Friday, August 31, 2007

Should I Respect Religion?

I have been criticized on any number of occasions for my lack of “respect” for religion. The admonition to “respect” religion has come not only from religious folks but even on occasion from other non-religious people.

So, what to make of this? Notice that I’ve place the word “respect” in quotes. That’s because I can’t answer this question without first establishing precisely what “respect” means.

A minimum definition of “respect” would be to simply allow religious folks to practice their religion and engage in its rituals without criticism or ridicule. In other words agree to “live and let live.” I could live with this arrangement and in many cases, such as with the Hassidic Jewish community, that’s precisely the case. I respect the Hassid’s desire to live life as they see fit. They don’t bother anybody, and pretty much ignore outsiders.

Christianity and Islam however, with their belief that spreading the faith is a paramount obligation, tend to be another story all together. In this country Christianity in particular invariably means a lot more when it says “respect” than “live and let live.” When Christians ask for “respect” then more often than not they mean reverence, admiration and, ultimately, agreement.

They want everyone to acknowledge their definition of right and wrong, everyone to acknowledge the supremacy of their Sky Daddy, whether they believe in their Sky Daddy or not, and for everyone to view faith and piety as virtues. They would also like their rituals to be celebrated publicly to universal ooohs and aaahs. Why? If Christianity is nonsense then its rituals are silly and its morality open to debate.

To some Christians disbelief becomes equated with disrespect. Atheists, agnostics and other secular humanist species which reject the fundamental Christian canon are viewed as disrespectful simply by existing. You’ll excuse me but I refuse to cease existing simply because it hurts your feelings.

Hey, wait a minute I hear you say. You’re lumping all kinds of Christians into a pot that really only contains the extreme right wing fruitcakes. Perhaps, but I don’t hear the so-called Christian Left doing anything about the fruitcakes.

Granted I tend to have problems with the Fundamentalist Evangelical species of Christian more than your neighborhood Episcopalian. But I realized a long time ago that’s it’s a blurry line and, to be honest with you, one that’s too treacherous to navigate so it’s safer to lump them all together.

So what about the idea of think whatever you want but at least be polite enough not to openly criticize or ridicule someone’s faith? Sounds like a reasonable idea except religion in general, and Christianity in particular, has never been terribly shy about criticizing anything and everything, from Harry Potter to nudity on television, that it thinks violates what it calls “sin.” I put “sin” in quotes because I’ve never really been able to understand the concept. I can understand hurting someone or stealing from someone as a “sin,” but I’ve been a little confused about a lot of the other things that get lumped into the same category.

My compromise is that I usually don’t initiate the conversation, but only react to some statement or event.

To me “respect” means more than simple tolerance. “Respect” carries with it a degree of admiration and deference. You don’t get my “respect” for free, you have to earn it. Religion doesn’t earn my respect, therefore it doesn’t get it.

That doesn’t mean I might not respect religious people. I have a healthy deference for nuns, priests, rabbis, some pastors and anyone that simply wants to practice their religion in peace. Anyone that wants to force his beliefs on me or anyone else however is going to have a serious problem.

So it’s really a mixed bag. I don’t believe in respecting religion simply because its religion. I’ve come to the rational conclusion that all religions, or at least all of the ones I’m familiar with, are absurd. Why should I respect something I find absurd? Nor can I justify respecting anyone’s belief in that absurdity. I might respect their sense of conviction and keep my mouth shut, but that’s about as far as I’ll go.

Nor do I think I’m obligated to remain silent about my opinion in forums where expressing it is appropriate. I don’t think I would stand outside a Sunday School blabbing my heathen opinions but when someone “witnesses to me” they’re going to get more than they bargained for in return.

What this all means is that I will continue to criticize and ridicule religion when I believe it’s appropriate and when something comes up which triggers a response. A lot of people don’t like that idea and would rather simply, for example, defend same sex marriage rather than attack the reason same sex marriage needs defending. Defense may win an occasional battle but it can’t win a war. To win a war you have to bring the war to the enemy. Bush was right about that, too bad he was too stupid to figure out who the enemy was!

Same Sex Marriage Ruling in Iowa

Iowa? Hardly a bastion of liberalism, but a Polk County district court judge has ruled in favor of six gay couples who were denied marriage licenses and struck down the Iowa laws banning gay marriage.

The immediate reaction by politicians in the state has been to declare an intention to appeal and also to begin work on an amendment to the state constitution. Be that as it may, at least for the moment, gay couples are applying for marriage licenses in Iowa.

Twenty or thirty years from now folks will be wondering what all the fuss was about just like most of today’s youngsters are wondering what all the civil rights fuss was about.

Jim Crow isn’t dead, he’s just retreated a bit. He’s laying low and pretending he’s only opposed to gays just like the bible says he should be. In the 1850’s he said the bible told him blacks were meant to be slaves. In the 1950’s he said the bible told him to segregate blacks.

When will we ever learn? Discrimination is discrimination. Feel free to believe that homosexuality is immoral. Just don’t forget that it’s only your opinion.

I think the judge was right. I hope that the Iowa Supreme court upholds his decision and the good people of Iowa ignore the rhetoric and let stand the extension of the protections of marriage to their fellow citizens.

Maryland is now the Richest State

At least based upon Median Household Income it is. According to the Census Bureau Maryland ($65,144) passed New Jersey ($64,470) which fell into second place. Connecticut ($63,422) was third followed by Hawaii ($61,160) and Massachusetts ($59,963) to round out the top five.

At the bottom of the list was Mississippi ($34,473) followed by West Virginia ($35,059), Arkansas ($36,599), Oklahoma ($38,770) and Alabama ($38,783).

I guess this surprises me a little. I always thought Connecticut would top the list. I didn’t even know New Jersey was 1st last year.

The following chart shows the two year Household Income Median average distribution across the U.S.
I guess all of the South's bible thumbing and defense of "moral values" isn't convincing Sky Daddy to shower them with earthly riches is it? You suppose that he's afraid of corrupting them or is it that he doesn't really approve of their behavior? Maybe they should try praying a little more?

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Obesity Report 2007

The Trust for America’s Health has released its latest report about obesity in America and the outlook is not good. Obesity rates went up in 31 states and didn’t go down anywhere. The state with the highest obesity rate was Mississippi at 30.6 percent. Colorado remained the thinnest state but its rate went up from 16.9 to 17.6 percent.

Again this year the South did absolutely horrible dominating the group of most obese states while the West and Northeast tended to be the least overweight.

New Jersey ranked 40th in adult obesity but was also ranked 9th in lack of physical activity. That’s probably means bad news down the road. Indiana was tied for 9th in adult obesity with Michigan and Oklahoma.

To be honest, I really can’t talk. I’ve gained 8 pounds in the last two years and I’m having a heck of a time getting rid of it gym or no gym. At least I can say I engage in physical activity, I just have to cut out the snacks I guess.

I don’t buy the trend that everyone has his or her comfortable weight so having a few extra pounds is no big deal. It’s a big deal. I recognize that and I know what I need to do to shed it, I’m just too lazy to do it.

Looks like the rest of the country falls into that category too. It’s all evolution’s fault. Our bodies are programmed to store fat when food is plentiful so we won’t starve when it becomes scarce. Natural Selection didn’t anticipate a situation where food is always plentiful.

Or do you think God set it up this way?

Monday, August 20, 2007

God’s Warriors

The three part CNN special “God’s Warriors” is scheduled to air this Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. The series will cover fundamentalist extremists of the three Abrahamic religions, Judaism, Islam and Christianity in that order.

I’ve reviewed the previews on the CNN web site and the CNN reporter, Christiane Amanpour, appears to be sounding a warning, although she would probably deny it. She claims the series is about understanding and that is certainly a darn good starting point.

I’ll admit I don’t know much about Jewish or Muslim fundamentalists but I know a fair amount about the Christian variety. Amanpour says that we can’t afford to look upon these people as some sort of “exotic subspecies” out on the “loony fringe” and she’s absolutely correct.

I used to look upon Fundamentalist Christians as silly but harmless. Then I really got to understand a little about them. They’re anything but harmless. They’re dangerous as hell and downright scary. They are the single biggest threat to American Democracy that has ever existed. I’m much more concerned about them then I am about Muslim Terrorists.

Muslim Terrorists just want to kill me. Fundamentalist Christians want to enslave me by rolling back everything the enlightenment has accomplished and re-instituting a dark age of medieval superstition and mental stagnation. I consider the latter a much greater threat than the former because, if we’re not careful, it can happen in a series of seemingly harmless steps.

Consider one of the primary topics in the Christianity segment which is the BattleCry group. On the surface BattleCry is a darn good idea. It’s opposed to teenage sex, violence and drugs. Who could argue with that? Unfortunately the movement goes way beyond those simply positions. They’re not happy with merely having their members lay off sex, violence and drugs, everyone has to also sign up to God, Jesus and the Bible. Not any God, Jesus and the Bible mind you, but their very narrow interpretation of God, Jesus and the Bible.

I could even live with that, but tied up in it all is also trying to get everyone else to share that viewpoint. At the moment it’s through persuasion, but should they get enough clout, it will quickly become coercion because they, and only they, possess the truth and the rest of us should accept that truth for our own good or else. Don’t believe me? Check out The Inquisition. Saving souls was the official reason given for the torture and killing.

This follows not too long after the HBO special “Friends of God” which sounded a similar warning note. There is a lot to be concerned about here. However I’m afraid that unless Lindsay Lohan or Paris Hilton gets involved most of the population is going to miss the warning.

I don’t know if there’s a God but, if there is, he must be pulling his hair out over the so-called faithful. This assumes of course that he has hair and isn’t laughing too hard at the unmitigated gall of the human species.

Monday, August 13, 2007

My Loyalty to George W. Bush

I took another one of those on-line quizzes. This one claimed to measure my loyalty to Bush the Unhinged. On a scale of 1 to 10, I scored 0! I kid you not. The actual results from the quiz were:

“Your score is 0 on a scale of 1 to 10. You hate Bush with a writhing passion. You think he is an idiot, a liar, and a warmonger who has been an utterly incompetent, miserable failure of a president. Nothing would give you greater pleasure than seeing him impeached and run out of the White House, except maybe seeing him dragged away in handcuffs.”

Yup, that’s pretty damn accurate. As far as I can see the man has absolutely no redeeming qualities and I place squarely upon his shoulders the unjustified deaths of every American soldier who has died in Iraq plus the deaths of thousands of Iraqi civilians.

I don’t see why the son of a bitch shouldn’t be indicted and tried for:

1. Conspiring to Wage a War of Aggression with such co-conspirators as Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, Condoleezza Rice and Halliburton.
2. Crimes against Peace by participating in the planning, preparation, initiation, and waging of a war of aggression.
3. War Crimes such as the approval of the bombing of civilian targets in attempts to kill Saddam Hussein.
4. Crimes against Humanity such as the displacement and death of thousands of Iraqi men, women and children and the looting of the wealth and resources of the Iraqi people.

That’s all four of the Nuremberg Counts. If we really believed what we preach in this country about the rule of law and equality before the law, we would bring indictments against this administration, let them have their day in court and then hang the bastards.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Jesus Dolls at Wal-Mart

Sure, why not? Remember the Jesus dolls from last year that made Toys for Tots scratch its head as to whether they should be accepted? Now Wal-Mart has announced that they will be available at Wal-Mart stores right next to G.I. Joe, Barbie and Bratz.

Along with the dolls will also be “Tales of Glory “figurine play sets depicting various biblical stories including Moses and the Ten Plagues and Jesus Walks on Water. There’s even a 13” “Spirit Warrior” Samson doll to play bodyguard to the 12” “Messenger of Faith” dolls.

The line has expanded since last year and has added Peter, Paul and Mary (complete with guitars?) to the Jesus, Esther, Moses, Noah and David dolls (If I had a Hammer, I’d Hammer in the Morning…).

Apparently Wal-Mart plans to sell the toys at 425 of its 3,250 stores. Most of these stores will be in the South and Midwest (DUH, I wonder why?).

All of the toys are made by the One2Believe Company, whose president is apparently a true believer and devout Christian determined to provide an alternative to Christian parents that feel uncomfortable with today’s toy choices.

So instead of G.I. Joe blasting Osama Bin Laden, Spiderman foiling the Gremlin or the Bratz clique swooning over the latest fashion accessories, you can have Jesus feeding the multitudes with a few loaves and fishes or Moses convincing Pharaoh to let his people go.

I assume that this is a trial and is apparently scheduled to begin at the end of August since the manufacturer is urging people to go to Wal-Mart on August 18 and ask about the toys. Yeah, if I was the manufacturer I’d be trying to convince people to do that too.

Nah, I think this guy’s motives are pure. He’s a VERY successful plush toy manufacturer with some big time contracts and probably doesn’t need the money. He’s doing this because it’s something he believes in.

What I don’t understand is why the end of August? Depending upon where you are in the country, the kiddies have either just gone back to school, or are preparing to go back to school, and with all the expanses that usually entails, shelling out money for clothes and school supplies, how many people are going to be considering buying toys? Sounds like an experiment designed for failure unless they figure it’s the second largest period of volume next to Christmas. And God forbid that Wal-Mart should allocate toy shelf space around Christmas for something they’re not absolutely positive is going to sell.

So, what’s my take on all this? Hey, I want me one of those Moses and the Ten Plagues play sets. I mean, hell, where else can you get a toy bush covered with locusts?

Seriously, I say more power to them. Sell the toys. I’m sure lots of parents will buy them for their kids and the kids will love them. Whether they will use them the way the parents want them to use them might be another story. I can just see Jesus and Ken on a double date to the mall with Barbie and one of the Bratz.

To be honest with you, something like the Esther doll looks a lot safer to me than those Bratz thingies with their focus on shallow fashion nonsense and their unrealistic physical attributes. At least Esther looks like a normal dowdy kind of young girl. I do sort of feel a little squeamish about a Mary doll though. That must be my early Catholicism seeping through.

All kidding aside, I think it’s a great idea. Why shouldn’t Christian parents have the option to buy toys that they feel are appropriate for their kids? I mean, hell, Christians have never tried to stop things they don’t approve of, such as Harry Potter books, from being available to the rest of us have they? (*cough, cough*).

I don’t see this as any worse than Pirates of the Caribbean, Star Wars Jedi or Harry Potter play sets. I mean, they’re all fictional as well aren’t they? Let the market decide. If they sell well in the 425 pilot stores then I’m sure they’ll be coming to a Wal-Mart near you. Not near me, because I don’t have any Wal-Marts near me. I think they violate three or four hundred zoning ordinances in Bergen County New Jersey so they’re not allowed.

Friday, August 03, 2007

A Little Bit of This and a Little Bit of That

That bridge collapse in Minnesota was a terrible thing and clearly other places might want to look upon it as a wake-up call and take the appropriate action. The key word in that sentence is “appropriate.”

Both the print and television media appear to have gone off the deep end and are engaged in an absolute feeding frenzy over this thing. CNN yesterday had a prolonged segment on the tragedy under the banner of “Bridge Fear.” Here we go again with the whole fear thing. I don’t think the media and the government is going to be happy until we’re all afraid to do anything but sit in a darkened room and tremble.

Look, walking out of your front door in the morning is an act of courage. Doing virtually anything skyrockets the probability that you will be killed or seriously injured. That’s reality. Should you take appropriate safeguards? Absolutely, that’s simple common sense, but don’t let yourself be so influenced by fear that you stop living anyway. Remember, nobody escapes life alive.

In a related topic, predictions of what the next terrorist attack will be, supposedly made by the ex-Israeli intelligence operative that was the subject of the movie Munich, are making the rounds on the Internet.

Basically the prediction is that it will be a series of coordinated bombing attacks, either via suicide bombers, car bombs or just leaving explosives in a suitcase or box, in places where people congregate in large numbers. Possible places mentioned include amusement parks, subways, hotels or even sports stadiums.

Guess that means to be safe I should sell my Giants tickets right? Wrong. The simple fact is that if a terrorist wants to explode a bomb in a random place, there isn’t a snowball’s chance in hell, barring some unlikely luck, of stopping him. Again that’s just reality. The most we can do is keep an eye out for suspicious behavior and act appropriately if someone does something to arouse our suspicions. Other than that, it’s just going to be pot luck so live with it. If the fear of terrorism prevents you from living your life, then you’ve already lost.

There will be more terrorist attacks. Trust me that the U.S. and allied intelligence agencies probably look upon conventional bombing threats as very low priority. What they’re focused on is preventing a nuclear act of terrorism, either through an atomic device, or act of sabotage on a nuclear power plant. This is the real threat. As disturbing as it may sound, the death of twenty or thirty people in a random bombing is probably looked upon as no big deal.

Ok, now for something a little lighter. I see that in a recent Pew survey that 87% of Americans believe that celebrity scandals get too much ink and air time from the media.

Yeah, I can’t argue with that one. I thought Fox News had become the Anna-Nicole and Paris network! I guess since they couldn’t find anything good to say about the Bush administration or Iraq, they figured airing nothing but distractions was the next best thing, but man was it pathetic.

More interesting perhaps is that 54% blame the media while only 32% blame the public for paying too much attention. This is an example of the feeling of disenfranchisement people have today. This feeling has the basic outlook that each of us is just a small fish in a big pond so we can’t really control what happens.

Actually, you’d be surprised what you can control. Don’t buy papers that dedicate their front pages to garbage news. Cancel your subscriptions to papers and magazines that seem to want to tell you about nothing other than what Paris did last night. Hit them where it hurts, in the pocketbook. It may take a while but stop settling and accepting and see how fast things change.