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« Isaac Hayes: A Typical Scientologist Asshat The RantsThe Annotated Ranter Strikes Again »

Ben Stein Got It Right...And Then Got It So Very, Very Wrong
2006.03.19 (Sun) 20:36

Slowly but surely, we're training our friends and family to check in with Snopes before forwarding us any of those million annoying e-mails that get volleyed between inboxes all over the planet, every day; but occasionally, one slips through. On the brighter side, it does offer us the opportunity to check Snopes — and other resources — ourselves, and actually research these crazy claims. And wouldn't you know it? Every so often, one or two of these forwards is true — often ripped from context and devoid of fact-checking, but true nonetheless. Such it is with the "Ben Stein" e-mail we received the other day.

The e-mail itself was a smattering of reports on what Ben Stein and Anne Graham Lotz (yes, Billy Graham's daughter) had said towards the end of 2005 in entirely separate television appearances. Apparently, the two reports were combined into one in order to call out their congruency and reinforce the "Gotta Love God" vibe (we have yet to discern whether this e-mail was sent to us innocuously or with a tinge of reproach for our heathen ways). A quick trip to Snopes proved that both the Ben Stein quotations and those attributed to Anne Graham Lotz are, in fact, somewhat accurate; though, naturally, the e-mail gets its sources completely confused and misrepresents the quotations themselves.

In an interview on CBS's Early Show on September 13, Anne Graham Lotz spouted the usual fundamentalist bullshit regarding the "ousting" of her god from the public square, and the resulting "bad stuff" happening in the world (read: hurricanes, levees breaking, more hurricanes, and so forth):

I say God is also angry when he sees something like this. I would say also for several years now Americans in a sense have shaken their fist at God and said, God, we want you out of our schools, our government, our business, we want you out of our marketplace. And God, who is a gentleman, has just quietly backed out of our national and political life, our public life. Removing his hand of blessing and protection. We need to turn to God first of all and say, God, we're sorry we have treated you this way and we invite you now to come into our national life. We put our trust in you. We have our trust in God on our coins, we need to practice it.

All we'll say in response to this particular load of crap is that just about nobody (at least, nobody with any power) was trying to push the god of Abraham out of the public square for approximately a thousand years — in fact, quite the opposite — and those were certainly not the best thousand years to be alive: plague, poverty, malnutrition, short lifespan, inadequate medical care, lack of civil rights, rampant tyranny and despotism, women treated as property, plenty of natural disasters, and many other examples of "bad stuff" abounded. And all the while, these poor fucks were literally begging their god to come on in, shake things up. As with any fundy, Anne seems to think that we are worse off today — which is pretty funny, since if that were true, she wouldn't even be allowed to say any of this in public, if she had even somehow miraculously survived her childhood and the birth of her children — and she attributes this fallacious diminished quality of life to a lack of the very thing that kept us in darkness for millennia. Frankly, fuck you, Anne. As we say to every fool who decries the modern advancement of civilization, feel free not to partake in any advancement that was made without the "benefit" of religious doctrine — you know, the minor stuff like modern transportation, medicine and medical techniques, mathematics and science, electricity and all other forms of harnessing our power needs, mechanical engineering, the preservation and hygienic preparation of foodstuffs, technological entertainment media (from plectrum and lyre to plasma screen HDTVs), telecommunications and computers, water purification, sanitation and waste management. See how that works out for you. After you're dead and gone, we'll throw a Luddite party in your honor. (And yes, this entire paragraph was "all we'll say" about this. Back off, man, we're pundits.)

However, that kind of shit coming from Billy Graham's daughter is neither a surprise nor a shock. What amazed us was the stuff Ben Stein felt compelled to say on CBS's Sunday Morning program, on December 18, 2005. It starts off okay:

I am a Jew and every single one of my ancestors was Jewish, and it does not bother me even a little bit when people call those beautifully lit-up, bejeweled trees Christmas trees.

I don't feel threatened. I don't feel discriminated against. That's what they are — Christmas trees. It doesn't bother me a bit when people say 'Merry Christmas' to me. I don't think they're slighting me or getting ready to put me in a ghetto. In fact, I kind of like it. I shows that we're all brothers and sisters celebrating this happy time of year.

It doesn't bother me one bit that there's a manger scene on display at a key intersection at my beach house in Malibu.

Hey, guess what — exactly right. We're atheists, and we have no problem with someone wishing us a Merry Christmas, or a Happy Chanukah, or a Joyful Kwanzaa, or whatever happy occasion fills them with the giving spirit. Come on, folks: how can you be mad at someone who wants you to have a happy day, even if you don't celebrate the particular occasion to which they're referring? That's just mean-spirited, and despite what our detractors may think, we're not mean-spirited. Just honest and blunt.

So sure, we're with Ben Stein up to this point. We see no problem with extending holiday wishes to those who don't share your holiday celebrations. Why be angry that somebody is being nice to you? We can't think of many atheists who would feel that way, which rather puts yet another hole in Bill O'Reilly's "war on Christmas" theory.

But then Ben loses us. We're actually astonished he goes in this direction:

If people want a creche, fine. The menorah a few hundred yards away is fine, too. I do not like getting pushed around for being a Jew, and I don't think Christians like getting pushed around for being Christians. I think people who believe in God are sick and tired of getting pushed around, period. I have no idea where the concept came from that America is an explicitly atheist country. I can't find it in the Constitution and I don't like it being shoved down my throat.
[our emphasis]

First of all: what the fuck? Great, another fucking religioso who honestly deludes himself that teaming up with other religiosos won't turn sour on him in the end. Don't these people read the fucking history books? Religions don't mix well, even with other religions. Trying to extend an olive branch to another sect has historically, without fail, resulted in your entire arm being chopped off. Once you get rid of the atheists, religiosos, you'll turn on each other — you always do. Once you start separating into groups, it doesn't stop — anyone remember this strip:

Our land. Get out!


But that falls short, mindboggling-wise, of Ben Stein's take on this country's religious responsibilities. He has "no idea where the concept came from that America is an explicitly atheist country" — well, first off, America isn't an "atheist" country, nor is it supposed to be. But it is certainly meant to be a secular country. Why is it that so many people make the utterly false assumption that not endorsing any religion automatically entails an endorsement of atheism? Where's the fucking logic in that assumption? Can't they wrap their tiny minds around the possibility that, perhaps, no belief system (or lack thereof) could be endorsed, and that people would all be free to believe whatever they want to believe? A secular country doesn't mean an atheist country, and we're getting pretty tired of having to correct the same flawed logic over and over. However, Ben, it is important to note that the secular society that you have "no idea" about is what keeps folks like the Jews from being stomped under the feet of the Christian majority. And as far as having "no idea" where that concept came from — well gee, Ben, perhaps it's that darn finicky First Amendment, you know? You can't find it in the Constitution? How about that pesky Establishment Clause — which made it quite clear that the government of this country was not to involve itself with religion in any particular form, neither in support of it nor against it, neither one religion nor many. Does any of that ring a bell with you at all, Ben? How sad that it doesn't.

There is a great, great importance to the separation of church and state. There are even many devout religious folks who recognize that when government and religion mix, both lose. When a guy like Ben Stein, who is otherwise devastatingly intelligent and keenly aware of the law, can't see why that is, then we get very, very frightened.

Ben Stein Smash!

Stein v. Wall of Separation

— • —
[  Filed under: % Government & Politics  % Media & Censorship  % Religion  % Two Percent Toons  ]

Comments (6)

BigHeathenMike, 2006.03.20 (Mon) 09:21 [Link] »

Stein is a funny, smart guy but damn. I can't tell you how many times I've had to correct the "atheist/secular" mis-statement myself. Stein is a conservative so I expect him to be on the religious bandwagon, but here he sounds like Bush the First when he said that atheists weren't citizens.

(sigh)...now I have to blog about Benny. Thanks guys, great post.

Jesse, 2006.03.20 (Mon) 13:07 [Link] »

Not having read or heard Mr. Steins comments in their proper context what I am about to say, is perhaps, a bit assumptious (which I don’t think is a real word, but whatevs).

I do not read that second statement with the same degree of negativity you seem to. He says the country is not an explicitly atheist country. He says he is tired of religious people being pushed around.

You seem to agree with the country not being explicitly atheist, so I fail to see an issue.

I got the impression he is annoyed with the degree to which religion is trying to be sanitized from all aspects of public life, for example, the whole “Happy Holidays” business this year. I did not get the impression that he endorses or encourages religion being a part of government, simply that he is tired of being told by all the non-religious folks that he, and all the other religious people, should keep their religion behind closed doors because the non-religious people are, or might be, bothered by it. I don’t blame him. Last time I checked there is supposed to be a freedom of religion thing in this country.

I hope that makes sense, and again, I did not see these comments in context, but this is my read on them in the context I see here.

And for the record, I am an atheist.

Ford, 2006.03.20 (Mon) 21:19 [Link] »

There was no "happy holidays" thing, conservatives made that up. There was no mass movement to have religion banned or some shit. No movement saying they have to do it behind closed doors, the only "forcing out" of religion that has occured is gov sponsored christmas events. If someone has a church and wants to put a nativity scene in the church's yard on their private property, then they are welcomed to. The problem comes when, say, city hall decides to put up a nativity scene. Please don't buy into that bullshit "atheists oppressing religion" bullshit

PB27, 2006.03.21 (Tue) 11:46 [Link] »

Jesse, I think what 2% is getting at is that Stein refers to a "concept" that "america is an explicitly atheist country."

The beef with Stein is that there IS NO SUCH PREVALENT CONCEPT out there (at least not one originated by atheists). Just as Ford describes the "Happy Holidays" fiasco, this too was also invented from thin air.

Jesse, 2006.03.21 (Tue) 12:34 [Link] »

The whole Christmas/happy holiday thing, to say it didn't exist is erroneous, I feel. It was all over the media. The media made it real. Where it came from initially becomes somewhat irrelevant*. If it is in the spotlight people will be affected by it to some degree.

And it hanging out in the spotlight gave off the impression that there was some movement to remove religious specifications from the holidays. Such that people need to keep their religions to themselves when dealing with things out in public, giving off the impression that religion is bad and should go away.

I can see this sort of mentality and message being sent out by the media to be interpreted as a concept that America is, or should be, explicitly atheist. This is not to say that the concept has and real base or founding, or that it was brought on by atheists. But the impression is there, regardless of where it came from.

Ben Stein comments that he does NOT know where the concept came from (since it does not seem to have come from anywhere substantial). But with it in the media there is a feeling that religious people are being pushed and told “No” to expressing there religious beliefs in a public situation.

This is purely my take on things.

*I think it came from a slightly over zealous attempt at mass political correctness and it backfired.

Ford, 2006.03.21 (Tue) 16:32 [Link] »

What it came from was a few privately owned businesses deciding to put "happy holidays" up instead of "merry christmas", just as a smart business move. Then, conservative talkshow hosts and and news anchors, seeing a sign of something secular, decided to foam at the mouth, as they often do with certain words such as "liberal" and "gay marriage" then decided to rant about the evil liberals declaring war on christmas, even though most of us were just sitting around freezing various privates off and beggining to think that maybe global warming wasn't such a bad thing.

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