An Exciting Week Ahead.

This is the week gay marriage will be argued in front of the Supreme Court. To both those who want it approved and those who do not, it is a time to see how the respective arguments appeal to the Justices.

Iowa’s Representative Steve King does not want the case argued, perhaps guessing his anti gay marriage groups will lose. He will try to pass a bill on Monday preventing the hearing scheduled for Tuesday.

The problem for gay marriage opponents from the beginning has been they don’t have a good argument against it. Yes, we know they don’t like it, but they have no argument about the public good to prohibit gay marriage. They try to make the case it is bad for children and/or the purpose of marriage is to have children. Both of these arguments are easily disposed of.

There is one issue anti gay marriage has that might prevail. It is that legalizing gay marriage should be left to the states. I’ve read the court might rule that states can refuse to legalize gay marriage licenses but will be required to recognize gay marriages performed in states where it is legal. North Dakota would be required to treat the marriages performed in Minnesota as equal in standing with heterosexual marriages.

Gay marriage opponents remind me of Gov. George Wallace’s famous speech where he said, “Segregation now. Segregation forever.” Religion was used to justify segregation. It is used to justify banning gay marriage.

Time erased the former. Time is the enemy of the latter.

[A link discussing this issue appears in comments.]

A Presidential Election and Referendum on Abortion.

The attacks on Hillary Clinton’s remark about abortion has set off a fire storm by some Republican opponents.  Paraphrasing what she said would be, “Religious views need to accommodate access to reproductive services including abortion.”

Republican candidate Bobby Jindal said, “That’s crazy talk.” He said the country cannot change its religious beliefs.

We need to notice that Republicans want to talk about the two Clintons’ character. It would reflect the ultimate political skill if Hillary forced them to talk about something they would prefer to skip, religion. Guiding the election into a referendum on abortion would divide voters sharply.

We have had referendums on abortion in some states. These were in states where anti abortion zealots were confident they could win. There was one in nearby South Dakota where anti abortionists were defeated.

I’m quite certain Wall Street Republicans do not want a Presidential election that centers on abortion. They may not have a choice. In fact, if Clinton pushes the election toward this very topic Republicans will be on the defensive and have to respond.

The thing about pushing abortion into the election is that it, to a degree, ends the debate. In South Dakota, anti abortionists now have to admit  they are not in the majority. While picking away at the edges of abortion rights has done quite well for those opposed, straight on challenges has not.

The national religious-based on gay marriage is all but over. It may be the time to drive the politics of abortion to some ultimate conclusion.

[A link related to this topic appears in comments.]

How Many Christian Candidates Can Get in the Clown Car?

Another U. S. Presidential election season is here. It is a time when several candidates say they are more Christian than the others. It’s when lots of voters say this or that candidate is not Christian enough for “me”.

Why do so many U. S. voters think the job of the President is to pray?  The job of the President is to make sure voters can pray if they wish. It would be great, too, if a candidate would say it is OK if no one prays.

One can see why talking about Jesus is a win win for candidates. About a third of the electorate thinks Jesus is a legitimate topic so there are some votes there.

Also, it is an opportunity to avoid talking about issues where there is win/lose among the voters. There are voters who want the government to do more and voters who want government to do less. The candidate can avoid taking sides by talking about Jesus.

Obama eventually came to understand the truth about talking up religion. He chided other democrats eight years ago for not talking enough about it. He thought he was being both honest and politically smart by telling about his faith.

He learned his black church was not really a Christian one. Then he learned his pastor was out to make a buck on Obama’s name.

In time, other politicians may learn their Christianity is just not up to the standards of anyone but themselves.

[A link discussing this is found in comments.]

The Oldest Debate, Is Religion a Force for Good or Evil?

This is an argument without an end. Any group’s religion must be put into its historical, institutional and cultural setting. Determining which of its good or bad traits can be attributed to a society’s religion is hard to separate out.

Plenty of people continue to try to sort this all out. Of course, the current world focus is on the TV images of self identified Muslims beheading people. It is popular to conclude Islam is more a force for evil than for good.

Christianity, we all know, has been assigned its share of evil deeds. The crusades and other invasions in the name of the faith are not its proudest moments.

The different ways Islam and Christianity are practiced across the globe reflect the many cultures. I don’t think we can find an example of a peaceful society that changed to being war like by the introduction of either faith. Neither can we find a violent society that became peaceful after it found one religion or another. Cultures give rise to religions, not the other way around.

If there are deeds we could call evil that are attributed to religions, there is a pattern of cause and effect that looks promising to investigate. It is accountable clergy.  That is, when clergy are at their most powerful position they seem to commit the most heinous acts.

Today powerful clergy have a role in beheadings by Muslims. Everyone knows the stories of sexual exploitation by popular and powerful preachers and priests.


Religious Liberty Silliness Will End.

Today I read one of the best articles ever about “religious liberty.” It spelled out the only possible long-term conclusion to this issue.

It points out that the term, “violates sincerely held beliefs”, has become unworkable. Way back when beliefs could be defined in church documents. Our pluralistic society has made that obsolete.

Instead of ‘sincerely held beliefs,” the standard must look to how close one is to an objectionable act. If, for example, someone has a religious objection to the death penalty, a reasonable system might well exclude him from strapping in and flipping the execution switch. The current religious liberty standard, however, allows the person selling the electrical switch to be excused from his job to hand over the switch and take the money. Or, maybe a utility employee can refuse to processes the money that paid for the electricity.

Selling a wedding cake or flowers for a gay wedding is different than performing the wedding. The cake and the flowers are like selling the switch for the execution chair, remote and removed from the “sin”.

The same is true for the Catholic Church business employees and birth control medicine. If the church does not administer the medicine, or even pay for it, it cannot necessarily excuse itself from informing employees about where buy it.

Ironically, the Catholic Church endorses a view called “cooperation with evil.” This teaches tolerance for deeds that might lead to but are not directly “sin” when there are complicated circumstances.

Eventually, this country will get religious liberty right.

[A link to this topic appears in comments.]

Do Religious Conservatives Cause Republicans to Win or Lose?

Presidential elections reflect to a large degree majority thinking in the U. S. I realize the winner does not always receive the majority of votes, but still it’s the closest thing we have for a reflection of the majority.

It is here Republicans have a least a little more trouble than Democrats. My own view of these elections is that Republicans toss in more church than the majority of voters can stomach. Religion shows up in the Party’s platform and what Presidential candidates advocate. Most recently this has been opposition to abortion and gay marriage.

It turns out there is now statistical evidence religion hurts the chances of GOP Presidential candidates. The link author found that conservative Christians are turning out in ever increasing numbers. More of them voted for Mormon Mitt Romney than voted for George W. Bush.

But, the more GOP candidates pander to this “base”, the more poorly they do with other voters. Romney was defeated by these “other voters.” There is just not evidence that if Christian conservatives “really turn out the vote” their candidate will win. They are already turning out the vote and their candidates lost to Obama and Clinton.

A winning platform for a Republican would be, “I’m for raising taxes if the benefits are a lot bigger than the cost to taxpayers, my religion is none of your business and I have a conservative position on gay marriage and abortion–the government should stay out. Thank you for your support.”

[More about this data can be found in the link posted in comments.]

The Pope and Hillary are on the Same Page.

I read a couple of articles today that made me think of two similar people.

One was an article which speculated on the Pope’s upcoming encyclical dealing with global warming. Apparently, the thinking is that he will endorse the evidence of human influence on global warming and all the political and economic implications of reducing it. Clergy down the chain of command are preparing documents of their own on how the respond and promote the Pope’s mission to reduce man made carbon emissions. I think it would not be an overstatement to say this will be big.

Then, I happened to read “5 Things About Hillary Clinton’s Religion.” While it did not mention global warming, it traced what is known about Hillary’s life long religious passions. It quoted from a document used by Methodist youth groups when she was a teenager: Do all the good you can by all the means you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can as long as ever you can.

Clinton has been working her entire adult life on behalf of women and children. The mission from the religious source may well be seen by her in the same way the Pope sees his religious mission to do good on the largest scale possible.

Though I’ve met Hillary, I actually know little about rattles around in her head or in the Pope’s head. It looks from this distance that they are very similar and would do business well together.

[There are two links, one in each comment.]

I Hope I Haven’t Made This Mistake.

I have repeated here the assertion religious beliefs are not autonomous phenomena. They are, instead, a reflection of the cultural values we were born into and navigate all of our lives.

There is a common thread, especially among nonbelievers, that religion is a source of evil. I’ve written so many blogs and comments involving been in so many discussions I can’t remember all of them but I hope I have not said religion, per se, is the source of evil.

Since religion is a reflection of the culture it was born in, it is the culture itself which gives birth to despicable values and deeds. We see just now Muslim’s cutting off heads in some countries and other Muslims condemning it elsewhere. We see Christians in on the African continent advocating death for homosexuals but Christians elsewhere condemning this.

Thus, while religion per se is not “the problem”, it is not the solution either. Atheism per se is not a solution either. Cultures are the problem and the solution, if there is one, lies there.

As the link says, there is not “Christianity”, “Islam” and “Judaism”. There are Christians, Muslims and Jews. The countless branches in each represent cultural variations that happened to fall into one branch or another of religion.

Every group in the world thinks it’s destiny is to lead the world. The nearest religion is used to justify each group’s superiority.

If we changed the religious name on the door of ISIS, the same people would be inside.

[A link discussing this topic is found in comments.]

How to Get Rich, Make a Non Religious Case for Christianity.

PT Barnum is quoted as saying, “A sucker is born every minute.” He denied ever saying that. .

There seems a bottomless market for this idea:  “Christianity can be proven without magical thinking. You just have to be trained on how to do it. My book (and paid speeches) will give you just that.”

This trick has been in anti abortion politics. It is the argument there an absolute prebirth time when a human being exists that is separate from religion. Not mentioned is that the moment varies all over the place at one point in history and changes over time.

I recently debated a man named Ryan T. Anderson in Fargo.  He makes a living writing and speaking on the notion there is a case against gay marriage that has nothing to do with religion. Just by coincidence, the civic argument is identical to the one made in religion, that the purpose of marriage is to have children.

Another slick operator is named Nancy Pearcey. She writes books and give speeches on the phony idea that there is a nonreligious proof of a creator. In a previous time she was a young earther, arguing that people and dinosaurs lived at the same time.

Then she morphed into intelligent design. Now, she seems to not use the term intelligent design but says she “equips” young people with the intellectual arguments to defeat nonbelievers. The “intellectual arguments” are nothing but disguised intelligent design.

Why not prosper yourself by making up your own nonreligious religious argument?

[An article on the topic can be linked in comments.]

David Brooks on Our “ME” Culture.

Syndicated columnist David Brooks, conservative and religious, has been writing a lot of introspective material lately.

In a NYT column today he gives his analysis of pop culture. He thinks he knows the point in time when a narcissism took over. The religious right often points to the 1960’s as the time when “selfless” WWII values were replaced by self.

Brooks thinks it happened just after WWII. He says that was when ads focusing on self began to appear. Whiter teeth, better shampoo and closer shaves meant you would be more successful in romance and work.

Atheists and believers accuse each other of narcissism. I doubt there is any amount of debate that would reach a successful consensus of who has more and who has less.

There are some simple observations, however. One is that portions of ancient societies saw the individual as unimportant. It was the tribe or nation not the individual that was important. That thinking still dominates parts of the world.

In the United States, our bill of rights focuses on the rights of individuals, not groups. What could better set the table for focus on self.

The dominant religion, Christianity, also focuses on the importance of self to the divine. That the individual is known personally to the divine adds in the self importance each person feels.

To me, it seems like focus on self goes back much further than post WWII. It was here from day one in our religion and founding documents.

[A link to David Brooks article is in “comments”]