Wednesday, March 30, 2011
Monday, March 28, 2011
Thursday, March 24, 2011
I set ground rules for my religious quest: First, anything I discovered had to pass the gut check; the whole reason for the quest was my visceral rejection of the story as I understood it. Second, it had to make sense intellectually; it had to result in something I could understand and use in my daily life, or else what was the point? I also decided to start with all the basic schools of Christianity I could find, in case it was just the church I had been raised in that was the problem, not Christianity per se. I was in a good position to do this, as the Indianapolis suburb I lived in- Irvington- had more churches per capita than most any place on Earth. It had been the home of Butler University, and within a five minute walk of my front door were five giant Gothic Cathedral type churches, from Catholic to Christian Scientist, (to this day, on a Sunday morning one can hear dueling carillons); the international HQ of a Christian mission, the home convent of an order of nuns, and another half dozen storefront churches.
Two in particular caught my interest. First was Calvinism, which taught that belief itself was impossible for flawed humans, and was the gift of God. What you had to do was to behave as if you believed, and prepare yourself for when the gift was given to you.* It would certainly explain why I couldn't believe. But upon closer examination, it didn't make sense either- how could belief be the test if you had no control over your belief? Under this doctrine, the only part in your control was your behavior, which made it salvation by acts, rather than by belief- a direct contradiction to John 3:16 and 18.
The second to catch my interest was Universalism, the doctrine that Jesus' sacrifice paid for all of mankind's sins, and so salvation was universal.** This was on all fours with John 3:17, and at least the first clause of 3:16, although a contradiction of 3:18. Nobody goes to Hell.*** This seemed better at first, but it still required belief in the rest of the story, if not in damnation; could I do that? No. Universalism didn't make sense either... yes, it's nice that everyone gets saved, but it did nothing to address the issue of why we needed salvation in the first place.
We needed salvation because one must be perfect to enter Heaven, and no human being is capable of achieving perfection; the Bible makes that abundantly clear. The effective result is that we're born damned; we are going to be judged by a standard that we cannot meet. That is so patently unfair as to be irrational; you cannot condemn a quart jar for not holding a gallon- especially if you're the potter that cast the quart jar! God knew full well the risks of giving his creations free will when he made Adam and Eve- he'd gone through that scenario before with the angels... But okay, let's assume for a moment that it makes sense; after all, the story isn't all that well told, and maybe I'm missing something. What's next?
*16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. 17 For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. I don't get it. If God loved us that much, why didn't he just change the rules? I actually asked that one; I learned the meaning of "doubletalk" that day. But okay, we've got to be purified, and that takes a blood sacrifice. Says who? Didn't God make the rules? Never mind... So he gave his only begotten Son... "Only"?? So, what, is the rest of the human race chopped liver? We're all his creations; are some methods of creation more precious than others?
Sorry; I digress. To make a long story short (Too late!), I could not believe that we needed to be saved; I could not believe that salvation required a blood sacrifice; I could not believe that Jesus was the only son of God- and I could not believe in the Trinity. I could not be a Christian Universalist, by the standards commonly understood forty years ago. There are newer versions, like the Christian Universalist Association that I could live comfortably with- but I'm already a Pagan; why change names?
*Yes, I know this is an oversimplified and somewhat flawed explanation. This is a memoir, not a doctoral thesis; I'm relating what I took from how it was explained to a young person.
**See the first footnote.
***I had problems with Hell as a concept, aside from the question of who deserved to go there. Reread John 3:16- do you see any mention of Heaven or Hell in it? The choice was not between Heaven and Hell, but between eternal life and eternal death. It is stated that way very explicitly in quite a few places in the Bible. "I am the resurrection and the life." But if you do not believe, well, "...let the dead bury their dead." So how can you suffer eternal damnation if you don't have eternal life? At what point did God decide that stripping you of eternal life was not punishment enough, that he had to resurrect you and punish you again?
But a failure to connect with Christianity did not make me an atheist- I very definitely felt a connection to God. Please understand how utterly bewildering this was to a young child in the 60s, raised by fundamental Christians. As far as I knew, had been taught, (and who questions their parents when all grownups you know agree) this was a contradiction in terms: there was the God of Abraham, the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, and there were false gods invented by Satan to confuse people and separate them from the Holy Trinity. Period. I knew all these things well; I had gone to Sunday School, I had been given explanations by my parents. I knew that everything boiled down to a simple binary: either John 3:16-18*, or the lies of Satan. I knew it, but I couldn't accept it. It was wrong. Understand that I was preteen at this point; I had no rational arguments to make, no list of grievances, no 95 thesis- I simply knew. I could no more have accepted the story than I could have prevented my knee from jerking under the doctor's hammer.
The natural reaction was to wonder what was wrong with me. I remember well laying awake at night- sometimes all night- wonder why I couldn't see, couldn't believe what was so obvious to everyone else. I knew I wasn't dumb; I was in all the accelerated classes in school. And I knew how important it was- John 3:18 states quite clearly that belief is the test- if you don't believe, you are condemned, no matter how you lived your life. My obstinacy was suicidal- I spent many hours searching for the flaw in my mind or my soul that was risking my eternity.
I was put on a new track by a book; not a religious text, but a science fiction novel by Robert Heinlein titled "Revolt In 2100". It was about a future America that had become a theocracy in the early 21st century, and the revolt that restored democracy. What excited me was that one of the protagonists had had the same problem as I. He decided that if he couldn't believe what he'd been told, he'd better find out for himself what he did believe. This was a stunning concept- it had never occurred to me that you could do that. Regular people didn't create belief systems; religions were handed down to you from above, by God or Satan. I couldn't do that- how would I know what was right? After all, if I didn't have faith in the Word of God, how could I have faith in anything else I found?
That's when I had my first breakthrough: I realized that when I was asked to have faith in the Bible, I was being asked to have faith in men, not God- and that was true even if the Bible really is the word of God! After all, how did I know the Bible was the word of God? Because I had been told that it was by men, some of whom I knew (though I didn't dare say) were not as smart as I was. When I carefully broached the subject to my elders, I was told to pray, meditate, and sleep on it, and I would see the truth. Well, I had been doing exactly that for a couple years at this point, and either God hadn't spoken to me, or he had- in which case Christianity, at least in the way it had been explained to me, was wrong. This gave me the courage to start my religious pilgrimage.
*16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
17 For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.
18 He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.
Wednesday, March 23, 2011
But now I'm wondering about the UU blogosphere- aside from my previous two posts, a search through UUpdates shows that a lobster could count on one hand the number of UU bloggers who have even mentioned the attacks on Libya. This strikes me as very odd. It's a stunning attack- the British are actually running out of cruise missiles, and a single US B2 Stealth sortie dropped 90,000 lbs of bombs, and we've flown hundreds of sorties. And yet the UU response could be described by Paul Simon- "...And my words, like silent raindrops fell, and echoed in the sounds of silence..." Could you understand why the casual observer might conclude that we base our religious principles on our political principles?
Monday, March 21, 2011
Saturday, March 19, 2011
Given the way US wars have been blogged about the last ten years, and the recent debate on making the UUA an official peace church because of those actions, I expect UU bloggers will be ripping into the President with a vengenge. I can't wait to see it.
Any minute now.
UPDATE: If you had some kind of fantasy that it was going to be okay with the Arab League for American forces to bomb Libya just because they asked us to, read this Reuters story, dateline 03.20.11, 21:45 : "The head of the Arab League, which supported Libyan no-fly zone, said his organization had not endorsed attacks on ordinary Libyans. "What is happening in Libya differs from the aim of imposing a no-fly zone, and what we want is the protection of civilians and not the bombardment of more civilians," Amr Moussa said, announcing an emergency Arab League meeting to discuss Libya.
Moussa's comments followed a demand by Russia to stop the "indiscriminate" use of force it said was killing civilians in Libya.
The air strikes exceed the mandate of the UN Security Council resolution, which approved a no-fly zone and authorized all necessary measures to protect civilians, Russia Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said in a statement."
The Arab League cannot pretend it did not know what is involved to enforce a No-Fly zone; the scenario has been played out many times in their neighboring countries. But by pretending not to know, they can use us to rid themselves of a dictator they didn't like, and simultaneously gin up outrage against us for domestic consumption- for doing what they asked us to do!
Thursday, March 17, 2011
Sunday, March 13, 2011
Kindles are selling so quickly, and are so addictive once owned, that physical books may soon go the way of 8-Track. Which means that the next generation could hear a whole new set of clichés...
Since Christmas, my beloved has developed a syndrome that I understand many people are showing signs of these days: KSA, or "Kindle Separation Anxiety". Symptoms include planning one's wardrobe around being able to secure the Kindle to one's person; panicking at the first sign of malfunction, dashing to get dressed and drive to Staples quick before they close; and an eerie LED glow emanating from under the covers late at night.
The judge threw the Kindle at him.
"Kindle 'em, Dano!"
He was making Kindle on the side, but he wasn't a full time Kindlee.
The crooked accountant was cooking the Kindles- at least, that was no form of Kindlekeeping I'm familiar with.
The acts Kindled for tonight are...
He was clever, but not much for Kindle learning.
The minister read from the Kindle of Common Prayer.
One of the main attractions at Dublin's Trinity University is the Kindle of Kells.
How many Kindleable hours do you have this month?
He's quite the Kindleworm.
Who wrote the Kindle of love?
He does everything strictly by the Kindle.
There were no receipts or certificates; it was a Kindle transaction.
"Waste not, want not," as the good Kindle says.
I've cast the hexagrams; now to consult the Kindle of Changes for their meaning.
At least, I hope this is the kind of clichés we'll be seeing. If Borders beats Amazon despite Amazon's early lead, I'll have to rewrite this list with permutations of "Nooky".
Friday, March 11, 2011
He was yowling quite piteously, and there was no way we could turn him away when he had risked so much to come in.
After he ate... and ate... and ate... all the while making the funniest noises as he tried to simultaneously purr at us, growl at the other cats, and swallow kibble. In fact, he made a lot of noise; he's by far the most vocal cat in the house. Which immediately suggested a name; he's vocal, he was in Dire Straits- clearly his name was Knopfler.
What's all this to do with Jedis? I'm getting to it, I'm getting to it. When we got Knopfler back from the vet, and he'd had a day to sleep off all the medical attention, he started exploring the house. In the course of this, he discovered the joys of napping in the overstuffed living room chair. Now, this is much disputed turf in our house; he hadn't been in the chair thirty seconds before Simon noticed the fact and tried to hiss him off it. A kitty conversation ensued, and it struck me as very familiar, but I didn't know why- then I realized I was thinking of the third Star Wars movie. The scene I'm thinking of is the end of the battle between Obi-Wan and Anakin, on the high sloped bank of the lava river; they had the same conversation, but with a different ending:
Simon/Anakin, "I'm going to come up there and kick your ass."
Knopfler/Obi-Wan, "Don't try it- I have the high ground."
Simon, "Oh- yes, I see that; I'll be moving along now." Anakin, "Hah! Watch while I... oops... fall to the ground in four separate pieces."
Cats are smarter than Sith lords.
Tuesday, March 08, 2011
The full version, with context, is here. It should be understood from the beginning that NPR acted properly in trying to vet the organization, and refusing to accept their donation when it looked hinky. What's upsetting people is the personal views expressed by the NPR executives.
UPDATE: Two new items this morning- an update from The two-way, and the Washington Post reports that NPR CEO Vivian Schiller (no relation to Ron Schiller) has resigned.
Monday, March 07, 2011
Not Daleks, then?
Oh. Well, meeting with Dalits is a good thing.
Sunday, March 06, 2011
I imagine that Scott was reminded, as I was, of the way Boston mishandled the disaffiliation of the Independent Affiliates, something that has left lasting resentment and bewilderment... and they seem to have learned nothing from it. It's especially ironic when you consider how we try to lecture our political leaders about transparency in governance, even to the point of our previous Association President praising Iranian President Ahmadinejad for meeting with him and answering questions, something he presumed that our own President would not have done. (Not that he had actually asked) And yet our own Association leadership is scarcely a role model to emulate.
When you think about it, "Do as I preach, not as I do," seems to be our motto. We are busy right now lecturing everyone through open letters and a "Standing On The Side Of Love" campaign about how collective bargaining for public employees is a human right, and yet this summer we will, for the fifth time in sixteen years, hold our General Assembly in a state where it's forbidden by law. We are always lecturing others about class, race, and racism, and yet our own experience with racial issues begins with the Black Affairs Council walking out of the 1969 General Assembly, and disaffiliating from us the following year... and since then, we've been the only mainline church in America to actually get whiter and richer over the years. We are always faxing Washington about wages, immigration, even minutia like transportation policy, and telling them that our policies are the way to future growth and national prosperity... and yet our five decades of stagnation and failure to thrive have resulted in Association layoffs recently. It's a wonder that every Congressman we've emailed hasn't replied with a link to this song:
I may start referring to such things as "mote" issues in the future- as in, "...how canst thou say to thy brother, Brother, let me cast out the mote that is in thine eye, when thou thyself beholdest not the beam that is in thine own eye?"
Saturday, March 05, 2011
"Plaidshoes" really struck a chord with me with her Tuesday post, Tired of Defense. If you haven't read it, you must- and read the comments also. I was caught from the beginning, "I had a bit of a disturbing parking lot conversation today. I mentioned to a friend that I had seen her friend at my UU church. I thought of it as a positive. Another way that the world is so small that we all seem to run into each other. Well, my friend stated that she was not happy about this. It caught me completely by surprise. She flat out said it like that. I asked her why, and she stated that it would mean her friend was no longer a Christian." It reminded me of my wedding- and my mother.
That may sound strange to you- if it does, the explanation will be stranger still, but it's true. You see, in the months before my wedding there had been disagreement among we four brothers about our mother. She had been deteriorating of recent months, and several doctors had said she had Alzheimer's. We were split, 2-2, on whether she really had Alzheimer's, or whether this was one of her manipulative schemes. (Fred Sanford was a rank amateur in the manipulation business) The question was settled when she came to my wedding- at All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church. Everyone agreed that she had to be genuinely out of it to set foot inside the temple of the Antichrist.
So I understand plaidshoes' irritation at her friend's comment, and why she feels tired of being on the defense. In fact, I have an extra layer she does not- a political one. When I joined All Souls, a friend of mine had said, "I thought you were a Republican." I said yes, I was. His puzzled reply: "But you know they're a communist front organization, don't you?" Mind you, he wasn't trying to be derogatory or insulting; he was simply stating common knowledge- just as plaidshoes' friend had.
Both of these misunderstandings raise a question that plaidshoes does not address in her post: Why did her friend think that UU was not a religion? It would be easy enough to blame Mad Magazine, The Simpsons, Garrison Keillor, but none of their jibes would have stuck had there not been a kernel of truth in them. That's why stereotypes stick- Scandinavians really are often blonde; they really do eat lutefisk. If you tried to create a new stereotype that didn't reflect what people see in their daily lives- oh, like all Scandinavians eat grits and collard greens- it wouldn't stick, and people wouldn't repeat it. So clearly, the general public doesn't see us doing the things that a religion does; the question is, are we just poorly communicating what we do, or is their perception better than ours?
Thursday, March 03, 2011
Think that's bad? It's only average- look at the flowchart for firing a teacher in New York that one of the Tribune commenters posted- it covers two full pages. But in real life, I'm told, it never goes that far. Unless the teacher has made it easy by committing a class A felony, they usually just find a way to live with the bad apple, whatever it takes. If they really, really want the teacher gone, they offer a cash buyout* instead.
Now how does one account for that level of job security when comparing private and public sector wages? What's the cash equivalent of tenure? In the private sector, one would give up a lot to have those kinds of protections. In most states, absent gender or racial discrimination, the firing process is just one step- the one trademarked by Donald Trump. The appeals process consists of saying, "Oh, dude, come on... please?". But in the public sector, one gets the protections outlined above and wages comparable to the private sector.
So think about that next time you see a statehouse protestor with a sign claiming to be the poor, oppressed last bastion of the middle class. Think about it, but don't bother asking the protestor carrying the sign; odds are, at least here in Indiana, and I have to believe in Wisconsin and elsewhere as well, that the protestor is not a teacher at all, but a paid surrogate.
*This used to be called "Danegeld"- but as the Danes actually have a much better public school system than we do, I don't think it's appropriate.
Tuesday, March 01, 2011
Judge Gladys Kessler has just handed down a ruling on the Constitutionality of Obamacare. By my count, that's five rulings so far, three upholding the law, two upsetting the law, with about twenty more suits in line unless the Supreme Court intercedes. I find the logic used in the decision... interesting. To explain why I find it so interesting, we'll have to backtrack a little to show how we got there; this will include recycling a couple paragraphs from a previous post from a year ago, in which I predicted that this would happen.
When the Constitution was written, the Supreme Court was to consider only certain types of cases, among them being cases involving interstate commerce. Those were simpler people, living in more primitive times; they innocently believed that words meant what the dictionary said they meant- for example that "interstate commerce" was, well, commerce, that was conducted in kind of, you know, an interstatey sort of way.
But that was then; this is now. Today, we live in a post modern, Alice In Wonderland world where words mean what we say they mean, and dictionaries be damned. "Interstate Commerce" no longer means what a dictionary might say that it means; this was established in WICKARD v. FILBURN In that case, a farmer had been charged with growing more wheat than the Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1938 allowed. The farmer claimed that the wheat had not been sold, it had been used to feed his own family; no commerce was involved. Since the Agricultural Adjustment Act dealt with commerce, and none had occurred, it wasn't any of the government's business what his family ate. To counter this seemingly reasonable argument, the court invented a new legal doctrine called "Total Incidence", which in layman's terms means "What if everybody did that?" If everybody grew their own wheat to eat, that would depress the price of wheat, which would have an affect on the whole wheat market; therefore the bread on his table, despite having been neither sold nor bought, nor ever crossing a state line, was involved in interstate commerce.
The irrationality of this argument means nothing to the law. Of course "everybody" isn't going to grow their own; growing wheat is an expensive, difficult, time consuming process that few would undertake- that's why wheat farmers exist in the first place. Hells bells, I once killed an air plant. But I digress.
This bogus expansion of the commerce clause was taken a step further with GONZALES, ATTORNEY GENERAL, et al. v. RAICH et al. In this case, the federal government overruled California's medical marijuana laws, which allowed citizens of California to grow marijuana for their own consumption. California argued that as there is no interstate commerce in marijuana, the commerce clause did not apply, so the 10th amendment rules. But, of course, there was no way such a reasonable argument was going to be allowed to stand.
The court said "The similarities between this case and Wickard are striking. Like the farmer in Wickard, respondents are cultivating, for home consumption, a fungible commodity for which there is an established, albeit illegal, interstate market... Here too, Congress had a rational basis for concluding that leaving home-consumed marijuana outside federal control would similarly affect price and market conditions." Did you catch that? "fungible commodity" means something that can be transported, and doesn't have anybody's name on it. Which means that it's physically possible for a California cancer patient to carry his joint across state lines, and once there, sell it. So despite the fact that the smuggling and the resultant sale are both already illegal, he is, by the Wickard precedent, involved in interstate commerce, and the government has a legitimate interest in regulating the price and market conditions even of a market that has no legal existence. And inherent in the logic is the government's right to assume that capability implies intent; a new precedent in its own right, in my opinion.
To any rational person, this argument too is bogus. It is tantamount to saying that the Constitution gives the federal government the right to regulate your sex life because since you can carry your genitals across state lines, you might then indulge in a little prostitution, which would then be interstate commerce. But again I digress.
So now we come to the Kessler decision. In the quotes you're about to see, there are ellipses- these do not represent missing words; the text is complete in each quote. But court decisions include references to precedents, with names and long series of numbers I find confusing and irritating to read; I presumed you would too, and deleted them. if you're the type who actually enjoys that sort of thing, the entire decision is here.
There were two classes of plaintiffs involved in this suit. The first were people who had never bought health insurance, nor ever intended to do so in the future- they intended to self insure. That being the case, they asked, by what Constitutional authority can they be required to buy private insurance? When did not engaging in commerce become commerce? Judge Kessler had an answer for them: "As previous Commerce Clause cases have all involved physical activity, as opposed to mental activity, i.e. decision-making, there is little judicial guidance on whether the latter falls within Congress’s power...However, this Court finds the distinction, which Plaintiffs rely on heavily, to be of little significance. It is pure semantics to argue that an individual who makes a choice to forgo health insurance is not “acting,” especially given the serious economic and health-related consequences to every individual of that choice. Making a choice is an affirmative action, whether one decides to do something or not do something. They are two sides of the same coin. To pretend otherwise is to ignore reality."
I can certainly agree that Judge Kessler had "little judicial guidance" in her decision! She is making the same argument that the Christian apologists make regarding the answering of prayers... to conduct interstate commerce, one must decide to do so, and so the act of making the decision is part of the commerce; since "No" is also a decision, you've just made a decision, and therefore engaged in commerce! With that kind of convoluted logic, one might have expected her to be a theologian- but the second half of her decision kind of precludes that possibility.
Remember I said there were two classes of plaintiffs? The others- names Lee, and Seven-Sky, belong to faiths that believe God provides, and that prayer is the only medicine they will ever use. To buy health insurance is to demonstrate a lack of faith, that you're making provisions for God's failure. By what Constitutional authority, they asked, could they be made to buy insurance that they do not need, will never use, and even the owning of which is blasphemy?
The judge began her answer by doubting their resolve, saying that it's one thing to claim you'll never use the doctor, and another to actually refuse the care in the face of an actual illness. But she had a back up argument just in case someone objected that questioning one's faith is not a legal argument: "Even assuming for the purposes of this Motion, however, that Plaintiffs Lee and Seven-Sky do remain committed to refusing medical care throughout their lives, Congress may still regulate the larger class of individuals when it “decides that the total incidence of a practice poses a threat to a national market.”... Consequently, the Court looks not to Plaintiffs’ particular situation, but must ask instead whether the practice of the broader class of uninsured individuals threatens the national health care market. However, “when it is necessary in order to prevent an evil to make the law embrace more than the precise thing to be prevented it may do so.’”... Because this Court has determined that the practices of the broader class of uninsured individuals substantially affects the health care market, Plaintiffs’ own individual activity may be regulated pursuant to Congress’s Commerce Clause power."
Ah, the "total incidence" argument again- you remember, "what if everybody did that?" If everybody asked the ambulance to take them to a Christian Science reading room instead of the hospital, that would affect the insurance market; therefore nobody can be allowed to do so. And the blasphemy? Well, we're not requiring that you use the doctor, only that you pay for him!
So to sum up: I can be forced by the government to buy a commercial product from a for-profit company because by virtue of not previously buying that product, I had in fact been involved in that industry; the service or product involved need not be traded across state lines or even legally exist at all to be interstate commerce that the government can regulate; and that any action which, if done by everyone everywhere, would have some effect on some type of commerce, whether or not that commerce currently legally exists, is behavior the government can legally control- and this vast authority trumps religious objections.
It took 146 years to get from writing the Constitution to Wicard, only 67 years to get from Wicard to Gonzales, and only six years to get from there to Kessler. If you can't see a slippery slope, you need to buy an inclinometer.