Sunday, August 07, 2005

Intelligent Design Might Backfire on Religious

The more I think about it, research into the theory that an hypothetical "intelligence" may be involved in development of complex organisms on Earth, might not be such a bad thing after all.

And it might not turn out the way the religious Right expects. As a theory, there is something compelling about the notion that there must have been some "input" from outside the system for such incredibly specialized organs such as eyeballs to have come into being.

Before we look at this issue, let's get one thing straight: The religious extremists who want "Intelligent Design" to be taught in classrooms have no desire for the discovery of truth behind nature. They only want God to be presented as a fact to students. They don't care a whit for understanding, for clarity, or for any of the reasons scientists do what they do. The supporters of Intelligent Design just want their own religious beliefs to be validated by making them part of scientific curriculum.

Let's say, after decades of research into some hypothetical intelligence behind evolution, that we discover life on Earth to be descendant from extraterrestrial sources. Will the Creationists embrace this discovery? If it turns out that some advanced spacefaring race seeded the Earth with the beginnings of life, will the current proponents of "Intelligent Design" be satisfied? If experimental research establishes time and time again that there was no "designer" behind the march from monkey to man, will the intelligent design folks ever admit that they're wrong? Well, so far, It has...and they haven't. Ultimately, it's faith that makes someone believe that there was some intelligent, all-powerful entity behind the machinations of evolution. If not, we'd be seeing the experimental evidence otherwise. If not in publications like Nature or Science (we're told those publications are involved in a conspiracy against God), then at least in a few of the thousands of journals of varying reputation. I'm not a scientist, but I know enough about science to know that it would be pretty hard to design an experiment that would prove the hand of an Intelligent Designer behind life on Earth, if in fact that's what the I.D. folks wanted to prove. In fact, it's not. They only want to find justification for their own beliefs. It has nothing at all to do with science.

For the Intelligent Design crowd, it's got to be God or nothing. Anything besides the Judeo-Christian model of a bearded patriarch up in the clouds putting in a six-day work week beginning with "Let there be light" is not going to go down with the James Dobsons of this world.
I have enough belief in science that I accept challenges to conventional wisdom. Opposing theories are always welcome, but let's see the evidence. And let's go where the data takes us. If there are real scientists who want Intelligent Design to be examined side-by-side with the theory of evolution, they have to start by establishing some common ground with the scientific world. For example, if they were to admit that the Earth is definitely more than 6,000 years old, that fossils actually exist, and that carbon-dating techniques are in fact useful, it might go a long way toward convincing the vast majority of scientists that they really are trying to get to the truth. But first they have to convince us that they're not just mouthpieces for those who would mandate religious belief. The history of creationists trying to undermine science has created a lot of mistrust among scientists. And the burden of proof, as always, is on those who claim that everything we know is wrong. It's more than a cliche that extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Bush's Intelligent Design & Burkas Banned

One can only imagine the sweaty palms that George W. Bush's aides get when the big guy gets in front of a group of journalists. Even with extensive training, in-the-ear radio prompts and beta-blocking drugs, there's just no telling when he's going to drop a bomb. To the credit of Karl Rove and Co., they've managed to make the best of some of the president's startling statements, but they've even been able to spin some of the worst of them into political gold. But there's always the possibility that he'll drop a "anyone who leaks will be fired" into the mix like a toddler peeing in the swimming pool.

Yesterday, the topic in one of these presidential press conferences turned to creationism, or, as it's been newly crafted by the endlessly creative gentlemen who use faith to govern, "intelligent design". The idea is that because human beings and the world in which they swarm is so darned complicated, and not all mechanisms for the development of such a system are fully disclosed yet (it's not on videotape, I guess), that means the whole shooting match must have been planned and implemented by some infinite, unique intelligence. And, in the stunningly chauvinistic manner of small-minded people, this intelligence just has to be human-like. In other words: some guy is behind the whole thing. Sure enough, given a little bit of rope, the president managed to craft a nifty noose for himself, claiming that of course intelligent design should be taught in science classrooms, since that's the only way our students will learn about the controversy.

In the name of full disclosure, at this point let me state that I'm inclined to believe that there is intelligence in the design of the universe. I've learned enough science, though, to realize that this belief of mine is purely in the realm of the philosophic and theologic, there being no proof of this, and probably no way to prove it either. But hey, that's why we call it "faith". Having said all this, by no means under any circumstances do I feel that this belief should get anywhere near a science classroom. It's bad enough that our children are doing so poorly in math and science compared to much less "advanced" countries, letting them graduate high school with the idea that the earth is 6,000 years old, or that evolution is "just a theory" and that creationism is some sort of equally worthy theory is nothing short of child abuse.

There's a problem with Bush's seemingly reasonable claim that our children need to learn about the "controversy" of evolution vs. intelligent design: THERE IS NO CONTROVERSY.

Now, plenty of supposedly learned people are brought before us, claiming to be scientists, who support the idea of creationism (I won't use "intelligent design" beyond this point, since it's really just the dressing-up of the old idea that Jehovah made it all). We see well-meaning, erudite-looking folks who have plenty of letters after their names. No, they haven't published any research in widely-accepted journals, but that's only because there's an evil conspiracy keeping their papers off the desks of editors. I've spent enough of my professional life working with professors at places like the University of Chicago and Northwestern to have heard every excuse for crackpots not getting published. I have seen with my own eyes some of these grease-smeared manuscripts carefully explaining how an eyeball could never have come to exist without some serious engineering help. I can tell you that these papers get the same consideration as any other crackpot idea. And make no mistake, they are ALL crackpot ideas until the research is so solid, so well-documented, and the paper so well-written that it practically jumps into the editors' hands. Does this mean that a lot of good ideas get ignored? For a while, but as imperfect as the system of peer-reviewed publications is, it's a system by which the truth does eventually rise.

Another interesting thing about the "scientists" who struggle against this conspiracy to keep God out of the realm of scientific thought: Although they have lots of letters after their names, they are almost never the right letters. Instead of biologists, anthropologists, anatomists, the creationist community is made up of mechanical engineers, communications majors, and of course, doctors of divinity. I guess it's too much to expect that those who would make such extraordinary claims actually would have some knowledge of the fields in question.

In the last few days, there has been a lot of noise in the right-wing blogosphere and talk radio about France and Italy passing laws against some of the more onerous displays of abuse of women by the extremist Muslim communities in those countries, such as the wearing of burkas (those wrappings used by Muslim women to keep men from noticing that they are women). "Why don't we hear liberals complaining about the way Muslim women are mistreated? Is it because (da-dum dum) they are too TOLERANT??"
Even after a decade of hearing their bald-faced dissembling, the ability of the right to completely ignore facts can still astound me. I don't know which liberals the members of the Bush marching-band like Laura Ingraham and Bill Bennett (ex-Secretary of Education and degenerate gambler) have been listening too, but I've been hearing a whole lot of outrage regarding the second-class status of women in religious extremist societies, including Muslims. Since the late 50's, feminist writers have made the awful circumstances of these women a primary cause in their fight against misogynistic cultures. It's the right that has come to this issue too late and too light. And they better be careful, because when we start looking into mistreatment and discrimination against women and their rights, it's only a matter of time until our eyes light upon those extreme religious types in our own country, like those who would take a way a woman's right to sovereignty over her own reproductive system. When the surgeon-general comes out against birth control or even contraception, how far away are the burkas, really? It's sadly funny sometimes to watch one of these conservative commentators go on about liberty and a culture of freedom, and then have to carefully navigate away from the meaning of those words when it comes to women, gays, or non-Christians.
Do I believe that as a liberal I must tolerate mistreatment of women in the name of religious freedom? Of course not! Our founding fathers were so determined to keep religious considerations out of the legal structure of our country that they carefully and purposefully kept all mention of God out of our Constitution. It would have been easy for them to clearly connect the laws of the United States to a religious tradition, but they didn't. With all the talk from the right about the need for "orignalists" on our Supreme Court, we need to keep that in mind.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

The SUPREME Supreme Court

The news of the past few days would lead one to believe that a political showdown akin to Armageddon is coming with George W. Bush's nomination of a Supreme Court justice to replace Sandra Day O'Conner. To read the mighty bloggers and talkers on the Theocratic Right, is to see that the comparison is apt.

One fascinating thing about Right Wing talk radio and the neo-Christian blogosphere is their absolute belief that each of them has great influence in the Bush White House and the Republican party. To the extent that they are right, this country may be in big trouble.

A notable bright-light of the Christian Right is a character named Gary North. Known as a primary thinker of the New Christian Reconstruction, he's been preaching a death sentence for homosexuals and a boom in the gold market (he also runs an investing company that makes money from people investing in gold). Since about 1980, he's been predicting the collapse of the secular world and the Coming of the Kingdom of God. And every few years he pushes his prediction back by a few more years. Starting in 1997, he was one of the first non-technical writers who predicted the fall of the World due to the Y2K, or Millenium Bug. His great belief is that the only laws that matters in this country are the laws of the Old Testament. And this guy is a good buddy of President Bush, going around trading on his great influence in the Administration.

Here's one of his (always interesting) views: The public must "begin to accept the judicially binding case laws of the Old Testament." He says it's time for the Christian Right to "tear down institutions that still rely on natural law or public virtue. I have in mind the U.S. Constitution." Gary North, one of the people whispering into the ear of our president believes in no less than "Christian vengeance" (his phrase) and the overthrow of constitutional government.

If Gary North were the only lunatic giving advice on judicial candidates to George W. Bush, it would be terrifying enough. But here's a list of names that I suggest you Google, just to see what they're saying. Each one of these people has been close to the Bush II Administration or the President personally, who considers them all close friends.

Herb Titus, founding dean of Pat Robertson's Regent University Law School
Rev. Everette Sileven, a leader in the racist theology of "Christian Identity"
Dr. R.J. Rushdoony, big-time John Birch Society guy and Reconstructionist writer
Gary North, Rushdoony's son-in-law
Robert Thoburn, head of the Reconstructionist Fairfax Christian School
Rev. Joseph Morecraft, another Christian Theocratic nut

I'm not saying that Bush is going to meet with all of these guys in public, but during his political life he's kept close ties to all of them, and they ALL claim close ties to the President. This is just a short list of the kind of folks who are bending the ear of the leader of the free world regarding who to nominate to the Supreme Court. Each one of them believes that "when the authors of the U.S. Constitution spoke of law, they meant the Law of God as revealed in the Bible. " and that new justices on the High Court must "refute humanistic, relativistic law with Biblical Law." [quote by Rev. Morecraft]

It's worth noting that the President's advisors have limited him to judicial candidates no older than 55 years, which means each of his justices will be on the court an average of about twenty years. Considering two justices (Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist is certainly getting pressure from the Bush Administration to retire now) and an average of seventy votes in the average Supreme Court term, that means that it's quite possible that George W. Bush will personally influence 2800 votes on the most important legal issues in our Land.

This isn't exactly the kind of thing that makes one feel very comfortable as we celebrate our Independence. Knowing that people so close to the President of the United States (and perhaps the man himself), have such dangerous beliefs about freedom, law and religion, are chilling reminders of the dangers we face this 4th of July.

(update, August 17, 2005) Now we know the nominee is John Roberts, a man picked for his close ties to neocon leadership and his almost total lack of written opinions. We see how the Bush Administration is using this dearth of information on the man as a blank slate upon which to represent him in any way that's useful. It's a tricky tightrope to walk. His pro-bono work against sodomy laws endears him to liberals too lazy to look deeper but angers the right-wing religious. Roberts' memos against civil rights and the right to privacy make him attractive to the hardcore conservatives, but make liberals shudder. You've got to give it to the bright boys in the Administration, they've picked a guy who they can make into all things for all people. The Republican Smear Machine has started going after anyone who criticizes Roberts (or even asks questions) with a vengeance, including the alleged religious conservatives who worry about statements he's made suggesting Roe vs. Wade is "settled law".
Roberts will almost certainly be confirmed because there's nothing for opponents to grab on to, and there are suggestions that Bush may try to push him for Chief Justice. The margin with which Roberts is confirmed, and the quality and strength of questions during the hearings may have an impact on how comfortable GWB feels about nominating a real red-meat righty if and when he gets another vacancy.
We've seen a few "sure-thing" conservative justices appointed by Republican presidents turn out to be downright reasonable, as if the freedom of a lifetime appointment allows them to become more thoughtful. With John Roberts, we can only hope.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Paradise Lost

Islam is fascism with scriptures, a riot with prayers. Christianity is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Rich White Men, Inc., making sure the working poor keep working, and stay poor, not to mention reproducing, so that a new generation can step in once thier parents drop dead. Catholicism? Anglicanism? Worried about keeping their priesthood safe from gays, except for the ones covered by grandfather clauses.

Faith and prayer can lead men to their godly natures, but it appears that when faith becomes organized religion, especially the kind that espouse absolute certainty that it is the only way to God, the usual sicknesses of man emerge: Greed and Thirst for Power. Religion at the beginning of the 21st century has become a twisted virus that feeds on fear and hatred.

I've been hitting the libraries lately, trying to find out just what good "capital-R" Religion has brought to this world. I mean, real good for real people, not just a whore's promise of basking in God's love (or twenty virgins) in the next. I'm having some real trouble, too. Where is the benefit in absolutist superstitions that want us to say "I'm right, but more importantly, you're wrong"? Where is the nation to which Religion has brought peace? Please, if you can tell me of the instances where one of the major religions brought peace anywhere in the world, please contact me, or leave a comment to this blog. I honestly want to find such cases, and I'm hoping I just missed them.

I thought I had found something with Martin Luther King, or Ghandi, but the biographies I've read seem to indicate that it was more their nonviolent philosophies, with origins in their beliefs no doubt, that made the difference in the effectiveness of these great men. In the case of Dr. King, the "real" Christians, the ones who bless us today on talk radio, nationwide, made sure his message stopped on a Memphis balcony. Ghandi? To members of the Christian Right, he was a suspiciously shaded guy who looked a lot like a terrorist. And forget about any resemblance he might have to Jesus Christ. That Christ, that man of peace who said to help the poor has been replaced by a guy who looks suspiciously like George W. Bush. Bring it on, Satan.

Take George Prager, for example. This devout Jew and Christian apologist, purveyor of hatred on "Christian, Conservative" talk radio, often says that he speaks for God. And according to Mr. Prager, boy, is God ever mad at the Muslims. This big mouth doesn't make any bones about the fact that he believes all good Muslims are required by their faith to be terrorists. And he doesn't flinch when faced with questions about the Christian Right that he praises. Does it bother him that these righteous men believe that he and his family will rot in hell for not accepting Christ? I'm sorry, we have a bad connection. Our next caller is Clem, from Hot Springs.

Another fine member of the Theocratic Right, The Rev. James Dobson (or no, it's Dr. James Dobson. These guys love to mix up their honorifics, as if it will somehow sweeten the stink that surrounds them), recently voiced his bitter anger at the Supreme Court's recent ruling that the monument of the 10 Commandments in Texas are OK, because they are historical in nature and don't promote religion. You'd think this makes the Most Rev. Dr. Dobson happy, but no, in his words: If it doesn't promote religion, what good is it? Go read a little bit about the Most High Reverend Doctor Dobson - this guy is a pip. He's right in step with those imams who say the world must come to Allah or die. Dobson won't stop until every human is on his knees, and not just in prayer.

It surprises me that I'm so full of anger at organized religion. Until the last few years, I believed that shared faith and prayer in a community is nothing but a good thing. But I've simply heard too much hate coming from the mouths of religious men. Just as empty men with ugly motives have hijaacked our government and public life in the US, and around the world, it seems, they have also taken what could have been a great hope for humanity. We have already seen the first Christian lunatic terrorists in America. Eric Rudolph called himself a "Soldier in the Army of the Lord". The well-known "Army of God" (I can't bring myself to put a link to their website here. Go find it yourself.) each day names new martyrs who have bombed abortion clinics, threatened or killed medical providers. Members of the US Congress have publicly exhorted these killers. We have a jihad right in our backyard, and it's soldiers look just like us.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

What More in the Name of Faith?

The turn of the 21st century finds a world in which hatred, torture and murder are propagated in the name of religion, in the very name of God, of Yahweh, of Allah. People who believe differently send each other to concentration camps like the ones in Abu Ghraib and Guantanimo Bay, and the torture centers of Saudi Arabia. People who call themselves good Christians, Muslims, and Jews are finding new standards of ugliness, intolerance and treachery, all for the love of God.

Not since the 15th century has more damage been done by people with pious words and powerful weapons, articles of faith and bad intentions.

I'm finally coming to the conclusion that it's not religion itself that brings such misery. I don't see a lot of devout Buddhists committing atrocities, or Quakers flaying non-believers. It's the greedy, the power-hungry, the literally insane and the simply rotten-to-the-core who have become the false prophets, poisoning their faiths with the same kind of evil that's been around in one form or the other, forever.

It doesn't matter which religion they choose, or which side of the fence they're on. Randall Terry is not significantly different from Osama bin Laden, James Dobson from Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. They are all here to sow hatred, to destroy lives, to make the rest of us miserable at best, at worst, slaves. They would use faith, the well of love and understanding that many humans draw on, for the ugliest of goals: to control or destroy.

The tool that all these enemies of humanity invariably use is the idea of absolute, proprietary truth. The notion that they have the real answer and all others are phonies. This absolutism is the kernel of evil that pollutes so many faiths today.

As readers may know, I listen, often with fascination, to the Salem Radio Network. This supposedly Christian company owns stations in hundreds of cities nationwide, often more than one in a market (usually one purely "Christian" and the other with national hosts like Bill Bennett and Michael Savage, pushing a Christian Conservative agenda). The level of ugliness that is delivered by these "religious" phonies is astounding. Last evening, Michael Savage was explaining how the only solution left to "real Americans, the conservatives, the faithful" is to put liberals and secularists into education camps. This was NOT said in jest, or even exaggeration. He has said many times that liberal judges, homosexuals, undocumented immigrants, or simply non-believers (Mr. Savage purports to be a Jew) should simply be dealt with by "a couple in the back of the head," referring to bullets, execution-style. Apparently, the killers of Judge Lefkow's family or the judge in Atlanta, people like Erik Rudolph and Tim McVeigh, are listening. How different are the screeds of the Islamist fanatics who behead Westerners?

Every faith on earth has sane, moderate believers--devout people who take the commandments to love, to help the poor, to heart. Unfortunately, they have lacked the courage, the faith, to let their twisted brethren know that their perversions will not be tolerated, that they may NOT call themselves good Catholics, or Jews, or Muslims, while preaching hatred. Governments that allow religions exemptions from taxes must identify those groups that call themselves "of God" while grasping for political power will no longer have the free ride. I doubt that the US administration that gets so much of its power from these false-faith players would have the courage to stand up to them, but it's past time we start letting the purveyors of misery in the name of Faith know that their time is running out.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

I'm afraid of America

Why have so many Americans forgotten so easily the principles upon which this republic was formed? And how has the story of the earliest settlers, who fled the theocracies of Europe to live in a land where they could be left alone to believe freely, or not believe at all, become corrupted and twisted into the false belief that America was begun as a Christian nation?

The only answer that comes to mind is that decades of insidious lies, dressed in the garments of faith but seeking only the absolute power that comes from a population of frightened "true-believers", has eroded the ability of formerly upright Americans to identify bald-faced liars and corrupt bounders when they see them.

The faces of these cynical and power-mad ideologues aren't hard to discern. I remember my Grandmother explaining to me that a person's soul can be seen in their eyes, on their faces, their sins seeping forth like Cain's sign. How can the usually sharp and decent eyes of middle-class American workers not see the truth in the faces of our leaders. You don't have to be a psychic seer to recognize the emptiness and moral cowardice in the face of George W. Bush, a lousy actor propped up by vicious puppet-masters, or the thirsty corruption in the face and dead eyes of his handlers, Dick Cheney, Karl Rove and others. These are men who have traded away their souls for the chance to bend the course of history to their own petty needs.

I was talking to a neighbor, a Viet Nam vet who'd been cut loose by his users in the 70's and spent the next two decades regaining his stolen life, which had been wasted by a previous group of ugly men. This was during the 2004 election, and we were talking about the two candidates. "Any man who actually put on the uniform and served his country simply has to be better than a play-acting coward who used his father's connections to get out of the war while waving the flag and cheerleading the rest of us from the sidelines. Surely, Americans can see that." Well, they couldn't, or didn't care, because that callow coward became our president.

I used to think that the ordinary, working Americans I knew from the West side Little Italy of Chicago or the Lower East Mulberry Street neighborhood of New York, or the small ranches of Missouri were a hard bunch to fool. But fooled they were, into believing the exact opposite of the truth, into voting against their own interests and values. Last August, I stood outside an Evangelical church in central Missouri, with a decent man for whom I was doing a job. I asked him why he and his friends wanted Bush to become president. "Because he's like us," he told me. "He believes in country, in family values, in telling the truth. He'll be a decent, honest leader." Here was a man whose financial life had flourished during the Clinton administration. His salary had gone up, jobs were plentiful, and the meager investments in his retirement account were growing healthily. He didn't have to worry about losing one of his three sons to a useless war, because our country was at peace. As long as the country didn't get seriously derailed, his life would be good. But he had been convinced, by other people "like him" loudmouthed opportunists like Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity and the other poisonous proxies of American fascism, that George W. Bush would "turn the country around." He did that, certainly. Within a few months of his taking office, the first foreign attack on the American mainland had taken place, the US economy was about to lose a greater percentage of it's value than any other time in history, we'd be embroiled in a phony "war" on terrorism, and my friend, my friend had been laid off from his good job with a huge telecommunications firm because the new "corporate-friendly" administration had removed regulations that kept Americans working but stood in the way of the profits of a few very rich men. Today, this man, father of five in Central Missouri, is managing a fast-food outlet, making a small fraction of his past salary, using none of the technical skills he had learned to work in telecom. His second-oldest son is in Iraq, and there won't be money to send his children to a decent college. He believes George W. Bush is one of the best presidents ever.

This is why I'm afraid of Americans.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Magical Thinking and the Army of God

When I saw that 16 people died when riots erupted in the Islamic world after a news item describing the desecration of the Quran in American military prisons was published, I got a really sick feeling in my stomach. It's not the idea that some uniformed interrogator would trash a supposed holy book that bothers me so much as the notion that there are people who would kill one another over the treatment of paper and ink. Even more, I fear that the corrosive mentality and pathological culture that would give supernatural powers to bound wood pulp, and kill over it, is now growing here in America.

I value the widsom, ideas and insuppressible love of life found in books as much as anyone. The words of another human, written centuries ago or yesterday, can carry truth to isolated souls and inspire dreams in weary minds. But something happens when we ascribe magic to man-made items, whether it's a volume bound in fine leather or a string of beads with a cross on the end. Sooner or later, the divine power we give to those items starts to talk to a part of us that's deep in our psyche, a primitive part that tells us that more recent human developments like compassion, tolerance and mercy just won't cut it in a world where we think we have to kill or be killed, convert or be converted.

The ideas in books, and beliefs, are critical to being human. Without the ability to believe in the ephemeral, in the unseen, we revert to dull creatures, lacking the spark that makes us special among what lives on Earth. Under stress, though, the behaviours we know as "faith in God" or "belief in the supernatural" take on the properties of obsessive compulsive disorder. Thus, a believer in the unseen unity in the Universe becomes a crackpot. This is where the Religious Right in this country are going.

It's no accident that the fear-causing events of the last decade or so have been followed by surging numbers of people calling themselves "born again" or Evangelical Christians. The old saw about "no athiests in foxholes" was never so true as in a time when people are faced with terrors and decline that are outside of our control.

Let me be clear: I am not saying that all religion is pathological in nature. It's only when artifacts start to become "holy" and beliefs are not only outside the realm of observable, scientific phenomenon but actually opposite to what we can see and hear, that believers become fanatics. So, not only did God create the universe, but he did it in six days, and only six thousand years ago, despite the geological record and fossils that we can hold in our hands. Prayer become incantation, ceremony becomes ritual.

The 20th century was hard on us little creatures. Diseases seem to represent God's wrath, wars, disasters both ecological and social seem to take on supernatural origins. Stressed-out believers want to protect themselves any way they can, which opens them up to magical thinking. Talismans, hex signs, crossing themselves when passing through a doorway. My grandmother, only a boat ride away from being a Sicilian peasant, was a devout Catholic who kept a bottle of holy water behind her bedstead, and buried a statue of St. Joseph upside-down in the front yard. You can talk to immigrants from anywhere in Christian Europe and find the same stories. Superstition is part of human history and every ethnic group. How does it differ from sacred Qurans being kept off the ground or rubbing rosary beads? Religious beliefs, like all belief in the supernatural, is a rich part of human experience. At its best, it can open up our minds and hearts to understanding beyond what we can see and touch. It can connect us to each other and important mysteries within and without. It is not diminished by being related to all superstitious beliefs. The medieval fanaticism that is exploding in the Islamic world toward which the Religious Right in America is hurtling shows what it can become at its worst.