Sunday, October 3, 2010

Sam Harris - End of Faith

Harris (pg 12): "A glance at history....reveals that ideas which divide one group of human beings from another, only to unite them in slaughter, generally have their roots in religion."

Rohr: Harris seems to have "glanced" over the  20th century where religiously motivated "slaughter" is almost incidental to the mega murders of "death by government". Aside from the usual suspects: Soviet Union, Nationalist China, Communist China, and Nazi Germany, each of which killed 10,000,000 or more helpless and unarmed persons, there are (in the 20th century) 204 other cases of "democide" by state and quasi-state regimes, and non-state groups. (Statistics of Democide)

(Democide = genocide, politicide, massacres, extrajudicial executions, and other forms of mass murder)

 The fact that Harris makes this major oversight at the beginning of his argument basically sinks the rest of his thesis. Harris would be correct if he meant by "religion" a system of beliefs (i.e. one could say that Stalin and Mao carried out their purges with a religious fervor). But Harris specifically means a deity driven religion: "it is what we do with words like 'God', 'paradise' and 'sin'. (pg. 12)

Harris: "...most of the people in this world believe that the Creator of the universe has written a book."

Rohr: Harris is a rather sloppy atheist. The above sentence references - even acknowledges - a Creator. A good atheist writer would have written: "most of the people in this world believe in a Creator and believe that that Creator has written a book."

But sloppy atheism aside, the only group I know of who believe God has written a book would be fundamentalist Christians. Catholics do not accept the authority of the Bible on its own. They should know since they are the ones who decided what would go into the Bible in the first place. Muslims don't believe Allah wrote the Koran. The Jews know it was their patriarchs and prophets who wrote the "Law and the Prophets".  Hindus and Buddhists have sacred texts but there seems to be no belief that the text came directly from a deity.

Of course what Harris really means to say is that there are many people who believe that their sacred texts are divinely inspired and thus carry or embody a unique authority or mandate.

Governmental Flow Chart

Polygamy advocates in the U.S. have cause for hope

(published in the Marianas Variety (August 2010) as "Matrimonial Chaos)
Justice Vaughn Walker, in striking down California’s ban on gay marriage (Perry v. Schwarzenegger), has opened wide the doors for the much persecuted advocates of plural marriage. A little background:

In 1862, in a response to the Mormon practice of a man taking multiple wives, Congress passed the Morrill Anti-Bigamy Act. The law was largely unenforced. So 20 years later, Congress passed the Edmunds Anti-Polygamy Act (1882), which was enforced, and resulted in more than 1,300 men being sent to prison.

Women were initially seen as victims and were not prosecuted directly, but since the Act also abrogated “spousal privilege”, many were found "in contempt of court" and jailed for refusing to testify against their husbands.

The Edmunds Act not only made polygamy, which it called “unlawful cohabitation”, a felony but also revoked polygamists' right to vote, made them ineligible for jury service, and prohibited them from holding political office.

Five years later, Edmunds was at it again with the Edmunds-Tucker Act (1887) which further persecuted the Mormons. The Act disincorporated the Church, allowed the federal government to confiscate its property, disenfranchised women, and removed local control of school textbook choice...and this is only a partial list. (Talk about a persecuted minority!)

In 1892, Congress hammered another nail in the polygamous coffin with a federal anti-bigamy provision which excluded polygamists from immigration into the United States. It remains part of the current U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Code. (Wonder if they are enforcing this on Muslims?)

In 1878, the first challenge to the federal ban on plural marriage reached the Supreme Court in Reynolds v. United States. Reynolds, a Mormon, simply obeying the statutes of his religion and having two wives,  challenged the ban under the First Amendment clause: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof...”

The Court responded by stating that the word “religion” was not defined in the Constitution and “must go ascertain its meaning”.  The “elsewhere” that the Court settled on was a letter by Thomas Jefferson to the Danbury Baptist Association wherein Jefferson writes in reference to the Establishment Clause: “...that the legislative powers of the government reach actions only, and not opinions”.

In other words, the federal government cannot tell you what to think about religion (opinion) but they can tell you what you can and cannot do (actions), especially when, as the Court deduced, those actions which are “in violation of social duties or subversive of good order.” (This same letter, by the way, is where we find the troublesome reference to “separation of church and state”.)

The Court then baptized Jefferson’s letter (and in effect judicially amended the Constitution) with the following sentence: “Coming as this does from an acknowledged leader of the advocates of the measure, it may be accepted almost as an authoritative declaration of the scope and effect of the amendment thus secured.” (As you can see, the Court’s argument can be reduced to “because Jefferson said so.”)

But the nasty business of defining “subversive of good order” was still left undone. In order to fill in the blanks, the Court resorted to a reasoning that today would be laughable (but still stands): “Polygamy has always been odious among the northern and western nations of Europe, and, until the establishment of the Mormon Church, was almost exclusively a feature of the life of Asiatic and of African people.” Translation: Europe, the U.S., and White People are civilized. Black and Yellow people are heathens. Today, Reynolds remains the law of the land. (Reynolds went to jail for two years.)

But now the Walker decision has produced the first real opportunity in over a hundred years to reverse Reynolds and legalize polygamy. And if I was a polygamy advocate, I would piggy-back on the Perry case all the way to the Supreme Court. For if marriage is only a “union of equals” (Perry pg 113) then not only is gender no longer a limiting factor, but number as well. In other words, “Why only two?” After all, polygamous marriage has a far greater historical pedigree than does homosexual marriage. (Contrary to the Reynolds reference to Asians and Africans, polygamy was an essential feature of the Judaic tradition, a tradition this country claims as part of its foundation.)

The crazy thing is that we already allow a form of polygamy in our country. Quoting the header at “A man can have sex with as many women as he likes. But he can’t marry more than one. If we don’t have a good reason to discriminate, then we probably shouldn’t.” And of course men and women can marry as many partners as they want. They just have to do the paperwork.

In addition, while a man is sent to jail for making a legal commitment to the women he has sex with (if more than one), another man is free to disseminate his seed with abandon (with the state often picking up the tab to care for his progeny), so long has he doesn’t legally commit to any more than one.

But aside from polygamy, there are other considerations regarding legal obstacles to marriage the Walker decision has opened up such as: age requirements, consanguinity (blood relations), affinity (kinship by marriage), vaccination requirements, disease testing, physical exams, proof of sufficient mental capacity, waiting periods, impotency, and consummation laws (still valid in some states, e.g. Alabama).

Given Walker’s decision that “same-sex couples are situated identically to opposite-sex couples in terms of their ability to perform the rights and obligations of marriage...” (Page 113), there simply is no reason to prohibit marriages between brothers and sisters, mothers and sons, uncles and nieces (or nephews for that matter) one man and 10 women, 10 men and one woman, etc.

The fact that such a list of restrictions on marriage exist in law is a testament to the state’s foundational understanding and expectation of marriage: to produce and educate the next generation. If this is no longer the case, then none of the civil impediments to marriage have any foundation and either must be struck down or the civil institution of marriage eliminated altogether.

The Walker Ruling and the Griswold Connection

(published in the PDN, August 2010)
On August 4, Judge Vaughn Walker ruled California’s ban on same-sex marriage to be unconstitutional. Compared to the plaintiffs, the defense was ill-prepared and under represented. But perhaps its greatest liability was its principal argument:: “the central purpose of marriage...(is to) promote naturally procreative sexual relationships and to channel them into stable, enduring unions for the sake of producing and raising the next generation.”

Under this banner, the defense was doomed, not on August 4, 2010, but on June 7, 1965. On that day the Supreme Court declared a Connecticut law prohibiting the use of contraceptives within marriage to be unconstitutional (Griswold v. Connecticut). That such a law was still in effect as late as 1965 (several states had similar laws) underscores, not just the government’s understanding of marriage, but it’s expectation of least until 1965.

Allowing contraceptives (at first only within marriage) essentially made procreation optional and no longer the “central purpose of marriage”. By default, the purpose of marriage fell to what was left: two people who want to be legally joined. Since same-sex and opposite-sex couples are equally capable of being legally joined, there remained no basis for limiting marriage to opposite sex couples. Thus we have Judge Walker’s ruling: “Gender no longer forms an essential part of marriage; marriage under law is a union of equals.”

Predictably, Christian organizations are protesting the decision. However, most Christians have little moral footing since their acceptance of contraceptives in the marriage bed predates Griswold by 35 years. In 1930, the Anglican Church became the first major denomination to admit contraception. Within a couple decades almost all mainline Christian churches, which had historically condemned contraception, had either reversed their condemnation or simply deleted the issue from their doctrines.

The Catholic Church, alone, held fast to the ancient condemnation of contraception. However, most Catholics ignore this particular teaching...or never hear it, making them even more compromised than their “protestant” counterparts since Catholics at least have the benefit of established doctrine.

With most Christians principally neutered in the same-sex argument and the legal momentum on the side of the advocates, there seems little that can stop same-sex marriage from becoming a constitutional right. However, opponents have one last hope: Barack Obama. Two reasons.

First, the Obama Administration’s flagrant governing against the will of the people has produced a popular backlash the likes of which have not been seen since the American Revolution. And though courts are not supposed to be influenced by popular sentiment, popular sentiment is getting difficult to ignore. The smarter heads at the ACLU (and others) know this and OPPOSED the case against Prop 8 because they felt that “a federal challenge could potentially do more harm than good.”

Second, everyone knows that the future of marriage in the U.S. will come down to the decision of one man: Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy. And in a case like this where emotions and sympathies are in play, Obama, a same-sex advocate, would have done well to curry Kennedy’s good will.

However, in his State of the Union speech in January, Obama took an ill-mannered public swipe at 5 of the justices seated before him. Their sin? Just days before, the Court, in a 5-4 decision, rolled back restrictions on corporate spending in federal campaigns.  Obama recognized the threat to his political future and publicly impugned the Court’s decision. The author of the decision? Anthony Kennedy.

But regardless of how this plays out in the legal arena, Christians, for whom the words “homosexual” and “abomination” seem to rhyme, should revisit what the same Scriptures say about “coitus interruptus” (Gen. 38:9-10) and sterilization (Deut. 23:1). In short, the Scriptures do not condemn homosexual acts because they are homosexual, but because they are intentionally sterile. The Catholic Church even considers intentionally sterile marital acts a greater “abomination” than homosexual acts, calling homosexual acts  only “intrinsically disordered” (CCC2357), while branding contraceptive marital acts as “intrinsically evil” (CCC2370).

The contraception debate aside, marriage minus procreation (intentional) equals a legal contract the same as any other, and thus grounds not only for marriage between two members of the same-sex, but for any arrangement of persons. Perhaps now that both civil and (most) religious authorities have rejected what once was the “central purpose of marriage”, the best solution is to get rid of the troublesome word altogether.

Friday, October 1, 2010

A Little History

Piss poor
They used to use urine to tan animal skins, so families used to all pee in a pot & then once a day it was taken & sold to the tannery, if you had to do this to survive you were "Piss Poor",

Don't have a pot to piss in
But worse than that were the really poor folk who couldn't even afford to buy a pot......they "didn't have a pot to piss in" & were the lowest of the low.

Bride's Bouquet
Most people got married in June because they took their yearly bath in May, and they still smelled pretty good by June. However, since they were starting to smell.  Brides carried a bouquet of flowers to hide the body odor: hence, the custom today of carrying a bouquet when getting married. 
Dont' throw the baby out with the bath water
Baths consisted of a big tub filled with hot water. The man of the
house had the privilege of the nice clean water, then all the other sons and men, then the women and finally the children. Last of all the came the babies. By then the water was so dirty you could actually lose someone in it. Hence the saying, "Don't throw the baby out with the Bath water!"

Raining cats and dogs
Houses had thatched roofs-thick straw-piled high, with no wood
underneath. It was the only place for animals to get warm, so all the cats and other small animals (mice, bugs) lived in the roof. When it rained it became slippery and sometimes the animals would slip and fall off the roof.  Hence the saying "It's raining cats and dogs."

Canopy beds
There was nothing to stop things from falling into the house. This posed a real problem in the bedroom where bugs and other droppings could mess up your nice clean bed. Hence, a bed with big posts and a sheet hung over the top afforded some protection. That's how canopy beds came into existence.  

Dirt Poor
The floor was dirt. Only the wealthy had something other than dirt;
hence the saying, "Dirt poor."

Thresh hold
The wealthy had slate floors that would get slippery in the winter when wet, so they spread thresh (straw) on floor to help keep their footing. As the winter wore on, they added more thresh until, when you opened the door, it would all start slipping outside. A piece of wood was placed in the entrance-way;   hence: a thresh hold.

Peas Porridge
In those old days, they cooked in the kitchen with a big kettle that always hung over the fire.. Everyday they lit the fire and added things to the pot. They ate mostly vegetables and did not get much meat. They would eat the stew for dinner, leaving leftovers in the pot to get cold overnight and then start over the next day. Sometimes stew had food in it that had been there for quite a while. Hence the rhyme: Peas porridge hot, peas porridge cold,peas porridge in the pot nine days old.

Bring home the bacon, Chew the Fat
Sometimes they could obtain pork, which made them feel quite special. When visitors came over, they would hang up their bacon to show off. It was a sign of wealth that a man could, "bring home the bacon." They would cut off a little to share with guests and would all sit around
and "chew the fat".

Poisonous tomatoes
Those with money had plates made of pewter.Food with high acid content caused some of the lead to leach onto the food, causing lead poisoning death. This happened most often with tomatoes, so for the next 400 years or so, tomatoes were considered poisonous.

Upper Crust
Bread was divided according to status. Workers got the burnt bottom of the loaf, the family got the middle, and guests got the top, or the "upper crust".

The Wake
Lead cups were used to drink ale or whiskey. he combination would sometimes knock the imbibers out for a couple of days. Someone walking along the road would take them for dead and prepare them for burial. They were laid out on the kitchen table for a couple of days and the family would gather around and eat and drink and wait and see if they would wake up; hence the custom of holding a wake.

Graveyard Shift, Dead Ringer 
England is old and not much land so the local folks started running out of places to bury people. So they would dig up coffins and would take the bones to a bone-house, and reuse the grave. When reopening these coffins, 1 out of 25 coffins were found to have scratch marks on the inside and they realized they had been burying people alive. So they would tie a string on the wrist of the corpse, lead it through the coffin and up through the ground and tie it to a bell. Someone would have to sit out in the graveyard all night (the graveyard shift.) to listen for the bell; thus, someone could be, saved by the bell or was considered a dead ringer.