Photographer and freethinker Jered Dawnne of Sioux Falls started the Thinking Unenslaved podcast in 2010. He took a break in 2011 after 22 episodes. Tomorrow night, Wednesday, October 29, he's back, relaunching what he hopes will be a fascinating series of conversations:

Thinking Unenslaved is a weekly podcast from the perspective of a secular humanist living and working among the people of the Northern Midwestern United States. The intent of the show is to foster dialogue to bring an understanding of the need and purpose of humanistic and secular concepts into the mainstream for a better world. Naturally, political and sociological concerns are the primary focus of the show, but subject matter also delves into religion, agnosticism, atheism and related topics from time to time. Frequent participants on the show come from all walks of life, so every episode is a unique experience [Jered Dawnne, personal communication, 2014.10.27].

Dialogue, understanding, secular concepts, political and sociological concerns... hey! Sounds like my kind of program! So much so that Dawnne is inviting me to join him for a segment of tomorrow night's two-hour show. Thinking Unenslaved runs from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.; Jered plans to have me on right after the big KELO Senate debate, which is supposed to wrap up at 8 p.m.

Dawnne will also chat program sponsor and Siouxland Freethinkers member Josh Tordsen, as well as high-powered Democratic consultant turned Sioux Falls kaffeemeister Steve Hildebrand.

If technology cooperates, you can listen live on http://unenslaved.com/live-show/. If you want a wilder more interactive experience, you can tune in via http://mixlr.com/thinking-unenslaved. that site will have a chat room! But if you find yourself too drowsy after playing the Mike Rounds "South Dakota Common Sense!" drinking game during the KELO debate, you'll be able to download the podcast to cure your hangover in the morning. Live or recorded, you should find Dawnne's conversations great fun!

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Religion alert—Rep. Hickey got me in the Jesus swing!

Sioux Falls author Dianna Anderson published this August 29 blog post before Victoria Osteen confessed her secular hedonism dressed up as Christianity. But Anderson's critique of American evangelical Christianity's claim to subversive minority status seems relevant to Osteen's prosperity gospel and other robed delusions:

...[B]elieving in American evangelical Christianity is one of the least subversive things that exists. And that’s because American evangelical Christianity exists to maintain a status quo of current power structures....

We’ve been fed this falsehood about what subversion is in American evangelicalism. We worship a Christ in our own image – a European, cisgender, heterosexual Christ who is more interested in making sure you don’t have to provide your employees with birth control than with whether or not you just made someone homeless by firing them because they’re gay [Dianna Anderson, "Queering Theology: Subversion and Grace," blog, 2014.08.29].

As a Midwestern atheist, I have regularly chortled at the persecution complex feigned by certain Christians. Anderson contends that persecution complex is a survival strategy... or maybe just marketing:

...[W]ithout thinking they are in the minority, American evangelicalism would not have nearly the fervor and tribalism they exhibit now [Anderson, 2014.08.29].

Dang, if that's the effect perceiving oneself as an endangered, countercultural minority has, where's all the fervor and tribalism among my fellow South Dakota Democrats?

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Of all the things I could be reading, Pastor Steve Hickey gets me to read the loathsome wingnut screed World Net Daily and cite it as reporting accurately and authoritatively on the most honest theological statement ever made by someone named Osteen:

Victoria Osteen, wife of megachurch minister Joel Osteen... addressing the church’s large congregation as her husband stood by nodding his head in agreement, said, “I just want to encourage everyone of us to realize when we obey God, we’re not doing it for God – I mean, that’s one way to look at it – we’re doing it for ourselves, because God takes pleasure when we’re happy.

“So I want you to know this morning: Just do good for your own self. Do good because God wants you to be happy. When you come to church, when you worship Him, you’re not doing it for God really. You’re doing it for yourself, because that’s what makes God happy. Amen?" ["Did Joel Osteen's Wife Commit Blasphemy?" WND.com, 2014.08.30]

I call Mrs. Osteen's statement "honest" because it reveals what her and her husband's prosperity gospel is really about... and it reveals how thoroughly un-Christian that gospel is. WND.com gets a pastor to explain how Mrs. Osteen is putting pious lipstick on a secular hedonist pig; I prefer the response of our own Shad Olson:

The American pursuit of happiness and seeking first the Kindgom of God have nothing to do with one another. The Osteen's prosperity gospel and most of the megachurch sludge that presages it are apostate heresy. If only the early christian church had realized that God wanted them to have fake breasts and BMW"s....they would have been so much happier in their faith, what with all the nasty starvation and beheadings and crucifixions and what not [Shad Olson, Facebook comment, 2014.09.01].

Megachurch sludgeNewsCenter1 needs to let Shad use language like that on TV more often.

I don't do church. But even as I peek through the left-field knothole from my box in Atheist Alley, I can tell that Victoria Osteen is pitching something other than Christianity. Watch her say the words herself:

Such self-centeredness is necessary for the Osteens. Neither is an ordained (read: real) pastor. Neither has submitted to the vetting of a theological school. Neither has chosen to serve a denomination where congregations would call them; they instead establish a ministry around themselves and call the congregation to come to them. Victoria and Joel Osteen can justify calling themselves "pastors" only by convincing themselves that doing things for themselves rather than for others is fine by Jesus.

If you want an entirely self-centered worldview, secular hedonism comes with far fewer strings attached. But if you want to make money off your worldview, well, Victoria and Joel will tell you the same thing Chad and Annette will tell you: there's money to be made off Christian guilt.

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Last week we discussed Dell Rapids coach and Augie grad Nathan Alfson's announcement that he is gay. This week we get the news that his announcement will not cost him his job. Catholic school Dell Rapids St. Mary's will continue to employ Alfson as their girls volleyball coach.

The Sioux Falls Catholic Diocese says we shouldn't be surprised that a Catholic school would allow an openly gay man to remain on the payroll. And indeed, we should not be: in  a perfect world, no employer would inquire into the private, personal activities of its employees. No religious employer would dither over the various sins of their employees that do not affect the employees' ability to perform their jobs.

And even if there are some Christians who maintain that homosexuality is a sin, we should not expect it to be news that Christian institutions employ people who sin. As I understand theology, everyone who works for a Christian institution sins (even the Pope!). If we go around firing sinners, we're going to have a severe labor shortage.

Let us hope that the best public outcome of the news about Nathan Alfson is that someday, similar announcements of love and employment will not be news.

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I told the Miller School District in May that their decision to allow the Gideons to distribute Bibles to fifth graders was unconstitutional. And the Miller School District listened!

Actually, they listened to the American Civil Liberties Union, which sent the Miller School District a complaint outlining the obvious church-state-separation problem of a public school letting religious groups proselytize on campus. Last month, the school board reversed its Bible-distribution policy and told the Gideons and other converters to hand out their tracts elsewhere.

This reversal is a small but instructive victory for us liberals trying to bring secular sanity to South Dakota. The Miller board president's comments on the reversal explain why:

"It's been through the court system and everything. We've got to follow the letter of the law," said board president Tim Zacher.

The reversal came after the ACLU sent a letter to the Miller School District in May saying the school was on "shaky constitutional ground" by allowing religious literature to be distributed in a public school.

...Zacher said he was disappointed the board was forced to change its policy and disallow the Bible distribution.

"Our founding fathers felt God very strong in this country," he said.

The Bibles had been distributed in previous years at Miller, though Zacher didn't know for how long.

"We had never had a bit of problem with it before," he said. "I guess that's the way it is" [David Montgomery, "Miller School Board Reverses Policy Allowing Handout of Bibles," that Sioux Falls paper, 2014.07.30].

Never had problem before... there's a key phrase. We may think that conservative Republican fundagelicanism is just entrenched in South Dakota culture and institutions. But Miller shows that bad policy may be less entrenched and simply unchallenged. As long as there's not a problem, nothing happens. But create a problem, or even warn there could be a problem, and local leaders may surrender. The ACLU didn't have to lawyer up; they just wrote a letter, showed the Miller school board that the Constitution was not on their side, and got the proper result.

That's why, instead of retreating to Minnesota and other saner political spheres, I keep encouraging my fellow South Dakota liberals, atheists, and other lovers of freedom to stand up and fight. Not every school board or city council will surrender before superior logic and law. But many will, preferring to avoid conflict and headlines. If we challenge every instance of local theocracy and other oppression, and if only 25% of the boards we challenge give in without a fight, those few easy victories give us that much more precedent for fighting hard against the remaining 75% to get liberty and justice for all... including liberty for our fifth-graders from Gideons, jihadis, Satanists, and atheists who may try to co-opt school grounds to advance or denigrate specific religions.

*   *   *

Under the Constitution schools cannot intentionally, or unintentionally, advance religion or become too entangled with religious groups. The courts have repeatedly said that schools must also avoid favoring or appearing to favor a religious view, and they may not create any situation in which students feel coerced to participate in religion. These constitutional protections ensure that students can find and follow their own faith with the guidance of their family and religious leaders, free from government intrusion [ACLU, press release, 2014.05.12].

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Uh oh—Satanists.

Like many observers, Tim Gebhart wrote in June that the Hobby Lobby decision opens the door to exemptions from law for members of all sorts of religious sects on the basis of religious claims that the Hobby Lobby declared off limits to judicial inquiry.

I'm still waiting for our Lakota neighbors to head for their Hills with this precedent. But with an apt "I told you so," Gebhart this week gets to point to the Satanists, who are making a religious claim to an exemption from informed consent laws imposed on women seeking abortions in places like South Dakota:

The Satanic Temple... is specifically invoking Hobby Lobby for exemptions from state-mandated “informational” materials used as a part of informed consent.  It says it believes “the body is inviolable – subject to one’s own will alone” and the belief “is fundamental to our religious philosophy.”  It reasons that requiring women to receive “biased or false” information that is based on politics and not science is an “affront” to that belief [Tim Gebhart, "Not to Say I Told You So, But...," A Progressive on the Prairie, 2014.07.31].

How does a woman get out of the propaganda to which South Dakota law subjects her if she wants an abortion? She just hands this letter to her doctor, and poof! the Roberts-Alito court should excuse her from Leslee Unruh's fact-free sermons and South Dakota's insulting 72-hour waiting period.

Unfortunately, along with declaring sincere religious belief in inviolable bodily autonomy and supremacy of one's own scientific conclusions over state-mandated propaganda, the letter also declares one's adherence "to the principles of the Satanic Temple."

Great, just what Leslee Unruh, Gordon Howie, and Ted Cruz are hoping for: women seeking abortions to put in writing that they worship the Devil.

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Travis Betsworth, general manager of the Original Pancake House in Sioux Falls, categorically denies an accusation that it fired an employee for praying with customers.

Mr. Betsworth said this afternoon, "We would never fire anybody for praying." Quite the contrary, Betsworth says he himself has taken time to pray with customers at their tables during regular business hours. Many church groups come to his restaurant; Betsworth estimates some sort of Bible study or other church-related activity is taking place in his restaurant five days out of each week. Many religious customers leave church cards in the store tip jar.

Betsworth was responding to an accusation leveled by a paid political spokesman for failed Senate candidate Annette Bosworth. The spokesman claims that waitress Shauna Rose was fired for praying with Bosworth and her spokesman just before the primary:

The first time I met Shauna was just before the June election. She was working as a waitress at the Original Pancake House in Sioux Falls. I went in with my friend Dr. Annette Bosworth when we were on our way to a press conference. We prayed at the table before breakfast and Shauna, who knew Dr. Bosworth, bowed her head with us.

Shauna was fired by the Original Pancake House a couple of days later. She was told by a co-worker that it was for praying with us.

Guess where I’m not going to eat pancakes again? [paid spokesman for Annette Bosworth, "Update on Dakota Reporter and RIP Shauna Rose," "Dakota" Reporter, 2014.07.25]

Betsworth says he has no knowledge of the alleged interaction between Bosworth, her spokesman, and Rose. Betsworth says that if he had witnessed such a prayerful interaction on the job, he would have praised Rose for treating customers so well. He would not give further details on managerial decisions affecting Rose's employment at Original Pancake House, but Betsworth flatly denied that Rose would have been fired for praying with a customer. Betsworth says he and the restaurant's two other managers make staffing decisions cooperatively, and no such decision to fire any employee for praying has taken place on his watch.

Rose died in a motorcycle accident on July 16. Betsworth says Rose was "very loved" at the restaurant. Many employees attended Rose's funeral, says Betsworth, and he believes the owners of the restaurant sent flowers.

Independent candidate for lieutenant governor Lora Hubbel made a public statement online yesterday citing the Christian discrimination accusation to discourage people from eating at the Original Pancake House, whose Sioux Falls shop on West 41st is the Oregon-based company's only South Dakota franchise. Betsworth says that prior to his interview with the Madville Times, he was not aware of any calls for boycott, complaints made to the store, or the original accusation of religious discrimination. Betsworth says no other bloggers or reporters had contacted him to inquire about Rose's employment at Original Pancake House prior to this Sunday interview.

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Following our extensive discussions of the Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby decision, and amidst the heat and bother over Gordon Howie's statement that life begins before sperm meets egg, Larry Kurtz sent me an essay by the Guardian's Jessica Valenti arguing that we shouldn't use health reasons as an excuse to protect women's access to contraception. We defenders of women's rights facilitate the fundi-puritan narrative, Valenti says, when we shy away from stating the obvious: women deserve to enjoy sex without the fear of getting pregnant, just like men.

It's also OK – wonderful, even! – that women use birth control to have sex and not get pregnant. Even more wonderful: it works. The advent of contraception is arguably the most important liberatory discovery for women of all time. We're allowed to use it. And not just for our periods – but to have hot, sweaty, fantastic, fun, non-procreative sex. That doesn't make us "sluts"; it makes us human [Jessica Valenti, "Women Like Sex: Stop Making 'Health' Excuses for Why We Use Birth Control," The Guardian, 2014.07.08].

Dang—adopting Valenti's courageous stance means we all have to stop thinking sex naughty. (Uh oh: someone is going to unload on me for that one!)

Sioux Falls writer Dianna E. Anderson calls the "American evangelical purity culture" patently absurd. In a post on contraception and intentionality, Anderson writes that the crowd that cheers Hobby Lobby's anti-contraceptive discrimination against women thinks using birth control is worse than unplanned hookups:

The rules about keeping oneself pure end up creating a world where unsafe, “unintentional” sex is better than sex that you plan to have and embrace fully. Sex in the heat of the moment can be excused, written off as a good person getting caught up in emotion. But sex that you plan for, sex that you intend to be safe and protected? That evinces a moral failing of the person, as someone deliberately choosing to disobey God [Dianna E. Anderson, "Unlearning Purity Culture: Intentionality," blog, 2014.07.16].

Andersons sees stronger, healthier sexual ethics in taking control of one's sex life, talking about and planning what one does with one's partner, rather than viewing oneself as a "passive receiver" of that thing that just kinda happened. Sex based on intentionality means women experience less fear and more empowerment.

Less fear and more empowerment—I look at my wife and daughter and think, "What could be wrong with that?

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