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Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Acceptance Into Atheist Blogroll

This'll be a shorter post, so I'm doing this on the fly as an announcement for people to see. I've been added to the Atheist Blogroll, run by the owner of the Deep Thoughts blog. They feature all manner of atheist, skeptic and agnostic blogs. I still have yet to even plumb the depths of the hundreds, possibly thousands, of blogs that are featured on the main list. It's beneficial to all of us bloggers as a community and I hope I can contribute my relatively humble thoughts to our group as a whole, diverse as we are. I've added a button in my site code to link you to the main list, you'll see it near the top of the right side, last I checked. Enjoy, as there are many diverse bloggers on the list just from a quick glance and more to come in the future. Thanks again to Mojoey!

Monday, May 30, 2011

Public Prayer Not Always Privately Protected




http://news.blogs.cnn.com/2011/05/27/judge-blocks-va-from-barring-jesus-christ-from-memorial-day-prayer/
http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/metropolitan/7583145.html#ixzz1NYpWcU00

I must report disappointment on secular affairs in Texas, unfortunately. A federal judge declared that the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs cannot remove the mention of Jesus Christ from an invocation by a pastor at Houston National Cemetery. The minister in question has done invocations in the past, but according to his testimony that he had mentioned Jesus in the past prayers, it would appear the violation flew under the radar like many have in the past. But this time around, he seems to be confident he will go through with it, as he has the backing of the Liberty Institute, which reminds me of a conservative mirror image of the ACLU, the American Center for Law and Justice. Yet again, we have a problem of interpretation of the establishment clause and the 1st amendment’s general protections of freedom of speech, not to mention the 9th amendment’s protection of minority rights from being dashed to pieces by majority tyranny.

Judge Lynn Hughes said the government cannot "gag citizens…in the interest of national security, and it cannot do it in some bureaucrat's notion of cultural homogeneity," I don’t see any relevance to the first part of the critique. Issues of government endorsement of religion in violation of the establishment clause of the 1st amendment aren’t concerned whatsoever with national security. The U.S. is not in imminent danger from terrorists because some preacher flubs up and forgets to be inclusive in a public prayer. But it is a serious problem when people continue to do this in the name of tradition. The second critique still seems to miss the point. Many people judge that being politically correct is stifling free speech. But in this context, free speech isn’t what is at issue; what is the problem is prayer that started off trying to be inclusive and ends excluding every faith but Christianity through this pastor’s invocation as represented by the federal government; through invitation I might add. No one’s saying he can’t go forward with his prayer, but the touchy issues of inclusivity and exclusivity can have the reverse effect and make many pastors get too enthusiastic about their faith and trample over everyone else’s. This is why a moment of silence is a more practical and equitable solution to these issues. But as the Bastrop story demonstrates, people can find loopholes to get around that as well. This incident in Texas would be harder to defend, except by saying the pastor is a private citizen in the context of being clergy. But once he does an invocation as part of a public and federal ceremony, I don’t think he can hide behind his “protected” position anymore.

The Liberty Institute responded in the vein of the judge’s sympathies by saying that the government “cannot stifle private speech on public land,” I cannot imagine where they’re getting this justification. That’s like saying a KKK Grand Dragon can just stand out in the street corner and spout racist epithets and teachings. No one would say that’s protected. If a cemetery funded by the government is considered a public area, then private speech is protected to the extent it isn’t inflammatory or exclusionary. You don’t have a justified freedom to yell “Fire!” in a crowded theatre, even if you technically have the potential to do so; similar to shouting racial slurs at minorities in the streets; you could do it, but it’s hate speech. And the inverse of the claims by the Liberty Institute would be justified. Public speech on private land would be justified and unable to be censored by the government. If the KKK held a rally at a place they owned and paid money for out of their own coffers and made public statements of a racist and anti-Semitic nature to an open audience, the government couldn’t really touch them, anymore than if they got official permits by the state to march in a parade.

The private and public, as well as government and private spheres of speech, can be misunderstood, especially when considering things important to us, such as religion and politics. And in issues we get offended about, like neo Nazi parades, we can forget the protections that nonetheless exist for such groups. We tend to agree that people proclaiming offensive things are nonetheless protected by the 1st amendment, such as the relatively recent decision that Westboro Baptist Church is, regardless of our deep-seated frustrations, protected (within potential future restrictions of prudence). But the same cannot be said for people proclaiming their particular religion as more important than others’ beliefs in particular contexts, even if they’re trying to be tolerant while steadfast in their faith. Even if the pastor tries to qualify he respects other people’s beliefs, like Laci Mattice at Bastrop High School’s graduation, he is disrespecting people of different beliefs in saying he gets priority to place his own religion in a prayer within a public context. The argument by the opposition is that since he is expressing his private religious beliefs, also noting his invocation is being sponsored by a private group, his speech is private and thus protected by Supreme Court decisions that the government cannot censor private speech on public property. Problem is the nature of this incident is not like if a sangha meditated in a park or a Christian fellowship was praying to Jesus in the same park. Considering both of these as religious beliefs expressed in public, the government would have no justification to censor that speech, since they’re doing no one any harm. But since this pastor was invited by a public group to do the invocation, one can argue they have a responsibility and standing to censor this singular part of the prayer mentioning Jesus. By all means, he can pull out of this event. The problem is the argument that this private speech in a public incident is protected even though it’s not done purely as a private citizen, but in response to a request to officiate this part of the event as clergy. The preacher doesn’t have the right to push his own personal beliefs into something that by nature should be inclusive to all veterans of differing beliefs nor does he have the right to sue because he believes his rights have been violated, since they haven’t in reality. And his qualification that he respects others doesn’t actually reflect respect. I don’t respect someone when I punch them in the face, but say beforehand, “I respect your face’s right to bleed,” Nor would it be any fairer if a Muslim tried to pray to Allah in this situation. People would be up in arms about that, but they give a free pass to the majority religion in the country on a troublingly consistent basis. The ACLU and FFRF seem to have their hands full with an overflow of such problems. My hat’s off to them, though if this passes, it won’t be the end of the world, but it will set a bad precedent. Just my last thoughts on this. Until next time, Namaste and aloha.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

The World's End Reimagined





http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2011/05/23/doomsday-leader-flabbergasted-that-the-end-didnt-arrive/

First off, I imagine everyone’s happy that I was able to celebrate my 24th birthday. But it’s been a week since Harold Camping’s failed prediction of the beginning of the end, and he’s already long since initiated his contingency plan, now saying the world will end in October, even though the catastrophic earthquake he said would happen May 21 didn’t occur anywhere in the world. In his own words, it was an “error of interpretation, not of fact,” In short he’s bought himself about 5 months to gather as much profit as he can to spread his Christian message in the meantime. He qualified, however, that his ministry won’t use their time to change their message and warn people that the end is coming conclusively at the new date. Instead, they’re doing everything else to spread the gospel across the U.S., or whatever else they’re doing with what amounts to about 18 million dollars just from 2009 in earnings Some have said Camping is just using these people to amass all this money and it wouldn’t surprise me, though people can do very disturbing and unsympathetic things in the name of some greater good. In the case of our elderly preacher here, he thinks gathering all this money is to a greater good of spreading God’s word, even at the cost of people putting themselves into bankruptcy because they trust in his charismatic teachings about biblical eschatology. It’s that charisma that can make people think Camping might just be a sociopath feigning his religious beliefs in order to manipulate people into giving him money and praise and then just abandoning them to their own devices when things go bad.

He tried to soften the blow of disappointment to his followers by saying that God decided not to make the world suffer with 5 months of tribulation, which is an odd amount of time compared to what seems to be a much longer stretch in Revelation, where he’s no doubt drawing some of his inspiration about Armageddon from. Of course, this could just be more psychological tactics to keep the people following him in spite of such despair. A lot of the followers were apparently not in a huge panic over this, but merely humbled by their own human arrogance to even think that they could predict the end of the world at all. But I wonder if everyone that followed Camping before will continue to do so when he hasn’t exactly succeeded in his message the last time in 1994 and now he has a second failure under his belt. If it were me, I’d probably have developed some stronger skepticism, but then, my mind might be wired differently enough that I wouldn’t have ever conceivably been sucked into this conspiracy. The combination of saying God is merciful and that God is faithful is probably what’s keeping these people from falling into utter despondency after many of them have sold a great deal of their belongings and devoted a good portion of their lives this year with energy that could have been directed towards their families and other more practical affairs compared to this fiasco of biblical numerological superstition. Not to mention there’s the whole reinforcement that your faith must be strong in times of trouble, so people will persist even after bankrupting themselves at times, having isolated themselves from their families for months or more and otherwise wasting their life hoping for the afterlife to come.

Lorenzo DiTommaso, associate professor of religion at Concordia University in Canada, who’s writing a book titled The Architecture of Apocalypticism, says this change in plans for Camping’s warning of God’s impending judgment is not unusual, especially when you consider it’s observable across history that these sorts of movements have caught themselves before they completely crash and reinterpret things as spiritual instead of physical, such as what happened with certain groups that split off from the Millerites after the Great Disappointment of 1844, saying Jesus returned spiritually instead of physically in a flash of clouds and light. I’m curious on that one though, because wasn’t Jesus already in heaven and the spiritual realm by association? So how did he spiritually return, unless you’re referring to the spiritual realm on earth? Maybe they thought Jesus would do some great revival? That technically could be argued to have happened about 40 years or so after the Great Disappointment, called the Third Great Awakening. Resulting denominations from this period included Christian Science and the Holiness movements. This period was at the very least a likely response to the failure of the Millerites and a reinterpretation of Jesus’ second coming to require that people reform the entire earth, which of course meant people had to spread the Gospel with more vigor than they had before. DiTomasso also notes that in these kinds of movements, faith supersedes theory and theory serves only to interpret the evidence. To simplify this, it means that your belief that the end is coming will always override the failures of predictions based on “human” methods, like mathematics and such. And any theory, or model if you will, only serves to reinterpret the evidence as is necessary, such as Camping now saying that his May 21st date was seemingly superfluous or incorrect to begin with and that October 21st is the real final date. The general message seems to be that the spiritual end of the earth was May 21 and that the physical end of the earth is October 21. So if this is indeed Camping’s beliefs, he’s following neatly along with post-Millerite reactions over a century ago; what a concept!

Overall, this doesn’t surprise me, and yet, I wonder what will happen in the far future when October comes and goes and nothing happens at all; no earthquakes, no firestorms, no meteors, nothing at all. Will the date be recalculated a third time or will it just be surrendered to God’s plan and forgiveness will be begged for, because he’s only a lowly human? Either way, I won’t bother myself the least over it, except of course in this brief article. I’d much rather expend my energy on fruitful pursuits instead of worrying about the end of the world creeping up on us slowly over the next billion years or so. Until next time, Namaste and aloha.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

No Southern Hospitality For Atheists





http://www.bastropenterprise.com/features/x2132687894/Student-challenges-prayer-at-Bastrop-graduation
http://www.reddit.com/r/atheism/comments/hed7y/threatened_to_contact_aclu_for_prayer_at/
http://www.blaghag.com/2011/05/atheist-high-schooler-receives-death.html
http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2011/05/standard_small_town_saga.php
http://friendlyatheist.com/2011/05/21/what-happened-at-damon-fowlers-graduation/

This topic jumped out at me due to my near addictive interest in issues of church and state. Just recently in Louisiana the graduation at the local high school in Bastrop, Louisiana proceeded with a student directly violating the First Amendment’s establishment clause; in a pretty duplicitous manner, might I add. This was a willful and unjustified protest against the changes the school put in place, responding to Damon Fowler, a fellow secularist, and his allegation that they were not only violating the Constitution, but Louisiana state law, which has a similar provision against laws that discriminated against or favored any religion. Technically atheism is not a religion, but one can instead claim that it was favoring Christianity, and since this is a state sponsored institution, a public high school, doing an invocation that favors a particular religion is unconstitutional. Here’s the first of two different videos involving willful defiance against the change in the program from a prayer to a moment of silence. The student in question, Laci Mattice, stated at the beginning of the ceremonies that she was originally going to lead an invocation, but that she was instead told to lead a moment of silence. I don’t see why leading a moment of silence is less important than leading a prayer. The worst part of this was her trying to weasel out of her official duties by disclaiming that before she “fulfilled [her] obligation” she wanted to thank God for helping her graduate; because she really needed to pray to be the salutatorian instead of actually studying. Afterwards, she tried to sound amicable to nonbelievers by asking that those who believed as she did bow their heads to pray. But she never temporarily suspended her duties with those disclaimers; it doesn’t work that way. As personal and individual as she tried to make it, she was sponsored by the school in that position and she had no right to do that prayer regardless of her personal beliefs or being offended by the replacing of the “traditional” invocation with a moment of silence. Pure and simple, she was not only in dereliction of her official duties, but she was spitting in the face of religious freedom. And don’t tell me that her letting all the Christians bow their heads was being charitable to non Christians. She wanted to shove this prayer down everyone’s throats in direct opposition to the school itself telling her that she could not do a prayer. And what does the school do? They sit by as the status quo is maintained even in spite of an affirmation to the contrary by the school authorities. There’s a time and place for being religious and thanking your creator for academic success, and it’s called the baccalaureate. Quite possibly, the first video might have been a baccalaureate, but the sources suggest this was related to, but not the same as, the graduation ceremony itself.

This video, however, seems to be the graduation ceremony, where the same student proceeds to go with a nearly identical process. She says she respects other people’s beliefs, but then proceeds to disrespect them by saying that her desire to thank Jesus trumps the rights of everyone to not hear it in a public context sponsored by the state. She asks her fellow students to join in, again trying to slip around the school sponsored prayer bit, but you can clearly hear the audience joining in, so she might as well have just announced to everyone, “Hey, we’re having a prayer, even though they told us we can’t legally do it. They can’t touch us, we’re the majority!” It’s a contemptible display of majority tyranny. Tennessee can be pretty bad about it in certain regions, but I can’t recall getting even a minute vibe similar to this travesty. And in both instances, they give a pittance of time for the moment of silence, maybe 15 seconds, while they get at least twice that length for their own public soapbox to condescendingly preach.

The student in question, Damon Fowler, was reported by his brother to have gotten death threats from some people. Couple this with the social ostracism from a class that’s practically the same size as mine in a relatively small area and it’s amazing he hasn’t been outright attacked. This whole incident was an unnecessary and unfounded vindication of a majority’s wants over a minority’s needs. Atheists don’t want to be treated like everyone else; they deserve and need to be treated like everyone else. For someone to ask their classmates, even nicely, to pray is to isolate non Christian students. But with the community at large cheering this girl on, it just reinforces this negative tradition that anyone not in the majority religion should sit by and let their supposed guarantee of freedom from state sponsored religion get trampled on.

Any Christian reader should not get the idea that I have a problem with students praying privately and reading their bible in non class contexts at school. My problem is with people being so proud of their own faith that once they’ve realized they are in a majority, they think they deserve special treatment. Even if they preface it by saying other people have their right to believe or not, when you use a position of authority like this to pray your specific prayer, you instate the exact opposite feeling which you were trying to inspire before. It only makes religious diversity seem all the less likely when you think being a majority religion or a religion of many founding fathers gives you carte blanche to speak openly about it with no fear of persecution. Not to mention it clashes with an admonition from Jesus himself in Matthew 6:5 that you should pray privately to God, so as not to seem like a hypocrite who wants to be seen by everyone as religious. Your outward behavior is not what God cares about, from what I understand; it’s your internal convictions. And aren’t we supposed to be in the last days where Christians are persecuted? Clearly these kids aren’t worried that Christians will be persecuted since they feel they can just pray a Christian prayer and no government will get on them. I only hope the ACLU and FFRF get on the school about this, though I’m not sure of the exact intervention they could do at this point. Until next time, Namaste and aloha.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

May 21-Save The Date (Or Not)




http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2011/05/17/my-take-may-21st-doomsday-movement-harms-christianity/
http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2011/05/18/tick-tock-goes-the-doomsday-clock/
http://inthearena.blogs.cnn.com/2011/05/17/harold-camping-prepares-for-judgment-day-may-21-2011/
http://www.albertmohler.com/2011/05/16/the-end-is-near-the-false-teaching-of-harold-camping/
http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2011/05/19/my-take-doomsdayers-show-what%e2%80%99s-wrong-with-all-religion/

Straight from my New Zealand friend, head of Spritzophrenia , I have relative confirmation that no earthquakes have happened and that nothing out of the ordinary has occurred in a place that is no doubt waking up around the time I actually post this.

Many Christians would agree with non-Christians that this predicting the date of the end of the world is nonsense. But they’d also argue that being able to tell the exact month, day and time by mathematics is unbiblical. Jesus himself says in the Bible, Matthew 24:36 specifically, that no one but God would have that specific information. Even Jesus is not privy to this information by a Christian consensus. As I mentioned in an older post about this whole Rapture and doomsday hoopla, “Faith, the Future and 2011”, the head of this ministry predicted the world would end in 1994, but there would’ve been little chance of me hearing even a peep about his claims 16 years ago. Camping, not surprisingly, simply said his math was off and recalculated. Now he apparently also knows that in October, things will go from bad to worse. The months of tribulations will end in what is presumably described somewhere in Revelation about the world being completely destroyed. Most Christians would probably disagree with Camping in the same way they’d disagree with young earth creationists who say the Bible enumerates a 6000 year history through the calculations of Archbishop Ussher, putting a precise date and time of the creation of the world which is still thrown around to substantiate this argument. The same Christians who’d condemn young earth creationists on their willful ignorance of scientific facts you can find through multiple disciplines would say Family Radio makes Christians look more fanatical than they actually are. My parents are pretty private about their beliefs and discuss these issues in private as well. It’s that sort of individualist practice of religion balanced by a sense of community that enables modern Christians to appear more sophisticated than they may actually be. The communal aspect is what binds them to a status quo they fear to break and become defensive of when people challenge it. The individual aspect is admirable, even if it can be as unjustified as any atheist who doesn’t learn and contemplate their nonbelief. Just saying you don’t believe means nothing if you don’t justify your nonbelief. I imagine most Christians have just as much of a problem with Family Radio as atheists and agnostics would, but for different reasons. Christians seem to be more concerned with what is an ever degrading public relations problem, with the continued coverage of the Catholic sex abuse scandals in Europe and many so-called “Christians” demonstrating hypocrisy on family issues (Newt Gingrich anyone?). Put all that into a pot and then add apocalyptic/millenialist groups like Family Radio and it’s no wonder Christians either strongly denounce them or try to ignore them, so as not to give them the satisfaction of getting public attention. But curiosity usually gets the best of us and so we come to coverage in a separate article of the group’s behavior just a few days before Armageddon.

It’s easy to call this a fringe group or a cult, but if anything, they’re an interesting study in what might be considered New Religious Movements, similar to what happened in Japan post World War 2. In the wake of 9/11, a tragedy of similar gravity with our country being invaded, but not brought to its knees, inspired many people to speculate that the end times are near. In America, though, people claiming the coming apocalypse have existed since the 19th century at the earliest. What was called the Great Disappointment happened in 1844, with the Millerite movement, which apparently then branched off into Seventh Day Adventism groups. What happened back then is likely to happen this time, throwing people into further despair or, with some of the members of Family Radio, a kind of solemn acceptance. Some of the members have left to be with their families, while many are still persisting, turning away the media, since according to them, it will be pointless to cover it. Some of these people allegedly don’t take the prediction seriously and are going to work next week anyway. This brings up a twofold consideration. It’d be one thing if the earthquakes and such happen, but not a single person in the world mysteriously disappears. But it’ll be another thing entirely if neither the earthquakes nor the “twinkling”, as one person put it jokingly, happen at all. It’s one thing to predict the end of the world, but to be as specific as Camping is with events is another: a series of earthquakes, dead bodies strewn everywhere, etc, and all the believers apparently going up to be with God secretly in the destruction. It’d be one thing for nothing to happen to anyone, but the prophecy of earthquakes to be vindicated, since they could just claim they weren’t part of the elect, which is involved with their Calvinist theology that God has preordained both the saved and the damned. But if nothing happens out of the ordinary, they’re going to be at least a temporary laughingstock and the target of questions as is usually the case with journalism. It’s not like anyone could change their minds, and they’re about the same size as Westboro Baptist Church, only without the inbred family vibe you get from the latter. The explicit prophetic aspect of this group distinguishes it from WBC in that there’s a set time before they have to regroup, though I hope the results of a failed prophecy from a man who’s on his last legs (almost 90 years old) might change the minds of some of these people and perhaps turn them towards a strong skepticism about these sorts of claims. Part of the difficulty with skepticism for many people is that it involves a kind of thinking we’re not used to. It has to be practiced and few things ought to be taken for granted except principles that work consistently. Once you start creating exceptions to your skepticism about religious claims, it tends towards a partiality that negates what might have been an initially credulous argument. Whatever happens on this “doomsday”, skeptics will remain. Until next time, Namaste and aloha.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Religion and Secularism's Questions and Answers





http://www.bigquestionsonline.com/features/against-the-%E2%80%9Canswer-bank%E2%80%9D-theory-of-religion
http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2011/05/09/college-becomes-nations-first-to-offer-major-in-secularism/
http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/08/us/08secular.html?_r=1

This time we have an interesting pairing of topics. The first is from an article I found over a month ago and recently decided to comment on, since the bin Laden story and everything preceding it caught my interest and demanded my thoughts more compellingly than this, which is more of a speculative topic. As much as I like reading Stephen Prothero’s blog posts, I still have yet to read his popular book concerning religious literacy in America, let alone his work from 2010 called God Is Not One, which is sitting somewhere in my ever growing library. But this essay he linked to from one of his posts on Belief Blog intrigued me enough to add it to a growing backlog of topics I want to talk about, including one I tend to avoid: evolution/creation/intelligent design and the debate that goes along with it (humanities major before science enthusiast, see.). But onto the actual topic.

When we think of religion, we usually associate it with those who believe they have answers, usually about questions of existential significance: when the world will end, why bad things happen to good people and so on. The group that believes the world is ending May 21, 2011, comes to mind for eschatology. Or Westboro Baptist Church, who asserts that America is being judged daily by a God who likes to play Risk with real human lives just to punish us for accepting homosexuality, as to why soldiers get blown up on a near daily basis. The list could go on forever with any person who flaunts their religiosity as the basis of their worldview. Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich and other 2012 Republican nominee hopefuls would also be part of this group. Prothero calls this an “answer bank” theory of religion. It’s most popular with religions focused on orthodoxy, or correct teaching. Christianity is notorious for this in the form of accusations of heresy by the Catholic Church towards many thinkers, including Thomas Aquinas in at least one isolated incident, I believe. Origen and Eckhart, on the other hand, are better known by heresiologists (yes, that’s a word), those who study heretics. In Christianity, if you don’t believe the right things about God, Jesus, salvation, etc, more often than not, you’re regarded as heretical, teaching false doctrine or other expressions depending on denomination and level of education. On the other end of the spectrum are people who are more flexible in the long run than their counterparts. The ones I speak of focus on orthopraxy, or correct practice. The common example is Judaism, though from my experience Buddhism can work just as well. But Judaism serves as a more accessible faith for a counterexample to the faith it un/intentionally spawned. The distinction of cultural and religious Jews attests to this, not to mention the “relative” coexistence as I see it from my limited understanding of the Jewish community, excluding Zionists, I suppose. Jews care less about the precise teachings and more on practicing what you preach, though that tendency does exist in Christianity as well. This is where the divisive and confusing nature of studying people’s beliefs comes up.

The importance of religious studies shouldn’t be overstated, but it shouldn’t be underestimated either. When people hear I’m a religion major; or even if they hear my major expressed as religious studies; I guarantee 50% will ask this question first, “Are you going into the ministry/Are you going to be a minister?” It’s ironic that saying you’re a religion major is such a conversation starter, when talking about religion outside of an academic framework, on the other hand, is more often than not a conversation stopper. But religious studies’ value lies with the questions it inspires rather than the answers various writers and traditions pose to those questions, such as you’d find in theology. Many of the faithful would no doubt object to this, on the grounds that they feel more comfortable with having these big questions settled to a certain extent, even if they also admit they have faith in these things. But as I said in an older post of mine entitled “Comfortable Certainty or Chaotic Contentment,” religion is a starting point, not the end of human endeavors. But many religious people, such as Augustine of Hippo (Christian) and Averroes (Muslim), said that religion and philosophy can have a mutual relationship, though I wouldn’t reach the same conclusions they do. Faith seeking understanding is one thing, but balancing it with understanding seeking faith can work in a paradoxical sense in the discipline of religious studies.

Interestingly enough, a college in South California has brought up what may be called the flipside of the coin that religious studies offers in terms of the big questions about life. When you bring up a “secularism” major in a conversation, I imagine people would react with confusion or hostility, depending on their understanding of the term “secularism”. If they view it as the enemy of everything good in the world or a progenitor of the New World Order, either way, they’ve already missed the point. Secularism isn’t perfect; I don’t think anyone would claim that. But it does try to solve questions in terms of substantive issues; whether something is true or not; as opposed to the problem of interpretation in religious studies; let alone its distant parent theology, who sired the notorious bastard child I’ve studied under for years alongside its ancestor.

The growth of secularism intrigued Phil Zuckerman, a sociologist of religion who’s written books and articles on the spread of nonbelief and cultural distance from religion. This was a large part of his desire to start this major as the first of its kind, along with its relevance in a growing secular culture even in America. One can only hope that this spreads across the country, if only to inform people more of atheism, agnosticism, freethought and such. As people begin to understand that irreligious/nonreligious people are not necessarily hostile to religion when they have ceased to believe in God/etc, the relationship between believers and nonbelievers can improve by leaps and bounds. Once you understand why skeptics are slow to believe in such things as the resurrection and auras, you may also begin to see why people choose different belief systems in general, supernatural or natural. Until next time, Namaste and aloha.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

The Fine Line Between Vindication and Vengeance




http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2011/05/02/is-it-morally-right-to-celebrate-bin-ladens-death/
http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2011/05/04/my-take-no-apology-for-celebrating-after-bin-ladens-death/
http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2011/05/05/my-take-my-prayer-after-bin-laden-death/
http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2011/05/03/my-take-sea-burial-says-bin-laden-not-a-martyr/
http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2011/05/03/my-take-why-post-bin-laden-partying-made-me-cringe/
http://www.albertmohler.com/2011/05/02/the-trial-that-still-must-come-the-death-of-osama-bin-ladin-and-the-limits-of-human-justice/

Recent events compel me to speak again: this time, on the death by sniping (?) of one Osama bin Laden, popularized in our collective consciousness as “the” terrorist, leader of Al Qaeda and mastermind behind the 9/11 attacks on the Twin Towers, now in the process of being rebuilt at Ground Zero. There was celebrating in the streets, chanting of “U.S.A,” among other things such as “F*#% Osama” (Which I haven’t heard yet, probably haven’t looked or listened hard enough), and singing of “God Bless America”. There were also Facebook memes that popped up, and rumors propagated of what was going to happen to the body, or whether Osama was actually dead or even allegations that he had been dead for years by some theorists. It was decided that he would be buried at sea, though I’m not sure of the exact nature of the burial, except presumably putting his body in something that floats and pushing it out into the ocean. This was on two points, 1) No country would take bin Laden’s body, for fear of desecration and general security risks and 2) Since they couldn’t bury him in the ground by general Muslim custom (within 24 hours), he was instead buried at sea, which is apparently permitted by a degree of flexibility many would not expect from the oft cited “dangers” of Sharia. There was another aspect of the sea burial considered by scholars, which was the alternate burial method for martyrs, which likely contributed to the decision to bury him at sea also. You wouldn’t want followers using their leader’s martyrdom as a stepping stone to more extreme acts of terrorism, would you?

The more pressing and personal issue to me is not my feelings of any sort of vindication or justice at the death of this man, since, as far as I know, not a single person of any significance to me in terms of direct relationships, was killed in the 9/11 terrorist attacks. I’ve had at least one classmate that was probably killed in action because of Muslim terrorists inspired by Osama bin Laden, but that still doesn’t give me any real right to speak as if I’ve been affected on the level of people losing family or dear friends in the war on terrorism or the terrorist attack that inspired that war. No, what I’m talking about is the difficulty I have with people making such a ruckus over this assassination. It would be one thing if, all of a sudden, troops were pulled out of all the major areas in the Middle East; that would actually be a justified incident for people to chant what they did, excluding of course, “F*#$ Osama”. It would be a fine example of patriotism towards those people that fight on the field to protect basic liberties and the like. But when all we’ve done is kill one person that happened to be associated with so much hatred and hostility and then make a huge celebration of the event, it worries me about the human condition from a Buddhist perspective, let alone the Christian perspective I’m nonetheless familiar with.

There is a defense of the celebration on the grounds that this is a sign of progress. But I wonder, did we celebrate to the same extent when Saddam Hussein was overthrown, or more importantly, when he died by hanging by the Iraqi interim government? I’d say no, but this is for reasons that those defending the celebrations would bring up. The important distinctions are twofold; 1) Hussein was convicted by trial and executed by a human government and 2) He was executed not by our government, but by another country’s practice of capital punishment. These two factors already separate the incident almost 5 years ago from the one several days prior. Bin Laden was killed by a group of Navy SEALs authorized by the President of the United States, controversial Barack Obama. In this way, it differs from Hussein in two ways; 1) He was killed in a firefight, in a military operation, as a combatant would be killed, and 2) He was killed by people under American authority. In this way, people feel much more connected to this killing of an ‘enemy of democracy’ and such. The argument has sound distinctions for when you bring up any other example, for the most part, of the deaths of dictators and tyrants through history, such as Hitler or Stalin. But the argument still seems to fail on the grounds of a direct ethical justification of the celebrations. The response to people like myself, who would initially state that they are celebrating the death of a person, is that they are not celebrating bin Laden’s death, but are celebrating the promise of less death and future life for the free world with him no longer in it.

But this only seems to shift your focus on the future possibilities instead of the present actualities. There may be one less dead terrorist, but hundreds may take his place, even if he is not considered a martyr in his burial. There will be terrorists as long as there are humans who see violence against anyone and everyone as a means by which to spread a message. The problem is, this works both ways. Even those who may try to spread democracy through the use of military force can easily be accused of being terrorists as long as we continue to use more and more powerful force which causes often dismissed “collateral damage”. Before we had nuclear capacity, or even explosive weaponry dropped from planes, there was much less possibility of collateral damage. But now we can kill civilians and still consider ourselves justified in having killed evil people en masse. To celebrate and rejoice in the death of evil only seems to make one appear more evil themselves in not responding in respectful silence to the death of a human being, however much they may not appear to be so from the perspective of those at the receiving end of monstrous actions. I only hope we can balance military action with pacifism and compassion in the future. Until next time, Namaste and aloha.