Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Resurrection in Modern Times

With Easter coming up, the issue of the resurrection of one Jesus Christ is at the forefront of discussion in churches across the world no doubt. While the article’s author suggests that 80% of people believe in heaven, a particular flavor of the afterlife where people are rewarded for eternity in return for their faith and works associated thereof, there is a large array of positions on what the nature of heaven is. The absurdity of this debate becomes clear if you consider this; since heaven is taken on faith, no clear and coherent definition and explanation of heaven should be attempted or said to exist. Theologians would be the ones at fault, though it’s more likely in human nature to inquire and investigate everything, even if we also believe we’re taking such things as real by virtue of faith. Even such things as God’s existence, Jesus’ resurrection or the afterlife are not so mysterious to believers that they can’t push past the veil and question about what each entails; which leads to the myriad forms of heaven and the resurrection that are believed in by the countless sects within Christianity.

The general description in popular culture of heaven embodies our desire for incarnation; that is, a concrete and tangible existence. We can feel, see, hear, taste, smell and overall enjoy the things we did when we were physical vehicles of our souls. Such things as driving your favorite car, eating your favorite ice cream, or speaking with relatives long past; or the more heinous idea of 72 virgins in heaven for martyrs in a particular flavor of Islam. In all these cases, we want physical bodies, albeit the usual idea communicated is that of a perfect physical body. It will never age, it will never suffer illness and theoretically you’d be nigh indestructible. Not to mention other things that would come about with such an idyllic existence. You’d never run out of gas in your Corvette, you’d never run out of ice cream or get fat from said dairy product, and you’d never get bored of talking to grandpa about his war stories. All of this is very well and good, and I could point out the hollow nature of this fantasy, but for the moment, I’ll focus on the discrepancies within the faith itself on this stereotype about heaven.
One issue that has existed since the dawn of said thesis of bodily resurrection is the funerary process of cremation. The problem lies with destroying and otherwise ruining the consistency of what is supposed to be a creation of God, a vessel for your soul and a template for your perfect spiritually resurrected body. If you’re just ashes scattered to the winds or the seas then one asks how you can have a resurrected body. The obvious theological answer, which is just as easily believed as ignored, is that God, being all powerful, could reconstitute you from even a mere atom of your physical body. Or in such a case as your body is vaporized in a nuclear blast or such things, then the problem would be solved in a similar fashion: God can do things humans cannot imagine, so remaking a human body from scratch should be like putting together a child’s puzzle.

Another problem is the complexity of institutions like marriage. The most readily available example is the challenge of the Sadducees to Jesus of the problem of a Jewish marriage practice. If a married man dies and has no heirs, then his brother is obligated to marry his brother’s wife and produce an heir. But the issue that comes up in such a situation is this: if all the brothers don’t succeed and are all married to the woman and subsequently die, then if they are all resurrected, who is married to the woman? All of them, none of them, the original husband? Jesus’ answer is something to the effect that marriage will not be relevant in heaven, so the question is moot.

There is a secondary but equally compelling argument about resurrection concerning the immortality of the soul itself. This one originates in Plato, it seems, and suggests that the body is left behind and the soul communes with God in heaven in some mystical way for all eternity. An objection to this idea lies with how a mere spiritual existence can enjoy such things as driving a car or eating ice cream. But I would imagine a theologian could reply that with the soul encompassing our mental states and memories, it could be easy to make a lifelike simulation of events like enjoying a ride in a sports car or tasting rocky road for the first time.

But either way, there are further problems that can conflict the notion of bodily resurrection in Christian thought. There is the avoidance of the credibility of an actual resurrection of the body by some thinkers today in suggesting that the term resurrection is a metaphor for some change in the worldview or perspective of the believer. I would imagine this is appealing to the majority of people because of the simplicity. One can believe in the resurrection of Jesus, but not have to confront such problems as what a resurrection would mean for you if you happened to be cremated or wrecked beyond imagination in a horrible accident. But people would object to this because Jesus coming back from the dead in the spiritual/physical body that could both be touched and pass through walls is intrinsic to Christian belief. The consensus among believers is that if the resurrection could be proved false, Christian faith would fall apart. Though somehow I doubt this would happen (even though I’m not a Christian myself), the centrality of this belief in a bodily resurrection is undeniable in any investigation into Christian theology. There is a minority position that suggests that when we first die our soul merely “sleeps”, found in Seventh Day Adventist thought, but there is a parallel still with the bodies resurrected, or more precisely resuscitated it seems, and the real difference being that there’s no bodily parallel of hell. Instead, the unrighteous are burned to nothingness and cease to exist.

The problems of bodily resurrection would also persist in considering the flip side of the afterlife. Without a physical body, one cannot imagine the damned suffering in agony and anguish with hot coals being shoved in places you don’t want them, being poked by pitchforks or suffocating in brimstone. But I’ve noticed a general leaning today of believers towards the idea that hell is merely separation from God’s presence and is not necessarily to be viewed as literal physical suffering or torture, but instead the absence of what they believe to be the source of all purpose and happiness. In short, it is a similar idea to the “soul only” idea of heaven where one’s spiritual essence communes with God instead of the body. And I suppose a case could be argued that psychological and emotional suffering are more in line with what the Bible explains about hell and being unsaved, so the objections fall on the same ears that believe in the righteous counterpart to the “lake of fire” (literally speaking, in the opposite case)

In conclusion, however you stand on the issue of the afterlife, resurrection, reincarnation or annihilation, it’s important to understand how diverse the issue can be even within the resurrection crowd. Don’t even get me started on the mistaken association of the term reincarnation with Buddhism (rebirth is more preferable). So, until next time, Namaste and Aloha.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Sam Harris and Ethics/Morality

I’ve read Sam Harris’ Letter to a Christian Nation and own both versions (hardback and paperback) as well as a paperback copy of The End of Faith long recommended to me by my second roommate. While I don’t share his enthusiasm or background in philosophy and neuroscience, I can agree in principle with the thoughts he espouses in this article, which line up with what I recall being important in Letter to a Christian Nation. Religion in the sense of a fundamentally unquestionable system does limit one’s perspective of moral and ethical issues. Fundamentalism, legalism and theocracy all express this type of dangerous thinking in one form or another. His more controversial thesis that has popped up in “atheist/secularist” videos I see on Facebook or the like is the connection of science with morality/ethics. The idea seems contradictory and paradoxical at first glance, and the clarification Harris puts forward makes for a mind-bender.

Normally religion/faith and science/logic are categorized as being concerned with two different spheres: beliefs on the one hand with faith and facts on the other hand with science. With ethics, one is concerned with what are termed normative claims much more than descriptive claims: that is, with what one ought to do over what people believe about ethics in general. The argument, then, is that science, being concerned with brute facts about nature and things above or below the observation of the naked eye, has no reasonable say in the area of ethics, since it is concerned with what are termed abstract facts. Concrete facts are those such as observation of gravity, measurement of mass/volume/etc as well as investigating the galaxy we live in down to the subatomic world of the very stuff that we’re made of. Abstract facts look into what are universal ideas to humanity, but manifest in diverse ways, conditioned by environment and genetic predisposition: including belief in God, belief about good and evil and what makes something true and false. Two out of these three admit to such diversity that the question boils down to faith, with truth or falsity breaching into the scientific disciplines in terms of verifying hypotheses and models (otherwise called theories in common parlance).

But Sam Harris argues that while there are things that are inexplicable and almost transcendent that we experience (he has been involved in Tibetan Buddhist meditation and Hindu spirituality to some extent), there are facts that are scientifically observable that are not conducive to human flourishing and consciousness thereof. The example of pouring battery acid on a girl’s face because she wants to read is extreme, but relevant no doubt with Harris’ focus on the issues that come with Islamic theocracy and terrorism. He notes that every ethics you look at, however much it may boil down to faith in one area or another, is concerned with human suffering, with the consciousness of that phenomenon and how to alleviate it when it is especially heinous. So Harris concludes that we should be more concerned with issues that affect everyone on a day to day basis or on a larger scale than things like abortion, contraception, or gay marriage (however much I speak on two of these issues, ironically). Being concerned with worldwide hunger, poverty, education, and nuclear proliferation strike Harris as much more important in a principled ethics that doesn’t consider things in terms of traditions resistant to change and archaic ideas of what good and evil are. In order to advance society to a point where there is less need to resort to violence or war, we must first take a stand for a form of objective ethics and direct our efforts afterwards towards alleviating the suffering that comes from the issues that otherwise reasonable people ignore in favor of such short sighted notions as protecting marriage or the unborn as if either of them will just disappear one day. Until next time, Namaste and Aloha.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

James Conway and Gay Straight Segregation

This will be a shorter article, but I could not resist writing some commentary on this issue that has come up in relation to the changes being put in place with DADT by Defense Secretary Robert Gates. Recently, the top officer in the Marines, James Conway, has advocated that new barracks be made for homosexual officers, so that straight marines won’t have to share rooms with them. This already smacks of the intent behind segregation in the 50s: that even if you kept people separate, you were giving them equal treatment and not denying one group rights that the other has. But like segregation with blacks, if you are making such a large problem out of gays and straights cohabitating, it begs the question why such ideas haven’t been enforced in other areas of life, like college campuses, particularly state funded ones. Not to mention that separating people into groups based on appearance and other aspects of life is only good in the abstract, not the concrete. Public services and basic civil rights as such should be equally given and shared by all humanity, which was the reasoning that led to segregation eventually falling away.

But if the issue is about trust, then why shouldn’t college campuses do the same thing Conway is arguing? Because college campuses appear to be more informed and understanding of the complexity of such an issue. If I had had a gay roommate for example, I wouldn’t have had a significant issue apart from what would be a similar issue if one cohabitated with a roommate of the opposite sex. Just because there is such a possibility does not mean the people in question cannot confront this issue face to face, talk about it and come to an agreement that does not favor one over the other. While my gay roommate would understand that I don’t see his sexual orientation as anything immoral, I would think it reasonable that they accept that I’m not gay myself and thus would not want any unwarranted sexual attention that would be indistinguishable from sexual harassment.

With such an institution as the military, the idea of self control is reasonably assumed to be part of training. By association, it is hardly irrational to suggest to recruits that while you may disagree with gay and lesbian people and their sexual orientation that there is no reason to deny them the same right to serve one’s country; and that there is also no reason to fear them living in the same barracks as you. The same issue was confronted no doubt when they were thinking of letting women serve in the army, though admittedly gender separate housing could be said to be more reasonable in terms of such an area as the army. But co-ed housing would hardly be completely out of the question. The army is not like college, however, so my comparisons are questionable to begin with, but the importance of such a claim from a senior officer can’t be ignored. Passing the adjustments to DADT policy won’t change people’s opinions so easily on such things as allowing gays to cohabitate with straight people. That will be another thing entirely. Until next time, Namaste and Aloha.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Health Care Reform's Revolutionary War

I had imagined stuff like this would happen, but not to this extent. One could almost rank this by the degree of bad taste or cowardice involved. At the bottom would be people sending phone messages threatening Democrats and some Republicans even. Not to mention one person attacking Bart Stupak for his involvement in passing the bill through negotiations on funding for abortions allegedly written in the bill. I can understand criticizing the guy for being in some sense inconsistent with his own so called “pro life” position. And as you can read elsewhere, the whole term has little meaning to me in the sense of consistent application towards all issues, such as the obvious one that inspires accusations of hypocrisy, capital punishment. But I have seen other bloggers, one college acquaintance of mine running “In Defense of the Constitution” having strong words but not resorting to personal attacks on the person’s character beyond a critique on inconsistency of many so called Republicans in his view.

Above the phone calls (the highest on incivility being the implied death threats) would be the vandalism, throwing bricks at Democratic offices, leaving a coffin in one Russ Carnahan’s front lawn, sending a letter with an as yet unidentified white powder in it (obvious anthrax scare) and sending a fax to James Clyburn with a noose along with threatening phone calls. It’s one thing to strike fear through an otherwise distant method such as the phone, but another to directly attack property and threaten violence in graphic forms such as a noose in a fax or what may have just been laundry detergent to scare people into thinking someone sent anthrax in the mail (alluding to attacks that happened after September 11, 2001).

And probably the worst instance yet is a combination of vandalism and direct threats of violence with a bullet fired at Republican Eric Cantor’s office. Attacks on Democrats are one thing, since there’s more polarization, but when you attack someone that is presumably part of your own party because you disagree with how they vote on such an issue just creates internal conflict that is already a demonstrable problem with the Republican Party. I’m not a member of either party, but that’s beside the point. With the Tea Party rising up in a grassroots movement against government in general, there is a correlation, though not necessarily causation that these attacks may be motivated by this group. Even many Republicans suggest this is in bad taste, which is encouraging for some improvement of the general resentment that has existed between the two parties. Democrats are hardly free from smear campaigns or mudslinging, though one would have to investigate whether there is any connection between liberal or conservative tendencies and a predisposition to use extreme methods to get a point across. The general point many bloggers no doubt are trying to get across is that disagreements can be civil and not descend into personal attacks, violence, vandalism or threats of either. However much Democrats and Republicans may disagree, the bipartisan goal, however difficult it appears, may be the best solution to the issue at present of a two party system’s dominance over the political landscape. Until next time, Namaste and Aloha.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Future of Don't Ask Don't Tell

The development on this case has been a persistent interest of mine. This is especially relevant considering that while I do not have an interest in serving in the military in any form or fashion, I do see it as a necessary function of equality that it should extend to the military as well as in other areas of life. While Defense Secretary Robert Gates is in the majority, the fact that other senior members within the military have misgivings on this suggests to me that this won’t be an easy process. But the adjustments seem like they’re moderate and not excessively inclusive in the acceptance of homosexuals in the military. The alterations to the policy are primarily on who can instigate inquiries or expulsion within the chain of command as well as what will constitute accurate and trustworthy information on said inquiries. Gates’ focus on reducing the disruption and polarization within the ranks is particularly promising, along with the note of concentrating these efforts to those on the front lines. The repeal of the DADT policy will have many hurdles to jump, but the first should be getting the idea across that there is no reason to think that just because a fellow member of your unit may have sexual feelings or attraction towards you, a member of the same sex, that they cannot exercise self control and focus on the task at hand. To think otherwise is to discriminate against those in the minority having same sex attractions in contrast to the majority that, in the case of those of the opposite sex, have the same responsibility to prudence and abstinence as those who happen to be gay or lesbian.

I can’t say there’s much more thought on my part on this, since the development is a step in the process that, unlike the present health care issue, has not made a significant jump in progress, due no doubt to everyone’s concern more about their personal insurance rather than the well being of those that are fighting in one way or another to protect the security of said people worrying about their insurance. Not that I’m saying there is anything intrinsically wrong with self interest, especially if the intent is socialist in wanting to extend your self interest sympathetically to others in a similar or greater state of need that are unable to provide for themselves in extreme situations. But in such an issue as this, GLBT or straight, we should be concerned for those serving in the military that are afraid they may be discharged for admitting such a simple thing that is only different in accident, not in essence, from a similar admittance from the majority of recruits; that is, what sex you are attracted to and/or get arousal from. If we didn’t know such a thing, it would cause more problems overall in military protocol, etc. For example, what if there was sexual tension between a male and female that distracts them from a mission or a similar situation with two males or females. It is good to know these things about your fellow recruits in the military, but it is not good to then say that they can’t serve alongside you just because they happen to be biologically constituted in such a way that they create a different conflict within the ranks than simply what inevitably occurred with allowing women in the army. It’s a bridge you have to cross, however difficult it may be to admit you have to move on. Until next time, Namaste and Aloha.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Jesus Loves The Little Children (Except If Their Parents Are Gay?)

I know this is quite late in response, but its importance has redoubled in recent weeks. As you can see, I’ve tried to look at this from both sides as well as I can and yet I still cannot agree with the decision on the Bishop’s side. This is for a number of reasons, the most obvious involving my own previous enrollment at a local Catholic school in my own area. Which I hardly remember, since I went to mass two days a week at the school and yet also went to a Protestant church on Sundays. And my parents will tell you of an incident (not a huge one, methinks) where after the children’s service with the minister, I crossed myself out of habit and apparently the congregation was a bit stunned. I can’t imagine why they’d be so stunned, unless they were so sheltered and willfully ignorant that they just didn’t know there was a Catholic school two towns away. There’s no excuse besides a pathetic idea of community solidarity that keeps a group of otherwise reasonable people from acting normally when a child raised Protestant and yet going to mass during the week makes the sign of the cross out of a behaviorally induced habit.

But there’s a whole other problem with Catholic interaction with non-Catholics in the community. I was accepted into this Catholic school, since according to the website they accept other faiths, but if it’s anything like the school in Boulder, it stipulates that the parents accept a few points: 1) their child will go to mass during class hours two times a week and 2) the parents will not object to the Catholic mission of the school itself. My parents didn’t have a beef, since it was a good education. The issue stands though that the church in Boulder is cherry picking what is an issue. The justification hinges on the idea that if you are raised by gay or lesbian parents then you will be “confused” and you will think that your parents are bad because the teacher says so in confirmation class or some such nonsense. But I would think they can excuse such a thing as long as the parents are not in a direct conflict with the Catholic Church itself. Being GLBT and Catholic is one thing, being GLBT and protesting the Catholic teaching would be a different thing entirely. The parents in question are incredulous, and for good reason, because their two children had been going to this school for three years and there had been no problem. But apparently once a child goes into kindergarten, then the GLBT-Catholic issue comes to the foreground. I can’t imagine why, since I don’t remember learning anything about Catholicism as a child that wasn’t erased from my mind in consistently going only to Protestant services afterwards. The sign of the cross, the taking of “Eucharist” instead of “Communion”, and maybe the funny collars that I remember seeing the priests wear were the only things that probably stuck, minus the crossing which I probably never did again unless I was at mass.

The argument from the bishop himself continues in the vein that he is defending Catholic teaching along with protecting the children. There is no reason to argue on that point if this was about parents that argued that there is nothing in Catholic teaching against GLBT, which they weren’t. In fact the parents are both baptized Catholics and one was raised in Catholic school consistently. If the school let the kids go to the preschool for three years while knowing their parents are lesbians and thinking to yourself “Hey, isn’t that against Catholic teachings?” and then deciding when they’re going to kindergarten, “Nope, we can’t have that,” then they’ve already shot themselves in the foot. I don’t see how there’s a large difference between preschool and any grade afterwards. The obvious answer though would be confirmation, which usually occurs around the age of reason, which most churches put around 7 or 8. I’m surprised they didn’t start confirmation classes around 3rd grade, which for me would’ve been around the corner. But if that’s the case, then I would think Catholic schools would only have a problem admitting children of GLBT couples around that age. Beforehand, I don’t see why it’s an issue. Even if they teach that marriage is between a man and a woman, the child can distinguish that the Catholic Church can be right in one sense and yet their parents still love them and that “God” loves them as well, even if they’re different. Wouldn’t the Church perform a dual rejection of the child and the parents, where both the child and the parents are not allowed to associate with the Church until they “change their ways,”? Instead they seem to suggest that the child can’t go to the school and yet to my knowledge they don’t have a problem with the child or their lesbian parents taking communion. If they want to apply this universally, they shouldn’t have allowed me into the school, since I would just be “confused” by the Protestant teachings that I was raised in on Sundays. They can allow that “heresy” to continue, but a gay/lesbian family is somehow worse; except it’s not. The hairsplitting of mortal or venial sins only makes one reject the theology all the more in that it tries to micromanage such a thing that’s to be taken on faith and yet can be explained rationally to the point where the wall of mystery comes up. Even if this situation changes, I doubt it will matter, since the point would stand. Catholics have the right to discriminate about whatever they can justify as against their teachings and yet also have a duty to ignore people in contradiction of the faith as well in the spirit of tolerance (not acceptance). And yet here we have them accepting the family in communion and mass and deciding that they can’t allow them into the school, even though the children have been baptized in the Church. Why alienate the child from the school when they already feel a part of the faith community? Just a Colorado Catholic thing, I suppose. Until next time, Namaste and aloha.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Abortion Terms Revisited

While I have already confronted this issue in a rambling form before, I have now discovered an article that confronted the difficulty of associating terms with the spectrum of the abortion topic. It seems NPR is one of the only news organizations (besides Fox News quite likely) that uses the terms “pro-life” and “pro-choice”. The counterparts in the majority of other news stations are “anti-abortion” in exchange for “pro-life” and “abortion rights advocates” in exchange for “pro-choice”. While there are some difficulties I find even with this specification by CBS, NBC and CNN among others, such as the allegation by many in article comments that the term “abortion rights” presumes that there is a right to abortion. And I suppose one could also object to the term anti-abortion, since many conscientious opponents of abortion are not 100% against it, since they recognize there are points where abortion would line up with their position that is so commonly called “pro life”. If the mother’s life is in danger or the embryo/fetus will suffer crippling and life threatening birth defects, many would grant that abortion is justified in those circumstances. But even if we changed it to “abortion rights opponents” the difficulty would still remain with the objection of a supposed innate right to abortion by Constitutional interpretation.

There is a blog I glance at of a college acquaintance ( who covers mostly political/economic issues in relation to a very strict Constitutionalist Libertarian position along with Reformed Calvinist Christianity (a surprising combination, I know). And he put forth a note in an article probably a year ago or so that confronts the issue that comes with the labels of pro-choice and pro-life, though this may have been unintended. His main thrust was that liberty and choice by association are contingent to life itself, which in his argument was why life was put before liberty in the trio found early on in the Constitution. The syllogistic argument might go something like this:

1) Liberty is dependent on life to exist
2) Pro choice values liberty over life.
3) Pro life values life over liberty.
C) Therefore pro life advocates liberty better than pro choice.

Syllogistic arguments can become problematic in that they are more prone to logical fallacies and much easier objections to the premises within the argument; but they do get the point across expediently. I imagine that my acquaintance has a nuanced understanding of his position on abortion, and that he probably wouldn’t appreciate being described as valuing life over liberty, since it would no doubt make him appear to be a totalitarian that enforces their authority on others (and he is definitely a limited govt. kind of guy). So his response could come in the form of clarifying that pro life or associated positions do not value life over liberty, but inform others of their liberty and the better choice to “live and let live” instead of taking away the future liberty of a future child. Having had a number of informal debates online with abortion opponents, the arguments are not all faulty. And yet these people also insist on using the title pro life still, which reduces the argument on either side to creating strawmen of either side. Not to mention the issue of assuming every zygote and embryo is identical to a fetus and that a fetus is identical to a child, but the point still stands.

Pro-life is not by necessity Anti-choice, and contrariwise, Pro-choice is not Anti-life. Pro and Anti Abortion would be a good start to changing how the sides are presented, but perhaps instead of Anti-abortion, Contra or Counter-abortion might make more sense, since the prefix Contra/Counter implies opposition in the sense of more civil disagreements. Anti abortion makes the side opposing abortion generalized to the minority that choose to bomb abortion clinics or kill abortion doctors in their churches. I seriously doubt most people opposing abortion choose such methods to make their case or argue their position, so it would probably be best to meet somewhere in the middle on the argument. So “pro-lifers” shouldn’t call abortion advocates murderers or imply they are anti life by using the term “pro life” and maybe “pro-choicers” won’t call you anti-choice or imply you are fascists or totalitarians wanting to control people’s actions. I know the way of moderation and compromise is difficult in politically charged discussions, but I imagine you could forgive my Buddhist way of thinking in trying to live the Middle Path in all areas of life. Until next time, Namaste and Aloha

Friday, March 19, 2010

How GLBT and Marriage Have Aged

While I have not had much personal experience with elderly GLBT people, I had no idea there was such a discrepancy in terms of dispensing such a thing as healthcare and spousal benefits. While a domestic partnership is supposed to be different only in degree from a marriage (or a supposed civil union) to my understanding (along with common law marriage), it would seem that it does not afford many benefits or general advantages that a marriage does. If one’s spouse dies in military action for instance, there is no providence within federal standards to give pensions to the bereaved. Similarly there is disparity within Social Security and Medicaid in terms of benefits for spousal care. I could point out the various inequalities in the overall economics of benefits given to heterosexual married couples over same-sex couples that are in domestic partnerships; but my primary issue within this blog entry is to consider how the issue of gay and lesbian elders suffering problems in healthcare, nursing homes and the like connects to the problems of the system of marriage itself today, to both straight and gay couples.
The issues with being either a gay/lesbian couple that is “married” in the loosest sense of the term or being a “straight” couple cohabitating for an extended period are identical with the present state of marriage as an institution. Not only is there the dual validation with marriage through a church (though I believe this is not the actual officiating ceremony or document) and through civil process (which officiates the process through the proper papers), but there are the aforementioned differences that come through various tragedies that can affect both gay/lesbian and opposite sex couples. A spouse can die in military service, a spouse can be stricken with a sudden crippling illness, or the couple can both pass away and issues of inheritance become a labyrinthine task to proceed through. As long as you are “married” and have that official title (which according to the majority of states and countries is only granted to a couple that is a man and a woman) you are given benefits that begin to appear more like discrimination and less like acts of compassion by the state (that in a socialist worldview has a responsibility to provide for the less fortunate those things they cannot provide for themselves).

This leads me to a general conclusion that it would be better for everyone involved in the institution of marriage if it was first and foremost changed so that only civil marriages were recognized in the U.S. This would only be a start to the issue, since even in a system where marriages are only legally recognized when performed by a civil servant and not a priest who is somehow considered the same (which is patently absurd), there would be arguments that push the ideology that marriage is only between a man and a woman. Without confronting this outdated notion of what marriage is, it would continue to be a system that denies benefits deserved by same sex couples that are instead given only to “traditional” couples. It is, unfortunately, still not possible to have same sex marriage in France, where the status of marriage has been altered where only civil weddings are recognized by the country in what is called laicite. It is still argued that the civil code only allows for marriages between a man and a woman to be recognized. Therefore, the primary issue is about the definition of marriage itself and preventing it from becoming a relic of archaic culture. Even if the U.S. by some stroke of fortune alters the status of marriage to exclude religious ceremonies as binding (which is highly unlikely in the state of America’s religiosity at present), one would still find the same problems cropping up as to how to define marriage. And contrary to the insistence from such groups as Focus on the Family, it has already changed drastically and will continue to do so. In so defining, we should be primarily concerned with the implementation of the law in principle and not be so legalistic to stick to exactly what the law says when it was commonly formulated in a time when there was little idea of minority civil rights or of women’s suffrage. If America is a country of liberty and justice for all, I don’t see why we should ignore that guiding principle in the Constitution and make liberty and justice apply only to the status quo. Socialist, anarchist or otherwise, I am not advocating that marriage as an institution should be eliminated. If anything, marriage should be defined in a more flexible fashion and more importantly, should reflect the will of the people that is commonly advocated and yet often ignored. Why shouldn’t the state follow the will of the governed in such an institution where the governed are the primary recipients of the benefits associated with the process itself? Or does the state know what is best for marriage itself, even though the state is hardly married to anything in the first place? Unless marriage is made a fluid term, likened to how it has become in many other countries in the world, we will no doubt fall behind, if only in terms of allowing for the pursuit of happiness for those under the Constitution.

Monday, March 15, 2010

History According to Texas

(Disclaimer: I have nothing against Texans, my girlfriend is from Texas. I just see this as something that’s probably common to the South in general to an extent, or some fundamentalist idea of traditional “values”. Just to clarify)

I read a few days ago about the troubling movement in Texas’s State Board of Education to rewrite history to fit a particular preference: such as emphasizing the conservative resurgence in the 80s and 90s, emphasizing the “religious” background of the founding of the country, and generally pushing the ideology of tradition and small government over and against any “liberal” ideas. Now I can appreciate their goal of moderating and balancing the curriculum since in all fairness there is probably something of a bent towards leftist politics in some regards. But I was raised with the prior textbooks and I don’t recall feeling like we needed excessive government to solve our problems. Even reading about FDR’s New Plan and other associated “socialists” like Lincoln and Washington (that surprises me) didn’t make me think that the notion of a limited government was unrealistic or archaic. On the contrary, the general theme of history textbooks that I recall was valuing life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, though admittedly there was a bit less emphasis on the counterparts to MLK Jr. and other nonviolent protestors. I find it ironic that the goal here is to have a group of people that are so called representatives of the parents voting on what they think the parents want their children to be educated on. Many have already criticized this as hypocritical and for good reason, since these people only seem to want limited government when it suits their desires. Otherwise, they want bureaucrats and plutocrats to wield the power, since they know what’s best for everyone else. So parents can’t get into this? I’m hoping they will in the May voting that will revive the discussion.

To outright remove Thomas Jefferson from textbooks would frustrate even much more libertarian and conservative college friends of mine. Just because he happens to be a Deist and values the separation of church and state (however he meant it, it’s not necessarily agreed on) doesn’t mean you should replace him with John Calvin. I’m all for a comparison and contrast of views on church and state and the like, but there’s no reason to remove Jefferson from the textbooks entirely. No more reason than removing MLK Jr., however “liberal” he might have been to some political analysts. And changing the word capitalism to free-enterprise system seems unnecessary. There are other synonyms that would work: free market, laissez faire, and other terms that escape me. Similarly with the issue they have with labeling the country a democracy as opposed to a constitutional republic. It’s both in some regard, but there’s also the term representative republic coming to mind. But one could go on and on analyzing each point they’re attempting to change and find either stark inequalities or just willful ignorance to the idea of moderation of education (such as NOT putting such a large emphasis on the Second Amendment.) Guns are nice, but they’re not the best thing since sliced bread. That would be the printing press, which helped to spread the Bible many Americans love to read. A gun doesn’t spread knowledge, it spreads power, and they’re hardly identical, however related they may be.

Not to mention there’s a larger issue at hand here. From what I understand, Texas purchases a vast majority of textbooks that are published in the United States. So by association of economics, Texas has a larger influence on the publishers themselves. If they put forth such a reform in the textbooks themselves as opposed to just altering their curriculum, they could essentially rewrite history books and associated subjects to their worldview. The problem with this advocacy of the principle of majority rule is that this is more like a mob pressuring change in the system. They have advantage of numbers, so they can push through whatever they want. It’s a problem in any political or economic system when the inequality isn’t tempered by the valuing of the minority even when they lose. But the phrase “History is written by the victors” comes to mind here quite poignantly. This also connects to the issue of homeschooling, since the way I keep reading about these changes to the books you’d think they were rewriting history to completely remove non Christians from the books. It stands to reason that they might as well just purchase textbooks that do that, unless there somehow aren’t textbooks that are based in the prevalent fundamentalist Christian patriotic school of thought that pervades the homeschooling environment. But to do yet another thing that tries to cross the wall of separation of church and state to the detriment of learning about the historical influence of Jefferson, Lincoln and the like on culture and politics is going beyond any understanding of an informed education. I can only hope this goes through more stages of adjustment in May, or my future children will suffer an ignoble blow to their understanding of the complex nature of such things like history, politics, economics and even religion. And I don’t think I have the capacity to homeschool, since I can barely teach myself to remember things half the time. Until next time, Namaste and Aloha.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

GLBT In H.S. Prom=Educational Distractions?

I didn’t go to my high school prom and if anything similar to this incident happened at my own high school, it would’ve made me that much less motivated to go. A lesbian teen asked the school to allow her to bring her girlfriend in a tuxedo to the prom in order to get around a prohibition in the rules that required the date to be the opposite sex. Though that may not have been her intention it seems a reasonable compromise to at least conform to some outdated idea of gender roles and have one partner wear male clothes to the prom. But instead of the school rejecting her request and returning her money, getting back the prom tickets and solving the problem without a big ruckus, they CANCEL THE PROM ENTIRELY. I don’t know what the administrators could be thinking when they are quoted as cancelling the prom "due to the distractions to the educational process caused by recent events." Because a lesbian couple distracts from the educational process in Mississippi more than it distracts anywhere else, it seems. We had a gay student at my high school and we’re not exactly in the most enlightened area of Tennessee ourselves and there was no issue in terms of him being at the school, let alone coming to the prom. But I seem to remember he came alone; or he may have transferred because of similar issues with prom rules that exist in our own district.

The point comes across negatively in that the administration seems to think that just because two women who are romantically involved come to a prom, albeit in gender divided clothes, it will distract from the educational process; even though the high school educational process that they no doubt speak of isn’t at a prom in the slightest. One has to wonder why they allow the “distracting lesbian” to even go to the school if she is such a problem to the prom. Though a bigger question remains as to how a prom getting cancelled or having a lesbian couple attend it would even affect educational process. The students must be that focused on whether everyone at the prom is paired up male and female that when the prom has one female/female couple they just can’t focus on their work because their latent homophobia is flaring up. Or they just think a prom is more important that getting an education in general. Not to mention the students are focusing some resentment towards the girl in question, since she supposedly “ruined their senior year”. Yeah, because a prom is what makes your senior year important: not the graduation ceremony and wearing the caps and gowns and being supportive of your fellow students for working hard. No, I suppose that whole process of getting the diploma is bollocks compared to dancing in a crowded room to bad music with hormonally challenged teens trying to get into the fairer sexes’ pants afterwards. Must be my imagination to think students favor a prom over graduating itself as the exemplar moment of their high school years.

The aftermath of this incident suggests that the ACLU is still pursuing the lawsuit against the school for violating the student’s rights. And the school’s suggestion has some merit; that is, allowing a private sponsor to hold the prom in lieu of a public school funded one.And according to the lesbian student she’d probably be excluded from that function as well, since it’s an old generation with money that doesn’t agree with GLBT in general. But one has to wonder why they even bothered to use school funding to sponsor a prom with a rule that they knew one GLBT student could violate with their same sex partner which would they cause them to inevitably cancel the prom entirely. Any student continuing to gripe to the teen in question must have too myopic a standard to consider their fellow student’s feelings about something that they didn’t want to ruin for everyone. One same sex couple at a high school dance shouldn’t rock the boat so much that the party gets cancelled. Students getting exposed to such a thing at their age is part of a larger educational process that the school alleged was being affected. There are going to be minorities in the real world that you don’t agree with, so you should get used to tolerating them even if you don’t agree with them. But this is Mississippi, so I’m not holding my breath that this is going to change anytime soon. Even if the ACLU’s lawsuit succeeds, the school may just elect to their idea of making a private prom instead. And if that occurs, the girl should just move on, in my opinion. This whole incident isn’t worth holding a grudge against inbred Podunk retards that think that two women or men having a committed “Biblical” relationship is still an abomination or some such rubbish. Move on and leave the state if necessary; real friends accept you as you are, as an individual who can change and progress in the world. Real friends don’t bitch at you for happening to love the same sex and wanting to go to the prom like other high school students.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Tennesee + Racism + Obama=Awkward Emails

While I had only heard about these emails in passing, reading this article reminded me that this has happened three times. I’m not certain of the contents of the email regarding so called “white pride” but it could be construed as less than favorable towards the situation of the United States as having a president with African American ancestry since it suggests that whites have to band together on white pride. Although that could be taken as simple racial solidarity, it’s bad wording on the part of whoever started the notion. I do remember reading explicitly about the email that has President Obama’s eyes as the only thing visible in a black background. I believe it had something to do with him hiding (from responsibility?), but I can’t be sure without further research. The conversation is revived with this recent (in fact Sunday morning) article that speaks of a representative of Tennessee hotels and restaurants as well as a CEO of the Tennessee Hospitality Association sending an email to various people, including close friends. The contents involve comparing the First Lady to a chimpanzee, the partner of Tarzan Cheeta if I understand correctly. Now in all fairness this isn’t exactly uncommon emails between close friends who happen to be conservatives and if that was the case, then this wouldn’t be on the news. The fact that this person sends the email to people in the media and local governance sends a message that isn’t going to be changed so quickly in a few days or even weeks.

Tennessee’s notoriety for racism and white pride is not unjustified, but my own personal experience of these things in relation to black people is only representative of what is a medium sized town’s tri-county high school. And prior to starting this rant of sorts, I don’t consider myself a Tennessean proper or an American. These things are relative and I could’ve easily been born elsewhere in the world, so my comments on how these incidents affect Tennessee are more an issue of race relations than stereotypes of the Southeast.

There were many jokes on the bus involving the n-word as well as a common affirmation that the Confederacy was something to idolize, though one doubts if these people necessarily appreciate the Old South for the same reasons historical and literary scholars do. I can’t say this reflects anything beyond a context of ill educated and otherwise impoverished home life in my humble opinion, but with these emails, the notion of Tennessee being as bad as Kentucky or Alabama or even Mississippi in terms of race relations becomes relevant. Sensitivity and consideration are necessary in sending these emails around. I myself don’t do much in the way of passing around chain emails or sending out messages with some humorous/satirical image about a person in the media. But when I do get such emails they’re of a personal nature (and not really making pseudo racist statements about people of color).

When a representative of state government and relations sends out an email and forgets that they’re sending it to people that work in journalism (those in particular) and thinks that it will be fine is not taking things seriously enough. I can get a chuckle out of otherwise offensive jokes within the right context (Family Guy, South Park and the like come to mind) and when the news media isn’t involved, the propagation of internet memes is an intriguing and creative way to spread around culture through the wide expanse of the World Wide Web. But it smacks of brute idiocy or degeneration of empathy to think you can send this email to anyone and they’ll just chuckle about it and not say a thing. Especially if you’re in a position of responsibility to both represent your state’s image (albeit in the form of hotels and restaurants) and also heading an organization promoting hospitality, which doesn’t come across well in sending out such a set of pictures. Aren’t CEOs a bit too busy to use their time in the way a college student or political activist would be doing in the same context? Or maybe it’s easier to do that job than I think. Either way, I doubt this will stop anytime soon and people will be more interested in news involving shootings in churches or other such stories and forget all about this “minor” issue, sweeping the issue under the rug, proverbially speaking. Until next time, Namaste and aloha.

(Here's an example of this new satire of Michelle Obama that I found)

Sunday, March 7, 2010

On Gun Rights and "Civil War"

While searching for an article to mull on, I stumbled across one concerning a "liberal" argument for gun rights by extension of a similar argument for bodily autonomy justifying abortion rights and more precisely civil liberties in the sense of freedom of volition. Not to mention the counterpart that is privacy, a right to responsibly behave in whatever way you deem fit as long as it does not interfere with either the public at large or the government in general. And within 10 minutes of reading the article, I thought; why not connect this real issue to a fictional one brought up in comics regarding superheroes and other superpowered individuals (anti hero or otherwise)?

What I speak of in particular is a well known conflict that occurred in Marvel Comics, known by the name Civil War. The premise hinges on the formation of a Superhero Registration Act. While it doesn't do anything like what the government attempts in the tv series Justice League Unlimited which was outright creating a counter force to act against the potential threat that the Watchtower and its associates posed to the world, this act would require all superpowered beings: mutants, mutates and even those such as Iron Man or Punisher, to register with the government as "living weapons of mass destruction". The difficulty comes about when Captain America and others oppose the act by virtue of it violating both civil rights (the pursuit of happiness in particular, I'd wager, but also liberty) and the right to privacy granted as a given to all superheroes with secret identities. But those on the side of Registration, including Spiderman, argue that "with great power, comes great responsibility" and that the Registration would enable superheroes to become accepted by the general public and not be viewed as a rogue threat or a danger to society.

Now I imagine you're wondering how this has any relevance to the continuing debate on gun rights, but bear with me. Imagine you have a single gun in your house. Even a basic revolver or 9mm possesses a comparable level of power to any person in Marvel with enhanced skills or special abilities. You can wound someone, but without proper training, you can just as easily kill them. Now this doesn't mean I'm arguing for more or less gun control by this line of argument. My point is similar to the dichotomy in "Civil War". Superheroes could be very dangerous if they take the law into their own hands and become vigilantes in the strongest sense. An example comes from the series Justice League and DC by association. The Justice League in an alternate timeline overthrew the world government. And this was when it was merely 6 people: Superman, Green Lantern, Hawkgirl, Wonder Woman, Martian Manhunter and Batman (Flash having died in this timeline). The point is that without self control, restraint and general moderation of one form or another, anything can become an excess or a deficiency, particularly superpowers. You can possess a weapon, but not know how to use it and it becomes useless to protecting yourself or your loved ones. But you can view the weapon as a means to any end, including taking justice into your own hands and it threatens the same lives you meant to protect. So my general thoughts on gun control are similar to if I possessed superpowers. While others might use it in a variety of ways, I choose to take responsibility and not only train my powers, but also use them prudently and within a limit that I enforce upon myself: not only because I think it is necessary for myself, but because it protects the people around me. And similarly if I possess a gun or if in some alternate universe, my hands were considered deadly weapons, I would exercise an equal amount of self control and discipline so that I could both protect people from harm outside myself and from harm that might be caused by myself.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Being Pro "Life" or "Anti" Abortion

While I consider myself a general moderate on issues of abortion and valuing a combination of liberty and affirmation of life, it can be frustrating to hear the same people who complain about how "abortion is murder" or how homosexual activity is "destroying the family values" or some such drivel will also support war in any form or force people to go through grueling anguish and suffering to bring children into the world that will not survive beyond their 5th year or more. It's that combination of willful hypocrisy and self imposed compartmentalization that makes me think it's just a matter of clever labels that avoid implied positions like "anti abortion" or "anti GLBT". Instead they call themselves "pro life" and "pro family" to avoid the fact that there is little connection of pro life to valuing the death penalty or waging war in lieu of nonviolent means; and similarly that being pro family does not involve denying gay couples the right to adopt children and give them a family they'd otherwise be without because of the red tape and waiting lists that come with adoption agencies simply because they are two men or two women.

With pro life, it seems like it should be affirming life as a valuable thing in and of itself. Not just in the context of a potential life or the preservation of it to the detriment of other lives interconnected with it (maternal death due to poor medical care for instance or the demonization of abortion only pushing women to get back alley procedures that only cause them more suffering than necessary). Pro life should reasonably say that even a murderer should be given life in prison to ruminate on their crimes and misdeeds instead of saying that we can take their life in our hands and use it in whatever way we see fit to fulfill a twisted sense of justice. And instead of trying to force abstinence only education on children, perhaps it would be best to approach sex as a natural process that leads to life, but also teach teens responsibility for such an act that carries that value. Pro life in short, has to be expanded beyond what is a thinly veiled hatred of abortion that spreads misinformation or general bigotry towards a procedure that while objectionable in some theological manner, does not automatically become the ethical equivalent of me pulling a gun on a stranger and repeatedly shooting them. Especially considering the so called "child" is commonly a child only in the eyes of parents who love it, not every woman who happens to be pregnant and in many cases scared beyond imagination.

And with pro family, there is a parallel need for expansion of the position beyond saying that gays and lesbians cannot adopt because two men or two women can't bring up a child with distinct gender roles and also a clarification that sex is only part of a meaningful relationship of people who love each other. It could stand to expand the idea of family to transgendered individuals as well, though one might have you believe they're confused or trying to play God with their biology. Not to mention the idea that any family that isn’t a male and a female seems doomed to failure in the eyes of this position. Not even a single parent is as esteemed as two people who only feel obligated to stay together because of divorce being anathema to them or a so called duty to society that overrides keeping their children happy and well cared for. But as long as people insist on keeping ideas of life or family within narrow and purposely ignorant constraints that keep out minorities of one stripe or another, the real essence of their message is mangled beyond recognition. Not unlike tearing me apart and saying that I'm only a valuable person because of the part of my brain allowing me to think critically on topics such as this. But I kind of need my hands and arms and torso and eyes to sit at this laptop and put this together, don't I?