Category Archives: Reality

The semantic quibble is tiresome

The “marriage” vs “civil union” discussion is semantic. If you favor civil union for same-sex couples, you favor extending the civil codes relating to marriage to gay people. I guess the semantic argument bothers me for two reasons — first that I am an old English teacher and administrator who has had to get around too many arguments like this from people who didn’t do their homework, and second because this one has been used for so long to deny people their civil rights.

Today is the anniversary of the 2004 law that made Massachusetts the first state to sanction same-sex marriage, a right now recognized in five states and in Washington D.C. One of the first arguments put forward was by people who declared support for the rights of same-sex couples but who were unwilling to give them the word. On Facebook today the argument is still out in full force — “I support civil unions, but we should not redefine marriage.”

It is a religious quibble to deny civil and human rights to protect the use of a sacramental word in the civil code. Sacramental words are sacred and deeply appreciated within their respective churches, but in civil records “marriage” and “union” are both words with meaningful legal standing. Marriage in the civil code is the union of two people who express their commitment to each other and promise to live together as a couple. You can get “married” at the courthouse before a judge or magistrate without the intervention or sanction of any church, and under the civil law you will be married. So those who object to the use of the word “marriage” can have civil unions any time just by voting for gay marriage. Marriage is already a civil union in the United States.

With or without the law, each church must decide whether or not to sanctify same-sex unions. Each church can also decide what to call whatever they decide to do. Language is organic and takes time to change, but it follows the culture — so your terminology might catch on. If you wait for the language of the civil laws to change before you are willing to correct a recognized denial of civil rights within the culture, you are putting the cart before the horse.

When faith is fragile

Christians have never seemed stronger in the United States than they appear today, with fundamentalism entrenched in the marketplace, education, entertainment, and government. But faith appears increasingly fragile.

Many families home-school children using curriculum materials that support biblical truth as opposed to social, historical, or scientific truth. Churches have their own rock music so they can rave without hearing contrary words, and there are Christian romance novels and Christian post-apocalyptic fiction for the young folks so they will not be led astray. Many Christians feel attacked by the mention of evolution, and their faith cannot comfortably coexist with science, other religions, or alternate lifestyles. To preserve their fragile faith, they silence or marginalize — perhaps demonize — people who do not fit their mold.

Human understanding of the universe and of people grows and expands, through human experience, reflection, discovery, and discussion. Such learning threatens the God of fundamentalism, who is changeless and text-bound, too small to contain the whole unfolding universe. So they protest too much and believe too little, and they are stressed-out and fearful, defending their downsized God instead of living in faith and moving forward.

The religon wars

Conflicts today often devolve to a conflict over religion, or at least between two groups committed to different interpretations of God. Both Islam and Christianity claim to be religions of peace, but history does not reveal them to be so. Judaism does not have an imperialist commission to convert people of other faiths and expand their territory, but it too bears historical scars of both oppressed and oppressor.

Yesterday in Egypt, a bomb exploded outside a Coptic Christian church in Alexandria, killing several people:

After the explosion, some Christians from the church clashed with police in anger over the blast. The Christians hurled stones at police and a nearby mosque, chanting, “With our blood and soul, we redeem the cross,” the witnesses said. An AP photographer at the scene said the protesters stormed into the mosque, throwing books inside out onto the street. The protest sparked clashes with Muslims, as both sides began throwing stones and bottles at each other in the streets. (The Huffington Post, Maggie Michaell, “Egypt Church Explosion,” 12/31/10)

It is convenient in any conflict to be able to identify the “other person” who is the “enemy” as someone who does not worship the true God, meaning of course the one you worship. It doesn’t even have to be a different God. Arguably the reference “God” in Islam, Judaism, and Christianity all refer to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The whole problem is that Muslim fundamentalists understand this God one way, Christian fundamentalists understand him another way, and Jewish fundamentalists yet another way. The difference becomes a reason for any group to kill members of the other group, wreck or ban their houses of worship, destroy their books and artifacts, call them infidels, and otherwise treat them in unfriendly and injurious ways.

Through history, most of the world’s large killing sprees have involved Christians, frequently on both sides of the conflict. Muslim fundamentalists have warred against each other and against Christians, earning their reputation as terrorists by striking at civilian targets without warning. It is not as if they were powerless to do better, because they have the same platforms available to other groups from which to negotiate or otherwise present their grievances. Their method is of their own choosing, and they expect that their God will reward them with paradise. Somehow it is not incongruous to think of a Viking soldier believing that his spirit will be borne into Valhalla if he dies in battle, just as it is not incongruous to think that some shepherd on the hills of ancient Rome believed that the sun was Apollo’s chariot racing across the dome of the sky. But in a scientific age it is difficult to think of a modern human with a suicide bomb believing that killing a group of random strangers is his ticket to paradise.

Perhaps it is that religion, which probably should be about how we live, has come to be about how we ought to die for our faith. A martyr earns God’s special favor in paradise and headlines that go around the world to tell people he is a soldier of God, while a person who dies in his bed after a long life of service to fellow human beings gets only his obituary in the local paper for a couple of days and a few family to welcome him on the other side. Or perhaps it is even more simple, and since nobody is actually certain of their own God’s favor, they have to prove themselves right and righteous by proving the other person wrong. If the other person is trampled upon or dead, if the other person’s books and holy artifacts are trashed and his temple destroyed, obviously his God wasn’t as good as the God whose soldier is still standing.

With the Magna Carta and the U.S. Constitution in our history, it seems likely to me that people could learn to live in peace if we could all manage to quit defending our all-powerful and eternal Gods against attacks by every piddly little infidel that strikes a pose.

Not a clue

It is not often that you get to meet a voter who knows exactly who God is, what God wants, and who God wants them to vote for, but I did meet such a person back in the summer while campaigning for Rick Boucher.

It was particularly disturbing because the person was a Christian. In the authoritative Christian text, Jesus said “render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s and unto God that which is God’s,” clearly separating the secular from the sacred. In addition, he refused to be king of the world, and he threw the money-changers out of the house of worship. His message to the woman at the well separated worship from geography, tribal origin, and nationality. So to call any nation a Christian nation is contrary to the teaching of Jesus. History books published prior to the Great Revision (BGR) all show that in the United States it is also contrary to the ideas of the Founding Fathers. As to what God wants us to do, the Sermon on the Mount does not go into much legal detail the way Leviticus does, but it says pretty clearly that while God really doesn’t need anything that we can give, our fellow human beings are often hungry and ill and anxious, and if we take care of them, it is the same as if we are caring for God.

Anyway, this voter had come with a group to Acres of Democrats, an annual Democratic party fundraiser. Her group filled a table at the front of the room to the right of the speaker, and when Rick had finished his speech, they were strategically positioned to surround and pursue him, scripted and choreographed. To their dismay, Rick passed right through them, and several of the Democrats who saw the ambush stepped into his wake and stopped them. There were five or six of them, including two women who were apparently spokespersons, a videographer, and an outlier or two who were there to block.

Two Democrats were comforting the crying woman, listening to her repeat tearfully, “I just wanted him to answer me, just wanted him to come to our event that we invited him to.” She was visibly distraught, which is important when when there is a video. As we all began to realize what was going on, people turned away from the scene.

I stood for a minute or two listening to her performance, then I asked her some kind of question, which caused her to turn to me. The two people who had been listening to her seized the opportunity and left, having done their duty.

This voter was in tears, as proponents of the extreme right often are — agonizing about whether to vote for an incumbent with a proven record of service or for a newcomer campaigning on the “I am Christian” platform. The incumbent had supported gay rights and women’s rights, and so was accused of threatening the sanctity of marriage and killing babies. This was old rhetoric that I had already heard. But I was surprised to learn from this voter that Liberation Theology, which originated in the Black church, specifically in Reverend Wright’s church, was the most serious problem facing Americans, that it was the basis for the class warfare being waged by Democrats and Liberals, and that it was going to destroy the United States and Christianity. She knew nothing about Cap and Trade, about climate change, or about any issue. She was concerned about that one great evil, Liberation Theology. I myself had not even recognized this as an issue. She was concerned, even distressed, about Liberation Theology, but she still didn’t know anything about it. She could not name any of the tenets or principles, or name a theologian other than Wright. She did say that she had read all about it in Glenn Beck’s book, and she was an expert because she had been studying history for three years. Somewhere someone has a video. If you see it let me know.

This person’s vote counted as much as mine. She had no clue about the issues, but she was a protector of marriage against the threat of gays, protector of babies against murdering Moms, stalwart of the Christian faith without a clue what that is, advocate for millionaires that she didn’t know against people living in her own trailer park, on a mission from God and Beck, and pretending to be a Democrat in order to ambush a Congressman and pour out her self-righteous tears on camera.

Maybe it really is time to kick out the incumbents

When things don’t go well for some time, it is apparently reasonable to suggest that we need to kick out the incumbents, and I think it might be time to kick out the incumbents in religion. Christianity has been around for a long time and controlled kings and empires, and “peace on earth good will to men” has not happened. Christian Dominionists keep war against unbelievers on the front burner. Islam is a few years younger than Christianity, and they have that whole jihad terrorist fatwa thing going — a state of affairs that is not evidence of progress in meeting expectations for the good life. Judaism is over three thousand years old, and their God promised a lot more than has been delivered. Peace is even farther away from realization because each group has its own supremacists, which means we are all condemned to war until the last sect standing.

I am not suggesting that we kick out the incumbent God. God is either there and impervious to kicking out, or not there to kick out in the first place. But we do not hear directly from God, we hear from God’s managers, translators, handlers, and emissaries who tell us what God wants us to do. They have had thousands of years to get the message right, and somehow the whole group of prelates, bishops, imams, preachers, prophets, gurus, rabbis, evangelists, and even the Pope himself, have been ineffective. If we kicked them all out and replaced them with people who weren’t so much into the ideology, or the organization, or the profitability model, or whatever it is that has them stuck, maybe we would get a better result.

Jon Stewart’s moment of sincerity at the Rally to Restore


Why a voter needs to think about the details

It is purely not enough to kick out the corrupt politicians and put in new people who promise to do better. You need to know what each person you are considering for office thinks about particular issues. For example, on the matter of a just way to collect taxes and pay for essential services for people, first you need to understand what taxes are and then you need to think about who should pay them and why.

Taxes can be one of three patterns:

  1. regressive (the lower income person pays a higher percentage);
  2. flat (everyone pays the same percentage);or
  3. progressive (the higher income person pays a higher percentage).

Sales tax is always regressive even when people pay the same rate, since you are taxed on what you spend, and the person who spends all of his/her money gets taxed on 100% of their money. A poor or middle class person spends all or most of their money, and if they use a credit card, they can actually pay sales tax on more than 100% of income. A wealthy person not only has unspent money not subject to sales tax, but is able to invest leftover money and earn interest, so taxes are offset by interest earnings. Most people with incomes over $200,000 a year, when their taxes are offset by the interest and dividends they earn on investments, currently pays no tax at all.

Here in Virginia, all taxes taken together — property, sales, and income tax — the poorest quartile of the population pays about 8.5% in state taxes, and the wealthiest quartile pays about 5.2%. This does not take into consideration the matter of interest and dividend earnings that are available to wealthy people to offset taxes.

At the national level, a progressive income tax has been in place in the U.S. for a long time, with the rich paying substantially more as a percentage. Tax shelters have served both the wealthy and middle income people, with middle income tax shelters largely limited to “before tax” retirement and medical savings accounts. A wide variety of tax shelters are available if you have enough money to use them, but most of us do not. The average wage in the U.S., even with rock stars and athletes calculated in, is somewhere around $40,000 to $45,000.

The Bush tax cuts, which all of the Republicans and Tea Party candidates want to continue and make permanent, were a windfall for wealthy people. The intent of the tax cuts was to enrich the wealthy so that they would be inspired to invest and hire more people to work for them. Instead, they have simply taken the money out of the market into their pockets, and it rests there doing nothing for the economy. Large financial magazines and newspapers have commented on this failure to invest as expected, and if you want to read about it, you can Google “tax cuts for the wealthy not invested in jobs” and “businesses sitting on large cash reserves.” There is nothing else that we can give the wealthy to inspire them to invest. In order to get the money back into the economy, we need to roll back the tax cuts for the very wealthy the way that the Democrats want to do.

It is fair for wealthy people to pay a larger percentage in taxes because they make more money, i.e., take more money out of the economy. This is a simplistic statement of why a progressive (rich pay a higher percentage) income tax is reasonable, and if you want to read further on the issue, check out “Why the rich should pay more” over on

Understanding the information above, which anyone can verify easily with nothing more sophisticated than a Google search, indicates a clear choice for Democrats, who support a progressive income tax and the expiration of the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy.

What bears repeating

If there were critical fact-based comment, people would notice that under the “small government” conservatives, government grew by leaps and bounds. Also, they would see that the surplus that “tax-and-spend” liberals handed to cost-conscious conservatives was rendered — by conservatives — into a staggering deficit.

“How American Democracy Isn’t Working,” from way back on March 4th.

This world we live in

The newspaper reported that a third to half of parents at one middle school kept children home on Friday because they were afraid the children would be ritualistically sacrificed by other children who had joined a vampire cult and had to kill to gain immortality. I’m not making that up.

It appears that a girl was suspended recently for stating that she had to kill someone to gain immortality, a startling aspect of a religion that she got from a comic book. The aunt of another student heard about this cult (?), composed the details into a message titled ““Something to PRAY ABOUT!,” and sent it to ten or fifteen of her close friends on Facebook.

Well, the friends passed it on to their friends. They kept their kids home the next morning. Parents who got the message after their children had already gone to school started picking up their kids. The newspaper is unclear about how the school superintendent found out about the panic, but he went to the school personally and sent out a calming e-mail.

You can chuckle over this, but there is a serious issue embedded in this story. It says to me that religion has gotten out of hand. A school is disrupted by rumors of a vampire religion because a child reads a comic book. A relative hears about the cult and leaps to the rescue by requesting prayer on Facebook. What world do these folks live in? They are able to believe that middle school children are joining a vampire cult and planning to kill each other, and they pass around a prayer request on Facebook? In my world, if you think there is a vampire cult that is going to kill your children at school, you really should call the school principal.

How American democracy isn’t working

American democracy has historically been an effective two-party system. Each party was pushed by fringe groups and activists to the left and right, but each remained strong enough to actually get work done and sustain the system. Then came the radical right, whom reason cannot sway because reason is trumped by ideology. So now there is a great divide between the “tax-and-spend” liberals who are driving the country into debt and “small government” conservatives who want to reign in costs. The talk shows and news desks still use these definitions without critical comment from the reality sector. If there were critical fact-based comment, people would notice that under the “small government” conservatives, government grew by leaps and bounds. Also, they would see that the surplus that “tax-and-spend” liberals handed to cost-conscious conservatives was rendered — by conservatives — into a staggering deficit.

I am, for the record, a tax-and-spend liberal. I am liberal because I believe people are as they are, diverse to the point of individuality. And life is hard. So we need to accept, help, and support each other as much as we practically can. If we do that, we will feel good about ourselves and others. I was brought up in a Christian family, and I think that Christians are compelled to be liberal by many New Testament teachings. I could make a long list, but one example should serve: “Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.”Gal. 6:2. So I am not offended to be called a liberal. As for the “tax-and-spend” part, I want to point out that “tax” and “spend” are really the only two functions available to government. Without taxes, the unit of government — federal, state, local — would go bankrupt, and therefore could not serve citizens. The means of service to citizens is government spending. A government could possibly tax without spending, but that would be abusive. A government cannot, as we have seen over the past several years, spend without collecting taxes.