Saturday, August 14, 2010

The muezzin was a-standin’ on the radiator grill

Before I get to my main topic, I wanted to mention the quote I put up the other day.

Secular schools can never be tolerated because such schools have no religious instruction, and a general moral instruction without a religious foundation is built on air; consequently, all character training and religion must be derived from faith . . . we need believing people.

I want to wait a little longer before I write about it, because I'm curious to see how many people agree with this point of view, and to see if I get any more guesses on who said it. I'm sure you already know how I feel; I believe that religious instruction has no place in public schools. I'll write more about that in a couple of days.

Mosque Now, let's get to it, shall we? I wrote about the Ground Zero community center over two months ago, but it is once again very much in the news.

First, please note that I did not call it the "Ground Zero mosque," which is usually how it is being referred to. It is a community center with one room to be designated as a prayer room, if I understand correctly.

Second, it is not being built right on Ground Zero. It is two or three blocks away, with plenty of intervening buildings—very TALL buildings...have you been to New York?—so it's not like it's going to be in the face of anyone who visits Ground Zero.

Okay, I got those pertinent points out of the way. I think they are important, because they seem to be being ignored by many at the moment.

New York City's Mayor Bloomberg has already stated in a speech that he supports the project on the basis of religious tolerance. A group of forty religious leaders (including Catholics, evangelicals, Jews, and Muslims) released a statement condemning the "inflammatory statements" of people like Newt Gingrich, Sarah Palin, and FoxNews. They called for civil dialogue and the upholding of our treasured diversity and high ideals as a country. The story garnering the most attention at the moment is President Obama's speech at a Friday night dinner in observance of Ramadan, in which he stated:

Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as everyone else in this country.

That includes the right to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in lower Manhattan, in accordance with local laws and ordinances. This is America, and our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakable.

Of course, he was attacked for saying such a thing, he cares nothing about the victims or their families, he sympathizes with Muslims, he IS a Muslim, blahbitty blah blah blah. On Saturday, he said this about his comments:

I was not commenting and I will not comment on the wisdom of making a decision to put a mosque there. I was commenting very specifically on the right that people have that dates back to our founding. My intention was simply to let people know what I thought. Which was that in this country we treat everybody equally and in accordance with the law, regardless of race, regardless of religion.

In accordance with the law. That is a very key phrase, and I think we need to keep it in mind. As a friend in New York put it, they value their diversity and treasure it; so should we all. I also get the impression that New Yorkers are becoming a little weary of everyone weighing in on this drama taking place in their city. I understand that, but I think they also understand that all of us own a bit of Ground Zero. Most of us weren't there on that day, but you know that we were all with you in spirit. So we can't help but get ourselves into a dither about this!

Anyway, I truly believe that those who oppose this (and I understand that the majority do--I'm in the minority on this one) are looking at this on a purely emotional level. Yes, of course I get emotional when I think of that day. However, I also believe that it is of the utmost importance that we preserve our constitutional liberties and guarantees of the right to worship or not worship as every individual sees fit. It's what we were founded upon, folks, and that is very much worth preserving. As I stated a couple of months ago, I would prefer that no place of worship be built there. Frankly, I'd rather see a library or school where people could educate themselves rather than another indoctrination center. I also think it's important to keep in mind that those who perpetrated this act were extremists, and not typical of every person of that faith. We cannot vilify an entire group of people because of the acts of a few.

I'm with those religious leaders—I can't believe that just came out of my mouth—in believing that the intense rhetoric coming from people like Gingrich and Palin is divisive and inflammatory and based on a quest for political gain. It serves no purpose in uniting our country or celebrating our diversity, and does nothing to preserve our founding principles laid out by the framers of the Constitution. I realize that it is a highly emotional issue, but there are times when we have to set emotion aside and look at things logically and rationally. We need to remember that our nation was founded upon tolerance and acceptance of all faiths. I choose to do that, and I wish that more of my fellow Americans would make that same, logical choice.

I'll end on a happy note with a video from The Only Band That Matters. I posted this on Facebook and said that if the new community center rocks as much as the Clash, that would be really awesome! That would be a cool neighborhood addition!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

A non-reply reply

Mail Remember not too long ago when I wrote a letter to my Governor, Mitch Daniels, concerning remarks he'd made about atheism? I was pleasantly surprised to get a reply yesterday! I can't say for sure that he definitely wrote it, but based on the tone, I kind of think that he did. (It was sent via email.)

Dear Ms. R.,

Thank you for your recent letter expressing concerns about my responses to a reporter's questions about atheism, and for this opportunity to respond. I have endeavored to be completely scrupulous about separating my faith from my public duties, and about serving all citizens of Indiana equally. I try to respect the views of all, in matters of public policy, or, in this case, personal religious views.

Enclosed is the complete text of my interview with this reporter on the subject. I think in reading the entirety of the comments you will find these values reflected. You certainly will find no disparagement of any individual nor any implied guilt by association with the historical facts and personages mentioned.

As my answers to the reporter reflected, I rarely, if ever, mention religious matters in public and that will continue to be my practice. Thanks again for this opportunity to respond.

Sincerely, Mitch Daniels

He enclosed the attachment of the full text of the interview, and there really wasn't much that was new compared to the excerpts I posted on my entry and included in the letter I wrote to him.

A few thoughts.

I give him credit for responding, or at least getting someone on his staff to respond. Since I sent it snail mail, I really do hope that he read it and that it made him think a little bit.

I also give him credit for rarely bringing his faith up in the public forum; he wasn't lying about that. He definitely keeps his faith private, and I've rarely heard him speak of it. As far as public policy, I can't think of any overtly religious legislation that I've seen happen under his watch. I could be wrong, but I can't recall any big controversies that have happened here recently, so I don't think he's used his governorship to promote any sort of religious agenda.

So I've given him two credits, and I really do appreciate that he wrote back to me. However, I have one huge problem with something he wrote:

"You certainly will find no disparagement of any individual nor any implied guilt by association with the historical facts and personages mentioned."

Let's take a look at something he said in the original interview:

"And atheism leads to brutality. All the horrific crimes of the last century were committed by atheists. Stalin and Hitler and Mao and so forth. Because it flows very naturally from an idea that there is no judgment, and there is no—nothing other than the brief time we spend on this earth."

First of all, he's saying that Hitler was an atheist, which I pointed out in my original letter is historically inaccurate. Hitler was raised as a Catholic, and in a speech before the Reichstag in 1936, Hitler said, "I believe today that I am acting in the sense of the Almighty Creator. By warding off the Jews I am fighting for the Lord's work." Does that sound like an atheist to you? You can find numerous references to God and religion in his speeches and writings, and a belief that he was doing what God intended him to do. The Nazis themselves came from the German people—it’s not like they were imported from elsewhere—who were by and large a religious bunch at the time. As for Stalin, he was also raised as a Catholic, and apparently intended to become a priest. His clampdown on religion was not a matter of his own disbelief; it was a way to seize power in the country.

I think that Governor Daniels' association of atheists with some of the most brutal dictators in history is definitely disparaging towards atheists. That most certainly IS guilt by association.

He stated that atheism leads to brutality. Also completely untrue. Are there atheists that commit brutal crimes? Undoubtedly. However, since atheists make up perhaps 16% of the population, I'm guessing that proportionately more crimes are committed by those with some sort of religious affiliation. There is no causality here, and saying that "atheism leads to brutality" is also a very disparaging remark against atheists. His notion that not believing in an eternity of salvation or damnation leads to such brutality, or results in increased crimes because of the lack of divine retribution, is also completely false. Some people can be good merely because it is the right thing to do, and it is the best thing for the betterment of society and fellow human beings. This is an old argument from theists, and it is one that simply does not hold water. I guarantee that if you polled most atheists, the vast majority would say that when they decided they didn't believe, they didn't suddenly go on a crime spree, murderin' and pillagin' and rapin' like a bunch of lunatic Visigoths. Seriously...a very stupid argument and one that needs to be retired.

While he has not been vocal in his faith or tried to push some sort of religious agenda upon my state, his statements show a profound lack of understanding when it comes to dealing with people who profess no faith, as well as a disrespect for their sense of morality. I find that sort of attitude typical of those who would attempt to vilify nonbelievers, I find it rather arrogant, and have to ask: are you that horrible of a person that you can't bring yourself to do good without the threat of eternal damnation? I would also point out that those priests who continue to rape children, and their superiors who continue to cover it up (that includes you, Ratzi), don't seem to be taking the whole eternal damnation thing to heart, because it's sure not stopping them, is it? I don't rape children, and do you know why? Because it's horrible and wrong and morally reprehensible. What is the priests' excuse for continuing to do so, in spite of the threat of the Fiery Pits of Hell™?

I'll leave you with another quote: "Secular schools can never be tolerated because such schools have no religious instruction, and a general moral instruction without a religious foundation is built on air; consequently, all character training and religion must be derived from faith . . . we need believing people."

Does anyone know who said that? No cheating by googling! Let’s see some guesses. And what do you think? Do you agree with that statement? I will write more about it soon, after you give me your best guesses on the speaker. I'm sure that some of you already know the answer, and if you do, shoot me an email at rather than leaving it in a comment. See if others can make a good guess at it first.

Note: Upon publishing this, I saw that it was my 666th post! I just found that amusing.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Love, friendship, and civil rights

Gay rights Last evening, I had a fun dinner with a handful of gay friends celebrating one of their birthdays. We talked, we laughed, we ate, we had...well, we had ourselves a gay old time, in the Flintstones vernacular.

I actually hesitate to classify them as my "gay friends." That's kind of like talking about your "black friends," or your "Satan-worshiping friends," or your "Republican friends." (Heehee...couldn't resist throwing that one in there!) Why categorize? They're all just friends. However, they often refer to themselves as "the homos," and for the purposes of this entry, I will categorize a little bit.

I first started making gay friends when I lived in Indianapolis; Indy has a fairly large population of gays, I guess because quite a few come from the Midwest to live there. It's much more open and gay-friendly than rural towns, but not as expensive as Chicago. There were a couple of guys I worked with at the hospital, and I found them a lot of fun and very funny, and I can't begin to tell you what a relief it was to not get hit on, or not have them staring at my ass. Don't get me wrong...I generally found that flattering, but sometimes it was just a relief to be myself and realize that they had no hidden agenda. They just liked me for ME, and had no designs on how to get me in the sack. I really felt at ease with them, and I suppose they sensed that, as well as my complete acceptance of them, so they were equally at ease with me. I love my online buddies, too, and hope I get to meet them one day!

Last night, it was a few of us at dinner. One I've known for a long time, others are fairly new friends. I had a great time, and as I reflected later, thinking about all of us just talking and laughing, I wondered at how anyone could deny any of them the right to marriage. It seems that too many think of them as "other," or even as "lesser," and it appalls me to know that some even think they are an "abomination," according to what their religious text tells them to think.

Let's see if I can make this very, very clear: I don't give a flying fuck what your god thinks about my gay friends. I love them and value them for who they are, and that is people who work, play, and love just like anyone else does. They pay their taxes, they volunteer, they are no different than anyone else, and they also have the same rights as every other person in this country. That includes the right to marry the one they love.

Gay marriage Mexico, possibly one of the most Catholic countries in the world, recently passed a law allowing gay marriage. Some in the United States continue to try to make this a cultural and religious war, rather than comprehending that it is a legal matter, a constitutional matter, a human rights and civil rights matter. I've written about these subjects before. We do not base our laws on any religion, and marriage is a civic institution, not a religious one. A marriage does not have to take place in a church or be officiated by a pastor in order to be a legal marriage; it is the state who says that a marriage is legal. For those who would say that it should then be left up to the states, you're not getting it. It's a civil rights issue. Our country has a constitutional obligation to ensure that this can happen for all people in our country. Desegregation was not left up to the states. The federal government said that equal rights were the domain of every person in this country, and same-sex marriage issued in one state should be legal in the entire country.

Instead of taking the lead in this human rights issue, the United States is choosing—CHOOSING—to sit in the back of the bus, letting country after country (Canada, the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, South Africa, Norway, Sweden, Portugal, Iceland, Argentina, Mexico) pass same-sex marriage laws while we sit idly by. It's embarrassing. South Africa (and such)! Remember apartheid? They finally got rid of that, and they passed same-sex marriage laws before we did!

President Obama has said that he favors marriage being between a man and a woman. You all know I love and support our President, but I do not agree with him on this. He is a constitutional lawyer, and he should know better.

I look forward to the day when same-sex marriage is allowed in our entire country, and I believe it will happen in my lifetime. I wonder if the rabid anti-gay church people will spontaneously combust, or just quietly implode? I shall watch closely and with great interest.

I'll just add this. If I ever see anyone, whether a stranger, a supposed friend, or even a family member, disrespecting any of my gay friends or giving them the evil eye, or in any way, shape, or form saying or doing anything hateful or mean, I will not be responsible for my actions. I will not tolerate such intolerance, and it is not your place to judge them. I will get seriously medieval on your ass.

I believe that constitutes fair warning.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Law of Ten…or Two

Moses A while back, everyone's favorite Alaskan hilljack, Sarah Palin, had a chat with Bill O'Reilly. This was about the national day of prayer, which a judge rightly struck down as unconstitutional. The national day of prayer isn't what this entry is about...we can save that for another day, perhaps when it rolls around again next year, and we can debate it all over again.

During the course of their conversation, Sarah said that our laws were based on the ten commandments. She was roundly ridiculed for such a statement, and I was one of the ones ridiculing her. If she would bother to read even a little bit about our history (maybe she could find something about it in "all of them" newspapers that she reads), it would be obvious that she is completely mistaken. Not only were the majority of the framers of our Constitution leery of religion in their own lives, they were explicit in their wishes that religion not play any role whatsoever in our government.

However, a lot of people seem to think that Sarah was right in saying that our laws are based upon the ten commandments. Let's take a look, shall we? Let's see all the commandments and which have federal laws based upon them.

1. You shall have no other gods before me.

No laws that I know of say that this is a crime.

2. You shall not make for yourselves an idol.

Again, no laws on the books that I know of.

3. You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God.

I believe that a few towns have tried to pass profanity laws, but I don't believe they have been very successful in their endeavors at prosecution. I wonder if their statutes were explicit in what profanity was acceptable and what wasn't? Did they specifically mention words like "goddamn" or "goddamnitalltohell," or did they go with the diminutives that some religions also find offensive, like "jeez" or "golly" or "gosh?" Do Catholics find "sweet mary mother of jesus!" offensive, or does it all depend in the way one says it? Does inflection matter? A devout person can say "Jesus!" and claim that they are just exhorting their deity. Another person can stub their toe on a park bench and say "Jesus!" Who is anyone to judge who is misusing the name of God?

4. Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.

I suppose that you could say that certain archaic laws concerning liquor stores not being open on Sunday (Yeah, I'm talking to YOU, Indiana!) are involved with this commandment, but I don't think it's reasonable to say that there are any laws stating that someone should be punished for not keeping the Sabbath holy.

5. Honor your father and your mother.

Good advice, but again, no laws. I also have to say that not every parent deserves honor. There are those who abuse their children, verbally, emotionally, physically, and sexually. I have a hard time with any religion or religious text that states that every parent deserves honor and respect.

6. You shall not murder.

Boy howdy, we've got a winner! We've got laws on the book in every goshdarn state (oops, excuse my #3) saying that this is indeed a crime. Now we're talkin'! Okay, let's keep going.

7. You shall not commit adultery.

Hm. Guess there's not really a law against that. Next!

8. You shall not steal.

YEAH! There's another one! Theft is wrong, and there's all kinds of laws against it. Grand theft auto, petty larceny, burglary...yeah, baby, we hit the jackpot here! Of course, despite the myriad laws, it all comes back to this one commandment, so you don't get multiple points for it. Drat.

9. You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.

I suppose you could stretch this to encompass perjury, but some religions stretch this to say "thou shalt not lie." It's certainly not a good thing to maliciously lie, but if you think all lying is bad, you might want to take a lesson from Lucy. (Check out Lucy’s bridge game with her friends, from about 6:00 to 12:30. "Stop cackling, Marian, I've been waiting ten years for you to lay that egg!")

10. You shall not covet.

Darn. No laws there, either. Of course, coveting can lead to stealing, which would violate #8 and violate state and federal laws, but coveting is a thought, not an action. There are no legal prohibitions against thoughts.

So if we look at the commandments that have actually become law--actual, tangible laws on the books--we've got a whopping two out of ten. The ten commandments are batting a whopping .200! If you're in the minor leagues, .200 doesn't get you sent to the majors, and if you're in the majors, batting .200 is apt to get you sent down to the minors. It's not exactly a stellar performance.

What it all comes down to is that we are not a theocracy. There are other countries that base their laws upon religion, like Iran, Afghanistan, Iraq, and many others; such laws are oppressive and we find them to be in direct opposition to democracy. Why would anyone here think that it would be acceptable for us to base our laws upon religion? Why would anyone think that we already have done that? That couldn't be further from the truth, and it must always stay that way.

Some of the sentiments expressed in the ten commandments are universal truths. Animals have been shown to behave in moral ways, because such behavior leads to a strengthening of the social group and fabric. It leads to better survival within the group. A set of commandments is not essential to motivate people to do good or to behave in the best interests of society. Are laws necessary? Of course, because there will always be those who do not want to act in the interests of the greater good.

Justice But to believe that our laws are based upon the ten commandments is demonstrably false and shows a profound lack of historical knowledge. Despite what many claim and what many seem to want, we do not base our laws upon Christianity or any Christian texts or tenets. That goes against what we stand for as a country, and is completely counter to what the framers of our Constitution intended. Are certain behaviors conducive to the smooth operation of society? Definitely. Is our legislation a result of the ten commandments? Definitely not. Note that the first four are all about God's insecurities, rather than any sort of law that would contribute to the good of the people or the survival of the community. Animals, including the human animal, figured it out on their own. Survival depends upon a society in which the majority work for the greater good. Those who choose not to do that are ostracized, marginalized, and excluded from the gene pool, resulting in a stronger society.

I have no problem with anyone who lives a good life because they feel their religion compels them to do so. I do have a problem with anyone who says that those who don't subscribe to the same religion have no morals, and I also have a problem with anyone who says that our laws are based on the ten commandments. People like Palin have a lot of learning to do when it comes to understanding our history and comprehending our Constitution. And people who think that it's perfectly okay to promote Christianity and place it in our courts, schools, and government need to think very seriously about the constitutionality of that. I would advise them to slide their tender little feet into other shoes and think about a different religion--let's say Mormonism--being mandated by our government. I'm guessing they wouldn't like that very much. But as soon as we let our government mandate, promote, or even condone any one religion, we are at risk.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Knowledge is power

Knowledge is power I still plan on putting up some pictures and videos of the Devo show, but yeah...just haven't gotten around to editing all of that yet! I'm hoping that the videos turned out okay. I got "Smart Patrol/Mr. DNA" for Darren, "Girl U Want" for Deb, and "Uncontrollable Urge" for me, me, ME! It was a fantastic show, and I was so happy to see a band that I've loved for decades (literally). More soon, I promise.

So instead of this entry being about Devo, you'll have to settle for sex. Oh, stop your bellyaching. It'll be fun!

I was quite amazed today to see a post on a forum from a young man who was a little concerned about some things that he and his girlfriend had done. This young man, whose parents have been taking him to church for many years, had engaged in some "rubbing" (I guess that would be what we used to call "dry humping" back in the day) with his girlfriend, and although he pulled away and didn't ejaculate on her, they were both freaking out and worried that she could somehow get pregnant from this.

Oh, and she is on the Pill.

Oh, and this wasn't a sixth-grader or anything like that. This was an 18-year-old. Someone who is allowed to vote. Someone who can join the military and go abroad and shoot people.

Are you freaking kidding me?!

This is pathetic. I don't know the kid's educational background, but if his school wasn't teaching him more than that, that is one stupid school. And if his parents were trying to keep some of these things from him, whether from their religious beliefs or otherwise, those are some stupid parents. Furthermore, if the kid is lame enough that he couldn't do a little research on his own and had to ask such a stupid question on a public forum, then the kid is pretty damn stupid, too. (This wasn't a bogus question, either. You could tell that it was legitimate.)

Okay, people. Let's talk about sex, baby. When it comes to sex, ignorance is not bliss. Ignorance leads to STIs and unwanted pregnancies. Ignorance can lead to infertility from STIs and the infection of numerous others. Ignorance leads to unexpected babies and children starting families before they are even out of high school. There is no excuse for ignorance. If the school isn't teaching kids about the reality of such matters, why aren't the parents? Is it because of their religious convictions? Yeah, that whole religious guilt trip really works. Is it because they think that if they don't give their kid information, the dalliances aren't going to happen? Do any of these people remember how they felt when they were 18? Good grief, it's possibly the horniest time of all.

Sex education When I was 18, I was snow white, although like Mae West said, I drifted. I was not doing research in the field, so to speak, but as a curious teenager and a reader, I can assure you that I did plenty of reading on the matter. I somehow knew, even at that tender age, that the more knowledgeable I was about such things, the better off I would be. The healthier I would be, and I would stand a better chance of finishing my college career instead of cutting it short to have an unplanned child.

I was appalled on three levels to read such a thing from that kid. In 2010, there are actually kids wondering if they can get their girlfriend pregnant because they came in her vicinity, even though she was on the Pill? Really? I blame many factors here, including any religion that teaches that sex is a bad and shameful thing; the parents that apparently are so uncomfortable with talking to their kid that they can't give them basic fucking information (pun intended); and I also blame the kid for not being smart enough to do his own research and find things out for himself. I had to work a little harder when I was in high school, because there was no Internet way back then, but I still managed to find information. There is no excuse for anyone today not being better informed about such matters. This is not a trivial matter; this is a matter of public health and a matter of kids being able to be themselves without the worry of a pregnancy or the worry that they are condemned to hell for the natural urges that they have.

I have no problem with anyone—parents, teachers, clergy, friends, what have you—telling a kid that it is okay to wait for a while before they have sex. But please be realistic. Abstinence-only sex education is ludicrous. Hormones run rampant, and things are going to happen. Education is key, and will always help anyone, young or old, make better choices, and possibly keep them from making some bad ones. It might even save their lives. Shame on everyone who dropped the ball for this kid, or any other kid who is so ill-informed.

In the spirit of things, enjoy this video. it's one of my favorite songs from the '80s!