This Week in Religion: Bristol Palin Decries Separation of Church and State

A week doesn’t go by without Sarah Palin saying something shockingly stupid about the U.S. government. This week we learned that the apple does not fall far from the tree, when Palin’s daughter Bristol decried the separation of church and state in her blog.

“I just get so sick of hearing about the ‘separation of church and state.’ Because it usually means the state is pushing Christians around,” complained the younger Palin. To make her case, Bristol cited an example of what she deemed to be the government bullying Christians:

"Answers in Genesis is building a life-sized Noah’s Ark in Kentucky and a theme park to go with it. […] The state has a program to encourage tourism that refunds sales tax to big parks like this for the first 10 years they’re open. The plans for 'Ark Encounter' were approved by the state in 2011 along with the tax credits.

"But now, out of the blue, Kentucky officials say they’ve changed their mind! Answers in Genesis won’t be approved for the program unless they agree to hire people who aren’t Christians and unless the exhibit doesn’t talk about Christianity."

But poor Bristol fails to realize the controversy in the Commonwealth of Kentucky has nothing to do with Christianity and everything to do with the park's documented discriminatory hiring practices. Palin tries to suggest that the park's message was “too religious,” but when the park is a Noah’s Ark theme park, it stands to reason there is no confusion about how religious this park is.

When religious fanatics aren’t playing the victim, they make sure to throw some blame out at real victims. Case in point, the tragic suicide of Leelah Alcorn, a transgender teen who killed herself and left a suicide note on her blog urging parents of LGBTQ children to never tell their kids it’s “just a phase” or that “God doesn’t make mistakes.”

Writing for the fundamentalist website Charisma, Michael Brown wrote that while Alcorn’s death is tragic, we must get to “the root causes of transgenderism.”

Instead of looking at how society views transgendered people, Brown suggests they are broken and we should cure them: “I personally know individuals who once identified as transgender and who no longer do, and they are so thankful to God that they found a better way.”

Brown also refuses to call Alcorn by her preferred pronoun of “she,” calling her “him” throughout the piece, highlighting one of the main issues we face in a society that refuses to accept trans people. Brown further suggests that attention to Alcorn's death unfairly overshadows the suicide deaths of those who had received sex reassignment surgery.

“Some of these individuals remained suicidal even after having sex-change surgery, and in some notable cases… some have committed suicide after coming out as the opposite of their biological sex,” Brown continues. “Don’t their deaths count as much as the death of Joshua-Leelah?” Brown does not seem to understand that even after the operation, trans people still face opposition and oppression from people such as himself.

Brown questions those who blame Alcorn's parents, who refused to acknowledge her gender identity. Brown says the same critics “wouldn’t dare criticize doctors who performed (or recommended) sex-change surgery on someone who then killed himself or herself.”

Hemant Mehta responds to Brown on the Friendly Atheist blog, saying that Leelah’s parents do bear the bulk of responsibility. “Like Brown and like the Christian therapist, they just assumed there was something wrong with their child because of her gender identity,” writes Mehta. “So instead of helping her, they discouraged her from being true to herself. Living with the knowledge that you’re going to have to live a lie in front of your parents forever is a horrible burden for anyone to bear.”

Instead of trying to fix those who identify as transgender, we need to realize they don’t need to be fixed; they need to know they are accepted for who they are. Alcorn wrote in her suicide note that, “the only way I will rest in peace is if one day transgender people aren’t treated the way I was, they’re treated like humans, with valid feelings and human rights. Gender needs to be taught about in schools, the earlier the better. My death needs to mean something.”

It wasn’t all terrible news to close out the year. Some may remember that a year ago, a Seventh Day Adventist pastor, Ryan Bell, decided to ignore God for a year, virtually living life as an atheist. Bell embarked on this quest under heavy criticism from his job and his friends. However he made it through the year and found that maybe being an atheistic wasn’t so bad after all.

"I've looked at the majority of the arguments that I've been able to find for the existence of God, and on the question of God's existence or not, I have to say I don't find there to be a convincing case, in my view,” he told NPR. “I don't think that God exists. I think that makes the most sense of the evidence that I have and my experience. But I don't think that's necessarily the most interesting thing about me."

While Bell sees the term atheist as an awkward fit for him and it has taken some adjustment for Christian friends who stuck with him, he says he learned a lot in the past year. His biggest lesson was finding "that people very much value certainty and knowing and are uncomfortable saying that they don't know."

And of the year as a whole, Bell says, "I think before, I wanted a closer relationship to God, and today I just want a closer relationship with reality."

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