Friday, July 29, 2011

Christians Changing Gears on Changing Gays

While Michele and Marcus Bachmann seem to have an approach to homosexuality that, at least in part, includes the troubling practice of reparative therapy, forcing gay people to change their sexual orientation through various means that hope to work a miracle, not all Christians, thankfully, regard homosexuality as something that can just be turned off like a light switch. Southern Baptist President Albert Mohler admits in part that sexual attraction is something much deeper than our conscious minds and has to be approached with more nuance than the attitude that permeated the 80s and 90s of trying to pray away the gay, “turn it off” or just change it outright. The trend of opinion towards the use of “change therapy” has other evidence. Focus on the Family stopped funding a group that says that people “unhappy with the same-sex attractions” can be cured. Also, there was a study this year by the Public Religion Research Institute that suggested people in later generations, like my own, are more accepting of gay marriage and associated rights, even if the trend of moral opposition to abortion is similar to previous generations in coexistence with abortions’ legality. Even Exodus International, a group notorious for their practice of reparative therapy in the news, has changed their tone, partly in response, no doubt, to the evidence that homosexuality may be, for the most part, innate, but even if it isn’t, as well as the bullying and pressure many gay teens feel pushing many of them to commit suicide without intervention and support. Christianity is certainly trying to shift its practice to becoming gay friendly, but how successful can it be?

One of the biggest factors to this shift in public relations on homosexuality and its permissibility might have to do with slight declines in church attendance, particularly with fundamentalist or evangelical circles. The combination of young people that disagree strongly with the strong condemnation against homosexuality; suggesting that people who practice it should be treated like lepers; along with many gay Christians or Christians unsure about their sexuality also leaving for fear of persecution makes for an unlikely survival beyond the present generations of churchgoers. All the more “liberal” churches draw in new membership in the gap that’s being made between younger members as well as gay members and thinning the flock of more conservative churches. It’s not necessarily that either of these groups moving on to other churches completely disagrees with the Bible’s position on homosexuality as something disapproved by God in some sense. Both younger generations and Christians who just happen to be gay might still believe it is wrong, but it is the particularly antagonistic strategy many churches still use that feels isolating and therefore pushes attendance down. So instead, preaching about Jesus’ love of even homosexuals is emphasized more, even if there is also the insistence that homosexuality is a sin. In that way, the idea appears to be to draw the people in with acceptance, which would then apparently slowly wear away their resistance to the “truth” that the church still teaches in terms of homosexuality.

There’s also a new approach in psychology that Christians are trying to use, which has a more therapeutic angle to solving the “problem”. It’s called congruence paradigm and tries to harmonize one’s religious beliefs and one’s sexuality. If one believes homosexuality is sinful and is gay themselves, then celibacy can be a solution to the dissonance if the person wishes to do so. If they are bisexual and struggle with homosexuality as a problem, then the solution may be to focus on heterosexual desires instead. There are some issues I see with this, since even if you can’t change someone’s mind about such a thing as the morality of homosexuality, not everyone can do celibacy, for instance. But since the amount of solutions for homosexuality apart from acceptance of it and acting on it in some sense are so limited, the congruence paradigm won’t work as effectively with many patients, since celibacy would remove what is an intrinsic and natural part of the human condition from one’s life. If one is a monastic of one type or another, it’s a different thing entirely to take a vow of celibacy in terms of homosexuality. But laypeople aren’t expected to take things nearly as strongly in terms of devotional practices as monks, so this practice has holes in it even if we just limited it to strictly homosexual people.

If nothing else, the change of attitude at least acknowledges that there are better ways to approach homosexuality from a Christian perspective than the stereotype of hoping God will cure people of their homosexuality. Even if the reparative therapy is still believed by some groups to be a good practice, many people are both shying away from and outright rejecting the efficacy of this method. Accepting homosexuals as people with problems like the rest of us, in terms of the Christian perspective that everyone is “sinful” is already a much better way to encourage engagement and to create a community of mutual support. Until next time, Namaste and aloha.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Bachmann Backslides on Background

Michele Bachmann (already a problem for me to remember how to spell) has been fairly prominent in the news, even before she started her campaign for the Republican nomination. Her appeal in the Iowa straw poll (in August, apparently), can’t be denied either. I don’t see eye to eye on any of her positions, but I’m more concerned about the business she’s been running with her husband, of which I only recently became aware of. In the last five years, there’ve been allegations that they use controversial reparative therapy to try to change homosexual people and make them heterosexual. The term “reparative therapy” is somewhat wide ranging, but in the case of Bachmann and Associates, there’s an explicit Christian element to it that smacks of the same sort of nonsense you hear about in the vein of “praying the gay away” for instance. Bachmann and her husband insist the allegations are false, but there seems to be evidence to the contrary.

The religious orientation of the center is enough of a potential red light, though not every group centered on Christianity insists on such unscientific practices. There was at least one undercover reporter that got answers to questions about whether you could change from being gay to straight through their practices that were pretty confident, though the person seemed to realize they needed to qualify that their knowledge was not expert level in any way. Another person who’s experienced the troubling aspects of the center’s approach to homosexuality is former patient Andrew Ramirez. He said that the practices involved prayer, reading Bible passages and mentoring with an “ex-lesbian” counselor. He was apparently told from the start that if the therapy worked, God would “perform a miracle” and make him straight. Of course, they were at least partially realistic in realizing that the therapy might not work. But what was their solution if that happened? Well, live a life of celibacy and never act on your homosexual desires, of course.

Many Christians have this sort of approach towards sexual ethics: the desires of sex themselves are not evil, since they lead in the “proper” situation to procreation and intimacy within marriage; not to mention claiming that sexual desires are evil would be tantamount to Christian Gnosticism, not only a heresy, but equated many times with harsh asceticism that most people can’t handle anyway. It’s the acting on those sexual attractions that seems to be the evil thing, even in a committed monogamous relationship for homosexuals, oddly enough. If you’re a married, or in some Christian circles, committed monogamous, straight couple, then sex is permitted on the grounds that it is both natural and ordained by God itself. But not if you’re homosexual, which seems to be the only distinguishable difference. The double standard irks me already on the face of it with this notion that homosexuals have no right to experience intimacy with a partner they are willing to commit to just because their union won’t produce children; as if the intimacy and fidelity that can come from a gay couple uniting in the sexual act is somehow worth less than a straight couple’s union.  The same problem of non procreation occurs in terms of infertile straight couples. Are they bad? Not according to this argument, since they could “miraculously” conceive. What’s stopping homosexual couples from experiencing miraculous conception even if they don’t have sex that is procreative in nature, I wonder? Just that God hates homosexual sex for some reason.

But Marcus Bachmann, Michele Bachmann’s husband, said something even more troubling to me in relation to homosexuality and also how his group approaches the issue. He speaks about it with the confidence that the bible says it is wholly bad, even if it was in a committed “Biblical” relationship where the two remained faithful to each other before God and humanity. Perhaps that’s the case, and I could accept that the Bible’s general position on homosexuality is disapproval. But he associates those who support and/or practice it as “barbarians”, saying that they need to be educated. He then takes the route of saying that just because people feel it or think it doesn’t mean that it’s right.  Firstly, homosexuality is hardly barbaric, unless he’s referring to the instances of homosexual rape that, historically, were used to demean the enemy. Rape, in any form, heterosexual or homosexual, is a bad thing and barbaric by nature, that much we might be able to agree on. But homosexual behavior is natural, even if it is a minority practice. Educating people might be admirable if you actually used facts and didn’t try to skew them in a way that makes gay people seem terrible. If you take particular studies and statistics, you can make homosexuals seem promiscuous and more likely to get AIDS or HIV, but one could easily do the same thing with straights if you don’t know proper statistics. I don’t claim to be an expert, but given enough time to look at the sources and samplings, there are usually swathes of area left for improvement with many of these anti-gay pedagogues who insist that homosexuals are ignorant and advocate just doing it like animals. I don’t think any gay person uses the argument that homosexual behavior is in nature to try to try to say that it is morally permissible to have homosexual relationships. There’s a name for that argument: appeal to nature. The obvious problem here is that things like murder, rape and sabotage all exist in nature with surprising commonality at times. Dolphins, ducks and chickadees do each of the 
mentioned “crimes” respectively and yet we don’t hold them accountable under any law.

The reason homosexuality isn’t harmful to society as a whole is that, like straight sex, done in the privacy of one’s own home and responsibly between consenting adults, harms no one else and happens so often, it could be going on next door as you’re reading this or at any location within your county or state at any conceivable time. Being gay might be a combination of inborn and acquired traits, but any practice suggesting you can forcefully change a thing developed early in pre pubescence (to an extent) is harmful on its face and the American Psychological Association is right to condemn such a thing. Bachmann and Associates insist they aren’t doing this and would allow people to be gay, but it’s that drawing people in with the promise of being saved by religious interventions from God that manipulates people’s feelings and pressures them implicitly to try to stop being gay. I say be who you are, particularly on something that’s biological and for the most part, inescapable. Until next time, Namaste and aloha.

Monday, July 25, 2011

ReFocus on the Family

While Focus on the Family isn’t the only conservative group that’s allied itself with the religious right (the Family Research Council, headed by Tony Perkins, also comes to mind) they’ve recently had a change of leadership. The previous head of Focus on the Family, James Dobson, notorious for claiming Spongebob Squarepants promoted homosexuality, (which inspired me to start writing letters to the editor) recently stepped down, allowing a new face to take his place. Jim Daly, the new head of Focus on the Family, is moving to change the group’s focus from political engagements to a general mission for family values. While I don’t know what these values might be to Daly, it’s heartening to see that at least one of a few groups is separating itself from the politicizing squabbles on ethical issues that populate the news these days.

The common angle for groups that have some sort of religious mission seems to be to popularize and ingratiate yourself with politically minded people. Once you get into the spotlight and appeal to the desire to change the world through policy and democratic action, you can even make what would initially seem theocratic or ultra-conservative ideas more accessible to an otherwise uninterested person. These days, however, the reverse has applied. People are less interested in politically centered groups to change the world, which Focus on the Family was long associated with. Jim Daly seeks to emphasize that the group is mission focused, which means that political gain should not be their primary goal, if at all. If they want to appear as a non-profit type of organization, then they shouldn’t associate with people who are in their jobs for the money and have that sort of fixation of developing connections and generating capital for a business or campaign respectively.

The group’s original goal, according to Daly, was not about advancing an ideology or an agenda through political means, but a concentration on marriage and family advice. In that sense, there isn’t the moralizing tendency, but simply being there for people who need help and extending a hand to people. I remember watching Adventures in Odyssey, a show adapted from a radio program that it originally debuted as through Focus on the Family’s Radio Theatre.  I don’t remember much, but it certainly wasn’t so preachy to get on one’s nerves. It seems as if there was some point where James Dobson, who was the original founder of FotF, started thinking that in order to make his points made, he had to get into politics and make use of the religious backing of politicians and their concern about issues like pro-life and same-sex marriage “threatening” traditional marriage. Dobson was originally a psychologist, though I’d even question that. He published a few books and those were part of the basis of his ideas that he promulgated through this company 
that spread out to associated groups in Canada and Singapore.

The future of FotF is uncertain, since Daly only started officially within this year, it appears. But if they slowly begin to separate themselves from politics and focus more on giving the particular advice from their foundations about marriage (traditional?) and relationships in general, perhaps they’ll draw in some of the people they pushed away before. I can respect this, especially since the decision to focus on something we all tend to encounter problems with at one point or another is much better than isolating a large segment of even the Christian population with insistence that if they don’t accept exactly what they believe in terms of politics, they don’t belong. When you welcome in people with basic qualifications, it serves to bridge the gaps in a more considerate way than creating boundaries just for the sake of separation or to stand out. I wish the group fortune in their future and success in their goals. Until next time, Namaste and aloha.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Marriage and Mixing Religions

It used to be that marriages which mixed culture or religion were at best tolerated, at worst isolating families from each other or creating fractures in marriages over time. But nowadays, with the diversity of religions becoming more well-known across the world, families seem to have become more accepting of blending boundaries that were normally inviolable and people are more willing to compromise on even those things they take very seriously, especially their faiths. Catholics marrying Jews, Jews marrying Hindus and everything else you could possibly imagine. With some faiths, Wicca in particular, I can imagine so much diversity that even some Wiccans might be thrown off by the variety of practices you could incorporate into a ceremony. But the importance of a person’s beliefs and associated culture that comes with that faith cannot and should not be underestimated. Some people take it more seriously than others and that can be an indication from the start about whether the relationship will work with any particular person. I myself, for instance, am more generic in my beliefs and don’t make a huge deal of the culture or religious practices associated with a wedding; an initial estimation would be that I’m either spiritual, but not religious or neither spiritual nor religious. Simply getting married at a beach ceremony, for example, with vows we’ve written to each other, a general officiator standing between us, would be fine with me; nothing huge, but simple without being simplistic. How you approach this very traditional sort of practice across cultures will have an effect upon not only your relationship with each other, but with your family as well.

Part of why planning out this sort of thing beforehand benefits everyone is that it reflects in part how you intend to raise your children. Of course, some couples marry without the intent to have children, but assuming the majority of couples intend to raise children in a blend of the faiths or one over the other is demonstrated by how the ceremony progresses. Some couples will just have a ceremony that’s centered around one faith, like a Catholic wedding. This is usually because the non Catholic spouse feels it’s more important to emphasize the part of their shared religious background or beliefs, which in many cases of couples could be that one member of the couple is a lapsed Catholic, while the other is still devout. There is a potential problem here in that it seems to put one of the partners’ feelings over and above the others’. But if they’ve talked about this and agreed that the other partner doesn’t necessarily oppose the Catholic ceremony and doesn’t feel there’s anything for them to add that they can’t do in the vows, it isn’t a huge problem. Some would still insist that it creates tensions from the get go, in that you’re letting one person dominate the relationship.

If, instead, you want to blend both culture and/or religion, then there is a bigger project ahead of them in deciding how to approach it. It would be next to impossible to incorporate all the important aspects from each faith, so there’s necessarily a need for compromise. Finding what you have in common can be a good start so that there’s less anxiety about what they don’t share. Jews, Hindus and Greek Orthodox, for example, share practices of breaking something after the couple is married, like a bottle, jar, or glass respectively. There’s also a definite need to either put background in your wedding program or have people at the wedding to explain the traditions to outsiders so that there isn’t as much culture shock as if you just went to a relative’s wedding and didn’t understand what was being said in Greek or Hebrew, for example.

There can be difficulties in cases where one of the couple is an atheist or agnostic, since there aren’t really any explicit traditions associated with either. If they wish, there could be secular humanist aspects intertwined with the marriage ceremony that their spouse shares in common with them, as, say, a Christian or Jew (unless of course they’re both atheists or agnostics, in which case a lot of the problems melt away). In that sense, it’s almost not different in some way from the example I presented prior with just using a basic wedding ceremony from one tradition and altering it slightly in relation to the spouse not associated with the tradition. And if both members are secular, but still rooted in culture, then part of the problem could be said to lie with simply not offending either culture involved. A secular Jew and Hindu would potentially have common ground, but would probably also need to be wary of not stepping on any toes on explicit cultural norms.

All in all, marriage, as important as it is for many people, ought to be approached with consideration of both sides without catering to one side to appease them. If you choose to, there shouldn’t be too much or too little of either side of one’s religion or their associated cultures in many cases. It should be moderated, but maintain the meaningfulness that it holds to both parties involved. If you do that, the rest of your marriage will have a better foundation to start from. Until next time, Namaste and aloha.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Space Travel and Spirituality

Space travel has recently gotten to the point where NASA is probably no longer sending out astronauts, the last space shuttle, Atlantis, returning a few days ago. The next stage, many predict, is space tourism, where people will travel to the International Space Station for vacation. There would, of course, be the need for strict training and limitations, but people would have yet another goal to motivate them to work harder or exercise and change their diet so that they could be qualified in the future. In retrospect, for many astronauts, the very experience of travelling beyond their planet and seeing it amongst the vastness of space could be said to be spiritual. Whether you believe or don’t believe in God is not the factor here, as being spiritual is religion neutral for the most part. Unless you want to underestimate human experience and our capacity for creativity and imagination, then you’d probably be amongst the many people who seek space travel tourism for similar reasons we travel halfway across the world: to broaden their perspective and see new horizons.

Much of what affects the spiritual part of our minds in space travel would probably be the vastness that is experienced in seeing the entirety of the planet you came from. You can see pictures, but it’s the direct view itself from a vantage point that has such a strong impact upon a person. One might see the beauty of the earth and imagine something like the verse from Job 26:7, stating that God holds the earth on nothing. There might be a deep and strong feeling of communion with the universe as a whole from a Hindu. In my own case, I could speculate that I’d feel almost insignificant and yet all the more grateful for my existence, wanting to preserve it and aid others in seeing the beauty through a perspective many would initially call nihilistic for saying that the world is unsatisfactory, impermanent and insubstantial (the trilaksana or three marks of existence in Buddhism). There could also be an experience of shared humanity, since there wouldn’t be the distinctions you’d normally see on a globe. No country boundaries, just a blue and green sphere which we all share space on and live on without even realizing how vast it is and also how tiny it is in comparison to other planets we may eventually be able to experience firsthand in the future. The dual sense of awe and gratitude is almost paradoxical at first. More importantly, we’d probably just be amazed at what we originally thought was an everyday sort of fact about the world as we see it more directly as a subject or spectator in space.

But even prior to the free fall in space, there will be tension, anxiety and anticipation of that eventual experience, fear of failure, concern of safety in the launch procedures. When you are about to embark upon a journey of such a grand scale as leaving the planet there is a feeling of nostalgia even before you leave home which becomes more poignant as you leave, but then passes in realizing that at your return, the home will be all the more significant as you have seen it from a proverbial “God’s eye” point of view. Experiencing such a new and eye-opening event as space travel is already reflective of your strength of body, but your strength of mind will be tested in space, since the magnitude of what you’re doing and where you are could conceivably 
be too much of a strain and drive you mad staring into a proverbial and literal abyss.

I never really wanted to be an astronaut, and it would seem that NASA will be focusing on space exploration without as much use of humans. Perhaps there will always be some need for astronauts, but it won’t be on the same level that it was back when I was a kid, for example. Being an astronaut was something of a stereotypical career goal still, though probably moreso for my parents’ generation. Now the goal of going into space may eventually be something one can do for a week or two, like travelling to a country across the sea. Of course, this will make being a space tourist only accessible to the very rich, but in the future, it may be possible for the next generation to engage in space travel on a more regular basis. The sky’s the limit, so to speak and I look forward to even a minute chance of going into space myself, if only to see things from such a vast horizon as the void of space. Until next time, Namaste and aloha.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Mormon Candidate Discrimination

Mormon candidates for president are still pretty unknown for the most part in politics and part of it might be the rhetoric that may remind people, particularly those old enough to remember JFK’s campaign, of the anti-Catholic sentiment that existed back then which is now directed against Mormons, especially Mitt Romney, though I imagine Jon Huntsman might have his share of criticism as well. The same kind of idea persists with a religion that has secretive aspects of its teachings, the modern target being the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints instead of the Holy Catholic Church. Part of it might be that Catholics were still foreign in some ways to Americans in the 60s, though this is startling to me, having grown up around 20 years later when Catholics are regarded as, in most cases, little different from Protestant Christians, or at least tolerated in the same way Jews and Muslims are in many areas of the U.S. Of course, Muslims are treated with a similar, if not greater, suspicion than Mormons nowadays, since they are the new foreigners to pick on that immigrate into America, even more than Mexicans (you know, our immigration issues we’ve been having recently?). But Mormons are distrusted for different reasons. It’s not necessarily that they’re anti-American, it’s more that they reflect secessionist or separatist tendencies. They behave, to the uneducated, as a fringe group. While this might be the case for fundamentalist Mormons, more reformed Mormons, Romney included, have adjusted with the times, which is what makes former Mormons, like author Tricia Erickson, all the more skeptical of their trustworthiness. Erickson has written a book called “Can Mitt Romney Serve Two Masters?” In it she claims that any indoctrinated Mormon like Romney cannot and should not serve as president of the United States. Her reasons vary, but they overlap between her personal religious beliefs coming out of the Mormon church and her political ideology of how particular religions create dangerous politicians.

In terms of religious reasons, she has justification, from what I understand of Mormon beliefs and how that squares with her beliefs coming out of what she regards as a cult. I wonder why she doesn’t make a distinction between fundamentalist and reformed Mormons. It could be because she doesn’t view them as terribly different from each other in the similarities they share, such as the temple ceremonies and oaths they swear to the church. But I have to wonder if these are much different in the long run than other religions pledging loyalty to their divinity, particularly Christians of other stripes (yes, I consider Mormons Christian, at least in the basic sense of the term, finding salvation through Jesus in some form or fashion). How is a Mormon making an oath in a temple in Utah any different from a pastor in Tennessee being sworn in and making vows to serve his church and God? I don’t think it would be much of a stretch to say that both Mormons and Protestants have a capacity to distinguish between their loyalty to God and their loyalty to their country. Mormons understand, like evangelicals, that regardless of their eschatology, along with many Christians (rapture much?), they should try to be fair in their governing of people of various faiths and do what they think is best for everyone. There can be problems with making that distinction for some types of religious believers, especially those of a more fundamentalist nature, who insist that the U.S. must conform to certain basic tenets and laws derived from their holy scriptures, or it is doomed to failure. The people of the “Christian nation” mode of thought could be considered under this, especially those who insist that Christianity has and deserves a special place in our government’s eyes. When critiquing Muslims and Mormons alike for being untrustworthy in political contexts, Tricia Erickson forgets that cult like behavior she calls Mormonism and Islam on can exist just as easily in the Christian faith she embraces now. Beliefs in the resurrection of Jesus or the rapture are equally preposterous to an outsider and could make them just as skeptical of whether a committed Christian candidate can be trusted to make sound decisions for a religiously diverse populace, not all of whom share the same beliefs or even any of their beliefs concerning God and the afterlife.

Just because someone’s religious beliefs are nonstandard or irrational in one way or another does not automatically discredit them in terms of political decisions. A Mormon like Mitt Romney is not any less likely to follow American values than a Christian or a Muslim also running for president. You’d have to find some compelling evidence that he isn’t for America primarily, and his belief that he’ll be a god in the future hardly qualifies. Some Christians, for example, seem to believe God favors the United States and will rapture all the believers at some undetermined time, which is equally silly on its face. Muslims believe the same as Christians that Jesus will come back in the end times (with a sidekick), so how is that less silly than believing you will become a god by following God’s commands and such? Whether a person believes or doesn’t believe in God, an afterlife, a soul, or any other associated ideas that the U.S. population could present to a potential voter, shouldn’t affect whether they consider that person as being worthy of governing, be it as the president of the country, a congressman or a local official. I support Ron Paul, for example, because I agree with his libertarian politics, even if I disagree with his Christian beliefs. But if worse comes to worse, I will probably vote for him over even an atheist candidate who’s overly neo-conservative or an overly liberal agnostic. The religion or lack thereof of any candidate is incidental to their political beliefs, even if there can be associations between their faith and their choices about governance. An atheist politician can be just as misguided in their sociopolitical positions to me as a Christian and I would equally choose someone else over both of them even if they were a Muslim, for instance. That is how one should discern and choose a candidate to vote for: not based on agreeing with your personal beliefs about the divine, but whether they square with your political ideals. Until next time, Namaste and aloha.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Discussions With The Dalai Lama

The 14th Dalai Lama’s still in the news even after getting himself out of his political position in Tibet last month. He’s recently finished an 11 day visit to Washington, during which a birthday celebration was held July 6th for him, a Kalachakra sand mandala, a practice of making a visual representation of the world and its interconnectedness, was made as a sign of goodwill towards America, a discussion was held at the Capitol, where the Dalai Lama explained his stepping down from politics in Tibet and China and he met with President Obama, causing more contention in U.S.-China relations.

Tenzin Gyatso’s 76th birthday was attended by other people related to peace activists, including Arun Gandhi, grandson of Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King III, son of MLK Jr. Bishop Desmond Tutu also attended in spirit through a video conference, stating alongside Gandhi and King that the Dalai Lama’s efforts towards peace were admirable and should be seen as a prime example for future activists. All these generations of people working towards peace are an encouragement to people like myself who feel small in comparison to these veritable giants who have worked much of their lives to advance the cause of pacifism in one way or another.

More importantly, however, was the Dalai Lama’s explanation to U.S. congressional leaders as to why he surrendered his political position to a more suitable candidate. It wasn’t simply that he felt he wasn’t capable of serving in that position, but that there was a necessity to separate the religious and secular aspects of life in Tibet, similar to what many would advocate in one way or another in America. He wants to avoid the allegations of hypocrisy that would no doubt come up, since he had long since been in a position of both religious and secular power in Tibet. So for him to finally separate himself from the political sphere reflects progress in his beliefs conforming to his behavior.

A lot of concern has been voiced as to the effect these engagements with U.S. political leaders will have on relations of the U.S. with China. China believes that the Dalai Lama is dangerous, a separatist. But either they don’t listen to him or try to skew his words in some way to say he’s advocating independence of Tibet, which has never been his explicit goal and if it ever was, he’s changed his position over time. The U.S. has always tried to maintain good relations with Tibet, potentially in order to keep in good with China as well, which we’ve done pretty well on since at least Reagan, from what little history I know. President FDR gave the Dalai Lama a watch as a sign of friendship and George W. Bush gave him the Congressional Gold Medal in 2007.

Obama meeting with the Dalai Lama in 2010 caused uproar in China, which I covered in part in “On Tenzin Gyatso (In General)”. The President also had a meeting with Tenzin Gyatso just recently, which made Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu outspoken on this, as he was the last time this sort of engagement of what China considers a political/religious revolutionary with the head of such a political powerhouse as the U.S. .
A lot of this is based on the persistent misunderstanding of the Dalai Lama by the Chinese government. They understand the U.S. supports Tibet remaining part of China, but they think that just because the U.S. gives ANY support to a man who, by his own words, only wants Tibetan autonomy; which it doesn’t take a genius to distinguish between by just using a dictionary; that the U.S. is breaking its promise to support Tibetan association with China. But I don’t think anyone is advocating that Tibet become independent merely by associating with the Dalai Lama. This is especially true since he himself has said, as I’ve repeated twice now, that he only wants autonomy within the Tibetan area, not at all opposed to being part of the People’s Republic of China.

All in all, I respect Obama for persisting in spite of the Chinese government’s consistent opposition and disapproval of these meetings the last two years. At the same time, one could argue that’s it not practical or reasonable to keep pushing the issue, unless Obama plans to engage with the Chinese and communicate what the Dalai Lama has told him about only seeking autonomy, not independence as a country. But of course the Chinese government could potentially become more hostile to American support of the Dalai Lama’s sentiments. This is a very touchy situation politically, but the Dalai Lama’s own religious obligations to seek peace far override any concerns he’d have about the Chinese, especially since he’s been through enough running away and living in exile most of his adult life. I respect him and wish him well in this endeavor to engage with other world powers who’d support his cause to grant Tibet autonomy under Chinese rule. I only hope he doesn’t have to become another martyr, since his own people would probably memorialize him in some way if they could get their hands on his remains, or even just sanctify him as a sort of saint, which can exist in Buddhist practices.

Admittedly, the Dalai Lama is already understood by many Buddhists to be this sort of person, this Buddhist “saint” if you will, which is known as a bodhisattva in Sanskrit. This is a Buddha who puts their enlightenment off to be reborn again and help others learn the Buddha dharma and achieve nirvana. In the Dalai Lama’s case, he’s the 14th in a line of sages in the Tibetan tradition who are believed to be reincarnations of the bodhisattva of compassion, Avalokitesvara, more commonly exposed to Westerners as Guan Yin from Chinese traditions. I don’t necessarily believe that literally, but Tenzin Gyatso does give off an air of metta, or loving kindness,in the purest sense. It leaves you speechless almost, or at the very least, in awe of his “holiness” if you will. Here’s wishing him well in the future. Until next time, Namaste and aloha.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Atheist Movie Advances Minority

I haven’t seen a movie that focused explicitly on religion that didn’t have an atheist character that was generally portrayed in a negative fashion. Take C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia adaptations. Skepticism and doubt about the magical nature of Narnia and its existence was seen as a bad thing from the first movie released (not chronologically the first, but we won’t get into that). Edmund’s skepticism in "Voyage of the Dawn Treader" about the magic in Narnia is slowly withered away. I can respect the idea of experiencing something and maybe slowly coming to accept it, but just because one is skeptical and regards things believed in without apt evidence as questionable should not be a reason to judge someone as less trustworthy themselves ethically or such things. It’s that sort of attitude towards atheists that director Matthew Chapman is trying to dissuade, similar in some ways to how Ang Lee was trying to give a new perspective on gays in 'Brokeback Mountain," I loved that movie and would probably like it even more now with my continued appreciation of gay people and their struggles on a day to day basis, only somewhat relatable myself, since I chose my beliefs, but my gay friends did not choose their attractions, they only chose to accept them. The film "The Ledge," which debuted at the Sundance Movie Festival this year, promises to be a dramatic experience, pitting an atheist anti-hero against a Christian anti villain of sorts (that’s a bit more debatable even by Christian standards if I understand what this character does in the film even slightly). There’s romance, betrayal, suspense and everything else and thrown into all of it is a series of conversations between a strong evangelical Christian with marital issues and the atheist who seduces the Christian’s wife and could be said to liberate her from what appears to be an abusive relationship, at least from what the trailer presents to the viewer.

The overall intent of the film being to advance atheists as a minority is admirable, but many might say that the character in the film, from what I’ve seen of clips, is still a stereotypical “angry atheist”, raging and railing against all the atrocities and illogic that exists in Christian history and doctrine respectively or similarly. Of course, the Christian character, they might admit, is a bad person, since even the trailer implies that he is threatening to kill his wife and himself if the atheist who seduced the wife doesn’t stand up on a ledge for a couple of hours and then jump off, killing himself. The psychological attack upon the atheist’s disbelief in an afterlife and the satisfaction the character might be getting only makes him seem that much more hated a character. Of course that stereotype is not necessarily always manifest in such a direct way. But in the few scenes I’ve seen between the Christian and atheist, there are presumptions and lines of attack on the atheist, saying that he isn’t seeing things the right way, is misguided and otherwise cannot truly be fulfilled if he doesn’t accept God and Jesus into his life.  

The woman is in the middle of all this, is not explicitly said to be a Christian or not for purposes of drawing the viewer to watching the whole film (and paying money). Similarly, there is a police/detective character who is talking to the atheist character, telling him that he shouldn’t kill himself and then slowly learning the actual events behind the man’s life that led him to this decision based on his love for the woman. It could be said that the atheist is more heroic in that he appreciates life much more since he is willing to even consider sacrificing himself to stop the Christian villain from killing the woman and himself in a twisted murder suicide rooted in infidelity and insecurity about the stability of one’s relationship. The religious beliefs or lack thereof of the other two important characters are important, but the main focus from the trailer is emphasizing that Christians 
are not always in a morally superior position, nor are atheists less morally aware of things.

People will argue back and forth about the stereotypes, atheist and Christian alike. Of course the movie isn’t meant to present a catch all representation of either atheists or Christians, but simply tell a story where a genuine Christian uses their beliefs to justify testing people and is therefore a villainous character. Christians may respond that this isn’t a real Christian, since he wouldn’t take it upon himself to judge the atheist in some twisted game where life and death are in the balance. And atheists can say that the main hero doesn’t necessarily fit a general bill of atheism, since not all atheists disbelieve in an afterlife, whereas the trailer seems to imply this atheist in particular doesn’t believe in an afterlife, adding more qualifications onto atheism than the basic one of disbelief in God.  But at the end of the day, the goal is met in communicating that sacrifice is not unique to Christians with their martyr founder in any sense. Any allegations that atheists could not be motivated to give up things for others in a big way like the movie portrays are from people that think that the movie exaggerates atheists to be more than they are. In some sense, perhaps this is true, but atheists are human beings like anyone else and love can make them do crazy things. This doesn’t undermine the validity of their beliefs or give them any more strength. It simply shows that there is more common ground than many presume about theists and atheists about ethics. I’ll keep my eye on this movie for the future. Until next time, Namaste and aloha.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Founding Fathers and Founding Faith

Again, I look at the perspectives on church and state, as well as the burning question: is the United States a Christian nation? To be honest, the answer is an ambivalent yes and no. Yes, the U.S. is a Christian nation in the sense that Christianity permeates the history and is the popular demographic of politics and citizens. No, the U.S. is not a Christian nation in any sense that the citizens or the government should give undue favor or special treatment to the Christian religion in any way, shape or form. Christianity being the majority only grants it popularity; it does not give it any right to say the minority doesn’t deserve equal treatment in the eyes of the government or to claim that Christians should be respected more than non-Christians of any type.

Historically, there was discrimination against other Christians in early U.S. history, pre Revolution. Catholics and other Protestants were exiled or executed on grounds of heresy or blasphemy, if I understand it even a bit accurately. In terms of the educated, however, there was the belief that religion was a private matter, something between you and “God”, espoused particularly well by Thomas Jefferson. In this way, even assuming he was Christian, which he was in the Unitarian sense, not believing in Jesus’ divinity, Jefferson wouldn’t want Christianity to be favored or sponsored in any official or implied sense by the government, but left to the individual’s devices as they sought truth and fulfillment.

Part of the disagreement might exist on that common or uncommon understanding of the term “Christian nation,” If you mean a nation governed by Christian principles, then there are disagreements amongst Christians as to what those would entail. Some Christians might go further than simply instating the Ten Commandments, though they would be a minority amongst the faith, since instating a great deal of the Levitical laws would go against the understanding in Christianity that Jesus nullified the temple purity laws and the like. Then again, even instating the Ten Commandments seems to be a problem, and I imagine most Christians realize that. So the only thing that seems to be left is simply granting Christianity some other kind of favor without directly sponsoring it through the government. Many would respond that the First Amendment simply means no single denomination would get favor but that Christianity would still have an important place in the government. I’d ask what they mean by that, since as I pointed out, there’d be problems with even instating the most basic of Christian foundations in the Ten Commandments, or even one of Jesus’ two primary commandments: “Love God with all your heart, mind and soul,” If, however you simply mean that the U.S. is a Christian majority nation demographically, then even the founding fathers would go along with that notion, since unless we have a shift in population or convictions of people, the general culture and traditions of society lean towards raising children in some form of Christianity. There’s always a minority who would either raise children in another tradition, such as Judaism, or those like myself, who’d endeavor to instill a sense of respect to all religions and independence to choose your own beliefs, even if they don’t conform with any particular group you identify with. I was raised Christian, but when I say I’m Buddhist in a secular sense, I imagine many Buddhists could conceivably see problems with my skepticism and even apathy at times about doctrines of reincarnation and rebirth as well as the actual existence in any sense of the six realms in common Buddhist cosmology, going from the hell and hungry ghost realms to the asura and deva realms at the top, right above human and animal, the two of which I’d reasonable assent to as actual realms one could conceivably be reborn in. My girlfriend and I probably wouldn’t have problems agreeing that we can raise our children to believe what they will, even if it is neither of our general traditions of Wicca and Buddhism respectively.

Saying that a Christian nation can allow people to believe what they want and not discriminate against them seems to clash with the idea that the nation pays favor in some unspoken sense to Christianity even if there isn’t an official state church of any denomination. If the country is founded on Christianity, what does it say in terms of policy about citizenship? Should every citizen be required to affirm Christian creeds or the like? If not, why call it a Christian nation except nominally? It seems as if the only people who have any real concrete idea of what a Christian nation consists in ignore any sort of First Amendment considerations about separation of church and state implied within or they outright ignore the very implications within the Christian text itself that attest, as other Christians have said previously, such as Mennonites in my post, “Separation of Church and State Loyalty”. The church remaining as the church apart from minor state involvement of political protocol (no supporting candidates, for example) and the state functioning as the state apart from the church’s general opinions voiced by the voters (ethical issues and such) seems a fair relationship. I don’t see why Christians would want to try to overstep these boundaries unless they’re insecure about the state of their beliefs. Most Christians aren’t like this, I’d imagine, unless they’re unduly influenced by charismatic leaders who suck these people in with rhetoric that preys on their fears and dreams together, wanting peace and avoiding discomfort. They would try to solve their problems with this sort of theocracy and people buy it even if they would otherwise say that people can believe as they will and that their rights to believe should be equally defended. I only hope that some middle ground can be found, that Christians and non-Christians alike will see that they can practice as they will without any need for the state to interfere beyond basic reasons we can see in everyday politics. Let Christians pray in their church, let politicians deliberate in their offices, and things will go about as well as they can go in both cases. Until next time, Namaste and aloha.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Atheist Patriot Ad Campaign

While talking about patriotism usually brings up images of Christians from our history, there has always been a minority group which is still not always considered as devoted to our country as others, and has even been accused of not being patriotic by George Bush Sr. at one point (allegedly). This group, you might guess, is atheists. July 4th went pretty normally for my family, interjecting a prayer which I simply listened to with the same silence and impartiality I regard any pleas to divinity. But unbeknownst to me, again, American Atheists ran a campaign across 27 states about atheist activism and culture of sorts. But out of the 78 people who’d fly these planes, only 17 agreed, meaning 10 states might have been left out of the campaign.

The gist of this 4th of July celebration involved flying banners from planes that read either “God-less America” or “Atheism is Patriotic”. It must’ve been difficult to come up with short and concise phrases for this campaign. I actually like the first better than the other, since it brings up much more contention about whether your religion, or lack thereof, has anything to do with your patriotism, which is probably why some of them didn’t run the signs, Christian or not. “God-less America” has a combative ring to it as well, but not to the effect that you make theists feel attacked with “Atheism is Patriotic” The pun on “God Bless America” is a nice touch, but people can get offended at most anything in terms of making atheism stand out in contrast to the theistic majority.  If you added “too” at the end of the second saying, maybe you’d get the idea across of shared patriotism in the country, but people might think you’re trying to take God completely out of the country, which would only exacerbate the rumors people spread of anti-God secularism.

With politics and religion, there always seems to be a point of contention in terms of one’s personal adherence to a religious belief, particularly metaphysical, and one’s belief about ethics or values in a secular context. The value of patriotism seems to be held primarily, if not solely, based on the belief in God for some reason. I fail to see the relation between holding any value and your belief or lack thereof in some ultimate value-giver, such as God. If a value is held, such as the justice and greatness of the United States (not exceptionalism, mind you), democracy or individual inalienable rights, one can believe it even if you don’t believe we were created or have souls. One can hold a variety of political positions and believe or disbelieve in God, ranging from anarchist Christians to socialist atheists and vice versa. Many people could actually just as easily accuse Christians of being anarchist, centrist or socialist more than people might commonly accuse atheists of being communists. And capitalism, as I’ve noted in “Conservatives, Christians and Capitalists”,  is a shared love of both atheists and theists. It seems as if the ontology or general nature of the values one holds as an atheist are accused by Christians to be groundless because they don’t believe in a law-giver, creator or such. But holding those values doesn’t require grounds beyond basic goals of advancing human flourishing, to use more Aristotelian and Greek philosophical language. To value humans does not require you believe they are absolutely unique and special beyond other animals. More importantly, to believe laws are binding upon society does not require you believe in a transcendent law maker like God is commonly described as.

In engaging with theists about patriotism, it’s a good start to find shared “American” values. Atheists could believe that democracy, freedom of speech and religion, free market economy and other such general beliefs are good and make America an awesome country in its overall goals. If theists don’t recognize this, it puts them in the position of trying to argue that being American requires you also believe in God, or that in order to really love and appreciate the values of this country in any way, you have to believe in God. So this particular crowd thinks that I’m either being willfully deceptive or my beliefs are unjustified by my nontheism, it appears. I noted previously that in philosophical terms, the grounds of a belief don’t require any divine consciousness behind them to have efficacy. They only have to have a practical goal in mind. If humans conceived of this idea of freedom and a government based on freedoms like voting (as long as you’re registered) and other such things (as long as you’re officially a citizen of the country), then shouldn’t those laws be valued because they have people’s interests in mind? No one has to say they’re perfect, because the understandings of laws can change through a popular misunderstanding that persists through history, such as the theme that has become more prominent in the aftermath of the 60s or so of the “Christian nation” and the true “Christian” goals of the founding fathers.

I follow the law not because I’m afraid of jail or punishment by police or the legal system, but because those laws make sense and have reasonable justifications for their existence in most cases. It’s the isolated examples of state constitutions that still have unconstitutional religious test requirements of people in state government that bothers me; it’s the thought process that went behind the decisions in the early and late 50s to make America seem like more of a theistic or, more specifically, Christian, country that bothers me. We may always be a Christian majority nation, and atheists may grow in numbers elsewhere, but no theist should ever make such a claim that an atheist would not be willing to die for the values of this country, because these values don’t need God to compel humans to act for other humans. We merely need the ambition that the country’s very inception inspires in us to begin to act for our fellow person and make the country, dare I say the world, a better place. Until next time, Namaste and aloha.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Christians, Conservatives and Capitalists

I imagine readers are a bit perplexed by my unusual alliteration, though there is something of a natural association between these three words in today’s American culture. Capitalism is widely accepted and advocated by politicians on both sides of the field for the most part and from Christian politicians in particular, such as Ron Paul. It also connects neatly in the area of conservative politics, also very popular these days as a contrarian sort of position. My own home state is more diverse, from what I understand, somewhat purple as opposed to red or blue majority. I’ll admit I can find some logic behind classical conservative values, actually aligned in part with classical liberalism as it originated in the UK. Valuing individual liberty, private property, fiscal responsibility and the like are things I can agree with even as an anarchist socialist of sorts if you asked me particular socioeconomic questions.

Christianity has a natural place of respect in American history, though not to the point of putting it on a pedestal for the average person who wasn’t raised in a hyper-Christian sort of culture as a child and at least knew in part of the existence of other religious believers in this country alongside them. I myself probably wasn’t explicitly aware of other religions until at least early teens when I began to question my home faith and looked into Deism especially, though Confucianism, Daoism and Buddhism also held strong interest as they would for many Westerners. In terms of demographics, Christianity is still the largest religion in the United States and there is always the lingering group of people insisting even today that we are a Christian nation. But I’m not talking about that today, but whether you can be a Christian and a capitalist, among a few other ideas associated with the contrasting figure to Jesus Christ revered by conservatives, Ayn Rand.

Ayn Rand was a Russian immigrant who is well known for her novel “Atlas Shrugged” as well as her system of Objectivism which was founded in three books: “The Virtue of Selfishness”, “Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal” and “Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology”. Many consider Ayn Rand very extreme in her atheist, capitalist and egoist principles of life and an antithesis on ethical grounds to the founder of Christianity. She said that altruism is not a primary virtue and that one’s own concerns should be first and foremost. Compared to Jesus she is on the other end of the spectrum of ethics ranging from other-focus to self-focus. The focus on capitalism seems a bit less obvious of a disagreement between Jesus and Ayn Rand. It’s actually, from what I understand, more contentious as to whether Jesus was or was not a capitalist. If anything, Ayn Rand’s version of capitalism, laissez-faire capitalism, could be said to be more “cutthroat” and based on radical individual rights, which is how it is defended as the most rational and moral system by Rand. According to Objectivism, only the system that enables people to realize their individual desires and protects those basic individual rights is both rational and moral. This is not to say Rand is an anarchist, which would believe fundamentally that we don’t need the state to defend our rights. In fact, she agreed with basics that Christians believe about politics, at least in the secular realm. The state is believed by both parties to be necessary to protecting people’s rights, even if Christians would argue God is the ultimate arbiter of rights to humans, being the Creator. But on basic principles, Objectivism and Christianity don’t have a fundamental disagreement except to Christians in a minority who believe Jesus was an anarchist, including most prominently Leo Tolstoy, also advocate of Christian pacifist nonresistance in The Kingdom of Heaven is Within You.

The biggest difficulty that exists here is not of incorporating parts of Ayn Rand and eliminating or ignoring the parts that you don’t think are logical or in sync with Christianity. Instead, there’s what might be called a problem of priority. On the one hand, Rand advocates and defends quite strongly in her novels and nonfiction the virtues and logic of capitalism unfettered by state control, which many Republicans today speak very strongly for in opposition to such things as Obama’s healthcare plan passed in 2009 and other actions he’s taken in his presidency. I get at least 5 emails a day, many times duplicates, from conservative groups that I subscribe to for research purposes, telling me about all the bad things Obama’s doing, only a small handful of them even agreeable to me, if any. Ron Paul’s more my kind of conservative from what I gather of his positions, even if I am admittedly also on Ayn Rand’s side of things. Ron Paul is pretty conservative in the vein of my parents’ generation, but is at least more for state’s rights on the big ethical issues and less government intervention, which I’m a bit ambivalent on at times with such issues as abortion and gay marriage.

The problem of consistency in Christian ethical and politics beliefs lies starkly with Ayn Rand’s ethics, advocating egoism and focus on one’s own interests above those of others, except when you can afford to be charitable, in the vein of billionaires like Bill Gates donating to charities. This position clashes with Jesus’ call to provide for the poor even at your own expense as a moral obligation. It’s hard to defend that you are fully following Ayn Rand and Jesus, but the two masters’ Biblical reference that Jesus himself makes is probably wasted on many politicians who only draw on Rand in terms of defending socioeconomic policy changes such as they desire. In terms of ethics they have replaced Ayn Rand with Jesus as suits them. In that sense, there isn’t an explicit conflict for politicians to say they owe their involvement in politics to Ayn Rand’s writings, but they cannot say they fully follow her not only because it would put her above Jesus, but it would also create explicit dissonance in their worldview, since Rand was not only an egoist but a huge critic of religion, an outspoken atheist used as an older representative of atheism in between Friedrich Nietzsche and Richard Dawkins.  I imagine this could still pose a problem in terms of consistency, but in terms of loyalty, there is still the observation that one cannot serve two masters, for you will hate one and love the other, as said by Jesus in the Bible. Politicians don’t seem to serve Jesus in terms of secular matters, since Jesus has been argued to be an anarchist and socialist by authors, but in terms of spiritual issues, Jesus is much more strongly their leader in leading the moral crusades against abortion and gay marriage. In politics, however, it is no doubt observed that it’s very easy to serve two masters and still look as if you’re serving just one. Until next time, Namaste and aloha.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Christian Actions on Controlling Adoption

I’ve already touched on the subject of inconsistency among Catholics on family values in relation to IVF, but I should also attempt to confront a general hypocrisy amongst Christians on an issue that is as forgotten as the question of what happens to the children in the supposed global flood. Of course they died, but the question is why didn’t they speak about it in the bible and weep for that loss of basically innocent life, regardless of how corrupt their parents may have been? The issue I speak of is adoption and how this relates to the attitude of many Christians to deny, through legislation no less, the right to adopt of gay couples.

In Arkansas a bill that would have banned same sex couples from adopting orphaned children was struck down by the Supreme Court and many Christians insisted it was more of the gay agenda (whatever that means). It’s painful to think these people are able to resolve the apparent conflict of values an outsider could see. On the one hand, they care about “family” but on the other hand, they think gays have no right to have families by a relatively common option amongst gay couples. Apparently they don’t care if a gay couple hires a surrogate to give them a child through adoption that way, but if they want to adopt a child who has no parents these pro-family and pro life people will outright reject them 50% of the time or more. And why would they do this? Because they apparently think gays are unfit to be parents or they think that gay parenting will corrupt children. And I’d think any sane person who separates themselves from this political and moralizing paranoia would realize how painfully and willfully ignorant of facts these beliefs are.

Firstly, gays are just as fit to be parents in most situations. If you were talking about gay people who had problems apart from their sexual orientation that would make them unfit to be parents in the same way that straight people would be unfit to be parents, then I wouldn’t stop your opposition to their adopting children. But if you think just because they’re gay that they cannot raise a child, support them, nurture them, teach them morals and the like, then you’ve already prejudged all gays in this way as being inferior in terms of a practice, childrearing, that anyone can do, even by themselves, with directed effort. Family doesn’t require either biology or strict standards of sex or gender; it requires love and commitment to raising a child, sticking together as a general unit and community. And the notion that gays will either make children morally corrupt because they see that families can be other than the traditional family or will make the children gay themselves is even more embarrassing to be argued as scientific or philosophical. If I had grown up knowing about gays and same sex marriage, I don’t think I’d cease believing that I shouldn’t steal or murder or willfully deceive. Just because people can break a tradition of one form and yet maintain a tradition that’s as old as the human species in some sense does not mean that society starts to crumble. Like I said in “Gay Marriage Does Not Make Anarchy”, people don’t become less moral because they become more inclusive in one particular area. Just because we allow gays to marry does not mean that murder is suddenly okay and to even suggest it is despicable. The rightness or wrongness of murder has nothing to do with whether you think gay marriage is right or wrong. Why? Because murder violates a person’s basic right to live provided they don’t infringe upon others’ rights to live. Marriage, on the other hand, is primarily a legal issue but is nonetheless not something that should be restricted on the basis of gender specific traditions, but instead on a more basic standard of fidelity to a spouse (or spouses if we’re talking polygamy).

To jump to conclusions about the effects of parents’ sexual orientation in relation to a child’s sexual orientation in the future makes as much sense as suggesting that a child will be a certain religion just because they were raised in it. Children can understand their sexual orientation differently, indeed, but to say that an otherwise common straight child will insist they’re gay because they had gay parents is uncommon, if not unheard of in many cases. Sexual orientation is, for the most part, something inborn within someone, though there will always be confusions due to common misunderstandings we have about arousal and relations to the opposite or same sex. People can confuse infatuation for love, can mistake a natural arousal for actual attraction to a same-sex act or situation, such as showering naked with members of the same sex. To say people would be so confused about their own sexual orientation because people that are confident about their own get married and are also not the normal man/woman pairing gives humanity far too little credit in their ability to distinguish fantasy and speculation from reality.

And most importantly, the fixation of people like David Tyree on marriage as a means to procreate is the same line of thought that leads to kids having pre marital sex and then getting a shotgun wedding to cover it up, or getting an elopement and then buggering to their heart’s content. Marriage is not even primarily about child-rearing from a religious perspective necessarily, unless you focus purely on the physical results of a marriage. There’re also the mental aspects of unity and intimacy between the partners in the coupling and this can occur with same sex couples just as easily. And if marriage was purely about the possibility of having children, elderly couples unable to conceive or infertile heterosexual couples of any general age would not be doing as good a job as an everyday fertile couple of man and woman. To say that the physical nature or the normalcy of a coupling should be the defining point of its acceptability is to exclude even many “families” that have produced respectable citizens, including David Tyree himself. His father left his mother and she raised him herself, so is he any worse for the wear? Possibly in this unfounded fear of gays getting a basic right that he himself has should he want to marry a woman and have a family. I’m more than willing to bet he doesn’t think gays should adopt children either, and I’ve already touched on the correlation of gay marriage to anarchy and put it to rest. Suffice it to say, this man and the groups supporting him are still a decided minority, but also do serve as a general example to those like myself who are politically apathetic. If we don’t vote for and support these movements and legislations, then they’ll deny them and call it democracy. Democracy demands action, and that is what makes it frightening to those in power. So, until next time, Namaste, aloha and “rock the vote” (is that how it goes?)

Friday, July 15, 2011

Gay Marriage Does Not Make Anarchy

Finally I’m returning to what many would find a common topic I covered in my blog’s earlier days, GLBT issues. A former Super Bowl champion, David Tyree of the New York Giants, is now using his voice as an athlete to influence people against legislation of a same sex marriage bill in New York (which passed, not surprisingly). His first words on the subject were that it would lead to ‘anarchy’. But he later qualified that he meant lawlessness in a sense of moral relativism. Problem with that is he’s making a slippery slope argument. Just because we expand the definition of marriage to include a man and a man or a woman and a woman as couples does not make people start thinking they can steal and murder people and get away with it. The fact that he thinks people will become more immoral because they don’t have a proper nuclear family is also pretty misguided. He seems to be quite a “moral” person, albeit more moralistic than moral in this instance, but he lived in a single parent household most of his life. The lack of a steady family life isn’t the only factor that can affect a person’s morals and beliefs. Simply being exposed to a community or a faith that is compelling enough can draw out a person’s “moral fabric” (as he so “eloquently” put it) even if they’re an orphan. In short, moral development is relatively distinct from one’s family background or lack thereof in the cases of orphaned children. Even children adopted by gay couples don’t necessarily become more immoral and aren’t even more likely to become gay themselves.

All these fears are unfounded by any real evidence and instead rely on the mere possibility. Instead of seeing the reality in front of us, that gay people are in committed relationships and are not all in the stereotypes and prejudices we might have about them, people persist in believing that they aren’t like straight people, so they don’t deserve marriage, which is somehow reserved only for straight people. Marriage as an institution hasn’t existed as a singular form. If one goes back far enough, polygyny, where a man could have multiple wives, was permissible. And interracial marriage was considered taboo for centuries as well even when marriage became commonly monogamous. Not to mention that even if we assume that marriage between one man and one woman was the more common form of coupling, there weren’t the same rights for a woman as for the man. Women were simply married into the male’s household and had fewer responsibilities, stuck as a domestic, taking care of the children while the man was even free in certain societies to take a concubine. Marriage has evolved over time and to say that it has remained exactly the same as it is now back through history is not only ignorant, but so myopic as to make you appear foolish.

Even if women in marriages across the world have rights that are equal to their husband in terms of the law, divorces and the like, they didn’t always. Divorce wasn’t even an option for women until a certain period in history and only men could file for divorce under any legal system before that. Marriage has always been evolving in some way through history and merely allowing faithful couples of the same sex to get married and have the same rights and title of marriage will not make married couples feel less special or make the children of those marriages through adoption or the like be more prone to immorality or homosexuality than children of straight couples, which does happen.

A lot of the difficulties that exist with this singular example blown out of proportion by a moderately educated but nonetheless self righteous athlete can be solved by pointing out that at least 5 other states have already accepted gay marriage as equal to straight marriage: Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, Iowa and the District of Columbia. Of course, people can allege that U.S. society is getting worse since those things have happened, but they’d be no better than Westboro Baptist Church is when saying that God is punishing people for accepting homosexuality. Do you really want to have yourself compared so easily to one of the most hateful groups in the United States, which has also been banned from the U.K. last I heard? I didn’t think so. Instead, people try to distance themselves by saying this isn’t because of their religious beliefs and they don’t want a theocracy of any sort. But if you want to enforce this sort of discrimination against same sex couples just because it makes you feel uncomfortable, then you’ve already missed the point of minority protection put forth by the 9th amendment of the U.S. Constitution. I personally wouldn’t see a problem with even polygamists being allowed to have marriage rights, as long as there were provisions about how the money is divided up and shared, since there could be potential abuses not present with a two spouse home that would exist in both gay and straight marriages between two people.

If you are afraid of anarchy because a 7th state in the U.S. legislates gay marriage as legal, you neither understand anarchy nor do you have any evidence except speculative hypotheses about any sort of causation of immorality resulting from legislation and acceptance of same-sex marriage. All you could really argue this point of immorality connected to acceptance of homosexuality from is a slippery slope argument or questionable relationships of correlation and causation. If legislating gay marriage made people more evil, wouldn’t we see crime rates go up in those areas? And even if they did, how can you prove that those people were committing crimes because of gay marriage? Are you really claiming that either people in straight marriages or children raised in gay marriages are somehow going to become worse people because of either gay marriage being legal or because they are raised by a gay couple? There’s far too much of a relation of causation being claimed here between marriage and morality. Marriage does not lead to morality, nor does morality require marriage in any strict sense. I’m surprised that this is the only thing a football player can do. You’ve won the Superbowl, so you’d at least have some accomplishment to go with for coaching or something else. At least you’re not like Carrie Prejean, who’s probably been on her own tirade about gay marriage herself since she got runner up in Miss U.S.A. a few years ago.

Of course the legislation has long since been passed in New York, so I say bring on the anarchy if it happens, which it won’t.  So until next time, Namaste and aloha.