Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Military and the Cross
Even though I’ve already put in my two cents on the recent scandal with the National Day of Prayer, I found this short article this morning and thought I’d do a quick commentary on it. A symbol at an army hospital, Evans Army Community Hospital, at Fort Carson in Colorado Springs is being appealed to be removed since not only is the emblem a cross with a pointed base (allegedly used by Christian pilgrims to mark a camp site) but the phrase in Latin translates to “For God and humanity”. The representative Lt. Col. Steve Wollman argues that the symbol has been accepted by the army since 1969 and that references to doctors serving God and humanity go back to Hippocrates, the originator of the Hippocratic Oath used unofficially by many doctors today. The problem with that argument is that the original text swears to Apollo, Asclepius and Panacea among other Greek deities. Ancient Greeks weren’t disposed to swearing to one creator God in their times, so noting that medical pledges to gods in the ancient times were common practice doesn’t mean that it should be the case now, especially with the religious diversity of the army that is recognized today.

I imagine the reason this symbol has even persisted as long as it has is due in part to the Latin itself, which not many people are especially fluent in or able to read well enough to translate the explicit Abrahamic reference to god with a capital G. Not to mention they could’ve written it off with the pointed base of the cross differing enough from Christian crosses to be considered neutral. According to Mikey Weinstein, president of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, the association of the cross image with Middle Age Christianity and the Crusade mentality of spreading the faith across the world would send a negative message to Muslims and even soldiers associated with the hospital; that message being that the U.S. army is waging some Christian war on terror and more explicitly, Islam in the Middle East. And at least half of the people that lodged the complaint anonymously (because they didn’t want their superiors to know about it, making me that much less inclined to associate with the military at all; thanks conscientious objector status) were Protestant or Catholic, so to say this is some attack on Christianity by non Christians is an absurd argument. All in all, I can’t see why the group can’t use another symbol. Especially since it occurs to me that the military is not exactly one to accept standing out a great deal, valuing conformity to tradition and authority over needless self expression. To say the army wants robots for soldiers is another topic in itself, but changing the symbol shouldn’t be a large change. Using the symbol of the Red Cross would be a better choice in my eyes, however religious in nature it may initially appear. Anyway, until my next article, Namaste and Aloha.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Church, State and Prayer

The last issue I even blogged on with the President in detail was Obama meeting with Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, who has taken time off from his travels. In more recent news, President Obama met with church icon (get it?) Billy Graham. I’m amazed Graham’s still alive, but I suppose he is the lesser of two evils with Pat Robertson still alive. He and President Obama, along with his son, the more controversial Franklin Graham, spoke on various issues of faith in the presidency. Billy Graham has been well known for being the so called “pastor to the presidents”, having counseled at least 12 other presidents in his lifetime, which is a monumental achievement. However little meaning I may find in the message he preaches, I do admire his devotion to the passion he found in his life. The two discussed also their love of golf (what man in his 50s and above doesn’t love golf a bit?) and Chicago (Obama’s alma mater and a place where Billy Graham started some radio broadcasting). Graham Sr. gave the president two bibles, after which the two men prayed for each other and left for other important ventures. Graham’s son, Franklin, had been recently uninvited to speak at the Pentagon for the upcoming National Day of Prayer (which I’ll talk a little more about in relation to the second article by Jon Meacham), because he was a tad insensitive to Muslim issues. He spoke on CNN that true Islam is apparently all the extreme use of shariah law, including beating your wife because you suspect her of adultery. He tried to save his hide from the rebound of the insult to more moderate Muslims, but evidently it didn’t work in his favor, since he was basically denied his “commission”. He said he had Muslim friends, but that he didn’t like how Islam was practiced in the predominately Muslim world in the Middle East as he has been there in the past.

Of course, this isn’t the only controversy or issue of interest; Obama praying with Billy Graham and son is more something people would find positive things from. The striking down of the National Day of Prayer as unconstitutional, however, has been met with opposition by Obama’s administration. To advertise an acquaintance’s blog I occasionally read ( he argues that the 1st Amendment does not extend to government involvement with religious practices, prayer being the one that was argued by Barbara Crabb to be something the government should not have a say on. While I respectfully disagree, I can see how the issue might be of importance as he is a strong Christian believer, while I am not anything Christian except in lineage of sorts (raised Christian that is). The alleged wording on the National Day of Prayer is a suggestion, a voluntary choice. But even if this is so and prayer is not being forced, which according to Mr. Luna would violate the separation of church and state in terms of establishment, there is a compelling argument that church and state’s separation should extend to the explicitly religious behaviors, including prayer. While giving a moment of silence is one thing, giving an open moment of prayer does seem to suggest more explicitly the advocacy of pleading to a personal deity to answer some humble request. If the government, according to the establishment clause, should pass no law respecting an establishment of religion, one can interpret it to extend to passing a law that says that people “may pray to God”. There is a border where religion is granted its freedom to practice (in any way that does not violate other Constitutional standards of free speech and religious practice by association, such as libel/slander and the like) and the state does not overstep its bounds to legislate laws about religious practice in any way, shape or form or restrict religious practice beyond reason. Suggesting that the government have a say about the religious practice of prayer does appear to cross the border we give religion as an individual and communal practice of believers.

Jon Meacham’s argument in particular, leans on the religious call for prudence in regards to the government and its sanction of religion. Long before Thomas Jefferson, there were others (Puritan thinkers of some stripe or another) that argued that religion and state should stay separate because they are in decidedly different spheres. Religion has its own structure of authority and loyalty to God, while the state has its own authority structure and loyalties to the people it governs. It is similar to Jesus’ call in Matthew 22:21, to “Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s”. In this way, I am not advocating, nor is Jon Meacham, a complete isolation of the two. State officials cannot help in their rendering of their government duties to sometimes reflect on their regard to the divine in some form or fashion. Barack Obama recently prayed for the 29 victims of the mining disaster in West Virginia, the Justices perform their duties according to particular religious beliefs, Antonin Scalia coming to mind, and even the Supreme Court opens with a prayer (which may be rendered by many different chaplains of different faiths, such as Hindus, at least once to my memory). The involvement of religion in the lives of representatives should not be denied or suppressed, but the role of religion in their lives should be restricted within reason to the extent that they neither legislate laws supporting any explicitly religious practice, nor limit the legitimate practice of religion in the private lives of the citizens of the country. If anything, this ruling may go either way, but Jon Meacham’s concluding dilemma raises a good consideration of at least two outcomes of the appeal, “the choice between a government-sanctioned religious moment and the perpetuation of a culture in which religion can take its own stand, free from the corruptions of the world”. So religion can either be independent and yet related to federal issues, in the sense of a civil religious culture, or it can be intertwined with government, leaving a gap open to potential theocratic justifications. Which would you choose? Until next time, Namaste and Aloha.

Friday, April 23, 2010

South Park and Muslim Censorship,0,5940860.story?page=1

I haven’t kept up with South Park beyond season 11, but I can always appreciate its humor. Even when it poked fun at atheism, being an “atheist” myself in some sense, I didn’t take offense. It was clear that the message was not about poking fun at any group in particular, just people that took their beliefs too seriously to not be considerate of others. And I barely remember the episode that involved Mohammed before (Super Best Friends, I believe), but now Comedy Central has finally caved in to Muslim protests. I don’t know what censorship was involved with the most recent episode, but it seems like it’s taking out a point key to the episode’s overall message that intimidation and fear are not the way to communicate to a differing group. This reflects similarly on the group Revolution Muslim which purports to be using their constitutional right to free speech and civil protest. But in reality they seem to be hiding behind that to make a threat that Matt Stone and Trey Parker will end up just like Theo Van Gogh, the Danish filmmaker who was killed by a Muslim extremist in 2004 for making a film exposing the abuse of women in some Islamic societies. If that isn’t wishing violence or advocating it upon the two creators of South Park, I don’t know what is. A Muslim by the username of Abu Talhah Al-Amrikee, from the same group that says they don’t advocate violence, Tweeted a prayer that Allah would kill Trey Parker and Matt Stone and posted a picture of the deceased Theo Van Gogh in their threat. According to the leader in New York, Younus Abdullah Muhammad, this is just posting evidence, but it’s a tad morbid to point out the dead guy almost 6 years after the fact. Not to mention the persistent error of correlation and causation. The man was killed by a Muslim extremist; it doesn’t mean everyone killed by them is killed for the same reasons. Depiction of Prophet Mohammed is not the only way to get death threats from Muslims in shorthand form, so the alleged evidence is patently false. If I was an apostate from Islam as opposed to Christianity I could have a death threat issued on me.

Though they may not be directly calling for Muslims to kill them (just Allah, because that’s totally different), they are implying that there are Muslims beyond their control that may decide to try to take their lives. If you’re trying to be somewhat accessible, why not decry the use of violence against people that supposedly insult Islam instead of saying, “Oh we don’t advocate violence, but we think you’ll get killed for doing this even if people unassociated with us happen to be the ones to kill you. It’s not our fault if we spread a message and someone takes it the wrong way”. Except it is your fault if you are speaking to a group that is not managed apart from individual clerical authority or the influence of a text written by a supposedly illiterate ancient Arab. If you try to dance around issues of violence as interpreted in the Qu’ran by saying that “terrorize” just means striking fear into unbelievers with protests and opposition instead of bombing their buildings or killing them in the streets of Amsterdam, then you’re just making yourself the lesser of two evils. From what I’ve read on their recent post on their blog ( their argument is even more obscene than I initially thought. They argue that it is not a matter of advocating opposition that could be taken to mean violence by extremists, but that they are just following the law of shariah, the overarching ethos of the Muslim religion. And according to an overwhelming consensus (of 5 Imams, apparently) the interpretation of the shariah law on insults to the Prophets (Moses, Jesus and Mohammed for three examples) is that whoever does this deserves death (or a threatened conversion to Islam before they die). So it’s not a misunderstanding of Islam by radicals, according to Revolution Muslim; it is the moderate Muslims in America that don’t understand how serious shariah is and thus are not proper Muslims. So those that welcome violence and death to those that insult the Prophets are being peaceful in their own twisted fashion.

Frankly, I don’t see how I can respect any representatives of a religious faith or culture that advocates striking fear into people (through threats of death from above or being countercultural in the extreme to provoke responses) to get their point across. The creators of South Park have not been prone to hide away from controversy, in fact, usually taking it at face value and accepting the publicity and moving on. People have complained about episodes poking fun at Catholicism (one involving Catholic priests raping children and another involving a supposed miracle with a statue of Mary “menstruating”), protested by Bill Donohue of the Catholic League or Scientology (where Tom Cruise and John Travolta are involved with Stan entering the cult) which caused Isaac Hayes to leave the show. There have been other times when Comedy Central has caved in to pressures, though admittedly their wording for why they censored the use of Mohammed’s name and his personage in this particular episode is less about religious tolerance of Islam as opposed to the threats that they will get blown up. But even this disappoints me. If you let the fear thrown around by domestic terrorists in one form or another affect you, then you are giving them the power they want in an institution that does not let people getting offended by something override a person’s right to present the offense. In South Park’s case, there is no ill will towards the religions themselves, so much as towards the fundamentalism that alienates people and otherwise gives off a negative portrayal of the religion. However much they may argue they are countercultural, there is a difference between protesting through art or literature and actively praying for Allah to kill people because they poke fun at the issue in Islam of depicting Mohammed. That’s the kick in the balls about this; there doesn’t even have to be a depiction of Mohammed in the episode, which could be the entire point. The episode is poking fun at the absurdity that comes about when you can’t depict Mohammed at all to the extent that you can’t even hear someone speak his name. There’s no ill will towards Islam, and quite frankly, Mohammed’s last appearance was as a superhero, stopping David Blaine from creating a cult of worshippers. Although apparently, even that episode has been removed from, so this whole issue is getting blown out of proportion. I can only hope Comedy Central eventually gets over this fear of perceived Muslim attacks and take the publicity the way it works best for them, getting more people to watch the episode on TV in the future and thus promoting tolerance. Controversy is not always the best way to communicate a message, but in a society where satire is commonplace, the creative use of it in controversial ways may be the best method to communicate ideas falling out of popular knowledge. Until next time, Namaste and Aloha (and may disorder continue to collapse the Muslim extremists)

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Facebook Prayers + Celebrity Deaths + Obama=More Awkward Emails

While I can’t ramble on this for as long as I usually would for other more important issues, I thought I’d put my two cents in on this. Supposing this is humor, it borders on disturbing already. Swayze, Fawcett and Jackson have been dead for half a year or so and all were in 2009, so this doesn’t even make sequential sense. If Swayze, Fawcett and Jackson had died this year, it would have been coherent. But beyond that, the issue is that people are going along with this as a joke and not realizing that you basically just asked God to conveniently make sure Obama would die or as Rush Limbaugh suggested, fail. I don’t have to agree with people on political issues, but this goes into something that’s a personal issue. People pray to God for a variety of things, many of which are probably less than virtuous to begin with, but when you begin your prayer by whining to God about how it killed your favorite actors and musicians and then say, “Oh my favorite president’s Obama” as if presidents have the same area of popularity, it goes beyond disappointment. Instead it’s a matter of me pretending it never happened; which unfortunately is not likely to happen with Facebook popularity being what it is. I would have to wait at least two weeks for someone to think up a new way to say, “Hey we hate Obama, but we don’t wanna be seen as racist. Hey let’s make some nonsensical insult again,”

What makes this less than humorous in any sense is that the scope of living presidents that are people’s favorites are usually dead already. And if we’re talking favorite presidents over the last 40 years or so, people have plenty of conservatives they could choose from. But the whole ironic point to this is that they apparently can get over God killing Patrick Swayze, Farrah Fawcett and Michael Jackson, but then they beg and plead ever so subtly for God to strike Obama down, as if such an entity gave a rat’s tail about what we do with our free will, especially in politics. No one said you had to agree with President Obama, but if you go along with conservatives that think this is a joke, your sense of humor is a bit disturbing (you know, the whole indirectly wishing death on a person because you don’t agree with them), but more importantly isn’t wired right, since there’s the obvious conflict that defeats even irony. You start with people that were popular over time and then note a man that is only well known because he’s the President of the United States. In 6 years tops, he’ll be unable to be President anymore and politically minded conservatives will have to find a new target to poke fun at or call random names like Czar and Socialist. So get over it and do something more productive, like protest with your brain. Until next time, Namaste and Aloha.

Friday, April 16, 2010

A Conservative Approach to Gay Marriage

I started my blog too late to lament the issues regarding the passing of Prop 8 in California in opposition to the legalization of gay marriage in that same state, but with a 3 month old article from Newsweek, I rediscovered what I thought was a well written and thorough argument for justifying the acceptance of gay marriage in a conservative political worldview. Of course, many conservatives would denounce the writer and have done so based on their own way of thinking that promotes what I view as less than fair minded and reasoned consideration of the Other in relation to what is allegedly a Judeo Christian mindset, where as I recall the Other is not to be excluded or marginalized, but welcomed and cared for to the benefit of a larger community. Admittedly this call is not always viewed in the same way, but when you start denying a certain minority group the same rights that you give the majority, it becomes alienating to those same people and they feel they must distinguish themselves in progressively more extreme ways.

The first point the writer puts forth is probably one many conservatives may not consider at first. If marriage is indeed a conservative value and supplants what is commonly a larger value of family and community, then the fact that gay and lesbian individuals want to get the status and appellation of marriage to their relationship would seem to suggest that conservative values are still demonstrably popular in this country. There are those that denounce the institution of marriage, but even in relation to my last post on how the institution of marriage has aged awkwardly, I would agree it has value as a form of social cohesion and uniting people to be concerned about things apart from a narrow group interest. No institution is perfect, and there will always be some room for improvement in order to make the principle of equality actualized in the practice of the institution itself.

In marriage’s case, one step towards further affirming what is in the Declaration of Independence, that all men [and humans by association] are created equal, would be to extend the institution of marriage to those that happen to be gay and lesbian. To try to argue otherwise about equality strikes me as what I observed with Mike Huckabee. Just because gays are not in the American “ideal” of families having kids, raising them to be straight and perpetuate the meme of marriage implying a connection to childrearing (when it doesn’t) does not mean they should be treated as less and given discriminatory terms to describe what their relationship is. Marriage in terms of etymology doesn’t even imply that it is strictly a male/female coupling, though it does seem to suggest that originally it was little more than an exchange of property and a giving of something to another. Equality doesn’t imply one has to agree with the practice of homosexuality or condone it or even see it as morally permissible according to alleged divine laws, but it does suggest that you should treat those people with the same respect you give to those within your own group. Even though they are strangers in your land, I recall in the Biblical narrative that the ancient Israelites were strangers in Egypt and then were made strangers in their promised land of Canaan. Therefore, the admonition to treat strangers with hospitality rings very true in regards to the alleged Judeo Christian origins of marriage (even though they may be much older than that). To ascribe less than equal treatment in relation to marriage seems to me unfair and to any fair analysis of the Constitution as against its principles of a group of otherwise different people uniting together for the purpose of creating a free and equal society where people are not treating unjustly because of things that are beyond their control or are intrinsically part of their identity in most cases (religion and sexual orientation both involving some amount of choice, though both can be a matter of compulsion as much as volition).

With marriage being both a civil bond on the one hand of secular considerations and a sacred unity on the other hand in religious considerations, this does create something of a difficulty. But this only comes about if you make the argument that all religious rites and services must be equally recognized in a civil or state context. No one recognizes a priest as a priest in regards to the state; they are only officiated and made so by the religious organizations themselves. And even if one chooses to have a marriage ceremony in your church, this should be no reason for the church in question to hold the final authority for what marriage is considered or whether the marriage itself is legal and binding under the civil and secular law, in principle considered apart from religious advocacy. Marriage’s traditional association with religious sacrament does not imply it should only be considered in that context. On the contrary, it should be considered as an all encompassing institution that crosses barriers that exist between people: religion, race, ethnicity, and even sexual orientation. It doesn’t affect my desire to get married if two gay men or women want to get married. Heck, it wouldn’t affect me if one man and 3 women wanted to get married. The principle I desire is equality and moderation of such a widespread institution, not whether it is convenient for the majority that doesn’t want a minority infringing on their supposed rights to solidarity in their age old tradition of man/woman only marriage.

The arguments against gay marriage are noted by the author to be quite mistaken. The argument from tradition doesn’t work by the same reason that the argument from authority doesn’t work. Just because it is a longstanding tradition to lynch African Americans, Jews, homosexuals and the like does not make it right or even justified to keep around. Tradition is a persistence of a cultural practice and only exists as long as there is a majority that agrees it is correct. In short, it is contingent upon popularity and when its popularity fades, so does its applicability. Not that popular opinion is universally applied except in a moderated fashion within the representative democracy system we use in voting. The majority does not get unquestioned dominance over the minority it was victorious over. In fact, in a sporting fashion, the victor is gracious and does not oppress the loser in any sense, and in fact congratulates them for their strong effort in competition.
The other two arguments can be lumped together under the suggestion that if gays get married it will negatively affect straight marriage and the associated values it has, such as family and procreation. Even from my own opinion alone, I see no reason to imply people are so superficial that they will stop getting married or be less motivated to have children just because two people of the same sex get together in the state of marriage (which I must emphasize does NOT imply having children or even having sex for that matter). I know I’d still love my future partner even if I knew gays and lesbians would also have the right to love their partners and share property along with the other associations that come with marriage as an act of sacrifice and unity in the same instance. Just because other people can own a car doesn’t reduce the value you place on your own, does it? Nor does other people being free and able to get the same job as you with the right credentials and experience reduce your enjoyment and merit you find in that same job. We’re told to share things as equally as possible as children and then when we grow up we start becoming attached to such abstract concepts as “traditional marriage” and the “sanctity of family” that we forget that marriage and family are evolving “traditions”. Do people really and sincerely think that a family has to be just a mommy and daddy and associated children? It can be two women or men that are sisters/brothers or lifelong friends, it can be grandparents, it can be uncles or aunts, and it can be the state foster child system even. With the idea of family being so diverse in even its very essence, let alone the accidental manifestations that can occur with tragic events like losing your parents in a plane crash or parents being incapable of raising you, it’s hard to suggest two males or females that love each other and want to raise a child cannot be considered a family just because they happen to have sex a different way or may very well not feel the need to have sex in some cases (as mentioned before). Not to mention I see no reason why I would be deterred from wanting children just because two people that cannot procreate happen to be married. Maybe it’s just the reasonable part of me realizing that marriage is a primarily unifying event and institution, not a free sex and/or children card. Sex can be done responsibly by cohabitating mature adults and children can be raised by otherwise unheard of people. Either of these instances does not reduce the importance of sex as a procreative act or a unifying act between people committed in marriage nor does it suggest children should not be adopted by couples that are either unwilling to have children or unable to in some cases. Differences do not make things incorrect; it is willful misuse to the detriment of others that creates things that are wrong and otherwise evil. Until next time, Namaste and Aloha.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

No True Tea Party

With the Tea Party’s favorite day of the year for protests today, I’m reminded of the alleged racial slurs and even violence that may have been associated with Tea Party sympathizers. Admittedly, that poses a potential error of correlation versus causation (i.e. I may just be connecting Tea Party extremism I see with the violence even though it may have just been perpetrated by whack-jobs that have no life outside of saying how angry they are at big government) but onto more relevant consideration. The organizers are worried that the protests might show a bad image of the Tea Party. I find this funny since even without the alleged connections of violence against supporters of the recent healthcare reform to the Tea Party that I blogged on a few weeks ago the Tea Party still seems like disgruntled ill educated citizens that are frustrated at being a minority group. Though another article I’ll note ( suggests through a poll (though we know those aren’t always the best indicators of overall thought from my blog post on the Meaning(s) of Easter) that Tea Party members are actually relatively wealthy and educated. That doesn’t mean they’re not a minority, since the poll notes only 18% of the people polled identify as Tea Party affiliated.

Back to the Tea Party Day celebration, some of the more controversial speakers that were invited (like Mike Huckabee?) have now been politely declined, security has been enhanced and people were asked to bring cameras to catch interlopers in the act. Some have suggested that the protestors that drew attention at Tea Party protests were agents placed to make the Tea Party look bad. I can’t validate this one way or another, but if we’re talking about a relatively small group of citizens that are commonly white, Republican, over 45 and married, you can’t put it past them to feel defensive, however well educated and wealthy they might be. Put another way, imagine you put an otherwise mellow domestic housecat (say a Persian) in a cage for a week with minimum food and water and I guarantee you’ll find that pussy will be less than happy to see people when you set it free. Similarly, I imagine these people feel underrepresented, marginalized and more than a minority, if not a silent majority as one image I found while searching through Google suggested. In this way, the message is communicated quite differently. Instead of being a minority that’s oppressed, they’re just the majority that’s being silenced by a minority that holds more power. I’m not even going to get into potential conspiracy theories about the Jews in politics or the NWO (New World Order).

The thing I find most amusing about this is the allegations from Tea Party members that the people who use offensive language or in some cases, imagery such as President Obama depicted in the style of the Joker from The Dark Knight are not representative of true Tea Party members. This shows what is called a “No True Scotsman” fallacy. The gist of this problematic argument form is that it refuses to admit that its initial premise is wrong because of a counterexample; instead they modify their original position and suggest that “true” members of their group are not like the counterexample offered. In the case of Tea Party activists, they insist that people that use offensive language or imagery or extremist rhetoric are not associated with their group. Problem with this is that they would suggest that people only pay attention to their status quo and ignore what is a demonstrable problem in their ranks as a grassroots movement. If they have no structure to speak of in arranging and managing their members, then it’s no wonder people think of them as little more than a fringe group that poses little to no threat except their bomb threats or the suggestion of some states (Oklahoma in particular) to start state militias. Now a counterpoint would appear in the form of a Latin phrase abusus non tollit usum, translating roughly to “misuse does not remove use”. A sincerely progressive Tea Party member (if it exists, and it may) would argue that excessively emotionally charged speeches and rousing of the masses to change being the common mantra of even non extremist Tea Party members does not suggest that the Tea Party ideal is not something with merit. Historical comparisons to the original namesake of the present movement aside, conservative ideals are something I respect, along with liberal ideals, so even the Tea Party has merit in some sense. The difficulty comes in the form of how it presents itself. A group for the common people is one thing, but a group maintained by mob rule and pure majority dominance is only going to survive for as long as people remain uneducated and willing to be ignored or dismissed. And I sincerely doubt that’s going to continue to be the case for longer in either case. Until next time, Namaste and Aloha.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Mike Huckabee on GLBT

Well, this isn’t the first time I’ve heard Mike Huckabee referring to gay marriage as equivalent to incest or polygamy, but now I have an article to tear apart piece by piece with every quote noted. And apparently he’s a potential candidate in people’s eyes for the GOP in 2012, out of 193%, I might add. (Yeah, apparently Fox News has special math skills)

But let’s focus on his rhetoric for why gay couples shouldn’t adopt and why we shouldn’t give fair and equal treatment on the great “tradition” of marriage. He replies to why gay couples shouldn’t adopt that “children aren’t puppies”. Well, I’m glad he knows the difference, but I fail to see what the point of such an obvious distinction is. He’s making more equivocations by the second; now all gay couples are like kids who want a pet and don’t realize the responsibilities. I can’t speak for any gay couples, but I seriously doubt they’re so immature that they’d just want a kid to fit in, though some might think that’s a reason these days. Though his quote might also indicate he thinks that gay couples would treat a child like a pet, which is equally silly. But I guess he’s mostly afraid they might “turn” the kid to *gasp* homosexuality. As if that’s more than a drop in the water in the long run.

He then proceeds to suggest that not every group’s interests should be accommodated. Initially this is something I might agree with until he qualifies this by saying that we should only accommodate groups that are in what he calls “the ideal”. Now I can’t imagine what he means by that, but I’d have to guess Protestant straight middle/upper class conservatives. But why would he want that? That sounds suspiciously elitist in that he just wants representation of only the groups that he thinks are worthy of it. But couples that just want to adopt kids but happen to be two men or two women in a committed relationship are not in his “ideal”. He only wants majorities, not any pesky minority he’d have to support. The bigger problem here is that he assumes accommodating someone equates to agreeing with them. I can accommodate the practice of praying before Congress meets and the Christian majority’s very existence (in the form of churches getting tax exempt status for instance) to an extent, but that does not mean I agree with them or am in line with them on many policy issues. Similarly, Huckabee doesn’t have to agree with gay marriage, but if he supports any conservative values, such as the limits on the government to not legislate morality for the country, then he will have to swallow his pride and accept that gays eventually will adopt, if only because less and less people are intolerant of them. Incest and polygamy are on a road I won’t discuss here, since my primary focus is on the man’s bigotry towards what is demonstrably a harmless group with few ill effects on society.

He asks an obviously rhetorical question about gay marriage in the vein of "Why do you get to choose that two men are OK but one man and three women aren't OK?" Well, first off, something being OK doesn’t mean it has to be the majority practice. Not everyone practices missionary position only, and just because there are people that are so sheltered they only perform one sex position doesn’t mean that they’re not OK; they’re just different. And likewise with gay and lesbian couples: they have sex in different ways (and like some straight couples, don’t even view sex as necessary to their relationship) but that doesn’t suggest they’re not ok; again, they’re just different.

He then shifts the burden of proof on gay marriage activists to prove gay marriage is successful, while apparently just begging the question from the start that it doesn’t matter, since they’re not the same as straight marriage. "I don't have to prove that marriage is a man and a woman in a relationship for life," he said. "They have to prove that two men can have an equally definable relationship called marriage, and somehow that that can mean the same thing.” There’s just 2 problems here: 1) Yes you do have to prove marriage is only a man and a woman in a relationship for life, because you make a positive claim requiring proof and clearly marriage wasn’t always the case even in so called Biblical times (the woman was for all intents and purposes property in the time of Abraham for instance) and 2) They could prove it if you stopped purposely sabotaging any attempt they have by automatically judging any deviance as failure from the start. Just because a gay couple is not as popular with people doesn’t mean it can’t work in both principle and practice. Continuing to perpetuate the idea that any abnormality justifies exclusion is only further alienating people that can’t always change what makes them abnormal in people’s eyes (including what sex they are aroused by). Sometimes people just have to look past the surface.

He notes that the country should not "legitimize immorality," although frankly legalizing rape or murder is hardly something any self respecting legislator would do. Gay marriage is hardly agreed to be immoral, thus it is not something that can be presumed to be such. If you interpret a sacred text to say otherwise about gay marriage or homosexual behavior, it does not give you the right to say the country should follow your group, even if it’s in the majority. Otherwise I’d probably be scared for my life since they’d have legislated some policy that suggests I’m less than human because I don’t have any belief in God or have abandoned my church and as an apostate deserve death or exile.

I don’t even need to quote him saying homosexuality is aberrant, unnatural and sinful since that already presumes too many things from the start about how psychology, biology and ethics work. The last thing he says that I’ll quote is suggesting that the government should isolate AIDS patients from the general public to quarantine "carriers of this plague." So then why don’t we just put away everyone that’s HIV positive too if you really don’t like AIDS and believe it’s some sort of “gay disease”? But he’d find out it’s not a gay only disease even if he got his wish to ostracize AIDS patients from the public. Not to mention AIDS isn’t even remotely like the plague. The plague was transmitted through fleas and is bacterial, while AIDS is transmitted through mainly bodily fluid contact and is viral. Please do a little research on immunology before you start suggesting that AIDS is going to kill the world, Huckabee, when it isn’t.

As frustrating as this is, it is something of a relief to find that fewer people seem to agree with Huckabee’s ideas in practice, even if they agree that homosexuality is somehow “bad” or “wrong”. The notion of seeing GLBT people as irreparably damaged or so deviant that they can’t be considered as equals of other individuals in society disgusts me. The fact that I spent time probably every day of the week with GLBT individuals in college made me realize that there is very little different about us in terms of humanity. To bring up the Aristotelian distinction, it is only in accident that we are different, not in essence. We both suffer loss, we both feel happiness and we both seek purpose, all part of the human nature. But I (to my knowledge) only get off on the opposite sex, and they either get off on the same sex or both sexes. And that difference doesn’t bother me, because of one obvious reason: it doesn’t affect my sexuality as to what theirs is. They want tolerance and understanding, not bigotry or willful ignorance, which is little different than stupidity. So if you have a Gay Straight Alliance or some similar group at your high school, college or in your community, go to a meeting. Just talk with them, no preconceptions, just talk with them as a fellow person. Maybe you’ll see things you didn’t think were there before. Until next time, Namaste and Aloha.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

On Tenzin Gyatso (In General)


While I probably should be making commentary primarily on the sage's visit with the President of the U.S. in the White House, my main concern lies with his semi retirement he announced about 2 years ago. While I'm not a Tibetan Buddhist and while I probably would find a great deal of his thought on Buddhism a bit too Tantric and monastic for my tastes, the guy's general outlook is something I can seek to imitate. His tenet of achieving peace through peace (nonviolence, that is), has earned him the comparison to Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. And he has met with virtually every president since the mid 40s or early 50s (to my estimation).

There's always the complex topic of his advocacy for Tibetan independence; though technicaly he has clarified that he seeks autonomy for Tibet, not independence and sovereignty in the political sense. That would be part of the reason why his visit with President Obama was viewed with skepticism/pessimism about how it would reflect on U.S. -China relations on the issue of Tibetan autonomy/independence/freedom. Considering that the issue of Tibet is nearly identical in importance to that of Taiwan, I can see how people think this might loosen some relations with Chinese government. Though the Dalai Lama is hardly a separatist as Beijing officials have termed him. But he is not without controversy even regarding his status as an advocate of Tibetan preservation, since he was also accused of using his influence within Tibetan Buddhism to nominate the 17th Karmapa, something of an equivalent to the Dalai Lama within the Karma Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism. Some suggest he nominated the choice he did because he thought it would have influence on saving Tibet. I cannot speak further on this besides stating that the context of this issue is probably all the more complex because it is dealing with a country that is still theocratic to a great degree (as Christopher Hitchens has noted).

Another reason why the visit was seen as contentious was that it was in the White House instead of a more neutral or religious themed location, such as a church or a more public venue. I can sympathize with those critics in suggesting that the location should've been changed. While Tenzin Gyatso is a political figure representing Tibet, he is first and foremost in the minds of even his fellow Tibetans a religious leader. From my understanding, he is the 14th in a series of rebirths (or reincarnations if you prefer a more familiar term) of sages that are key within the Gelugpa school of Tibetan Buddhism. But the association of the White House as a solely political and thus areligious area seems suspect if we're to regard it as the home of a president who is regarded as religiously observant himself. Inviting another religious figure into his home suggests to me that Obama was attempting to bridge a gap that exists between the "East" and "West" on a mutual search for world peace. Choosing to have him at the White House only suggests they are politically aligned as much as they are religiously aligned; that is to say, as they are ethically aligned.

To speak more on the present Dalai Lama would be a bit longwinded even for me, so I will end with the thought that it may be best for him to retire or semi retire, especially since he is in my grandparents' generation and while he may be in somewhat better shape, he has had surgery for a gallstone (ironically reflecting a similar but distinct surgery my paternal grandmother had on her gallbladder). And by that merit, he has to take the Buddhist tenet of mindfulness seriously. Though like the Buddha Gautama he may continue his quest up till the day he dies, in which case, he can be seen as more identical to Gandhi and MLK Jr. than before.

Who Cares What Jesus Would Do?

Having heard much in the news in the last few weeks regarding the Catholic Church confronting the sex abuse scandals as well as seeing the many prominent tragedies or issues that plague the world at large, the common phrase popular in the 90s (though I would think it went as far back as the 60s; not sure on that) What Would Jesus Do? (hereafter abbreviated as WWJD) still resonates with many people. But this article really puts the idea in perspective and points out a fatal flaw within it. The gist is that we’re putting Jesus on a pedestal and using all his actions as the standard to which we must reach. And even if you’re not Christian, you can appreciate the radical nature of Jesus’ behavior and seek to emulate it. He reformed culture, he got people to follow him and preach his ideas in one way or another, not to mention he stood up to authority that had taken itself too seriously or insisted on powers beyond what were allocated to it (Pharisees and the Roman army respectively) But if you take what is supposed to be God incarnate in the Christian vision and make that the standard to live up to, you’re inevitably bound to fail at it, or appear so self righteous that you alienate all those around you by behaving as if you’re superior just because you’re celibate.

By all means you can ask “What Would Jesus Advise You To Do?” since this affirms his authority, Christian or otherwise, as a teacher, but does not suggest that his standard of excellence is what we should hold ourselves to; no more than every martial artist should hold Bruce Lee as their goal to reach. In both cases, we’re talking about men that were the best of the best in what they did, albeit Bruce Lee never made alleged claims to deity. But like Jesus, he took his practice and lifestyle very seriously and taught it as best he could to others in hopes that they might follow the ideals and practices that he had used in his lifetime. To try to take either teacher and make their life’s example as the be all and end all of what you should seek to do is not only dangerous in that it borders on a personality cult, but like a personality cult, it saps you of your individuality and self expression. You can emulate Jesus in that you forgive others that do you wrong, while also pointing out to them that it wasn’t exactly right of them to do whatever they did to you. But to react exactly like Jesus is not only predictable, but it stifles any notion that you’re supposed to be you and not Jesus. As the author, Edward L. Beck, notes, Jesus “was never married, never a parent, never a woman and never fell victim to sinfulness as the rest of us do,” With his lack of complete accessibility to every human, people should take his more universal ethical teachings to heart instead of thinking they can perfectly emulate him through less than expected methods or being notoriously nonconformist to the point where you are conforming to a standard of nonconformity. Until next time, Namaste and Aloha.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Palin and Gingrich: Disinformation Duo;_ylt=At7r5MxKnBUw_w5pWTEAMpis0NUE;_ylu=X3oDMTJrN29vY2NhBGFzc2V0A2FwLzIwMTAwNDA5L3VzX3JlcHVibGljYW5zX2dpbmdyaWNoBHBvcwM3BHNlYwN5bl9tb3N0X3BvcHVsYXIEc2xrA2dpbmdyaWNob2JhbQ--

Both Sarah Palin, new and bright face for conservatives, and Newt Gingrich, senior conservative even older than Rush Limbaugh, have taken stabs at President Obama recently. Although with Palin it's hardly surprising as she has apparently taken a deal for a reality TV series as well, so it's clear she enjoys the spotlight she's put herself in. Her criticisms started with Obama's passing a bill limiting nuclear armaments in both the U.S. and Russia, in the form of a sarcastic pronunciation of nuclear (dunno how that's supposed to be funny except to her ill educated supporters). She also parodied Obama's "Yes We Can" slogan noting “yes we can – spread the wealth around” as if doing so is bad (though she seemed oddly unspecific about that; how is spreading the wealth to those in dire poverty a bad thing in contrast to being excessively generous?) and “yes we can –spend money that we don’t have,” suggesting that Obama’s spending is somehow a surprise when the government has spent money it hasn't had to some extent since we've had a deficit. She also used her oft used slogan regarding changing health care with a nice gun quip, "Don't retreat, reload," which contrary to her insistence that it is not a call for violence, would probably only be seen as such to Tea Party activists. Or has Mrs. Palin never heard of retreat as a tactical solution? Guess she only thinks brash heroism will save the country (lot of good that'll do). The conclusion of her speech came in the form of another encouragement for her to run for President in 2012. Ironically people were chanting her name, which reminds me of the very thing that had people worried with Obama's campaign. Chanting of a name, first or last, suggests to me that she's become a cult figure. And contrary to her other claim that she is not seeking to be the leader of the Tea Party movement, her persistent presence and people's clinging to her as an authority figure is cementing her place within the upper echelon of the grassroots movement becoming a potential (potentially dangerous) third party.

Gingrich was more specific and generalizing in his critique of Obama, saying he was "radical", "socialist" and surprisingly "secularist". Radical change is something the U.S. adjusts to well enough in my limited observation. Not to mention said change comes through the electoral process he supports no doubt (so why complain?). The socialist accusation is nothing surprising, though I have to wonder what his alternative would be in solving problems of poverty if not through some use of money or distribution thereof. And his claim that the GOP is not afraid to speak on issues of faith in contrast to the Democrats seems misguided as well, unless Mr. Gingrich suggests that Obama hosting a Seder in the White House is not recognizing faith in the midst of politics. Unless Gingrich is an (gasp) anti-semite of some stripe. Not making any accusations, though Gingrich is retirement age (a couple of years past 65) so who knows if he is in touch with how religiosity or “Jewishness” is expressed in the 21st century. And from the article's observations, Gingrich seems to be with Palin in mobilizing intent for Republican presidential candidacy in 2012. Newt is more decidedly aligned with the GOP than Palin, though both of them are contenders for the future nomination that will take place in nigh 2 years. All things considered, this is a cause for concern to me at least. And who knows how John McCain will fare if he runs for Republican nomination as well? I’ve gotten the feeling through some conversations that many Republicans (particularly Tea Party supporters) don't like his policies very much. Anyway, that's my attempt at delving into political issues, so until next time, Namaste and Aloha.

Monday, April 5, 2010

The Meaning(s) of Easter

After going to an Easter sunrise service (staying up the entire night so as not to get 2-3 hours of sleep and be grumpy about it) and hearing the pastor note a study from the Barna Group about how people regard Easter, I thought I’d look into it. After a cursory glance, I took a well deserved nap. And after analyzing it in more detail, I am somewhat disappointed as to how they use their relatively small sampling (a little over 1000 people) to suggest that everyone in the U.S. is ignorant about Easter’s meaning in the Christian context. Some of the answers they gave seem to be there just to make the evangelicals and born again Christians feel superior that they know the “true” meaning of Easter. Some people suggest it is reflective of welcoming the spring or of Passover (which are both true in terms of meaning you can derive from the holiday). Some of the answers are admittedly more concerned with “consumer culture” as it’s termed or the general togetherness the holiday brings. None of these are necessarily the incorrect meaning unless you view the Christian answer as the only true one, which is one of my issues with such groups using studies to justify their status quo or lack thereof.

There’s also their distinction between seeing Easter as a religious holiday and of seeing the “true” meaning of Easter in the alleged resurrection of Jesus. How are these different except in the specificity; that is, assuming there has to be one meaning only? It’s not as if they’re complaining overall; they seem to have a concern about people in my age category and their progressively “secular” thinking making them forget that Easter is even a religious holiday. But the very way they phrase the distinction of the groups that are mistaken about Easter and the minority that affirms the specific things they want to hear troubles me; as if being an evangelical or a born again Christian is not affirming a religious position or should be the majority position. The Barna Group seems more concerned about groups affirming that Easter is both a religious holiday and focused on Jesus’ resurrection. Although even that is observed in the statistics (however suspect they are) to be questionable since less than half of all the age demographics affirm that Jesus’ resurrection is the meaning of Easter, meaning any group affirming exactly what the Barna Group thinks is right are in the minority of what is a miniscule representation of the 300 million+ people in the U.S..

The issue they’re not seeing is that people are not educated enough about Christianity or Easter in the first place to really know what the Christian meaning is in the context of what is commonly their native religion. This issue is not uncommon, especially with a book by Stephen Prothero coming to mind: Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know--And Doesn’t. He notes that America is one of the least religiously literate nations in the world; however advanced we may be in other areas of consideration, such as military. With this in mind, I don’t see the Barna Group’s concern as surprising, but I do see their positive conclusion about people’s willingness to invite people to Easter services as the least of their concerns. The groups willing to follow through with their likelihood to invite friends to Easter services were 31% of their 1000 people, suggesting that even if all 300+ people did what they said they’d do, the increase in congregations would be a paltry sum in the dwindling numbers of active churchgoers. If they really want to improve the status of their religion’s popularity or accessibility to today’s people, then they should adjust the way they communicate to them. However objectionable it may be, I can’t imagine it’s that hard to emphasize the miraculous nature of your founder’s return from the dead even to today’s people, however “secular” they may be. It’s a matter of focusing on the meaningfulness derived from the story itself. The historical or scientific credulity, it would seem to me, is secondary to convincing people that the story of the Jewish rabbi returning to life as a pseudo vampire and saving their souls is something they can derive meaning and purpose from. After all, you’re taking the story on faith primarily, are you not? Until next time, Namaste and Aloha.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

American Atheists Convention On Easter

While Easter Sunday is nearly to be celebrated (early in the day, no doubt) by Christians across the world, on this same weekend, the American Atheists are meeting in their 36th convention. This year’s goal in particular is to note that while there are still widespread stereotypes about atheism (one of them especially mistaken, since worshipping Satan as a god would decidedly negate the idea of atheism, lack of god belief) atheists are becoming more accepted, albeit in limited ways. The main way David Silverman, best known as an animator for The Simpsons, observes the change is in the publishing of books such as The God Delusion and The End of Faith by authors Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris. While this is a step forward, the dominant stereotype does seem to be ironically reflected in a sense with the group itself. The stereotype that atheism is somehow a religious or ideological movement seeking to destroy Christianity would potentially be seen as validated with the existence of groups such as American Atheists and the Rational Response Squad (popular for the Blasphemy Challenge online). But this line of thinking is mistaken on a few levels.

Groupings of a group that share certain beliefs or lack thereof in the case of atheists does not suggest they are actively seeking to eliminate groups that differ from them. Otherwise the suspicion of Christian bible study groups or the like trying to erase Jews, Catholics and Muslims from the map would probably have some credulity. Yet it is a minority of those groups that seek to eliminate some group, such as Army of God advocating the justified use of violence against abortionists. I have yet to see a group of atheists that is well known in public having any agenda to eliminate religion as a phenomenon from the world (except perhaps the Brights, but I’m not sure of that). If anything, the advocacy is more along the lines of fair treatment of atheism as a minority position in America, alongside such like minded beliefs as Buddhism, Jainism or Laveyan Satanists, all decidedly minorities in this country and all lacking a belief in any deities. The American Atheists want to be recognized equally as Americans alongside Protestants, Jews, Catholics and Muslims, though modern thought doesn’t exactly grant them a lot of trust as I’ve observed. But when Mormons and homosexuals (supposedly viewed by Christians as blasphemers or abominations respectively) are trusted more than atheists (many of whom were more than likely raised Christian), the issue lies with education. If people are told such deceptions as atheists being without an objective source for morality or being against capitalism or other American pastimes (even though there is such a thing as Christian communism), then it’s no wonder atheists are treated like black sheep in America.

Not to mention people have the wrong idea about why the convention for American Atheists is held on Easter. It’s demonstrably paranoid to suggest that they’re using the weekend as a venue to attack Easter. Makes sense for them to choose that weekend, since as Silverman puts it. “The hotels are cheap, and everybody has time off." The choice is little more than an economic expediency, like someone hoarding their sick days and then using them all up for a holiday, not something uncommon to Christians and atheists alike within the right job, I imagine. Until next time, Namaste and Aloha.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Give a Damn About GLBT

As hard as it is to keep up with every idol’s sexual orientation, or lack thereof, the revelation about Anna Paquin being bisexual is not what surprised me in the videos for the website, promoting sexual and gender equality. Lady Gaga saying she was straight was what stunned me, though I admit my so called “gaydar” is terrible. In the advertisements in the link at the start, the equality is advocated for LGBT people who are discriminated against in the workplace, in public, even threatened with violence against them just for something that is innately part of them, like their race or their fingerprints (though admittedly some would say that both are fluid today with plastic surgery or the technology to remove fingerprints from your digits). Not to mention the persistent debate regarding the degree to which environment affects the development of sexual orientation and such in relation to how much is genetically predisposed in physiological and chemical processes. But regardless of where you stand, it seems reasonable and fair to care about people’s sexual orientation, even if it’s not to the same degree as others. No one’s asking for people to be interested in every facet of your sexual nature or praise you for being straight, gay or otherwise. But knowing that a person happens to be attracted to the same sex, opposite sex, both, or none does help with improving human relationships. If you know these things, you’re less likely to make a person uncomfortable with an advance that is undesired and likewise with people knowing that they shouldn’t make unwarranted advances on you.

Disagreement about the moral permissibility and nature vs. nurture arguments aside, the GLBT community is a minority and as I recall, protection of minorities against the majority’s dominant hegemony in culture is a particularly American ideal. So why would one insist that a certain minority doesn’t deserve consideration or fair treatment because you believe they can “change”? Seems a similar reason why slavery going away only made people demand that blacks needed to “go back where they came from.” Once you start granting protections to a minority, people’s protests go to the level of trying to eliminate the group in one form or another. The Matthew Shepard Act’s passing was a catalyst for people to justify more extreme measures, saying that they are being denied some right to protest or being forced to tolerate the existence of something their particular deity views as an “abomination,” Except there is no provision within even the Constitution to form any kind of vigilante militia or to go on some crusade because someone happens to be protected by the government from being lynched, persecuted or assaulted (physically or mentally) by people that feel strongly about such an issue. Similar to the murder of George Tiller, there is the possibility you take both an issue such as abortion and your own beliefs regarding the ethical permissibility of that issue’s continued protection so seriously that you will override the sanctity of life you hold so dear and insist that some people have lost that attribute by their own actions. It is important to care about these issues, though the degree to which you do it is central to how the issue will change. Killing or hurting others because they disagree with you or vice versa doesn’t motivate anyone to real change. It compels people to continue to act based on fears, on paranoia, on dysfunctional thinking about the world in general. So please “give a damn” about GLBT, but don’t damn these people from the start. Give peace a chance, as John Lennon said, before he got shot. I certainly hope more death isn’t necessary to make this issue more important than it is today. Until next time, Namaste and Aloha.