Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Unaccustomed emotions

On a day like today I would ordinarily be pontificating on a variety of subjects... the passing of Coretta Scott King, who in a lower-key way may have been as important as her husband... the swearing in of Justice Alito... official records and emails newly released that reveal that Louisiana refused help from the Feds in evacuating hospitals during Hurricane Katrina... news out of Russia, Putin announcing that they’ve developed a new hypersonic uninterceptable nuclear capable missile system... and, of course, the State of the Union speech tonight. But what I’m really thinking of is the first meeting of the new church small group I’m attending tomorrow. Our church is trying the “small groups” program. People have been spending weeks taking facilitator lessons, reminders have been read from the pulpit to sign up early as groups are filling fast, people have dropped by from other congregations already doing it to tell us how neat it is- including my Mother-in-law.(who I dearly love) And now the time is at hand- tomorrow after work my group will meet for the first time- and I find myself feeling a mix of anticipation and trepidation I had not expected.

The first bit of excitement was a bit of “small world”; one of the names in the list in the email announcing the meeting time was a customer and friend whom I’ve never met in the flesh (business being conducted via fax and email)- I had no idea she was a Unitarian, much less a member of my own church. Now we get to meet at last! Of course, I already knew most of the ten members... which is where the trepidation enters the picture. These groups often become second families, we were told, major sources of support over the years. One had pointed to the Covenant on the wall of our sanctuary “Love is the spirit of this church and service is its law - to dwell together in peace, to seek the truth in love, and to help one another; this is our covenant” and said that small groups really bring that to life. And I begin to wonder if I’m tolerant enough to fit in a group that intimate and interdependent.

Those of you who know me, at least from years of posting at Beliefnet, or CFUU.org, or American Unitarian, may understand my fear. My congregation includes one who posted on the Sunday after 9/11 an essay about how we had brought this upon ourselves by making America an international outcast, from Kyoto to endorsing Israeli terrorism. Another always finds a way to drag politics into anything at all, completely out of the blue- like when a group of us had agreed on a date for a party, she said, “Unless Bush has us all in a concentration camp by then.” A couple use phrases like “Christian Taliban”- which is hate speech, in my view. How do I react? Any group I would join- including the one I’m meeting with tomorrow- will have a few like this in it. Do I ignore the digs, or be honest and object? Does honesty matter, since we’re not supposed to be a political discussion group? But how can I discuss spirituality with people I believe to be hate-filled, self blinded? I know some have past pains that cause them to talk that way- but am I required to suffer in silence because they can’t let go of the past? Or should I speak up and let them deal with it?

It’s a measure of how much I love All Souls that I dither so... generally speaking, I’m not the sort of man who spends his time in introspection; worrying what others think. I will even admit to bordering on the arrogant in my usual unconcern. Perhaps that fault is my problem now, in that I’m not practiced in finding the balance between tolerating others and permitting myself to be abused. I guess all I can do is go and be myself... and see if the others have been having this internal conversation as well.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

It’s not always about religion

Here in Indiana a new bill relating to abortion has been introduced into the House. Under this proposed law, a doctor would have to inform the patient that 1. Life begins at conception, 2. there are physical risks involved both during and after the abortion, and 3. he would have to offer anesthetic for the fetus in late term abortions. The opposition has three arguments, two of which are subsidiary to their primary case: “The fundamental legal issue is whether or not the state can compel a physician or anybody to be its mouthpiece for delivering a message that is fraught with religious and moral value judgments that are not objective, truthful, nonmisleading facts,” said Roger Evans, a New York based lawyer for Planned Parenthood.

I believe that Planned Parenthood had better come up with a better argument than trying to play the church and state separation card in this case, because it’s a weak argument- I myself shot it down in a formal debate. When my opponent said that I couldn’t enshrine my religious beliefs into law, I had replied that I was an atheist, (this was many years ago) and was not trying to deprive her of the right to believe what she wished. My argument was based on Socratic Inquiry: What is the object being discussed? Obviously biological tissue of some nature; people do not conceive ceramic teapots. What type of tissue? DNA evidence says human tissue- and remember that DNA evidence is accepted in law. Is it part of the mother? No, DNA evidence says that it is a unique being, more closely related genetically to a sibling than to the mother carrying it. If it’s human tissue, is it a human being? Court precedent in cases involving the endangered species act held that an eagle’s egg is an eagle for purposes of the law; destroying an eagle egg is killing an eagle- surely it’s not a stretch to extend this ruling to other species. How long has it been genetically human and unique? Since conception. Quad erat demonstrandom.

I’m not saying that argument is the last word on the subject; I am saying that the arguments can be made absent any religious component. And, of course, I had also prepared the answer to that line of reasoning, as in these debates one didn’t know which side one would be arguing until one drew for it- that under many circumstances it is perfectly legal to take a human life; defense of self or others, etc. But this proposed law has no effect on the legality of abortion- it is only requiring the doctor to define exactly what is being aborted, and as I have shown, that is not necessarily a religious argument. The other three arguments their lawyer has are weaker still. First, that the freedom of speech includes the freedom to not speak. Actually, this is not true for a doctor; he is required to give the information necessary for the patient to make an informed decision- that most definitely includes the statement of risk at the very least. He also argues that the offering of anesthesia is an unwarranted intrusion into the practice of medicine because nobody can prove a fetus feels pain. While this may be true in the first few weeks, it’s an irrational thing to say about a fetus near or past the age of viability. Lastly, he argues that knowing these things would place an undue burden upon the mother. I know that the decision is a tremendous burden; I cannot follow the logic that heavy decisions are best dealt with in ignorance.

Can it be that it’s been so long since a NARAL or Planned Parenthood lawyer lost a case they’ve forgotten how to argue? If they don’t come up with something better than what’s been said so far, this bill will not only become Indiana law, it will also be upheld. In fact, I wonder if it will become required practice even absent passage into law- required by the doctor’s insurance company. Now that it’s being publicly discussed, a doctor had better say these things- to prevent a remorseful patient afterwards saying in a malpractice suit, “He never told me it was human or feels pain; now I’m suffering mental anguish.”

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Roe Vs Wade was bad law- not because of where they wound up, but because of how they got there. They didn’t have the moral courage to answer the tough questions they were put there to answer; what is human life, when does it begin, when does it end, how much does the caregiver owe to person they’re caring for, etc.- answers that would also have saved us from the Terri Schaivo mess and many others. They couldn’t stand on their hind legs and make a decision, so they invented “emanations of the penumbra” to get where they wanted to be while escaping any responsibility for making a decision... and thereby dooming us to keep struggling with it for who knows many more years.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

lost members?

In the Chaliceblog’s excellent series “Fixing UUism”, Indrax recommends emulating the Wiccans because of the fast growth of that faith- and fast it has been: in the 50 years since Wicca was founded, and the 30 years since most other Pagan groups made themselves known, the Pagan community (of which classical Wicca is now merely the largest minority) now outnumbers the UUA. It has greater influence than we do as well; Wiccan and Pagan rites are now taught to Army Chaplains and Bush has mentioned them in speeches. I don’t believe that even Indrax grasps just how fully UU missed the boat on this; most of those members should have been- should be- ours.

I am a member of that community, being by the most common dictionary definition a Pagan: one who believes in a God other than the God of Abraham, i.e. not a Jew, Christian, or Muslim. If you check out the larger online Pagan communities, say Witchvox or WiccaForums, you’ll find something interesting... yes, there are teens who joined because of the TV show “Charmed”, but the majority of older members are- by actual poll- either generic Pagan or something called “Solitary Eclectic Wiccan’. The “Solitary” means exactly what it sounds like- they do not belong to a coven- and the “Eclectic” means that they do not follow Gardner or any other leader; they read everything published by the founders, and take what resonates with them. These are people who did not join to dance naked in the moonlight or cast spells on their neighbors- most of them had been unchurched, agnostic or atheistic, until the spiritual vacuum finally got to them. They felt a deep spiritual need, but they could not return to the faith of their childhood.

So why did they turn to Wicca? They needed a faith that was not patriarchal, that had room for the celebration of the feminine. They needed a faith more concerned with responsibility and consequences than beliefs and intents. They needed a faith that embraced homosexuals so completely that there isn’t even a need for any kind of a gay/lesbian alliance action committee. They needed a faith more tied to the Earth- even those who are not environmental activist feel a special affinity for the interconnected web. They needed these things so badly they were willing to spend money on books, and study, sometimes for years with little help, to put together their own coherent theology. Those are supposed to be our strengths- how did we loose these people?

Notice how most of the sentences in that paragraph began: they needed a faith... they were feeling “The God shaped hole”. Even if they had ever heard of UU, what would they have heard? Would they have heard of a denomination that helps you explore your spirituality, develop your beliefs? If by chance or a friend’s invitation they attended a service would they have heard a sermon on the nature of God and man- or a lecture about a Supreme Court nominee? Would they have heard people denouncing Rev Sinkford’s call for the language of reverence? Would they have heard anything to even incite their curiosity, let alone fill that God shaped hole? Since a couple million people whose values are 99% congruent with our own went elsewhere, the objective evidence says no.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Are our voices being heard?

Or is it just a coincidence? The latest missive from the Washington Advocacy Office, a diatribe and call to arms against Judge Alito, includes this boilerplate at the bottom:

Please note that the UUA does not represent or claim to represent the views of individual Unitarian Universalists or individual congregations, but the Association as a whole, as defined by statements approved by the General Assembly. Also, lobbying related to a nomination is an IRS-sanctioned activity for non-profits.

Of course, now I'm left wondering how one can represent the Association as a whole if one doesn't even claim to represent the congregations or the individuals in those congregations... perhaps the staff themselves represent a quorum? I'm also gratified to note that the activity is government sanctioned, but for me it begs the question: just because it's legal to do a thing, does that make it worth doing?

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Lay off of Hammurabi already!

In today’s sermon- the religion of Kahlil Ghibran- one of the many quotes mentioned was “If you ask an eye for an eye, the whole world will be blind”, which of course elicited “So true” and “Amen” from all over the sanctuary. Denouncing this harsh and violent code has been a cottage industry for preachers of all faiths since the day the obelisk recording it was dug up; Ann Landers virtually based her career on it.

The problem is that it’s not true. Hammuarabi’s code was enlightened and humane for the day. Hammurabi’s dream was that by publishing a uniform code- quite literally set in stone- capriciousness would be eliminated from the law. Sentences would be uniform and proportional- you would not be put to death for putting out an eye; your sentence would be appropriate to your crime. There were even provisions for punishing incompetent judges.

Perhaps most importantly, by being set in stone, and that stone set in the public square, everyone from the highest judge to the lowest peasant knew exactly what the law actually was, what was demanded, and what would happen in what circumstances. Nobody in Hammurabi’s Babylon called the law a “living document”. How unlike the America of today, where no one knows what the state of the law is until the final appeal. The 9th circus - excuse me, circuit- court, which holds the current record of being overturned five times in a single Supreme Court season, would have been fired and imprisoned or beheaded by Hammurabi... and maybe, just maybe, justice would have been better served thereby.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

I’m going to answer Jamie Goodwin’s comment as a new post, because I have an important point to make. Yes, it’s true that there’s way too much toeing of the party line, and both sides think little of the logical abilities of the other- I, for example, am fond of the Churchill quote “If you’re not a liberal at twenty you have no heart; if you’re not a conservative at forty you have no brain”. But the left has taken this to a new level that the right is ideologically incapable of following- a dangerous and undemocratic level.

Their argument is that since there is no rational opposition to their views, then any opposition must be based on something else- hatred. This goes way beyond the “Hatred is not a family value” bumper sticker that serves as the access pass to UU parking lots. Colleges all over the country are defining conservative opinions as “hate speech”- which allows them to suppress those views without shame and with impunity; the first amendment does not apply to hate speech. If, for example, you publicly espouse anti-affirmative action views, you have committed a racist act- since there is no rational argument against a liberal position. There may be hearings to decide whether you can stay, and you will undoubtedly have to take sensitivity classes.

So there will be some fodder for the AM radio, and some lawsuits by some conservative kids- so what? Let’s suppose you were one of those kids- flash forward a few years. Say you get involved in a bar fight, or perhaps an apres traffic accident dust-up. You’re in front of the judge when the DA suddenly says “Your honor, the other man is gay- and this man has a history of hate speech. This isn’t misdemeanor public nuisance; this is a felony hate crime!” It can’t happen here? The President can’t throw citizens into concentration camps because of the color of their skin, either- and yet that happened in 1942. It would take only a little change in the law- perhaps just a court decision- to make “hate speech” itself a hate crime. The more I hear Democratic politicians take up the view that there is no rational opposition to certain positions, and that such opposition is “out of the mainstream”, the less sure I am that free speech will be protected in the future.

Nor can we certain the Supreme court will defend it. The McCain-Feingold campaign finance law is a clear violation of “Congress shall make no law”, and the Court upheld that. The (to me) inexplicable eminent domain decision showed that the Supreme Court is no longer the champion of the individual citizen. And there’s always the capricious nature of courts in general- my father used to say that not even God himself knew what would happen once court was in session.

Perhaps I am being chicken little- but I get a little chill whenever I hear someone deny another’s inherent dignity and worth because of a differing political view.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Leave it to me to start a new blog just as a lot of family issues command my attention, preventing me from updating for a week. Oh, well, timing was never my long suite. On the other hand, the long chats with family and church members (who run the entire political spectrum from Marx all the way to Engels) have provided plenty of food for thought. The first course was led by noticing a new bumper sticker in the church parking lot “Think, it irritates conservatives”, and hearing someone say a near exact repeat of a comment posted a couple weeks back on Chaliceblog- that conservatives may be capable of memorizing facts, but were incapable of rational thought. Now, this cannot be argued, because those who say it will not listen- so I thought instead I would examine the rationality of some liberal thoughts.

I thought I’d start with the issue that occasioned the comment above, one that is near and dear to the liberal heart: that George Bush lied about the evidence and the reasons for going to war with Iraq. The accusation is not that he was wrong, or misguided, but that he knowingly and deliberately manufactured the evidence. The chairman of the Democratic party has said this as often as Rev Sinkford has said “On behalf of the more than 1,000 congregations...”. Senator Kennedy said that the president went to war for partisan political advantage; Vice President Gore agreed, saying in a speech “He betrayed this country! He played on our fears!” So let’s look into the rationality of this belief.

To begin with, any statement carries with it many underlying assumptions. If you say “I accept Jesus as my savior”, you have also said that there is a God, that Jesus is divine, that humans have souls, that those souls are in need of saving, etc. So what underlying assumptions come with the statement “Bush lied; people died”?

Taking the least of them first, one must assume that Mr. Bush has been living a lie most of his adult life, and that his evangelical faith is merely a pose to win votes- after all, his church does not condone treason and mass murder. Fair enough, we know all Republicans are evil, so that isn’t much of a stretch. Of course, we must also assume that Laura Bush is living a lie, too; were she really a fundamental Christian, she’d not have stayed with such a man. Again, fair enough; any good Democrat could look at the last two first ladies and see that if one of them would be willing to endure abuse and gross immorality to remain close to power, it would have to be Laura.

From there, it gets more problematical. We’d have to assume that Colin Powell was either complicit in the conspiracy, or so stupid he could easily be misled by President Bush. We’ll assume that he resigned because he found out, and didn’t have the moral courage to denounce Bush. Then there’s the CIA- they couldn’t be fooled by Bush because they were the ones with the information in the first place, so we’ll assume they were mesmerized by Bush’s intense personal charm, and so were willing to throw away their careers and sacred honor to assist in the fabrication. We’ll assume the same thing with Tony Blair, and that MI 5 was mesmerized in turn by Tony. The joint chiefs of staff must have been caught in the spell of Bush’s charms as well, to be willing to go to war without evidence. The days when the military would blindly obey a presidential order without checking it out themselves went out with Nuremberg and My Lai; the academies have required ethics courses and no longer accept “Ve vere chust followink orders”.

I guess the liberals were right. If “Bush lied; people died” is rational, I’m incapable of rational thought.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

I call myself conservative and UU, but I don’t like either term, and wouldn't use them if I had anything better- but I don’t.

The term “conservative” is the less accurate of the two, because the kind of society conservatives wish to conserve- modern, industrialized free market capitalism, with only enough government to keep the peace, provide a sound currency, and preserve the environment (yes, conservatives are environmentalists if you use the older term ’conservationist’- liberals seem to believe that conservatives do not breath air or drink water)- never truly existed. You can’t conserve what you never had in the first place- in the words of the Doobie Brothers, they’re “trying hard to recreate what had yet to be created”.

The term “UU” is better- the “PP”s, for example, sit well with me- but I tend to think of myself as a congregate of All Soul’s, Indianapolis, rather than as a UU. To say that most liberal schemes are poorly thought out is to praise them with faint damnation; but if you took the worst planks of the Wobblies and the Socialist Workers Party, the UUA could build a bridge to the 19th century with them. When they issue press releases saying that this is what UUs believe, I wince to realize that my friends know I’m UU.

But as I said, I haven’t any better terms to use, so use them I shall in this running commentary on life, the universe, and everything!