What’s constitutional and what isn’t

A lot has been said on various websites the last few days about how the Oneida cheerleaders reciting the Lord’s Prayer is unconstitutional. I’m no attorney…but, then again, neither are those who are doing the talking. I’m pretty sure anyone who wants to object to what they’re doing will find that they don’t have a legal leg to stand on.

Cheerleaders voluntarily reciting the Lord’s Prayer (or saying any prayer) is no different than the football team praying in the locker room before a game or on the field at the end of a game…or a single player praying after a touchdown. It’s been said that the cheerleaders cannot do what they did because they’re wearing uniforms (thus, representing the school), but so are the football players.

And here’s what the Supreme Court has said in regards to students praying: “Nothing in the Constitution…prohibits any public school student from voluntarily praying at any time before, during, or after the school day.”

Ironically, that statement comes from the same 2000 Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe decision that is being cited as proof that the cheerleaders’ prayer is unconstitutional. But Santa Fe v. Doe established that cheerleaders cannot LEAD THE CROWD in prayer. At Oneida, the cheerleaders aren’t leading the crowd in prayer. They’re simply praying on the sideline, as a unit, and the crowd is choosing to join in. Praying out loud during a moment of silence is far different than “leading” a prayer.

As for the argument that cheerleaders aren’t allowed to pray because they are “representatives” of the school by being in uniform, the Supreme Court also said this in 1969′s Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District: “School officials do not possess absolute authority over their students. Students in school as well as out of school are ‘persons’ under our Constitution. They are possessed of fundamental rights which the State must respect, just as they themselves must respect their obligations to the State.” In fact, a court in Texas ruled just this week that it is not unconstitutional for cheerleaders to display banners that have biblical references on them.

The much-cited Santa Fe v. Doe stated that school OFFICIALS cannot facilitate prayer at football games and other school activities. The argument has been made that OHS Principal Kevin Byrd facilitated these prayers. I know that to be untrue because I was standing there when cheerleaders approached administrators on a couple of occasions several months ago. It was the cheerleaders who took the initiative to say a prayer. They simply asked him for his permission, and he said that would appear to be legal…and there’s nothing in that action that violates any precedent set by the Supreme Court. In fact, according to the American Center for Law & Justice (ACLJ), which advocates for students’ religious rights and defends students in situations just like this one, the Supreme Court’s rulings hold that a principal can SUPPORT and even give OFFICIAL RECOGNITION to prayers…he just can’t organize or promote them himself.

So these self-proclaimed legal experts on some of these websites calling for Oneida Special School District to lose federal funding or be forced to suspend its cheerleading program probably owe it to themselves to read the SCOTUS rulings so they’ll be better educated. Clearly, what these cheerleaders are doing does not violate the First Amendment or the court-precedented “Separation of Church and State.”

The perfect example of irony


Non-Christian America’s increasing persecution of Christians is nothing new; I’ve blogged about it several times right here.

But the stance taken by Oneida High School football cheerleaders and the school’s P.A. announcer is generating plenty of hatred throughout cyberspace, once again proving the point that the days of live-and-let-live with regards to atheists’ stance on Christianity are long gone.

A number of hateful comments were submitted here, in response to the story linked above. I declined to post them, which led to plenty of hate mail. Some pointed out that I’m a journalist, choosing to attack my journalistic integrity for “censoring” their comments. Which is fine. I’m a big boy; I can handle it. I pointed out to them that this isn’t a journalism site. This is a personal blog. When they pay the bills to keep it going, they can post anything they want to. In the meantime, I’m not going to allow people from totally different areas of the country to use my blog to disparage kids from my hometown. If their comments are discriminatory in a way that wouldn’t be kosher for any other subset of people, they aren’t going to be posted here. I’ve deleted comments that were racist in nature, and I’ve deleted comments that were bigoted in nature. Christians should be afforded the same respect that most of us would afford someone who is a different race, nationality or has a different sexual preference. If you can substitute the word “black” for “Christian” in a comment and the context of that comment would then deem it inappropriate, it’s also going to be inappropriate on this blog with the word Christian in it.

And, since the majority of anti-Christian commentators seem incapable of arguing their point without attempting to be demeaning to Christians, you’ll notice there were only a few anti-Christian comments posted.

After tens of thousands read the story on this blog, a couple of Knoxville TV stations picked up the story. From there, it went nationwide — a couple of the cheerleaders and their coach will actually appear on Fox News Channel tomorrow morning.

It was after the story went viral that the true hatred started to show.

And you need look no further than RawStory.com’s post on the subject.

“Pricks,” “idiots” and “sluts” were just a few of the words that have been used on RawStory.com and other websites to describe these high school cheerleaders.

The disappointing part? Most of the commentators are adults…who presumably have kids of their own. Wonder how they would feel about someone talking about their daughter that way?

“What a puny little no-mind ‘god’ you little twits worship,” spat one middle-aged woman. “Only in the stupid south…do they actually believe prayer works. So these mental midgets couldn’t think of anything viable? Inf***ingcredible,” said another.

One poster called for the school to suspend all the cheerleaders for the rest of the year. Another called for Kayla King, the cheerleader who organized the recital of The Lord’s Prayer, “and her cronies,” to be prosecuted for criminal charges.

“Looks like these country cuties should be praying for better birth control, or the smarts…to use it,” commented one commentator, while another managed to fit “idiots,” “ignorant” and “dumb” all into one sentence, and several others compared the cheerleaders to the Taliban and al Qaeda.

Yet another called the cheerleaders “stupid, ignorant, nasty fools.”

“Morons,” said another. “If there was a god, these bimbos would have a clue.”

“LIke I care what these idiot larvae think,” said one guy who clearly does care what they think — at least enough to trouble himself with a comment. “Screw these cheerleaders.”

Then there were the calls for the parents of the cheerleaders to be arrested for child abuse, the accusations that their fathers molest them in drunken states, and plenty more.

These are not isolated comments being made by nameless commentators behind creative monikers. Similar comments can be found all over Facebook, affixed to various stories about the cheerleaders’ prayer, where those doing the name-calling and the bashing are using their true identities for all to see.

Here’s the ironic part: These are the same people who rail against Christians for various stances on various issues, accusing them of being “intolerant.” They pride themselves on their own tolerance, although their words clearly betray them. They’re anything but tolerant.

I know it shouldn’t surprise me, but the rate at which the rest of America’s tolerance for Christians is spiraling is mind-numbing. The mean-spirited and hateful approach is shocking. These folks know nothing of the tolerance they screech about.

But it’s one thing when they’re verbally assaulting adult Christians. Going after a group of teenagers, especially teenage girls, is supposed to be off-limits. After all, what did these students do to harm any of these people? They’re merely a group of girls who were disappointed prayer had been removed from their school’s ballgames. So they stood on the sidelines before a game, held hands, and recited the Lord’s Prayer. That didn’t cause any harm to anyone in the stands, so it certainly didn’t cause any harm to these people, thousands of miles away.

For that matter, what harm does the Christian faith in general do to them? Believe me, Christianity does not have a spotless past. There have been many atrocities that have been carried out in the name of Christ. But, today, the Christian religion is the most peaceful religion the world has ever known. With the exception of a very small group of people impacted by very isolated acts of violence carried out by misguided Christian extremists, such as abortion clinic bombings, there is no one in America today who can honestly claim to have been damaged by Christianity or its followers.

So why the disdain? Why the mean-spirited, hateful objections that would cause a 40-year-old man to lob R-rated insults at a 15-year-old girl? As someone posted on Facebook earlier, “Regardless of religious preference, I’m glad that I’ve evolved enough to not feel threatened by praying children.”

It’s cliche, but if God doesn’t exist, why the vehement vitriol in the effort to disprove Him?

This topic of intolerance towards Christians is not a new subject on this blog, but this one is more personal to me because this is my hometown. I know several of the cheerleaders on the squad and they’re good kids, who excel in the classroom and in most other areas of life. If the worst thing they ever do is stand in defiance of a new school rule saying there’s to be no prayer at football games, their parents can be proud of them. Actually, knowing their parents, I know they’re unequivocally proud of them already.

My conclusion is this: If being enlightened, open-minded and reliant on educated facts rather than “superstition” (all things these folks claim to be) means you have to call a group of 15, 16, and 17-year-old girls vulgar and derogatory things in order to feel secure in your own beliefs, I’m happy to be an ignorant, closed-minded Bible-thumper.

The simple goodness of acoustic Pink

If I were to list 10 Things You Probably Don’t Know About Me And Wouldn’t Believe If I Told You, topping the list would be that I’m a closet Pink fan.

It’s easy for singers to mask just how bad (or even how good) they are with all the electronic instruments that they surround themselves in. But strip away all that stuff and put them on stage with a single acoustic instrument or two backing them up, and you find out real quick whether a singer can truly sing. And Pink can truly sing. This version of “Me & Bobby McGee” would even make Janis Joplin green with envy.

Spirit of law can’t diminish spirit of Christianity

My newspaper column this week: 

When the mic went hot at Dr. M.E. Thompson Field Friday evening, Kevin Acres’ routine was a little bit different.

Acres, who has served as Oneida’s P.A. announcer for football games for the better part of the past decade, usually begins about 15 minutes before kickoff by introducing the Pride of the Tribe marching band to the field and asking fans in attendance to rise for the national anthem.

So when Acres began his pregame announcements by saying that he had a “special announcement,” eyes turned expectantly towards the press box.

Saying that his comments were his own, not necessarily those of the high school, Acres explained why a pregame invocation is no longer delivered before football games at Dr. M.E. Thompson Field. Instead, Acres told the crowd, the prayer has been replaced by a moment of silence.

“What you do during that time is completely up to you,” Acres said. “If you want to say a prayer, or choose not to say a prayer, that is your constitutional right as an American. In other words, it is no one’s place to tell you that you have to say a prayer, just as it is no one’s right to say you can’t say one.”

Then, Acres added, “I would like to conclude by saying, As for me and my house, we will worship the Lord.”

The final statement drew a roar of approval from fans on either side of Dr. M.E. Thompson Field, both the home fans wearing orange and the visiting Watertown fans wearing purple.

On the field, cheerleading squads from both schools joined hands and recited the Lord’s Prayer during the moment of silence. That effort was orchestrated by junior cheerleader Kayla King. King, the reigning Miss Scott County Fairest of the Fair, refused to accept the idea that prayers were being cut out before games and has actively lobbied school administrators for ways to bring student-led prayers back to the games.

Don’t blame the administrators at Oneida High School or the Oneida Special School District for axing the pregame prayer. Eliminating pregame prayers is a movement that has been growing for years, and it will continue to. The days when the small minority who do not recognize God would stand silently during the prayer as a show of respect to those around them with differing opinions are long gone. Embolstered by repeated opinions of the courts, that small minority has waged war against Christianity. And, at least where vocalized prayers at sporting events and other public happenings are concerned, they’re winning.

These days, when you travel across Tennessee to a high school football game, the number of high schools without a pregame prayer are nearly as large in number as the number of high schools with a pregame prayer. Too soon, the number of high schools still offering a pregame invocation will be an endangered species. The University of Tennessee has managed to hang on to its tradition of a pregame invocation at Neyland Stadium by offering a strictly non-denominational approach, but that, too, seems to be in jeopardy.

Like the schools before it, OHS had little choice but to comply when a bullying anti-Christian organization fixed its sights on the Oneida Special School District. To continue pregame prayers would have been to fight a battle that the school could not win. The school district is strapped for cash; it can hardly afford a legal battle — especially one it is absolutely certain to lose. That’s why organizations such as the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation target small schools in the first place.

It is not fair to blame OSSD Director of Schools Ann Sexton or OHS Principal Kevin Byrd for the decision to stop pregame prayers. The legal precedent has long been settled by the courts. The very part of the Bill of Rights that protects Americans’ freedom to worship is now also used to limit where or how we worship. You won’t find the words “separation of church and state” in the Constitution of the United States, but it is for all intent and purpose the law of the land due to the courts’ decisions, and that isn’t going to change. Whether the courts have correctly interpreted the Constitution is another argument for another day. For now, it is what it is. And schools like Oneida that come under the scrutiny of the select minority who seek to eliminate any mention of God from the public sector have no choice but to comply.

But that doesn’t mean the spirit of the law can diminish the spirit of Christianity. As we saw Friday night at Oneida High School, it cannot.

As silence descended across Dr. M.E. Thompson Field, the sounds of the cheerleaders from both schools reciting the prayer could easily be heard. In the stands, fans joined them — first one, then a few, spreading throughout the bleachers by the game’s end. After the game, OHS head coach Tony Lambert ended his radio interview the way he ends it every week — by “thanking my Lord and Savior for saving my soul.”

Since football began at Oneida in 1930, fans in attendance have heard a prayer, usually led by a student but sometimes by a local minister, delivered over the P.A. before the start of the game. On Friday night, and presumably for the other three Friday nights football will be played at Oneida this season, and beyond, everyone heard a prayer, led by a group of students who would not take no for an answer. Either way, those who wanted to pray, prayed. Those who didn’t did exactly what they’ve done since 1930: respected the beliefs of those around them through their silence.

Because a group of people were willing to take a stand, the spirit of Christianity was not diminished. If anything, it was emboldened. And the bullying efforts of the select minority were rendered moot and pointless.
• Ben Garrett is Independent Herald editor. Contact him at bgarrett@ihoneida.com.

Where’s the common sense?

Every time I convince myself that there might be a little common sense left in the world, after all, another story comes along to put that in jeopardy.

Such as this Adrian Peterson story.

In case you’ve been hiding under a rock, Peterson is the latest in a series of exposed NFL bad boys who like to hit women and children nearly as much as they like hitting opposing running backs or linebackers. In Peterson’s case, he used a switch to whip his 4-year-old boy. Hard.

And it seems that everyone has an opinion that falls along one extreme or the other.

On one hand, you have those who dismiss what Peterson did, saying it’s no big deal because they were whipped as a child, and look at them now — they turned out just fine. Chalk up Charles Barkley as one who sees no big deal with what Peterson did.

On the other hand, you have those who summarily condemn every father who has ever laid a hand on their child as unfit parents who should be imprisoned for child abuse. The media and the usual self-righteous suspects can’t talk about it without declaring any form of corporal punishment as “beating” children — like Boomer Esiason, who declared it “reprehensible” that any parent would use “a tree branch” to hit a child.

Even when you hear someone start out with some common sense, it seems that they have to throw in a little delusion…like Tommy Tomlinson, who declares that spanking a child builds fear or anger in them — no in between.

I don’t expect most Americans to agree that spanking a child is okay under any circumstance. After all, most Americans appear to have never heard of the term “switch.” Like Esiason, who said he didn’t even know what the term meant “until a few days ago.” (Esiason has clearly never listened to comedian Bill Engvall, who has joked extensively about being made to cut his own switch as a child.)

But can we not agree to live and let live when it comes to parenting, while also agreeing that Adrian Peterson went too far?

I realize I live in East Tennessee, and some of you are going to read that last line and guffaw. But there’s no way to deny that Peterson hit that child too hard. If you’re defending Peterson, you haven’t seen the photos. So let’s be clear: There is no excuse for leaving cuts and welts from stomach to toe on a child of any age…let alone one who is only four years old. None.

You won’t find anyone who will defend corporal punishment any faster than I will defend it. It works. It doesn’t hurt a child, if administered appropriately — it doesn’t warp their psyche or turn them into a serial killer. But what Peterson did to that child was inexcusable. (And we haven’t even discussed the part of the police report that says he stuffed leaves into the kid’s mouth. If you can defend that, I’m glad I’m not your kid.) I took a lot of whippings as a kid — from my parents as well as my teachers and principal (imagine that, in this modern age of hands-off schoolhouse discipline). But I never had a whipping like that, and I took a couple of whippings that I wouldn’t dream of giving to my own kids.

It’s easy as a parent to lose your temper. My opinion? Adrian Peterson lost his temper with that kid. Does that mean he should be kicked out of the NFL? I don’t think so. Does it mean that he is a terrible parent? I’m in no position to be the judge of that…and neither is anyone else reading this, I’m quite sure. But one thing I’m sure of: there’s a line that can be crossed when it comes to corporal punishment. And Adrian Peterson crossed it.

UT at Oklahoma: 10 points

1.) 34-10 doesn’t look close on the scoreboard. Oklahoma was a 21-point favorite and if you betted on the Sooners, you won money. But this game was played closer than the score indicated. When the Sooners jumped to an early 13-0 lead, it looked like Tennessee might get boat-raced. Kudos to the Vols for hanging tough. Take away two interceptions in the end zone in the second half and it’s a 27-24 game. Tennessee was THAT (holding my fingers a couple inches apart) close to make a game of it.

2.) Major props to Justin Worley. I’m still not convinced that Worley will be a quarterback who can win SEC games for Tennessee this season, but I’m a fan of his…especially after tonight. He took an absolute beating and played tough. The pick-six was a terrible decision, but it was his first really bad decision of the evening, despite being harassed by the Oklahoma defense all night long.

3.) Jason Croom is not an SEC receiver. I hate to say that about any college player, but he just isn’t. The first interception in the end zone was totally on him. It should’ve been a touchdown and he let it fall into his defender’s hands. He also had a couple other drops. But I don’t say he isn’t an SEC receiver just based on tonight. This has been a really bad start to the season for him.

4.) Worst offensive line in the history of Tennessee football? I wouldn’t bet against it. Line play is absolutely horrid. Justin Worley will not make it through this season uninjured with line play like that. Oklahoma’s pass rushers got through that line like water through a sieve. And the run game is almost nonexistent behind that line. It’s going to be very, very tough for Tennessee to get to six wins and bowl eligibility with a line that bad. The red flags were there in the Utah State game. Two games later, those red flags have pretty well been confirmed.

5.) Nevertheless, Jalen Hurd continues to show that he’s going to be a very good running back for Tennessee.

6.) Tennessee’s defense gets big-time credit for tonight’s effort. There were some busted plays. Oklahoma’s first touchdown drive looked way too easy, as did their first drive of the second half. But the Vols had two big stops deep to force field goals that prevented the score from being uglier than it was, and played outstanding football in the second half. Granted, Oklahoma was playing a bit more conservative with the lead, but Tennessee’s defense really played well. Defensively, Tennessee is ready to compete in the SEC, even if they’re not ready offensively.

7.) Speaking of defense, how good is Derek Barnett? And how good is he gonna be? He’s still a true freshman, but already he’s making a major impact.

8.) The scary part about tonight’s offensive line play? Tennessee will probably face better front 7s this season than they faced tonight in Norman.

9.) While officiating didn’t determine the outcome of the game, there was no excuse for all the missed holds on Oklahoma in the first half. Credit Tennessee’s pass rush for giving the Sooners’ veteran O-line fits. But when the O-line resorted to holding, the umpire refused to throw his flag. And these weren’t subtle holds; they were blatant. Follow that up with the botched replay on the fumble — which led to an Oklahoma score late in the first half — and it’s no wonder Butch Jones was red under his buttoned-up collar. What’s the point of having replay if officials are going to look at it and still make the incorrect call? Oklahoma’s touchdown on the pick-six wasn’t as obvious, but it certainly appeared from one angle that the ball was dropped before the runner crossed the goal line.

10.) Speaking of the officiating, big props to Jones for the way he handled the halftime interview. She tried to goad him into saying something negative about the officials and he refused. When she then flat-out said, “What did you say to the referee there,” he smiled and said, “That’s between us.” That’s how a coach handles a situation like that with class.

Extra Point: That Cam Sutton hit. Hello!!

Taking a stand

Oneida High School is the latest victim of a lawsuit threat from a bullying anti-Christian organization. So, this season, the school stopped its pre game invocation at football games. Administrators correctly reasoned that to continue pre game prayers would be to fight a battle the school could not win. The school district is strapped for cash and cannot afford a legal battle — a legal battle it would almost certainly lose — which is why organizations such as the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation target small schools in the first place.

LambertBut in a small town in the heart of the Bible belt, where 90 percent of the folks in the bleachers on Friday nights will trade their team pride t-shirts for “go-to-meeting” clothes and fill the pews of the town’s churches on Sunday, that hasn’t set well. Head coach Tony Lambert, an unabashed Christian who uses his post game radio interview every week to “thank the Lord for saving my soul,” said after the first home game this season that the change made his stomach turn. “I see things happening in the world today . . . I see things happening right here in our own community, the way we conduct our business on Friday nights,” Lambert said. “I hope I’m always willing to take a stand.”

At Friday’s second home game of the season, against Watertown, public address announcer Kevin Acres delivered the following speech just before the game began, generating a roar of approval from fans on both sides, those wearing orange and those wearing purple alike:

At this time, I have a special announcement to make. First, I want to say that the following comments are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of Oneida High School.

I have been asked many times over the past few weeks why we no longer have an opening prayer, like we have done at every football game that I am aware of since we started playing football at Oneida in 1930. The school systems, both at the state and local level have come under great pressure by certain organizations to remove vocalized sanctioned prayer from school events and activities or face costly legal action.

These groups, which incidentally in this area are in the minority, have been pushing this issue for the past several years but the pressure to conform to these groups or face financial recourse has now moved to the forefront. In an effort to protect the resources of our high school institution from any legal actions that these groups may take, we will from this point forward observe a moment of silence prior to the start of sporting events.

What you do during that time is completely up to you. The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, or abridging the freedom of speech.”

Therefore, during the moment of silence, if you want to say a prayer, or choose not to say a prayer, that is your constitutional right as an American. In other words, it is no one’s place to tell you that you have to say a prayer, just as it is no one’s right to say you can’t say one.

On a more personal note, I would like to conclude by saying, “As for me and my house, we will worship the Lord.

On the field, cheerleading squads from both schools joined hands and recited the Lord’s Prayer during the moment of silence. It is an effort organized by junior cheerleader Kayla King. The reigning Miss Scott County Fairest of the Fair, King refused to accept the idea that prayers were being cut out before games and has actively lobbied school administrators for ways to bring student-led prayers back to the games.

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As silence descended across Dr. M.E. Thompson Field, the sounds of the cheerleaders reciting the prayer could easily be heard . . . and, in the stands, fans joining them. First one, then a few, spreading throughout the bleachers by the prayer’s end.

In the end, things haven’t changed. Used to be, everyone heard a prayer — usually led by a student; sometimes led by a local minister — before the start of the game, delivered over the P.A. On Friday night, everyone heard a prayer, led by a group of students from each school. The bullying efforts were rendered moot and pointless.

And that’s taking a stand.

Acres king

Christianity shallow?

I’ve been involved in a healthy debate the past couple of days about the tenets of Christianity with some folks who claim that 1.) The Christian faith is based on the egotistical need of humans to explain everything in the universe around us that cannot otherwise be explained, and 2.) The Christian faith flourishes because mankind is inherently afraid of death.

To me, that’s an incredibly shallow view of Christianity. Not a surprising view; Christianity is under heavy attack today from the non-believing world. The days of live-and-let-live have ended. Many non-believers — not all, obviously, but a much larger percentage than ever before — now see it as a personal challenge to deride Christianity, and to scorn and mock people of faith. Why? Who knows. While Christianity has certainly had its dark periods, and there is still an isolated zealot here and there who commits misguided violence in the name of God, it’s hard to view modern Christianity as anything other than a peaceful religion. The existence of the Christian church is not harming anyone, and America’s government safeguards — put into place by our founding fathers — ensure that anyone who doesn’t subscribe to the beliefs of the church can live here without interference from those who do believe. So the only conclusion I can reach for the vehement opposition to Christianity by so many non-believers is that they aren’t secure in their disbelief and are instead desperate to find chinks in the armor of the Christian faith. And that leads to shallow arguments about how Christians are only Christians because they need a crutch to overcome their own ignorance and insecurity.

In my mind, the easiest way to discredit both of those shallow arguments about the Christian faith is to go back to the very first Christians.

In the beginning days of Christianity, it was well established in every civilization that ever phenomena was the result of a deity. The Jews, of course, worshipped the same God the Christians worshipped — the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The Romans had plenty of gods, but believed that deities were responsible for the creation of life, the earth, the sun and the stars, etc. Same with the Etruscans. Same with the Egyptians.

Let’s face it: The big debate when it comes to the merits of Christianity is religion vs. science. On one hand, you have atheists who argue scientific fact for the existence of the world and its life — big bang, common descent, etc. On the other hand, you have Christians who argue anecdotal evidence for the existence of the world and its life — the creation story, literally transcribed from the Book of Genesis. So the idea that Christians cling to their faith to explain what they otherwise cannot explain is really just another way of saying that Christians cling to their faith because they don’t want to believe in science. In fact, one gentleman’s words to me were, “Christianity is born out of ego because Christians are too stubborn to just say ‘I don’t know.’” Of course, the same could be argued for science. There’s precious little evidence to support the “big bang” theory. Does this theory exist because of sound science, or because man is too stubborn to just say “I don’t know”? Not that I think Christianity and science are mutually exclusive. I don’t think that for a moment. But I’m digressing.

The point is that, in the foundational days of Christianity, there was no need for a religion to explain the origins of life. Religions explaining the origins of life were literally a dime a dozen. But perhaps chief among them was the Jewish religion, which served as the foundation for Christianity. (Another digression: Atheists claim that Christianity is a “new” religion as if that somehow invalidates it, while ignoring the fact that the Christian God was worshipped for many centuries before a man from Nazareth arrived on the scene claiming to be the son of that God.) In those days, you might have been a Jew, an Egyptian, or an Etruscan, but you generally believed that a higher power was responsible for life. There was no debate about that. So there was no need to form a new religion to solve the dilemma of the unknown.

Christianity did not take root on the subject of whether God existed. Christianity took root on the subject of whether Jesus Christ was the son of God; whether this man, who walked and talked just like anyone else, was truly the messiah. In the minds of the first Christians, the question of God, the question of life’s origins, was already well-established.

Which leads into the second claim: That Christianity is a product of men’s fear of death.

And that could be the case, in some cases. The inevitability of our mortality is a tough pill to swallow. But that certainly isn’t what gave rise to Christianity. Consider the 12 disciples to the Nation of Israel. They had something we don’t have. As Christians today, we’re going completely off of faith. Atheists call it blind faith. We call it faith granted by the grace of God. Either way, it’s faith in something that we cannot conclusively prove with concrete evidence. The disciples didn’t have to rely on faith alone. Obviously they had faith that Jesus was who he said he was: the messiah, the son of God. But they had the benefit of following him as he foretold what would happen to him. They had the benefit of seeing him executed, then seeing him very much alive and well afterwards.

And, by the way, atheists shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that the 12 disciples can’t be discredited as fairytales. Those men existed. Secular history tells us they existed just as religious history tells us they existed . . . secular historians have created a historical record for the disciples just as they have created a historical record of Jesus of Nazareth. You can choose to ignore or discredit the teachings of Jesus, but there’s no denying that a man named Jesus walked the earth with 12 disciples who were dedicated to his service.

If Christianity were a junk religion, if the idea that Jesus is exactly who he said he was is just a bunch of stuff, how do we explain the deaths of the disciples?

Of the 12 disciples, 11 died a martyr’s death. James was killed by the sword after he refused to denounce Jesus Christ as the messiah. Peter was crucified (just like Jesus; crucifixion was a common execution method of the Romans at the time) for refusing to denounce Christ as the messiah. Andrew, too, was crucified, and his body left hanging in an olive tree (another common practice of the Romans was to leave bodies hanging by public roadways as a method of intimidation). “Doubting” Thomas was also executed, and probably tortured more than any of the others (some historical texts, sometimes disputed, claim that he was stabbed with wooden spears and burned with hot plates before finally being burned alive). Matthew was beheaded 10 years after writing the first canonical gospel. Bartholomew, according to some historical texts, was literally skinned alive before being crucified.

Dying for a cause doesn’t mean that cause is true. Thirteen years ago, a bunch of Muslims voluntarily flew themselves into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, but that does nothing to validate the Islamic faith.

But dying for a cause of which you have first-hand knowledge? That’s a horse of a different color. If Simon, who was so excited by the resurrection of Jesus that he went all over — from Egypt to Africa to Britain — urging people to accept Jesus as the messiah before finally being crucified, had not actually seen Jesus resurrected, would he have been willing to die? Would the disciples who died cruel and torturous deaths have been willing to stand there until the end, through the pain and the agony, and refuse to renounce their faith?

It was one thing for them to endure persecution while Jesus was alive. It isn’t even implausible that if Jesus didn’t walk out of that tomb — that if they had to hide his body, as some atheists claim, to prevent the world from finding out that he was a fraud — those disciples would have continued to have proclaimed their faith in order to protect the legacy of their friend. But with almost a dozen of them facing hideous deaths, are we really willing to accept that not ONE of them would renounce their faith in order to avoid the executioner’s sword or being nailed to a tree or board, if what they were claiming (that Jesus had arisen from the dead and ascended into heaven) were a lie?

So if we can establish that by both Christian and secular history that 1.) A rabbi named Jesus Christ claimed to be the son of God and was executed for those claims, and his body subsequently disappeared from its tomb, 2.) A group of disciples were dedicated to his service while he traveled among Jewish people teaching about God, 3.) The body of Jesus was never found, 4.) Most of those disciples died cruel deaths while refusing to denounce Jesus . . . if we can establish those things, how can Christianity be as shallow as some people proclaim?