Sunday, March 29, 2015

Religious Freedom?

Governor Mike Pence of Indiana is having a rough weekend.  The reason?  His signature of Senate Bill 101, otherwise known as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA.).  Upon signing the bill, Governor Pence said:  “The Constitution of the United States and the Indiana Constitution both provide strong recognition of the freedom of religion but today, many people of faith feel their religious liberty is under attack by government action.”

Within hours of signing the legislation the backlash on the bill started.  Several significant business leaders have decried the decision including the CEO of, Apple's CEO Tim Cook, and the CEO of Gen Con LLC, who was planning on holding a major convention in Indianapolis and who now is considering canceling or relocating the convention.  The convention would infuse the state with an estimated $50M of revenue.   The reason people have come out so strongly against the decision to sign the bill is that they believe it gives corporations and individuals the right to discriminate against same sex couples.   Effectively, the law legalizes discrimination against gays.

The supporters of the bill argue that this supports religious freedom in that someone cannot be compelled to offer services or goods in violation of their religious beliefs.   This is not a new phenomenon.  Similar laws are on the books in 19 states, so perhaps Governor Pence felt like this wouldn't cause the firestorm of controversy the passage of the bill ignited.

The passage of the bill and the statement by Governor Pence (full text here) have set out another battleground in the current civil rights struggle regarding equality for LGBT people.  The bill's detractors are mobilizing en masse, and boycotts, social networking campaigns, celebrity and political voices raised against the passage are indicators that this issue will not be ignored.

What Governor Pence and the supporters of the bill claim is that they are protecting religious freedom.  Their point of view is that if you are religious, your religious beliefs trump the reality of day to day life.  You, as a religious person with a business can claim that your life is somehow adversely impacted by doing what you do every day, which is to sell your goods and services to consumers.  Somehow, simply because someone is gay and you are forced to serve them you have been injured.  The Governor and the authors of the legislation have a myopic view on this, because attempting to protect one's beliefs is causing injury to others.  There is an old maxim that is relevant in this discussion:  "The right for you to swing your fist stops at my nose..."  I think however, this has less to do with religious freedom than it does with religious disapproval of a person because of their sexual orientation.

The legislation, like many other similar laws passed by other states are in my opinion the dying throes of an antiquated and bigoted philosophy.  I sincerely believe that in 50 years our grand kids and their children will look back on this time and say "What were they thinking?"  It's already happening, but old prejudices die hard (see Ferguson) and hate has a long memory.   What I cannot abide though is the notion that a religious person (and face it folks, we're talking "Christians" here) would believe that the central figure in their faith would behave this way with gays anymore than he would with left-handed people, short people, fat people, tall people, and well you get the point.   Jesus Christ never had anything to say about gays.  Nothing, nada, zip.  The man was silent on a subject that seems to consume a large population of his followers to the point they will picket funerals, bully people, and pass laws that make discrimination against them legal.  I simply don't understand the idea that someone who said "Love thy neighbor as thyself" would sanction this behavior towards fellow humans.

Prejudice is all around us and in us. We all have our biases.  I for example, absolutely despise banjo music and think all banjos should be gathered up and thrown in a land-fill never to have their twangy, plucky, irritating sound heard again for eternity.  But, hey, I'm not trying to get anti-banjo legislation passed because my religious beliefs prohibit that horrible noise.   I get the prejudice. Guess what?  If you don't like gay marriage, don't get married to someone of the same sex.  If you don't like gay sex, then don't have it. There is an easy way to deal with this, and it's called "put on your big-boy pants and get over it".

I don't understand someone claiming treating people equally somehow violates your religious freedom.   If your religion compels you to behave this way perhaps you have the wrong religion.  Or, more likely, you're cherry picking the teachings of your faith to fit your particular prejudice.  It's not like it hasn't been done before.  For hundreds of years, "good Christian people" used religion to subjugate, terrorize, and murder people who didn't look like them or think like them or worship like them.  It's happening today with certain sects and factions in the Islamic community.  It will likely continue until people finally realize the commandments and directives they believe in are not derived by their gods but are actually manipulations written by some humans with an agenda.

It's no surprise to anyone who has read my articles that I am an Atheist.  The reason I am an Atheist is that I do not believe in a "God" who behaves worse in general than his/her/it's creation.   Am I certain there is no God?  No.  Just like those who believe in God are not certain there is.  Certainty requires evidence, and not simply faith.  Evidence of an omniscient, omnipotent, and beneficent deity is sorely lacking.  I digress though, as this isn't a rant against religion (that will come later).  The point of this post is twofold. One, we are humans and are different in as many ways as we are similar.  We are also a progressive species, and over time this ridiculous idea that gays are flawed humans or are "wrong" will fade into the dustbin of history.  Just as we don't burn witches at the stake anymore, we will one day not have absurd arguments about gays and their choice or lack thereof of life-style.

Finally,  and somewhat back to religion for a moment:  
I have an incredibly hard time believing that this guy (an ordained Presbyterian Minister) would be so hateful and prejudiced against other people because he spent his life telling people that "He liked them just they way they are".  Even though I'm an Atheist, I believe there has been no one in my lifetime that exemplified the teachings of Jesus Christ with respect to loving one's neighbor better than Fred Rogers.  If you think for a moment that this man didn't live his life in a manner that respects Jesus and truly represents Christianity, then your definition of Christian needs some additional thought.  Also, if you think for a moment that this gentle, wise and authentically kind person would support a law like the one passed in Indiana, then you need to go back and watch a few of the episodes of the "Neighborhood".  I think you'll come away with a different point of view. 

To couch this legislation as religious freedom protection should upset people of faith.  It is using their faith as a tool of manipulation to provide cover for bigotry and hatred.  I think the Governor and in particular the authors of this legislation should be ashamed of themselves and I would only ask them this:  If your child was gay, would you be proud that a store in Indiana can refuse to sell them a meal, or a suit, or a car because of who they are?  Seriously?

Tell me what you think,


Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Why I'm not supporting Hillary for 2016

The recent revelations of Ms. Clinton's failure to comply with government regulations regarding the use of email notwithstanding, I will not be supporting her almost inevitable bid for the presidency in 2016.  The reasons are many, and I will detail a few o them here.  However, before anyone believes I'm jumping ships over to the clown car that contains the group of the latest Republican wannabes, let me dispel that now.  I will not support a bunch of people that don't espouse belief in science, in diplomacy, in a women's right to control her own body, in marriage equality, or in dealing with income inequality and poverty.  The host of utter disappointments in the Republican field are as bad as they have ever been, and there is no way in hell that I'd lift a finger to support these charlatans.

Now that being said, let me return to the topic at hand.  Hillary Rodham Clinton, former First Lady of Arkansas, First Lady of the United States, Senator from New York, Secretary of State of the United States, is without a doubt a capable and intelligent woman.  She is also emblematic of what is wrong with politics in the United States today.  For too long, (at least since the 1980's) we have seen political parties do their best to convince the country that they are the "saviors" of America and just buying into their spiel will put things right.  To be sure, that's the way the system works.  One side derides the other, while both are claiming to want what is best for the population at large.  Listen to them both carefully, boil down their messages and essentially they say the same thing over and over again.  We want an America where every one can progress and achieve the American Dream!  We want a secure and strong America!  We want to make absolutely sure that you know we're the right party for you and those other guys are (insert whatever invective, pejorative, denigration or derision you want here).

Ms. Clinton has been in the public eye since the 1970's, when she partnered with William Jefferson Clinton, probably the greatest political campaigner and thinker about politics that I have ever seen in my lifetime.  She and Bill forged a partnership in the early 1970's and she transformed herself from a Goldwater Republican to a McGovern backing liberal.  Mr. Clinton has gone through many transformations himself.  Again, from being a McCarthy, McGovern liberal to transforming into a center-right Democrat as he needed to regain the governorship in Arkansas and eventually become the 42nd President of the United States.

Something happened along the way from Little Rock to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.  Both of them moved into the seductive and almost irresistible arena of big money politics.  Now, this may have been a political necessity, because if you don't get elected, you can't govern.  You can't get elected unless you compete, and in the latter part of the 20th century and certainly in the last two decades of the 21st century, you can't compete or get elected unless you have money.

The Clintons learned this lesson quickly as they are both incredibly intelligent people.  I believe they made a conscious decision that steers toward the meme that the "ends justify the means".  In other words, they would sell-out to Wall Street and other big-money people so they could get to the White House and then govern as best they could.  I believe that both are idealistic in some areas.  The work they have taken on is substantial and hard, and there are many other ways to get wealthy, so this isn't about personal, material gain. It is about power.   Power.  The ability to influence people and events to your manner of thinking.  The ability to force people and events into behaving the way you want them to.  It is I believe the singular drive for Ms. Clinton as it was for her husband.  They are in my mind the real-life model for Frank and Claire Underwood from the Netflix series House of Cards.  Now, I do not believe they would resort to the deviltry and chicanery that the Underwoods have done on their way to Pennsylvania Avenue.  That of course is fiction (by the way, I think series 3 is vastly disappointing).    I do believe however they are thinking first about how to arrange the chessboard in their favor. I think they will use whatever means necessary to achieve their goals.  Therein lies the problem to me.  When anyone moves beyond doing what is right for the people they serve to the doing what is right for them, then they have lost sight of what the job is.

Ms. Clinton is smart. She is accomplished.  In terms of capability, she puts her erstwhile competition over in the GOP clown car to shame.  She would probably get elected in a cake-walk.  But I hope not.  I hope she thinks about this and decides to forgo the campaign.  She won't, because like her husband, the White House is the goal, and for whatever rationalized reasons she comes up with, she believes she is the best person to be President.   I don't.  I'm looking for a game-changer.  I want someone that can look up on the job as a job and something that requires commitment to the values and vision the candidates campaign on.  What I foresee in a Clinton administration is more triangulation, more gamesmanship, more working around the edges of a problem than actually fixing it.  I see an administration that will be too cozy with the Lloyd Blankfeins and Jamie Diamonds and not one that will focus on the hard work to resolve the hard problems in the country.  I see a massively divisive government if she is elected, even more so that the current situation, because before their was Barack Obama, there was Bill and Hillary.  I remember well the invective thrown at the Clintons by the Republicans then and they look like amateurs compared with the nest of vipers in the GOP today.  So, there will be even more noise about perceived wrongs and executive overreach with a Clinton Administration.  I think the country is exhausted with this noise out of Washington. I certainly am.

I don't see anyone who has shown an interest in the job that fits that mold though and it is disappointing.  It's certainly early and there's always a chance someone might enter into the fray that is focused on really solving problems versus accumulating power.  

So, this liberal will not be supporting the presumed nominee for the Democratic Party.  I am looking for something else.  I wonder what Bill Gates is up to these days?

Tell me what you think.