Archive for the 'Religion & Society' Category

07
Oct
12

The Heresy of ‘Pro-Life’ Christians

Our scripture readings in ELCA Sunday service often provoke my thoughts. My thoughts are never aligned with the Pastor’s sermon, for sermons are typically generalized and oriented toward a certain orthodoxy. The last Pastor who made sermons a challenge to our lives was the late, great Bill Christman (a Presbyterian).

Today’s First Reading, Genesis 2:18-24, included:

Then the man said, ‘This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; this one shall be called Woman, for out of Man this one was taken.’ Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh.

Today’s Gospel, Mark 10:2-16, included:

Some Pharisees came, and to test him they asked, ‘Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?’ He answered them, ‘What did Moses command you?’ They said, ‘Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her.’ But Jesus said to them, ‘Because of your hardness of heart he wrote this commandment for you. But from the beginning of creation, “God made them male and female.” “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.’

Those who identify as Pro-Life assert that a fertilized ovum – the zygote – is a person, fully equivalent*. Their justifications for tying this assertion to a “right” to life are invariably shallow, effectively being ‘It just is, that’s all’. I have never seen or heard of a Pro-Lifer using Genesis 2 and Mark 10 as an authority for this assertion. It seems obviously applicable: in what way does a couple literally “become one flesh”, except via conception? If God demands that the couple not be separated, surely He intends that the very “one flesh” also not be separated.

*Except when it isn’t – some Pro-Life advocates defer personhood until implantation of the zygote.
And even those notable Conservative Protestants, the Southern Baptists, have previously sanctioned some abortions.

This Mark 10 justification of the Pro-life agenda would better adhere to scripture than the typical citations. Will Pro-Lifers embrace this justification? It is unlikely that any will ever notice my comments in a tiny blog. If they independently make this association, they will risk an accusation of hypocrisy, or worse, for the scriptures do not instruct us of an isolated facet of our relationship with the Almighty.

Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ, Son of God, brought a New Covenant between God and man. Jesus was overt in his violations of many Jewish laws. He affirmed a fairly small portion of the Old Covenant, for while He said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfil.” – Matthew 5:17, that left a large body of legalities to be voided. His statements in Mark 10 were remarkable for specifically citing Law that was to remain unaltered, without allowance for obliquely fulfilling the spirit of the Law. Jesus established finally, as explicitly as we ever see in scripture, a linkage between conception and marriage.

There are Christian denominations which ban divorce, such as the Catholic Church, the LDS-Mormon Church, Eastern Orthodox, Coptic Orthodox, and Conservative Protestant such as Southern Baptists. Every one includes exceptions.

Exceptions are something which Jesus did not often offer. He certainly did not instruct us that conversion to Islam, or adultery, or other exceptions apply to divorce. Yet such exceptions are normative in even the most conservative denominations.

Is this why Pro-Lifers do not cite Jesus’ authority from Mark 10? Do they attempt to conceal their hypocrisy which is already well-known?

If they are sincere in claiming that their attitudes about reproduction are guided by Sacred Text, let them permit themselves to be guided by the only words of Jesus regarding the “one flesh”. Let them embrace the same hatred and violence at the most-closely related offense to the Law of God – divorce - that they exhibit toward those who make, and even to those who merely advocate, reproductive choices.

05
May
12

Framing the Romney Question

Enough has been said about Presidential candidate Mitt Romney‘s religion. Yes, as a Latter Day Saint (Mormon), Romney adheres to beliefs that are ludicrous. Almost anything conceived by an attention-seeking adolescent (Joseph Smith), whose personal standards led him to scam and manipulate friends and family, is ludicrous.

Criticism of a Presidential candidate for such beliefs has limited validity. In an absolute sense, criticism is valid. What does such valid criticism leave us? Every other major Presidential candidate in my memory has claimed religious beliefs which, despite mostly being different from Mormon beliefs, are exactly equivalent in their ludicrous elements. I will not belabor that point. Most readers can supply plentiful examples of offenses upon rationality by any particular religion. This is a subject which incorporates the supernatural, so deviations from rationality are inherent.

The pertinent consideration is what a candidate’s personal beliefs and attitudes reveal about how he (or she, on occasion) will perform the duties of a President of the United States of America.

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Evangelical Christians, who often identify Mormons as apostate, have expressed their reluctance, due to his religion, to support his candidacy. My contention is that they are confabulating personal beliefs and public performance similarly to the (dominantly) Mormon state of Utah. In 2008, Utah primary voters gave Romney 89% of all votes. John McCain, who garnered much resistance from Evangelical Christians, received 5%. Ron Paul and other Protestants received crumbs. I doubt that the voting represented that the losing candidates had overwhelmingly unfavorable policy positions.

Mitt Romney has provided the proper context to discuss the relationship of his personal and public commitments. He has required a signed pledge as a precondition for meeting him privately.

At a Republican National Committee meeting in Arizona, RNC members and state GOP chairmen -superdelegates- were asked to sign a pledge to support Romney at the national convention in Tampa as a precondition for meeting privately and being photographed with Romney. Several members of the Iowa delegation were refused admittance when they did not sign the pledge.

Depending on how Romney answers the following question, we may subsequently find additional context to inquire about how details of Romney’s personal life will affect his performance in office. This may be easier than gaining additional details about his financial life, which would be far more relevant to his duties as President.

This is how the question should be framed in a Presidential general election debate:

Questioner: Governor Romney, we have many commitments as adults and as professionals. One of our tasks is to balance those commitments and resolve any conflicts. You have demonstrated that commitments have a significant priority for you. You have made certain commitments and you have required others to make commitments, even as a precondition to meet with you privately. Your oath as President is serious, yet it does not include a committment to foreswear other oaths. Uniquely for a general-election candidate, you have sworn such oaths, oaths which are inviolate, even upon penalty of death.

How will you reconcile your prior commitments with the Presidential Oath of Office?

Candidate Romney:
{A} I have nothing to resolve. My committment to God and to America are completely compatible.
{B} Like all Americans who want America to become the great country that it once was,
my first committment is to God, then to my family and country.
{C} My oath as President comes before all other oaths. Serving as President and restoring
America’s prosperity and values is the greatest form of devotion to God.
{D} My religious oaths were patterned after those which millions of loyal Americans take.
These Americans have helped to make America a light to the world.
{E} Reconcile what? I don’t know what oaths you imagine that I have made.

20
Feb
12

Phony ‘-ologies’

Rick Santorum, the William Jennings Bryan Memorial Presidential Candidate, says of his opposition to Obama,

It’s about…some phony theology. Oh, not a theology based on the Bible… .

I say that Santorum has some phony biology, geology, climatology, ecology, and (probably) darn near any other ‘-ology’ that exists – because he bases (or imagines he bases) EVERYTHING on the Bible. Well, the Catholic Bible maybe. There are other Bibles, which I expect that he regards as ‘impure’ at best.

But then, what I have to say about Santorum is irrelevant, isn’t it? He wasn’t talking about THOSE ‘ologies’, as he made perfectly clear:

The Catholic church has a Theology that says this is wrong…the President of the United States is exercising his values and trumping the values of the church.

There, now it’s settled. Move along now. There’s nothing to see here. There *is* something to see below the typographical flourish.

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Santorum’s prompt revisionist explanation for his recent judgemental comments is that “I was talking about the radical environmentalists.” His objection is to

…things that frankly are just not scientifically proven, for example, the politicization of the whole global warming debate… .

Ohhhhh ! So Santorum IS talking about my ‘-ologies’. Pardon me, his superior level of intellectual disposition has left me a wee bit confused.

Well, of course he is referring to the scientific ‘-ologies’ as well as to theology. William Jennings Bryan was not the first, and Rick Santorum will not be the last, to couple scientific viewpoints to morality, theology, etc. It is that coupling which promotes “politicization” of specific scientific topics, narrowly discussed only in superficial and emotional terms that the lay public willingly assimilates. The bulk of science proceeds irrespective of this phony coupling, producing a continual stream of advances in human knowledge to the betterment of all – even of those who would eviscerate science.

It has been done before. It can happen in America. The Soviet Communist fascist state decreed which scientific principles were acceptable to its ideology – or theology: “Whatever you want to call it, it’s a [sic] different moral values.” The resulting stagnation of science left the USSR with viable scientific work only in those fields which were relevant to such words as ‘bomb’, ‘gun’, and ‘rocket’.

It is beyond dispute that the Santorums of the world feel morally threatened by science. It is disputed only among the fearful and the ignorant that science is the one area of human endeavor where we may, if we permit ourselves, reach truths with minimal blemish from our preconceptions.

This is why the best leaders heed the guidance of those who are especially knowledgeable in biology, geology, climatology, ecology, physics, chemistry, and many more fields of science. Hindu, Moslem, Jewish, Buddhist, Christian, and atheist scientists will have different theologies. Their scientific work is objectively unrelated to, and unbiased by, personal ‘-ologies’.

We must have the best leaders, else it may happen as in the Scopes ‘Monkey’ trial. That judge expunged William Jennings Bryan’s Santorum-like testimony. The harsh Judge of History could expunge all of President Santorum’s theology, and the shreds of America’s great scientific culture, from prominence in the world.

19
Nov
11

Occupy the Bible

I am often motivated by scripture readings in Sunday service to write about them from a different perspective than is customary. Recently, the Gospel Reading in our little ELCA Lutheran Church was the parable in Matthew 25:14-30. Christian commentaries and sermons on this parable typically describe it in terms of judgement (especially of the unsaved, who are “servants” (sometimes translated ‘slaves’) – entrusted with the monetary denomination “talent” representing God’s blessings to which we are to be faithful) :

14 For the kingdom of heaven is as a man travelling into a far country,
who called his own servants, and delivered unto them his goods.
15 And unto one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one; to every man
according to his several ability; and straightway took his journey.
16 Then he that had received the five talents went and traded
with the same, and made them other five talents.
17 And likewise he that had received two, he also gained other two.
18 But he that had received one went and digged in the earth, and hid his lord’s money.
19 After a long time the lord of those servants cometh, and reckoneth with them.
20 And so he that had received five talents came and brought other five talents, saying, Lord,
thou deliveredst unto me five talents: behold, I have gained beside them five talents more.
21 His lord said unto him, Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over
a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.
22 He also that had received two talents came and said, Lord, thou deliveredst
unto me two talents: behold, I have gained two other talents beside them.
23 His lord said unto him, Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over
a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.
24 Then he which had received the one talent came and said, Lord, I knew thee that thou art an
hard man, reaping where thou hast not sown, and gathering where thou hast not strawed:
25 And I was afraid, and went and hid thy talent in the earth: lo, there thou hast that is thine.
26 His lord answered and said unto him, Thou wicked and slothful servant, thou knewest
that I reap where I sowed not, and gather where I have not strawed:
27 Thou oughtest therefore to have put my money to the exchangers,
and then at my coming I should have received mine own with usury.
28 Take therefore the talent from him, and give it unto him which hath ten talents.
29 For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance:
but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath.
30 And cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness:
there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

My prior use of the term ‘perspective’ applies also to commenters other than me. Scriptures have been massaged, twisted, and misrepresented continually and forever. This parable (and its fraternal twin in Luke 19) is perfectly suitable to such misapplication. A natural example is found in American politics. Conservatives have, in this parable, the exemplification of some of their most persistant themes: the wealthy have earned more than folks like me because they have worked harder ; it takes money to make money ; it is the wealthy who make it possible for us to earn the right to continue working ; those who do not make the wealthy yet more wealthy are lazy and condemnable.

These are plausibly, if superficially, supported by the parable. Perhaps it is the reluctance of politicians to be specific about religion that has kept this connection from being exploited. Even so, there are many who bend Christianity to their secular purposes. Either I am oblivious, or they haven’t yet focused upon this parable.

It is (I think) not too late to preempt such arguments.

The parable begins “For the kingdom of heaven is as …”, which explicitly announces that it is a spiritual lesson, not a management or financial seminar. Even so, it is odd that the kingdom of heaven might be compared to anything involving such a nasty person as the master (“Lord”). Be careful to note that the master did not gift the money to the servants – it, and all profits derived from it, belonged to the master.

The servant element might explain why this parable has not been appropriated by conservatives. Folks who aren’t wealthy will probably relate to the servants. That makes a rather strong statement about the distribution of money and influence in America. Conservatives appeal for support of the wealthy, which is not an original attitude – even for slaves.

The master did not participate in the investment activity. He was a ‘passive’ investor who did not even provide guidance before he “straightway took his journey” and returned “after a long time”. This is our current situation. It is only the wealthy who have spare cash and the capacity to risk it on investments which require no work. Rather than being people who work 50? 100? times harder than their employees, they must acknowledge that “I reap where I sowed not”. That is, they purchase seed which they do not even plant, then take the profits of the work of others.

My co-workers & I work plenty hard. Someone would have to work 24/7 to work merely 4 times harder than we do. The wealthy aren’t especially smarter than anyone else, either. The stock market has been shown to have fractal price behavior over time. It is a chaotic system, perfectly unpredictable. Those who ‘make a killing in the market’ are seldom geniuses. They also are not idiots. They are lucky. I am not referring to the fictitious ‘you make your own luck’. This is true chance, unaffected by merit or unworth.

The servants had no money of their own to risk. They risked something less tangible. The wicked servant might have paid for his poor choice by being sold to a less forgiving master. What might have happened if, as in real life, one of the servants had LOST money? People who are not wealthy understand the harsh reality of such risks – loss of job, health insurance, or savings.

For those who want to have reality-based opinions on this subject {WARNING – some math ahead}, here are a few references: ‘Pareto Distributions in Economic Growth Models‘ describes how “the concentration of the wealth can be interpreted as the result of the extraordinary concentration of risk bearings.” ; ‘Market Efficiency, the Pareto Wealth Distribution, and the Lévy Distribution of Stock Returns‘ finds specifically “chance, rather than differential investment ability, is the main source of inequality at the high-wealth range.” ; ‘Why it is hard to share the wealth‘ provides a brief commentary on structural forces in wealth inequality – without the gnarly math of the first two references.

24
Oct
11

Kinetic and Potential Life

One of the early lessons in Physics is the Conservation of Energy. Energy comes in two broad categories (forms), kinetic and potential. Energy can be in either form, and the form can even be changed. Electric utility companies like to produce energy when there is little demand, store it, and release it when demand is high and generators can’t handle the load. One way of doing this, pumped-storage hydroelectricity is to pump water to an elevated reservoir. The water at height stores gravitational potential (weight) energy. That potential is very stable, only subject to little practical things (like leakage) that change the potential energy back to kinetic energy. The big practical thing is releasing water to flow through electric generator turbines.

It is kinetic energy that gets ‘er done. Potential energy deserves a comparable respect.

The precise language of Physics sometimes uses the same words which are used rather loosely in other contexts. One such context applies the phrase ‘potential life‘ to human reproduction. We have heard this phrase repeatedly, so we know what is meant by it – or, at least, we know what we are meant to think it means. We are meant to think that it means (and here, I will attempt a precise statement of that meaning) ‘mated human gametes are capable of becoming a developmentally-complete human organism and should be regarded as equivalent to that human’.

That’s fine and dandy. Mated human gametes, with a bunch of help from the host mom, can often do that. You know the rationale attached to this: the mated gametes are to be considered morally and legally identical to an adult human. That is a logical high-jump, about which I shall defer comment to another time. What I do not see is any comparable logical gymnastics to any other ‘potential life’ or other ‘potential outcome’.

And boy, lemme tell you that there is a LOT of ‘potential life’. The armadillo inserts a multiplier into the situation. One set of mated armadillo gametes is (for some species) potentially four (4, quatre, vier, arba’a) individual, genetically-identical ‘dillo babies – not just one!

That doesn’t count the potential descendants of the armadillo.

The potential for life, for descendant individual organisms, doesn’t even depend upon sex. Yeah, maybe you thought that everything depended upon sex - but not this time. Lots of organisms reproduce asexually. ‘Budding’ can propagate yeast such as saccharomyces cerevisiae. It begins with a bump, which progresses to a distinct appendage, which separates and goes its merry way. So the bump is ‘potential life’, right? Well, I dunno.

When is it a bump, anyway? When the cell wall deviates from round by a statistically-significant amount? How “statistically significant” is significant enough? How different from other cell-wall bumps must it be?

Cavendish bananas are my favorite example of asexual reproduction. Every Cavendish banana in the world is genetically identical. They are vegetatively propagated by cuttings. That makes me wonder – if a cutting can yield an entire planet-load of organisms, does destruction of a cutting mean that the potential for millions of organisms has been destroyed?

The potential of mated gametes may be different than a potential for developing into an individual. The potential may be to spontaneously abort. Yes – this is a natural, even normal, process that happens to a statistically significant number of mated human gametes. There is also a statistically significant potential for mated gametes to kill the host mom. How “statistically significant” is significant enough? We have dead moms as the answer.

If the continued protection and nourishment of mated gametes leads to the potential to kill the host mom, do we consider only their potential for developing into an individual – an individual who will also die with the mom?

If a pumped-storage hydroelectricity reservoir has a crack, and it might collapse and destroy lives and property, do we consider only its potential for generating electricity?

We are not meant to think that ‘potential life’ means something like: ‘a bud from asexual reproduction is equivalent to a developmentally-complete organism’ or ‘a reproductively-viable organism is equivalent to generations of distinct individual organisms of the same specie’ or ‘sustenance of some mated gametes is equivalent to killing the host mom’.

We are meant to accept the aforementioned logical high-jump without questioning that its premise is actually based on the misogynistic misapplication – beginning in recent history – of a particular religion’s scriptures. No other consideration, whether religious or extra-religious, is meant to apply.

09
Oct
11

This Is Your Brain On Rationality

The excellent blog ‘Still Skeptical After All These Years‘ (SSAATY) has produced a lively discussion about human intelligence. ‘This Is Your Brain On Spirituality‘ links to ‘The Premise‘, from the book ‘The “God” Part of the Brain‘ (Matthew Alper). Jim One awakened me from my blogging slumber, and my comments are too long to impose upon his commenting space. This post is the result.

Rational
adj., Devoid of all delusions save those of observation, experience and reflection.
- ‘The Devil’s Dictionary‘, Ambrose Bierce

‘The Premise’ is an interesting expression of the evolution of intelligence. It carries the burden of stimulating those misguided folks who take the ‘god’ part of the brain to be something that must have been created by god, or God. That article, and comments on SSAATY - especially by Anson and HLG - have a touch of specificity about the subject. Since I am required by the terms of my Birth Contract to engage in conversations on science topics, here’s my succinct explanation:

That “survival trait” of intelligence has a major component in correlation. Other components, such as memory, are also involved. Other species have intelligence. They use tools and manipulate their environment. They employ memory. The human advantage over other species is most pronounced in the inherent capacity to correlate.

Correlation is not reflex – a sensor-neuron-to-motor-neuron linkage. It is a constant activity of the brain. Watch someone wave a wand over a deck of cards, then pull a flower out of the deck: your brain will, absolutely automatically and irrevocably, establish the thought that a wand-wave makes flowers appear in unexpected places. Even a tendency to form preposterous correlations could have significant evolutionary advantages. The cost of missing a good correlation (red plant = poisonous) is disproportionate to the cost of a false correlation (animal sacrifice = good crops).

Almost all human history has involved this automatic intelligence – an ‘unthinking’ intelligence that becomes blatant as superstition. The modern (perhaps thousands of years – a short time in biology) rise of rationalism is the result of achieving a critical level of intelligence. The human (and, to a lesser extent, other species’) brain is self-aware. The progress of correlative ability has extended to something like ‘correlations of the correlations’. We now recognize that thinking in primitive ways can involve such errancies as ‘post hoc ergo propter hoc‘ – we are aware of our own fallacies.

Rationalism’s biggest success has been science – modern science, that is. The Scientific Method is to reasoning what the U.S. Constitution is to organization and governance. The Constitution is designed to work with our inherent nature, minimizing its worst propensities and maximizing its usefulness. It has checks and balances. Science is a method for limiting the brain’s tendency to form correlations willy-nilly. It also has checks and balances for the same sort of issues that the Constitution controls. It is a meta-intelligence that makes our inherent capability vastly more useful than it has previously been in human history.

Rationalism, by confining our biological intelligence, expands its social and cultural value. This is why science, medicine, and technology seem to have accelerated geometrically – it is not our intelligence which has increased dramatically, but our command of intelligence which is improved. There is a stark difference between the science of 1880 and the science of 1920 – a difference more in how intelligence was utilized than in the mere progress of results.

There is a stark similarity in the non-scientific thought of 2011 and that of 1911, or of 1011! Non-scientists can learn to do more than to merely respect the Scientific Method. Rationalism, and its companion Skepticism are vital elements of critical thinking which everyone can learn.

25
Sep
11

The Real Ten Commandments

{Updated with an additional link.}

The Ten Commandments of GodStone‘ just didn’t appeal to most folks. Ohh, maybe that’s putting it a bit too diplomatically. Even my friends (yes, there are some) wouldn’t read it. That is, they wouldn’t admit to reading it. I gave my Pastor a copy, and he never had time to read it. For a year. So, I get it – folks don’t like the concept of re-writing The Big Ten. Or maybe they detected a degree of hubris in the title. Gee, it is my version – why not an eponymous title?

Some people simply could have been satisfied with the Bible’s original re-write: it’s either Exodus 20:2-17 or Deuteronomy 5:6-21. Don’t ask me which was first, much less which is closer to being ‘original’. And do not ask me to stick with exactly ten (10, diez, dix) items for my next version. If the Bible can have sundry versions, with miscellaneous numbers of specific shalts and shalt nots, then I can also.

A n d  h e r e  i t  i s .

We usually discuss religious doctrine (I am herein concentrating on my heritage of Christianity) in terms of its official scriptures and their formal interpretations. It’s time to look at the practical reality of Christianity. The following is The Real Ten Commandments – the rules that certain Christians (Lord bless the many for whom this does not apply) actually hold sacred. Well, sacred for application to others, if not for themselves. I also retained some of The Original’s sticky bits. You might want to follow along with one of the Original versions (some folks might be sufficiently lax to think that I am fabricating things), but a more general knowledge of the Bible and Christian behavior is most pertinent.

  1. God is a jealous, spiteful, vengeful god. Thou shalt have no other gods before me.
  2. Thou shalt not make idols. Building oversized mansions and driving overpowered cars doesn’t count.
  3. Thou shalt not worship the idols that you make. If you do, you’ll probably get away with it, but your kids will get screwed.
  4. If you love Me, a thousand generations will have it easy. If any of them crosses me, the deal’s off.
  5. Thou shalt not use the name of God in vain. If you can get some profit or manipulate someone by doing so, you’re golden.
  6. Observe the Sabbath Day, or whatever day that you feel like substituting, and keep it holy so the football game or round of golf will be guilt-free fun.
  7. For six days thou shalt labor, since you’re gonna count Saturday fishing as work. You, your family, visitors, livestock, and male and female slaves shall take it easy. You can decide whether the hermaphrodite slaves can participate.
  8. It was work for the Lord to create everthin’ in six days, so He rested on the seventh day and his slaves had better rest, too. They should consider it practice for Jubilee. They’ll get to return to the foreign country from which I permitted you to kidnap them. The wives which you took in conquest just get the Sabbath, not the Jubilee.
  9. Honor thy Father and thy Mother so that your brother or sister won’t take the inheritance that you so richly deserve.
  10. Thou shalt not kill unless the person deserves it or a Christian Governor or President says ‘it’s ok’. You shall satisfy your blood thirst with executions and unprovoked wars.
  11. Thou shalt not commit adultery, for serial monogamy is sufficient and wholly acceptable to thy brethren. Thou shalt also not divorce, unless a TV preacher says that it’s ok because your wife has Alzheimer’s.
  12. Thou shalt not steal, for connivance and manipulation will serve as well without the appearance of criminality.
  13. Thou shalt not lie about your neighbor, for gossip is equally effective.
  14. Thou shalt not desire thy neighbor’s goodies, or thy neighbor’s wife, or livestock, or male or female slave. As before, you can figure out what to do with hermaphrodite slaves. Your neighbor’s husband, and anyone else not proscribed, is fair game.
  15. Thou shalt not permit a woman, or anyone acting in a woman’s behalf, to decide her own sexual or reproductive behavior. Women shall know their place.
  16. Thou shalt not suffer the uninsured to live, or at least to live without suffering, for the uninsured and those not self-sufficient have not My favor.
  17. A man shalt not lie down with another man. Thou shalt interpret and extend this injunction in any way that suits your thoughts and fears. But lesbians are pleasing in My sight, and probably in yours, too.
  18. These Commandments shalt be sacred and inviolable until the Lord establishes a New Covenant. Thereafter, thou shalt enforce these Commandments selectively, as it pleases you. Definitely ignore all that Levitical stuff, like avoiding mixing nylon and cotton, unless it suits your purpose. Just don’t get carried away, like Thomas Jefferson did.

All in all, I do prefer Jesus’ answer regarding the two greatest Commandments. May it be so with you.

11
Jun
11

Values Are For Hard Times

The motivation for a blog is often obvious to my readers. This time, I offer to you the impetus behind this edition. A Joplin Globe guest columnist, whom I will not name to preserve his shame for other forums, offered some pretty words about ‘values’. He then reverted to the frequently-used technique of parroting a politician’s pandering. He restated Rep. Eric Cantor‘s demand: “I, for one, call for no federal deficit spending to rebuild Joplin.” His fellow Joplinites, many of whom suffered damage which he avoided, are left to wonder whose side Joplin’s ‘Tin Man‘ is on.

My Mother and Dad were Great Depression fiscal conservatives, who practiced that fundamental tenant of not buying luxuries with borrowed money. A few of you may even remember Del & Ben Stone – they gave me my introduction to Joplin when Dad was Postmaster from 1968-1970. They also understood the wisdom of paying for necessities, with some financial hardship, rather than to fail to support important priorities. They supported committments to projects which required investment before receiving a cost-effective return. These were some of their values – values which they applied to neighbors as well as to themselves.

My parents’ values are values that many Joplinites are exercising as they recover from the tornado disaster. Many people who have lost much are giving generously to their neighbors. Churches, synagogues, and mosques have been providing impressive amounts of aid. Groups and individuals across America have sent help to us. My daughter, Mariam, gathered donations and brought a truck and trailer from Indianapolis! As tremendous as these friends have been, the task of recovery is vast and difficult to overcome.

That task is important far beyond Joplin. Our citizens who were not directly affected have been disadvantaged by the general and widespread destruction. Neighboring communities have lost valuable resources that Joplin provided. Corporations in Joplin have customers across America and internationally who need their important products and services. These people understand that they incurred a deficit on May 22nd. That is the deficit which must be remedied.

Our nation has a substantial habit of accepting deficits to pay for important assets. Since the fall of the Soviet Empire, and the decay of its formerly-formidable military, we have maintained a large and vigorous U.S. military. We currently maintain a fleet of 18 Ohio-class fleet ballistic missile submarines. We have deemed it suitable to spend about $50 million each year to maintain each of these vessels – $900 million each year, for many years. This cost, alone, is more than half of the current annual federal deficit. We also deploy nuclear fast-attack submarines, additional Navy surface vessels and aircraft, ground forces, and an incomparable Air Force. Some folks have debated the suitable proportions of such expenditures.

That is the only suitable debate about rebuilding Joplin: what is the appropriate magnitude of public resources to invest? It is probably less than $900 million – total. That such investment must be made is beyond reasonable debate. We value both what we have lost and what will replace that which is replaceable.

We will rebuild Joplin based on values. Let us assure our neighbors that those values recognize the value of lives, jobs, businesses, and property as worthy of the temporary sacrifices which will lead us to a better future.

When President Barack Obama assured us, “Your country will be with you every single step of the way”, he may have been thinking of Matthew 25:40“Whatever you did for the least of these, you also did for Me.” May it be that, in the President’s words, “It’s what Joplin has taught the world”.

12
Dec
10

The Biggest Threat On the Planet

The 24-hour news cycle has elapsed for this topic,
but it is a topic which Americans will revisit too frequently.

I have been asked to respond to the notion that the United States is facing a ‘Christian Dilemma‘. It has been suggested to me that the cold truth is that in the world today militant Christianity, aided and abetted by Christian nations, is the biggest threat on the planet.

I concur with this proposition.

I mean, look, folks, I’m not a bigot. You know the kind of blogs and editorials I’ve written about civil rights in this country. But when I get on the plane, I got to tell you, if I see people who have Christian garb such as crucifixes and I think, you know, they are identifying themselves first and foremost as Christians, I get worried. I get nervous.

Remember those people who put up really big crosses and burn them? Any number of them have been convicted of the most vile, terroristic crimes. The Christian Identity movement regards violence as a means to their ends. Many Christians regard blasphemy, homosexuality, and abortion as crimes punishable by death. I don’t think there’s any way to get away from these facts. Radicalism continues to pose a threat to the United States and much of the world.

You didn’t see the Muslim terrorists on 9-11 dressed in sterotypical Muslim garb. They didn’t wear kufis or robes or Mohammedan Crescents. But Christian terrorists want everyone to know that they are serving their God.

I must warn everyone against blaming all Christians for extremists. Muslims shouldn’t be blamed for 9-11 ringleader Mohamed Atta.

F O O T N O T E

To provide unwary readers every opportunity to avoid confirming Poe’s Law:

Juan Williams, Fox News and former NPR commentator speaking on ‘The O’Reilly Factor’, 18Oct2010. Transcript courtesy of ‘Big Journalism‘:

The move came after Mr. Williams, who is also a Fox News political analyst, appeared on the “The O’Reilly Factor” on Monday. On the show, the host, Bill O’Reilly, asked him to respond to the notion that the United States was facing a “Muslim dilemma.” Mr. O’Reilly said, “The cold truth is that in the world today jihad, aided and abetted by some Muslim nations, is the biggest threat on the planet.”

Mr. Williams said he concurred with Mr. O’Reilly.

He continued: “I mean, look, Bill, I’m not a bigot. You know the kind of books I’ve written about the civil rights movement in this country. But when I get on the plane, I got to tell you, if I see people who are in Muslim garb and I think, you know, they are identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous.”

Mr. Williams also made reference to the Pakistani immigrant who pleaded guilty this month to trying to plant a car bomb in Times Square. “He said the war with Muslims, America’s war is just beginning, first drop of blood. I don’t think there’s any way to get away from these facts,” Mr. Williams said.

Williams also warned O’Reilly against blaming all Muslims for “extremists,” saying Christians shouldn’t be blamed for Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh.

03
Dec
10

Science Gave Us Josef Mengele

And science also gave us Josef Mengele‘s experiments and vivisections on pregnant women during WWII. Science cannot even tell us what energy is. They don’t know what it is.
God created the universe.

This was the last comment that I responded to in a discussion which was supposed to be about an interesting and important bit of scientific research. Some folks cannot bear to see science discussed openly and critically. My response is that certain polemic tactics are unsuitable for discussion. I will not participate in a discussion with this pathetic person again. This person is not a singular blemish on rationality and decency: there is filth such as “Cuomo’s Anti-Christian Worship Of Science Once Led To Medical Atrocities Committed By The Nazis“.

I offer, here, in contrast to the blatantly false assertion above, some of the things that Religion – Christianity in particular – and Science have actually given us. These things are not a comprehensive, or even a balanced, list. This is a blog serving only to rid the world of at least a fragment of the vicious lie quoted above.

Christianity has given us justifications & rationalizations for many cultural and social errancies. This list begins with slavery and the suppression & subjugation of women. Those alone are almost enough.

Old and New Testament scriptures have been misinterpreted by Christians, causing the Christian religion to become an imperialistic war-mongering religion, whose adherents have believed that they were instructed by God to invade the homelands of non-Christian peoples, take possession of their lands and resources, annihilate many of the indigenous inhabitants as well as subjugate and exploit the remaining innocent indigenous peoples. – Thomas Ivan Dahlheimer

As for atrocities comparable to Mengele’s, Christianity has given us a portion of those: assaults upon peoples with other religions ; assaults upon other Christians, such as The Troubles in Northern Ireland ; associations of Televangelists such as Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson with thugs Charles Taylor and Efraín Ríos Montt ; and a substantial list, “What About Atrocities That Have Been Done in the Name of Religion?“. The “What About …” list is a Christian source which classifies religions such as Islam as “Atheist”.

Yes, Nazis have contributed. We know of The Holocaust which killed millions:

German Christian Movement Badge

By defending myself against the Jew, I am fighting for the work of the Lord- Adolf Hitler, ‘ Mein Kampf ‘

Many historical figures, who are familiar to my readers, have offered their candid observations about Christianity:

I want you to let a wave of hatred wash over you. Yes, hate is good… Our goal is a Christian Nation. We have a Biblical duty; we are called by God, to conquer this country. We don’t want equal time. We don’t want pluralism. – Randall Terry, founder of Operation Rescue

‘O Lord our God, help us to tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the shrieks of their wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire; . . . help us to turn them out roofless with their little children to wander unfriended the wastes of their desolated land. . . . We ask it, in the spirit of love, of Him Who is the Source of Love.’ – Mark Twain, published posthumously in 1923

During almost fifteen centuries has the legal establishment of Christianity been on trial. What have been its fruits? More or less in all places, pride and indolence in the Clergy, ignorance and servility in the laity, in both, superstition, bigotry and persecution.” James Madison, April 1, 1774

Religious controversies are always productive of more acrimony and irreconcilable hatreds than those which spring from any other cause. – George Washington, letter to Sir Edward Newenham, June 22, 1792

Hitler Youth Day Badge 1933

Mengele’s semi-divine Fuhrer’s contributions may be perused at “Hitler’s Christianity“.

What of Science? There isn’t a single religion that can offer reliable predictions about anything in Nature. Even if “Science cannot even tell us what energy is”, it does a great job of faking it. Science has created mankind’s supreme mastery of energy. In forms from the dense to the diffuse, common folks use energy in ways for which no religion has offered the slightest whiff of a contribution.

Science has created cures for an immense array of diseases and maladies. Science (and, interestingly, Big Government and World Government) has succeeded in a historic public-health project – the eradication of smallpox, which was a major source of misery and death.

Do not be mislead. I continue my Christian life for its substantial value. The example of Christ is essential to my life. Science is also a central element of my life. May we all appreciate our religions, or lack of religion, and our understanding of the natural world objectively and without propagandistic accusations.

27
Nov
10

Founded Upon Christian Principles

Some folks assert that the United States of America was founded upon Christian Principles, and that the Founding Fathers relied upon Christian Principles {or here or here} in formulating the guiding documents of our nation.

I have no argument today against that assertion. I do believe it to be irrelevant. When the Founding Fathers provided the means to amend our Federal Constitution, and almost immediately exercised that means via the Bill of Rights, it guaranteed that the Constitution would remain a living document, subject ultimately to what the citizens of America wished it to be. No ‘Strict Constructionist‘ can offer an authoritative exegesis of ‘Original Intent‘ regarding a Constitutional Amendment which was enacted after every Constitutional author was deceased.

The relevant discussion is what an America, guided by Christian principles, would be. It would have been impossible, either shortly after the death of Jesus of Nazareth or just after Christian scriptures had been largely fixated by Emperor Constantine in 325 CE, to predict what Christianity, guided by Christian principles, would be. That does not deter me from attempting to offer some possibilities for America.

Consider first the several ways in which Christian principles have already been used to guide governmental policy.

The Founding Fathers, who are assumed for the purposes of this commentary to have been guided by Christian principles, wrote in Article I, Section 2 of the Constitution, that apportionment shall include “… three fifths of all other Persons.” That is, slaves were counted as a fraction of a person. Slavery was allowed, de facto, constitutionally. The best exemplar for this, the Christian principle guiding this result, is 1st Corinthians 7:21:

Were you a slave when God called you? Let not that weigh on your mind.

America had a prolonged disagreement with Native American peoples about land rights, etc. Take the Indian Removal Act as an example. The Christian missionaries who opposed this genocidal Act were apparently misguided, since in 1830 there were still Founding Fathers available to correct deviance from Christian guidance. The resulting land cessions and forced migrations brought death and misery to thousands of Native Americans of all ages. I am not a good-enough Christian to provide the basis for this Act of Holy Governance. Most Teabaggers should be able to describe the savage, un-educated and un-Godly lifestyle that prevented Native Americans from being worthy to retain land and rights which only the White Man might use advantageously. Perhaps, as with the Curse of Ham (Genesis 9:20-27) being applied to black-skinned peoples, the often-dark-skinned Native Americans would have been deemed to only exist as ‘servants of servants’.

Such humanitarian scourges have not been confined to racial matters. All Christian religions (it is not just one, don’tcha know?) and denominations (for which there is insufficient space to list here) have disagreed and fought with each other in explicit ways. I was reared as a Southern Baptist. My church would not accept a baptized Christian for membership unless he or she were re-baptized as a Southern Baptist.

And what of a future America, fully guided by Christian principles, instead of being guided by the haphazard application of such principles? European governments of the past are a good model. It was common for non-Christians for have second-class legal status. The word for this in Islam (for non-Moslems) is ‘Dhimmi‘. We can expect, analogous with Saudi Arabia or Middle Ages Europe, to have Dhimmitude of non-Christians. Perhaps we would count Dhimmis as 3/5ths of a person.

I believe that one currently-prominent public discussion would be resolved by Christian principles. Tax policy would be greatly improved by tithing to the government as we all already do (we all do, right?) to our churches. No maximum tax rate of 33% – it would be 10%. No social manipulation by providing deductions for mortgages, medical expenses, or child care. No corporations like ExxonMobil, General Electric, or 2 of every 3 U.S. corporations which paid zero Federal taxes from 1998 through 2005.

We could easily solve a multitude of social problems as a genuinely Christian nation. Poverty would disappear as we followed the teaching of Jesus of Nazareth – Matthew 19:21:

If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me.

My Grandparents took in a ’5th son’ during the Great Depression to help families who were even poorer than my Grandparents. We could eliminate government departments of social services in this way.

The earliest church, which most intimately knew and understood the teachings of Jesus, did choose such a form of governance – Acts 2:44-45:

And all that believed were together, and had all things common; And sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need.

John Bolton, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations under President Bush (and an eminent Conservative), described the dominant non-republican aspect of the Islamic Republic of Iran. He said, “in Iran, you have a theocracy … Iran is governed by jurisprudence that comes directly from Allah. … If the law comes from God, and the only people who can really understand it are the Mullahs, are you really gonna have a vote on whether you agree or disagree with God?” America, which Bolton later described as “the most libertarian country in the world”, would not accept such a system.

Teabaggers, simultaneously seeking minimal and Christian governance, are, in fact, already at war with themselves.




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Basic Understanding

A nation of sheep will beget a government of wolves.
- Edward R. Murrow

Intellectual Property Notice

All original material Copyright James R. Stone 2010, except where specifically noted. Some images licensed under Creative Commons, or GNU Free Documentation License, or unlicensed and public domain.

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