Wednesday, June 28, 2006

A demonstrative anecdote

I was challenged by a friend to show an example of theists actually suffering a hostile atmosphere in a UU setting, as opposed to just the odd comment from a rabid atheist speaking only for himself. An incident sprang immediately to mind, as it had shocked not only me, but the minister as well.

I don't remember the exact date, but it was perhaps five years ago. Rev. Clear ran a program on Wednesday nights called "something for everyone", which involved a pitch in dinner and philosophical discussion. One of those evenings we were split into two work groups with separate and secret instructions. The group I was put into was tasked with listing adjectives to describe the arts. The other group was tasked with listing adjectives to describe religion. The point of the exercise was to show that when we got together, there would be considerable if not total overlap of the lists, demonstrating how both speak to the human spirit.

Except it didn't work the way the way the little book of exercises Rev. Clear took this from had said it would go- there was no overlap whatsoever! There was not one single positive adjective from the group discussing religion; the list was full of things like "intolerant", "judgmental", hateful", "inquisition", "smug", "patriarchal", and on and on and on, for a full page.

I nearly quit that night. Here was a group, not just of Easter and Christmas I-feel-like-some-company churchgoers, but a group active enough to be there on a Wednesday night; well fed, given a half hour in which to work with soft music playing in the background... And they literally could not come up with a single positive word to say about people of faith. For me, the atmosphere felt very hostile indeed that night. For me, their acceptance of me personally felt worse than rejection would have- I understood emotionally how it must feel to hear "You're not like other Blacks."

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Peacebang nails it again

Twice, in fact: Overheard at GA and most especially: Including "God" . I once heard an expert defined as one who has mastered his subject from B to Z, and forgotten A... and those few of us who attend a UU church for religious reasons often feel like the forgotten A.

Why would one choose UU in the first place- what is it that one can get at a UU church that cannot be gotten elsewhere? The Washington Office of Advocacy? Puh-leeze... There’s not one issue they address that isn’t covered by another organization with far, far more influence. For all the discussion, debate, and effort put behind our Statements of Conscience, I fail to see any evidence our lobbying has ever changed the mind of a UU congregate, let alone a congressman. If one really cared about issues, a single dollar sent to GLAD or NARAL or NAACP or whatever would be more effective than all we do. Many of those organizations can even provide a rich social life as well.

The one thing the UUA does that no other mainstream organization in America does is welcome those who do not worship the God of Abraham. For many of us- yes, a minority, but a large minority- we joined a UU congregation to pursue spiritual growth. And I proudly proclaim my congregation has been invaluable in my own personal search for meaning- but that doesn’t mean my experiences have been totally positive. Being a believer in any sort of Divinity can be something of a trial for a UU- if you use the Riddle scale of tolerance , substituting “theist” for “gay”, where 8 is good and 1 is bad, I would rate the UUA as a whole between 3 (tolerance), and 4 (acceptance)- with a minority at the 1 (repulsion) or 2 (pity) level. At least I hope it’s a minority; there were plenty of truly hostile comments during the debate Rev Sinkford called for on the language of reverence- I noted four separate instances of being told that the proper term for “transcendental experience” was actually “psychotic break”. And you’d think any UU would understand that just because I’m Pagan does not mean I welcome anti-Catholic or anti-Baptist comments; an attack on anyone’s genuine beliefs is an attack on mine.

Ask yourselves this: if you applied the standards used to become a “welcoming congregation” to believers rather than gays, would your congregation be welcoming?

Thursday, June 22, 2006

UUA paints itself into a corner

One of the very first acts of the GA was to pass without debate the peacemaking resolution : Peacemaking study/action issue adopted If the supporters have their way- and there’s no reason to think the won’t- within two years there will be a Statement of Conscience making the UUA a pacifist church. BUT... the UUA has also called for us to go into Darfur. Which produces an interesting dilemma: if we don’t go in with overwhelming force, it will be just another Somalia, and the only ones to benefit will be the movie studio that films “Blackhawk Down II, the Sequel”. But if we do ask them to go in and actually stop the civil war in progress, that will violate the peacemaking Statement of Conscience. Clash of principals?

Wait! Maybe that’s what the two-year discussion period is for; perhaps they hope we can go into Darfur, rebuild the country, establish a new government, and get back out before the SoC becomes official- one last invasion under the deadline. *sigh* Oh, well... I guess if it made sense, it wouldn't require faith...

Monday, June 19, 2006

Dark laughter

This post was inspired by the comments to this blog entry of CC‘s: The ChaliceBlog: Another argument I had with theCSO yesterday

There are many kinds of laughter. There is the spontaneous laughter of joy, when you’re just so happy it bubbles naturally from within, no excuse needed. There is the easy laughter of people having fun, where the slightest lame joke or weak witticism has coffee shooting out of one’s nose. Laughter of this sort is the sound of souls bonding, of spirits lifting.

There is the laughter produced by jokes, a deliberate attempt to rally spirits when they have been deadened by the rat race, the kind of laughter you might hear at a comedy club. Closely related is stress humor, designed to deflect spirit killers... is the Mercury Capsule claustrophobically cramped? Mount a plaque inside that says “No Handball Allowed” This sort of laughter strengthens the spirit, clearing the mind and the heart at the same time.

Laughter is so important to the survival of the species that a sense of humor is seen by both sexes as one of the most attractive features a potential mate can have. The lack of a sense of humor is very nearly, in this modern world of situational ethics and moral relativism, the only thing of which a person is truly ashamed.

Some people learn at a early age that laughter can be more than a survival mechanism, or a bonding moment... it is the armor that deflects all criticism, that turns their nasty personality flaws into an asset. If a dull fellow always lets people pay for him, he’s a cheapskate; if he can make it a joke about how they got scored on, he’s a wit. Truly awful acts of cowardice, vanity, or betrayal- if they can be told with good timing and lots of mugging- make one more popular, not less. Those hearing the stories know they shouldn’t laugh, and indeed may not even want to at first- but they quickly realize that to fail to laugh marks them as “uncool”, “judgmental”, “puritanical”, or (heaven forefend) “intolerant”. It deadens the spirit; it’s operational conditioning against sensitivity.

But then there are those who realize that laughter can be wielded as a weapon. Just as cheapness or infidelity can be forgiven in the example above, they quickly learn that astonishingly vicious acts of hatred can be excused as “practical jokes”, or “parody”. It quickly becomes their favorite, as they learn that it is the easiest sort of thing to do of all. One must actually be clever to make a joke; but anyone can talk as if virtue, or decency, or a particular class of people were funny. If their feelings get hurt, you just say “F&*K em if they can’t take a joke” and suddenly the aggressor becomes the victim, and the victim “intolerant”. This kind of laughter deadens the intellect, blinds the eyes to the pain of their fellow man. Even when it results in the shootings at Columbine, the mocker never gets it- it wasn’t his daily assaults on the inherent worth and dignity of his fellow man that caused the tragedy; it was his victim’s lack of a sense of humor.

How much has the hate filled, empty headed belittler cost mankind over the years? How many tears, how much violence? How many decent people have failed to speak up over social injustice not for fear of the guns of government, but for fear of public ridicule? I don’t know... but personally, I rank the mean-spirited mocker with the mosquito; irritating vermin who may not “intend” harm, but cause thousands of deaths just by existing.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

An interesting theory on illegal immigration

I heard an interesting theory yesterday as to why neither political party shows any real interest in doing anything about stopping illegal immigration, or legalizing those already here. Yes, there's lots of talk- when public events force them to talk- but no viable plans from either leadership. This theory says the heart of the matter is Social Security.

SSI was and is a Ponzi scheme; a simple pyramid... Any private citizen trying to implement SSI as written would be serving time in a federal penitentiary. Like all pyramid schemes, it requires an ever-increasing pool of fresh victims to stay afloat- the WW II generation took care of that at first by breeding like rabbits after the war; the Baby-Boomers pumped trillions of dollars of cash into the pyramid.

But the WW II generation then sabotaged the system by living ten, even twenty years longer than the authors of SSI had counted on. Nor did Baby-Boomers keep up their end of the peonage they were born into; they reproduced at barely replacement rate. By the 80s it was obvious the system was headed for collapse. But something else started in the 80s also- illegal immigration surged far in advance of the historical numbers, driven by the failures of a corrupt Mexican government, and even more corrupt governments farther south. Public sentiment forced the first crack-downs, and Reagan's amnesty act, which introduced sanctions for the employers.

But look at what was required of the employers, I was told- they had to get SSI numbers from all employees. The easiest of all ID's to fake, and the one with the least consequences- the government accepts all money sent in, even for fake accounts, and never, ever calls INS to stop that flow of illegal money coming in. Today, some ten percent of all the money SSI collects is from illegal workers... and it's pure profit for the government, as this money carries no future obligations with it- you can't collect from an account that didn't exist! If the flood of illegals is large enough, it will even pay for the new drug benefit.

It becomes a huge boon to both domestic and diplomatic politics- Mexico needn't reform, nor do anything about its poor and oppressed; just give them maps and instruction books on how to get to, live in, and prosper in the USA. (the Mexican government is in fact doing this). Our politicians can put off dealing with SSI for at least a generation; those currently in power will be long dead before 100 million immigrants start suing for the SSI they've been paying into illegally for all those years.
We don't have to pressure Mexico about human rights- they are doing something about the poor, shipping them here, and the money sent back home will help the rest of the poor. And since we never pressure Mexico about corruption, we get a staunch ally who happens to be an OPEC member.

Do I believe this theory? I don't know- but I do predict that absent some cataclysmic event, the borders will not be closed in our lifetimes, nor will any guest worker plan that involves paying them their share of SSI be passed.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

My musings on Moral Authority

Peacebang has had a number of magnificent posts recently, most noticeably Clarification and Musings on Moral Authority
. This is a subject I’ve given a lot of thought to- decades of thought, ever since I left the church of my childhood. I have kept journals of my religious journey since those days in the early 70’s, and a few paragraphs from that journal may serve as introduction to my conclusions on Moral Authority. Note: I use the feminine pronouns and the title “the Divine” for God- not because I believe the Divine has a gender, but to avoid the emotional baggage of “God the Father”, and because I cannot bring myself to call the Divine “it”.

My Creed:

I believe in a living Divinity, indescribable, knowable only through personal experience.

I believe that human beings have a soul that is our true self; our conscious personality and rational mind are only tools our true self employs to manipulate its environment. The soul lives in a world of magic; it is to this true self that the Divine speaks.

I believe that the Divine works only through living agencies, by influencing souls. She does not punish by causing natural disasters, nor does she reward by salvation from natural disaster.

I believe that the Divine only persuades, she does not compel. We have the right and the freedom to act against her wishes and our best interests.

I believe that responsibility, for good or ill, is my one irrevocable possession. No one else may pay for my sins, nor I theirs; it is non-transferable. Nor can anyone else claim my triumphs, nor I theirs. I owe my teachers gratitude, but they did not perform my feats any more than I have performed those of my students.

My Covenant:

The Divine does not command. She does not make her love conditional on what you believe or do; her joys are poured forth unconditionally. Although she demands nothing from me, I choose to offer something to her, just as unconditionally, a gift born of my gratitude. I offer her my covenant, my promise of things I will do in her honor.

I will walk the path of least harm; none whenever possible. Nor will I permit by my inaction harm to come to others when it is within my power to prevent it, for it has been said that we will only have justice when those who were not injured are as outraged as those who were. How is it that people can see the defiling of the cross or the Koran- graven images of the Divine- as blasphemy, and yet not understand that defiling their fellow man- the living image of the Divine- is equally blasphemy?

I will return measure for measure; an honest day's work for an honest day's pay, dealing honestly and ethically even if I am the only one who knows it was done.

I will be charitable to the poor and gentle with the weak. I will seek to understand the hopes, fears, and aspirations of those around me. I will leave this world better than I found it.

I will do these things not for fear of death but for joy of life. This is my covenant.

Moral Authority does not derive from God’s word, because the Divine speaks to us (if she does) individually; it could be said that there are six billion religions. Moral Authority does not derive from what we believe, because even the wisest of us believe, in some corner of our lives, some damn silly things. Moral Authority derives from what we promise to do, and whether we keep that promise. Maybe my credo isn’t very profound, and maybe my covenant isn’t very long and doesn’t promise much- but it’s mine, and I keep it.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

The Death of Al-Zarqawi

One should never rejoice over the death of a human being; one should hope and pray for the redemption of evil instead. The world, however, is a better place because Al-Zarqawi is no longer in it

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Why pro-marriage equality IS a conservative position

One way to separate the Goldwater/Reagan conservatives from the Christian right is the issue of gay marriage; a conservative would be in favor, a religious right type against. I can list 3 reasons an old-line conservative would support gay marriage:

1. Individual liberty. The quintessential conservative position is that all rights reside in the individual, and the state must come to the individual hat in hand begging to be granted some power. This is why it sets the teeth of a conservative on edge to hear someone speaking about government giving us the right to do this or that- a citizen’s rights are inherent, and limited only by covenant with fellow citizens. It is clear in every document of our founding fathers that a citizen’s rights may only be curtailed by the most immediate and pressing of social needs- and the burden of proof is on those wishing to curtail those rights, not on the citizen wishing to retain them. The proposed federal marriage amendment is an especially grievous violation of these inherent rights, as previous federal law already gives the states the right to refuse recognition of a marriage conducted in another state if it violates their own laws.

P.S. That law is, in my opinion, a violation of the “full faith and credence” clause in the Constitution. Suppose your state does not have “common law” marriage- would you then revoke marriage rights from couples now residing in your state because they haven’t a piece of paper from their state of origin?

2. Economics. A couple- of whatever sort- save a lot more money than do two singles; one of this country’s greatest economic weaknesses is the low rate of savings. Couples tend to have less personal debt than two singles, and high credit card debt is another of our problems. Couples are more likely to buy, as opposed to renting, than two singles (not counting property purchased as investment), and are more likely to spend money improving the property.

3. Social factors. Having a second person around the house to nurse you when you’re sick, help cover when someone must be home for repairs or installations, and listen to your rap when you’ve had it up to there will make you miss fewer days at work and be more productive while you’re there. It reduces medical costs if insurance needn’t pay for home visits, not to mention postponing (possibly eliminating) the day when you must enter a nursing home- I have seen couples where both had mild Alzheimer’s, but between them they made one functioning adult.

This is not to say that the debate is one sided- balanced against the conservative principals of individual liberty, economic gain, and greater social stability is the irrefutable fact that it makes millions of people feel icky. But for a Goldwater conservative, the issue of individual liberty alone would be enough to say “So go get married already, it’s no skin off my nose!”

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Michael Moore parody

As a number of people have written about the lawsuit a disabled soldier has filed against Michael Moore- The ChaliceBlog: In *gulp* defense of Michael Moore
and Michael Moore Sued leap to mind, I'd thought I'd post a piece I wrote on Mr. Moore for another venue here.

An excerpt from Michael Moore’s next movie
(Note: These are not Michael Moore’s words, the incident described never occurred, and no version of this appears in Michael Moore’s next movie- which qualifies this as a documentary by the standards of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences)

Michael Moore: I’m here with Senator Rightwing. We have both just been witness to a curious incident involving the President; isn’t that right, Senator?

Senator Rightwing: Yes, indeed, Michael! What an amaz...

MM: Just a moment, Senator- let me describe it for the people. We just saw a woman run past as fast as her legs could carry her. I was astonished to see Mr. Bush in hot pursuit! She almost got away, but Bush leaped and caught an ankle, tripping her. As she went down, he was on her in a flash- he jumped on her, pinning her to the ground, ignoring her pitiful screams of terror and agony as he struck her again and again!

SR: But Michael, he...

MM: No ‘buts’-that’s true, isn’t it? Didn’t he just tackle her and savagely beat her?

SR: Well, yes, but...

MM: There you have it, folks- even Senator Rightwing agrees that Bush is a vicious criminal who should be impeached and thrown in jail!

SR: But she was on fire at the time- he saved her life! He risked his own life saving her!

MM: Sorry, Senator, I already turned your microphone off. Have a nice day!

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Thoughts on threads from CC and The Happy Feminist

In the weeks I’ve been neglecting this blog, putting my life back together, there have been many intriguing entries on my favorites. I’ve posted the odd comment, but now finally have time to ponder a little more deeply, and two of them are linked in my mind: the first is CC’s post about the over-the-top definitions of racism used by the Seattle Public Schools The ChaliceBlog: New definitions of racism , and the second is The Happy Feminist’s surprise that the word “feminist” has negative connotations MORE STRAY THOUGHTS ON THE F-WORD

I think there two phenomena at work here. The first is the natural law that any organization takes on a life of its own, independent of its founders and purposes, and fights for life like a living thing. Conservatives will immediately think of government programs, and they’d be right, but it’s also true for private organizations. For example, the March of Dimes was created for the sole purpose of eliminating Polio; and then one day (much to their surprise) it was in fact cured- so did they disband? No, they just changed their mission statement and moved on. The second phenomenon is that activists must be unreasonable extremists- so that when people meet them halfway, they’ll have gotten what they really wanted.

When these two principals are combined in a political organization, amazing things happen. Organizations created to win women the vote, or title nine programs, etc., actually succeeded, but refused to disband... simultaneously, as society became closer to reasonable on women’s issues, the activists had to go farther and farther out on their extreme limb to maintain their distance. So when a modern young woman avoids the word “feminist” because the word means to her a man-hating communist lesbian, she has some reason to think so- that’s what some modern feminist writing sounds like to young ears. This is also how irrational writing such as the Seattle Public Schools definitions of racism came about; having won so much for race equality and relations, they have to reach farther and farther out into the ozone to try and put white hoods on people who are not in fact racist. This phenomenon is extremely damaging to all of society, but the greatest damage is being done to young African Americans.

For example, defining one form is English as standard is NOT racism. Standard English is not defined by racist white Americans, it is defined by WORLD standards. English is the lingua franca of the entire world; when Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, Imperial Japan and the USSR formed their pact to conquer the world, the conferences were held in English. When a Bolivian airliner requests permission to land in Cambodia, the request is made in English. When a Lithuanian merchant sells his line of products to stores in Argentina, the negotiations were most likely conducted in English. When a German tourist wanted information from a Parisian tour guide, the questions and answers were in English- I was there, I heard. The English that was spoken in every example above was “standard” English- there is no place on Earth outside of the hood where a person speaking only Ebonics can get a decent job, and telling the kids otherwise is only crippling their chances. Telling them that for an English teacher to correct their English is racist only fills their hearts with hatred no reason.

Telling the children that what whites have is a result of white privilege is even more damaging. More so both because it makes them resent the hard work all kids have to do to get past entry level, and therefore hate all whites whom they believe didn’t have to work for it, and because most whites simply stop listening once you start spouting that nonsense. Talking about white privilege might make sense to legacy brats, but for those of us who grew up in poverty it just sounds like bitter whining and an unwillingness to work. 100 million white Americans are working their rear ends off and living one paycheck away from homelessness... if you tell them that white privilege exists, but is invisible to whites, I’m sure they’d agree- at least about the “invisible” part.

You cannot “end” racism, not while human beings remain frail mortals. But you can makes sure the law is colorblind, and this has largely been done. Certainly, we can work harder at enforcement, but the EEOC does exist. We can make racism socially unacceptable- and this has largely been done; nothing will ruin a person in the public eye faster than a charge of racism.
Fact: while racism and sexism have not been, and will never be eliminated, neither one is the determining factor in success any more. Nothing matters more than individual effort and character. It is no longer 1964- for God’s sake, the best rapper in the world is white, the best golfer is black, and the leading candidate for President is a woman Senator. Two of the last three Secretaries of State have been female, and two of them black.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Update (sort of)

I'm still alive and well, but haven't had time to catch my breath. New job working out well so far. More later.