Saturday, June 18, 2011


I know most people are tired of all the stories about Westboro Baptist Church and their hostility towards anything that doesn’t fit their conveniently expanding yet also shrinking bubble of what is approved by God. By conveniently expanding, I mean God lets them make song parodies for the purpose of insults towards every possible group you could imagine, showing that their God seems to hate more and more things the more they add to their repertoire. But it’s not like they have much else to be concerned with, since they can pass off their activities as tax exempt; being a so called “church” they are considered a non-profit organization. According to Nathan Phelps, a former member of the church, they’re called to give a third of their income to God by Fred Phelps’ interpretations of the bible. But when you think about it, they practically get a third of their income returned through tax breaks and such, so they actually don’t live nearly as economically impoverished a life as you might think.

It doesn’t mean they don’t isolate their family from the world by expressing so much hostility and aversion to everything they come across, so intellectually they’re still quite lacking. They use the Internet and such, clearly, since they are well known for one of many sites such as as well as among other affiliated pages, all of which are probably still down after the attack on their servers by hacktivists, many claiming it was Anonymous, though it denies these claims, saying it was a rogue group. Whoever shut down their website thought it might affect them, but this is a group that’s been popularized through the media so much that they could drop their servers and internet messages at any time and focus on the protests they started over ten years ago at Michael Shepherd’s funeral in 1998.

Onto the story of ironic importance, then. The WBC had members protesting at Arlington National Cemetery at the Memorial Day services to remember fallen soldiers. But this time there was a counter group alleging that they were members of the Knights of the Southern Cross, a branch of the Ku Klux Klan based in Virginia. Of course, this is like picking the lesser of two evils, though for many people, the KKK would appear to at least have respect for fallen soldiers and mourning of the dead, regardless of disagreements on racial and religious issues that the KKK is almost as notorious for as WBC for their big issues with gays and enablers like myself. The Klan has existed in the U.S. much longer than Westboro Baptist Church, probably with roots that go back further than Fred Phelps’ lifetime. Of course, no one should think I’m saying that the KKK is more justified in their overall beliefs than Westboro Baptist Church. Both of them speak hatred out of fear or misguided ideas about the people they speak against in one way or another. The Knights of the Southern Cross were, at this protest, merely handing out small American flags to other patriots and passerby, otherwise not getting much attention or promoting their beliefs as Klan members. I’m reminded of a group called the Patriot Guard Riders who follow WBC around as counter protestors. If anything, there might be common ground between the Riders and the Knights in the context of respecting people at a funeral for people that, many point out, fight for the church’s basic freedom to peacefully assemble and protest.

Of course, members like Abigail Phelps, one of pastor Fred Phelps’ daughters, brush these counter protests aside, saying they “have no moral authority on anything,” They also claimed people at the memorial were “idolizing” the dead and said they died for an “unrighteous cause”. First off, remembering people after they died is hardly ancestor worship, so that part’s just provocatively idiotic. And I’m not one to be pro-war, but I’m not an absolute pacifist or non-resistant type. The use of excessive military force is a problem I have with war in general, but I don’t know what Westboro thinks the unrighteous cause is with the war in, say, Iraq or the Middle East in general. From what little I (or anyone) can understand of their theology, it isn’t any particular thing the wars are fought for, but just that they are fighting for the cause of the United States of America, which, according to members, such as de-facto head Shirley Phelps-Roper, is being punished by God for accepting homosexuality. I have to wonder what they would have the U.S. do to homosexuals if they were in charge? Stone them to death like the Bible “commands” in Leviticus 20:13? Or do other terrible things which I could only speculate on a fraction of?

I don’t think I can ramble on as long as I usually do on this topic, so onto general closing remarks. It doesn’t hurt us to see common ground between positions that we equally disagree with, but we can’t forget that there are commonly shared beliefs that are divisive with both the KKK and Westboro. Their main disagreements are support for the troops and racism justified by the Bible or otherwise, so there’s a much wide range of things people could find to disagree about besides these. Fred Phelps is known for being a lawyer supporting civil rights in the 60s, so his church could easily claim the KKK is wrong in being racist. But the contention from the other side is that WBC is not being respectful of people’s privacy in the context of mourning loved ones. Either way, there’s an obvious impasse that police were right in the middle of the whole time. At least both sides continue to be relatively peaceful in this day and age, though Westboro seems to be keen on provoking violence to justify lawsuits, which they’re so good at being lawyers for the most part. So, until next time, Namaste and aloha.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Heaven and Stephen Hawking

I haven’t read a single book by Stephen Hawking and one might say I’m horrible for laughing at various jokes at his expense on Family Guy, but I remember when he posited a year ago in The Grand Design that we didn’t need God to explain the beginning of this universe, but instead can refer back to the most basic force of gravity. I faintly recall the explanation being something to the effect that gravity initiated the Big Bang itself because of the nature of quantum singularities, etc. I’ve never been one to be able to focus much on mathematics or science, but I can align with Hawking’s naturalistic approach to cosmology. I can respect people’s right to believe that God intervened in the Big Bang in some way or started the processes or abiogenesis or biological evolution, but Stephen Hawking’s declaration is a more explicit rejection of these sorts of partnerships on an intellectual level of religious beliefs and scientific theoretical models. For people to believe these things is their liberty, but to say that it even makes philosophical or scientific sense seems to miss the point that God and heaven by association are not scientific, they are experiential and psychological. People may believe they experience God or have gone to heaven/hell and returned, and I cannot contest their interpretation by personal experience, but one can observe brain chemistry and neurology to see that there are quite impressive processes going on that can conceivably generate these experiences, particularly NDEs (Near Death Experiences). Hawking himself actually said a bit before his famous statement thrown around these days; “heaven…is a fairy tale for people afraid of the dark,” that the brain is likened to a computer that will cease to function when its parts break down. Many people in my own discipline may recoil in disbelief that someone could believe this, feeling that the human mind cannot be compared to something created by humans in a similar way people think humans cannot be compared to God in terms of ethical judgments. But when you start thinking about the complexities of a computer from a basic understanding of its parts and functions as they interact, the human mind is not a far cry from being just as awe inspiring without involving “God,”

When we don’t know everything about something, we’re motivated all the more by our wonder and amazement in our ignorance to remedy that problem by learning as much as we can. Hawking’s claim doesn’t reduce our amazement at the world around us, or even our own minds and the complexity of memory, cognition, emotions and the like; in fact it can make someone tear up at the prospect that we might begin to understand it more. And there’s no arrogance in that pursuit of knowledge any more than any pursuit of new information is somehow trying to take on the position of “God” or asserting oneself as the greatest human being who ever existed. People read way too much into science and come with varying degrees of willful ignorance or outright idiocy about what a scientist pursues. It is not absolute power or knowledge, but simply more and more comprehensive knowledge that we can acquire and use to structure the universe in some way, however limited it might be in reality or history as a whole.

There are probably also those who accuse the Cambridge professor of being afraid of death and lashing out at everyone who believes in heaven with his hostile statement that everyone who believes in the afterlife is a frightened child who doesn’t know any better. But Hawking has been in a state of potential death for almost 50 years since he was given 3 years to live at 21. He himself says he’s not afraid of death, though he implies he’s accepted it. But like any person on the verge of death in any form, he says we should make the most of the life we have, which I can wholeheartedly agree with. For people to take potshots at a man crippled by a disease that for all knowledge we have of it, should have killed him around when he was my age, is as shameful as criticizing Michael Fox for having Parkinson’s, though again, I’m guilty of laughing at Family Guy’s jokes about him. Not to mention the argument that an atheist doesn’t believe in the afterlife because they’re afraid of death is no more logical than saying theists believe in the afterlife because they’re afraid of death. Any person willing to be a martyr and go to the afterlife is clearly not afraid of death so much as they’re attached to the concept of heaven. I suppose when you invert the analysis that theists could be said to be attached to and clinging to life as they do their own existence one can make a more reasonable claim that they’re in some way afraid of death and use heaven as a buffer to suppress that fear or otherwise remove its threat. But if atheists are truly afraid of death, wouldn’t they do something similar to theists in using technology instead of beliefs in heaven to extend their lives to near immortality, such as through nanomachines or advanced medical treatments? But Stephen Hawking is not in any way unwilling to die when his disease completely destroys his motor nerve functions and stop his brain, thereby stopping his heart as well. In fact, one might say Stephen Hawking is a representative of that tendency in science to be very willing to accept your death and annihilation on some level, similar to Christopher Hitchens, still suffering from throat cancer. Theists don’t seem to be willing to believe that animals have souls because of some false sense of entitlement, as if God only gave them souls.

It’s when you recoil at the thought of death being the final end to a person’s life, only survived by memories, that you seem to be less appreciative of life, since you believe that people will get justice in heaven or hell, in an almost Hindu karmic sense that God will reward good and punish bad in an afterlife. If you believe that when people die they are gone, you can truly mourn their death in some sense. If you merely bewail that they aren’t with you now but will be with you in the future, it’s a pitiable sort of funeral, since you don’t really believe there’s anything to be sad about except that they are no longer physical. But then, the notion of heaven as spiritual seems to go over people’s heads and they think heaven will be as physical as it is now, just improved on some level. Christian metaphysics seem to suggest that the spiritual body of heaven might be better understood as a perfected body, but then that seems to just go along with the fear of death in general. I don’t see why you must believe you go on in order to make yourself feel less affected by someone’s physical death. If you really want to appreciate people’s lives and memorialize their deaths, saying they are gone forever seems the best way to do it, as terrible as it might sound at first. But then, emptiness from a Buddhist perspective has a similar misconception I hope to confront eventually when I run out of stories like this. Until next time, Namaste and aloha.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Attempts At Reconciling Creation(ism) and Evolution

I’ve never been much for blogging on the relationship between religion and science, mostly because I’m more interested in the topics of belief and nonbelief and the interaction between the faithful and faithless, but that’s more a future book topic than my wider range of blog topics. I’ve decided to broaden my horizons to an article whose subject I dismissed at first glance, but rethought it and am now trying to cover a wider range of topics, including some that really stand out from my usual fare, such as my recent piece on the varying Catholic perspective on IVF.

I’ve always been aware of attempts to bring peace to a commonly embittered relationship of the natural sciences on the stricter end of evidential standards and monotheistic religions on the other end. There are atheists that are creationists in some sense, such as the Raelians, who believe we were genetically engineered by an advanced race of aliens, from what I recall, but for the most part, creationists and intelligent design advocates are most commonly believers in “God” as the so called “creator”, whatever that might mean. There are two out of three major scientific theories related to physics and biology Christians are more commonly opposed to: Big Bang and abiogenesis. The first is an answer to the philosophical quandary of why something came from nothing that Christians find unacceptable because it doesn’t involve their creator. The second tries to solve the question of where life originates on the earth, yet again not satisfying the devout because instead of God creating and breathing life into proverbial clay, the “clay” becomes living on its own through time. The issue of chronology is always pertinent, moreso to Young Earth creationists than to Old Earth Creationists or Intelligent Design advocates. With the literal belief in Genesis and the span of time supposedly entailed therein, a blockade of strong mental resistance is made against believing in Big Bang, abiogenesis or evolutionary theory. The ability to even compartmentalize the most pertinent and everyday of these three is a miracle in itself. But the notion that science and religion are separated into non-overlapping magisteria; an idea advocated by Stephen Jay Gould, a famous agnostic biologist; which states religion and science occupy distinct unrelated areas of concern, morals and nature respectively; is not only unjustified, but a result of blinders similar to biblical literalism and fundamentalism, along with idealistic ideas of science and religion. They can overlap at ethical considerations, but their methods tend to conflict by design, further negating the idea that they are separate, since they butt heads almost necessarily.

The author of the article is in a reluctant minority within Christianity, from my experience, limited as it is. However, any notion of science being correct is tempered by even these thinkers with a transcendent consciousness behind the world, which created the world as we know it with a purpose, usually understood in Christianity as redemption from sin in a narrative modeled in the Bible. There is some good that exists in this line of thinking of compatibility between science and religion. The claim that the Bible itself doesn’t hold the answers of scientific importance; about how nature works, the mathematics or formulae behind gravity, etc; is a step towards healthy skepticism. Anyone trying to read those ideas into the Bible’s anecdotal, historical and otherwise more interpretative concerns within the humanities is, according to this splinter of Christian thought, missing the point. It’s actually connected to the division of believers between biblical inerrancy and infallibility. The former suggests that the Bible holds all the answers humans will ever need, while the latter is realistic enough to limit the Bible’s scope of validity to spiritual/religious issues of faith and the Church.

The fixation upon Genesis’ need to be taken literally exists on a few levels, the most obvious one being that its relation to evolution is not realized by a person who thinks God conjured all the varied creatures “according to their kind” along with humans and they never diversified by species, etc as biological organisms tend towards. This seems especially odd when you consider that a worldwide flood is also a belief from a literal Genesis, something that would’ve radically changed the environment. That seems to create a situation for adaptation and natural selection, if I understand evolutionary theory at all. The literal interpretation of Genesis also insists on a point that many Christians, however conservative they might be on other issues, are more flexible on here, excluding extremists like Ken Ham. Augustine of Hippo, overall respected theologian in Christian thought, was fairly conservative on issues such as appreciating holy music. There are Christians these days who’d share the initial sentiments he seemed to support: that is, music leads people into sin because of our love of the sounds it presents to our ears, just as revealing clothes and the skin they show “tempts” our eyes. But Augustine, as much as he admitted that he tended towards strictness on those areas, was a non literalist about Genesis being a 7 day event, and no doubt also about the chronology of the Bible amounting to the entire history of the world compressed into six to ten thousand years.
The importance of the Genesis narrative, according to any Christian you’d come across, isn’t that God created the world in some strict timeframe, but that God created it (and initiated the evolutionary process over time?). Which would most believers in God find more important: the nitpicking details or the tenets of faith, such as “God exists and created the world”?

The Bible, to most believers, is not something strict and precise about every detail. Many things have to be worked out indirectly, such as the accounts we have of angels and demons. People who take it too seriously are the start of this phenomenon of literalism. No one’s telling people they can’t believe the Bible as a religious text, but claiming it’s a scientific source betrays any sense of what the Bible is at its core; a series of revelations from God, not a checklist of do’s and don’ts never to be violated or adjusted to circumstance and eras. The Old Testament enumerates 600+ commandments, most of which the average Christian has no idea are even in the Bible, let alone takes seriously as a believer in a spawn of the Jewish religion. Like I subtly implied in my “Religion and Secularism’s Questions and Answers” post, the more we begin to understand things, like the Bible, from a believer’s perspective, the more we can understand the diversity in any believer’s worldview about the Bible and its relation, or lack thereof, to scientific pursuits, such as evolutionary theory. Until next time, Namaste and aloha

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Family Planning and Fertility Procedures

As a follow up to my post this week, “Politics and Pro Life”, I thought I’d confront something of a problem within official (?) Catholic doctrine that is indirectly related to the pro-life issue they brought against Republicans and their budget that disfavored the poor. This alleged contradiction of a consistent pro life position makes an important distinction of anti-abortion rights versus pro-life as a whole in terms of overlapping but distinct principles, since consistent pro-life usually implies also being anti capital punishment and anti war to a great extent. But now we confront an issue that’s deeper with Catholic family values and how technology can conflict with it at times.

The article’s author says that he and his wife feel condemned after an incident where another couple’s embryos were mixed up with theirs and a difficult decision was made to give the child up to their genetic parents. The process of in-vitro fertilization was how this problematic set of circumstances came about, but I certainly don’t see it as a problem if they were willing to give up the child. But the Catholic diocese the article’s author belonged to called what the family had engaged in morally unacceptable. It’s ironic since one can argue, as the author does, that he and his wife were actually trying to advance their family and affirm the sanctity of life at the same time. This is a twofold issue: 1) the couple was trying to expand their family through different means, since, as explained, they are infertile and have had no success through normal routes, and 2) they chose not to abort the fetus because it happened to not be their biological child and was instead another couples’. This is another choice of dual import; since first, they didn’t abort, which affirms the value of life in Catholic doctrine, and secondly, they valued the wishes of the family who wanted a child themselves and carried that child, willingly giving it up, with some trepidation.

The reason the Catholic Church opposed this practice by any Catholic family has roots in old doctrines that say, in simple terms, that children should be conceived in natural ways, not through any procedure that negates the conjugal act. This is also why they oppose birth control, as this disrupts the natural act of sexual intimacy that produces a child under normal circumstances. With this family in question, they had two children, either from a previous marriage or from their present one (or possibly adopted). The church had two potential lines of attack here: 1) The couple could be said to be ungrateful to God for the two children they already have; or more directly 2) They were trying to usurp God’s natural order by using science to have a child through means that were actually more practical and would also advance their family, as Catholics tend to be called to do (you know, have as many kids as humanly possible?) The author agrees with Catholic doctrines concerning abortion and the like, but this singular opposition to IVF as a method for conceiving and bringing a child into the world is a source of deep opposition on personal and moral grounds.

I cannot sympathize either as a Catholic or a father, but as a human being, his insights and observations are spot on. There is no reason the Catholic Church seems to be opposing this except to maintain a status quo of their tradition and teachings on the issue of fertility and the correct ways to have a child. But, like many would observe, this seems an unjustified pressure of the Church to its adherents for conformity to their teachings even against advice that would appear to benefit their overall cause. They are, for lack of a better expression, missing the forest for the trees. In emphasizing strict obedience to such antiquated and narrow ideas about how a child should come about, they exclude many still valued children that could come about through uncommon methods. The issue of rape or incest is not pertinent here, since, as I understand it, Catholics tend to permit abortions in these extenuating circumstances. But with a couple that is infertile, Catholics suddenly oppose any methods that might help them add to their family, merely because it isn’t the “natural” way.

In general, one shouldn’t prejudge an entire group on any issue, like Catholics on IVF’s moral permissibility, because of isolated incidents like this, but allegedly this is official doctrine and would require more effort to change this policy in the Catholic Church. If anything, the best argument is that this is depriving infertile couples of a chance to do what God supposedly ordained them to do, have sex (in the bonds of marriage) and conceive. But since they can’t do that, God apparently forbids them from using science that God also supposedly had a big hand in and conceive a child artificially. It’s not as if the child is less valuable in God’s eyes, so why oppose it except for what amounts to a mechanical view of human sexuality and extended functions, such as family? There’s no real reason, except that stereotype that Catholics are afraid of change. If anything, they seem threatened by changes through technological advances, but, (from what I understand) are not always threatened by change, but are for the most part, as evidenced from their activism against the Republican budget, a group that tries to spur change, at least when it synchs with their overall pro life position. This issue isn’t seen as very important, and even though I tend to shy away from activism on these issues, I wouldn’t be surprised if there are other Catholics that have these sympathies. Perhaps the Anglican Church would welcome them into their church, mirroring the Catholic Church taking in Anglicans not happy with the permission of gay marriage in the denomination recently. It wouldn’t be a bad solution, if Anglicans have no problem with IVF. Until next time, Namaste and aloha.

And here's a pertinent text you can buy on Amazon. I highly recommend Amazon, as it's safe and consistent with delivery and has a variety of products you can purchase.

Moral status of in-vitro fertilization (IVF).: An article from: Catholic Insight

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Jesus' Importance: Divine or Human?

This is a topic that’s even less discussed by me, because I honestly don’t really crack open a bible much except to combat Christian apologists or just look up random quotes people throw at me. The Gospels in particular are my main interest, alongside Ecclesiastes and Proverbs just for philosophical scrutiny of ethical/moral aphorisms. On the subject of the Gospels, the topic I speak so little of is the relevance of Jesus Christ/of Nazareth to the modern world. It’s usually a tendency in one of two directions; one is that he’s as pertinent as any American president or other major historical figure. He’s bigger than even someone like Martin Luther King Jr., because without his existence, he wouldn’t do what he did or reference those sayings. The other is that Jesus is simply a good person, a teacher, a rabbi. Believing Jesus never existed and is completely made up by other writers as a myth is something that no doubt resulted from the controversial Jesus Seminar, which apparently started two years before I was even born, but has only recently gained popularity in the early 2000s with books like The Jesus Myth and even more immediately with Bart D. Ehrman’s Forged, who claims half of the New Testament is a forgery. So now, we’ll get into the dialectic of Jesus: man of God or God as man?

The person of central importance for a modern and moderate position about Jesus is John Dominic Crossan, who isn’t well thought of by many theologians, from what I understand. While considering himself a Christian, he is rather unorthodox in his exact regard towards Jesus. He says you don’t have to believe Jesus was God incarnate, performed miracles or resurrected from the dead to see him as important on the same level as other nonviolent protestors like Mohandas Gandhi. On such things like his resurrection and the majority of his miracles, he says they should be seen as spiritual parables. Jesus’ resurrection is seen as the vindication of the values of God against the values of Rome which crucified him; including nonviolent resistance, which is a rather minority position in Christianity these days. His approach seems to hinge on metaphorical interpretations, which have always been uncommon in popular Christianity. Literalism works better with a common and uneducated community with a few literate and educated elites that have the capacity to read and understand the bible, usually in one particular way that seems best.

The alternative, of course, is at the very least that Jesus is supernatural, and that it is necessary to see Jesus as such for the Gospels to make sense. Many would say that Crossan’s reductionistic view of Jesus ignores a massive amount of evidence in historical connections of the New Testament to secular history, especially the allegation that a messianic group like Christianity could not have gotten off the ground if they were claiming metaphors about Jesus to convince people that he was the Messiah spoken of in the Jewish prophets. To say that Jesus’ resurrection was less important than his radical social teachings about helping the poor and downtrodden and turning the other cheek, as he preached in his Sermon on the Mount, is to teach a Jesus that is accessible but not challenging. Many Christians would no doubt say this picture of Jesus doesn’t make you face your alleged sinful nature before God and just makes you want to challenge the system in a sort of jaded way many people in my parents’ generation tried to do and supposedly failed miserably on some level. My own generation might be said to have more potential for change in the technological era we live in, being able to spread our message across cyberspace within seconds. This sort of dialectic is a good way to continue the discussion, however much they’re at each others’ throats.

The key point here is whether there is any common ground between these sides that exists. To start this conversation out right; yes, there are agreed upon values that Jesus taught in the Gospels that both flavors of Christians, metaphorical and literal (along with more cherry picking varieties) can find quickly. The socially radical nature of Jesus’ teachings, his challenge to Roman and Jewish authority of the times, preaching love and compassion tempered by a strong faith in God, all of these and more resonate equally well with Christians of both stripes, albeit with differing approaches. Of course, many might question whether such metaphorical Christians actually believe in God or are just masquerading as such with academic credentials. This is always an issue I’ve found with studying theology and religion of theistic varieties; you can understand a great deal about the believers, but you can’t get to that level of understanding how they come to believe as they do. There’s always an existential plane that others can’t get to, which applies equally to the condescension that many believers throw upon nonbelievers. The dialogue is a double edged sword in that believers don’t always try to understand where unbelievers are coming from and vice versa. Of course, this has a similar difficulty as any sort of dialogue about the value of religious studies, as I observed in “Religion and Secularism’s Questions and Answers,” I can try my best to understand things from a Christian’s perspective, but “true” Christians would say that I can’t truly understand this because I don’t believe. The problem with that is it presumes a similar mistaken idea as in religious studies; that is, you have to be religious in order to study religion academically. Otherwise, people allege, you’re just looking at it in some scientific fashion. But that’s simply not true. If I’m anything of a representative of religious studies students, I don’t view religion as strictly predictable like the law of gravity, nor do I view it purely as a private matter. As much as the personal aspects of religion are important to me and others, the cultural and communal relevance of religion and Christianity in particular with America, is something I can study without needing to actually believe in Jesus as anything more than an admirable human being. Do I have to believe Buddha was some super entity after he achieved enlightenment as is still portrayed occasionally in popular media? No. And similar to Jesus, one can believe many things people claimed about Buddha, but those neither have any importance for Buddhism as a philosophy/religion, nor do they determine whether you’re a true Buddhist. Christianity, being more focused on orthodoxy, is going to always be in a state of conflict with Christology, since Jesus is not only the founder, but to most, God incarnate, who saved the world, in a spiritual sense, from itself. Christianity is a fascinating cultural and religious phenomenon, but you don’t have to see Jesus as God in order to appreciate him as a teacher. Unitarians (believing God is one) and Adoptionists (believing Jesus was adopted as God’s son and made divine from a human state) attest to this, however much in the minority they appear to be. Until next time, Namaste and aloha.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Politics and Pro Life

I’ve already blogged on this a bit, mostly in relation to a blog post of a college acquaintance who runs , a political blog of good quality, where he noted the relation of ‘pro-life” beliefs to libertarian values of freedom. In that post, “Abortion Terms Revisited”, I actually suggested a solution to this problem I’ll visit later in this post, albeit not necessarily solving what to do about the pro-life position itself.
Again, I rail on politics and its complexity, though both Democrats and Republicans could be inconsistent on the issue that divides even families sometimes. There’s always some variation on the general anti-abortion field, so as to distinguish this from the pro life issue for the moment. Some permit abortions in extreme cases, others forbid it in all situations and others are somewhat in the middle, resonating with pro choice and pro life in that they would like people to choose life, but they also respect people’s choices, as long as they don’t become abortions on demand for any situation. Of course, the pro choice thing is equally as polarizing. A side comment would enable me to transition more smoothly into what pro life would be more consistently across policies. Pro choice is not something Republicans are necessarily against. They value privatization, free market economy, freedom to choose a number of things out of various alternatives (like guns?). Their exclusion of abortion, but acceptance of the death penalty is just one of the inconsistencies many politically minded people observe about the Republican Party these days on their so called “pro life” platform.

To be truly pro life, many have begun to argue, you cannot suggest the budget for allaying the economic troubles we remain in. To cut benefits and aid to the poor is against many people’s deeply held religious beliefs. And even without religious beliefs based in the supernatural, one can argue there is still a strong compulsion for those who have plenty to give to those who have little or none. The basics of charity, generosity, and helping people live a fulfilling and satisfactory life can be said to be just as integral to a pro-life position as the commonly affirmed position of what I would call counter or anti-abortion. Pro-life is not the same as anti or counter abortion for the same reason that a counter/anti-abortion advocate can also be pro-death penalty/capital punishment or say the use of torture to advance the cause of peace is justified, among other more explicitly ‘anti-life’ positions. Of course, even the use of aggressive and excessive military strength that ignores the roles of noncombatants would appear on its face to be spitting on those lives as if they are expendable as accepted losses or collateral damage. Even soldiers, willingly putting their lives on the line, make such twisted choices in order to justify their own warped psyche’s perspective, radically changed by experiencing threats from every side and trained not to have mercy on the enemy. How does this ensure any kind of pro-life position in the general sense: that is, protecting life at all stages, whatever that might specifically be, whether it starts at birth or at conception (however questionable the latter may be). Even if I might disagree with such a a pro lifer on the abortion issue, I am more than amiable to the anti-war and anti-capital punishment positions we may both hold nonetheless.

One might say, with some backing to the argument, that Democrats are fast becoming one of the more consistent on the pro-life platform. It’s hard to find many Republicans that advocate the many things that reflect an overall pro-life policy that no doubt has cemented the appeal of the Democratic party in the wake of what might have been considered one of their weaknesses: the issue of religion and values in politics. With Democrats supposedly leaning more towards privatization of religion and separation of church and state, one might have seen them as an anti-God party, or to be fairer, a pan-religious party in that they welcomed everyone moreso than Republicans who tolerated Jews and reluctantly allowed Catholics and eventually Mormons into their fold, mostly because of shared values. But Catholics might be said to be an interesting balancer for politics and religion for Republicans against Democrats in that they were among those who criticized the Republican budget as not being truly pro-life and protecting life at all stages. The fixation on the abortion issue might be said to have hurt the present Republican Party’s support from Catholics, not to mention the fixation on fiscal policy over more imminent social issues that plague the country and the world. Then you throw in the issue of the war in the Middle East and you have a group that slowly appears to be more pro fear as opposed to pro life.

You make people afraid they’d abort a world leader or a great scientist, paranoid they’ll lose their freedoms to gun control stealing their weapons, hostile to the terrorist and motivating people to fight in wars. All this really focuses on guilt and regret over everything one does and never really affirms that we make choices, for better or worse, and that as long as we reflect on those choices, we can improve. If a woman decides to abort and then later thinks it was a bad idea, she can share her story without being obnoxious to all women who have to make those difficult decisions in those situations. If a soldier is patriotic, he can salute the flag, but he has no right to condemn someone who uses their Constitutional right to burn it just because it offends them and makes them afraid there are terrorists in their midst. And even the control of guns doesn’t mean that everyone is trying to take away all your force, but merely moderate it so we don’t have backwoods hicks using military grade equipment, thinking that martial law will be instated in 2012 or some such nonsense. If we are to be pro life, we should also be pro choice to a great extent, even if those are still polarized in popular mediums as being polar opposites. Luckily, as I blogged previously, TV stations have at least been trying to use more precise language, saying pro or anti abortion rights instead of pro choice and pro life, as if the inverse applies to each opposite. But in fact not every pro choice is pro death, and pro life is not anti choice, though sometimes it can imply anti choice in that people are afraid of the liberties people have or are afraid of them going into excess. And that’s not an unjustified fear, if you try to moderate choices yourself instead of outright suppressing everyone else’s. So pro life and pro choice people may have more in common than pundits and talking points make them think. Think for yourself, like a skeptical American should. Until next time, Namaste and aloha.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

The GOP-Generally Odd Party

Neither Mike Huckabee nor Donald Trump are running for President of the U.S. in 2012. Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney and others are in the stages of either forming an exploratory committee or working on campaigns across the country. But I wonder whether some of these candidates can stay relevant to their constituents. Newt Gingrich has been divorced three times, and Mitt Romney has become even more controversial than before by suggesting a form of healthcare many have claimed is similar to “Obamacare”, even terming it “Romneycare”. The Mormon Republican could have my vote, though there’s a stronger appeal from Ron Paul, who announced his plans to run this cycle. With these two problems alone, let alone pitfalls with other potential nominees, such as Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachman, the GOP seems to be falling behind with the times.

The main females with ambitions for presidency are appealing to Roy Moore’s methodology of pandering to the common people, aligning themselves with those values usually by design. Palin and Bachman are still popular with the Tea Party, notorious for comparisons and contrasts with the GOP, though even some Republicans running at present, such as Ron Paul, don’t necessarily agree with what might be called more neo-conservatives supporting the war in Iraq. The grassroots nature of how Palin and Bachman campaign, along with the popularity of their positions across a solid range of demographics means they might have a chance this time around, since Hilary Clinton had a decent run in 2008 for the Democratic party. Palin and Bachman share some common positions, such as opposing same sex marriage, advocating offshore drilling and general support of the war in Iraq. Any disagreements are slight, Palin opposing all abortion, while Bachman is willing to permit it in cases of rape or incest. Palin might have some conceivable difficulties due to her explicit association with the Tea Party she has, contrasting with Bachman’s incidental appeals to grassroots movements without severing her ties to the GOP. Palin also had the incident connected to Gabrielle Gifford’s shooting this year, so that’s not helping her chances. Ron Paul, ironically enough, also has some distinct connections with the Tea Party movement, though he still emulates a good deal of GOP positions, particularly the anti abortion one, though his strong opposition to the Federal Reserve System and more strict Constitutionalist leanings might clash more explicitly with the GOP’s move towards neo-conservative ideals.

Concerning Newt Gingrich, the most obvious critique is in his dissonance with the GOP focus on family values and marriage as a sacred institution. The man has been divorced three times, married twice, both times to the women he was cheating on the previous wife with; it doesn’t set the best example for fidelity. The flipside of his hypocrisy is his strong Catholic Christian background that creates a buffer against these criticisms by saying that he feels remorse and wants to set things right. I wonder if he said that the last two times he got in trouble for adultery, especially the first time when Bill Clinton was in Gingrich’s sights for the controversy of Clinton’s relationship with Monica Lewinski, hm? But with any incidents of infidelity, the Christian heritage and support within the Republican caucus means that as long as Newt or any other divorcee that’s remarried keeps apologizing, they’re not completely hopeless, though it doesn’t inspire confidence from a common voter as offenses pile up. It seems disingenuous to vote for people that clash with your values and think they’ll improve marriage when they can’t even maintain it themselves without letting their eyes and genitals wander from the one they betrothed themselves to. I’m not married myself, but I’d be hard pressed to screw up a relationship I put so much work into, especially since I’m so appealing to women as a provider (sarcasm much?), considering all I do is surf the net and type away various ramblings on my blog on a tri/bi/weekly basis.

And to conclude this range of candidates, we have Mitt Romney, who could have my votes if he does continue and I had to consider what Republican would be ideal if the Democratic ones all suck. Of course, I could just vote Independent, but let’s assume I go into the two-party system. Between Romney and Paul, however, the former’s too Mormon in his positions for me to take him seriously on GLBT issues, But Mormon support for Prop 8 should’ve tipped me off on that. He does have my support for his speaking against Islamaphobic discrimination, since they’re fast becoming the new group to hate in the 21st century. He has a general support for stem cell research, but is fiscally opposed to the government funding it, so there’s another strike against a plus. All in all, he’s hardly different from other candidates. The issue of trust he has with the American people and the Republican Party is no doubt due to his Mormon background, which Americans still have reservations about. Mormonism probably has tricky policies within their own church about one’s loyalty to the prophet and their proclamations, though since Romney is not himself a prophet or one of the 12 apostles right under him, it makes the situation less serious. Of course, people would still trust him more than they’d trust a candidate in his 70s or who was homosexual, even if he was celibate. It goes to show that people can ignore a great deal in politics as long as the person of interest squares with the overall party principles. It’s when they become the alleged RINO, Republican In Name Only, that people begin to accuse you of being a Democrat in disguise. Either way, the political field will always have uneven bumps on the horizon. A Mormon, a twice divorcee, at least 2 associates with the Tea Party and more to come in the future: this whole set of politicians and associated squabbles are why I try to stay out of political discussions for the most part. Until next time, Namaste and aloha.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Murfreesboro Mosque Making Progress

The mosque in Murfreesboro that needed to expand due to space issues; and was also attacked indirectly by vandalism of signs and arson on construction equipment at the site itself; has made progress after over a year of deliberation and difficulties. Considering the issues last summer surrounding the Muslim community center being built two blocks or so from Ground Zero, I’m amazed it took this long in a localized area like Tennessee (though we aren’t always so friendly to outsiders, we’re not as close to the issue as New Yorkers were). I blogged a bit on this mosque and the controversy in Tennessee about people’s concerns that it would bring radical Islam to the city in "Forgive Them, For They Know Not What They Talk About,” I imagine part of the reason it took so long was because this was on a civil level, but I also recall that the Supreme Court itself put its two cents in on the issues politicians and lawyers were bringing up; whether Islam was a religion or not; it is, by the way. Historically, culturally and anthropologically, it has all the traits of a religion, distinguished from politics and other ideologies by supernatural focus and a general distance from secular affairs. With that declaration, you would think the issue would’ve been settled, but this whole thing finally being at least relatively concluded still took a bit more time after that statement. At least the judge followed the law instead of mobs.

Luckily, for the most part, Tennesseans are very accepting of Muslims, following a live and let live sort of philosophy. And they also seem to exercise common sense in recognizing that just because some people in another country behave violently in the name of Islam doesn’t mean their neighbors will follow suit. In fact, one of the main families at the mosque has been there for around 20-30 years, with kids who have grown up in the area. The only reason people tend to react this way is fear of the status quo being broken. The size of the mosque project overall is around 52,000 square feet, but for people to be afraid of that is to directly ignore the much larger churches and associated buildings taking that much area or more. Not to mention the first phase of building is only going to be about 17,000 square feet for the mosque itself. The other stuff will be developed in other phases, such as a cemetery and other facilities to enhance the community aspect of the mosque as a whole. One of the critics of the mosque, World Outreach Church, has ironically built a new facility in 2001, according to their website , which covers 60000 square feet. I don’t see any reason why Christians would need to worry, even if the mosque’s area is relatively large. How many churches outnumber the mosque? More than you could count on even four hands, I guarantee it, and probably a few with square footage much larger than the mosque project as a whole. The only reason seems to be paranoia that all Muslims are trying to infiltrate the United States and somehow enforce Shariah law. But as many observed in comments throughout the internet, the only way this could conceivably happen is if the United States population demographics of religion rapidly changed to Muslim, and even then, you’d have to presume all the Muslims desire to enforce Shariah law, when according to at least one law professor, it isn’t applied consistently across all of Islam, and like the Bible for Christians and hadiths as another source of law for Muslims, they are subject to varied interpretation and application. For anyone to be this afraid, they would either have to present real evidence or create specious connections, which has been done.

One member of the board for the mosque was reported to have anti-semitic comments on his Myspace page, but those were eventually removed and he was reinstated after a period of suspension. And even if there was one person who has more radical views in the higher ups, this hardly means the rest of them are automatically the same. From what I’ve heard, they’re Sunni, but even Sunni can be relatively peaceful. People also have claimed that the head imam was a visiting cleric at a radical Islamic mosque in Texas. Even if the allegations about the Texas mosque are justified, the head imam of the Murfreesboro mosque was a visiting cleric, so he would’ve had no real connection to them, similar to how any visiting preacher doesn’t automatically have ties to the church they visit. There’re also claims that they’ve gotten funding from outside of the U.S., like extremist groups, but those allegations haven’t been defended or found to have any basis in fact. Any extremism in Islam, from what I understand, can be directly linked to political unrest concerning things such as the state of Israel and Palestine, among other relationships between Abrahamic faiths about territories and limitations of behavior by political authorities or international relations between the Middle East and the U.S. If you treat these people like neighbors and fellow human beings instead of demonizing them because of associated fears of Islam, I don’t see why they wouldn’t continue to be model citizens. Do these people protesting in Murfreesboro think that the local Muslims will all of a sudden turn violent and blow up churches? It’s that sort of Islamaphobia that even makes the people in New York look sane. They’ve had direct experience with radical Islamic attacks, but Tennessee, from what I can tell, has had little to no bombings or attempted bombings by people practicing outward jihad against the “Great Satan” America.

All the critiques of this mosque, even those that try to appear non discriminatory to Islam, hinge on this discriminatory and prejudicial attitude. Some have called the center problematic due to bringing more traffic to an already dangerous area or alleged that they tried to supersede basic procedure on community input about whether they wanted the mosque in their community or not. But either case seems to have been thrown away on the grounds that these people have their funds and they are not doing anything illegal, so by basic protocol of state law on religious buildings, from what little I understand of it, they can build the mosque on the plot of land they purchased. This whole extended incident seems to reflect a similar idea from the Bastrop, Louisiana students and community; people seem to think they can isolate people that are in the minority just because they happen to be in a majority. You don’t get special treatment in this country because of your religion or lack thereof. Treating people as you would want to be treated is something that we can all agree on to one degree or another. So why not try to start practicing what Jesus preached, Christians of Murfreesboro? Until next time, Namaste and aloha.