Sunday, April 26, 2015

War on Christianity in the US? - I think not

Full disclosure:  The article you are about to read (or not), is written by an atheist.   So, if that's enough to turn you off from the rest of the column, then so be it. I can respect that.  I only disclose my atheism to establish a baseline up front from where my perspective on the topic of the article comes from.  If that tells you I'm bias, o.k., but I'd just ask that you give the article some consideration and think about it a bit.  This article will not slam people of faith. I don't do that. I have no axe to grind with people who believe in a God or Gods as long as they don't attempt to impose those beliefs on me through coercion, legislation, or force. I will in turn not ask you to substantiate your beliefs, because while I know that is as impossible as proving that there's not a ceramic teapot orbiting the earth at this very moment it is irrelevant to me.  Believe what you want to believe. I respect many people of faith and appreciate the way they live their faith through their actions.   I also do not respect many people of faith because of their actions and words.  That is what this article is about as well as the "Twilight Zone" reality that many of the people quoted seem to reside in.  So, here goes, and I'd like to get your comments and opinion. 
Ah yes, the political silly season has started again (actually, does it ever end? I'd like a break in the foolishness sometimes.  Maybe just a day or two.)in full force and along with that, we now see cries from folks such as Mike Huckabee that there is a literal "war" on Christians in this country.   Mr. Huckabee said this past week that "The United States is moving toward "criminalization of Christianity" as a result of legalizing same-sex marriage."   He went on to say "I think it's fair to say that Christian convictions are under attack as never before, Not just in our lifetime, but ever before in the history of this great nation."  The article, published in Politico (click the link for the full text) suggest that because of a movement towards same-sex marriage equality, we are at war with Mr. Huckabee and those who believe what he believes.  Well, I would suggest that the term "war" is a bit over the top.  No one is launching cruise missiles at Mr. Huckabee or for that matter any Christian church in the nation as far as I know.  But, that aside, Mr. Huckabee has decided that Christians are under attack because people are beginning to come to the conclusion that same-sex marriage isn't the evil it has been purported to be, and that in the interest of fairness, gay people should have the same rights relative to marriage as non-gay people.  Mr. Huckabee is an ordained minister, and oh yes, a former Governor of Arkansas, and oh yes, a former presidential candidate who won a primary in Iowa in 2008, and finally, oh yes, a likely candidate for president again in 2016.   So, is Mr. Huckabee's assertion one from deeply believed convictions or is it a straw-man argument to gain support from the more fundamentally religious voters?  I'll let you be the judge of that.  However,   This "movement towards criminalization of Christianity" that Mr. Huckabee is on about seems to me to be more about being against same-sex marriage than it is persecuting people's religious beliefs. 

Let's get a little context before we go on.  There is indeed religious persecution in this world. There are countries who sanction it.  One of them is Saudi Arabia, who will lock you up for proselytizing faiths other than the state sanctioned religion.  In many countries in Africa, Syria, Iraq, Iran, China, and many other countries, you can be considered criminal for practicing a faith that is not sanctioned by the state.  There is no doubt that Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, and many other religions are seeing their followers attacked, killed or imprisoned and this is simply flat wrong.   However, there is no such activity going on in this country nor will there ever be.  Why?  Because we are a nation of multiples.  The core make up of this country is one of infused thoughts and ideas from many places across the world.  Different religious beliefs abound in the United States.  There are thousands of different sects of Christians practicing their religion in the United States.  There are Muslims, Jews, Wiccans, Pagans, Scientologists, Native Americans who have multiple faiths, and on, and on and on.  We have a as a country gone to great lengths to respect the religious religious beliefs of our fellow Americans.  I see no overt attempt to deny any one's right to worship or believe in what they choose to believe, until it begins to invade another person's rights.   The maxim that "your right to swing your fist ends before it hits my nose" is appropriate here.  You're faith can inform you, it can comfort you, it can provide strength or peace.  What it should never do is put the people that do not share your beliefs or whose lifestyle you find repugnant into a situation where they are denied the same legal protection of rights and privileges you hold dear.

The sticking point here is about a person's "faith" informing them that pizzeria owners can decide not to serve you a pizza if you're gay.  They believe that a business, which while maybe a private business, but must still abide by the laws of this land and utilizes the "commons" (roads, bridges, and other services paid for by the tax payers without which they could not do business) can discriminate based on their beliefs.  

Governor Bobby Jindal, Louisiana's chief executive and he himself perhaps a presidential contender in 2016, recently penned an op-ed in the New York Times titled 'I'm Holding Firm Against Gay Marriage" has suggested that because "Our country was founded on the principle of religious liberty, enshrined in the Bill of Rights. Why shouldn't an individual or business have the right to cite, in a court proceeding, religious liberty as a reason for not participating in a same-sex marriage ceremony that violates a sincerely held religious belief?" businesses should be allowed to discriminate against same sex couples in the normal course of their business operations.  OK, Governor Jindal's state, like many others have adopted over the last few years laws such as Louisiana's "Religious Freedom Restoration Act", which essentially codifies discrimination.   The governor will tell you that it doesn't, it simply protects businesses from legal action because of their religious beliefs.  So, essentially while you're not supposed to discriminate, the legislation provides a "fire-wall" of defense in case you get sued in a civil action that will protect you.   As long as your religious beliefs could have been violated if you were forced to sell a gay couple that pizza, when you refused to do so, and the couple sued you, you would be protected.  

This type of subversive legislation is being passed by many states (see Indiana's recent imbroglio as an example) as a measure of "protecting religious liberty".  Suppose, then if  I'm a follower of Jack Lalane, the exercise guru in the 1960s and 1970's, and my fellow followers petitioned the federal government and got affirmation that yes we were indeed a religion (see Scientology). My religion is called Lalanisty. Now, I run a donut shop  in Baton Rouge.  I should be able to deny a fat person a donut because my religious beliefs inform me that I should only be required to sell donuts to healthy, skinny people. This is basically the basis of Governor Jindal's and those who support these types of legislation arguments.  Because they find what you do repugnant, they shouldn't have to serve you.   

The idea of this of course is not new.  It's been around a long time.  When reason begins to take hold, and fear and ignorance fall by the way side, issues like same-sex marriage start to gain acceptance.  The more ardent believers that the issue is wrong begins to justify continuing it's bigotry with religious justifications or "natural law" justifications.  Here's an example of the thinking about another issue that when you read them are easily transported into the 21st century in discussions around same-sex marriage:
  1.  "They cannot possibly have any progeny, and such a fact sufficiently justifies those laws which forbid the intermarriage of blacks and whites" - State v. Jackson, Missouri (1883)
  2.  "The amalgamation of the races is not only unnatural, but is always productive of deplorable results. Our daily observation shows us, that the offspring of these unnatural connections are generally sickly and effeminate (...)They are productive of evil, and evil only, without any corresponding good." - Scott v. Georgia (1869)
  3.  "The law's stated purpose was to prevent abominable mixture and spurious issue."  It "forbade miscegenation on the grounds that racial mixing was scientifically unsound and would 'pollute' America with mixed-blood offspring." - Virginia's Racial Integrity Act of 1924
  4. . "By the laws of Massachusetts intermarriages between these races are forbidden as criminal.  Why forbidden? Simply because natural instinct revolts as it as wrong." - Senator James R. Doolittle (D-WI), (1863)
  5.  "Intermarriages between white persons and Negroes or mulattoes were regarded as unnatural and immoral."  - Scott v. Sandford (1857)
  6.  "Although there is no verse in the Bible that dogmatically says the races should not intermarry, the whole plan of God as He has dealt with the races down through the ages indicate that interracial marriage is not best for man." - Bob Jones University (1998), yes, you read that right.  1998.
All of these citations of course are about the thinking around interracial marriage.  It wasn't until the Supreme Court put this issue to rest in 1967 in Loving v. Virginia, that the matter was given legal protection by the United States, and it became illegal for those people who objected on religious grounds to perform a civil marriage, or even a sectarian marriage between interracial couples.
Guess what?  The Republic stands.  The "immorality and unnaturalness" of interracial marriages was based on fear and ignorance, and when finally the prohibitions were done away with, we recognize as a society that the views, however faithfully subscribed to, on this topic were wrong.  During this time frame, there were similar cries of religious persecution against those who believed in their heart of hearts that racial integration through marriage was wrong.  It's time for us as a country to do the same with the issue of same-sex marriage equality.  There are 36 states who have legalized marriage between same-sex couples.  Guess what?  The Republic stands.
I would suggest to you that the notion of a war on Christianity is simply false.  The idea is being pushed by politicians and certain religious leaders as a way of dividing people and ginning up votes or money.  By the way, why is it that several religious leaders in the Christian family of denominations have no problem with homosexuality or marrying same sex couples?  They preach from the same Bible that those who find it "un-Christian", as Mr. Huckabee evidently does.  They worship the same Jesus. They keep the same commandments.   It's curious to me.

I'd like to hear from those who disagree, and actually believe that somehow Christians are being persecuted.  I'm not interested in ad hominem attacks, but a serious discussion on how you see the issue.   

Tell me what you think.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

The 2016 Presidential Election - Off and Running

So, it has begun.   On 3/23/2015, Senator Ted Cruz, R-Texas formally declared his candidacy to become the 45th President of these United States of America.  597 days to election day, the junior senator from Texas launched the official campaign season to replace President Obama as the occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania avenue. 

Since that time, Hillary Clinton, the presumptive candidate for the Democratic party's nomination, Marco Rubio, Republican senator from Florida, and Rand Paul, Republican senator from Kentucky have also formally declared that they are in the race to gain your vote to become President.  And soon, we'll likely hear from former Governor Jeb Bush, Governor Scott Walker, former Governor Mike Huckabee, Governor Chris Christie, former Governor Rick Perry and a host of others who are vying for the nomination of the GOP to compete against Ms. Clinton, who at this time has no serious declared opposition.

So what are we to make of this field of GOP candidates?  Certainly, they are getting off to an early start.  It seems like the 2012 election just happened, and the new candidates are off and running again.  In my life time, I do not recall the tournament beginning as early as this one has.  The field of potential candidates is too large to make a prediction on who will eventually win the GOP nomination.  There are according to, a seemingly non-partisan and fairly objective site that is tracking candidates, 29 potential candidates for the GOP nomination, 12 of whom have formally declared.  Now, all but 3 of the declared candidates are unlikely to be heard of by the general public, but nonetheless the field is crowded at this point.

Indeed, the slate of candidates and potential candidates includes business leaders, politicians, an ordained minister and even a neurosurgeon.   The field of politicians includes 10 governors (either sitting or former), that include the likes of Bush, Walker, Christie, but also Huckabee, Jindahl, Kasich, Pataki, Erlich, Snyder and a few others.  The business leaders include Carly Fiorina, the former HP CEO, and the omnipresent Donald J. Trump, real estate mogul and TV personality.  The array of candidates will provide an interesting mix of experience, point of view, and hopefully some comic relief as they careen toward the primary season.   I expect several of the candidates known and unknown will fall aside due to lack of funding, interest, or other factors.  Certainly, the poll from CNN which was conducted between April 16-19 and is shown on the graphic indicates that "Other Candidates or None of the Above" are currently leading 8 of the candidates shown.  That can't be too uplifting for Chris Christie or Rick Perry, but it's early days. Who knows?  One or more of them may vault to the top before this thing is done.  What is certain, is that we will soon be seeing a never ending stream of political ads, You-Tube videos, and never ending bloviating from the punditry on who will be the nominee. 

As this race is just beginning, and it's a fools errand to pick a nominee at this point, I'm going to publish series of articles on this blog that will highlight the differences in the candidates and their specific views and experiences on those factors that would make a president.   The methodology I will use is described below, and will be ironically objective, because as anyone who has read this blog or knows me can attest, I will not be voting for any of them.  As an avowed Liberal, not one of these individuals will get my support or money.  So, I can be objective about their attributes both positive and negative from the standpoint of who will have the best chance of winning the nomination.   There will be no comparison to Hillary Clinton or any other Independent candidate, and I'll focus on the following factors to make my evaluation of the candidates:

1. Experience - What experience does the candidate possess that makes them more qualified than another for leading a country?
2. Leadership - What leadership traits does the potential candidate possess that makes them suited for the office?
3. Vision - What views, thoughts, ideas, perspectives does the potential candidate possess that can capture the nation's attention and support?
4. Empathy - Does the candidate have a track record of understanding the American people from the wealthiest to the poorest? Is the candidate in touch with the country at large?

Those four factors while general in nature are critical to understanding a person's ability to be President.  Rating the candidates will be done on a 5 point scale, with 1 being a value that indicates the highest qualifications in the category and 5 being the lowest.   In my next article, I'll have the weighting descriptions described for the entire scale.   

The evaluation of the candidates will be my own, and not an indicator of who I necessarily think will win the nomination, but who I think should win the nomination.   As to who will win, we will leverage the same CNN Poll that shows the initial standings of the candidates and comment on week to week changes  where the competitors stack up against each other.  I will make a prediction on the nominee in January of 2016, which even then may be too early as the primary season will not yet be in full bloom.  Until then, I will provide as much information on the candidates as I can in order to give the reader a worthwhile use of their time. 

I'm interested to hear if there are other factors you consider when picking a candidate for President.  Please let me know, as we can certainly consider adding those to the mix. 

Tell me what you think.