Tuesday, November 22, 2005

In Christ's Own Words:

As Jesus passed there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the customs post. He said to him, "Follow me." And he got up and followed him. While he was at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat with Jesus and his disciples. The Pharisees saw this and said to his disciples, "Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinner?" He heard this and said, "Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do."
Matthew 9:9-12

Monday, November 21, 2005

Crusader For Christmas

Jerry Falwell has now taken it upon himself to sick Matt Stavers on anyone who is a threat to . . . Christmas!

In Christ's Own Words:

I desire mercy, not sacrifice.
Matthew 9:13

Saturday, November 19, 2005

It's Not About Us

It has become fashionable to invoke the Bible to impose one's values on others.

Demands for a particular flavor of virtue is merely a veneer for the pursuit of power. That might be a good business model but it ain't the gospel.

Some constituents of the so called Christian right today were openly opposing civil rights thirty years ago. Today they are scape goating our gay and lesbian neighbors. The perpetual need to rely on hate and fear is a sure indicator of moral bankruptcy.

By contrast, the gospel is a message of hope and love. Jesus Christ demands that we respect the rights of others. That applies especially to those who are in distress. Today that means that Christians ought to stand with their gay and lesbian neighbors.

In Christ's Own Words:

Do to others whatever you would have them do to you. This is the law and the prophets.
Matthew 7:12

Friday, November 18, 2005

Prison Reformer David Ruiz Dies

If you ever feel sorry for yourself because you're struggling against the odds, remember David Ruiz, the inmate who reformed the Texas prison system.

Thirty years ago Ruiz refused to accept brutality in Texas jail. Appealing for justice, Ruiz kept filing writs that argued that the state of Texas violated the United States Constitution.

NPR broadcast a remembrance of David Ruiz who died recently.

One Step at a Time

When we encounter injustice, often the odds against us are so overwhelming that it is difficult to conceive success. How can we ever compete with the staff and money of bureaucracies and corporations?

We need to remember to take it one step at a time. It doesn't matter that we are only five folks sitting around a table. Make a plan, figure out what you need to do today and do it. That way tomorrow will take care of itself.

In Christ's Own Words:

Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself. Sufficient for a day is its own evil.
Matthew 7:34

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Medi-mess (stolen from Kate Steadman)

The new medicare prescription benefit program may turn out to be a collection of private monopolies.

At Healthy Policy, Kate Steadman provides an excellent overview of the new Medicare drug benefit. She calls it Medi-mess. The program is so complex that seniors will have a hard time to figure out, which option to choose.

Most troubling is the fact that the various plans only cover a selection of drugs and are only accepted at some drug stores.

That means that there may not be much competition. Goods are defined at a time and a place. If the plans do not offer the same drugs then they are not competitors. If the plans are not available at the same pharmacies then they are not really competing.

When Bush has to choose between markets and big business, he always picks big business. Thus he manages to privatize the profits, socialize the costs, and confuse the seniors.

Roy Moore

Remember Roy Moore, the Alabama Supreme Court Justice who ostentatiously displayed the ten commandments in his court room? My friend , Hans Hacker published a letter in the Atlantic Monthly, which compares Moore's religiosity to that of Abraham Lincoln.

Here you go:

The juxtaposition of Joshua Wolf Shenk's "Lincoln's Great Depression" and Joshua Green's "Roy and His Rock" (October Atlantic) is a powerful commentary on the history and condition of American politics. It seems we have not learned much from Lincoln's theology, or from his example.

George Bush, who has said he strives to follow the model of Lincoln, seems to have fundamentally misunderstood him. Lincoln's greatest strength was his humility—his belief that God's ways are inscrutable, and that it is prideful sin to claim with dogmatic certainty God's allegiance to one's own cause. How else can we explain the words of the Second Inaugural?

"It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes."

The notion of prideful sin is completely lost on Roy Moore and his version of the Republican Party. Inexplicably for someone claiming to be a follower of Jesus Christ, Moore prefers Moses' Ten Commandments to his own savior's Beatitudes. His certainty in his condemnation of those who envision a life devoid of the punitive justice of Mosaic law defines precisely the corrosive effect of religion on politics today.

The easy answer to Moore comes from Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, who wrote in The Path of the Law, "The worst reason for doing anything is that it was done in this way during the time of Henry IV." That comment might apply to the time of Moses as well. However, Moore's politics are corrosive mainly because they reward a lack of reflection and promote an unthinking citizenry. In Roy Moore's America citizens are not called upon to evaluate the effectiveness of their institutions in achieving justice, or the usefulness of those institutions in establishing social arrangements and distributing power, wealth, or status. Furthermore, citizens are not required to think carefully about themselves in relation to others. Moore's Mosaic legal order asks no one to be unselfish, to turn the other cheek, or to relinquish his rights in favor of forgiveness and community with others. These are all things for which Americans have striven (even when "knowing that [they] could never be perfectly attained," as Shenk notes of Lincoln). Moore's certainty is simply un-American.

In the end we all could do with a bit more of Lincoln's clarity, and with the knowledge that this clarity flows from uncertainty and humility.

With permission of the author.

In Christ's Own Words

Jesus Christ about the ostentatious expression of piety:

"When you pray, do not stand and pray in the synagogues and on street corners so that others may see them. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward."
Matthew 6: 5

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Virtue, Self Interest, and Domination

Supposedly, Adam Smith said: "Virtue is more to be feared than vice, because its excesses are not subject to the regulation of conscience."

Modern history certainly bears that out. From Robespierre to the Taliban, rarely does one find more bloody crimes than those committed in the name of salvation. From Alexander to Pizarro those who lacked moral vision, could always justify violence in terms of courage.

That is a problem for those of us who are motviated by morality. How can we protect ourselves from becoming self-righteous and inconsiderate?

Alito About Affirmative Action and Abortion

The Washington Post, quotes Samuel Alito's 1985 letter seeking promotion in the Reagan Justice Department:

"In successfully seeking a promotion in the Reagan administration's Justice Department, Alito wrote that he was "particularly proud'' of contributing to cases arguing "that racial and ethnic quotas should not be allowed and that the Constitution does not protect a right to an abortion.'' He added, "I personally believe very strongly" in such positions."

The article goes on to cite Barbara Feinstein's report of Alito's explanation:

"He said, first of all, it was different then," Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) told reporters after meeting with Alito. "He said, 'I was an advocate seeking a job, it was a political job, and that was 1985. I'm now a judge, I've been on the circuit court for 15 years, and it's very different. I'm not an advocate, I don't give heed to my personal views. What I do is interpret the law.' "

Alito's critics:

""This memo is so significant because it conveys his legal views," said Nan Aron of the liberal Alliance for Justice. "He can't say he was just representing the views of a client or the government. These are his views, and therefore they are the best window into how he would rule if confirmed."

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

To Protest Ban on Gay Unions, Arlington Pastor Refuses to Conduct Marriages

Annie Gowen of the Washington Post reports:

"Clarendon Presbyterian Church Pastor David Ensign has an alternative air about him. He wears an earring and has been known to pick up his guitar to play a few hymns during Sunday services.

"But he surprised even some of Arlington's die-hard progressives Nov. 3 at the county's annual human rights awards ceremony, where his church was honored. He used the occasion to announce the church's new wedding policy:

"Traditional marriages are out. "Celebrations of commitment" are in.

"To protest Virginia's laws banning same-sex marriage, Ensign and the church's governing council decided recently that Clarendon Presbyterian will no longer have any weddings, and Ensign will renounce his state authority to marry couples."

Christmas Beyond Tribalism

vjack from Atheist Revolution reminds us to respect our neighbors during Christmas season:

"To the legions of Christians, I'd like to point out that nobody is attacking your holiday. All we are asking is that you use some sensitivity in how you present it if you cannot refrain from public displays. If you let this become of divisive issue, then it seems that it is you who has destroyed your holiday."

vjack has a point. How would we feel if people would constantly stick Ramadan or Yom Kippur into our faces? When we surrender the Golden Rule then we reduce our faith to just another form of tribalism.

What Poverty Means for the Middle Class

If memory does not betray me, Russell Hardin remarks in his book Liberalism, Constitutionalism, and Democracy something to the effect that middle class Americans' interests are only marginally affected by the poverty of their countrymen. Returning from an emergency room visit, I have to disagree (which explains why I posted only once yesterday).

The place was overcrowded. My son's condition was serious enough that physicians refused to let us leave at night fall. Nonetheless the boy had to spent six hours on a chair in the waiting room and the hallway because there were no beds available. Eventually I begged for some towels and improvised a bed on the floor when one of the nurses pointed out that the little man was about to fall off the chair.

The emergency room was overcrowded because it is the only health care provider that is reliably available to the uninsured. Overcrowding affects the emergency care of everyone regardless how well we are insured.

Ultimately, appeals to address poverty ought to be grounded in morality rather than in self-interest. Nonetheless we ought to acknowledge that the welfare of others affects ourselves as well.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Health Care Beyond the Middle Class

Stephen Barr of the Washington Post reports that federal employees will have to pay 6.5 per cent more for health insurance. For some, it will be as high as 15%. As cost of living increases do not keep up with those kind of rate increases people switch into cheaper plan with less benefits.

When the costs for essentials such as health care, housing, and college tuition rise three or four times faster than wages and salaries then the middle class may not be sustainable. Especially when prices escalate year after year.

Suburban Americans better get their act together and organize. Otherwise they will find themselves without health insurance within a decade.

The Good Samaritan

When I discussed the punishment of researchers by the Mormon Church on an AM radio show, the host and one of the callers responded that abuse did not matter. In the end, God would be the ultimate authority for appeal and everything would be fine regardless of human errors.

That's like saying the Good Samaritan might as well have left the victim in the street since God was going to take of the situation eventually.

Human beings ought to take responsibility for themselves and their neighbors. That is what this life is all about.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

In Christ's Own Words

Yes, it's true. Christ said that if we only love those who are like us then we aren't Christians:

"For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?
"If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?"
Matthew 5:46-47

Undermining Civil Rights Enforcement

Dan Egger reports in the Washington Post that Alberto Gonsalez dismantles the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department.

Love Beyond Our Own

Jesus Christ taught us that even the heathen love their own. True love, Christ pointed out, transcends the realm of our own and extends to those who are least like us (Matthew 5:46-47).

Some religious leaders have appealed to their followers' sense of righteousness by emphasizing the latter's' care for their own children. To be sure, the burdens of parenthood are considerable, some parents perform their duties better than others, and the love that we feel for our children is sublime. Yet loving our children is hardly a manifestation of Christlike love.

After all, loving our children comes natural. Many animals love their children. Evolutionary biologists consider the nurture of children as a manifestation of self-interest because parents have an interest in the propagation of their genes. Thus parenthood may well be the most moral form of selfishness but it remains an essentially selfish enterprise. That is as it should be but we shouldn't feed a sense of self-righteousness just because we love our own children.

Confusing a form of egoism as a manifestation of love, fundamentalist religious entrepreneurs have proclaimed a new enemy. Under the cloak of family values some churches are waging campaigns curtailing the human rights of our neighbors. Thus the illusion of selflessness puts us on a slippery slope of hate.

We shall overcome that hate once we acknowledge that love is about transcending differences.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Methodist Bishops Repent Iraq War

94 Methodist bishops have proclaimed repentance from their complicity in the "unjust and imoral war" in Iraq.

Here is an excerpt of the declaration:
". . . we repent of our complicity in what we believe to be the unjust and immoral invasion and occupation of Iraq. In the face of the United States Administration’s rush toward military action based on misleading information, too many of us were silent. We confess our preoccupation with institutional enhancement and limited agendas while American men and women are sent to Iraq to kill and be killed, while thousands of Iraqi people needlessly suffer and die . . .."

The New England Methodist Conference allows you to comment on the declaration on its website.

Schwarzenegger Stops Exploiting Nurses and Patients

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Arnold Schwarzenegger has quietly dropped a law suit that aimed to suspend nurse patient ratios.

While the profit margins of health insurers and corporate health care providers continue to increase, nurses were forced to provide for more and more patients. That did not only make for poor working conditions but endangered patients. The California legislature responded to corporate irresponsibility by requiring minimum nurse patients ratios, which were signed into law by Gray Davis.

When the Terminator came into office, he had the impression that the rule of law did not apply to him and that he could supersede the law by degree. Sorry, Arnold. That's not how it works.

The Golden Rule for Missionaries

How would fundamentalist Christians feel if a Muslim group was given privileged access to the cadets of our military academies?

The Washington Post reports that a fundamentalist evangelical group sent a letter to supporters that claims that the Air Force Academy has given them 24/7 access to cadets. Only the fundies enjoy this privilege.

Here is the article.

How Anyone Could Have Figured Out that the Bushies Were Making It Up

It was clear before we invaded Iraq that Saddam Hussein and his henchmen did not have weapons of mass destruction anymore.

During his presentation at the United Nations Security Council Colin Powell pin pointed specific bunkers and vehicles where Saddam Hussein was supposed to have hidden weapons of mass destruction illegally. Yet when the UNSCOM inspectors re-entered Iraq, they reported that they had access anywhere in Iraq and still couldn't find the weapons. Powell and UNSCOM could not both be right.

If United States intelligence knew the precise locations of weapons of mass destruction then UNSCOM would have found them. That's just common sense.

Instead of repenting, acknowledging his mistakes, and abandoning wishful thinking, Mr. Bush attacks his critics personally. That might help his public standing but it won't help the United States to conduct the war effectively.

Friday, November 11, 2005

In Christ's Own Words

Yes, it's true. Jesus Christ did say that taking care of the poor is like taking care of himself:

`Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.'

Then the righteous will answer Him, `Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?'

"The King will answer and say to them, `Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.'

Matthew 25:34-40

Success, Poverty, and Jesus Christ

Christianity is about a God who became a man. He was the illegitimate child of a teenage mother. Jesus Christ was not born in a palace but in a barn in Bethlehem. Then he became a refugee in a foreign country.

Jesus was never rich and sometimes poor.

When Jesus Christ became a human being, he suffered like a human being. We should take solace in that when we are distraught about the challenges in our life. More importantly, we ought to remember it when we encounter those who have been less fortunate than us.

Veterans Day

It's easy to play lip service to Veterans. What really counts, however, is whether we keep our promises and pay our debt to those who defended America. The Disabled American Veterans report that Chairman Steve Buyer (R-Ind.) is cancelling the joint session of the House and Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committees for veterans' groups. Traditionally, veterans groups had the opportunity to inform United States Senators and Representatives about the needs of America's veterans.

Under Republican leadership those times are over. We shouldn't be surprised. Draft dodger Dick Cheney and champaign pilot George W. Bush have been trying to cut the Veterans Administration for several years. In the past, these attempts to deprive veterans have been met by energetic resistance in Congress. Apparently, the new chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee Steve Buyer is willing to execute the will of his master in the White House.

Bush, Cheney, and Buyer ought to be ashamed. Our veterans deserve our gratitude. The least we can do is listen to them. Send Steve Buyer an e-mail and tell him to reinstitute the listening session for veterans' groups: buyerforcongress@Stevebuyer.org. There is no better way to pay tribute to our soldiers, airmen, and marines.

Poverty and the Budget Deficit

The federal budget deficit rises to $550 billion dollars and the best idea Republicans come up with is to take away school lunches from hungry children?

Lets get this straight. We are living in the richest country of the world but more than 35 million Americans live in poverty. With tax cuts for the rich, sky rocketing profit margins for big business, and obscene management compensation packages, wages continue to stagnate. According to the Catholic Bishops Conference, poverty has risen every year of the Bush government. Thanks to the Bush policies one out of eight Americans lived in poverty in 2003.

Now the poor are supposed to balance the budget?

Here is what Jesus Christ has to say about this:

And [Jesus] sat down opposite the treasury, and began observing how the people were putting money into the treasury; and many rich people were putting in large sums.
A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which amount to a cent.
Calling His disciples to Him, He said to them, "Truly I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all the contributors to the treasury;
for they all put in out of their surplus, but she, out of her poverty, put in all she owned, all she had to live on."
Mark 12:41-44

Rich folk won't starve balancing the budget. The poor are doing more than their share paying pay roll taxes. Lets roll back the tax cuts, have the rich pay their fair share of pay roll taxes, and do away with the crony contracts of the Pentagon and the deficit will have been cut in half.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Pat Robertson and the Wrath of God

Pat Robertson has taken it upon himself to threaten the people of Dover, Pennsylvania with the wrath of God.

"I'd like to say to the good citizens of Dover: if there is a disaster in your area, don't turn to God, you just rejected Him from your city," Robertson said on his daily television show broadcast from Virginia, "The 700 Club."

"And don't wonder why He hasn't helped you when problems begin, if they begin. I'm not saying they will, but if they do, just remember, you just voted God out of your city. And if that's the case, don't ask for His help because he might not be there," he said.
Source: http://abcnews.go.com/US/wireStory?id=1300761

Apparently, Robertson is not familiar with the Book of Job. Bad things happen to good people all the time for reasons that have nothing to do with virtue.

Robertson reminds me of the Pharisee who thanks God that he is better than the publican. God rejects such prayers for they are merely an expression of self-adulation, which amounts to a form of idolatry.

The Golden Rule

You can always tell conservative Christians by their unwillingness to live the Golden Rule.