If you decide to make the sky fall

9 10 2014

I am not a Christian, Muslim, or Jew.

I am not Hindu, or Buddhist, or Jain, Taoist, Bahá’í, Wiccan, Yazidi, Shinto, Zoroastrian, Sikh, or any sort of pagan or animist.

I am not spiritual, and believe in neither demons nor angels nor supernatural vibes of any sort.

I am agnostic, which means I lack knowledge, along with faith and belief. I do not know if none, one, some, or all of the above traditions holds any or the entirety of truth. I do not know if some other tradition holds any portion of truth.

And I’m all right with that. I call myself a “doubter”, and that doubt works for me.

I’m also all right with others who have do have faith in some tradition or another, and, contra Hitchens, do not believe that “religion poisons everything”.

Or should I say, that religion uniquely poisons everything. I think religion is a powerful human invention and thus, like any powerful human invention, may poison its adherents or the course of events, but not that it necessarily or always does so.

It is also possible that religion (l.a.p.h.i.), may serve as an antidote to other invented poisons.

All of which is a rather long prologue to a rather convoluted post on the rather convoluted topic of the role of Islam in the world today, viz., is it uniquely bad in its effects on co-religionists and non-co’s alike?

There is today far more violence among Muslims and between Muslims and non-Muslims than there is in other world religions*. This doesn’t discount other intra- and inter-religious violence or aggression, nor other less-deadly forms of intolerance, but given conflicts across parts of Africa, the Middle East, and Asia, it’s pretty clear that there are. . . issues in Islam.

Are these issues unique to Islam? A little trip through history points to “no”, and had pundits existed in the 16th century, they may have raised similar questions about the aggressiveness and intolerance of Christianity.

Are these issues endemic to Islam? Whatever the violent history of Christianity, it’s mostly not violent today*, which leads some to note that aggression is therefore not an essential part of Christianity. Can Islam work its violence out of its system as Christianity has, or is supremacism and aggression so interwoven in its scripture and traditions that it cannot transform itself as Christianity has?

Trick questions!

Christianity is a sprawling complex of tradition and change and interpretation which has sometimes been violent, sometime intolerant, sometimes triumphalist, and other times, not. That Christianity is currently not at the center of strife in the world* does not mean that its aggressiveness has been bred out of its system. It’s sidelined, but extirpated? Eh.

Islam is also a sprawling complex of tradition and change and interpretation, and thus like Christianity, can find within that complex support for both aggression and tolerance. It is thus difficult to determine whether any one strand within is always and forever at the center of what it needs to be Muslim.

So, why trick questions? Because what counts as essential has been and is contested in history, and what must be interpreted in this way today may be interpreted in that way tomorrow. That is the condition of all human inventions.

None of this is to shield Islam or any other tradition (or human invention) from criticism, and that there may exist no absolute and eternal standards of how to treat one another doesn’t mean one can’t construct and apply our own provisional and worldly standards.

Which is a rather convoluted way to say: of course Islam may be criticized, as should be those who find in Islam justification for horrid acts.

That Muslims are not unique in their religious—or ideological—justifications is also no barrier to criticism: your mom probably pointed out to you long ago that “everyone else is doing it!” is no excuse for your own bad behavior.

One last turn around: If you’re going to go after an entire religious belief system and its effects on adherents and non-adherents alike, then fer-cryin’-out-loud, look at the entire belief system, not just at what you don’t like.

Is there poison in Islam? Yes. But that doesn’t mean Islam is all and only poison.

Or maybe it is. It’s possibly that after thorough study one might conclude nothing good has ever or will ever come from Islam—or any religion.

But I kinda doubt it.

~~~

*Crucial caveat: people living in countries having bombs recently dropped on them by Christians might contest this notion of Christianity as not-aggressive.

h/t for link to Sullivan, and this entire damned post was set off by the Maher-Harris-Affleck kerfuffle





Are we not men

2 07 2014

I freaked out about Hobby Lobby a few months ago, so while I was pissed at the ruling, by the time it arrived I was all freaked-out.

There’s a shit-ton of good (and lousy) commentary out there about the ruling—which means I’ma gonna pass on Fisking Alito’s decision (which, by the way, Supreme Bad-Ass Ruth Bader-Ginsburg does just fine in her opinion, beg. on p. 60) and tick off a few hits:

1. This decision is terrible for equal protection of the law, offering an out from laws of general applicability, based on the sincerely? insincerely? held beliefs of those seeking the out.

Yes, Alito & Kennedy say, No, no, that’s not what we really mean, but whether or not they are sincere in their meanings, that will be the practical effect.

2. It is difficult to see how the courts and the Court can avoid favoritism in choosing to exempt contraception-banners but not transfusion- or psychiatry-banners. [see point 3, pp. 5-6]

Which means they either engage in favoritism, allow Congress to engage in favoritism, or allow the exemptions.

3. It is not at all difficult to see why contraception was singled out as exempt-worthy but transfusions and psychiatry might not be.

Guess! Guess!

4. Given how weird and not-wonderful our politics has become, this ruling may actually work against religious conservatives, and will be used (likely to some effect) in campaigns against Republicans.

Religious conservatives have done a pretty good job of complaining how wee and woebegone they all are, under assault from the gay agenda and atheist meanies and a hostile Obama administration—which complaints, however ginned up, did form out of a juniper seed of fact: a majority of the country now accepts gay marriage, some atheists are mean, and Obama has pushed hard on protections for LGBT folk.

So, religious folks on sexual matters: on the defensive.

Now, however, those same religious folks may lose their “underdog” status and may—may—be seen less as bullied than bullies, or at least as above the law.

Which, y’know, they are.

5. This decision really is bad for women, not just because it makes it easier for employers to deny contraceptive coverage to them, but because it further segregates “sexual health” from “health”.

And no, I’m not even going to begin to link to all of the idiots who think sex is dirty or nasty or not somehow an integral part of human being.

6. This decision, combined with the Harris v. Quinn decision chipping away at public sector unions, is bad for everyone.

As Sarah Jaffe noted,

Attacks on all workers’ rights often come first through attacks on those deemed less important workers. When we decide that birth control isn’t a pivotal issue because it only affects some workers, or that homecare workers’ loss is not a loss for us all, we leave the door open for the next attack.

7. From another angle, it is difficult to see how an expansion of the rights of the corporate person is good for corporeal persons.

This last point deserves more thought, thought which I don’t have right now. Let’s just say that it seems that as the rights of one expands, the other contracts.

~~~

h/t Erik Loomis at Lawyers, Guns & Money for the Jaffe link





Hear me roar

25 03 2014

I cannot fucking believe that the Supreme Court might rule in favor of Hobby Lobby.

It just. . . it’s. . . it makes no fucking sense what.so.ever.

One law. One fucking law for all. Is that so hard to understand?

You’d think Scalia would get this, he of the Smith decision who wrote that

We have never held that an individual’s religious beliefs [494 U.S. 872, 879]   excuse him from compliance with an otherwise valid law prohibiting conduct that the State is free to regulate. On the contrary, the record of more than a century of our free exercise jurisprudence contradicts that proposition. As described succinctly by Justice Frankfurter in Minersville School Dist. Bd. of Ed. v. Gobitis, 310 U.S. 586, 594 -595 (1940): “Conscientious scruples have not, in the course of the long struggle for religious toleration, relieved the individual from obedience to a general law not aimed at the promotion or restriction of religious beliefs. The mere possession of religious convictions which contradict the relevant concerns of a political society does not relieve the citizen from the discharge of political responsibilities (footnote omitted).” We first had occasion to assert that principle in Reynolds v. United States, 98 U.S. 145 (1879), where we rejected the claim that criminal laws against polygamy could not be constitutionally applied to those whose religion commanded the practice. “Laws,” we said, “are made for the government of actions, and while they cannot interfere with mere religious belief and opinions, they may with practices. . . . Can a man excuse his practices to the contrary because of his religious belief? To permit this would be to make the professed doctrines of religious belief superior to the law of the land, and in effect to permit every citizen to become a law unto himself.” Id., at 166-167.

[. . .]

[re US v. Lee] . . . There would be no way, we observed, to distinguish the Amish believer’s objection to Social Security taxes from the religious objections that others might have to the collection or use of other taxes. “If, for example, a religious adherent believes war is a sin, and if a certain percentage of the federal budget can be identified as devoted to war-related activities, such individuals would have a similarly valid claim to be exempt from paying that percentage of the income tax. The tax system could not function if denominations were allowed to challenge the tax system because tax payments were spent in a manner that violates their religious belief.”

[ . . .]

Precisely because “we are a cosmopolitan nation made up of people of almost every conceivable religious preference,” Braunfeld v. Brown, 366 U.S., at 606 , and precisely because we value and protect that religious divergence, we cannot afford the luxury of deeming presumptively invalid, as applied to the religious objector, every regulation of conduct that does not protect an interest of the highest order. The rule respondents favor would open the prospect of constitutionally required religious exemptions from civic obligations of almost every conceivable kind. . .

[. . .]

It may fairly be said that leaving accommodation to the political process will place at a relative disadvantage those religious practices that are not widely engaged in; but that unavoidable consequence of democratic government must be preferred to a system in which each conscience is a law unto itself or in which judges weigh the social importance of all laws against the centrality of all religious beliefs. [emph added]

Now, yes, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act was passed to counter the Smith decision, but when individuals tried to use RFRA to argue against paying taxes, the Court say, in effect, “nuh-uh”, that the requirement of tax payment met the “compelling government interest” test.

Ensuring that women have access to a full range of medical care, including that of counseling and advice regarding our birth control options, may not, however, be sufficiently “compelling”.

Taxes: yes! Control over one’s body and health? Nah.

As Dahlia Lithwick observes,

The rights of millions of women to preventive health care and workplace equality elicit almost no sign of sympathy or solicitude from the right wing of the bench today. Nor does the possibility that religious conscience objections may soon swallow up the civil rights laws protecting gay workers, women, and other minorities. Religious freedom trumps because we’re “only” talking about birth control.





What if God was one of us

5 11 2013

I’m one of those don’t-hate-religion non-religious types. Most of the time.

And then I read smug shit like this:

To a person, the new atheists hold that God is some being in the world, the maximum instance, if you want, of the category of “being.” But this is precisely what Aquinas and serious thinkers in all of the great theistic traditions hold that God is not. Thomas explicitly states that God is not in any genus, including that most generic genus of all, namely being. He is not one thing or individual — however supreme — among many. Rather, God is, in Aquinas’s pithy Latin phrase, esse ipsum subsistens, the sheer act of being itself.

I’m all about being, so you’d think I’d be all over this. You’d be wrong.

Hell, I’ve read Heidegger, and even if I can’t stop myself from muttering “Nazi gasbag” every time I pick him up, I do think he is worth picking up. It’s tough to talk being without talking nonsense, and while ol’ Martin (that “Nazi gasbag”) peddles his share of nonsense, he does also manage to make sense. Unlike Robert Barron.

God is not a supreme item within the universe or alongside of it; rather, God is the sheer ocean of being from whose fullness the universe in its entirety exists.

Actually, this does make a kind of sense: God is everything, such that without God, there is nothing. It’s a handy bit of sleight-o-hand: How does one know God exist? Because without God, there would be nothing. Easy-peasy.

It’s not a bad tautology, as tautologies go, but, like Pascal’s wager or Lewis’s trilemma, it seeks to lock down not just the answer to a question, but the questions themselves. This is THE question, one is told, and no follow-ups and no other possible interpretations, which might lead to other possible responses, are allowed. No questioning the question.

Barron allows that science allows us to learn a great deal about our material reality. The problem, he says, is that these materials are themselves “contingent”, i.e., dependent upon another reality rather than being real in and of themselves. How does he know this? God-is-everything!

We are surrounded on all sides by things that exist but that don’t have to exist.

[...]

Now a moment’s meditation reveals that all of the conditioning elements that I mentioned are themselves, in similar ways, contingent. They don’t explain their existence any more than the computer does. Therefore, unless we permanently postpone the explanation, we have to come, by logical deduction, to some reality which is not contingent and whose very nature is to exist.

Um, no. Perhaps the explanation is that everything is contingent, nothing is necessary, and existence itself a kind of chance, nothing more.

Barron accuses skeptics of incurosity and irrationality for not bothering with the question of why is there something rather than nothing, but not having an answer doesn’t mean the question isn’t asked; not all questions are contingent upon an answer.

As for Why should the universe exist at all? Who says anything about “should”? It does, for now, and for awhile longer. If it someday ends, it doesn’t mean it never existed at all.

Same goes for us. We don’t have to be here, and yet we are, for now. So what are we to do with this chance?

That, to me, is the real question, and wonder, of being.





Just sitting on your porch

9 09 2012

So I had this post in my head about understanding and not understanding and agnosticism and religion and politics and empathic imagination. . . .

It’s still there, and there it remains, at least for another day.





Mayan Campaign Mashup 2012: The sky is falling!

26 02 2012

Kids going to colleges! Episcopalians not being Southern Baptists! States separating from churches!

It’s hard out there for Santorum.

And women, oy, women, fooled by feminists and secularists into wanting jobs and guns and contraceptions and everything! Amirite, Republican ladies?

Now, to be fair, he wouldn’t actually mandate that women remain barefoot and pregnant, but there’s no reason for the government to make it easy to women to purchase footware, is there?

No good can come from that.





Talking ’bout what everybody’s talking ’bout

19 02 2012

Let’s not talk about contraception—oh no, no no no.

Can’t talk about contraception—except, as in the case of Senator Lynn Blankenbeker, a Republican legislator in New Hampshire, to talk about not using birth control:

“People with or without insurance have two affordable choices, one being abstinence and the other being condoms, both of which you can get over the counter,” she said. [. . .]

“Abstinence works 100 percent of the time,” she said.

Blankenbeker also asserted that condoms and abstinence offer married couples a wider range of family planning options than oral contraceptives.

“If you decide you want to get pregnant you can refrain from abstinence,” she said.

Uh-huh.

If nothing else, Blankenbeker helps to remind us that women may also qualify for the title as American idiot.

Anyway, let’s talk about all of those who don’t want to talk about what everybody’s talking about: sex and not-making babies. Let’s start with an inquiry into how many children these got-my-fingers-in-my-ears-lalalalalala-can’t-hear-you legislators have.

There are a lot of legislators, of course—100 senators, 435 voting representatives, plus hundreds more state legislators—so why not start small, with, say Representative Darrell Issa (he of the all-male panel on not-contraception) and the 112th Congress’s Full Committee on Oversight and Government Reform:

Republicans
Rep. Darrell E. Issa (CA-49), Chairman: b. 1953, married for over 30 years to second wife, 1 child
Rep. Dan Burton (IN-05): b. 1938, Church of Christ, 3 children w first wife (deceased), 1 child resulted from extramarital affair; remarried
Rep. John L. Mica (FL-07): b. 1943, Episcopalian, married, 2 children
Rep. Todd Platts (PA-19): b. 1962, Episcopalian, married, 2 children
Rep. Michael Turner (OH-03): b. 1960, Presbyterian, married, 2 children
Rep. Patrick T. McHenry (NC-10): b. 1975, Catholic, married
Rep. Jim Jordan (OH-04): b. 1964, evangelical Christian, married, 4 children
Rep. Jason Chaffetz (UT-03): b. 1967, Mormon, married, 3 children
Rep. Connie Mack (FL-14): b. 1967, Catholic,  2 children w first wife (divorced), remarried
Rep. Tim Walberg (MI-7): b. 1951, Protestant, married, 3 children
Rep. James Lankford (OK-5): b. 1968, Baptist, married, 2 children
Rep. Justin Amash (MI-3): b. 1980, Orthodox Christian, married, 3 children
Rep. Ann Marie Buerkle (NY-25): b. 1951, Catholic, divorced, 6 children
Dr. Paul Gosar (AZ-1): b. 1958, Catholic, married, 3 children
Rep. Raul Labrador (ID-1): b. 1967, Mormon, married, 5 children
Rep. Pat Meehan (PA-7): b. 1955, Catholic, married, 3 children
Dr. Scott DesJarlais (TN-4): b. 1964, Episcopalian, 1 child w first wife (divorced), 3 children w second wife
*Rep. Joe Walsh (IL-8): b. 1961, Catholic, 3 children w first wife (divorced), remarried, 2 children (w second wife?)
Rep. Trey Gowdy (SC-4): b. 1964, Baptist, married, 2 children
Rep. Dennis Ross (FL-12): b. 1959, Presbyterian, married, 2 children
Rep. Frank Guinta (NH-1): b. 1970, Catholic, married, 2 children
Rep. Blake Farenthold (TX-27): 1961, Episcopalian, married, 2 children
Rep. Mike Kelly (PA-3): b. 1948, Catholic, married, 4 children

Democrats

Rep. Elijah Cummings (MD-7), Ranking Member: b. 1951, Baptist, married, 3 children
Rep. Edolphus Towns (NY-10): b. 1934, Baptist, married, 2 children, surrogate to 2 nephews
Rep. Carolyn Maloney (NY-14): b. 1946, Presbyterian, widowed, 2 children
Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D.C.): b. 1937, Episcopalian, divorced, 2 children
Rep. Dennis Kucinich (OH-10): b. 1946, Catholic, 1 child w first wife (divorced), married to third wife
Rep. John Tierney (MA-6): b. 1951, Catholic, married, 3 stepchildren
Rep. Wm. Lacy Clay (MO-1): b. 1956, Catholic, divorced, 2 children
Rep. Stephen Lynch (MA-9): b. 1955, Catholic, married, 1 child, surrogate to niece
Rep. Jim Cooper (TN-5): b. 1954, Episcopalian, married, 3 children
Rep. Gerald Connolly (VA-11): b. 1950, Catholic, married, 1 child
Rep. Mike Quigley (IL-5): b. 1958, Catholic, married, 2 children
Rep. Danny Davis (IL-7): b. 1941, Baptist, married, 2 children
Rep. Bruce Braley (IA-1): b. 1957, Presbyterian, married, 3 children
Rep. Peter Welch (VT-At Large): b. 1947, Catholic, 5 stepchildren w first wife (deceased), 3 stepchildren w second wife
Rep. John Yarmuth (KY-3): b. 1947, Jewish, married, 1 child
Rep. Christopher Murphy (CT-5): b. 1973, nondenominational Christian, married, 2 children
Rep. Jackie Speier (CA-12): b. 1950, Catholic, 2 children w first husband (deceased), remarried

So what can we tell from this august group? Of the 40 members, 4 are women, 38 are some variety of Christian, and, apparently, damned near all of them almost certainly practice some form of birth control.

“Almost certainly”: I do not know and do not want to know the sexual habits or fertility of these men and women, whether they or their sexual partners have miscarried or had abortions, or whether there were any health problems during pregnancy or with any of their children.

None of this is my business. None.

But what is my business is the public activity of these 36 men and 4 women and what they prescribe to the rest of us in terms of our own, private, business. And while I tend not to make much of the usual gaps between private behavior and public pronouncements—I don’t actually know if any of these representatives have voted against making birth control more accessible—it is nonetheless worth noting that evidence suggests that these representatives (or, perhaps, their wives) have accessed birth control themselves.

________________
*Joe Walsh deserves special mention, and not just because he’s been sued by his ex-wife for child support and chastised by a judge for his non-cooperation; at the not-contraception hearing he stated This is not about women. This is not about contraceptives. We know, you’ve said it, we’ve said it up here. This is about religious freedom. This is about religious liberties.

Because women and religion have nothing to do with one another. Perfect.

(Biographical info from Wikipedia, Project VoteSmart, official home pages)








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