Tuesday, July 26, 2016

We Will Walk Side by Side

those of us who are citizens of the usa are presented with two very different choices in the current political battle: one a vision of our country as ridden with crime, overrun by "illegal aliens" bent on doing us harm, a land which must turn back to a time in the past where a white majority ruled and "others" knew their place; the other is a vision that sees all people who reside here working together to solve our problems, with every person having access to a living wage and health care, one that looks forward with hope to a future where all share the benefits of our prosperity rather than a turning back to an earlier time when mom stayed at home while dad earned the living and made the decisions and when people of color were invisible.  the first vision sees one man as its only hope, a supreme leader who will save us by making "great deals" while turning his and our backs to the rest of the world.  the second vision makes all of us partners in the work that lies ahead, building on the accomplishments of the current administration, strengthening our partnerships with our allies and working with them to make the world safer and more prosperous.

i was doubtful of the choice of tim kaine as mrs. clinton's running mate until i read his remarks in florida, where he said, in spanish, that all are welcome and called all of us americans, together.  after reading what he said there and reviewing his positions on a number of issues, i saw the wisdom in his selection.  the symbolism of having a hispanic vice-president, along with the several hispanics that were under consideration who have admirable qualities, is appealing, but mr. kaine may be able to reach constituencies that other potential running mates could not.

the politics of fear that were on display in cleveland and mr. trump's acceptance speech in which he said, "nobody knows the system better that me, which is why i alone [emphasis mine] can fix it" paints a picture of a country in chaos, overrun by terrorists and "foreigners," where lawlessness is rampant and "the first task of [trump's] new administration will be to liberate our citizens from the crime and terrorism and lawlessness that threatens their — our communities."  hearing what came from the republican convention, one is reminded of an earlier time when many were afraid for the future, and a remarkable president said that "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself."  in his first inaugural address, franklin roosevelt painted a picture of hope in dark times and inspired us to work together to solve our problems when he said, "this is no unsolvable problem if we face it wisely and courageously."  he did not present himself as a "savior" who was the only  person capable of "fixing" what was wrong.

as i read mr. kaine's and mrs. clinton's remarks in florida, i thought of franklin and eleanor roosevelt and the hope that they brought americans in a very dark time.   i thought of the stark contrast between mr. trump and his supporters who see a bleak present that can only be escaped by finding scapegoats and turning power over to a "deal-maker" whose primary accomplisment has been the accumulation of wealth at the expense of others and who has encouraged others to follow his example, and mrs. clinton and mr. kaine who challenge us to trust in ourselves and the principles upon which our country was founded to solve our problems together with cooperation and compassion, trusting each other rather than fearing one another.

may we embrace the vision that makes us better than we are now.  may be choose hope over fear.  may we lay down the weapons with which we now confront each other and turn to one another with open arms.  shalom.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

And the Choice Goes by Forever

the other day one of the republican vice presidential hopefuls came out with a disturbing proposal, perhaps one of the most disturbing proposals i've heard in my lifetime.  when newt gingrich suggested that we "test" every muslim in this country to determine if they "believed in sharia law" and then to expel those who do, he demonstrated that he and all those who would have one set of laws for one religious group and another set of laws for all others engage in the most vile sort of prejudice.  jewish religious courts have functioned in this country and other countries, serving the needs of those who subscribe to certain expressions of the jewish religion, with no outrage from the bigots who scream about "sharia law."  in israel, sharia courts are permitted for the resolution of legal questions among its muslim residents who choose to use them, and those courts seem to serve their purpose just as the jewish halacha courts do.

the scapegoating of an entire group of people for the bad acts of a few of its members is reprehensible.  after the senseless murder of members of a prayer group in south carolina by a "christian" white supremacist, there were no calls from right-wing politicos to examine the practices of christians or to ban christians from coming into the country.  clearly, it wasn't the religion that was at fault, rather this tragedy was the work of a warped mind with little understanding of the christian religion.  similarly, the terrorist acts in france and elsewhere and the actions of the islamic state extremists have nothing to do with islam and everything to do with using religion as an excuse to justify the most hateful and repugnant practices.  blaming islam for the misapplication of its teachings is anathema to everything that the usa stands for.

how frightening it is that there seems to be a large group of people in this country who are ready to follow politicians who spout such hateful rhetoric!  how disturbing it is that there are candidates for high office who pander to bigots who have little understanding of the principles upon which the country was founded!  may we condemn bigotry of every sort in the strongest terms.  may we look for the common decency that we all share, regardless of religious belief or the absence of belief.  may loving-kindness and compassion win over hatred and discrimination.  shalom.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Somewhere in the Darkest Night a Candle Glows

as i rode my bike through the park a few days ago, my mind turned to the meaning of morality and the role of religion in instilling morality in human beings.  these thoughts came against the backdrop of needless gun deaths in louisiana, minnesota, and texas.  i wondered then and continue to wonder if morality is truly a function of religious belief.  are believers any more or less moral than non-believers?

one thinks of all the evil done in the name of religion--the crusades, the havoc wrought by isis and al-quaida, the troubles in northern ireland, the persecution of an ethnic minority in burma, the hindu-muslim conflict in india, the murders in bangladesh--just to list a few.  if one takes a literal reading of the bible as one's guide to morality, then slavery, incest, honor killing, the repression of women, and genocide are justified.  we see the claim that discrimination against lgbt persons in the name of "freedom of religion" is a valid christian moral choice.

it seems to me that religion is all too often an excuse for the powerful to seek control over those less powerful.  one wonders if the source of the problem is not religious belief, if perhaps the world would be better off if the practice of religion were abandoned altogether.  are atheists more moral than believers?  in many cases, i think so.  the tribal nature of religious practice often diminishes individual responsibility for the moral choices that are made.  it becomes easier to harm others as part of a group than as an individual, particularly when there is consensus among the members of that group as to what constitutes "good" and "evil."  a non-believer must develop a lone sense of what is right and what is wrong.  certainly, there are individuals without belief that pursue hedonistic lifestyles without concern for the harm done to others, but belief or non-belief have little to do with such a choice; some self-proclaimed believers live such lives, as well.

when we define morality as making choices which do ourselves and others the least harm or the most good, religion has little to do with it.  every day is filled with such choices.  do i sit on my rear playing computer games while my spouse labors to take care of all the chores necessary to keep the house running?  do i make healthy choices so that i can be more productive, long-lived, and beneficial to myself and my family?  do i hoard my money or spend it on that which brings me fleeting pleasure while others are without the necessities of life?

may we embrace a moral ethic which brings us true happiness, increases good, and diminishes suffering in the world.  may we not use religion to justify the harming of other beings.  may the world be better because you and i have lived.  shalom.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

From All the Easy Speeches That Comfort Cruel Men

it seems to me that there are three basic beliefs/attitudes/opinions about the existence and nature of God.  first, one may hold that there is no god; second, that there is a God who set creation in motion but does not intervene in how that creation is proceeding; and third, that God is active, directing the course of creation and each infinitesimal part of it.  from previous posts, it is clear that i am a believer in the second of these views about God.

within that second attitude toward God, there are two opposing beliefs: one, that once God set creation in motion, God allowed it to proceed and observed its progress dispassionately or two, that while God does not intervene directly in the ongoing process of creation, God is always present as the very force binding all things together.  it is in this camp that i find myself.  it is my belief that God is a benevolent, encouraging, loving Creator who comforts, strengthens, and cares about creation and the beings in it.  i have no evidence for this belief; it is simply what i seem to have experienced in my life.

those who reject belief in god(s) would say that my belief is a vestige of my upbringing in the christian faith that i refuse to let go, and they may be right.  i see much to support the non-believing position.  much of what we call "religion" is an attempt to explain that which we cannot explain, and as scientific understanding increases, much of what we accept "on faith" is explained by evidence-based knowledge.  we no longer need to make sacrifices to appease angry gods, and we know there are reasonable explanations for natural phenomena that humans once saw as acts of capricious or vengeful gods.

there is great danger, i think, in the last sort of belief in God.  when one believes in a "personal" God that has a plan for creation and every being in it, it becomes easy to act as if everything that happens and every action that one takes is not only known in advance by God, but is in fact caused by God.  i read an article recently about a leader in the "christian right" who had proclaimed that ted cruz was ordained by God to be the next president.  when that didn't happen, this person encouraged his followers to vote for trump, telling them that God had another plan for the country, and, that despite trump's past and current actions that are contrary to conservative christian philosophy, God must be using trump to carry out God's plan.  his attitude is "who has the audacity to question God's plan?" so if trump has won the republican nomination, it must be God's will that trump become the next president.

since those who insist on a god who has every detail of history and each individual life mapped out into an infinite future are convinced of their own rightness, anything that happens that runs contrary to their own view must be evil that will bring the wrath of an angry god down upon us.  if marriage equality is the law of the land they say, god will be angered and punish the country.  if transgendered people are protected by law, all manner of evil will come upon us at the hand of a vengeful god.  if businesses are not allowed to discriminate against those who are evil in god's sight, religious freedom no longer exists.  these are very dangerous positions that flow from the belief in this sort of a god, and every reasonable person should oppose a faith like this that creates a god in the likeness of those who purport to follow such a god.

may we not allow faith to overwhelm reason.  may we see the dangers in intolerance and bigotry, particularly when we claim that such evil is endorsed by god.  may we not be quick to condemn those who are different from us and to wish them harm.  if we believe in God, may that god be one of love.  shalom.