Tag Archives: politics

Time to Govern, Republicans

The Republican party now controls the Senate, the House of Representatives, the Presidency, and almost total legislative control of 25 states. Very soon after Inauguration Day, there will be more conservatives on the Supreme Court and possibly a few more conservative justices over the next few years.

This is all to say that the Republican agenda has very few roadblocks to implement their agenda, after being in the position of the minority (nationally, even if not at the state level) for the past few years. Now, there is no Obama to blame, and no significant push-back from Democrats legislatively.

So, time to govern. There is no reason why all the ideas that Republicans have been saying for the past few years cannot be implemented. They’ve been telling the American people, “If only Obama wasn’t in the White House, we would bring back all your jobs, lower taxes, eliminate the national debt, provide health care, unleash the free market to rebuild this country, protect your religious freedom, your guns, and all your other freedoms.” Ok, sounds great. So, do it.

I think there are some valid conservative ideas around economic policy and immigration, even though I wish they were a little more compassionate. So, I’m not dismissing all Republican ideas out of hand. I’m perfectly willing to listen to ideas and be convinced. And, I also am willing to listen to results. So, let’s see some results.

Governing is different than complaining. It’s one thing to vote to take away healthcare from 20 million people when you know the President will veto the bill. It’s another to actually take away healthcare from 20 million people (unless you actually replace it with something better).

Good luck, Republicans. I wish for our country to succeed and for our world to be safer and more prosperous tomorrow than it is today.

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A reply to Archbishop Naumann

I recently read Archbishop Naumann’s on theleaven.org. In it, he criticizes Tim Kaine for holding a personal opposition to abortion even as he legislates as a pro-choice candidate and senator. I think the abortion debate in this country is generally pretty ugly and dominated by religious reasoning. I am pro-choice for a few reasons, one of which is that even if abortion was criminalized, abortions would still happen. However, they would be much more dangerous, hidden, and committed without any regard for the life of the mother. I also take issue with some of the typical arguments used by pro-life advocates, namely that every human life is sacred and must be protected at all costs. And, no, this does not make me “pro-abortion”, a terrible slander that is used to portray pro-choice advocates as heartless murderers. Believing abortion should be legal, and hoping that abortion would never be needed are not contradictory.

If you are religious and you are pro-life because you believe that is what God wants, then you may as well stop reading. How can human reason compare with God’s? I don’t have an argument against religious reasons for opposition to abortion, because nothing can be said to overcome a sincerely held religious belief. I do not have religious reasons for being pro-choice, and so I am fully committed to weighing arguments on both sides and deciding what I think best. Thus far, I have decided that the pro-choice argument makes more sense to me, but I’m willing to be persuaded otherwise.

Anyway, to Archbishop Naumann. He states that Senator Kaine stated all the usual “made-for-modern-media sound bites” and then listed two sentences that are perfectly reasonable and another one that has only come up because Donald Trump made an ill-advised comment.

  1. “It is not proper to impose his religious beliefs upon all Americans.”
    • Since when is this a sound-bite? This has been a fundamental principle since our founding.
  2. “He trusts women to make good reproductive choices.”
    • Should we not trust people to make their own reproductive choices? Again, if you are a strict Catholic (or other strict Christian), then you believe that there is no option other than procreative sex and nothing else, but that is a choice that each individual makes. When, how, and with whom to have sex are personal questions that each person has to answer. This statement again, does not seem unreasonable.
  3. “Do we really want to criminalize and fill our jails with post-abortive women?”
    • Donald Trump said that there should be some type of punishment for women who seek an abortion. He later walked it back and I think that he simply thought it was in keeping with what pro-life people wanted to hear, but the vast majority of pro-life people have never wanted to jail women who seek an abortion, so this is being used as a scare tactic by Democrats to whip up votes.

The Archbishop then proceeds to talk about how Senator Kaine has no problem imposing his religious beliefs with regard to “the church’s opposition to racism or our preferential treatment for the poor.” While it is true that the Church has recently embraced these things, it has not always been the case. The Church has embraced racism at various times (slavery, anti-Semitism, to name two instances) and their treatment of the poor has been uneven. Should the Church not do as Jesus commanded and sell all they have and give it to the poor? I imagine St. Peter’s Basilica could house, clothe and feed a lot of poor people. Or is the Archbishop advocating to remove the tax-free treatment that churches receive, so that those tax dollars can be used to better fund anti-poverty measures?

“He appears not to be conflicted with our public policies mirroring the Ten Commandments with regard to stealing, perjury or forms of murder, other than abortion.” You do not have to be religious to understand that stealing, perjury, and murder are  harmful to society. Does Archbishop Naumann really believe that people were constantly murdering, stealing, and lying before the Ten Commandments were revealed? Of course not, Adam and Even never would have made it out of Eden if this were so.

“Our founders actually believed that the right to life is given to us by our Creator, not the Supreme Court.” The founders also believed that you could be deprived of life, liberty, and property under our laws. So, the right to life is not an absolute right. Additionally, the founders also believed in slavery and that women were inferior, so perhaps we shouldn’t assume that just because the founders thought it, it must be right.

“[A]t the moment of fertilization a new human life has begun with his or her own distinct DNA.” While the biology of this is technically correct, why the emphasis on human life? What makes a fertilized human egg a life worth protecting? This gets into a fundamental philosophical question about what life is worth saving. Most people would agree that all human life is worth saving, until we get into the details. If we try to look at particular cases of horrible people, then we may not agree that all human life is worth saving, such as rapists, murderers, enemy combatants in war, etc. Now, you could try to make an innocence argument, that the humans in the womb are necessarily innocent. Depending on what Christian doctrine you subscribe to, you may believe that all humans are stained with sin from conception, tainted and therefore not innocent. Looked at in this way, babies in a womb are no more innocent than the rapist. I personally think this is ridiculous and would be a sign of a horribly unjust God.

“Does anyone really have the choice to end another human being’s life? Our choices end where another individual’s more fundamental rights begin.” This is a climax of the argument and meant to be a final blow to anyone who could disagree with the author. However, we can follow this down to its logical conclusion and end up in a pretty terrifying place. First, the state and the military clearly have the choice to end another human being’s life. Both of those groups do it all the time. Before we quibble about how those are organizations and not ‘people’, let’s be clear that people have to perform the action. An executioner has to perform the execution. The state did not kill someone, a person did. The military as an organization did not kill an opposing army’s soldier, our soldier did it with a gun (or drone).

If we follow the choices argument, then we need to think much more carefully about our choices. Do you have a smartphone? Then you took away someone’s fundamental rights as the enslavement and horrific working conditions of people manufacturing these smartphones has been well documented. Did you spend money eating out, when you could have donated that money to the poor and potentially prevented someone from starving to death? Did you invite a homeless person into your home to stay warm on a freezing winter night? If not, then you may very well have made a choice that killed someone. Nobody would ever hold you personally responsible for these deaths, but we cannot simply say that we cannot make a choice that ever infringes on someone else’s rights. We would be left unable to take any action.

“[G]uilt and unresolved grief that inevitably resolves from abortion.” I take issue with the qualifier “inevitably”. This is saying that every abortion results in grief and guilt and I am sure that is not the case. You can easily find stories of women who chose to have an abortion and do not regret it or feel grief.

There is a long paragraph about how Senator Kaine has imposed his beliefs on others by forcing religious institutions to provide contraception, which is false, put florists out of business if they don’t support gay marriage, which is partially true, and force every American to fund abortions. To all of these I say, you live in a society and part of the social contract is that you have to abide by certain rules. Religious institutions can simply say they don’t want to provide contraception and they don’t have to. Florists and other businesses cannot discriminate. If you want to discriminate, don’t start a business. Our tax dollars go to support a lot of things that you or I don’t agree with. But, this doesn’t mean that you get to stop paying taxes. Taxes are the price you pay for living in a society.

Lastly, the author gives an endorsement for Donald Trump without mentioning him by name. I can understand how Christian conservatives cannot vote for or support Hilary Clinton. I get it. But to endorse Donald Trump cedes any moral high ground that you may have had. I’ve been considering leaving the presidential ticket blank and simply voting for all of the down-ballot races. This seems perfectly legitimate. Trump and Clinton are both flawed, but Trump is much more flawed and dangerous than Clinton.

This was a long post and I’m sure some people will be angry and others may agree with me. Again, I want us to think rationally about abortion. It’s an issue worth talking about and I am willing to admit I may be wrong. However, if you want to say, “God says x, y and z”, then I don’t really have anything to say. God may indeed say all those things and maybe after we die, we’ll find out what the truth is.

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What is Terrorism?

Almost immediately after the mass shooting in Orlando, people classified it as a terrorist attack and the shooter as a terrorist. However, this has me thinking about what exactly is terrorism and why do we call some things terrorism and other things are not terrorism.

My understanding is that a terrorist attack is considered any violent action that is designed to inspire fear against a community and has some political aims. Lately, we seem to call anything terrorism when a Muslim is involved or the attacker makes a passing reference to a terrorist group.

As we understand it now, the shooter in Orlando pledged allegiance or displayed some affinity with multiple terrorist groups, many of which are actually fighting each other in the Middle East. Not all terrorist groups work together in one big happy terrorism family. They have conflicting goals, methods, political aims, and even religious affiliation (Sunni, Shi’a, Christian, Hindu, etc.)

So, to classify all terrorists as Muslim terrorists or to immediately classify any Muslim who commits an act of violence as a terrorist is dangerous. When we use the word terrorism, it immediately conjures up the idea that there is an existential threat against our country and our community. It provokes a response beyond that which is normal for a criminal act. Suddenly, we have something to fear, plots and conspiracies that threaten our way of life, an act that is worth going to war for and worth curtailing civil liberties.

So, what is terrorism? I don’t have a great answer. But, I think we need to be careful about using the word terrorism and terrorist to explain the actions of deranged individuals.

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Orlando, Violence, and Security

The shooting in Orlando was terrible. I would say it is unspeakable, but the fact that so much has been written and said defies that term. To say that something is unspeakable means that we simply cannot speak of it. As so often in human history, the most terrifying events are the ones that we talk the most about, perhaps rightly so. I join so many others in expressing sympathy for the victims and their families and friends.

Unfortunately, one of my first thoughts (after the shock of hearing the news) was, “How will politicians use this story to satisfy their own agendas?” True to form, within a few hours, we had raging debates about whether we should have better gun control, better immigration controls, more tracking of people sympathetic to ISIS, bigger walls, more surveillance, outlaw the AR-15, or high-capacity magazines, provide more AR-15 guns to the “good guys”, carpet bomb ISIS and their families, whether God ordained this because the victims were gay (or at least in a gay nightclub), and on and on and on.

I was tired before any of this started because I knew my Facebook feed would soon be filled with half-baked ideas, assumptions, suppositions, and all sorts of other ideas that would do nothing to bring back the 50 victims or take away the pain of those who survived.

Better security = less violence. Or so we are told. However, no matter how much security we have, there will always be violence, at least, as long as we live in a pluralistic, (relatively) free, democratic nation. Conservatives want less government, unless more government seems like it would provide more security. Liberals want more civil liberties, unless fewer civil liberties seem like it would provide more security.

After anything like this happens, my fear is not more terrorism, but more repression at home, more surveillance, more detentions of innocent people, more fear, less tolerance of dissent, less tolerance of difference, less openness to strangers, to outsiders, to the other. Fear is easy. Not giving into that fear and continuing to demonstrate our core values to terrorists is hard.

There is risk in anything and everything we do. To live our lives in fear of everything or to demand ever more security measures from our government is counter-productive. This is not to say that there are not reasonable steps the government (and we personally) can take to protect ourselves and mitigate risks. But to completely upend our lives or accept living in a police state means that we have given up on life. Instead we would be merely existing. Breathing, eating, sleeping, and little else. What would be the point?

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My Politics

Watching the Democrats and Republicans (and to a lesser extent, the Greens) fight over policies has made me think deeper about my own political views and where I fit. In general, I consider myself a moderate that leans liberal, especially when it comes to social issues. However, I’ve been wondering why I think this way. Two things have affected my thinking here:

1. A philosophy article detailing how it may not be possible to change your mind. Essentially the argument was that to be able to change your mind, you had to imagine the actual arguments that would be compelling enough to make you change your mind. And, if you can come up with the arguments compelling enough to change your mind, then you must change your mind. So, it seems to be difficult to ever change your mind, as long as you are familiar with all the arguments and know which one is most compelling to you.

2. The book, “Socrates Cafe”, which encourages us to think like Socrates and constantly examine our assumptions, question our most basic understanding of things, maintain an open mind to new thoughts and evidence, and know that which we do not know.

Both of these readings has led me to question my basic beliefs and where I stand on some political issues, especially as I consider who to vote for in the upcoming primaries. Instead of listing my precise stance on certain issues like the death penalty, taxes, healthcare, national security, immigration, etc., I prefer to stake out some larger principles and any specific policies should match those principles, whether the policies are put forth by Republicans, Democrats, or some other party. If more Americans did this, I think we could avoid some of the partisanship, where a person supports their political party, no matter what policies they put forth.

  1. Respect for all persons everywhere
    • Essentially, what I mean by this, is that we should treat all people with dignity and respect, and enact policies that reflect this. One important thing to note is that I don’t believe that respect and dignity end at our border or even with non-citizens within our borders. I’d also say, for clarity, that I am defining a person as a human that has been born, so unborn humans and animals are not included (not to say they don’t deserve any respect, but perhaps a different level than born humans). This includes respect for different races, religions, genders, etc.
  2. Rule of law
    •  This means that no person is above the law, and the justice system works for everyone, rich or poor. While I think that there are some laws that are immoral and need to be reformed, people must follow the laws and work to change them within the system. This doesn’t negate the legitimacy of non-violent protest, but it is preferable to change the laws through democratic processes.
  3. Economic opportunity
    • I think that people should have an equality of opportunity, that is, there should be opportunities for people to demonstrate talent and move up in companies. People should be able to live at some minimum level by working 40 hours a week.
  4. Personal freedom
    • People should have the freedom to do what they please, so long as they do not interfere with the freedom of other people. Basically, people should not be prevented from acting as they wish, nor should they be forced to act as they don’t wish (unless they are interfering with other people). People cannot have an unrestricted freedom to act (otherwise how do we prevent murder, etc.) but generally speaking people should have many of the freedoms we take for granted now, speech, assembly, worship, etc.
  5. Privacy
    • I think this is closely connected with freedom, that there is a certain level of privacy that we should all expect, but there is no right to unlimited privacy. There is always a certain amount of information that you would be required to give up, just to live in a society.
  6. Equal opportunity in politics
    • Wealth should not be a requirement to entry into politics. Additionally, admission to a particular party should not be a requirement to enter politics. While these probably apply already to most local politics, once you try to enter state or national politics, the barriers to entry are rather high. A true democracy is based on everyone having an equal voice.
  7. Education can solve many problems
    • A broad based education can be a cure to many societal ills, across the world. While not everyone needs or should necessarily attend a 4 year university, there is a basic level of education (and our K-12 education in America is very uneven) that everyone should have and will help ensure economic security, lower crime, better politics, etc.
  8. Military interventions
    • A military will always be necessary, but should really only be used in a just war (see just war theory). War is occasionally justified, but we tend to be too quick to go to a military option in some cases, while letting just opportunities to use the military (during cases of genocide for instance) go by.
  9. Respect for property
    • Property is the basis of society. Almost everyone has some property that they have earned or accrued and we should respect that they can use it how they wish, within reason. This is not an unrestricted right to keep all property, but property should not be taken away from people unnecessarily or without some form of due process. This may also apply to taxation, since that is essentially taking away monetary “property”, even if property is usually thought of as more tangible assets. A certain minimum amount of taxation is required to make a society function, but it need not be excessive.

I realize that this may not account for every situation and I can probably be challenged on any of these points, but these are the general things I look for when evaluating policies and candidates for elected office.

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Open Letter to the Editor of the Alestle

The Alestle is the student newspaper of my alma mater, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. I read a distasteful op-ed the other day and decided to respond. The article I am responding to is here. That op-ed was actually a response to another op-ed here. The text of my reply is below.

I was dismayed to read Jeffrey Elliot’s letter regarding homosexuality and Christianity. While I agree that the Bible does condemn homosexuality and this is something that modern Christians have to deal with, the Bible also condones a lot of reprehensible behavior.

What about the passages allowing for slavery and the beating of slaves? (Leviticus 25:44-46,Exodus 21:2-6, 1 Timothy 6:1-2) How about the passages appearing to condone genocide? (Deuteronomy 2:34, Joshua 6:21, Exodus 32)

Would Elliot really have us believe that Christians who don’t believe in Bible-sanctioned slavery and genocide are not true Christians? The wonderful, and terrible, thing about religions is that their holy texts can be used to justify almost anything you want. This is always going to be the case whenever humans are allowed to read a text and use their own judgment. Some read the Bible and find that the overarching theme is one of love and kindness from God. Others read a vengeful, spiteful, mass-murdering God. Which interpretation is right?

It seems that most modern Biblical interpreters treat the Bible literally. This is why there are people who believe the earth is 6,000 years old, there really was a worldwide flood that killed everybody except for Noah and his family, and the entire human race came from 2 people. Is any of this really believable in the literal sense?

Religion is a source of comfort, strength, and morality for billions of people. Calling someone a hypocrite because they read a text differently than you is not going to accomplish anything but to harden divisions between social conservatives and liberals, between religious people and atheists.

Even if we do acknowledge that there are disgraceful passages in the Bible, what is to prevent a Christian from removing those passages that offend? If you believe that the Bible was written by men (and women) who may have been divinely inspired but still able to get the message wrong, what is the issue with removing offensive passages? Entire passages and books have been added or deleted from the Bible through history. How are we to know that the Bible that we are reading is the literal word of God?

Religions can be dangerous in all sorts of ways, but before we condemn all religious people as hypocrites, let’s work to help more Christians be like Dani Wilson, willing to acknowledge that there are verses that condemn homosexuality, but the verses that ask Christians to not judge and love one another are more important.

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Rhetoric vs. Knowledge

Politicians and evangelical preachers have two things in common; they almost never stop talking about God, and they talk a lot without saying anything of value. I heard someone speak recently and within about 3 to 5 minutes, I already knew the ending, because it was basically content-less. Within 5 minutes, I already knew that I didn’t need to listen anymore.

There seems to be a general problem in our discourse, and if I had to sum it up, it would be that people mistake rhetoric for knowledge. Let me define these terms first. By rhetoric, I mean speaking well. Public speaking is a skill, and a valuable one at that. I don’t want anyone to think I disdain people who speak well. However, some people focus solely on speaking well that they lose sight of the greater point of speaking. If you are placed in a position where you are able to speak to large groups of people and those people generally respect your opinion, or at least respect you enough to listen to what you have to say, then it seems to me that you have a responsibility to respect your listeners by providing them with something new to think about, some new fact or opinion with which we can agree or disagree. Public speaking should encourage further conversation, not end it.

Knowledge is, to my mind, greater than mere information. Knowledge involves more than the recitation of facts, but also the weaving together of a narrative to make sense of those facts. This too, requires skill. While rhetoric may help people learn how to vary their tone, their pace, their rhythm and cadence, knowledge (and the imparting of that knowledge) requires different skills, intellectual skills. Put frankly, a moron can be gifted at rhetoric, while a brilliant person could be a terrible rhetorician. Why does this matter? Paying attention to rhetoric without focusing on content is pernicious to any society.

Every culture or discipline has its buzzwords. Christianity (especially evangelicals) have words like ‘saved’, ‘grace’, ‘Christ-centric’, and so on. Politics has ‘death tax’, ‘tax and spend’, ‘middle class’, etc. Simply speaking these words makes it sound as though you are talking about something real. It sounds as though you belong to the club and it sounds as though you have something important to say. But really, you could simply be repeating some rote phrases and allowing your audience to fill in the gaps with their own ideas. Then, we cease to question our rhetoricians because they said the phrases we expected them to say, instead of looking for some new ideas or opinions.

I sympathize with both evangelical preachers and politicians. Both of them have to keep the faithful happy. Both have to adhere to a certain orthodoxy at risk of being kicked out of the tribe. But, if we are being honest with ourselves and with our spiritual and political leaders, we would hold them accountable to higher standards and focus on whether they have anything worth saying, not on whether their delivery was nice.

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