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Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Gay Marriage Does Not Screw Up Marriage

Many would claim that the recent ruling by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in California on Proposition 8’s constitutionality has set a precedent that will doom marriage by accepting same sex couples. This is not only untrue, but sensationalizing an issue that should not have been this contentious. If the federal government declares through an amendment in the future that, like bans in interracial marriage, amendments in the state constitutions that say marriage is only between a man and a woman are discriminatory and unconstitutional, this only makes gay couples equal in the eyes of civil law. Religions can still claim that those marriages are not ordained by God and refuse to officiate those ceremonies; their first amendment rights are protected even under such a declaration by the secular authorities. By no means would either secular or sacred marriage be destroyed or denigrated by the acceptance of gay marriage by society at large, except those who would prefer to stay in a previous generation, which is their right as long as they do not infringe upon those of others, such as the GLBT community when concerned with the supposed sanctity of marriage, which disappeared in cultural eyes when no fault divorce laws were passed. That sort of lazy approach to annulling marriages did more damage than gay marriage would ever do if passed across the country. Just because a religious definition of marriage is opposed by a secular law’s adjustment and allowance of gay people does not undermine or negate that definition in culture and society. It can remain, but by legal precedent, gays would be afforded the same title and rights, not merely the rights without the title, which is not solely the property of religion.

To begin with, gays are a suspect class by California law, so Prop 8 is explicitly conflicting with the Equal Protection Clause as it applies to state laws. It isn’t a stretch to claim that gay people are a suspect class on par with others that exist, such as race, ethnicity, religion, etc. Religion is not immutable except in terms of traditions it may hold canonically. People are not bound to their religion, but they are bound to race or ethnicity and by extension, since there is no evidence to suggest you are free to change sexual orientation or even alter it by force or so called “therapy”, it falls under one of the important qualifications of a suspect class in law, that it possesses an unchangeable characteristic. Other qualities include being persecuted and being unable to combat discrimination effectively by the legal process. For decades gays have been treated unequally in being denied the state of marriage while being given a compromise that is akin to saying one can have the duties of a soldier in the army, but not the title. One might say this is fair, but this would only be so if marriage was something that only had a religious implication. But the very association we have with marriage that entails property sharing, visitation rights, etc, makes it just as secular, if not more so, than the sanctity and holiness many believe it to possess. I believe it is very important, as close to sacred as one who doesn’t believe in the reality of the supernatural or transcendent could hold something in regard. But in order for marriage to be a fair practice, gays must be allowed to marry, and churches should be allowed to reject it, but not to legislate their religious perspective as law, since that more explicitly violates part of the constitution many people focus on only when it benefits them and not when it contrasts with what they take for granted, the free exchange of ideas which we may find offensive, but nonetheless tolerate the existence of.

Marriage does not have to mean the same thing to religious institutions as it does to the secular civil law, since they are not by necessity always in alignment with religious values, many of which can be antiquated and outdated. As noted before, there has always been, even back in the days before democratic republics with remote separation of church and state, an idea of marriage that connects the practice to property ownership, even if it was technically the woman that became the property of the man instead of sharing the property with her husband. Considering we can even think of a nuance between marriage of the state and marriage of the church, even if they also overlap in a sense, should be evidence enough that marriage is not something strictly for religion to define or legislate through the process of the courts. And arguments based on historical precedent only presume marriage will always be the same way it has been for thousands of years on the same faulty premise that the family will always remain as it was back in the old days, which is very much not the case. It used to be that your extended family shared a home with you, but we’ve progressively separated from that practice in the U.S., not to mention you can have families that are across countries through the use of technology, sharing their moments together without being physically with each other, not that it isn’t done with nuclear families in relation to immediate family if they are especially distant from each other. But the family can be a group of people completely unrelated to each other. Foster parents, adoptive parents, etc, all of which emphasize that family is not about blood relation, as defenders of so called “family values” and “traditional marriage” that “protects children” claim, but is about the sentiment behind the group or pairing in the cases of family and marriage respectively. The love is what makes a family or a marriage, not whether you are biologically connected or whether you can biologically have children together. This is irrelevant, even if it is a common occurrence in both cases. The most basic and essential part of both of these is love and for people to judge otherwise is to nitpick beyond even the biggest comic book nerd and forget the spirit of the institution for the body of the institution as it was in idealized history.

The state does not have a legitimate or compelling interest for denying the right to marriage in a civil context to people that, as noted above, are both a minority and being persecuted for something they cannot change without severe psychological repercussions. Denying marriage to people who are biologically related or to entities which cannot consent, such as children and pets, is a compelling interest because of either risks to the children or violation of children and pet liberties in contrast to denying marriage to a couple that can consent and poses no risks to their children. Any alleged studies about children raised by gay parents being likely to be gay does not show causation necessarily, but only a correlation that might coincidentally exist. Gay marriage is not something that has any explicit danger and so called predictions of disaster in two generations for any country that has seem to want to focus on the moralizing objections they have instead of whether a country is mismanaged apart from its acceptance of homosexuality, which certain groups find abhorrent, but nonetheless have not brought forth evidence that gay parents or couples adopting and getting married are any problem for the world at large. Without this, your opposition is religious in nature and trying to legalize it based on that violates the establishment clause on its face by American standards and a general idea of church/state separation across the world in one form or another.

It’s not that you can’t oppose gay marriage. No one’s stopping religious people from finding it objectionable. They just can’t use the law to try to make their discrimination legal in any sense. Like bans on interracial marriage, there are no grounds for banning gay marriage except that it makes people uncomfortable or morally indignant, which is not any rational reason to criminalize or prevent something from being protected by law, such as abortion, alcohol or cigarettes, all of which have opponents, but nonetheless have become commonplace and legally protected, though not considered moral by all people. This sort of distinction between legality as moral permissibility and legal as morally objectionable might have the potential for hypocrisy or abuses by humanity, but the intent behind them is not so sinister as abortion opponents try to spin the issue of what they mistakenly calling murder. Like gay marriage, abortion might have morally problematic qualities, but it is not something that poses a threat on the level of rape, murder or other such things that are illegal by their very nature. Same sex couples getting both the rights and title of marriage will not ruin your marriage and will not corrupt the youth into all becoming gay, since, as science is slowly showing, we are not able to change our sexual orientation or attraction so simply as we can change our beliefs concerning the supernatural, for example. So why should we discriminate based on the former and protect the latter under constitutional principles? We shouldn’t, and I don’t think even the founding fathers would have wanted the government to stay silent on this. Like the issue decades ago with bans on people of different races marrying each other, the government should step in so as to protect this fundamental right that, while not explicit in the Constitution, is clearly integral to our society. Opening it to one group of people with a compelling reason and no imminent danger to others or themselves will not lead to legalizing other marriages so easily. This fear based rhetoric is keeping us behind other countries making leaps and bounds of progress on many social issues. Shouldn’t we focus on love, especially if it is conducive to other values we tend to hold in common, such as responsibility and fidelity? Until next time Namaste and aloha.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

War On Religion Or Theocracy

Republican politicians have been notorious for their theocratic tendencies since at least the 90s with George W. Bush, though it might go further back to his father who allegedly said atheists should not be considered citizens. Their infamy lies in a coalition they have formed with preachers to implicitly or explicitly support certain candidates as Godly and Biblical leaders who will not disappoint America. While there’s already an issue of churches getting involved in politics on the grounds that they could lose their tax exempt status, what’s more troubling is how much this rhetoric has permeated the Republican Party. Virtually none of the candidates, even Ron Paul, can or will separate themselves willingly from their faith, especially in terms of legislation they support and also in drawing supporters. Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum, both strong Catholics, make it a practice to affirm they are motivated by their Catholicism to be politically active and reform America to be a better place. I wonder how good of a place it would be if they were in charge and started doing things that are ironically against the Constitution they hold in fairly high regard when it’s convenient for them. Santorum is reported to have said that if he were elected President, he would overturn Roe v. Wade. Unfortunately, there’s no precedent or permission in the Constitution for the President to do that. Both Gingrich and Santorum also decry Obama and his supposed “war on religion”, Christianity in particular being the target they whine about with such things as the recent birth control mandate and likely going as far back as Obama’s declaration that America “is not a Christian nation,” Romney and Paul also speak fairly frankly about their faith, though both of them are more reticent, either because their faith is not considered mainstream enough in the case of the lone Mormon candidate or they feel that their faith is not pertinent to their legislation when adherence to the Constitution will suffice.

There is no war on Christianity, only on what might be called Christofascism, a general idea that Christians get from politicians such as Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum, that Christians in America are persecuted and should force themselves upon American culture, excluding non Christian and non-traditional groups, such as atheists, homosexuals and other minorities still treated badly for being different without harming people in any concrete sense, such as American Muslims. The idea of basing your politics on the teachings of a person that was fairly non political in his overall goals is counterproductive and ironic in that conservatives tout themselves as following what God tells them to do in the political field.  Jesus advocated a sort of separation between church and state, at least in terms of what you donated, though he also spoke of his kingdom not being of this earth. Therefore, any real attempts to bring forth Jesus to earth is, again, highly likely to backfire on you or miss the point.

If there is a war on Christofascism, then there are other associated ideas that are also in conflict with the ideals of a religiously diverse, yet impartial and secular, democratic republic. These include Dominionism, theocracy, theonomy and practices resultant from it. Some of the big ones include school sponsored prayer, placing the Ten Commandments in the context of law as only religiously based, as Roy Moore did in Alabama, and trying to restrict the notions of family and marriage to only those founded under particular faiths, especially monotheistic ones. People say prayer was entirely removed from the schools, but it wasn’t. When the school endorses religion or irreligion in their actions, it is not right, but students and teachers can pray as individuals, since they are not infringing on others’ rights by doing so, with some rare exceptions. They say the Ten Commandments are being systematically erased from federal buildings, and they technically aren’t, since there are Supreme Court cases where they ruled a display of the Ten Commandments alongside other examples of historical jurisprudence were constitutional. And I seriously doubt that many modern reasonable Christians would take you seriously at the claim that gay families are somehow destructive. The normalization of gay people being good parents and also able to have committed marriages is not going to lead to normalizing marriages between people and animals or the like.

Conflicts of church and state, religion and government, are important in that they are concerned with a right that we all seem to take for granted. Misinterpretation abounds as to the extent to which an individual has freedom of religion, which has not been the understanding of the Supreme Court and wasn’t likely what the founding fathers intended either. Church has a boundary it is expected to not cross in practicing religion, which includes entanglement with the government as well as not breaking any civil laws. Regardless of whether an individual believes those civil and secular laws are binding upon them as an adherent to a faith that believes something contrary to that is irrelevant in that the person is still breaking the law in practicing something such as polygamy. While I think making it illegal is harsh, the law stands as it is. More relevant examples might be human sacrifice as part of a religion’s practices. This would not be protected and this is just one instance of many where religious freedom is inhibited for the compelling interest of the state, to preserve life, liberty and property of other citizens. The government is not trying to tell the churches who they should marry in making a constitutional amendment that determines that secular and civil marriage is not just between a man and a woman or declaring certain discriminatory practices unconstitutional and therefore illegal even on individual state level. The church is free to discriminate in terms of sanctifying any marriage or refusing to serve people in their house of worship, as it is their right being an organization that is privately funded, unless otherwise demonstrated. It would not be infringing upon religious exercise to prohibit direct church participation in politics, since it’s not a stretch to claim the church itself believes it shouldn’t become involved in the politics of the “sinful” world. If we don’t understand the limits of the church in relation to the government, then we risk overstepping the boundaries that exist both by observation and reason. Impartiality to religion by the federal government is not favoring atheism, it is being fair to everyone of faith or no faith.

As someone who studies religion, but nonetheless doesn’t believe in it as truth, I have an obligation to defend religious freedom even with those I disagree with strongly. Protecting the rights of others leads in turn to protecting your own, at least by association of common courtesy. Kill them with kindness, as the saying goes. If theists think I’m an evil or amoral person, I’ll demonstrate otherwise by showing compassion in their suffering discrimination, for instance. Disagreement should be put aside in terms of following and upholding the law. Even such reprehensible people as Westboro Baptist Church should be protected in terms of reasonable exercise of their religious beliefs. Of course there are limits, but sometimes the limits can border on censorship, which is contradictory even to principles of secularism. If we are to truly have a free market of ideas and people using their reason to come to conclusions about the world, then we can’t suppress beliefs that are disagreeable in that they are, by rational consideration, patently ridiculous. The more we let them demonstrate how foolish their beliefs are by comparison will at least suppress the fanaticism and theocratic ideas that they represent.  Religion may never disappear in its influence on people’s legislative decisions, but we should strive to educate others as to finding comparable and compelling secular arguments for their cause. Religion should not be the motivating factor for voters to consider in terms of candidates, but their positions, as I said in “Mormon Candidate Discrimination” Morality is one thing, but justice shouldn’t require religion to motivate someone to stand for a cause in spite of differences. Politics and religion are inevitably connected at the border that exists with our moral considerations derived many times from religion and applied to secular contexts. But they should never become entangled excessively or it creates a place where either the government dictates religious practice or religious practice and communities dictate government and law. Neither of those should come to be in the future, if we can prevent them. Until next time, Namaste and aloha

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Visibility and Viability

The recent controversies involving Planned Parenthood’s funding and President Obama’s healthcare mandate involving birth control (and subsequent compromise on it) make one think of related topics such as abortion, more specifically rules such as the one in Texas, and recently in Virginia, that requires a sonogram before an abortion procedure. I’m not going to debate the lawfulness of it, since it’s hardly unreasonable or invasive to the woman getting the procedure done. Someone might compare it to looking at your cancer, though the dichotomy is somewhat crude, since cancer is necessarily damaging, while an embryo is not nearly so devastating. But the claim by many pro life/anti abortion advocates that pro choice/abortion rights supporters are dehumanizing the embryo or fetus being aborted is sorely mistaken. I am in no way denying the humanity of the entity that is aborted. I compare abortion to euthanasia in that it is done because the options are few and sometimes active death is more merciful than passive death, though in this case, miscarriage as the passive death is not the inevitability. There has to be consent of the people involved, but contrary to people’s emotionally touching, but fallacious, arguments, the fetus cannot consent and thus is irrelevant to the decision. Even partial birth abortions cannot request the consent of the fetus. If the goal of medicine is to preserve life, then abortion seems contradictory at first glance. But life’s quality is as important as life’s existence. And abortion is a way to advance this. I do not wish abortion to exist indefinitely as a primary recourse to unwanted pregnancy for a number of reasons, not all of them related to the procedure itself. If we had technology to preserve zygotes, embryos and fetuses for future mothers to be or surrogates, it would be excellent for infertile couples or those looking to adopt through surrogacy. But more important than the wasteful practice of aborting what can be children for the childless who truly want them is that pregnancies can be prevented more than people are even motivated to with birth control. The goal seems to be more in line with the Quiverfull movement popularized by the Duggard family who miscarried a child last year: that ideal being to have as many children as God deems you to have. The same could be said to be an agenda for Catholics, with their strong stance against birth control, though it is alleged by some studies that 90% or more of Catholic couples use contraception for one reason or another, if only to prevent having more children than they can fiscally support. If you are pro life to the extent of ignoring consequences of excessive children, you’re being as irresponsible as one who uses abortion as birth control. We should not seek to have children just for the sake of making ourselves feel comfortable about not having “sacrificed” a child in any sense, nor should we just sacrifice children as if they are necessarily an inconvenience in every situation. Sometimes that is what we must do, if not for our sake, but for the future child’s sake. Would any child that could understand the state of a birth defect or congenital disease want to be born that way to just die in under 5 years? Abortion is not always about convenience, but is many times about compassion.

Many abortion opponents also say that since the child is genetically unique from conception it should be protected by virtue of that, since it is a separate body. There are two things wrong with this. Firstly, the uniqueness of any human life does not mean we should force a woman to carry that life to term if she does not want to or feels she cannot provide a fulfilling life for it. There’s an argument from a libertarian perspective of the woman’s body being invaded unless she consents to the pregnancy itself. It’s one thing to consent to sex, but the pregnancy is not a guarantee. Even if it’s a natural process, we can, within reason, stop it, but if nature succeeds anyway, there is no reason for us to always submit to it. To put it bluntly, there is not right to live inside another person, for women are not understood simply as creatures able to breed and thus should not be pressured into doing it by virtue of their ability to do so. Plus, adoption, often touted as a compassionate option, is one fraught with red tape and protracted waiting periods, so the child would be in an orphanage until then. Secondly, even if a woman sees an embryo with a heartbeat of sorts, she should also be informed that it is only unique genetically. It is not even remotely independent and is in fact interconnected with the woman’s metabolism and physiology, which is what causes morning sickness and eventually saps the woman of part of her everyday intake of nutrients and even some of her calcium directly from her bones. This is something that constitutes a parasite, even if it is done with the woman’s consent in most cases, excluding rape. So let it be clear that the fetus is not independent except in the possibility of it being born, which is in the future, not the immediate moment as it gestates.

Then there’s the claim that we reduce the embryo to a “blob of cells”. A zygote is very much technically a blob of cells going through meiosis.  And we’re all blobs of cells when you think about it, albeit on a larger scale.  The mere possibility of a life coming to being does not constitute grounds to protect it. If a parent or parents wish to carry the child to term, that is one thing, but it seems a bit manipulative, even if it is reasonable medical procedure, to show a pregnant woman a sonogram of the developing baby in some attempt to appeal to her emotions or more likely her guilt at “snuffing out a life” Viability should be considered as well. As harsh as it sounds and as I said before, sometimes hard decisions must be made and eliminating lives that are not even remotely viable is not something that is significantly lowering our birth rate. Plenty of people are personally pro life even if they are politically pro choice, so in the long run people will keep having babies even if there is a segment of the population that will consider abortion first. Moral disagreement aside, the legality of abortion stands on grounds of privacy that is not invasive to the rights of others. This sort of autonomy is not victimizing embryos or such, since they are not even remotely conscious in most abortions, done around 13 weeks or so. The comparison to euthanizing an animal is a bit crude, I’ll admit, but effective nonetheless in that the animal is less conscious than a human about its pain and the embryo or fetus even less so. Therefore the moral justification is partly based on the grounds that the entity aborted feels no significant pain unless it is sufficiently developed, which is done much more uncommonly than those where the embryo is only beginning to show human traits.

The value of life as a whole does not supersede the value of individual liberty. And while liberty cannot exist without life, the significance of autonomy is wasted on something that cannot even remotely understand its situation. A woman, however, does and should not be forced or pressured into making a choice she does not think is best for her or those connected to her, past, present or future. Bringing up practices in other countries of aborting female children or the common practice of aborting babies with Down syndrome or the like does not support claims that abortion as a whole is genocidal. Abortion is a medical procedure and while it will probably never go away entirely as fertility technology advances more and more, Planned Parenthood’s motto of making abortion safe, legal and rare is aided by birth control and as we understand abortion procedures, they are made safer as well with safer methods. No one is saying abortion should be the default, but the very existence of it as an option is not damaging to the birth rate, nor is it dehumanizing the embryo involved, since it is only barely human in the nominal sense and is certainly not a person that is deserving of protection. Birth is far more significant biologically to the child in terms of both becoming independent from the mother and beginning to develop more in the world where it interacts more directly, through sight, touch, etc. These sorts of discussions can be hard, but they are also important to understanding where our morality and politics intersect. Until next time, Namaste and aloha

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Right to Religion and Right to Marriage

With Proposition 8 ruled as unconstitutional by California’s 9th Circuit Court of Appeals recently, it’s as relevant a time as any to talk about one of the biggest issues people bring up in terms of legalizing gay marriage, especially by judicial or federal force as was done in 1967 on the issue of states rejecting interracial marriage. Is the first amendment’s explicit protection of free religious exercise greater than the implicit right to marriage considered to exist under the fourteenth amendment’s right to privacy? Does a person have a right to refuse service based on religious convictions and/or discrimination towards a person’s sexual orientation that results from it? While sexual orientation is not technically protected under the Civil Rights Act which, as of 1988, protects from discrimination based on sex, gender, religion, race, ethnicity, disability or having children, it is not unreasonable to be considered a class of people protected from discrimination based on a simple legal definition of what it consists in: the prejudicial treatment of an individual based on their membership in a certain group or category. This also includes behaviors towards groups such as excluding or restricting members of one group from opportunities that are available to another group. Another definition would be formulating opinions about others and associated treatment of them not based on their individual merits, but rather on their membership in a group with assumed characteristics, as was put forward by the Denzel Washington’s character in Philadelphia. People, for whatever reason, think that gay people are not deserving of equal treatment and think they can get away with it because there isn’t a law against it. Refusal of service is certainly something that is permitted even by public accommodations, places of business that are privately funded at least in part, but also take in money from the public, such as restaurants, hotels and wedding vendors. But this right, as with many others we take for granted, have limits established by the law in order to protect the rights of others in that same capacity. This includes one’s right to refuse service and the right of free religious exercise, both of which are intrinsically connected to future legalization of marriage in this country, state by state or on a federal level by constitutional amendment or other similar binding authority.

Both the Defense of Marriage Act and Proposition 8 have had their constitutionality challenged multiple times, and President Obama and the Department of Justice have refused to defend the DOMA in the future, which is now being defended by the House of Representatives. Proposition 8 has had multiple appeals trying to overturn it on the basis of its unconstitutionality and it was  rendered temporarily invalid to be enforced in California and with the ruling the 9th Circuit Appeals Court ruling, it is likely to be taken to the Supreme Court. Any marriages that were done before Prop 8 were not invalidated by the ruling due to it being a prior law that did not explicitly contradict Prop 8, since gay men and lesbians are considered a suspect class, which I’ll discuss soon, for the Equal Protection Clause of the fourteenth amendment. This is the silver lining of sorts, but the future possibility of gay couples getting married in California is still up in the air because of possible rulings.

If there is a right to marriage in the Constitution, even implicitly, why does it not also involve same sex couples? This isn’t even an issue of polygamy’s legality, but whether a coupling that is only superficially different from the common form should be considered any different under the law, irrespective of traditional influence of the latter. Advocates of maintaining traditional marriage say that there is no right to “gay” marriage but then neglect to explain how this is so considering the right to marriage is very much implicit under the right to privacy. If the right to have homosexual relations in the privacy of one’s own house, like heterosexual relations, is protected implicitly by the constitution, then is same sex marriage not also protected as opposite sex marriage is? It’s one thing to oppose same sex marriage on personal grounds, but legally, there is no reasonable standard or justification for the discrimination that over half of the country advocates either through law or state constitution.

Homosexuality does not prevent people from contributing to society in a meaningful way, they have been persecuted as long or longer than many other classes that are treated far better in the 21st century, including blacks and Catholics, they have had little success in protecting themselves from discrimination through political process and have an immutable trait, contrary to people’s insistence that they can change. The traits just listed are a start to consider homosexuals a suspect class, or in more accessible terms a protected class, just as much as heterosexuals or bisexuals, or even asexuals. If we’re going to protect sexual orientation, we should be fair and treat everyone the same in this regard. As unlikely as it might be for a business to do what many have done across the country for one reason or another, refusing service to people because they were gay, we shouldn’t assume that heterosexuality could be discriminated against like homosexuality is today in isolated instances.

No one is forcing churches or private organizations to officiate wedding ceremonies or accept them into their ranks. A public accommodation, such as a wedding cake vendor, is not subject to the protection we grant churches in terms of refusing service. You can personally disagree with such a thing, but when you put yourself in a position where gay people are likely to be involved, such as wedding cakes, adoption agencies or the like, you aren’t making it easier on yourself when you come up against something objectionable to your religious sensibilities, which was bound to happen at some point or another in such a diverse society as the United States. Expecting the country to respect religion and religious support for discrimination against gay people on an issue that is not strictly the realm of religion, but also secular society, is asinine and irresponsible. Not to mention it smacks of favoritism of the worst kind, based in tradition. If we had respected tradition instead of the law, we’d still have bans against interracial marriages. The next thing to eliminate is the prohibition against granting the rights and the title of marriage to same sex couples, treating them as if they need to be kept in a cage to protect opposite sex couples. Gay marriages certainly don’t threaten most people’s marriages or even the validity of them under law or tradition.

It’s a cliché, but love is love and to sanction this sort of behavior against a certain group of people in love and wanting to commit under this title is unnecessary, but also un-American. I don’t use that term lightly. If America is a place that welcomes those willing to make certain sacrifices, then America as a whole should be willing to make a sacrifice of their own to progress into the 21st century: give up your antiquated ideas of what an ideal family should be and that people should meet up to that. Family is not based on biology, it is based on environment and nurturing from that environment. If I’m raised by my relatives because my birth parents die, they are my parents. If I’m raised by adoptive parents because I was given up by my immediate family, then they are my family. Family is something conservatives value, as is marriage. As I spoke about in “A Conservative Approach To GayMarriage, it is incumbent upon conservatives to appeal to their values instead of their wallets. And to follow those values consistently is to allow gay marriage, even if you personally disagree with homosexuality as a matter of religious values. Politically and legally, gay people do not deserve this treatment. Compared to pedophiles, accused of corrupting children, denied adoption because of that unfounded assumption that they cannot be parents. If you are for following the Constitution, then it is even more imperative that you allow this as a conservative. You are not violating religious freedom when you force the state to recognize a partnership that is not solely the realm of religion. And you are not being constitutional in denying the right to marriage when same sex marriage poses no demonstrable threat to the state’s interests. The right to marry is considered fundamental, so protect is as you also protect religious freedom. Until next time, Namaste and aloha.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Atheism, Architecture and Adoration

I’ve never spoken much about atheism as anything religious, since it certainly isn’t a religion. But this isn’t to say there isn’t a religious quality to atheism in the same way there is for theism, both being a position on the existence of something supernatural. A London author, Alain de Botton, who wrote “Religion for Atheists” suggests that atheists should be able to utilize things that the religious use for other purposes that are spiritual, but nonetheless secular. This is similar in a sense to a position of Andre Comte Sponville, who wrote “The Little Book of Atheist Spirituality,” wherein he claims that atheism can have a spiritual aspect to it in understanding the spiritual to be something we all experience as beings that are able to make judgments and interpretations about the world around us. Botton takes it a step further and affirms that atheism should be able to make a temple in the nominal sense, to represent and give presence to an ideal, such as perspective. Historians of atheism and France might bristle a bit at this idea, since there was something like a religion of reason in France back in the late 18th century. Called the Cult of Reason, it was intended to replace Christianity, but within 2 years of its existence, it was thoroughly repudiated and they were executed, presumably for blasphemy or treason. Botton doesn’t appear to want to create a temple for an atheistic religion, but simply for values that atheists hold dear, almost sacred to the extent that you would want a building to make it very clear. I’m not entirely in support of this, if only for public relations issues, but considering the French context, there is some possible reasoning behind this and something for atheists across the world to consider about what they can utilize from religion in order to make themselves more noticed in the world at large, beyond writings and people.

The main basis of Botton’s plan at the moment is to build a series of so called “temples” in the United Kingdom. Not temples in the sense of worshipping anything, but a place of contemplation. Ironically, this is somewhat the intent of Buddhist temples, contrary to our initial ideas of idolatry or such involving the statues of Buddha that are usually quite prominent. It is not Buddha that Buddhists worship, but Buddha is a prominent figure and an exemplar in the tradition that all adherents aspire to be like. Inside the atheist temple is still a mystery, but the overall design on the outside is supposed to represent the age of the earth, 46 meters tall, each meter symbolizing a million years. The virtue embodied in this structure is that of perspective, something Buddhists have a parallel of sorts with mindfulness. If you do not realize that humans have been on earth for a minute fraction of the time we have evidence of the planet sustaining life for, let alone its physical existence which goes back over a billion years, then perhaps you are focused too much on human achievements without conceding that we are still a young phenomenon in the grand scheme of nature and the universe. This is not to deny the importance of humanity. If humanism is in any sense a result of atheism, then it necessarily follows that we should recognize humanity as something intrinsically valuable, even sacred in a metaphorical sense.

Religious architecture is something many atheists, especially British born ones, such as the late Christopher Hitchens, can appreciate even if they disagree with the sentiments and beliefs that inspired their design. Atheists don’t have to sit by and do nothing; they can build monuments to ideals that all religions and philosophies can find value and agreement on, perspective being one of them. Humanity could be another one in the future. This plan of building atheist “temples” might go differently in America, possibly because of how building permits and taxes are associated with structures designed for worship as opposed to those sponsored for other reasons that don’t fall under the exceptions churches get for tax breaks. Not to mention when you invoke religion without the devotion, people become understandably suspicious. In the U.K. it might be progressing towards a separation from religion and piety, but the two are still connected a great deal in the U.S., so it would be difficult for the American public to conceive of it as anything other than a representation of so called secularist “religion”. There may be a cultural bifurcation between monuments serving a dual religious and secular purpose and houses of worship with a primarily religious purpose, though with Botton’s idea, it is a merging of architecture and art, as done in many churches already, especially with stained glass. It doesn’t need to be called an atheist temple, but perhaps a secular temple, which has a paradoxical ring to it. Secular means of the world in the non sacred sense; profane, which in its oldest sense literally meant outside the temple.

In America, this sort of project might not be well received even by the atheist community, the main justification being that in America, focusing on education through general means instead of lowering yourself to the level of the religious is the preferred method. If you suggest that you need these sorts of objects and practices to justify your skepticism and value of reason as a virtue, you’ve betrayed the separation you maintain from your native religion. Returning to Sponville, a Frenchman like Botton, there is a possibility that even David Silverman, a fairly outspoken and strict atheist himself, would admit there is a personal spiritual side to atheism, though not in the traditional understanding of the term that involves the supernatural. But even Sponville grants that atheism should not be seen as a religion primarily because it does not have rituals, tenets or anything that someone identifying as an atheist is automatically expected to do or believe by other people sharing that label. It’s so unlike Christianity or even Buddhism when you get down to brass tacks, both of which have at least some expectations that would render me something of an anomaly in Buddhist temples anywhere, since outright atheism is somewhat discouraged against as I understand it. Something more like agnosticism seems to be at least the norm, not to mention the potential misunderstandings that can come to Westerners who investigate and participate in the sheer diversity of Buddhist meditation practices, from India to China and Japan especially.

In the long run, the difficulty of advancing the cause of skepticism, secularism and even the destigmatization of the word atheism and its derivatives, is potentially hurt by this project in London; but if done in a particular way by the American atheist population, it might actually present similar ideals, but in a way accessible to a more religious populace. The term temple creates ambiguities, so another term would need to be developed or utilize a pre existing one that reflects the virtue behind this practice of valuing perspective and other secular values without involving worship. More questions than answers yet again with this topic. Until next time, Namaste and aloha