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Saturday, June 26, 2010

Pledge of Allegiance, Old and New

While I haven’t seen many billboards across Tennessee that are religious in nature that are surprising, this new campaign in North Carolina is a welcome change. I’m actually surprised this didn’t happen sooner, but I hope this will catch on. The gist is putting up an American flag pattern with the words “One Nation Indivisible” on it. The catch here that people will quickly recognize is the absence of two words in between nation and indivisible, “Under God”. The reason for this is that there are only so many people in the generation that existed before the pledge was “edited” so to speak in 1954 with the threat of “godless communists” on the rise in Soviet Russia. My great grandmother would be one of them, but I can’t imagine what she’d think. Patriotism is probably in her blood, but the explicitly theistic aspect of the pledge as it exists now is something I don’t know her perspective on. The point of this message put together by the North Carolina Secular Association is to demonstrate that one can be patriotic and be proud to serve one’s country and yet not believe in God.

The pledge was indeed written by a former minister, but as any historian could point out, the original text was not explicitly religious. I honestly haven’t said the pledge in a while, but if it came up, I would omit “under God” from my recitation, reflecting what is probably a counter-cultural vein of thought. Not to mention I equally dismiss the phrase “In God We Trust” that has become our standard national motto. The original motto was “E Pluribus Unum”, translating roughly to “Out of many, one”. This motto can be found on virtually anything associated with America before 1956, only two years after the addition of “Under God” to the pledge of allegiance. In that decade, along with amending the pledge of allegiance and changing the official national motto, the National Day of Prayer was also instituted earlier than either in 1952. With this theme in mind, anyone born within the span of the 1950s seems to differ in one distinct way from people that are my grandparents’ age. This is not to say that everyone in my parents’ generation along with my own is explicitly devout in their practice of Christianity as the majority religion in the country. But there is a likely association in their minds between being patriotic and believing in God. This may not be the case for all, but the persistence of the use of “under God” in the pledge, the national motto on the currency being “In God We Trust” and the recent controversy surrounding the challenge of the constitutionality of the National Day of Prayer, it’s reasonable to see how people have been slowly conditioned into supporters in some manner or another of the idea that the United States is a Christian nation.

While I won’t get into the details of how problematic the claim is on various levels, I will say this; this nation is religiously diverse for the same reason we are ethnically and racially diverse. Without this diversity, there is less room for progress and understanding between these different groups. Blacks wouldn’t have civil rights, nor would GLBT people (even though this status is still in question in the 21st century) and there would potentially still be the insistence on an innate superiority of Western ideals over and against Eastern ideals. But with the persistence of the original motto of the U.S., we can at least see that not every person who respects the country believes that what it stands for is a religious/faith based statement, but one of tolerance and openness to understanding the myriad cultures and people that take the time to become naturalized and official citizens of this country. One’s belief or lack thereof in the Abrahamic God should not be what people initially ask and indeed it seems like a later question asked to a foreigner. But with the idea still persisting in our mentality through the influence of those changes enacted in the 1950’s, it is not a bad idea to be cautious and aware of the potential misunderstandings and problems that can still arise with people that are either ill educated or sheltered from an idea intrinsic to the country’s founding; that of a collective of individuals that share common ideals, even with such different beliefs on other things. Until next time, Namaste and Aloha

Friday, June 18, 2010

Sikhism and South Carolina

South Carolina has been involved in controversies before, many of them seeming to involve sex scandals, such as former governor Mark Sanford and his mistress in Argentina last year around this month. This year, governor candidate Nikki Haley has run into both a sex scandal also, but more relevantly a controversy about her religious faith as well. Born Nimrata Randhawa to Indian immigrant parents, she was raised in Sikhism, the fifth largest religion in the world, begun in India, following the teachings of ten gurus who sought God through meditation on the symbol Ik Onkar. But in her early 20s, she converted to Christianity (Methodism to be precise) and allegedly only goes to Sikh services a few times a year out of respect to her parents (like I did on that Easter service this year, right?). But one Jake Knotts decided to throw out the new popular racial slur that has not yet become as taboo as the n-word or the k-word for Africans and Jewish/Israeli respectively, raghead. Similar in nature to the sand n***er epithet thrown at Middle Eastern people, Senator Knotts was supposedly using this in jest, though frankly, this guy used it in relation to Obama as well, which means he still buys into the long debunked hypothesis that Barack Obama is actually a Muslim and is lying about his faith to infiltrate the United States (or something like that nonsense, I never can get it clear). The term was originally used to refer to Indian immigrants, many of whom were Sikh (pronounced Seek, not Sick, which I mistakenly thought myself for about 4 years as a religious studies major).

Knotts’ attempt to apologize and appear regretful will probably save him as much as Ted Haggard’s homosexual de conversion therapy and resurgence as the pastor of a small church recently. But Haley has been on the defensive about persistent questions about her faith recently. South Carolina preachers and voters are a bit too inquisitive about something that shouldn’t be any more important than whether she’s a Muslim or a Jew. Albeit, Sikhism doesn’t share a sacred text or prophets as the Abrahamic Triad does, but it believes in a deity, albeit it is referred to as a monistic or pantheistic religion, where God is identified as synonymous with the universe and not separate from it as in the other theistic religions more commonly known to Americans. But Stephen Prothero’s short commentary on this reflects my thoughts in a more succinct fashion. If Nikki Haley has to be so precise in her wording of her Christian faith so as not to confuse what are potentially ill informed or willfully ignorant voters, then South Carolina is still behind in terms of advancing a basic principle of equality under the law. If Haley is willing to serve America and her country or state in an honest and straightforward fashion, her association with Sikhism and previous adherence to its tenets (in whatever way that might have been) should make little to no difference in terms of whether you vote for her or not. It’s as if her opponent just used the tactic of name calling to make himself seem like he made an honest mistake and recover, while he puts the spotlight on his opponent (though he’s not running for governor of course) so as to make her less trustworthy and give more credence to the candidate he’s backing. That’s not only unfair in that it’s a bait and switch move, but it borders on mudslinging: even if he apologizes, he made an attack on her character based on her past and more importantly her ethnic heritage. All Indians are not Sikhs by nature, nor are they all Hindus or Buddhists or Jains by nature. Haley made a conversion and people should take her word at it. The sex scandal is practically an easier thing to deal with, since she promised she would resign if it was ever proven she was unfaithful to her husband. But with religious/ethnic discrimination still present in America, she will have a difficult time persisting in her popularity with the voters. Here’s hoping she wins out as the honest woman she has shown herself to be. Until next week, Namaste and Aloha.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Asperger's and Atheism

I don’t usually bring up my being diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome in conversation. It’s distinct from autism by the lack of language development problems as well as the patient being able to function better in society, thus why it is also sometimes called high functioning autism. But I imagine you’re wondering why I’m talking about something as personal as being diagnosed with mental disorder. My blog followers may have initially thought I was just an especially clever/bright/smart/intelligent young adult who had a passion for various philosophical issues that come about through current events. But my revealing that I am an Aspie (a term used by fellow people with Asperger’s) discloses many things I was otherwise unwilling to. My difficulties with understanding the nuances of social situations, like body language and non-literal verbal language as well as my preoccupation with routine and predictability and the potentially myopic perspective I possess with my fixation on a limited subject area are all things that could negatively affect relationships with people, even with the aid of medication that I take for the latter two symptoms.

But I’m not worried about that so much as the potential misunderstandings that could occur with the findings from this link I found through a Facebook friend from Scientific American. The article’s findings suggest that Aspies are less likely to see purpose in events like finding a significant other or suffering the loss of loved ones. I fear people would think at first glance that because of this, Aspies are more likely to be nihilistic about life since they can’t find purpose in life. The problem with this initial assessment is that the person is confusing finding purpose in events with finding purpose in life. I honestly don’t see the hand of God or any conscious planner in events like finding my girlfriend or losing both my grandfathers. These events happen and I was as prepared for them as I could be. If I eventually discovered I had cancer and was dying in a year without treatment, would I see God’s plan in my life and convert from my present “atheism”? Probably not; in fact, I would see it as an inevitable occurrence such as other unpleasant happenings in my life, such as breaking my left arm twice on the same couch (Not learning from the first mistake) and losing two of our cats. Even if I don’t see some plan for the various things that happen in my life, I can still find purpose in living: acquiring knowledge and wisdom, experiencing joy and anguish and leaving an impression on the world that will persist on in some way. All of these things can be believed without thinking God has a hand in the world in any way.

And just because I don’t see a conscious plan in the events that occur in my life and view them as somewhat conditioned by forces outside my control doesn’t suggest that I disbelieve in free will either. Just because there are things outside my control in terms of the world around me doesn’t suggest that even the chemical processes in my brain bind me to a limited array of choices or thoughts. And similarly, the title for my blog post today reflects a similar misunderstanding that might occur. Just because Aspies don’t commonly see conscious purpose in the events that occur in everyday life doesn’t suggest that all Aspies are predisposed to be atheists, or even if they are, they can be quite neutral atheists, not like what many people see as a stereotype of atheism from Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and the like (who I still respect as atheist thinkers). I think it is possible for Aspies to be Deists as well, viewing life as contingent and on some level designed, though not in the sense of following “God’s plan” and frankly I don’t see it as intellectually dishonest to believe as such, especially since I was once a Deist in some fashion as well and the Deist creator/first mover can be viewed as more pantheistic than transcendent; that is, within the universe and not separate from it.

The article makes a distinction between non-teleological thinking and anti-teleological thinking and it works at least in the context of the psychological analysis. Atheists that are “neurotypical” (non Aspies and non autistics) can be said to understand better how people see things in a teleological sense, with an end purpose in mind and a conscious plan behind it, but then they reject that teleological explanation. In the basic use of the prefix, they are anti-teleological, though the term contra-teleological might be a nuanced expression of the term. Anti-teleological seems too strong an expression, though perhaps contra is too strong instead. On the other hand with Aspies, the idea of viewing things in a teleological sense doesn’t necessarily occur at all in their mind, so instead of rejecting the explanation, they don’t posit it to begin with; therefore Aspies are classified as non-teleological in their thinking. As a child, I cannot remember ever genuinely thinking that God had a plan for me and I never posited anything like an imaginary friend; in fact with regards to the latter, I even tried to do it, but it didn’t come naturally to me. One could suggest by association that my mind is not disposed to believing in God or gods and therefore it is less likely that I will ever believe in or use them as explanations for why events occur. This is not to say that I can’t understand people’s use of that explanation, so in a sense, maybe I am anti-teleological in the basic sense, though this is after years of study, since it didn’t come naturally to me. I hope overall that this has aided in making my perspective clearer on belief in God in particular and my form of atheism. Until next time, Namaste and Aloha.

Friday, June 4, 2010

You Don't Have to Like It, You Just Have to Tolerate It

With Don’t Ask Don’t Tell closer to revision and repeal, people seem to be almost unified in support of the repeal, even if they might not agree with homosexuality as moral or acceptable. And that’s definitely something to inspire greater unity. The only people that even remotely make me feel disappointment are those like the author of the second article, Tony Perkins, who suggest that ending DADT will somehow infringe on their religious freedoms and more precisely their 1st Amendment rights. I should probably get my criticism out of the way by pointing out the most problematic angles of Tony Perkins’ argument. First, he seems to think that the repealing of DADT will somehow lead to a slippery slope that will reinforce the alleged “gay agenda” (as opposed to a straight agenda?) in the military. Both new recruits and those already in the service will apparently be indoctrinated into brute acceptance of homosexuality as normal. Somehow, I doubt this sincerely. Just because a company allows women or racial minorities or even gay people to be hired doesn’t suggest that the company is advocating non minorities as somehow less important. Beyond quitting or choosing not to be employed in the first place, there are few other options besides trying to change the policy through legal means (unlikely in the long run), pressuring gays out of the military through persecution within the ranks (which is just cowardly) or just going along with it and focusing on the primary duty of a soldier: protecting your country from enemies. Even a child could understand how immature and pointless this argument is. They’d just ask their parents who object to homosexuals serving in the military, “Isn’t a soldier supposed to beat up the bad guys? Why should they care about what they do in the bedroom like mommy and daddy?” Just imagining it probably wouldn’t compare to actually hearing a child tear down this kind of bigotry. There are people suggesting that because showering together with gays will make straight soldiers uncomfortable that the repeal of DADT is wrong and would reduce morale and cohesion within the military. That’s what James Conway suggested indirectly a few months ago, though not so explicitly in terms that suggest latent homophobia. But what’s worse here is Tony Perkins pulling the First amendment card to try to justify his position.

The gist of this angle is that if homosexuality is said to be acceptable (which isn’t what the repeal of DADT is doing) then the military chaplains will be silenced in their right to say that homosexuality is wrong or immoral and counsel soldiers about potential relationship issues. But like I “subtly” pointed out two times before, repealing DADT doesn’t suggest that the military thinks homosexuality is moral or good. It is merely saying that they accept homosexuality as something that is a part of their soldiers as much as their sex or race. I doubt all the high ranking officers would agree that homosexual behavior is condoned by their faiths but they would at least see that it is unreasonable to make homosexuality something that people should keep hidden or be deceptive about in order to maintain honesty and integrity in the military. The discipline and training a soldier acquires would first and foremost emphasize (I imagine) that self control and responsibility are invaluable to a soldier in their unit. Regardless of if they disagree with a fellow soldier’s faith or lack thereof, their race or in our contemporary context, their sexual orientation or gender identity, the primary concern of a soldier should be cohesion and trust. If you cannot trust someone to protect your life on the battlefield just because you think they are sexually attracted to you, you have two issues. 1) You’re paranoid and have trust issues towards people different than you and 2) You have an unhealthy sense of self worth to think that every gay person, male or female respectively, is attracted to you. They may very well think you’re butt ugly, or more likely you’re just not their type. And even if you were, I would think the vast majority of gay or straight people would have the sense to keep such romantic fraternizations to a bare minimum and outside of the context of combat and also respect your not returning their attraction if it exists.

People are also suggesting that gays would use this repeal of DADT to gain some special status to protect them, which is also absurd. The gays that flaunt themselves in pride parades are hardly the same gays that are patriotic. And even if there were some that happened to have gay pride, I doubt they’d be so obnoxious as to use their sexual orientation as a crutch to make themselves feel special. As one person noted, being in the military is not a right, it’s a privilege, you choose to enter. A gay person entering the military would likely know that they are not treated differently because they are gay once DADT is repealed and the policies of discrimination are altered to include sexual orientation. For gay people to be more motivated to enter the military should be a boon to the army and such. Losing bigoted people like chaplains who don’t think homosexuality should be tolerated at all is hardly going to be the primary concern of the military.

All in all, a person’s right to free speech shouldn’t stop at offending others, but it shouldn’t require them to legislate restrictions on the free speech of others either just because some of their free speech might offend them. Chaplains don’t have to agree with the choices of faith that a fellow soldier makes, since their primary job is not evangelism in the military context; it’s counseling and general encouragement of fellowship between soldiers in the situations that would have otherwise stable people desperately need human companionship on some level. You can disagree with homosexuality, but there’s no reason to discriminate against them in the military any more than in the workplace. The differences are accidental. You could just have easily been born with predisposition to same sex attractions, so why not just sympathize and find common ground instead of drawing battle lines because of what gets your rocks off? Until next time, Namaste and Aloha