The Anti-Solomon

Most of us have heard of the wisdom of Solomon, exemplified in his adjudicating the custody dispute of two women over a baby. The women were roommates who both had recently had newborn babies. One baby died in a tragic accident, and then both women claimed the surviving child was hers. Solomon said “cut the baby in two,” and one woman agreed; the other said, “No, let her have it.” Old King Solomon ruled that the one who would give up the baby to let it live was the true mother.

A couple of centuries later, King Jehoram in Israel faced a problem no wisdom could solve. The capital city of Samaria was under siege from Syria and people were starving to death. A woman cried out to the king, “Help my, my lord!” and he said, “How can I help you. Let the Lord God help you.” Then he asked what her problem was.

The two women each had a son, and the previous day that had agreed they would eat the children, one day, and one the next. “So, we boiled my son and ate him. But now, she has hidden her son and won’t give him to me!” The king had no wisdom to solve this one. He tore his clothes as a sign of mourning and cursed the prophet Elisha, whom he assumed could have helped. Elisha did show up later, and said the siege would soon be over and food would be available again.

There are tragic, horrible situations in life, where people have to make desperate decisions. In this case, perhaps if the two women had waited, it would have been alright for all of them. But there was no way they could know that. Maybe all four parties would have died had they not chosen to sacrifice the one child. Maybe the other mother was wrong to break her promise—but we can’t fault her loyalty to her child. Life is even more sacred than a contract or a promise. Who was right? What was the right decision? Even the king couldn’t decide.

There are tragic situations in life. Sometimes they involve pregnancy. When women for social, economic, medical, or emotional reasons are convinced they cannot handle an unwanted pregnancy, they usually seek an early abortion. Most abortions are done at around 8-10 weeks into pregnancy. I believe individuals, charities, churches, and other groups can offer alternatives to women faced with a difficult pregnancy, and the number of abortions can be reduced. I think there are even support services the government could provide that are truly pro life.

About 1% of abortions occur after 21 weeks of gestation, and a very small number closer to full term at 40 weeks. The thought of a fetus at a late stage of development being destroyed is gruesome and disturbing. It is understandable that people are outraged at the idea. But do they ask, “why would a woman want to go through an abortion at this late stage?”

The answer is disturbingly simple: severe medical abnormalities that present a grave threat to the life of the mother or the prospect of a baby that is born that will gasp for a few breaths and then die, or perhaps grow up without any chance of having a fully human life. Or maybe a baby that will grow up completely dependent on 24-hour care and deprive siblings of their mother’s attention or the income she could bring in for the family.

Legal minds want to know: what defines severe and life threatening? What kind of disabilities are you talking about? Maybe a better question is, “Who is qualified to answer those questions?” Would we rather have a king decide, or a judge, or a politician? Who best understands the total context and the needs of the family?

Some states have recently decided these are questions best decided by the family: the mother in consultation with the best medical advice and the advice and support she may seek from family and friends.

I still believe the government and private organizations and individuals can offer alternatives. No one should have to make a heart-rending decision for financial reasons. It would be expensive to guarantee a lifetime of medical care to a person born with severe defects. But if we are a pro-life nation, we have to do that. I know there are people willing to adopt a severely handicapped baby. But if that option is available, there has to be a framework for it to happen and to let people know about it.

A woman who carries a fetus 21 weeks wants to hold a baby in her arms, wants the child to live. Think of how heartbreaking it must be when she receives the bad news. We can provide options. But who is best qualified to make the final decision?

The Constitution as Written

The creators of the Constitution wanted to create something: a more perfect union. They wanted to establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty for themselves and future generations. So they wrote a constitution. The Constitution should be interpreted according to the goals it was created to accomplish.

Is the Constitution a living document? If you are averse to metaphors, no. The constitution was written on the skin of a dead animal. After 200 years the parchment is probably pretty stiff and dry; it’s not very flexible.

But the drafters of the Constitution wanted to accomplish something for future generations. They understood that there has to be some flexibility in the interpretation and application of the provisions they created.

So they wrote the Ninth Amendment: The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people. The constitution does not create our rights, nor does it create an exhaustive list of them. For example, the right to privacy is not listed as such, but it is assumed by the Fourth Amendment: the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects. The protection against homeowners being required to quarter soldiers in time of peace assumes the same right.

The eighth amendment prohibits “cruel and unusual punishments.” This is an appeal to a community standard. They did not define cruel and unusual. They knew that such standards would change over time. Public flogging is no longer common; it would now be very unusual and considered cruel.

The constitution is a broad and general legal document. It was meant to be interpreted and applied by people who shared a commitment to its goals of liberty and harmony, people of good sense and judgment, people with the flexibility to understand how changes in conditions, attitudes, and knowledge call for changes in the law.

Go Set a Watchman

I just finished listening to the Audiobook of Go Set A Watchman, read very effectively by Reese Witherspoon. The manuscript was written in the 1950s but never published until it was discovered in 2014. The story is set after To Kill A Mockingbird, when Jean Louise (Scout) is a grown woman of 26. Go Set A Watchman was written before the more famous book, the main theme of which is summarized in a brief section.

Mockingbird was a gentler and more effective way of dealing with racism. Had she published the Watchman manuscript in the 50s, it would probably have been banned and its author blacklisted.

Mockingbird is probably a more perfect artistic accomplishment. Go Set a Watchman, though, has its literary moments, with some colorful characters and amusing scenes.  The scenes of the motherless child reaching puberty and the anxiety it causes should be required reading for every teacher or youth worker who deals with middle school children.

The last few chapters resemble a platonic dialog more than a dramatic story and consist of a series of intense exchanges between Jean Louise and those closest to her.  Her angry speeches against racism are countered with genteel defenses of the way things are and why it is necessary to go along and get along. It is this social commentary that we need now.

You remember back in November when everyone warned us to avoid politics and religion at the family gathering for Thanksgiving? Jean Louise’s speeches are the models for what we should have said.

Why I Am a Small ‘c’ catholic

The word catholic comes from the Greek phrase kath’ holen ten oekoumenen, “throughout the whole inhabited world.” To be a catholic Christian means you follow the faith that is accepted and practiced throughout the whole world. The word ecumenical comes from the same phrase. To be catholic and to be ecumenical mean the same thing. It means you share the faith Christians down through the ages and throughout the whole world have followed.

That faith centers in what God has done for the world through Jesus Christ. God sent his son into the world to show us the way of peace and love, to bear our sins on the cross so we can be forgiven and reconciled to God and to one another, to rise again conquering death on our behalf so we can be assured of eternal life, and to give us the Holy Spirit to empower us to live lives of love and peace, anticipating the final transformation of this world into the kingdom of God.

This faith is summarized in a confession known as the Apostle’s Creed. It contains the words, in addition, “I believe in the one, holy, catholic church.”

All followers of Christ belong to that church. It is not perfectly one or holy or universal as we see it now. But because it is claimed by Christ and because he works through those people, it is one, holy, and catholic.

I say small ‘c’ without meaning any disrespect to large ‘C’ Catholics or Orthodox. In fact, I have a growing respect for the Roman Catholic Church and the various Orthodox churches who are also Catholic. I have a lot of respect for the popes I have known in my lifetime, especially St. Francis. Some of his recent predecessors did not do enough to deal with a horrible problem in the church, and I don’t excuse that. But that is a problem the authorities in Rome and in America and other countries will have to deal with.

I keep a copy of the Catechism of the Catholic Church on my desk and receive a lot of benefit from it. The catechism gives better answers than some of my conservative Protestant and Evangelical brothers and sisters (I have to say and sisters, although women theologians are fairly new in those circles) to questions about science, sexuality, economic justice, ecology, world religions, human rights, and the modern historical study of the Bible.

Once I had a student who freaked out when he heard the term “free church catholic” at a conference. I could use that term to describe myself. I remain free to follow my own conscience and hold my own convictions. In other words, I remain free to disagree with the catechism or the teachings of the church. For example, when I say Rome gives better answers on sexuality, I still disagree with its teaching that celibacy is the only option for those who accept a religious vocation, for those who have been divorced and remarried, and for others. But the place for that conversation would be at the Boji Stone (our local coffee shop), in a friendly, respectful atmosphere.

The Reformed theologian Jürgen Moltmann has spent his life engaging in dialogue with Catholics, Protestants, Marxists, atheists–anyone who will sit down and talk to him. He says you don’t have to give up beliefs that are important to you to have a conversation. In fact, he says, if you suppress your differences, you deprive the other person of a genuine conversation partner. Today I am emphasizing what I have in common with all followers of Christ, and why I am a catholic Christian.

And so, I am free to participate in the long-established participation of Ash Wednesday and Lent. To some extent, participating in a season of fasting, self-denial, and reflection also reflects a bit of solidarity with Jews, who observe Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, and other fasts; and Muslims who fast during Ramadan and other times.

The deprivations we catholics undergo during Lent are pretty mild compared to the fasts the other children of Abraham endure. During Lent we can choose what to give up. I suggest either giving up something you don’t need anyway, or something you enjoy but that is not really essential. I visited with a lady yesterday who told of a friend who gave up smoking every year during Lent. She said he was aware of it every moment, constantly reaching for his empty shirt pocket. But that constantly reminded him of Jesus and what he suffered for us. (I wondered why he didn’t just stay quit–but that is another story).

There is one other kind of fasting, mentioned by the prophet Isaiah. It’s not really giving up something ourselves, but it is thinking of others in need.

Is not this the fast that I choose:

to loose the bonds of injustice,

to undo the thongs of the yoke,

to let the oppressed go free,

and to break every yoke?

Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,

and bring the homeless poor into your house,

when you see the naked, to cover them,

and not to hide yourself from your own kin?

I Don’t Want To Be a Goat (Matt 25)

There is a valley south of Jerusalem that was once famous for being a center of toxic religion—idolatry is the name the Bible gives to toxic religion.  Seven centuries before Christ the place was called Tophet and a shrine was there, where the practitioners of various toxic religions sacrificed their children.  Tophet was in a valley once owned by the son of Hinnom.  Ge-ben-hinnom  is “valley of the son of Hinnom” in Hebrew.  Over time the name of the place was shortened to Gehenna.

King Josiah, the best king Judah ever had, destroyed the shrine of Tophet.  After that, the whole Hinnom valley was used as a garbage dump.  Jesus used the imagery of Gehenna, the rotten, smoldering, stinking center of toxic religion, as a warning.  Those who prey on children, those who slander others in their arrogant self-righteousness, are in danger of ending up in Gehenna.

Matthew 24 and 25 tell about the Day of Judgment, using several parables.  These parables give several disturbing images of the fate of those who fail the judgment.  In one parable a servant who got drunk and beat his fellow servants is punished by being “cut to pieces” and given a place with the hypocrites, where there is wailing and gnashing of teeth.  That one is puzzling.  If he is cut to pieces, it sounds like he is dead–but there is wailing, so it sounds like the hypocrites being punished there are still alive.

In another parable the punishment is being excluded, shut out.  Those who are not prepared miss out on the joy of the wedding.  They show up too late, the gates are closed and locked, and they are left outside in the darkness.  In another parable a lazy slave is thrown out into “outer darkness, where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.”  Then in the parable of the sheep and the goats, the goats are thrown into the eternal fire, the place prepared for the devil and his angels, the place otherwise called Gehenna.

Jesus used imagery and he used hyperbole to make a point.  The point was always serious.  C.S. Lewis said we should be careful about being too certain about the geography of heaven or the temperature of hell.

In the late 1700s and early 1800s revivals swept across the frontier.  There were tent meetings that lasted for days and weeks.  And in the preaching there were always vivid descriptions of hell.  And people were terrified.  And worse, many of the preachers had a theology that said, “You are probably going to hell and there might not be anything you can do about it,” because God has already chosen those who are going to heaven.  Some people got saved and others just got scared.

In the 1800 hundreds, several new religions arose as a way of dealing with the revivalist teaching of Hell: The Seventh Day Adventists teach extinction.  Those who are not saved are just dead forever.  The Mormons teach there are several different degrees of afterlife, some get to live on the earth, and then there are lower and higher heavens that others go to.  The Jehovah’s Witnesses teach that a few will go to heaven, many will be resurrected to a good life on earth in the Kingdom of God, and those who refuse to repent will be destroyed.

The Disciples taught nobody has to go to hell, anyone can be saved.  You are not saved by belonging to the right church but by trusting your life to Jesus.  He has given us easy ways to tell if we belong to the elect or not.  If you are willing to turn from your sins, declare your faith in Christ, and be baptized in his name, you can have confidence that you are saved and on your way to heaven.

Many today are still disturbed by the idea of hell or eternal punishment after death.  What is most disturbing is that it sounds cruel and it seems arbitrary and unfair.

C.S. Lewis said “the Bible is meant for grownups,” by which he meant people who knew how to read literature.  Lewis was troubled by the idea of hell, but he also believed it was important.  He believed it was important to say that the choices we make in this life have consequences that extend throughout this life and beyond, even into eternity.  One of Lewis’s influences was G.K. Chesterton, who taught that “hell is a tribute to the dignity of man.”  Another influence was George McDonald, who was a universalist.  McDonald believed that Hell is a devise God uses to bring the lost to repentance.  It is like the pigsty the prodigal son found himself in. 

C.S. Lewis was a professor of Medieval and Renaissance literature.  He also loved the Divine Comedy and Milton’s Paradise Lost.  The Inferno, the first part of the Divine Comedy, is a depiction of hell.  It is a place God in his mercy prepared for those who chose to reject God’s love.  Sinners get the choices they have made.  The sin one chooses is the punishment for sin.  Those who chose in life to be swept away by passion and lust, are swept off their feet forever in the Inferno, driven by relentless cold winds.  In Milton’s Paradise Lost, again, hell is the result of human choice, God’s gift of freedom.  Satan describes himself as one who brings

A mind not to be changed by place or time.

The mind is its own place, and in itself

Can make a heav’n of hell, a hell of heav’n.

What matter where, if I be still the same?

C.S. Lewis wrote his own book on heaven and hell, called the Great Divorce.  It is a dream about a visit to the “gray world,” a joyless, lifeless place that is either Purgatory or Hell, depending on how long one stays.  A tour bus takes a group of the residents to heaven, which is a beautiful, joyous place; but they don’t like it.  It’s too real.  They are too used to their own alternative reality, they can’t handle true reality.  All but one of the tourists voluntarily get on the bus and go back where they are comfortable.

I think we have to say a few things about Jesus’ parables of judgment.  First, they use imagery.  The imagery points to something real and terrible: exclusion, missed opportunity, living in the land of toxic religion, fire, pain, and weeping.  The imagery points to end result of a life of blind self-indulgence as well as a life deceived by toxic religion.  Hell is “a place with the hypocrites.”  Judgment begins in this life.  The choice of sin is the punishment for sin.  The punishment for selfishness is loneliness, self-imposed exclusion from the joyous celebration God invites us to join.

Second, judgment is a reality.  We are responsible for how we live and we will be required to give an accounting.  The choices we make in life are serious, and we have no guarantee of a  second chance.

Third, God desires the salvation, the well-being and joy of all people.  God is love.  There are several ways Christians have tried to reconcile the biblical imagery of hell with the Love of God.  One way is that hell is the most gracious accommodation God can make for those who refuse his grace.  Hell is the painful refuge.  Rather than destroy his creation, God gives them a place where they can continue in the existence they have chosen. 

Another way is to say hell is redemptive punishment, meant to bring lost souls to repentance.  It is a second chance.  Is there a hint of hope in Jesus’ words, “you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.” 

Another way is to say hell is a warning.  It is a picture of what the hard-hearted deserve, but God has already provided the alternative.  Hell was not created for any human being, God does not desire anyone to be lost in this life or in eternity, and God has provided a way anyone can have the assurance that they are God’s children and nothing can separate them from his love.

There is one more issue that may trouble us.  What about those who have never heard of Jesus?

The parable of the Sheep and the Goats gives us an answer if we reframe the question.  Make it, “What about those who have never met Jesus?”  And the answer is surprising. 

There is no one who has never met Jesus.  It’s just that he comes to us in disguise.

He comes to us in the form of those we consider least important.  He comes to us disguised as the hungry person we meet, or one who is thirsty, or in need of clothing, or homeless.  He comes to us as the refugee, the immigrant, or the one in prison.

You have probably heard that if you want to go to heaven, you have to accept Jesus.  It’s true.  But what if he already came to you and you rejected him or ignored him?  You’ll meet him again.

Jesus is so gracious, he comes to us in many forms.  He comes to us in the word, the word in the Bible or in the sermon.  He comes to us in the form of his body the church.  He comes to us in the bread and the wine.  And he comes to us in the people we meet in the street.  But make sure we understand: If we have prayed to accept Jesus into our hearts–we are missing something if we don’t accept him when we see him in the street.

When the King comes he will separate the people of all nations into two groups: the sheep and the goats.  The sheep are those who welcomed Jesus when he came to them in disguise.  They will have a wonderful surprise.  The goats are those who rejected Jesus when he came to them in disguise.

I don’t want to be a goat.

How Conservative Values Unintentionally Undermined the Family

My wife and I did not have insurance when all three of our children were born. Technically, we did when our third was born, but the preexisting condition of pregnancy was not covered. Medical expenses were reasonable enough that we were able to make payments ahead and continue paying afterward. There were complications after the third birth, so it took us a while to pay off the debt, but we did manage to have our youngest paid for before she entered elementary school.

Doctors and hospitals are no longer so eager to make similar arrangements, and the total bills are no longer as manageable. An uninsured married couple facing a complicated childbirth could easily face bankruptcy today.

But we are no so hard-hearted as to turn expectant mothers out into the cold night to give birth in a stable. We do provide services for mothers and children. But our conservative heritage says men should be breadwinners, and there is no free lunch. We will take care of single women and their babies but not male heads of households. Perhaps there have been some recent changes, but for the last thirty years marriage meant financial disaster for a young couple in love facing a pregnancy earlier than they had anticipated.

It’s not just the young either who are forgoing marriage in order to receive benefits. Social Security advisors counsel retirees in some cases to “live in sin” rather than lose benefits they or their late spouse had earned. In other circumstances, on the other hand, they advise couples who hate each other to stay together (at least on paper) a few more years, for the sake of the social security check, rather than getting divorced. (You can find this advice in the book Get What’s Yours.)

All of this comes from the traditional idea that a man should provide for his household and nobody should get something for free.

Yet the widespread conservative hostility to democracy and representation in the workplace has undermined a man’s (or a single woman’s ) ability to provide for a family. Labor Unions are an extension of democracy (or republican ideals, if you can’t support democracy) into the workplace. Corporations are already organized and have most of the power. The only way people gained any advantage was to unite. President Eisenhower understood this. He supported labor unions and the right of the people to organize.

The last forty years has seen the decline of wages follow the decline of union membership. The decline of union membership followed the example of a president from the Grand Old Party who established his legacy by breaking a union. Today a candidate from an economically failing state brags that he took on the powerful teacher’s union.

Some people point to past corruption in labor and to violence that occurs during strikes. Corruption in politics has not lead us to abolish representative government. Instead we try our best to eliminate it, find it where it remains, and prosecute it. As for violence, do you know anything about the history of the labor movement?

I have seen the dismantling of the profession of professor over the last 30 years. Today 80% of college courses are taught be people who are not professors, many of whom are eligible for food stamps and other government benefits. One reason this happened is because professors were not allowed to organize, since they were part of management under the law. However, the other 80% today are not hindered by this law, and we may see more organizing by those who actually do the teaching.

My Tail Light Experience

Here is my experience of being profiled: We lived in Memphis, TN. My dad had found a car for our daughter–bright red with dark windows. It looked like something someone in their teens or early twenties would drive. Some people said it looked like something a gangster would drive.

Our daughter’s friends thought it was cool, but she was a little embarrassed and prefered to drive something a little more demur.

I ended up driving her flashy red car. I got pulled over a block from my house one evening. When the officer saw that I was a clean-shaven, untattooed, middle-aged person, he was very polite, as I was in response.

He said he pulled me over because my tail light was out. I got out of the car and went back and looked at it, and we both saw it was working fine. He said, “Well it must be a short, you better get that checked out.”

Yes sir, officer.

Since he had pulled me over, he had to run my licence plate.

Nashville said my licence was expired.

But officer, it has the new sticker right on it. I just got it last week.

“Well, anyone can get a sticker. I’m going to write you a ticket. If you can proof you have a proper registration and paid for this years tags, the court will dismiss it.”

It took me several days of personal visits and phone calls, being sent from the County Courthouse to the city office, and more calls to Nashville. It turned out it was a simple mistake. Someone locally had not properly notified Nashville. Eventually the problem was solved.

But I learned two things. I saw how profiling works–in my case I was profiled because of a flashy car. Second, I saw how bureaucracy works and learned how frustrating it can be.

Conference Next Weekend

The Western Fellowship of Professors and Scholars meets Oct 19-20 in Manhattan, Kansas.  I will be posting the rest of the schedule, but here are the themes for the breakfast panel discussion.

1.  New Interest in Modern Pentecostalism’s Kansas Origins, Dr. Robert D. Linder

Professor Linder is Kansas State University Distinguished Professor
(Ph.D., University of Iowa, 1963): History of Modern Christianity from the Reformation to the Present; History of Religion and Politics in Europe, Australia and the United States.

Greatest quote: “History, religion, politics, baseball! These are the important things of life. What else is there?” — Professor Bob Linder

2.  Renaissance Adorations and the Black Magus: Interpreting an Iconographic Transformation, Tamica L. Lige

 Until the middle of the fifteenth century the iconography of the Adoration of the Magi remained fairly consistent, with three white kings shown arriving to pay homage to the Christ Child. Around 1450, however, a shift in representation occurred, and one of the magi was now portrayed in the guise of a black African. Scholars have put forward various reasons for the appearance of the Black Magus. One view suggests that the Magi are thought to represent the three known continents of Europe, Asia, and Africa and that the “blackness” of the Magus symbolizes his native land. A second links the Black Magus to sin and heresy due to medieval associations of blackness with death, the underworld, and witchcraft. Another examines the Queen of Sheba as an archetypal figure to the Magi and suggests that written descriptions of her blackness inspire the adaptation of a Black Magus in Adoration scenes. This paper builds on these theories, but argues that representations of the Black Magus also need to be analyzed within the contexts specific to individual works of art. To further this end, this study examines several European examples of the Adoration of the Magi through various lenses to discern meanings specific to each. In order to interpret the meaning of the Black Magus in these works, I will explore the relationship between the Queen of Sheba and the Magi, the effects of reformist ideas in Northern Europe at the time, and the role a patron’s interests play in the iconography of works they commission.

Tamica Lige, of Manhattan KS, is an Italian Renaissance art historian. Her work thus far has explored art patronage by elite families, iconography, and methodology. Ms. Lige’s interests generally surround religious works commissioned by lay patrons and range from architecture to painting.

The Underground Railroad in Kansas: Cooperation of God’s People, Karre L. Schaefer

 We will explore the little-known Underground Railroad in Kansas. Recently, scholars have found that contrary to original belief, African-Americans ran most of the Underground Railroads in the Eastern United States. However, as usual, Kansas is unusual.

Because of the lack of African-Americans in Kansas, the Underground Railroad was run by white Americans. Mostly, these consisted of various Protestant denominations who joined together to help African-American runaway slaves escape to Canada and Mexico.

Congregationalist members, such as the Beecher Bible and Rifle Church, while believing that the United States was an authority in place by God, chose to run the UGRR contrary to that authority. Working with the Quakers in Harveyville and other churches, an alternate route was created to throw the slave-hunters off track as they traveled up and down the well-known route. These men and women who ran this railroad believed they did so by authority of God Almighty. This was no small thing – harboring a fugitive slave in Kansas meant immediate death. This Railroad is a case where God’s people put their lives on the line so that others could be free. I will leave us considering whether we would do the same thing.

Karre Schaefer is a graduate student in the Political Science Department at Kansas State University. After receiving her BA in history, she set out to explore why people did what they did, and found herself concentrating in Political Thought. Ms. Schaefer combines political thought, religious thought, Biblical principle as well as enlightenment to seek answers to why social movements occur and their long-term effects.

Peck to Sponsor Fair Trade Bill

Representative Peck has introduced a bill to ban any government agencies, including vending machines in the capital building, from purchasing Hershey’s products until the company pledges to oppose child labor and engage in fair trade practices.  Chris Kobach is cosponsor, and Governor Brownback has pledged to sign the bill as soon as it reaches his desk.

More Information here.

Faith in Reason?

Bill Moyers notes a  study from the University of Michigan “deeply discouraging to anyone with faith in the power of information.”    The study found that when people who had been misinformed “were exposed to corrected facts in new stories, they rarely changed their minds. In fact, they often became even more strongly set in their beliefs.”

We often base our opinions on our beliefs … and rather than facts driving beliefs, our beliefs can dictate the facts we chose to accept. They can cause us to twist facts so they fit better with our preconceived notions.”

This explains a lot about politics.

I would also like to point out something about faith and reason, from a Christian point of view.

It is not an empirical reality that people in fact live according to reality and make decisions according to reason.  Reason is an ethical imperative.  We ought to live according to truth, reason, and reality.  The common human refusal to face reality is another name for sin, collusion in willful self-deception.

Faith, in the Christian sense, is not about clinging to irrational beliefs in spite of facts.  Faith is a commitment to living according to justice, peace, and truth.  Life according to justice, peace, and truth is the Way of Jesus Christ; and it includes making decision according to reality.

One fact of recent history is that the Wall Street High-rollers reckless ways destroyed the economy, forced middle-class taxpayers to bail them out, and made billions in personal profits in the process.  People are justifiably angry but they have no way to pour out their wrath on the guilty.  So they look for a target nearer at hand and they find the people who cut our meat, harvest our vegetables, changes the sheets in our hotels and perform other dangerous, difficult, or menial tasks that we prefer not to do ourselves.

We can’t punish them directly, so instead we choose to punish their children.

The children of undocumented workers have broken no laws.  The state representatives today voted to punish them by tripling their tuition rate if they chose to go to college in the only home state they know.

This is not a solution to any real problem.  It will not increase revenue, it will only prevent the kids from getting an education and contributing to the state economy.

Maybe our state senate will show more wisdom.

Presidents Day

I liked it better when we celebrated Lincoln and Washington’s birthdays.  I’m not sure a president should be celebrated just for getting elected.  He should have to do something, take a courageous stand maybe.

But I’m celebrating Presidents Day anyway, because I am glad we have 4-year, two-term max, presidents rather than hereditary monarchs, Presidents for life, Beloved Leaders or whatever else dictators call themselves.

The citizens of Wisconsin are showing there governor that he is an elected public servant subject to the laws of the land.  He cannot arbitrarily cancel contracts or take away the rights of teachers and other state employees to representation.

I am ashamed at house of representatives in my state who think that punishing the children for the sins of the fathers and mothers will somehow improve the economy.

Maybe the state senate will be wiser and more compassionate.

Children who came to this country under the age of 18, regardless of the circumstances, broke no law.   They grew up here, they have no other home.  If they stayed in school, stayed out of trouble, and graduated from high school, they should be welcome in our state’s colleges.

I hope one of our state legislators will introduce a law requiring citizenship class in high school for students who do not have legal citizenship.  I suppose states cannot grant U.S. citizenship, but they could grant a certificate of state citizenship to all students who graduate from high school in one of the state’s public schools.

Where is the Outrage?

Does anyone remember Terri Schiavo?  She had suffered severe brain damage and was unresponsive: her husband asked the hospital to remove the machines that were keeping her heart pumping, but her parents clung to the hope that she would recover.

Pro-life conservatives were outraged that the courts finally ordered the hospital to follow her husband’s, rather than her parent’s wishes.

I am pro-life.  I don’t believe in killing people unless it is absolutely necessary, or in letting them die due to neglect when it is in our power to save a life.  I don’t believe in unnecessary abortions, unnecessary wars, capital punishment, the excessive use of force by law enforcement, or passing by on the other side of the road when someone is dying.

I think we should always give the benefit of the doubt to life.  I don’t believe you can put a financial value on a human life.  I don’t believe we as a nation (or any of the the fifty states) will ever be in such economic distress that we will have to make the decision to let people die.

When Terri Schiavo’s feeding tube was removed, many political commentaries called it an “execution.”

What do you call it when the state of Arizona cuts off financial support for people who need transplants? These are people who want to live and are capable of making their wishes known.  One is a father of six children.  Wouldn’t pro-life, pro-family people want to keep him alive?

If the state of Arizona is too poor to keep him alive, can’t the federal government step in with a minor bail out?

I don’t think anyone should exploit the tragic massacre in Tuscon for political purposes.  But maybe we could take the opportunity to express our support to the state and say,

We are all Arizonians now.  Let us help you take care of your citizens who need life-saving surgery.

Death Squads in Arizona

Two of the 98 citizens sentenced to die by the Arizona legislature have died already.  These were people on a transplant list.  The state legislature sentenced them to die when they canceled state funding for the procedures.

Story and You Tube here.

There are no nuances to this story, no “spin.”  The legislators made the decision to let these people die, to save money, and the governor signed the bill.

The Nasty Campaign

I live in a one-party state; at least when it comes to the race for the senate, and the primary campaign has really gotten nasty.  One of the candidates accused his adversary of wanting to give constitutional rights to terrorists.

The first casualty of politics is logic.

I see two problems with the underlying premise that terrorists should not be given constitutional rights.

1.  Who decides who is a terrorist?

Unless there is some sort of due process or oversight, there are only two options–the civilian branch of government or the military: either the president or the commanders on the ground.  I can’t believe that conservatives, given the fears they have of the president, would want to give him the power to declare someone a president and make him disappear without any kind of public notice.  And it has been proven that in the heat of battle, and lacking a knowledge of the language, the military has made mistakes.

2.  Who gives us our rights?

It is un-American to believe that congress gives us our rights.  According to the Declaration of Independence, we are granted inalienable rights by our creator.  Those who live under a monarch may believe their rights are granted by the king; those who live under organized atheism may believe they are granted by the state; but our heritage tells us human rights are granted by the creator and the role of government is to protect these rights.

But now some politicians want us to believe that there is a class of people who are entitled to no rights at all, neither the rules of war nor the laws of our land.  Once defined by the undefined authority as terrorists, they have no right to a trial or protection from torture.

Whatever happened to the idea that if we let terrorists make us abandon our own ideals, they win?

Confessions of a Hedge Fund Manager

It all started a few years ago when I was getting bored with my job.  I mean there are only so many legitimate ways you can invest other people’s money.  Then we had a convention in Las Vegas, and it occurred to me: These guys know how to have fun and make money.

So I hired a couple creative young guys–persuaded them to drop out of college.  They came up with this beautiful scheme–synthetic assets, virtual cash flow, bundled derivatives–it was beautiful; so complicated no one could understand it.  What it boiled down to was this: We sell bundles of bad mortgages to pension plans, then we buy insurance policies betting that the mortgages go bad.

I said no one could understand it: that’s not quite true.  Some of the legal boys said, the only problem boss, is it’s illegal.  So we get a few more bright kids to drop out of college and send them to Washington as lobbyists.  They sell the idea that burdensome and obsolete banking regulations are stifling the economy and keeping us from competing.  We send a few senators to a resort in the Caribbean to think it over, and pretty soon they see things our way.

Then, here’s the beauty of it.  The bonuses are rolling in, then one of those bright kids in accounting says, “Boss, we’ve got a problem.”  He tells me the whole world economy is about to tank, and the big banks are going under.  Then another bright kid gives me an idea.  “No way they’re going to let it happen.”  I see he’s right.  So I start investing in those banks that we ruined by selling them toxic assets.

Now I own the banks that the poor working schmucks bailed out–and I give myself a big bonus from the bail out money we brought in.  Now the Fed is loaning money at 0.5 % interest; I’m taking it and buying treasury bonds that pay 3%.  I’m using the taxpayer’s money to loan money to the government to pay back the bailout money that’s paying my bonuses.

But one of the bright kids in public relations says, Boss, the tax payers aren’t stupid.  They’re going to demand some of that money back.  They might suggest a sur-tax of 5% on incomes above 1 million dollars or something.

So I hire a public relations firm to stir up “grass roots” support and plan these tea party events to protest against anyone raising my taxes.  They even have a Tina Fey look-alike drawing big crowds.

Charlie was my best friend in college. Poor guy wasted his life if you ask me; became a basketball coach.  His team made it to the Final Four last year, and now he’s making a million and a half a year.  A million and a half!  How does anyone live on that?

What’s worse, his daughter went to college to become a teacher.  And now the schools are laying off.  Charlie says he’s going to help her out.  Like he can afford to on his miserable pay check!  If you ask me, it was her choice to throw her life away.

Sure I could buy her a school if I wanted to.  It’s not easy to spend $3 million a day!  I buy a nice house in Miami on Monday, on Tuesday I make a down payment on one in San Francisco and finish paying on Wednesday–pretty soon I have houses in all fifty states, and it’s only February!

I could buy her a school.  But she had her choice.  She could have chosen a responsible career like I did.

[Note: The top 30 hedge fund managers averaged one billion dollars each in salary and bonuses last year. ]

How (Not) to Pick a Church

Radio personality Glenn Beck doesn’t say you have to join his church and become a Mormon, he simply says you should run from any church that has the words “social justice” in its website.  He says “social justice” are code words for Nazi, Fascist, and Communist policies.

The conservative Christian magazine Christianity Today disagrees on what social justice means.  CT says it is simply the application of Christian principles of compassion, fairness, and human rights–beliefs that come from the heart of the gospel.

Maybe the word “social” is redundant.  Justice implies conditions involving more than one person, and so is inherently social.  The prophet Micah declared there are only three things God requires,

To do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.

Amos, another prophet from the 8th century before Christ declared,

Let justice roll on like a river.

Jesus criticized those who obsessed over the observance of religious minutiae, but neglected the weightier maters of the law:

justice, faithfulness, and mercy.

Memorial to Deserters

In 2005 a memorial was erected in Ulm, Germany, to German soldiers who deserted the Nazi cause during WWII.

What do you think, did they do the right thing?

Is it right to honor them?

During WWII the Nazis executed over 15,000 deserters.

Stalin’s army executed 158,000 of their own for the same reason.

The United States executed one, private Eddie Slovik (played by Martin Sheen in the 1974 movie “The Execution of Private Slovik”).

During the civil war deserters were executed when they could be caught (as portrayed in the book and movie “Cold Mountain).  Still, over 100,000 from each side deserted.

I’d Love to Change the World

So, a Christian is someone who wants to change the world.  Since I’m trying to be clear, maybe I had better add the words “for the better.”  Many people have changed the world for the worse, but I  want to make the world a better place.  Maybe this is obvious, but I can think of three common objections; and I’d like to consider them before going on.

  1. There are a lot of people who want to change the world.
  2. I thought you Christians were only interested in another world.
  3. What does faith have to do with it?

There are a lot of people who want to change the world for the better.  There are a lot of people who care about war, poverty, disease, oppression, injustice, global warming, education.  There are a lot of people who have compassion and are doing something about it.

That’s great, the more the better.  I’m not trying to prove that Christians are better than other people or the only ones who care.  I’m just saying, if you are a Christian you should care.  I am saying among those who care, Christians are included.  In the civil rights movement, in health clinics around the world, in organizations like physicians without borders, engineers without borders, amnesty international, Christians work side by side with people of other faiths and people of no faith.

Christians want to go to heaven when they die, yes.  I recently wrote about my aunt’s passing, and I’m glad my family has the hope that she lives now in the presence of God.  When I think about Jesus’ teaching about the final great judgment one thing stands out.  We will have to give an account for how we have treated the poor in this world, here and now.  Belief that there is a better world coming motivates us to do what we can to improve conditions in this world.

What does faith have to do with it?  When we lived in Memphis I met a woman who had worked in the juvenile justice system for about thirty years.  Trying to make conversation I said,

It must be difficult work.

She agreed.  But then, wanting to say something positive I said,

But it must be gratifying when a young person comes back some day and says, “Thank you, you helped me turn my life around.”

She said,

That has never happened.

I’ve thought about that ever since.  Whatever it was that kept her going–I have to admire it.  For me, I need either to see results or at least to trust that it’s all in someone’s hands who is bigger than me.

Christians believe that changing the world is God’s work.  But he has called us to participate in his work.  A Christian is someone who wants to participate in what God is doing in the world.  Our motto is not pray instead of working but work and pray.

Conscience and Nursing

Lethal injection is considered a humane and sanitary means of dispatching convicted murderers.  Inserting an IV requires skill and training.  Here is what one nurse says,

Past experiences influence my belief that the essential vein will not be accessed on the first try. Despite the diminutive size of the needle, there is still pain with it’s insertion.

Worse than blood draws is the starting of an IV for either medication or for hydration. Now, we’re talking about a much larger IV needle. I have started IV’s for 30 years and never had one myself until six years ago, where it took the nurse four tries before she called another nurse to successfully start my IV. The first nurse was frustrated which only added to her difficulty with each of her next several attempts. I was so tense, that my veins went into hiding, “determined” to not be accessed by anyone!  (More here)

So, if we are going to have lethal injections we need trained professionals, specifically nurses, to do the deed.  But what if most nurses are conscientiously opposed to killing? When the federal prison in Indiana needed an executioner for Timothy McVeigh in 2001, they had to go all the way to Missouri to find a nurse willing to inject the poison cocktail.  David Pinkley was on probation in a plea bargain after stalking and threatening another man and his family.  He was willing to use his medical skills to end the life of America’s most notorious mass murderer (more here).  Presumably, he followed procedure and used an alcohol swab before delivering the potion (see Why an Alcohol Swab).

What would happen if all nurses refused to volunteer for the work of execution?  Would there be some sort of draft?  Would it be like jury duty?

Should nurses who conscientiously object be protected–or should they be fired if they refuse a summons to execution duty?

Do we want health care professionals with a conscience, or do we want doctors like Joseph Mengele and his subordinates who mindlessly followed his orders?

(More at Amnesty International)

Pro Conscience

Whether one is pro-life or pro-choice, it is hard for me to see how any thinking person would not be pro-conscience.  President Obama is requesting comments on the proposal to rescind provisions protecting health care professionals from discrimination if their conscience will not allow them to participate in procedures such as abortion, sterilization, or research they consider unethical.

Current regulations protect health care workers who choose to follow their conscience in these matters.  The proposal to rescind these regulations would take them away.  Those who favor abolishing the protections argue that services might not be available to patients, particularly in rural areas.

It seems to me that firing conscientious doctors and nurses would take a lot of good people out of the system.  But this is democracy:  Now until April 9 is the time to speak your mind.

Comments may be submitted electronically on the Web site http://www.Regulations.gov (by entering 0991-AB49 in the search box–or click here) or via e-mail to proposedrescission@hhs.gov. Attachments may be in Microsoft Word, WordPerfect or Excel, but Microsoft Word is preferred.

By mail, one original and two copies of written comments may be sent to: Office of Public Health and Science, Department of Health and Human Services, Attention: Rescission Proposal Comments, Hubert H. Humphrey Building, 200 Independence Ave. SW, Room 716G, Washington, DC 20201.

Source: CNS