Saturday, May 29, 2010

Hedging Bets on God or God Hedging Bets?

I’ve always found it odd that Christian acquaintances from college were also interested in MMA or Mixed Martial Arts. The fact that Jesus says on he says to be peaceful and turn the other cheek and then that he comes not to bring peace, but to bring a sword might be part of that. The argument for a complementary practice of both Christianity and martial arts can work just as well as myself arguing that my more pacifist appearing Buddhist beliefs advocating non-violence can still be squared alongside my practice of martial arts, particularly Wado Ryu Karate Do (Wado Ryu meaning “Peace and Harmony” as I recall) and Tai Chi (well known for being a primarily self defense oriented practice). One can note that both Jesus and Buddha preached a peaceful way of life primarily, though it is not as if they were as one Rich Franklin said, “a metrosexual doing his nails”, though frankly I can’t imagine any Christian or Buddhist suggesting that their spiritual teachers were metrosexuals or giving themselves manicures to begin with. So to clarify the position, one suggests that Jesus and Buddha would both note that there are situations where turning the other cheek would not work and one is compelled to defend themselves, albeit in a compassionate way. Jesus did not condescend himself to the woman found in adultery and Buddha did not berate Devadatta for trying to assassinate him. Jesus told the woman to go and sin no more and Buddha simply told Devadatta that he would suffer in the hell realm for an eon (which makes sense since he not only tried to kill his cousin, but convinced a prince to kill his father and also committed what I would see as probably the lowest ranked of his crimes, breaking up the monastic order for self gain). In both cases, the teachers confronted the problem, but were not obnoxious about it.

To be fair, I am not saying that Rich Franklin and other athletes have no right to privately thank God for their victory or their fortune in some sense. But to publicize it so seems to be taking it the wrong way. It brings up what the article suggests is a larger complex among athletes to use God in relation to their sports in order to evangelize. In suggesting God helped them win, people are then intrigued and desire the good fortune that has befallen the people who pray to God and get victory and fame in return. As humble as some of these athletes would appear, the egocentrism is still there, since the focus is still on their achievements, however much they say they achieve them vicariously through God’s “grace” or whatever they wish to call it. If you want to believe that God has involvement in the cosmos, that’s one thing and you can commune with God as a believer without suggesting that God has individually managed plans for you and the rest of the congregation members at your local church. The view of God that suggests such an individualistic basis of thinking about a personal God’s involvement in the universe and the human realm can inspire self esteem, but that self esteem being derived solely from an outside source can lead to more suffering when one begins to regard God as unfaithful to them or even malevolent in some cases.

If any regard for yourself as a person is contingent on believing that there is a deity that has a special plan for you, then you deserve the suffering that would heap upon you when things don’t go your way and you begin to go down the path of self loathing and depression because you think God’s plan has to involve such Job-like suffering (though I doubt you suffer boils and have your entire immediate family killed in a building collapse, but it’s still a pretty pessimistic and dark view). However beautiful the heaven may be that you believe you will survive your death in, I see little reward in acquiring such an existence through a life where you regarded yourself as little more than God’s puppet or plaything in a game that you were compelled to join in. But like I said, I am not attacking anyone’s right to prayer or belief in God. I just see it as contrary to psychological health to regard the good things in your life as coming from God and not specifying about the bad things or going down the path that suggests they are also from God. In either case, it only tends towards unnecessary stress and unease that you don’t deserve, be you a friend or acquaintance or a complete stranger to me. Until next time, Namaste and Aloha.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Supreme Court's Status Quo Broken?

Stephen Prothero is an author I’d only heard about through his book Religious Literary: What Every American Needs to Know and Doesn’t, which notes the irony of our country’s high religiosity and advocacy of “Christian values” and yet the common ignorance of basic knowledge of the Bible. Now that he’s a contributor on CNN’s Belief Blog, I will follow him in his future posts. His commentary focuses on the imbalance that has occurred with the new support of Elena Kagan by President Obama. With Paul Stevens leaving the Justices and being the last Protestant to stay in the Supreme Court since the numbers started dwindling, Kagan’s presence would make 3 Jews alongside the 6 Catholics that have persisted. Many might complain on the grounds that the commonly Protestant presence of justices in the Supreme Court has now disappeared completely. Even with the Congress at 55% Protestant, their lack of representation in the judicial system disappoints many, no doubt.

But Prothero, along with scholar Nora Rubel, argues that the Protestant influence in America will persist, even with the range of Justices in the Supreme Court now skewed between Judaism and more traditional Catholic Christianity. The crux of this idea falls on the idea that Protestantism has influenced Catholicism and Judaism in America to an extent many may not recognize, including the obvious presence of almost universally Protestant presidents in the White House (excluding John F. Kennedy primarily). But the most important of these influences from the Reformation on Catholic and Jewish thinking today is the recognition of religion as a personal decision, the communal influence incidental to the person choosing a faith and the practice of the religion not as important as the adherence to creeds (which I would dispute as a student of religious studies myself, but that’s for another day). William James, a thinker I am thinking of studying deeper in grad school in the future, put forth the definition that fuels this idea of religion as a primarily individual decision and area of consideration; "the feelings, acts, and experiences of individual men in their solitude, so far as they apprehend themselves to stand in relation to whatever they may consider the divine.” With this in mind, the psychological aspects of religion are of primary concern, not the social or political potential one’s religious beliefs would have within those spheres of consideration. As little meaning as I may find in many of the Protestant teachings, if this decidedly individualistic bent is any indication of Protestant theology, it is certainly part of our heritage that I can appreciate nonetheless. Until next time, Namaste and Aloha.

And on an unrelated note, I will not be blogging as much as I used to, having a 35 hour work week. Hopefully I can work on a movie review occasionally on the weekends. Tomorrow, I’ll be updating my poetry for the last time until more comes from my imagination.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Mojave's Desert and the Military's Congress

I had found an editorial in a Chattanooga newspaper on this issue a while ago and made a mental note of it. But when I found an article through Yahoo News on this, I had to comment further on the issue in writing. The cross has been in the Mojave Desert for over 80 years and has been maintained through the Veterans of Foreign Wars (better known as the VFW) in some form or fashion since 1934. However, it also appears it has been funded by volunteer groups now, though their connection to the government is evident, since it was through government action that the plot of land has been shifted to a privately owned sector instead of what was originally public land. The issue comes from a case ten years ago from a former national park employee, arguing that the cross’ presence was unconstitutional on the grounds that it stood as an explicit federal support for the Christian religion.

The point of the 7-foot memorial was for soldiers who had died in the war and I can respect that, as little interest as I hold in their affairs or the general use of military force. It is good to have some form of memorial for those who have died in service to the country they held allegiance to, but the use of the symbol seems objectionable on a number of grounds, the first being that it was initially funded by a government organization, the VFW. This objection falls flat since it has been maintained by volunteers through private funds not related to taxpayer money. The second objection is stronger since the government, even if it is not directly supporting the existence of the memorial, is using their power to preserve its existence. The relation of the cross to what is a federally maintained group, the military, is undeniable. Even if the cross has been recently situated legally in a now private patch of land, the government’s involvement cannot be ignored. Their legal action was what allowed the cross to persist as a memorial for fallen soldiers. Vicariously, through VFW volunteers, Congress is still violating the establishment clause in respecting an established religion.

Similar to the National Day of Prayer incident, the issue hinges on how people interpret language and in this case, symbols. The argument for keeping the cross suggested that it did not stand just for Christianity, but for the graves of all the soldiers. The difficulty there is that it assumes that every soldier who died would have wanted a Christian cross on their graves. The rhetoric also tries to suggest the cross is a universal symbol of sacrifice, which is equally untrue. As one dissenting justice noted, the cross “is the symbol of one particular sacrifice, and that sacrifice carries deeply significant meaning for those who adhere to the Christian faith." To try to extend the meaning of a religious symbol into a secular idea is difficult not only because of the rooted understanding of the symbol, but that many believers would no doubt strongly object to the compromise of their highly sacred mark on grounds of protecting it. The existence of religious symbols in public life is not what the case is about. I see memorial crosses for children on the roads in Tennessee and I don’t object to them, especially since they are commonly privately funded. It’s when the government initially supports the existence of the memorial cross for 80 years on public land and then makes a land exchange to keep the cross protected that I have a problem. The motive was a combination of protecting the cross as a memorial that was religiously neutral in some sense, but also attempting to maintain its position as a historical monument. Both of these cases fail on the same grounds. The court is on the one hand purposely ignoring or skewing the intent and message of the Christian symbol to make it accessible to people who don’t feel the same about the cross and on the other is trying to extend the definition of a monument to what is a use of a particularly Christian religious symbol to commemorate the deaths of soldiers, many of which are Christian, but not all.

The dissenting position is quite similar to my own; the need for a memorial for the soldiers who have died is evident today with casualties still occurring in the Middle East. But for the government or even private groups to think that the way to show respect and honor the fallen is through a particular religious symbol is not only mistaken in looking at the religious diversity of the army, but also forgets that the establishment clause is larger in scope than just founding a “state religion”. When it says “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion” it seems clear that it is saying that no religion should be given special treatment through government legislation or action. And in this case, the cross is favoring the Christian symbol of sacrifice as the best way to commemorate the deaths of soldiers from many faiths. In this way, the unconstitutional nature of the cross’ presence is quite evident. To maintain that a status quo of Christian believers who support the troops or that some personal emotional investment in the cross should be the standard for why you keep such a symbol as the way to remember the valor of the armed forces is not only logically unsound but degrading.

No one symbol can communicate the respect and anguish a person feels for one who has died in service. As popular and meaningful as it is to people who believe in Jesus Christ, I don’t feel it’s either appropriate or fair to use it as the way to show respect to those who protect the freedom to practice one’s faith without interference or special merit from the government. If you want to make a private memorial for Christian soldiers who have died in the line of duty, that’s your prerogative and you can do it through legal methods and with your own funds. But to suggest that you make what was a government established National Reserve alter the status of one patch of land in order to maintain the existence of a cross that could be moved to a privately owned area is not only showing blatant favoritism towards the demographic majority of Christians in this country, but compromising the government’s supposed neutrality towards religion because you bend to the will of the people whenever it suits the majority. I’m not suggesting the cross be torn down, so don’t misunderstand. The protection of religious exercise is just as important as the need for the government to be as neutral as possible on religious establishments. So why try to protect religious exercise on the one hand while contradicting yourself on the supposed need for neutrality on those religious exercises? I’m just asking for the government to be consistent. Until next time, Namaste and Aloha.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Franklin Graham is Frank and Grumpy

Though the unofficial National Day of Prayer (at least in terms of the contested status according to Judge Crabb’s ruling) has passed, the controversy is not over. There is still some resentment towards Obama’s administration for uninviting Franklin Graham to pray at the ceremony held at the Pentagon. Graham Jr. speaks as if his religious liberties have been trampled on or at the very least that Obama is being too soft on Islam. The interview between him, Jon Meacham and Lisa Miller reveals a few traits of his Christian beliefs regarding Islam and more importantly about his beliefs on the relation of religious faith and civil politics.

Graham responds to Meacham’s first question about his divisive speech regarding Islam and the offensive nature of it by saying that if 80% of America identifies as Christian, then he thinks maybe 20% might be offended. Meacham clarifies that he is not offended at his praying in a Christian fashion, but that he is being quite contrary to the message of the National Day of Prayer, to unify various people of faith under the practice of prayer to God (which would include Christians, Muslims, Jews, Sikhs and Baha’is among a few other minority groups). Graham’s response, initially avoiding the question or trying to seem consistent in affirming that he personally disagrees with Islam, but does not hate the people involved in Islam, concludes by saying that the world doesn’t work how Meacham wants it to; which is how I’d prefer it to be as well: people respectfully disagreeing with each other and not resorting to using hateful speech, even if you are speaking about the religion itself and not the practitioners.

Graham then persists in his argument that Christianity is under attack, which is a thinly veiled attempt to whine about how Christianity isn’t in the spotlight like it was in the 50s. Just because Obama wants to grant Muslims the right to celebrate Ramadan at the Pentagon or has a Jewish Seder at the White House Easter dinner doesn’t mean that his or any other person’s Christian beliefs suffer. Although this whole issue with Graham seems to hinge on his noting that according to Islam, Obama is a Muslim since his father was Muslim (like Judaism in a sense, perhaps). With this in mind, he clarifies that he doesn’t believe the conspiracies that Obama is a secret Muslim and takes the president at his word that he believes in salvation through Jesus Christ; which is more than I can say for a host of other evangelicals and Christians I’ve spoken to over the years since Obama’s become our president.

Graham’s other argument is that since even the Bush administration, the country has been soft on Islam as he views it: that is, a violent and evil religion. I would say it is hardly any more evil than any religion when misused for political gains or intertwining with civil and secular practice in a country that welcomes all religious faiths or lack thereof. And I have no doubt met Muslims on my own campus (though I might not have known they were Muslim) that were quite reasonable people that were not willing to suicide bomb a building to make their point or practice the misogynistic rituals that include genital mutilation of young girls and abuse of spouses for perceived insults or dishonors. And being “soft” on Islam would be not confronting the issue of Islamic terrorism in one form or another or taking on the conflict that has had a resurgence due to the recent South Park episode with Muslim groups pressuring companies to censor their material or remove it from public domain. But the Obama administration to my knowledge is taking the issue as seriously as it can with all the other things on its plate: the economic crisis/recession, the oil spill, and other matters of national security such as the attempted bombing of Time Square just last week. Take the issues as they come and at a reasonable and moderate pace. If you move too slow the enemy may overtake you, but if you move too fast, you may forget to consider that you may be your own worst enemy. Until next time, Namaste, Aloha and happy belated unofficial Day of Reason as well (

Monday, May 3, 2010

Abortion Rights Past and Present

I decided to wait until after my stay in Nashville for 8 hours or so at MTAC in Nashville to post this, but ended up staying until about 1PM on Sunday. But I’m pressing forward to get this article out by Monday. I found an article on either Thursday or Friday confronting the issue of younger supporters of abortion in contrast to the older generation that fought for Roe v. Wade in the 70s. The issue that seems crucial to the two page article is that the so-called “postmenopausal militia” that had a genuine interest and experience of the suffering that came about through the illegalization of abortion and their fight to give women what was an extension of the right to privacy, while the younger generation doesn’t have that vested interest or recognition of the importance of the right to abortion that was given by Roe v. Wade. This is especially relevant in a culture that continues to strive to give women equal rights even today.

There is a counter argument on the alleged liberation of women, that in fact it only empowers men to exploit women all the more, since there is no longer the risk of an unwanted pregnancy that they must apparently feel obligated to take responsibility for. While I do recognize the importance of taking responsibility for your actions, if you are a couple that was committed to putting off children for a few years and your birth control failed unexpectedly, abortion as an option is empowering to both members of the relationship, the woman in that she maintains control of what is primarily, though not solely, her reproductive capabilities, and the man in affirming that he is not pressuring her into an abortion or the reverse; that in fact, he supports her decision after discussing it with her and respecting what is not completely his area to criticize, however much he contributed to the pregnancy.

The difficulty with the analysis of the writer, one of the NARAL supporters, NARAL being an acronym for National Abortion & Reproductive Rights Action League, previously a more confusing acronym of National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws; confusing because abortion laws can potential swing one way or another. But the intent is still evident with recent passing of restrictive laws in Nebraska, claiming a fetus can feel pain at 20 weeks, which while debatable, is where NARAL still has relevance for consideration by younger supporters of abortion rights such as myself and other local groups in my community. If these laws continue to be passed, abortion may very well slip into pseudo-illegality again and the quest for reproductive justice of sorts will have to start all over again, or at least work that much harder to repeal the laws in some form or fashion. Not to mention there is the problem of anti abortion activists and the potential violence that can occur in one way or another. I’m certainly not claiming everyone who opposes abortion rights for whatever reason is going to try to kill abortion doctors, like what happened to George Tiller last year. But I would say that many protestors who insist on focusing the debate on the fetus, using especially maligned pictures to try to shock women into choosing life are committing psychological violence upon the woman, more than what she is already going through making a difficult decision to secure the future for what she hopes for; a child she can provide for and not have to give up to a system that may leave the child orphaned for their childhood.

The issue of abortion rights should be a balanced consideration of what are admittedly biological and ethical concerns on the one hand for the potential life or person considered within a particular perspective and also the interpersonal and psychological regards for the people involved: the woman, her family, her significant other, and the people involved with the abortion procedure. There is no reason to dehumanize the people involved with abortion or excessively anthropomorphize what is demonstrably human in genetics only until a particular stage of development (you know, the part where the gills and tail go away?). And there is a need to pursue a consideration of issues beyond the individual woman getting an abortion. To consider how her choice affects others is not succumbing to pro life rhetoric or even stooping to their level, except when you are focusing solely on the negatives and primarily on the alleged other that is technically intertwined with her in a sense. If I consider how a friend’s choice to abort affects me, it’s different and more distant than if we consider the varied ways her family could react or how the abortion clinician will treat her, since I would imagine there are a few ways you can present abortion. In this way, we shouldn’t boil the issue down to purely scientific issues, but we also shouldn’t boil it down to purely abstract ethical ideas that tend to make people think in black and white terms and never have any compassion beyond the in group that is being persecuted. Broadening the horizons of the abortion rights debate will open doors that were not there before and close doors that have been open too long, including such atrocities as the complete banning of partial birth abortions (some of which would save the woman’s life, even at the loss of the fetus) and the pushing back of alleged viability or sensitivity towards the fetus’ supposed rights. Until next time, Namaste and Aloha.