Archive for the ‘Religion’ category

Liberty, Freedom, And The American Way

July 26, 2017

Liberty and Freedom sound like words describing absolute states of being. “I cherish my liberty” or I am prepared to fight for my freedoms”. Listening to public rhetoric, one would think one either has liberty or one has not, one is either free or one is not. Hmmm.

In fact, these are not absolute words and far more resemble a relative state of being. Compared to an authoritarian State such as Russia, Americans have more “liberty”. Russia could be compared to an even more authoritarian State, such as North Korea, and in this light one could assert Russian citizens had more Liberty.

For the past few years many US conservatives have complained about “wanting their freedom back”, they sought “liberty from the oppression of the Federal Government”.

Incredible.

The object of this American’s anger seems to range from paying taxes, to limits on grazing animals on Federal land, to the price of healthcare, and the favorite old saw, “they” are going to take my guns away. In 2016, the dissatisfaction of many Americans combined with the “let me tell you what you want to hear” politicians to elect an unqualified and emotionally unfit President and backed him up with a special interest funded Congress. What could be more in the American Way.

PBS has run a special on life 50 years ago. The focus was the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco and the hippie community that blossomed that summer. Talk about liberty and freedom, the hippies were a case book example.

The video showed the wide spread use of marijuana, LSD, and other drugs, the open living arrangements, and the selfless sharing of food, clothing, and shelter which the hippies chose for themselves. And there was no shortage of non-hippies who felt their liberty threatened and their freedoms held hostage by people who wanted to make love, not war.

The American Way has often been a convenient euphemism for what’s right, and the proper way to accomplish things. Not surprisingly, “the American Way” also serves well to aid and abet those more interested in restricting liberties or constricting freedoms. In the name of preserving their own liberty or freedom, too many Americans feel free to constrict the liberty or freedom of others.

The “Bathroom Bills” (one now pending in Texas) is a good example. Requiring transexuals to use only the bathroom of their born gender is a cure for no problem and loss of liberty for a few. Allowing churches with deeply held views on birth control to deny workers in church affiliated businesses the same benefits other Americans receive from their non-religious employers is shameful, and is particularly repugnant when these religious organization claim protection of their religious liberties and freedoms. And, who, in the 21st century, can profess a thirst for liberty and freedom on one hand, and with the other, attempt to deny women their natural liberty on the use of their bodies and the freedom of the right to choose?

Clearly we still live in a country with much liberty and we enjoy many freedoms. Much of this liberty and freedom flows from a country which practices the rule of law and guards against any free speech trespasses.

In case one has not been paying attention, real restrictions on liberty and freedom could be just a “tweet” away.

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Viability

July 7, 2017

The recent news involving President Trump and the Pope raise questions not often discussed in the popular media. What are the relevant ethics around preserving life? For the Pope this is no surprise, for President Trump it might be a bit out of character.

This controversy involves a British couple whose infant son was born with a rare genetic disorder where the child cannot move or produce enough energy to keep his own organs functioning. Fifty years ago, the child would have simply gotten weaker and weaker, and died a natural death. Today, doctors have advanced diagnosis techniques and have managed to keep the child alive using heroic means (life support and special feeding). Without these measures doctors say the child would have died.

In the case of this infant with a “un-curable”genetic order, the hospital’s argument is somewhat different. The hospital contends the child’s situation is hopeless and continued heroic efforts, in essence, will be both fruitless and take medical resources away from other sick patients who could use them. In other words, the ethics of continuing heroic efforts is “unethical” towards others. Why, because the patient’s life is not viable on its own and continued medical care is highly unlikely to change the condition.

Oddly President Trump and the Pope have offered help to keep the infant alive.

Many of us are familiar with certain religions who argue that all efforts should be employed to keep life going, and less frequently, others which do not believe in medical healing, let alone heroic measures. For these latter religions, prayer alone is enough.

Consequently hospitals often have to go into court seeking the right to proceed with life saving treatments which the individual or his/her guardian has opposed. The hospital argues that science and medical ethics compels them to seek court approval to treat.

In general, this type of medical situations bring out advocates on both sides. IMO, those choosing no medical intervention, for example for themselves, when making an informed decision, are on ethically sound footing. Those choosing to deny (or employ) medical methods for others, however, must be viewed cautiously around what right do they have to intercede.

In the case of the British child, the Hospital seems on sound grounds to deny continued heroic efforts but why should the parents not be able to seek heroic methods from other sources? Hmmm.

One way to resolve this dilemma is to ask, will the child’s life meet a “viability” standard, that is, could the child now, or in the foreseeable future, be able to live without heroic measures? If the answer is no, then the hospital should be completely in the clear to deny heroic measures. But does it follow that the parents are free seek other hospitals to take over?

The simple answer should be, yes they should be able since they are the guardians. But, as humans, the “viability” ethic standard ought to apply to them too.

Unless the State steps in and makes the calculated decision that parents have no right to use limited resources, namely heroic medical care, especially if there is no hope of attaining viability, then a dependent child is subject to what ever the society (family, local government, or higher government unit) decides.   Politics could be a real factor.

Love and blind hope are powerful stimulants.  The British parents are holding out against the odds that their child might be saved.  And, who knows, maybe a cure might be found.  But the odds do not support this hope.  In a world of limited resources, both the seeker and those provided with life saving resources must consider where these resources will be most productive.

President Trump is most likely looking for a positive reaction from his supporters and nothing more.  The Pope is most likely motivated by his religious beliefs but may also want to send a dogmatic statement about life in general.  Economics, which are inescapable, sends the warning of how important it is too allocate scarce resource.

Hmmm.

Deeply Held Religious Freedom

June 26, 2017

Hmmm. The Supreme Court has agreed to hear on appeal a case where a cake maker refused to serve a gay couple who wished to purchase a decorated cake for their wedding.

The baker claimed that his deeply held religious views would be compromised because the bible and his religion instructed him not to recognize homosexuality. The Supreme Court will now weigh in on whether religious rights can justify discrimination.

When I think about religion, the first thought that comes to mind is, ”love your neighbor as yourself”. So it seems to me incomprehensible how a serious religion can say, “hold on a minute, the Bible did not mean all neighbors”.

Regrettably, too many religions find it useful to divide and conquer the masses. By assigning “good” to some and “bad” to others, religious leaders can more easily influence the congregation’s direction, and not to be overlooked, the congregation’s gift giving (to the religious leaders). So one might be justified to suspect to any claim of “deeply held” religious views.

If a black person went into any store and when they requested a service, they were told that store does not serve black people, would there be a question that his behavior was illegal? And the same can be said about a Christian denying service to a Jew, or a Jew denying service to a Muslim. So what is it about homosexuals who want to celebrate their marriage?

Mormons were once upon a time excited about having multiple wives. Federal law prohibits that practice and did that Federal law not go against deeply held religious views?

Jehovah Witnesses do not believe in blood transfusions. Yet courts have ordered blood transfusions when medically necessary to save a life viewing the refusal of a blood transfer to be scientifically unfounded and tantamount to committing suicide.

Arguments before the Supreme Court will not take place until the Court’s new term in October. Between now and then, the public could boycott this religious baker and help this religious person reap the benefits of his deeply held views.

Blasphemy ?

May 10, 2017

Recently President Trump issued an executive order apparently in an attempt to give greater freedom to religious organizations allowing them to speak out in the public square and not lose their tax exempt status. Regaining The Center pointed out some of the risks associated with this bogus issue in a posting “Should I Worry About My Freedoms”. Now news of a blasphemy conviction of the former Jakarta Indonesia Governor brings greater focus on a place Americans should not go.

Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, also known as Ahok, was convicted of blasphemy over charges that Ahok had told some voters that the Koran does not instruct Muslims to only vote for other Muslims. Ahok is a Christian. Hmmm.

There is a reason the US founding fathers were careful to separate church and State. Their fears of State religion was well founded and Indonesia has just demonstrated this clearly.

Great America From Down Under

February 18, 2017

I am traveling presently in Australia. The experience has been both stimulating and at the same time therapeutic. There is hope that rational political views can dominate a society.

Thankfully Australian television news offers only snippets of American political drama yo remind me of the opposite. Regretfully Australian international news reports, augmented with internet news, has allowed me to experience the perverse contrast between a sane political system and the pseudo-“Make America Great Again” crowd.

Australia may not be a great power, or great in all things. But in terms of government civility and general hospitality of its population, it offers American visitors a breath of fresh air. To be sure, for xenophobes, religious zealots, and anti-gays, Australia is far less attractive than the Trump/GOP Sponsored America.

The big Australian political debate is whether the country’s energy goal should be 30% renewable or 50%. Cannabis, women and gay rights, and voting requirements are all settled issues. Australia does struggle with integrating diversity into its society but the government’s public face is four square behind respect for all groups.

Conversely, the US public face which most of the world saw as wise and prudent (and maybe a little too timid) under President Obama is flabbergasted over who this person Trump is, and what in the world he is really about.

IMO, all the signs of a George W Bush Administration are present. Trump/GOP combo will with one hand emasculate regulatory and public service departments, and with the other cut and dice Americans by vilifying the media, demonizing certain religions and creating a false fear around Mexico and Mexicans.  The call is clear to take sides.

What does the future look like?

Most likely unforeseen events (like Katrina, Iraq, or the mortgage scandal)  will bring the Trump/GOP regime to its knees. Whether it is hubris or just plain incompetence, Trump et al will reap the consequences of a short sighted, mean spirited populous agenda.

Supreme Decision

February 1, 2017

With the nomination of Federal Appeals Court Judge, Neil Gorsuch, a difficult decision lies in front of Democrat Senators. Do they oppose his confirmation at all costs or do they object but in the end allow him to be confirmed? And more to the point, why in either case?

Judge Gorsuch claims to be someone who interprets the Constitution as the framers intended and reads laws in the context of how they were created, not how they would impact the future. Judge Gorsuch as been described as “Scalia-esq” without the bombastic-ness Antonin Scalia employed. So does Judge Gorsuch deserve a hearing?

It should be very understandable if Democrats chose a “tit for tat” response reflecting Mitch McConnell’s decision to not even give hearings to Merritt Garland. On this basis alone, a logical refusal to confirm could be based.

Over time, however, political sentiment shifts back and forth from conservative to progressive and back. It should therefore not be overlooked that in the future as the recent past, progressives have been nominated. (Judge Garland’s treatment, unfortunately, hurts this argument).  Never the less, a complete stonewall of Gorsuch would only serve to dignify McConnell’s dysfunctional behavior.

Assuming there is a hearing, what questions should be asked? And what type of answers will indicate Judge Gorsuch is not “out of the mainstream”?

Judge Gorsuch calls himself an “originalist” in the Antonin Scalia mold.  Questions around social issues and religious rights represent places where (IMO) “originalists” are the furtherest out on the limb and may be seen as out of the mainstream.

For example, supporting the Little Sisters of the Poor’s or Hobby’s decision not to provide all of Obamacare’s benefits to women for religious reasons runs dead smack into the 14th Amendment (equal protection). The Affordable Care Act required no one to use any birth control method, ACA simply made it available to any woman who so chose. Does Judge Gorsuch believe exercising religious liberty can over ride the 14th Amendment?

Another social issue involves individual gay rights such as employment discrimination and same sex marriage. Does freedom of religion allow someone with “deeply held religious beliefs” to fire or refuse to hire someone, or to withhold services to a customer on the basis of sexual orientation?

And of course, does any government have the right to interfere with a women’s choices on her reproductive health, and by extension, does a person with deeply held religious views or any religious institution have standing in denying any women such rights?

Judge Gorsuch’s beliefs in other areas such as tort, tax, and corporate law, while important, are less relevant since the Judge’s opinions are well known to be the conservative side.

It is instead the social issues which are dividing the country and are not to be found in thoughts of our founding fathers.

A simple principle might be, “believe what you want, live personally your beliefs, do not require others to follow your beliefs”.

Repositioning American Foreign Policy

January 24, 2017

President Trump’s inaugural address has been characterized as “dark” and “unprecedented”. Thankfully it was short and certainly was devoid of much flowery language. One might think Trump’s purpose was not to build inclusiveness, in fact.

Could his purpose have been to simply stir the pot, put everyone on notice, and see who flinches?

Let’s begin with the State and Defense Departments. The following words taken from the inaugural text captures his intent to “reposition” American foreign policy.

We will seek friendship and goodwill with the nations of the world — but we do so with the understanding that it is the right of all nations to put their own interests first.

We do not seek to impose our way of life on anyone, but rather to let it shine as an example for everyone to follow.

Most recent Administrations have explicitly advocated America’s role in championing  “the spread of American-style democracy” including emphasis on human rights, calling out nations whom our State Department dubs as bad actors. Sanctions, isolation, and even military intervention have followed. Remember nation building in Afghanistan and regime change, followed by nation building in Iraq? One could justly claim these initiatives were intended to advance democracy and improve human rights.  After these costly ventures, our eyes find a huge waste of money as well as a dismal failure versus our stated objective.

Putting the scarcity of success aside, each of these previous Administrations has also failed to hold a mirror up and examine just what type of democracy and human rights examples the US projected. For example, the US incarcerates more of its citizens than any other modern country. The US’ use of capital punishment places the country in the company of third world countries. Don’t overlook the convenient use of torture in the aftermath of 9/11. And, healthcare outcomes for African Americans and poor citizens are sharply inferior to whites and wealthy Americans.

So repositioning US foreign policy is not a meritless proposal. The US is not a flawless model and our track record of intervention is abysmal.

Repositioning will not be a walk in the park. The world without some form of American leadership could by default nominate other far less worthy nations into leadership. While wars seem to be part of the human condition, it has been almost 75 years since world wars have been the foreign policy choice of relationship. Repositioning may be akin to putting a stick down once someone has stuck the stick into a bees nest.  Dramatic repositioning may  be very difficult.

The Trump Administration might also recognize the irony that on Friday, President Trump gave his inaugeral speech and on Monday, as one of his first official acts, the President signed an executive order that reimposes a ban on the use of US funds in any country where the funding might be used to inform those countries’ residents about abortions.

Where did “We do not seek to impose our way of life on anyone” suddenly go?