Thursday, April 26, 2007

I heard us being held up as a good example

and I didn’t like it. This actually happened last Monday, but I had forgotten about it until something reminded me this morning. I was stuck on a difficult passage on what I was writing, so I headed downstairs for lunch and some talk radio- that usually gets the synapses firing. (at least)

Dialing around, I found Bill O’Riley and listened for a while. He was talking about a book he has out that blames all of mankind’s ills on something he calls “secular progressives”- and as I’ve lately been reading that all mankind’s ills come from religion, I found it fascinating. His definition of “secular progressives” is a little more complicated than a simple secular/religious dichotomy, and he was giving examples of people who were “sp’s”. (apparently, many of them live in San Francisco)

One of his callers said that an atheist could not be a moral person, that without God’s laws there could be no morality. Bill objected, holding us up as an example. “Look at Unitarians,” he said, “They are atheists and secular humanists, and they’re perfectly decent, moral people.” He then went on to explain the additional factors that made one a secular progressive.

I was disappointed and upset that O’Riley, an educated man, could hold and propagate that belief, and considered calling him to correct his mistaken impression. Then I caught myself, and laughed- how could I convince Bill O’Riley that you don’t have to be an atheist secular humanist to be a Unitarian Universalist when I can’t even convince the Unitarians?

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Get rich blogging

I’ve figured out how we can all get rich off the blogosphere! No, this is not a pyramid scheme; it involves the sale of a real product we all use, that is valued differently under different circumstances- a difference we can leverage into riches!

I’m talking about intellectual property, our thoughts. Thoughts have a universally agreed upon value- they are worth two cents. However... it is also understood that those receiving them need only give a penny for your thoughts. Thus, for every thought transaction, there is a loose penny in the system, unaccounted for. Currently, these loose pennies float until they finally attach at random to fees, credits, or payments somewhere- this is why it’s nearly impossible to balance a checkbook to the penny nowadays.

I propose that when each of you post a new thought, you send those pennies to me, (I accept PayPal), and then post a comment to this post with your name and dream goal. When I reach my dream goal, paying off the mortgage, (as a starving artist, that would take a lot of pressure off me), I will start forwarding them to the blogger at the top of the comment list. A penny a thought may not sound like much, but think how many blogs there are- and a lot of them at our end of the blogosphere are actual certified thinkers! If we can get this system working smoothly, we should all be rolling in dough in no time!

P.S. Don’t look at me like that- this is at least as workable as most of the proposals that will be floated by Presidential candidates between now and November 2008, and people give millions of dollars to them.

Monday, April 23, 2007

wistful VICTORY!!!

A long battle with the Veteran’s Administration ended in victory today for Pagan veterans, and all those who believe in equality under the law. Until now, the VA has steadfastly refused to allow the Pentacle- a five pointed star within a circle, symbol of Wicca and other Pagan faiths- to be put on tombstones of fallen soldiers, even if “Wiccan” was the religion listed on their dog tags. (see my previous post an issue worth supporting ) The VA allows symbols for 38 faiths- including Eckankar, Humanism, and even Atheism... but NOT Wicca.

In this press release from the Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, a settlement was announced in a lawsuit the AU brought against the VA. “In the lawsuit, Americans United represented Roberta Stewart, whose husband, Sgt. Patrick Stewart, was killed in combat in Afghanistan in 2005; Karen DePolito, whose husband, Jerome Birnbaum, is a veteran of the Korean War who died last year; Circle Sanctuary, a prominent Wiccan congregation; Jill Medicine Heart Combs, whose husband is severely ill; and the Isis Invicta Military Mission, a Wiccan and Pagan congregation serving military personnel.”

“This settlement has forced the Bush Administration into acknowledging that there are no second class religions in America, including among our nation’s veterans,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, Americans United executive director. “It is a proud day for religious freedom in the United States.”

As a Pagan, a solitary syncretic Wiccan if you want specifics, I’m happy that my government finally recognizes that the blood of our heros spills as red as that of anyone elses’. But I headlined this as a wistful victory... because as a UU, I’m ashamed that I could never get other UUs interested in this cause, that we were not co-sponsors of that lawsuit. I could never figure out whether it was the witches we didn’t give a damn about, or the veterans.

Ok, ok, that last sentence was harsh, and over the top... but the fact remains that in the 55 weeks since I first wrote about it, I’ve never received comment one, not on the blog, not on the letter tacked on the wall at church, nor have I seen anyone else get any better reaction than I have; explain it how you will.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Thinkers blogs

uuMomma has tagged me in the “Thinking Blog” meme (which started here )- which was quite flattering, as we frequently disagree- but she likes me anyway! (Why do I feel like Sally Fields accepting an Oscar?) So now it’s my turn to reach out and touch five bloggers!

Several of my regulars I cannot pick, because they’ve already been mentioned- as well they should be, because they are on everyone’s favorite’s list: ChailceBlog , Peacebang , Ms. Kitty‘s Saloon and Road Show , Philocrites . One blog I check regularly I cannot mention for other reasons, but we all know him- his initials are RE, and he hails from Montreal. This may surprise some of you, but I can’t help it- despite everything, I still hope for the day when he returns to the light side.

Ok, five of my daily favorites...
1. The Happy Feminist . Simply the best feminist writing anywhere, any format.

2. The Wild Hunt . Pagan news and music- and he hangs out with UUs.

3. Trivium . Very well written look from a lay leader’s perspective.

4. Bill Baar’s West Side . It is said that the essence of youth is beauty; of age, perspective. Bill and I both have perspective.

5. It’s All One Thing . Where there’s a Will, there’s a story.

Only religion can do it

There has been much discussion recently about the role of religion in society, following on the heels of a number of high-profile books and essays saying that religion is the root of all our problems, and should be eliminated in the best interest of mankind. I have come to the reverse conclusion- that if mankind is ever to enter the golden age we are on the verge of, it must and will be religion that will usher us there.

My thoughts jelled while reading the abortion discussion at Ms. Kitty‘s Saloon and Road Show . People are sometimes surprised to find out how strongly pro-life I am, because I do not call for legislation. My position is that it is not possible to write a law that will not be abused by one side or the other, that this is one of many issues that cannot be solved by the government- one must change hearts and minds. In fact, this is true of all the great issues, because of the very nature of government itself.

Government can only coerce, by virtue of having armed men at its command. Government is not equiped to persuade, and has no moral authority to place its values and judgments above your own. Individual statesmen can be persuasive, but they are only by virtue of their own personal integrity. Outlawing something only allows you to punish the perpetrator; it does not prevent the action from occurring. This is why there has been so little call for new laws in the wake of the Virginia Tech massacre- we have learned from Iraq that if a man is willing to die in the process, the full armed might of the US may not be enough to stop him.

If you really want to stop a given behavior, not merely punish it, you must do so by moral persuasion. This is something religion is uniquely equiped to do- but not just any religion. To be truly effective at such persuasion, the religion must have two features, the first of which is that any judgments made must be based on behavior, not belief or intent. Bizarre things happen when belief trumps behavior; people will kill themselves or others in the search for eternal life. They will deny their children medical care, snuffing out their young lives to buy them lives in another reality. The religion of the future of mankind must deal with one reality at a time.

The second thing it must do is truly preach the interconnectedness of all things. I don’t mean environmentalism, which is the only thing most people seem to think of when that phrase is used; I mean the fact that actions have far reaching consequences, that karma acts in the here and now, not the next life. Perhaps it would be better to use the more evocative term Adam Smith used when he wrote of this concept as applied to the economy: the invisible hand. Its actions are not always understood until afterwards- the law of unintended consequences- but the reaction of the invisible hand is unstoppable, more certain than death or taxes.

What do I mean, truly preach the invisible hand? I could envision a prison ministry going like this... you pull out an 8 x 10 glossy of a young child- “look at this- good looking kid, isn’t he? He lives in Africa. $500 a year would buy him a glass of milk and some green vegetables every day- but we can’t afford to give it to him because it costs $30,000 a year to keep you here in prison. You, there- how long are you in for?”

“Three more years.”

“Oooo... sorry...” as you speak, you take out a pen and scratch the eyes out of the picture. “This kid can’t wait that long- he and sixty more just like him will go blind from vitamin A deficiency. Here, keep the picture- he won’t need it. You- I’m told you’re a drug dealer?”


“Yes, they gave me a list of your customers; many are going into rehab. Oh, hey, this is ironic; it turns out your grandmother needs drugs, too, drugs that aren’t covered by Medicaid. But you know, we only have so much money for public medicine, and we have to spend it on rehab- addicts kill people for drug money, little old ladies don’t. So Bob is getting what would have been your Granny’s 80th year of life instead; Jenny gets her 79th year... oh, wow, there another dozen names on this list. Here, take the list; you can explain it to your grandmother when she comes to visit you tomorrow- she still loves you, you know. The rest of you- when you’re out there acting like a big shot, you’re sentencing your friends and family to a form of slavery to pay for it, and you’re sentencing other more needy people to death. When you’re ready to admit that you’re the ones screwing up your own lives, not “the man”, and you want to turn it around, come see me.”

The effects of the invisible hand are, of course, world-wide. As I discuss here , according to the United Nations, there’s enough food right now to cure hunger today. The technology and resources exist to give everyone safe water and sanitation. In fact, the resources exist right now to give everyone on Earth a lifestyle equivalent to lower-to-middle class American- don’t take my word for it; Google around and run the numbers. So why don’t we? A combination of mismangagement, red tape- and money.

So what are we spending the money on instead? Again, you can prove it to yourself by Googling around and using a calculator, but I’ll go ahead and give it to you: crime. Take all the money spent on Law Enforcement and the Criminal Justice System, add in the cost of private security, lawyers, and the schools to teach them, factor in how much manufacturing goes into locks, security doors and barriers, cost of insurance, lost productivity... it’s literally trillions of dollars. Cut crime by 50% world-wide, and Sally Struthers will never have to cut another commercial about famine in Ethiopia. End civil wars as well, and Darfur will look like Muncie, Indiana.

But governments can’t do it- if they could, it would be done already. But religions could- religions have made far greater impact upon the world’s zeitgeist than this before. So what religions are candidates for this role? Liberal Christians- the UUA, UCC, others- might understand about deeds, not words, and interconnectedness, but are so hamstrung by their horror of being “judgmental” as to be utterly incapable of speaking truth to poverty (as opposed to speaking truth to power, which everybody and their blogger is doing). Pagans and NeoPagans understand “one reality at a time” and “the invisible hand” better than the Christians, as they are merely extensions of their “Rede” and “Karma” and “Three-fold Law”- but are hamstrung by their total lack of organization. Most Buddhists get it, but are no stronger a force in most G-8 countries than the Wiccans. There is no religion today positioned to take us into the promised land.
But what about the future? What religion will be the first to step up and lead mankind into its golden age?

My money is on the NeoPagans. The UUs have the organization, history, and money to do it, but have shown no desire to grow beyond a debating society. The UCC depends on defectors from the mainline Christian churches for their growth, and I just don’t think that’s good enough. The Pagans have no organization, but they have the energy, enthusiaism, and are perhaps the fastest growing faith in America. I’m betting the Pagans can grow an organization faster than the UUs can change from talkers to doers. So mote it be.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Update to “An Inconvenient Truth”

In my post of last November 27, An Inconvenient Truth , I pointed out that the hurricane statistics quoted in Al Gore’s movie are at considerable variance with the historical record, and that his predictions for the 2006 hurricane season could not have been more wrong if he had tried. He is making the same predictions for the 2007 season- that there will be a dramatic increase in the number and intensity of hurricanes- and I must say I admire his consistancy; the beauty of weather prediction is that if you stick to your guns, no matter what you say you will eventually be right.

But then Tuesday, there was
this story out of University of Miami's Rosenstiel School and a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration lab in Princeton, New Jersey, claiming that Global Warming may be making hurricanes milder, not more intense: “The study, to be published on Wednesday in Geophysical Research Letters, found that climate model simulations show a "robust increase" in wind shear in the tropical Atlantic during the 21st century from global warming.

Wind shear, a difference in wind speed or direction at different altitudes, tends to tear apart tropical cyclones, preventing nascent ones from growing and already-formed hurricanes from becoming the monster storms that cause the most damage.”

So as we enter the hurricane season this summer, we can be sure of the following:

If there is an increase in the number or intensity of hurricanes, that is proof of Global Warming.

If there is a decrease in the number or intensity of hurricanes, that is proof of Global Warming.

Even if Global Warming means never again Katrina, we must fight it now, while it’s still a theory; if we wait for hard evidence, it will be too late.

The best way to fight Global Warming is the Kyoto Accords, which have the following bullet points: 1. China, which will surpass the US this year as the world’s leading greenhouse gas producer, and several other third world countries will be exempt from any regulation. 2. The G-8 nations will have modest restrictions. 3. The US will have draconian restrictions, crippling our economy.

If you question any of the above, you’re a mouth breathing, Fox listening, Creation claiming, Holocaust denying, Religious Right Wingnut.

Friday, April 13, 2007

A Military Chaplain Repents

is the title of this interview
with Rev. George B. Zabelka (deceased), former chaplain of the 509th Composite Group- the bomber squadron that dropped the Atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. (Hat tip to The Witches‘ Voice ) This interview is an absolute must read for anyone considering the question of whether the UUA should become a peace church- no matter which side you’re on.

To dance like no one was watching

Jamie Goodwin at Trivium is always a good read, but his recent post Speaking In Tongues resonated with me even more than usual.

Like Jamie, I was raised in a fundamental tradition- Apostolic in his case, Baptist in mine. After trying a pose of atheism- which my soul could no more accept than fundamentalism- I ended up as a NeoPagan and a UU. And like Jamie, I harbor no hurts or ill will toward the faith of my childhood, and treasure the time spent there.

Jamie and I are in the minority in that position- the vast majority of UUs I have met who are former Christians are contemptous of their Christian upbringing. They seem to believe that they have grown above and beyond those forms of Christianity, that those beliefs were lower rungs on the ladder to higher understanding. Some will state openly and some will only imply what most clearly believe- that the old fashioned John 3:16 Christianity is for the intellectually or emotionally impaired. Not me. I have no illusions that I could fence with the likes of C.S. Lewis or W. F. Buckley. My path is not better than theirs, I have not grown beyond them, I have merely grown away from them. I am on a different path because I have different emotional and spiritual needs, not because I am more intelligent than they.

Because we do not despise where we came from, Jamie and I are both capable of seeing that in some ways, modern UU has thrown the baby out with the bathwater. Our horror of ritual, for one thing. UUs are almost unique in shunning ritual; nearly all other religions recognize that ritual is a unifying factor, that it is a trigger for joy and comraderie. The ritual that Jamie misses is speaking in tongues- one of the very rituals most ridiculed by those who believe they are above such trailer-trash holy-roller stuff. Of course, those people have no theological arguments for their attitudes, merely cultural prejudice; they equate dour New England reserve with intellectual advancement, and “making a joyful noise” with more primitive cultures worthy of a “National Geographic” article.

They are missing what makes “being taken by the spirit” one of the oldest and most universal of religious rituals. Whether it is a VooDoo congregate channelling a Loa, or a Wiccan “drawing down the Moon”, or a Pentacostal “speaking in tongues”. or a Baptist “making a joyful noise”, they are letting go, “dancing as if no one were watching, singing as if no one were listening”. It is a catharsis, and more- it is your concious connecting with your subconcious, leaving you more whole and healthy than you were before. It is a revelatory experience; you cannot hide internal conflicts from yourself during such an experience.

But alas, it is an experience the average UU will never know. Or if they do, if they find a safe place in which they can truly let go, to bring forth what is within and share, it will not be within the confines of a UU service.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Working class Unitarians?

Doug Muder has written what is in my opinion the finest UU blog post to date, entitled Unitarian Universalism and the Working Class . Go and read it before reading the rest of this post. In fact, go read it even if you never read the rest of this post.

I am a working class Unitarian, as obviously Doug is. He describes mindsets and attitudes from the working class that the upper classes might not understand, attitudes necessary for survival. He closes by asking, “The question I want to leave you with is whether Unitarian Universalism is bringing the world a message about life, or just a message about our lives? Can we speak in words that make sense both in the high place and in the maze?” This is possibly the most important question ever asked of UUs, and not just for the purpose of recruiting from the lower classes; it is vitally important because if we are not speaking truths that are universal, we’re not speaking truth at all!

Lessons learned from growing up poor are often in direct contradiction to lessons taught at UUA GA workshops. Let’s take a composite poor person’s life, part mine and part several friends- call him “Don”, because he might be a she, spelled “Dawn“- to see what I mean. Don’s parents drilled him in the lesson Doug mentions, “Second chances. Rich kids, professional kids – they get them. The door never completely closes on you. If your parents are doctors or lawyers, you can flunk out of two or three colleges. It’ll work out...In the working class it’s not that way...What if you had one shot? You wouldn’t blow it, would you?” And so Dawn works like a dog all through High School. Because he’s not a natural student, he spends hours every night studying rather than hanging with his friends. he works summers and weekends at the kind of menial jobs a teenager can get because he’s going to need every penny at college.

Don attends a community college or state school because even with a Pell grant and loans, that’s what he can afford. He also works while going to school. Some “Dawns” will earn enough in their blue collar day job that they can’t bear to go on with the dual life- I didn’t have the stamina nor, I’ll admit, the discipline to work full time and still finish school. Upon graduation, or upon getting his journeyman badge if he dropped out of college, he lands an entry level position behind peers with degrees from fancier schools. Don spends the decade of his 20’s, perhaps longer, either working overtime or a second job to cover the crushing student debt load (and possibly credit card debt as well) he picked up in college. Finally, somewhere in his late 30’s or 40’s, he’s down to one job and has time to think about things like re-connecting with a spiritual life; he wanders into a UU church.

Here he learns that he’s a “winner in life’s lottery”, that those with less are “less fortunate”. This is in direct contrdiction to his life experience... he’s been working 50-60 hours per week since he was 13 years old, working his youth away when his peers were having fun, and now learns the fruits of this discipline are considered “good fortune”. His life experience is that anyone who stays away from drugs, finishes high school, and doesn’t have/father a child out of wedlock can earn a decent living; outside of a physical or mental handicap, poverty is the result of bad life choices, usually multiple bad choices... but if he dares say so he’ll be denounced as a heartless Republican and shunned.

At other workshops, he’ll learn that all he has is not good fortune, but the result of “privilege”- either “White Privilege”, or “Male Privilege”, or (shudder) the dreaded “White Male Privilege”! He contemplates his scarred and callused hands, the varicose veins from being on his feet 12-14 hours a day working two jobs for a quarter of a century, and wonders how hard he’d have had to work without all that “privilege”...

In the mainstream Christian church in which he was raised, “envy” was one of the deadly sins. His life experience confirmed this; envy leads only to schadenfreude, and the inability to enjoy those blessing one does possess. Here, he learns that envy is a virtue, not a sin; the problem is not that the poor don’t have enough but that the rich have too much- it is the gap that is the problem. In his parent’s day, the diseases of the poor were kwishiorkor, pellagra, rickets, scurvy- many hundreds of thousands died in the United States before WWII from simple dietary deficiencies due to extreme, the diseases of the poor are diabetes and heart disease from overweight- but the UUA teaches that things are worse than ever because the gap is bigger.

To Don/Dawn, the UUA does not exist in the real world, or at least not in the world inhabited by the bottom three quintiles. Don longs for a church that preaches personal responsibility, because choices have consequences; the UUA teaches that personal results have societal causes. Problems that Don sees as caused by correctable human flaws that should be preached about are seen by the UUA as societal inequities that can only be cured by political action. Oh, well, he shrugs, at least the UUA works with people from both parties- the Democrats and the Greens.

Doug ends his piece with “My hunch, my faith – or maybe just what I need to believe to do what I do – is that we can find such a message, that there can be a truth that encompasses all times and all places, a wisdom big enough for all people.” My faith is that there is just such a message. My sadness is that I don’t believe we have any intention of looking for it- that we would rather surrender the working class to the Religious Right than to admit that any position the GA’s have voted on was wrong.

Monday, April 09, 2007

New belief quiz

QuizFarm has a new belief quiz that is interesting, but flawed in my opinion. Try it before you read my score below, which I’ll compare with my Belief-O-Matic results. I’m interested to see if you get the same surprising results I did.

Ok, first my Belief-O-Matic results:
1. NeoPagan, 100%
2. New Age, 100%
3. Unitarian Universalism, 98%
4. Liberal Quaker, 97%
5. Mainline to Liberal Christian Protestant, 91%

Considering that I admit to being a NeoPagan and a pledge-paying member of a UU congregation, I’d say they were reasonably close.

The QuizFarm results:
You scored as Islam.
Your beliefs are most similar to those of Islam. Do more research on Islam and possibly consider taking the shahadah and officially becoming a Muslim, if you aren't already. Despite the actions of some - who go against the teachings of Islam - Islam is a religion of peace; the word "islam" means "peace through submission to God." "Muslim" means "one who submits to God." Islam is the third of the three Abrahamic faiths, and it shares much with Judaism in Christianity; its differences are the acceptance of Muhammad as the last and final prophet, and the oneness of God - in other words, that Jesus, though he was a revered prophet, was not in fact God, and only one God exists. Apparently the Taliban could not read (though their name means "students"), because the Qur'an states that men and women are equal as believers, and that all believers should be educated and seek knowledge. Modesty in dress and behavior is required in Islam for both men and women to preserve the values of society and move the emphasis from superificial appearance to intelligence, knowledge, and God.
Islam 83%
Satanism 79%
agnosticism 67%
Paganism 63%
Hinduism 58%
Buddhism 50%
Judaism 46%
Christianity 29%
atheism 8%

Ok, I can understand the high Satanism score- Satanists are quite Libertarian, as am I (although to my mind, they take the next step to full libertine). But Islam 83%? Surely the author of this test must be very niave about what is and isn’t tolerated within the faith of Islam. Yeah, yeah, religion of peace, got it... but would the average Imam take it peacefully if he knew that someone in his flock who professed to be Muslim was also a panentheist, an animist, and practiced religious witchcraft? If I have a reader more knowlegeable of Islam than I, (which wouldn’t take much, I’ll admit), perhaps they could tell me if that would be within the acceptable range of practices? Can Islam be syncretic with Wicca?

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Update to “Not in my day”

A couple weeks ago I posted about some 12 year olds who had sex during class in my local school system; I had been surprized that A. They had the nerve, B. The teacher never noticed. Well, after seeing this story , my school system appears to be just average. I quote from the story: “Four students - two 11-year-old girls, a 12-year-old boy and a 13-year-old boy - were arrested on charges of obscenity, a felony... The investigation showed that two males and two females had sex in the classroom while the 11-year-old boy acted as a lookout, Buckley said.”

What makes this story more interesting, though, is that the kids had a perfect diversion- they were screwing during a special school assembly. The purpose of the assembly was to discuss a stabbing death involving one of their students... I guess the school officials were under the illusion that the kids might have been upset. Evidently, they were more resilient than the school administration imagined.

Write me off as an old fogey if you will- I just don’t remember grade school being like that forty years ago.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Three proofs of Spring

I received three very welcome proofs that Spring has in fact arrived this past weekend. The first was when our winter depressive cat , Laurie, asked to go outside for the first time in months. True, she only dashed from green spot amidst the brown to green, and asked to come back in after eating only six early-blooming violets- but she had gone outside of her own volition for the first time in months.

The second sign of Spring was when one of our younger cats, Tabitha, found a full grown fieldmouse and brought it into the house. She dropped it on the living room floor, and a soccer game ensued; she and her sister Hillary on one side, older brothers Simon and Garfunkle on the other. Alas, it would appear that fieldmice are not of adequately robust construction for such games; with only three goals scored, the game had to be called on account of equipment breakage.

For the last proof, we turn from the fieldmouse to die fledermaus- our own namesake species, the Indiana Brown Bat. Two of them were in my backyard Saturday night, tumbling through the sky as only a bat can. I sometimes wonder if those amazing aerobatics are really necessary to catch bugs, or if they do it just because they can?