Thursday, August 30, 2012

Random Reactions to the RNC

As the election season rolls on I become more jaded. I am troubled most by the absence of truth in our politics. Facts don’t matter in America anymore. Truth doesn’t matter in America any more.  Maybe it never did, but as Romney pollster Neil Newhouse put is, “We’re not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact-checkers.” F the truth.

How did this happen to us? Let me suggest one explanation. In our quest to raise the self-esteem of our kids we stopped challenging them to be accurate and informed by facts, and started rewarding them for opinionated. Facts became irrelevant, and critical thinking was sacrificed on the alter of an open mindedness that soon became empty headedness. People are going to vote based on half-truths and outright lies. What kind of government will that give us? The one we deserve.

* * *

Congressman Ryan believes that our rights come from God and Nature and not government. Really? He then said “This idea is founded on the principles of liberty, freedom, free enterprise, self-determination and government by consent of the governed.”  You can’t have it both ways. If the idea that rights come from God and Nature is founded on principles other than God and Nature, our rights do not come from God and Nature. But even if they did, nowhere in Nature do we find the principles of liberty, free, free enterprise, self-determination and government by consent of the governed. And nowhere in the Bible (from which the Congressman gets his idea of God) do we find the principles of liberty, freedom, free enterprise, self-determination and government by consent of the governed.

These ideas come from the 18th century and were in opposition to the oppressive religion of its time. Today we have linked them to the religious tyrannies of the past in order to blind people to the coming religious tyrannies of the near future. 

* * *

If you want to see where the United States is headed watch Copper on BBC America.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Could American Jews Survive Without Israel?

I just read an excerpt from Daniel Gordis’ upcoming book, “Why the Future of American Jewry Depends on the Survival of Israel”. In the article he explains that, like it or not, we American Jews would suffer terribly if Israel were destroyed. I happen to agree, but think things are far more dangerous than Dr. Gordis admits.

First, let me put my cards on the table: I am a Zionist. I believe every people deserves homeland, and Israel is the homeland of the Jews. I also support Palestine as the homeland for Palestinians, and Tibet as the homeland for Tibetans, etc. My Zionism, however, doesn’t cause me to support any specific Israeli government or set of policies. I am an American first and foremost, and long for an Israel that is at least as democratic as we used to be, and far less theocratic than many of my fellow citizens want us to be.

That said, what bothers me about Dr. Gordis’ claim is that it posits the destruction of Israel as if that could happen in a vacuum. It can’t and it won’t. Here are just three possible scenarios that would include the destruction of Israel but have ramifications far beyond Israel alone:

1.     If Israel thought she was going to be destroyed she would use the nuclear option and turn the Middle East into a wasteland. The death of millions would ensue, and we Jews would go down in history as mass murderers. As radioactive fallout blew toward the United States, gas and oil prices would rise far beyond the purchasing power of most Americans. Our economy would crash and we would blame it all on the Jews. Every Jew in any position of power or influence would be fired or voted out of office, and we Jews would become anathema to America. We would have to leave, but there would be nowhere for us to go.

2.     If it looked like Israel will be destroyed America would come to Israel’s aid militarily. This would spark WW III pitting NATO against Russia, China, Iran, and many if not all Muslim nations. The chances of this war going nuclear would be extremely high, and Jews would be blamed for the deaths of hundreds of millions of people. The economies of every nation would crumble, and American Jews (all Jews really, but we are talking about American Jews) would become a pariah people. We would have to leave, but there would be nowhere for us to go.

3.      If it looked like Israel will be destroyed and America did not come to Israel’s aid, American Jews would clamor for intervention, fail, and suddenly find themselves as second class citizens at best or anathema to America at worst. If America was once again willing to deem the deaths of millions of Jews as tangential to its national interest, American Jews would have to leave, but there would be nowhere for us to go.

These are just three possibilities, and I invite you to offer others. 

Monday, August 20, 2012

My Akin Heart

As almost all of you know, during an interview on a St. Louis TV station, Rep. Todd Akin said that during a “legitimate rape” woman’s bodies somehow compensate for the attack and protect the woman from getting pregnant. The implication is that woman who do get pregnant and claim rape are lying about being legitimately raped.

Rep. Akin is grievously wrong on this, make no mistake about that. But he is not ignorant as so many TV pundits are claiming, nor did he “misspeak” as the Representative himself is claiming. He spoke the truth as he knew it; the “truth” that is being taught our children in many abstinence only sex ed programs.

I have heard on numerous occasions from women who have been educated in abstinence only programs that they were taught exactly what Rep. Akin affirmed: woman cannot get pregnant if raped.

It isn’t that Rep. Akin is ignorant, it is that the education he received in this regard is patently false. This is greater than one Tea Party backed politician spewing ignorance, this is about a well funded, politically backed, and quite popular educational program in our schools (and our home schooling movements) promoting blatant falsehoods.

If all we do is focus on Rep. Akin and ignore the greater tragedy that is sex education in this country, we are doing our children and ourselves a grave disservice.

To find our how insidious this kind of thinking is, please read Ezra Klein's excellent article in the Washington Post:

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

God Always Answers Our Prayers

God always answers our prayers. Sometimes the answer is “no.” You’ve probably heard this said dozens if not hundreds of times. It’s God’s “Get Out of Jail Free” card. In other words, no matter what you get in response to what you pray for, you can say God answered your prayers, and your faith in God is maintained.
In his new book The Ultimate Conversation Charles Stanley writes that while God always answers our prayers God may not do so in the way we expect. Case in point Stanley says is the Jews and the coming of Christ. Two thousand years ago the Jews prayed for a military redeemer who would overthrow the Romans and liberate the Jews. What they got was the Prince of Peace and almost 2000 years of Jewish persecution at the hands of his church. Talk about not getting what you want!
But why stop with the Jews? If God’s answer to prayer can be the exact opposite of the prayer itself, why can’t it be that when Christians prayed for the return of Jesus, God sent them Mohammed instead? If God can supplement the Hebrew Bible with the New Testament, why can’t God supplement the New Testament with the Qur’an? Or, to be more blunt, why is it that God can mess with the Jews but not the Christians?
It seems to me that prayer is simply an expression of egoic desire: we pray to get what we want and avoid what we don’t want. Because we don’t always get what we want and yet cannot give up on the idea that we could get what we want we invent the notion that God always answers our prayers but not necessarily by giving us what we want.
This reminds me of a guy I met at a gas station yesterday. He was buying lottery tickets. By the looks of him he had been hit hard by the economy. I asked him if he had ever won any lottery money. He said he hadn’t. I asked him why he continued to spend money on lottery tickets. He said he didn’t want to give up on the dream. Maybe he should pray a little as well.

Monday, August 06, 2012

Free Pray State

Missourians vote tomorrow to save prayer in the public square. A proposed amendment to the state’s constitution would protect a person’s right to pray in public, and would allow students to opt out of any assignment or learning experience that violates their religious teachings.  A recent poll suggests the amendment will pass by a huge margin, and I say more power to ‘em. It’s about time that Missouri’s 80% Christian majority stand up to the overwhelming 20% who have been forcing them into the closet for years. St. Louis alone has only 3700 churches; my God the city is almost as church free as Saudi Arabia!
Of course the amendment doesn’t limit this freedom to Christians alone, so people of false faiths can pray to their false gods as well, but this can be corrected with an amendment to the amendment which I expect will probably be filed in a year or so. In the meantime it is springtime for theists. I want to see Buddhists, Hindus, Jews, Muslims, Rastafarians, Mormon, Catholics, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Scientologists, Moonies, and devotees of the Flying Spaghetti Monster as well as oppressed Protestants praying all over the state. The more the merrier.
As for students opting out of learning on religious grounds, this can only bode well for the state’s educational ranking. For example, if you believe the earth to be only 10,000 years old you can opt out of most science classes. And if you believe that evolution is the Devil’s lie you can opt out of the rest. So the only students who will take science courses will be kids who like science, and that can only improve the states ratings on nationwide science evaluations.
Similarly in English classes if students can skip any readings that might not support their particular faith. For some the only book they will read is the Bible. Again this can only improve the state’s English ranking as students who don’t do well in English will drop out and focus on reading Mark rather than Mark Twain.
Good for you, Missouri. The “show me” is going to show the rest of us just what a free pray state is about I can’t wait.

Sunday, August 05, 2012

Let the Competition Begin

People attending the new Islamic Center of Murfreesboro will have to pass by thirteen crosses erected by the neighboring Grace Baptist Church. According to the local paper (Daily News Journal) three of the crosses, including the tallest one, stand for the Trinity, and the other ten represent the Great Commission given to the apostles by the resurrected Christ to evangelize the world (Matthew 28: 18-20).
While there is no equivalent statement in Islam, there should be no doubt that Islam, too, is a missionary faith. And while most Muslims and Christians probably play down the fact, missionizing the world is what both religions are about. Historically both have done so by the sword, though today (with some exceptions) persuasion is the preferred method of conversion.
What we have brewing in Murfressboro is a classic contest between two competing faiths. While many may find the crosses an affront to Islam, and while some within the Grace Baptist Church may even intend them to be such, the fact is we may be in for a good ol’ American advertising war. Think of it as the religious equivalent of the great department store wars between Macy’s and Gimbels in New York City. While Gimbels never had a huge nationwide presence, the publicity generated by its rivalry with Macy’s raised its status far more than the store could have done on its own. Given that we are talking about a mosque in Murfreesboro rather than a church in Istanbul, I would link the Islamic Center to Gimbels. The more Grace Baptist trumpets Christianity over Islam, the more interesting and enticing Islam may become for people in the ‘Boro.
An honest and passionate religious rivalry is good for both faiths. Each should put its best foot forward and make their case for why they are right and where the other is wrong. We can learn a lot about each religion from this. All I ask is that we do not allow a potentially educational and very American rivalry between “Macy’s” and “Gimbles” to devolve into a violent yet no less American feud between Hatfields and McCoys.  

Wednesday, August 01, 2012


Chick-fil-A president Dan Cathy supports traditional Bible family values, and because he does many have condemned him and his company as being anti-homosexual and anti-marriage equality. And because many think this way Boston Mayor Thomas Menino has suggested that Chick-fil-A be banned in Boston. We have come a long way in America. I’m just not sure which way that is.
Let me put my cards on the table: First, I’m a vegetarian, and while I suspect the lives of the chickens whose corpses end up being served at Chick-fil-A are unhappy ones, I am not one to ban restaurants simply because the food served there is the result of brutal abuse.
Second I am against Boston banning things. The reason for this is more historical than political. I’m from Springfield, MA, and the first book to be banned in Boston was a 1651 criticism of Puritanism written by William Pynchon, the founder of my fair city. Mr. Pynchon fled back to England to avoid the pressure coming his way from Boston, and his doing so almost caused Springfield to align itself with nearby Connecticut, which would have led to my being born in Connecticut, which is something I find appalling, although for no apparent reason.
Third, I respect and do my best to live by Bronze Age biblical food values. I don’t eat pig, lobster, shrimp, or any of the other abominations God created for us not to eat. So I am not anti-Bible by any means. In fact I’m pro biblical family values as well.
The Bible is clearly in favor of unwed couples living together and even having children. The Hebrew Bible never says Adam and Eve were married, nor—cowardly English translations aside—does the Hebrew ever call them husband and wife. Polygamy too is fine: Abraham had two wives, Jacob had two wives and two concubines, and King Solomon had 700 wives. So let Utah be Utah! Nor does the Bible condemn Eve for giving birth to her own grandchildren via her sons (there were no other women back then), or Lot’s daughters having kids by their father because they were too lazy to walk to the next town and find some guys hanging out around a well. And then there is Lot himself offering his daughters to be gang raped by the men of Sodom, Abraham twice pimping his first wife to Pharaoh, and the option to “marry” women carried away as war booty. None of this is counter to the Bible’s family values, so, hey, what’s not to like?
If we are going to complain about people violating biblical values let’s start with St. Paul who condemns lesbians when the Bible (his Bible!) only condemns gay men. Which brings me back to Dan Cathy and Chick-fil-A.
If you are going to live your life by the mores of Bronze Age literature, Mr. Cathy, you can’t do much better than the Bible. All I ask is that you abide by the actual values themselves, and not your own inventions.
And please, Mayor Menino, don’t ban Chick-fil-A. You just might cause a mass emigration to Connecticut.