Friday, July 16, 2004

A lack of faith

Faith is an amazing thing.  An average group with faith in a strong leader can overachieve; religious faith can heal the sick; faith in one another can bring people through incredible crises.  The lack of faith, as Darth Vader once put, is disturbing.  It demonstrates itself most often in the loud profession of belief, which is belied by actions that show that the belief is shallow.

I usually use religious fundamentalists as an example of this.  Note that I am not limiting myself to Christians here; Islamist, Jewish, and others give us daily examples to ponder.  The key here is that these folks feel that everyone must follow the fundamentalists' creed; if not, the non-believers must be dealt with.  Notice that it’s not enough that the non-believer should be presumed to doomed to eternal suffering, or at least doomed to miss out on eternal paradise.  Really, now, isn’t that sufficient punishment?

Evidently not.  I have nothing against preaching and proselytizing to the unwashed masses, but if they’re not going to fall in line, then it's the non-believer's  tough luck. 

This is not to presume that the reverse situation is acceptable; that is, it is not all right to put down those who profess their faith because that bothers you.  People should worship or not worship in whatever way they see fit. 

This lack of faith drives the whole issue of public displays of faith, like benedictions before events.  Since most everyone believes in a single God, it seems as if it should be simple to offer thanks to God in general in a way that does not stomp all over someone’s Christian, Islamic, Talmudic, or even pagan belief.  But, fundamentalists don’t feel that way.  It’s got be their version of the Almighty, period.  When their representatives get elected, they try to legislate a particular religious view into daily life, intolerant of whoever else lives there or whatever heritage might be trampled or destroyed (the Taliban destruction of ancient shrines in Afghanistan, or desecration of Native American burial areas are two examples; then there's Jerusalem, which no less than three "faiths" have tried to destroy).

So, lawsuits get filed.  The fundamentalists claim the plaintiffs are godless; the plaintiffs claim the fundamentalists are reactionary bigots.  And all because the fundamentalists are so insecure in their faith that they can’t abide by any aspect of life that doesn’t include it.

Well, publicly they can’t.  Many a Sunday Christian is willing to throw six or seven of those Commandments to the winds when they think no one is looking.  The same applies to hypocrites of all faiths.  I've known Moslems who would actually say hello to the Baptists when they bumped into each other at the liquor store.

Keep in mind that, in the US, issues about prayer and religious displays have always centered on disrespect, embarrassment, or outright animosity being shown to those who do not participate.  To a lesser extent, it’s also about respecting all faiths, not setting one up above others as a state institution.  It’s not the prayer that most people object to; it’s the ramifications to those who aren’t card carrying members.

So, atheists, for example, have held that the nature of some religion-tinged events singles them out, sets them apart.  But what about an atheist who’s afraid that the mere mention of God in the Pledge of Allegiance will turn his kid to religion?

If you can believe this (and you may have heard about it some weeks back), some atheist was so afraid that his kid would get religion from the Pledge that he went to court to have God removed from the Pledge.  The case went all the way to the Supreme Court.

(A slight digression:  The Pledge was originally written without the reference to God; that was added in the 1950’s as a counter to the “godless” Communist threat, showing that Congress can show a lack of faith in our entire country.  Apparently the geniuses in office thought that, without God in the Pledge, we’d all become atheistic Pinkos overnight.)

Fortunately, the Court recognized that a) the God in the Pledge is a generic monotheistic deity,  and b) this guy’s case had nothing to do with God, period.  It turns out he was a divorced parent trying to keep custody of his daughter.  He argued that Mommy was going to raise the kid as a ---gasp--- believer in God, which, to him, was so awful that he would go to any lengths to prevent the child from being tainted.  Apparently, he didn't think he could explain and justify his own philosophy to the kid with enough conviction to keep her from being swayed by the mere mention of the word "God".

Just when you think it can’t get much crazier you get this:  A lack of faith in his own lack of faith

Tuesday, July 6, 2004

Required reading

When was the last time you read this? 

That's right, the Declaration of Independence. I wonder how many people have actually read the entire document? Of those who have, how many times -- once, maybe, because it was required in American History class?

It's one of those things I like to look up every now and then to remind myself of how we got here. The History Channel did a fine series called the "Founding Fathers", which they followed up with "Founding Brothers". Cokie Roberts has just published a book called "Founding Mothers" about the women behind the men. The one thing that one can get out of the Declaration and the history of those behind it and behind the events that followed is: These were amazing people who were in the right place to create what has been a most durable system.

I was talking about this to a fellow one day. When I allowed that we were fortunate to have men who could craft the Declaration, the constitution and the Bill of Rights, he snorted and said that actually they weren't particularly bright or dedicated and that the Constitution was a poor document.

The guy is an idiot.

Consider the Constitution. No country in the world, not a one, has a constitution that has been in continuous use for 216 years. It has been amended only 27 times, and only once has an amendment been repealed. Most of the states, I suspect, have many more amendments and there have been constitutional rewrites in several. Alabama has over 800 amendments to its constitution, but when it's suggested that perhaps a new one should be written, there is a huge hue and cry over changing what one nut described as a "God-given constitution".

I have trouble imagining some Alabama governor ascending Mount Cheaha and receiving the state constitution from a burning bush.

By the way, former Governor Fob James, while in office, wrote a paper describing why the Bill of Rights did not apply to states.

I am not singling out Alabama here; the idiot who thought the founding fathers were ordinary slobs is a northerner. Over the years, I've heard similar sentiments from idiots of all persuasions. Other modern politicians speak of the need to control the Judiciary, forgetting about the checks and balances that have kept our method of government in tact for over 200 years.

We are far from a perfect nation. There are still injustices committed, there are people who are hungry, there are opportunities missed. But, we, among a handful of nations through history, can speak out and work to improve and strengthen our system.

For that we can thank a bunch of guys who not only were willing to take chances, but also had the foresight, genius, and dedication to craft a country that would be different from any that had gone before.

I think that's worth celebrating.