Saturday, April 21, 2012


"NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Tennesee's Republican governor says he will let a bill become law effective April 20 that protects teachers who allow students in their classrooms to criticize evolution and other scientific theories, such as global warming." (Lucas L. Johnson, Associated Press, April 10, 2012 on
There are historical examples of society turning against science, technical advancement and change. One instance would be the Amish who decided to freeze their culture at the early 19th Century level. Of course, as a culture, they are protected and allowed to exist by the larger one that surrounds them and as a result they do not have to compete militarily, economically or intellectually in order to sustain themselves. They also get special exemptions regarding military service, as well as not being required to participate in many ways with the surrounding society. The only reason they exist is because the culture that contains them grants them a great deal of grace, which flows from our traditions of pluralism and tolerance.

If the United States follows the example of the Amish, we will doom our society to third world status and other countries, who do not have our religious hang ups, i.e. China and India, will pick up the torch of knowledge tied to scientific methodology and let it burn brightly in their societies, which will bring them great wealth and power as their scientists create the future.

Our universities are full of students from mainland China. The two who were murdered at USC are but an example. A full 50% of the students in our Ivy League universities are from Asia. The Chinese want what we have and know the secret to our success lies in our institutions of higher learning, which support individualism, creativity and pursuit of knowledge for the sake of knowledge free of right wing and left wing orthodoxies. If we fetter our exporation of knowledge, new ideas and products created by Americans will disappear.
The Tennessee law, contrary to the propaganda of its proponents, will narrow our options and we will end up depending on others, while we wallow in and flaunt our self-righteousness just like the Muslim countries have done the last six hundred years. There was a time during the high middle ages when Islam was where it was at, but they lost it because their fundamentalists took over.  And look at where they are now, struggling to fit into the modern world. 

God help Tennessee for they are cursing themselves, not having a clue as to the wider repercussions of their decisions.  God help the rest of the United States as we, entranced by the misnomer, "religious freedom", consider following their example.

Sunday, April 15, 2012


The most curious feature of the Christian  religious right wing in the United States is its presumption of moral superiority while celebrating greed and wealth in the name of freedom, hating government programs because they encourage laziness, attacking their political enemies with lies, insisting that members of the Progressive Caucus in the Congress are card carying communists, comparing the Democrats to Adolph Hitler, teaching that Barack Obama is the Anti-Christ,  and justifying torture as a national policy because it promises to gather supposed information that saves lives.  Not once do they step back and ask, as they claim to do, "Is this what Jesus would do?"

If we look at Jesus' teaching, we discover their behavior and attitudes are the exact opposite.  "Blessed are the poor," proclaimed Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount (cf. Luke 6:20).  He didn't say the poor were leaches selfishly trying to suck nourishment from the veins of the hardworking establishment.  When they were hungry, he didn't say that's your concern; go to the market and buy whatever you can afford.  He fed them.  Jesus also said that the measure you give will be the measure you get back (cf. Luke 6:37-38)  Not much giving to the poor in right wing politics.

And Jesus didn't blame the unfortunate for their circumstances.  In fact, he got into a major theological argument with religious leaders over why a certain man was born blind.  They insisted the man or his parents must have sinned in order for him to be so punished.  Jesus said that was not so and rebuked his accusers by healing the man (cf. John 9:1-7).

What about people who cheat and abuse you, how many times should they be forgiven?  His disciples generously suggested that seven times would be appropriate.  Far more lenient than our current "Three Strikes and You Are Out" laws?  But I digress, back to the story.  Jesus responded that his followers should be willing to forgive seventy times seven.  Seven being the number of completeness, it means that they should never stop forgiving.  Is that good politics?  No!  Is that good economics?  No!  Is that good for the soul?  Yes!  Does that build peace in a society?  Yes!  (cf. Matthew 18:21-22)  Jesus also warned that people who do not forgive sins will not have their own sins forgiven.  (cf. Matthew 6:14)

What about retribution?  Jesus taught "do not resist one who is evil".   If anyone strikes you on the cheek, turn your other to him.  What about a person who sues me for my coat?  Give him your cloak also.  What about anyone who forces me to walk with him a mile out of my way?  Walk with him two?  (cf. Matthew 5:39-42)

What about hating liberals, socialists and communists?  "Love your enemies and pray for those who use you dispitefully."  If you salute only your brothers what are you doing that is different from heathens?  (cf. Matthew 5:43-48)  Judge not, or you will be judged.  (Matthew 7:1) 

What about the adoring the rich and the politically powerful?  "You cannot serve both God and mammon."  (cf. Matthew 6:24)  Do not lay up for yourselves wealth on earth because wherever your goal is, that is where your heart is also.  (cf. Matthew 6:19-21)  A religiously observant rich man approached Jesus asking what he had to do to inherit eternal life.  Jesus instructed, "Go and sell all that you have and give it to the poor."  The man owned a great deal, was unwilling to part with his weath and went sorrowfully away.  (cf. Mark 10:17-23)  How hard it is for rich people to enter the kingdom of God.

What about having the right doctrine?  Not everyone who calls me, Lord, will enter the kingdom of heaven, not even if they show evidence of spiritual power such as prophesying, casting out demons and doing miracles.  Jesus said that what counts is living according to his teaching.  (cf. Matthew 7:21-27)  At the end of time the human race will be divided into goats and sheep.  The goats will be cast into the eternal lake of fire because they failed to feed people and give them drink.  They failed to welcome strangers and did not clothe the needy.  The goats will say, Lord, when did we ever see you in such straights?  And God will say, when you failed to do it to the least human being, you failed to do it to me. (cf. Matthew 25:31-46)  I wonder if that includes blacks, hispanics, women, gays, lesbians and transgenders.

What is amazing to me is that right wing Christians mistakingly think they worship Jesus as God.  But the truth is told by their behavior.  They dismiss Jesus' words disdainfully claiming any concern for poor and minorities is socialism.  Who do they really worship?  They are worshipping mammon, that is money and political power.  And if you take the Gospels literally, most especially Mathew's twenty-fifth chapter, they are in danger of Hell fire.  But they don't believe Matthew is telling the truth and Jesus is not their God.

"This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me."  (Matthew 15:8, RSV)

Saturday, June 18, 2011

God's Incompetence

The Lord saw that the wickedness of humankind was great in the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually.  And the Lord was sorry that he had made humankind on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.  So the Lord said, "I will blot out from the earth the human beings I have created - people together with animals and creeping things and birds of the air, for I am sorry that I have made them." (Genesis 6:5-7, New Oxford Annotated Bible)
These  words introduce the story of Noah, which according to traditional interpretations, places the blame for the sorry state of human existence on humans.  We are willful, we subvert God's purposes, we are selfish, we are disobedient, we are fearful, we are greedy, and we are violent.  And all this misbehavior is a function of gifts, the God given power to make decisions and the God given freedom to do as we please.  And what did we do with our power and freedom?  In theological terms, we failed to honor our creator.  However, in the above passage, God deemed his own efforts to create creatures, who would steadfastly and bravely return his love, as a complete failure.  God blamed himself.

Strangely enough, it never occurred to God that the creatures might use free will to protect and serve themselves, to love their own kind and find pleasure in each others' company.  It never occurred to God that humans might band together in different groups and seek to dominate one another.  It never occurred to God that humans might be fearful and use their groups to fight each other.  The great designer, the prime mover, the source of all the finely turned laws of the universe, miscalculated the place of human emotions in the grand scheme of things.  And even with the advantage of foresight, God seemed to have been surprised at the results.

All of this is curious given the current day touting by conservative Christians that the perfection of creation is evidence that evolution could not possible be true.  They say we are fearfully and wonderfully made, far more complicated than a watch or a computer.  But at least, watches and computers do what they are designed to do and many are quite elegant.

Now back to the above passage, the Genesis story has it that there was one exception, one righteous man, namely Noah, with whom God was pleased.  So God decided to wipe out all the failures and begin afresh with his one success.  But again, God miscalculated because he assumed that the offspring of this one good man would be spiritual clones.  Well, the rest is history, humans went astray again.  But the Bible always blames humans for the mess;  not the creator.  And the biblical apocalypses inform us that God intends to correct his second huge mistake by destorying the universe and replacing it with two eternal locales, namely heaven and hell.

And what does not get highlighted is that the sufferers in hell will outnumber the saints in paradise.  And when we step back and assess the plan from start to finish, the design God put together, it doesn't seem to be a very good one.  In order to create a group of people who of their own free will would love God, he had to create a vast number, perhaps as much as 97% of the human race or more, whose destinies necessitate being tortured for eternity.  Couldn't this all powerful, all knowing God create creatures with dispositions to love with any more efficiency?

And theologicans consider this to be an expression of God's love for the world?  And conservatives consider this to be finely tuned divine design?  If this were a human plan, it would be judged as incompetent; a three percent success rate is unacceptable in any industry.  Genesis tells us that God was sorry that he made us.  Well, if the Bible's narrative, traditionally interpreted, is the truth, then I also share that sentiment.  We, that is the human race, would be better off never having been created.

Friday, June 10, 2011

The Balance of Power

Social balance of power, just like the balance of nature, is constantly in flux. Occassionally, one force begins to dominate the others and gets the entire system so out of whack that it needs adjustment. We, in the United States, are living in such an era; greed has become our God once again. And as a result common decency suffers in the hands of heartrless supervisors, politicians, corporate moguls, doctors, bankers, bishops and preachers, who not only despise the weak but also pick their pockets. Who is supposed to be the balancing force? Who is supposed to trigger guilt and slow our mad dash into self-aggrandizement? Who is to call us back to values that serve all of us? And who is to teach us that God expects us to watch out for, to care for and to protect our sisters and brothers? And who is to remind us that all humans are God's children? Who is to proclaim that human compassion is God mandated? Who is to teach us right from wrong?

From a sociologial point of view, churches, synagogues, temples and mosques are charged with that responsibility. We are warned that we cannot serve both God and money. Yet, I do not hear a single voice raised against our delerious pursuit of money and political power. All three western religions honor ancient prophets whose chief task, contrary to what the loudest religious voices are saying, was not to predict the future but to expose the dark energies in human souls and to point at the inevitable destruction greed and power-lust wreak upon whatever society gets caught in their webs. Strangely enough, Walt Disney, a celebrity well known for his anti-religious attitude, provided us with a modern story of the importance of conscience in the animated film, Pinnochio, where Jimminy Cricket tutored the wooden puppet in doing the right thing and recognizing evil in order that Pinocchio might become human.

The ancient prophets also nurtured conscience much the same way as Jimminy Cricket. They reminded society that some sins were deadly, always have been, always will be. And they still serve by reminding us that this kind of self-destructive behavior never appears as some slimy, greasy creature, but as a well dressed, good looking, soft spoken salesperson, who promises safety, security, success, salvation and svelteness. Salespeople who also fail to mention the downside, the hardening of hearts, the searing of consciences, the dehumanization of self and enemies and the necessity of destroying anyone who gets in the way. Just take a look at the religious right's support of torture and their justification that it saves lives. Our current crisis is what happens when religious institutions abandon their prophetic calling. They blame abortion rights, women's liberation and gay marriage, but not their own worship of power and money, which is idolatry of the most destructive kind. Our decline is not due to extending human rights to minority groups which is nothing more than loving one's neighbor as oneself, but to unbridled ambition to get rich and remain powerful at any cost.

We tolerate lies, avoid our social responsbilities, and demand that we should not have to pay taxes. We pretend that people and corporations need no laws or regulations. We argue that the marketplace if left alone will correct itself and cause no harm. We pretend that our group knows everything and has no blind spots. We argue against facts and when caught show no shame. We pretend that because we have been annointed by God, it doesn't matter if we sin. We hate the earth and refuse to believe it is in any danger because we believe it will soon be destroyed anyway. Our hearts have grown cold, we have closed our minds, and our ears filter out anything we don't want to hear. All that matters is money and power. All that matters to religion is money and power. We are worshiping Mammon, not God.

God help us. We need to adopt Jimminy Cricket as an example. He was ignored because he was humble and exercised no real power. But, as we know from religious teachers in all religions and in all times, St. Jimminy holds the real power, the kind of power that changes people and societies. It is the kind of power that softens hearts and opens minds. He humanizes life and makes the world a liveable place.

Friday, March 19, 2010


Over the last year or two I have been dumbfounded by the national political discourse. In the media facts and logic seem to be blithely dismissed as outrageous charges get leveled without the blink of an eye. Even when challenged regarding wrong information, the purveyors of these errors don't seem to be the least concerned or embarrassed.

While watching Rachel Maddow the other night, she cornered a politician who made a factually incorrect statement regarding the law in the State of Massachusetts that legalizes gay marriages. Rachel read the law to the politician to prove that what he said was wrong and got the response back, "Well, that is your opinion." She came back at him stating, "No, this is not a matter of opinion. It is a matter of fact. Either what you said is there or it is not there." The politician stuck with the same line, "You have your right to your opinion and I have the right to mine." He didn't pause, hem or haw. He showed no chagrin, no blush or shred of shame.

Two weeks ago Lynn Cheney attacked several lawyers for being willing to represent people imprisoned at Guantanamo and characterized their behavior as giving comfort to the enemy. What is even more astounding is that Ms. Cheney has been trained as a lawyer and is quite familiar with how our adversarial legal system functions and the philosophy behind it. We, therefore, can only assume she was trying to undermine the public's support for the laws upon which American justice stands. While these statements horrified even right wing lawyers such as Kenneth Star, Ms. Cheney has not offerred a single word of retraction. There are a hundred other examples of this kind of behavior and I have wondered, "What is going on?"

Then I ran across a chapter in Timothy Ferris' book, The Science of Liberty, entitled "Academic Antiscience" where I read that the Post Modernist movement in our universities has been teaching that logic and the scientific method are culturally and politically bound to the white male perspective. And that "objective" reality is nothing more than a faith statement which cannot be demonstrated Therefore, the facts that logic and science profer are subjective and "no more trustworthy than those obtained through any other procedure." (The Science of Liberty, P.247.) When Ferris says "other procedures", he means things like divine revelation, anecdotal personal experiences and folk lore. Thus, scientific evidence is no more to be respected than voodoo. And what we generally refer to as objective reality is just one perspective among many, all of which should be given the same weight. Taking such a position would leave us with no grounds by which any system of thought can be critiqued. And as it turns out that is just fine with radicals from both the left and the right.

If the Post Modernist philosophy were true, then each faith system, assumed to be of equal value philosophically, would be free to compete for political power without having to justify its existence or its version of the truth. In such a world, truth becomes whatever the powerful say it is and the other people just have to deal with it. In such a world, the ultimate premium is placed on power, not truth, which makes people who espouse this kind of world prefer authoritarianism because once in power the only thing that would be of significance would be staying in power. Truth and facts don't really count because they are always subjective and capable of being twisted into whatever shape the establishment deems.

Now, take these ideas and see if they fit what we have been seeing and hearing in our media. Take a look at the Cheney's; take a look at the politicians from C Street; take a look at Fox News and anyone else who has trouble admitting to objective facts. All of a sudden, Post Modernism is an intellectual framework that makes sense of all these people. They do not believe there is any objective reality; and everytime they are challenged, they hide behind the mantra that what they are presenting is an opinion of the same value as all others.

What Post Modernism has created is a Machiavellian world in which competing subjective points of view vie to be king of the mountain. All is fair in love and war. Think Dick Cheney. As far as the radical right is concerned, this is a culture war that they intend to win any way they can. They are willing to lie, cheat, and steal their way to power. The facts do not matter; they have convinced themselves that what they are doing is righteous because in the end they will get to deem their point of view as the one point of view everyone else must embrace. And they envision that to be fundamentalist Christianity.

These are truly frightening thoughts, but Post Modernism is the only intellectual framework that explains their behavior. How do we fight this? We fight by professing and teaching the commonsense of objective reality, the value of democracy, the principles of the scientific method and the universality of logic propertly applied to all our discourse. We also need to understand that not all faith systems are equal; and we must be willing, following the example of Rachael Maddow, to call people to account and make them factually responsible. The road is not easy or fast, but it is the only way to protect the gains made by science and democracy.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009


I just returned from my holiday vacation visiting relatives where arguments abound. To my surprise, my brother and I agreed on politics and economics for the first time in memory. He lives in Texas, has been a life long Republican while I live in Southern California, vote Democratic and support various progressive agendas. Until now, I have been cynical that the crisis on wall street had changed anything; but my brother ended up arguing in favor of new financial regulations deemed necessary by unbridled greed on Wall Street and further pointed out that human nature always tries to get away with whatever it can thus needing to be curbed by rules enforced by an agency with some teeth. And he was disgusted by the huge salaries paid to CEO's of financial organizations. Perhaps, the crises of the last year, despite the political turf wars taking place on the internet and in Washington, D.C., have created more common ground throughout the nation than party leaders are willing to acknowledge. I remain stunned, pleasantly so, and maybe a touch more hopeful than I was before my trip to Texas.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

A Dragon's Observation

"Turmoil accompanies every great change, said Saphira to both of
(Brisingr, Christopher Paolini, p. 18.)
Even when we favor change and know its necessity, it is not easy. We draw upon our internal warriors, doing battle driven by visions of justice, truth, goodness and loved ones. We know that In waging such a war, certain customs and norms will be destroyed or made increasingly irrelevant. But that doesn't make it simple to let go of the past because we will have to say goodbye to ideas that once served us and put to rest beliefs that once warmed us. It is like returning to our childhood haunts only to discover that we no longer belong there. What used to impress us now seems so small; and in some cases what seemed so clearly right, now is wrong. We are living in an age when knowledge expands so quickly that we are forced either to ride its wave or wipe out. Sadly, many good people cannot stomach so much change, so they fight it and become the enemy of history, the enemy of time. Yet changes will happen despite their efforts because that is the nature of life.