. Anthony’s, my mother was confirmed at St. Paul’s. By the time I came along they were wholly uninterested in faith.) my family always celebrated Christmas. It was purely a celebration of family and tradition for us. We put up our tree the day after Thanksgiving (thanks to an entrenched campaign of whining on my part), made at least a dozen types of cookies and candies from scratch, sent cards to everyone in our address book, and bought a gift for the entire family to enjoy. Usually the gift was a board game, something all of us could play after dinner on Christmas night and for months afterward. My dad, tired of Connect Four, bought an Atari for Christmas 1979. The rest of us barely got to play with it; he grabbed the “Adventure” game right away and disappeared into the family room for hours, hell bent on getting the chalice away from the red dragon.

It’s memories like these that make the holidays special for me, despite my professed atheism. Christmas means home, comfort, safety and family. I’m sure many of you feel the same. That’s why it’s important to remember those of us in Missoula who do not get to experience all the small domestic joys of Christmas: the cookies, the cards, the cat throwing up from eating tinsel, the pine needles imbedded in the carpet for months to come. You can help them by donating to the Poverello Center. If only for a few hours, every Missoulian deserves a place to call home this time of year–with or without tinsel in the cat puke.

by Rebecca Schmitz

Hey, I know. Look at what I typed up there. That’s an incendiary title for a post. But I’m not going to pretend otherwise; I’m not calm, cool and rational about my access, or that of any other woman, to safe abortion and birth control. You and I know, reader, that both strike at the very heart of what it means to be a woman in the 21st Century. Thanks to the pill and legalized abortion, we’ve been liberated from the idea of biology as destiny for nearly fifty years. I don’t care what your politics are–nearly every single one of us uses birth control, knows someone who’s had an abortion, or has faced an unplanned pregnancy thankfully knowing there are medically safe options out there for us. No, instead I’d like to win you over, Republican, Independent, Libertarian or Democrat, female or male, to what I’m about to say.

I think Rick Jore’s initiative should be allowed to make it to the ballot next year. Yes, that’s right. I’m rabidly pro-choice and yet I think he should be allowed to gather signatures and try to make it to Montana’s 2008 ballot without our lawsuits or other rigmarole. I’ll admit, normally the very idea that my body, my genitalia, my civil rights should be up for a vote incenses me in a way I imagine Booker T. Washington or W.E.B. DuBois felt when they saw the outcome of Plessy vs. Ferguson and the encroachment of Jim Crow on American culture and politics over 100 years ago. They were not defined by the color of their skin and I am not the sum total of my uterus, vagina and fallopian tubes. The idea that people out there still want to control all three disgusts me to my very bones. But you and I are able to fight back in this case, thanks to the very person who’s bringing this initiative forward. That’s why we should let Representative Jore gather signatures and that’s why we should be there every time someone thinks about signing one of his petitions.

Continue Reading »

by Rebecca Schmitz 

The next time one of your conservative friends wants to debate your stance on “Islamofascism”, the Iraq War or, as our President would pronounce it, the “War on Terra” remind them of what one of our key allies is up to these days:

A court in Saudi Arabia increased the punishment for a gang-rape victim after her lawyer won an appeal of the sentence for the rapists, the lawyer told CNN. The 19-year-old victim was sentenced last year to 90 lashes for meeting with an unrelated male, a former friend from whom she was retrieving photographs…”After a year, the preliminary court changed the punishment and made it two to nine years for the defendants,” al-Lahim said of the new decision handed down Wednesday. “However, we were shocked that they also changed the victim’s sentence to be six months in prison and 200 lashes.”

Really, if we’re going to invade countries without a tie to September 11th, if we’re going to use focus-grouped catchphrases like “Islamofascism”, and if we’re going to pretend to care about the spread of democracy, justice and equality around the globe, perhaps we ought to make friends with the right people.

Oh, silly me, I forgot. It’s not about any of those things. It’s about our energy, stupid.

by Jay Stevens 

Sometimes I just don’t get Christian conservatives. It’s almost like some of them have so distorted their vision of the religion, it’s hardly recognizable. Take the Catholic Church’s Cardinal Giacomo Biffi, who warned the Pope that “the Antichrist presents himself as a pacifist, ecologist and ecumenist.”

(An ecumenical “promotes or tends toward worldwide Christianity unity or cooperation.”)

More Biffi:

“There also are relative values such as solidarity, love for peace and respect for nature,” he said. “If these are given an absolute value or uprooted from or placed in opposition to the proclamation of the fact of salvation, then they become the basis for idolatry and are obstacles on the path to salvation.”

So…in other words, the Antichrist will be…Christ! I must have missed those chapters in the New Testament where Christ called for divisiveness, war, and the destruction of the environment.

by Jay Stevens 

Christian Cryder dropped by in the comment thread to readbetween’s response to the SHEC giveaway. It was an interesting post, generally agreeing with the gist of readbetween’s accusation that SHEC’s materialist response may not have been very Christ-like. (There’s also a good response from a SHECIE in the comments.)

Incidentally, Cryder is part of the “Missoula Project,” whose stated mission (pdf) is to “plant a church” in Missoula:

Nestled in the heart of the mountains, Missoula, Montana, sits like a crown jewel in the Last Best Place. It is a beautiful city to live in, but it’s a barren wasteland spiritually. Nearly 70% of those who live here are completely unchurched. Many have rejected modern religiosity and are looking elsewhere for answers.Burned-out ex-hippies, liberal intellectuals, rugged individualists, and bulletproof college students – all are on a quest for meaning and fulfillment. These people hunger for something more, but they are not finding it. Very few have any real understanding how Christ and the Gospel can quench their thirst.

Ugh. Frankly, you’re not gonna find too many friends around here with that kind of attitude. A barren wasteland? Not only does Missoula have a vibrant Christian community, it has a vibrant Buddhist community, too. Oh, and even the agnostics and atheists in town generally support peace, the environment, and freedom. We lead the state in community farming projects, the Missoula Food Bank is amazing, etc & company.

Enough of the patronizing, please. We “burned-out ex-hippies, liberal intellectuals, rugged individualists, and bulletproof college students” are very aware of Christianity, thank you very much, and many of us would prefer to do our own thing. In the end, I pretty much agree with John Derbyshire’s summary of the effect of religion on our community (hat tip to Ed K):

I have now come to think that it really makes no difference, net-net. You can point to people who were improved by faith, but you can also see people made worse by it. Anyone want to argue that, say, Mohammed Atta was made a better person by his faith? All right, when Americans say “religion” they mean Christianity 99 percent of the time. So: Can Christianity make you a worse person? I’m sure it can. If you’re a person with, for example, a self-righteous conviction of your own moral superiority, well, getting religion is just going to inflame that conviction. Again, I know cases, and I’m sure you do too. The exhortations to humility that you find in all religions seem to be the most difficult teaching for people to take on board. Mostly, I think it makes no difference. Evelyn Waugh would have been no more obnoxious as an atheist.

In the end, I wonder how much the “Missoula Project” founders are willing to embrace Missoula. Do they support a woman’s right to choice? Are they willing to embrace the city’s large and eclectic gay population – and not with an aim to change them, but to welcome them as they are into the congregation, marry them, and include their families? Will they make stewardship of the environment one of their top priorities? Are they concerned about poverty and peace? Will they join Missoula’s civic leaders and oppose torture, rendition, and the war in Iraq? (All of these issues are, of course, completely compatible with Christ’s values.)

Or, in the end, will this church try to change the community into its own image?

I’m not too hopeful it’s the former based on that “barren wasteland” crack. Good luck, fellas. With an attitude like that, you’ll need it.

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