Saturday, March 24, 2007

Main Street Plaza

I am now blogging at Main Street Plaza. See you there!

Thursday, September 28, 2006

The Trouble with Certainty

The Washington Post discusses John Danforth's book tour where he blames the Christian Right for turning the Republicans into a sectarian party.

"The problem with many conservative Christians is that they claim that God's truth is knowable, that they know it, and that they are able to reduce it to legislative form," Danforth writes. "The popular question, 'What would Jesus do?' can be difficult enough to contemplate with respect to everyday interpersonal relations. It is mind boggling when applied to the complex world of politics."

That problem is especially challenging for charismatic Christians. They believe that they understand the mind of god. Proclaiming to act on behalf of god, their leaders are arrogant and domineering. Rather than serving something that is greater than us, we mistake our personal biases for divine revelation.

It is about the adulation of the leader. And for leaders, it is about the adulation of one self. That is why some charismatic ministers ostentatiously display jewelry, expensive cars, and huge churches. That is why Joseph Smith needed access to every woman imaginable.

God becomes secondary. It is all about them. That's idolatry.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Military Religious Freedom Foundation

Religious freedom may well be the greatest blessing of American heritage. The Pilgrims landed on Plymouth Rock to escape discrimination. William Penn took the lesson a step further and provided a refuge not only for his own but also for those who disagreed with him. So did the Catholics that founded Maryland, only to be subject to discrimination once Protestants outnumbered them.

According to historian David McCollough, there was some fear that the religious rivalry between Massachusetts Puritans and Virginia Episcopalians would be an obstacle for the colonies to defend themselves against royal aggression. Fortunately, the founding fathers understood that they needed to be above religious differences if they wanted to defend America's liberty. Without the founders' ability to put their religious differences aside, there might not be a United States of America.

All the more troubling is the fact that there is an organized effort by extreme evangelicals to impose their religious preferences by utilizing their power in the nation's armed forces. Jesus Christ taught us to live by the Golden Rule. How would we feel if our children were told by their superiors that they had murdered God?

Yet that is what has been happening at the Air Force Academy.

How would we feel if our superior officers begun preaching their religious views in the service? To be sure, military officers ought to enjoy the right of free speech. But when they are exercising the power of the government over people of other faiths then they have to respect the dignity of their subordinates. Surely, Jesus would not want us to create situations where power rather than liberty determines our religious choices.

May be, you do not share my theology about the Golden Rule. Thank heavens, I cannot impose my views on you. That's because the founding fathers created a red line between the power of the government and religion.

The Military Religious Freedom Foundation wants to keep it that way. Unfortunately, the Bush administration has crossed the line by allowing radical evangelical officers to subject their subordinates to their sermons. In defense of our soldiers' religious freedom, Mikey Weinstein has founded the foundation and is suing the Pentagon.

As the son, grandson, and brother of soldiers and as a veteran myself, let me say that I am happy that none of my superior officers confronted me for being Mormon. That would have been very uncomfortable for me in the German armed forces.

Military officers have the power over the life and death of our soldiers. That's the way it has to be in the armed forces. Therefore it is doubly important that we protect the conscience of our soldiers from abuse of power.

That's what the Golden Rule is about. That's what the United States Constitution is about. If we love America then we need to rally to the Constitution. The most virtuous way to do that is to defend the rights of people other than ourselves.

Our soldiers are Jewish and Muslim, Christian and Hindu, Sikh and Wicca, believer and atheist. The founding fathers understood that this makes America strong. In part, it is the essence of freedom. Let's keep it that way and support the Military Religious Freedom Foundation.

Friday, June 30, 2006

That Was Close!

Thank heavens that's over.

Argentina shut down the German game in the German half. Nonetheless, Germany had more chances but Argentina converted a corner kick with a beautiful header.

After the 1:0 more space became available and the German players played with more heart. They were furious. A magnificent serve by Ballack was extended with a header and headed into the net by Klose. The striker was at the verge of tears.

Klinsmann substituted the right players. Especially, Odonkor transformed the German game outpacing his opponents time and time again. Borowski and Neuville also increased the pressure on the Argentine goal. Yet Argentina continued to snatch the ball surprisingly in the German half.

When overtime failed to decide the game, Lehmann shined catching two penalties.

Two more games.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

It May Well Be the End

When Germany meets Argentina in less than fourteen hours, I am very concerned that it will be the last German game.

Of course, Germany has the home advantage. I have also deluded myself that Klinsmann is the better coach. Otherwise the anxiety is just too much.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Slippery Slopes

A visitor's argument that democracy allows majorities to withhold rights at will, illustrates how slippery a slope the discrimination of gays is. When we label gays second class citizens then we might need to surrender the notion of rights in favor of the tyranny of the majority.

The founding fathers were quite clear that democracy in America was not simply about majority rule but a system that protects the rights of minorities. Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay who helped write the Constitution are quite outspoken about the importance of minority rights in the Federalist Papers. Federalist Numbers 9 and 10 are dedicated to the problem of majority tyranny and what the United States Constitution does about it.

The founding fathers carefully designed a system that provides minorities with considerable resources to preserve their liberty.

Discrimination challenges American democracy. Discrimination begins with denying the full rights of citizenship to a seemingly marginal minority. But when we need to justify that we might be compelled to argue that we can take anything from anyone as long as the majority condones it.

Therefore discrimination threatens everyone. It compromises the core of our constitutional system. Discrimination is tyrannical and the seed of tyranny.

Not least, discrimination threatens the integrity of the abusers who might not have considered that the implications of their position will pitt them against liberty, democracy, and the rule of law.

Especially from a Mormon perspective, minority rights are important. Most of Mormons live outside the United States, which means that Mormons will usually be a tiny minority in their communities and countries. Even in the United States, most Mormons live outside Utah.

Some of you might remember how Baptists in Texas attempted to impose their religion on Mormon students in public high schools by electing a student body officer who would deliver prayers at school functions. In Texas, of course, that meant that the prayers would always be Baptist prayers. That might not be a big deal until one remembers that this happened in an environment where teachers would harrass Mormon students by denigrating their parents as members of a cult.

Thank heaven for the Constitution and the Supreme Court who stopped an intolerant majority from compromising our religious freedom. There are some things that cannot be left to the majority.

Unless we respect the humanity of people who are different, we have no right to hope that we shall remain free ourselves.

The safest way to avoid the slippery slope of tyranny, of the few or the many, is to oppose discrimination in the first place. Lets be fair to everyone.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

About the Obligations of the Faithful to their Neighors: Scapegoating, Second Installment

I am glad that we all agree that scapegoating is wrong and unchristian. Since Dan brought up political philosophy, let me declare myself an Edmund Burke, Alexis de Tocqueville, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer style conservative. In the United States, of course, that makes me a rabid liberal. But that says a lot more about the ideological decay of conservatism in America than about me.

Deconstructor's quotes do establish that LDS leaders are blaming gays for the decline of the family and western civilization. That goes beyond criticizing the behavior of gays and blames them for consequences, which do not pertain to their actions. Therefore this rhetoric is scapegoating gays and lesbians.

We know the effects that this rhetoric has on gays. Worse, the general authorities have been informed of the effect of their words. I refer you, for example, to the letter of David Eccles Hardy to Boyd Packer. Hardy relates how one of his children responded with three suicide attempts to LDS doctrine regarding homosexuality. That is an all too common story. It is sad that our children cannot be safe at Church because the leadership will not afford them the opportunity to reconcile their nature with their faith.

Regardless of the consequences, the words of LDS leaders are sufficient to demonstrate that homosexuals are the targets of scapegoating.

Anne: Unfortunately, it is not true that the racism, which many LDS leaders have engaged in, merely parallels that of anyone else. It took us a generation longer to desegregate the priesthood than mainstream society. When the United States Supreme Court integrated the schools, Mormons were among the court's most vocal critics.

I agree with you that this dynamic is natural for an organization that is more conservative than the mainstream. If we hold people like Brigham Young, Mark Petersen, or Neal Maxwell to the prophetic standard that they themselves claim, then we need to conclude that being late in matters of humanity is not a good sign.

I am pleased that Gordon Hinckley rejected racism during the last General Conference. Better late than never. However, we ought to remember that the first American efforts to abolish slavery dates back to 1688. By contrast, Brigham Young taught that God created Africans to become slaves and that this would always be so. Young also preached that the punishment for a white woman's and a black man's sexual relationship was death on the spot. Mormon leaders continued to preach against interracial marriage throughout the decades. Even when the priesthood became available to Africans, LDS leaders issued warnings about interracial marriage.

Again a sexual practice was blamed associated with negative consequences for our civilization. That's scapegoating. Therefore the evidence sustains my claim that there is a tradition of scapegoating among LDS leaders.

Notice, at its core racism is about intermarriage. We all belong to the same species and can procreate. Racists deny that. The prohibition of intermarriage establishes racial categories.

Clark makes an interesting point about threat perception. Culpability requires intent. Therefore people who believe that they are doing the right thing may not be culpable. On the other hand, we need to remember the relational content of scapegoating. There are not only perpetrators but real people get hurt. At some point, we have to take responsibility for our beliefs and their consequences. In criminal law, error doctrine defines limits. An erroneous assumption must be reasonable to be exculpatory.

Religious freedom means that we can believe anything but we cannot rely on such beliefs to regulate the lifes of people other than ourselves. Public policy ought to grounded in reason, especially when it becomes a matter of coercion.

Even if we ignore everything we know about the lynching, suicide, and other suffering of homosexuals, it is unreasonable to proclaim that they brought about the fall of Rome.

Likewise, the gender roles, which Mormon theology deploys against gays do not withstand reasoned enquiry. Historically and anthropologically, it is clear that they only capture a slither of the human experience. Rather there has been a wide variety of family models and gender roles that have successfully reared children.

Therefore it is reckless to invoke that kind of theology to agitate against the right of a vulnerable minority.

We know today that skin pigmentation is intrinsically irrelevant with respect to a person's humanity. Many people figured that out centuries ago. I remind you of the role that Frederick Douglas played in that regard. Therefore Mark Petersen could have known better.

We also know that homosexuality is a natural feature of the human condition. While the inquiry into the causes of homosexuality continues, same sex attraction has been observed across a wide variety of species ranging from primates all the way to birds and reptiles. If we want our faith to remain relevant to contemporary public life then we have an interest in accommadating this fact in our theology.

Homosexuality does not intrinsically hurt anyone. Sex can hurt people. Homosexuality can hurt people the same way heterosexuality hurts us.

When we refuse to acknowledge the humanity of homosexuals then we only have ourselves to blame. Therefore we cannot escape responsibility when we blame our gay and brothers and lesbian sisters for bringing down civilization.