Thursday, October 27, 2005

Not Christian enough!

Let's hear it for the conservative Christian community sinking a fellow fundamentalist Christian believer, er, well, not exactly. Miers may pretend her Christian values are fundamentalist values, but not many folks believe her, except Dr. James Dobson, guru of rightist righteousness who granted his approval, at least in public. Dunno what he said behind Bush/Miers' back. Seems Mr. Bush has now officially lost his party; he proved he'd lost the country despite reelection in '04. Skepticism was rife even among those who decided to reelect him to continue his 'good' work for the nation another 4 years.

This 'religious/moralist' tug-of-war within the GOP and the Christian conservative community is a proof of what Sen. Danforth reaffirmed during his visit to the Clinton Library campus earlier this week. In March, Danforth wrote a guest op-ed essentially lamenting the takeover of the GOP by Christian conservatives. Merely religious all-or-none values threaten an easily fractured populus of free peoples who happen to live in the U.S. Most fundamentalist doctrine I've ever experienced is usually of an all-or-none sensibility and in a nation dependent on compromise, their values at times seem undemocratic and insensitive to other folks' models of right and wrong. Springfield, Nashville, nor the Holy See in the Vatican should be consulted for ideas of democratic values because few church denominations are democratic. Almost all have a hierarchy of some sort responsible for assuring dogmatically correct doctrine is disseminated in the name of their particular faith. Southern Baptists have 'watchdogs' as does the Vatican, the Assemblies of God, and a vast majority of denominations are no different.

Reason should guide our legislators, not emotional hotbuttons. There is a good reason our democracy is not governed merely by majority rule. The Senate was a more insular, deliberative body from inception of our present form of government and only since 1913 have Senators been directly elected by voters. The court exists as another counterweight to mere majority rule. If a mere majority were allowed to rule the U.S., there would be no need for the Senate or the President. A court system would still be necessary under a unicameral authority, but the right to review legislation by the judiciary would be inexistent. All law would proceed through the House and no one else; a fearsome thought in the least.

I once held Christian Dominionist leanings, but I couldn't continue to believe in the all-or-none approach because no human has a monopoly on truth. The more perceivers involved in perception, particularly widely differing assumptions, the better for a republican form of government so truth might be more clearly discerned. If one religious group sees a problem and are asked to solve it, they would likely be woefully inadequate in knowledge and experience unless an entire communities' assumptions and experiences are included within the process of solving the problem. I have no qualms about claims that the U.S. is clearly in the camp of Christendom on values personal and civic. However, we have become a nation of includers, much like the Roman Empire as it spread through the known world. The genius of Rome was in diplomacy where newly conquered free populations had an opportunity to become full Roman citizens. The policy made it possible to limit endless insurrection by granting a stake in Roman culture and dominion to the conquered peoples thereby aiding in the establishment of Pax Romana. That philosophical sympathy allowed our nation to become vital through immigration of folks whose values and religious doctrines and faiths aren't necessarily compatible with more dominant ideas of correctness. Political correctness might have been a phrase coined by socialists, but the idea of correctness has been around our nation especially exposed in fundamentalist domination of the religious values debate. The values are less civic and more overbearingly personal. Civic values were described as crucial to the survival of a republican form of government, as Aristotle would advise. These deeply personal values imposed as civic values often lead to bad feeling and a victimization argument for political dialogue which in other parts of the world, particularly the past 5 years, leads to rationalization of bloodshed, even that of innocent non-combatants.

When it comes to the hereafter, the ultimate decision as to how happiness can be achieved should remain deeply personal. Miers sinking by the Christian right is proof of the need to divide religious prejudices from the act of governing 270 million people who don't all share the same experiences, education, or assumptions about the world. One group should not totally steamroll another, establishing a new form of political/religious correctness with a more sinister aim and result. LaHaye and other Christian Dominionists do not have the best interest at heart for a democratic nation. I'm certain they believe they do, but once we have a theocracy, the religious hierarchy may as well start growing beards and wearing turbans (no offense to Muslim American citizens) and fixing elections according the the will of the Supreme Council of Religious Doctrine because that is the type of arrangement we'll all suffer. I am no fonder of Christian theocracy than I am of the Islamic counterpart. Theocracy ultimately failed our culture because the small-minded need to suppress heresy had undermined more important issues of governance for an emerging modernizing Europe.

In historical experience, all-or-none philosophy has led to the deaths of millions and its accompanying destruction. Let's not make the mistake of becoming overly dogmatic in our relgious sentiments in our civic lives or it won't matter a damn whether we 'win' this War on Terror. We'll have self-destroyed our tolerant way of life. Compared to most of the world, we are by far the most tolerant nation on earth. We allow all sorts of believers across our borders legally and we're still the haven for the oppressed of earth. I like who we are now and I hope we don't contribute to the problem in our daily civic lives and create destruction where there is beauty. Fundamentalist Christians are in the process of defining the politically/religiously 'damned' and we all should take note of this ugly situation brewing over the Miers nomination and take steps to avoid catastrophe. Miers should never have been nominated, but the reason and the way she was booted from contention should sound the alarm that religious dogma has pushed too far this time. Forced consensus has traditionally blinded the majority from correct action; let's reach consensus through reasoned debate for once, instead of reaching the correct answer to the world's problems through bullying others to accept a political viewpoint. Miers convictions and predilection have been judged by the 'righteous rightists' and she is damned as unorthodox and unacceptable. Not Christian enough!!!!!!!!

Tuesday, October 11, 2005


I was reading some of my unread opinion pages from a week ago and I noticed Mike Masterson's Musings in Philosophy column and it dawned on me that everyone shares some of the same musings about the world and our contribution to the species' existence. It's easy to think small as we don't have the greatest perspective ambling about the earth's surface, a speck in the cosmos as Carl Sagan might say if he were alive today. Ah, there's that concept: Coming to be and passing away. We all emerge from a seed, becoming the physical specimen our genes plan with the material at its disposal. Then, the life cycle comes to end and our bodies retreat to dust.

Most people my age know a number of folks who have died. Family are here, then gone in a wisp. I have lost beloved relatives in my short life, though my parents still live, unlike Mike Masterson. We have our memories and we have our being. We certainly don't own our memories or our being. Memories are determined most times by things beyond our control, as is our being. We have, then we don't have. Control is illusory at best. Lacking control, many folks look to their religious faith for a degree of control, but sometimes, that illusory control becomes an endangering influence on how we behave towards other people. The reason our Founding Fathers worked to limit the influence of formal religion in government, based on Europe's struggles among fellow 'Christians', was to prevent bloodshed among Christians. The control aspect of faith is control over one's hereafter based on prescribed behavior and manners of repentance for sins past, present, and future is appealing to we, the condemned. Everyone dies. Everyone, except some mentally challenged folks, know it. So, having discovered a truth about how to achieve eternal life, the instinct to condemn others for not following one's prescription for salvation takes effect. Then, those who don't follow one's prescription should be condemned to promote one's personal prescription granting legitimacy to their faith. These sorts of judgments are certainly counterproductive to the smooth operation of a pluralist society.

I grew up in a small town in E. Arkansas and I remember how my church 'family' condemned other denominations, while other denominations took turns condemning my fellow believers and me. In such a fragile existence, perhaps a dose of courage and belief in human goodness can help overcome these particular condemnations which act to preserve one's own prescribed path to Heaven. We all have our being; we all lose our being (for all we know empirically). Faith is essential in the view of many to the smooth operation of the world because those of faith certainly don't trust those without faith because of a fear of differing assumptions. Some religious people certainly hold some presuppostions which scare the hell out of a rank-and-file believer in America. I've heard a person rationalize a hatred of atheists because he "don't trust a man who don't believe in God." It seems like a really dumb thing to say, but it's an honest assessment of a differing metaphysical view. For that matter, when a person I've just met immediately shares his/her faith, I take that as a disarming mechanism that cues me to beware of this person. This person wants to get me off-guard in order to exploit me.

Life is fragile, yet many act as if you get another one. Life is simple, yet many want to make it a hell of a lot more complex than it should be--perhaps I'm guilty of this, but examining my own views routinely seems like an essential function. I'm not the same person I was 20 years ago; not the same person as ten years ago; and definitely not the same person I was 5 years ago. If I was, I'd be failing myself. No one has all the answers. Everyone has something to learn which would improve one's life if the effort was made. The troubling tone of American politics today is nothing new. Demagoguery is nothing new. Common compassion for others is nothing new either. Read the Gospels of Christ and tell me where hatred has a place in the Christ's conception of correct action. Judgment is not part of his equation either. Listen to the fundamentalist demagoguery of today and I hear nothing of the Christ in their rhetoric. Love gets lip service and not much else. People have forgotten how to love without expectation of returned benefits. The Christ taught to love those who hate you. If we had a degree of love for humankind, these torture incidences wouldn't have occurred. Folks who held these captives under their power treated these people as means to an end and not as fellow mortal human beings. I'm not saying that all torture in the heat of battle is 100% immoral. However, the scope of the behavior is tragic. Shipping folks to countries where torture is acceptable in order to avoid legal prohibitions in nations where it's not is immoral. If we are to break the cycle of violence in Iraq or Afghanistan, contributing to the problem is NO solution.

We all love our families. Most of us miss our relatives who have passed away, largely in the peaceful confines of our borders. Extend the same idea to those whom we are fighting in these wars and perhaps our investment of American lives and resources will not have been for nought. Treat the people of these nations as ends-in-themselves and perhaps our Christian heritage of compassion and love for our fellow mortals will have a positive effect on the world. It sounds naive, but if this indeed a war of faith, then let's show the Islamic world our faith is more suitable for the preservation of civility among we humans. Islam has contributed to the world in peaceful ways--our knowledge of Aristotle's writings, for instance, are due to Islamic scholars translating Greek texts into Arabic and later, Latin translations appeared and allowed scholarship to be revived in Europe after the fall of the Romans. Yes, I know that the hardcore al-Qaeda types are in need of physical coercion to stop murdering fellow humans who don't share their reactionary version of proper Islamic belief and action. There are ways of stemming the tide of converts to Wahhabism and becoming like them won't help this cause. We can't kill every al-Qaeda or other Islamic terrorist; we must begin to persuade those who will to find a political solution eschewing bloodshed. Historically, suppression of these sorts of movements involves an approach that isn't wholly violent. Violence ever leads to further violence; a pragmatic approach is a necessity.

We are all condemned by our very nature and the awareness of the fact leads humanity to all sorts of elixirs for our common fate. The singular human life should be the foundation of an effective universal ethic, not a particular religious dogma because there will always be an apostate around to rise up and say some people's lives are not worth preserving because God or Allah or any other deity has spoken to him/her. Who is to say David Koresh didn't hear God speaking to him or George W. Bush or Pat Robertson or your good friend at church? It's best to take the foundation out the theoretic realm and ground it in the inherent value of the singular human life. Utilitarianism is the valuation of a human life based on the needs of the group. Utilitarianism is repugnant to most fundamentalist Christians I know. Religious nutjobs like Koresh are always going to be among us, so let's take the grounding away from revelation and place it in the individual. Is this an UnAmerican view? I hope not for all our sakes. We all have our being for a short time and should act as if it matters that we don't contribute needlessly to the end of being or the diminution of being, which ,according to doctors of the Church who influence Catholic AND Protestant doctrines, is the nature of evil. Evil doesn't coexist with good; it diminishes being. At least that's how the Church combated the Manachean 'heresy'. That and good old-fashioned physical coercion; the prescription of the 16th and 17th century Christians against other Christians and it was a failed prescription then as it is now.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Nutrition and a way of life

Last night, on one of my favorite news programs Nightline, the discussion was about the schools in England and the progressive descent into obesity for children over the past 20 years. 20 years ago, private contractors were considered the most cost-effective approach to providing food for school children. England's childhood obesity rate rivals America's and Jamie Oliver, the famed "Naked Chef", was hired to consult and create a healthier cuisine for school children. Hamburgers and french fries were the staple and children had no idea what vegetables were. The education has begun, but all of England is yet to experience what Jon Donvan described as a 'revolution'.

In our state, Huckabee has been promoting the same good sense and revolutionary change in the diets of our fat children. He overcame obesity and diabetes to the healthy life. He finally caved on the junk food issue, but that isn't where the battle ends. The body-mass-index instituted as a rating for school children where their parents can begin to accept healthy eating at home. As a child growing up in E. Arkansas, the family staples were beans, cornbread, mashed potatoes, and gravy. Always, some meat would be added to the table and perhaps another vegetable like green beans, fried okra, or fried squash, or fried zucchini would be added. We would eat biscuits, gravy, eggs, sausage, or bacon some nights. Practically everything we ate was starchy or greasy. Much needs to be learned in Arkansas because my family's staples were the staples of many other children I knew growing up.

My saving grace was athletics. I participated in baseball, track, or football until I was in my 20's. Today, cycling (off-r0ad and trail) is my primary activity. During the rainy season, I love paddle-sports, but still cycle. It keeps the weight off and I've changed my diet to include all sorts of fruits and vegetables exceeding the prescribed minimums and I am able to improve my diet with thrift(no excuses about how expensive fruits and vegetables are). I still love the old Southern staples, but I've taught myself not to indulge on a daily basis. Teaching a way of life is crucial to overcoming the dangerous nutritional trends of junk food and the cuisine of our region. New Orleans cooking is the best I've ever eaten, but if I ate that wonderful Cajun, Creole, Southern cuisine regularly, my body would be much fatter. The public schools are the first line of defense against dreadfully fattening cuisine, since most children attend public schools. Hopefully, many of the religious schools and other private schools get the same message and begin preparing children for healthy lifestyles and healthy eating.

I am pleased by the trend in Arkansas schools. Our children DESERVE the best possible education and healthy eating and exercise prepare the mind to learn and allow more attention to be paid and more effort expended to learn. If we fail our children in the schools, we've failed them for a lifetime. I hope the momentum of school reforms continues after the guv bids farewell to the office. Beebe, Asa(!), or Halter MUST continue the good work in Arkansas for the sake of our future and teaching children good habits might spread to the adults we've failed in the past and promote good for all. This is NO political debate; it's a human welfare debate.