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Falling Leaves

Most of us like and seek to simplify a complex world. We look for a THE CAUSE and focus on that, interpreting all of what we see about this and that through the lens of THE CAUSE. And that is where most of us get it wrong most of the time.

The great majority of world, societal, and cultural problems – the Islamic State, Israel/Palestine, Russia/Ukraine, Ferguson, police shootings, illegal immigrants, etc. etc .etc .- are not the result of a THE CAUSE, but instead, are more like a falling leaf.

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To determine how a leaf will fall and where it will land it is not enough to know that gravity will pull it to the ground. Using that alone to determine where a leaf will land will result in far more mistakes than correct answers. The reason for this is tha5 many other factors play a role equally as important as gravity in determine a leaf’s final resting place.

Things such as wind strength, direction, and variability; the shape of the leaf; whether it is a fresh leaf or a dried one; altitude (air pressure). In fact, as the leaf tumbles through the air how it presents itself to the air and wind changes and in doing so change how fast it is falling and its direction in complex ways that cannot be simply modeled. Indeed, for a time, the leaf may even rise instead of fall due to these factors. It can even, eventually, wind up on higher ground than where it started.

To-the-Promised-LandHuman affairs are most often like a leaf.image

Too often I see a one word or sentence cause for an issue: US created ISIS, Israeli aggression, Palestinian aggression and terrorism, racism, lawlessness, personal responsibility, economic inequities, etc. Most of the time such answers are, at best, misleading and simplistic or, at worst, wrong. And even in those cases where they may indeed correctly identify a primary cause, it is not sufficient in and of itself to really understand what has/is happening and most definitely not enough to come up with good answers.

While researching and seeking to understand these individual parts and their role in causing whatever the current issue is – racism and Ferguson, Israeli policy and actions, etc. – taken by themselves they only create misleading illusions that, when taken for reality, leads to wrong and usually harmful actions.

Just as a scientist may study how the wind effects a falling leaf, how its shape matters, and all the other factors involved in its falling, when it comes time to actually predict the leaf’s fall all of these have to be combined with our understanding of gravity in order to at least have a chance at making an accurate prediction.
Bottom line – beware of the limits of simple answers. Resist their lure. Keep in mind that due to the fact that as the leaf falls it changes how gravity, air resistance, and wind affect it so that it can become almost impossible to accurately predict where it will land, so too do human affairs change and morph and change making accurate predictions difficult even when all factors are considered. The challenge quickly escalates beyond difficult to impossible when those factors are not considered.

human-origins-leakey_11101_600x450While reading the latest issue of Scientific American, the one devoted solely to articles about human evolution, I came across something that started me thinking about creationists and the many conversations I have had with them over the years.
Scientific American had this to say in regards to a wonderful new find of fossils of some of our early human ancestors in South Africa from the Rising Star cave system;

We observers may not yet know how these fossils will rewrite the story of our origins, but history tells us that they will indeed rewrite it. The Rising Star find is only the latest in a rash of discoveries since the start of the new millennium that are upending bedrock tenets of human evolution.

The article then goes on to lay out what some of the many changes that have occurred since the late 1990’s about our understanding of human evolution. Some of these changes are:

  • “The seven million year old fossils from northern Chad’s Djurab Desert have extended the human fossil record by more than two million years and raised the possibility that hominins emerged not in East Africa but to the west.”
  • “Fossils from Dmanisi in the Republic of Georgia dated to 1.78 million years ago, show that hominins began pushing out of Africa hundreds of thousands of years earlier than originally envisioned.
  • “Neither is the cognitive divide between H. sapiens and archaic species nearly so pronounced as some scholars had envisioned”.

Where scientists and those who are scientifically literate view this as a vindication of science and how it works, and understand that not all things shown to be wrong with current scientific understandings threaten the underlying theory – we can make a distinction between the theory explaining the results and the results themselves – for creationists these and the many other changes in our understanding of evolution would be considered conclusive evidence of the falseness of evolution by creationists.

The reason for this is not due to any obstinacy on their part, or at least not deliberate obstinacy. Instead, I believe it arises from their literalist understanding of their religion and the Bible. To the creationists, if anything is proved wrong in the Bible then all of the Bible is suspect and proven wrong. It is why they are so adamantly opposed to Biblical scholarship, liberal and progressive Christianity, and, of course, science (although they will not admit this, saying instead that true science would not conflict with the Bible).

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The fact that we can change our views of how things happened based on new evidence is seen as a sign of weakness. Creationists do not understand that the scientists and those who understand and appreciate the power and wonders of science, do not see this as discouraging but instead as exciting; do not see this as frustrating but as fascinating; do not see this as a step backwards but as a step forwards in our understanding of the universe and the world around us.

Their wonder is bound to one particular way of reading one book; it is a static view of the world, an unchanging and unchangeable view. It is above all a fragile view that cannot stand up to our increasing understanding of reality and so must be defended from it.

They do not understand the power and the wonder and the beauty of looking at the world as a place to be traveled and explored. And they are the ones the poorer for it.

Back in January I wrote a blog titled The Forgotten Protectors of Freedom. In it, while not taking anything away from our military men and women, I pointed out that the real protectors of our freedoms are not the soldiers who guard our borders and protect our overseas national interests, but, instead, those who fight for our freedoms and exercise our freedoms in order to keep them strong. Today, I would like to point out some of these defenders who have given up liberty and life in the defense of our rights.

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First and foremost is James Foley, a journalist who was captured by the Islamic State and was cruelly executed by them on Tuesday, August 19th. It is his willingness to put his life in danger in order to inform us about the world and our role within it that makes him a protector of freedom. Without knowledge, without accurate and timely information, freedom cannot exist. At best, it is a sham. At worst, shackles. Foley worked and risked to ensure that our freedom is not a sham.

I also want to mention those journalists in Ferguson who were arrested for covering the protests and unfolding events in this city. They too are protectors of our freedom, pushing against authority and willing to risk the consequences of doing so in order to inform the nation. Without a free and active press willing to do such, there can be no freedom.

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For that matter, the protestors in Ferguson, protesting over the fact that Michael Brown, an unarmed black man, was shot six times by a white policemen. While it is too soon to provide a fully informed opinion on whether the shooting was justified or not yet, they perceived a real and grievous flaw in not only Ferguson, but our nation as a whole – the racial discrimination that still occurs within our legal system. Their willingness to be visible and to protest, to create a scene and situation, forces this issue to be discussed. Hopefully, it will help to ensure that Brown’s death is not in vain and that he receives true justice. And, more, that we as a nation continue to be forced to deal with and correct the racism that still exists within this country.

More examples of those who protect our freedoms abound in our nation. Let me mention just one more, or rather three more, from my local area, Fort Worth. Three police officers filed an official complaint alleging “race-based discriminatory harassment and treatment” by the Fort Worth Police Department Traffic Division. Although the independent investigation found no hard evidence of a racial motive, they did find “hostile, harassing behavior”. Policies and training are in the works to correct this now.
It is these people and the many more like them who are the true protectors of our freedoms, who truly move us to become a better society.

Iraq/Syria

James Foley

Steven Sotloff
Other journalists who have also been captured but whose names have yet to be released.

Ferguson

The Journalists

Coulter Loeb, Lukas Hermsmeier, Ryan Devereaux, Bilgin Şaşmaz, Tom Walters, Ansgar Graw, Frank Hermann, Scott Olson, Kerry Picket, Rob Crilly, Matthew Giles, Robert Klemko, Neil Munshi, Wesley Lowery, Ryan J. Reilly

The Community, Organizational, Political Leaders

Antonio French, Maria Chappelle-Nadal, Malik Zulu Shabazz, Paul Muhammad, Alfred Long Jr., Anthony Shahid

Fort Worth Police

Sgt. Delbert Johnson, Lt. E. G. Edney, Sgt. Swayne Dalco
And all the others involved whose names I do not know and/or did not have the space to list. Well done. And may we all join them in protecting our freedoms.

Recently my newspaper had an editorial about a local issue. The subject doesn’t really matter, what does is the fact that they criticized the Fort Worth School Board for missing the opportunity to teach the students a valuable lesson- that life is not fair.

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I am not going to get into the specific issue itself. Instead, let me discuss a more general truth and what it means, namely that life is not fair. The editorial is correct in this much – life is not fair. That is something every person experiences over and over again throughout their lives, from birth to death.

Further, let me add the related fact that the universe is a cold and uncaring place. Whether you do well and prosper, whether you suffer unspeakable pain and losses, or whether, like most, you fall somewhere in between – the universe neither cares nor notices.

Of course, that is not the universe’s job. It provided us life and a place to live that life. Nothing less and never anything more. To imagesexpect more from the universe and life than what it has already given you is an exercise in futility and frustration. However, there is more to be considered here, because within this universe we, humanity, exist.

It is our job, yours and mine, to create fairness; to create justice and mercy. We are a social animal, an animal with empathy, with a sense of justice, with a sense of fairness. Such has been demonstrated among our closest living relatives, the chimpanzees, as well as seen in our own very young, our babies. We have a need for justice, for fairness, for mercy. It is one of the reasons that religion came about. It is the reason why we have made such gains throughout the ages – established justice systems, developed democracy, established and expanded human rights, developed more inclusive and expansive moral codes.

equality-vs-justiceAnd this is where my local paper, the Star Telegram, got it so very, very wrong. Their mistake is, live-so-that-when-your-children-think-of-fairness-and-integrity-they-think-of-youunfortunately, a too common one.

Yes, life is unfair and the universe does not care. But, that is not their job. It is our job, our responsibility to supply, as much as we can, what life and the universe lacks: fairness, justice, mercy. The Fort Worth school board got it exactly right in their decision to pay these young people.

The Persecuted Christian

A bit over two years ago I posted “Gimme That Old Banned Religion”, about a t-shirt with the words “I am not ashamed of the Gospel because it is the power of God the salvation of everyone who believes. Romans 1:16” on the front. On the back it stated, “This shirt is illegal in 51 countries.”

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Obviously I checked out the accuracy of this back statement and then used this to discuss the interesting fact that many Christians in America claim that they are persecuted, not only in other countries but also here in the United States.

This blog has gotten some interesting responses, including two that I did not allow due to their abuse of language. A few days ago I received in comment that made me want to briefly revisit the topic of the “persecution” of Christians in America. Before I do though, I realize that many if not most Christians in the United States do not believe they are persecuted. In fact, I received a couple of thoughtful comments from Christians to this effect.

However, while acknowledging the truth of this, it is still also true that a sizable number of Christians do believe they are persecuted in the United States. Now, I am not going to deal with all the problems in claiming that Christians are persecuted in the United States. Much of it stems from the fact that “They wish to elevate the loss of their religious privileges – which are forbidden by the United States Constitution – to the loss of their religious rights – which is very much protected by the Constitution.”

What I want to focus on instead is the claim of a commenter that “Christians are the MOST persecuted in the world”. Really?

Consider the following:

  • In every country in which Christianity is outlawed and expressing Christian beliefs illegal, so too are other religious beliefs, including atheists. Does the Most Persecuted Religion trophy go to the group with the most individuals being persecuted? If so, then Christianity has an unfair advantage in that they are the largest religious group in the world. A better measurement would be a proportional one in which you look at laws outlawing and restricting a religion. By this measure, Christianity is not the most persecuted religion in the world. At best, it is tied with many others.
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  • In Iraq  today a religious group is in danger of being totally wiped out by ISIS. Those who follow the Yazidi faith are being hunted and killed for their faith. Just because they are not as numerous as Christians does that mean that their persecution doesn’t count? Or perhaps it counts, but just not as much. How do you compare their persecution with their smaller numbers with that of Christians? After all, they are in grave danger of giving their all, just as the widow did in Mark 12: 41- 44

    41 He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. 42 A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. 43 Then he called his disciples and said to them, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. 44 For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”

    It seems to me that even though the Christians today might be persecuted out of their abundance, those who in their poverty of numbers are in danger of being wiped out are being the more persecuted.
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  • Does it count as persecution when those persecuting you are also a Christian, just of a different variety? For example, the Catholic persecution of Protestants, the Protestant persecution of Catholics, the persecution of Quakers by both, etc. It seems to me that this should not count towards the count for most persecuted religion. Instead, this should be reserved for persecution by those of a totally different religious belief.

jews-arriving-auschwitz-PSo, who do I think is the most persecuted religion? The Jews. They have been persecuted for far longer than Christians have, have suffered more deaths and restrictions than Christians have. What is of interest here is that the Jews have suffered deaths and restrictions frequently at the hands of Christians. In fact, this makes me wonder, does the fact that Christians persecuted other religions mean that they should be deducted points for most persecuted religion? This question is especially important in light of the fact that the religion that has engaged in the greatest amount of persecution of the Jews is Christianity.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAYes, Islam has done so too. Both have anti-Semitic elements within their respective sacred books. However, for most of history,einsatzkids Islamic countries have been a safer place for Jews to live than Christian European ones. That is not to say that Jews were considered the equals of Muslims, nor that they did not suffer persecutions and extra taxations . They did. However, what the Jews experienced in Christian Europe was worse, on average, than what they experienced in the Middle East. Just consider, the greatest number of Jews being killed for being Jewish occurred during the First Crusade and in Nazi Germany during the Holocaust. Both of these were Christian countries and these actions carried out by Christians.

So, how does the fact that Christians have engaged in severe persecution fit into these Christians calculations for being the most persecuted religion?

A more basic question, though, is why do so many Christians seem to feel this is important. They seem to believe that if a religion can survive such persecution then that is evidence that that religion contains the truth and is the one correct religion. However, is this true?

Not really. Although my tone may have, at times, been slightly sarcastic in my questions and points above, the questions and points are all valid. Christians have been and in many countries are still being persecuted – along with atheists, Jews, and other religious groups.

Christians have also often been the persecutors.

And it is Judaism, not Christianity, which has suffered the greatest amount of persecution throughout history.

Yet this belief that being persecuted validates Christianity still permeates the thinking of many Christians. It is why they so often try so hard to twist and distort the reality of Christianity within the United States so as to claim that they are persecuted too. It validates, in some strange way, their belief in the ultimate and exclusive truthfulness of their religion. Never mind the reality.

And the reality is? Persecution is no measure of how true a religion is. It is the result of many other factors instead – politics and economics, geography, social norms and values, and the interactions with other religions. If persecution were the measure of a religion’s validity then Judaism would be the winner. Of course, the atheist would rank fairly high too. Not to mention the Yazidi. Or the many other religious groups.

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Instead of contemplating with joy how persecuted Christians are, even within the United States, these Christians should instead be working to protect all of those persecuted regardless of religious belief – atheist, Jew, Yazidi… all. They should be working to rid the world of persecution and discrimination for any reason whether it be for religion or race or gender or sexual orientation. They should, instead, be working to create a culture, a society, a world in which each is free to follow their conscience and to live their lives as they best see fit. That is a much more laudable goal than watching all their trials and tribulations sinking in a gentle pool of wine.

give-me-your-tired-your-poor-your-huddled-masses-yearning-to-breathe-free

Of Short Memories

Approximately 1.5 million children died during the Holocaust.

In 1938, just after the German pogrom against the Jews known as Kristallnacht, Great Britain eased its visa requirements to allow children under the age of 17 from Nazi Germany, or from any of its annexed territories, to enter the country on temporary travel visas. From December 2, 1938 until May 14, 1940 between 9,000 to 10,000 children – about 7,500 of them Jewish – were rescued from Germany, Austria, Poland, and Czechoslovakia. This was done even though Great Britain was also experiencing the severe effects of the Great Depression – the value of British exports was halved, industrial output had fallen by a third, unemployment rose to 20% (with some areas reaching 70% unemployment). While some areas of the economy around London still prospered, poverty and unemployment devastated Northern England and Wales; and still they took in 10,000 children in need.

Between 1934 – 1945, in the United States 1,400 mostly Jewish children were rescued from Europe and the Nazi’s atrocities. Why did Great Britain wind up rescuing more than seven times as many children in just 1 and a half years than the United States did in 11 years?

  •  Great Britain’s program was well known (the Refugee Children’s Movement or kindertransport) and promoted. The American One Thousand Children effort was kept quiet and low key so as not to antagonize the isolationists and anti-Semitists in this country.
  •  Great Britain loosened the laws on immigration to allow these children to enter and stay. The United States did not, instead maintaining strict quotas even after the events of Kristallnacht made it clear the Nazi’s intentions towards Jews. Legislation was proposed, the Wagner-Rogers Bill, that would have admitted 20,000 Jewish refuges under the age of 14 to enter the United States. It failed to pass.

 

Of Ignorance

Guatemala – Due to crime cartels and gangs (often consisting of retired generals and police officers) there are 52 murders per 100,000 people every year. In the United States is it only five per 100,000, and only one per 100,000 for England. In 2009 6be84fda5cf0dc80a7c6b782ad45be3c_XLthe number of people shot, beaten, and knifed to death in Guatemala outnumbered Iraqi’s who died in the war zone in Iraq. More than 2/3 of homicides in Guatemala are unsolved. Police are both ineffective and corrupt.

Guatemala also has the fourth highest rate of chronic malnutrition in the world. According to a study by the US based research institute The Fund for Peace, this will get worse.

Gangs in Guatemala force children to join, usually young teens. The average age of those recruited has been going down and as of 2012 was close to 12 years old. Girls are recruited to be “girlfriends” (although last year two girls – age 13 and 15 were arrested for assassinating a 20 year old man). Boys to be soldiers. Even some kindergarteners have been recruited. Schools are often just as much recruiting grounds as educational institutions. Refusal to be recruited often results in beatings at first, and then escalates from there. Extreme poverty also eases the decision, even in the face of unwillingness and fear for what they might have to do.

Honduras – In addition to being the poorest country in Latin America, the Honduras also are region’s most violent and crime ridden. It also has one of the most corrupt police forces in Latin America. Often the political and economic elites of this country are the ones directing the activities of the drug cartels and crime syndicates.

Gangs in Hondura force children to join, usually young teens. The average age of those recruited has been going down and as of 2012 was close to 12 years old. Girls are recruited to be “girlfriends”. Boys to be soldiers. Even some kindergarteners have been recruited. Schools are often just as much recruiting grounds as educational institutions. Refusal to be recruited often results in beatings at first, and then escalates from there.  Extreme poverty also eases the decision, even in the face of 1unwillingness and fear for what they might have to do.

El Salvador – According to the United Nations office on Drugs and crime, El Salvador is one of the most dangerous places in the world, having a homicide rate of 69.2 per 100,000 in 2011. Again, corruption among public officials and police is rampant.
Gangs in El Salvador force children to join, usually young teens. The average age of those recruited has been going down and as of 2012 was close to 12 years old. Girls are recruited to be “girlfriends”. Boys to be soldiers. Even some kindergarteners have been recruited. Schools are often just as much recruiting grounds as educational institutions. Refusal to be recruited often results in beatings at first, and then escalates from there. Extreme poverty also eases the decision, even in the face of unwillingness and fear for what they might have to do.

According to the Border Patrol, 3 out of 4 current unaccompanied children are from the Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador.

In 2008 the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act was voted on and passed by both chambers of Congress without issue or objection. This law was one of the last law signed by President George W. Bush before leaving office. Its purpose was to fight against human trafficking, including sex traffic of children.
Towards that end, any child entering the country alone who was not from Canada or Mexico was to be given the opportunity to appear at an immigration hearing to determine their status. It was also recommended in this law that they have access to counsel. Further, these children were to be turned over to the care of the Department of Health and Human Services, placed “in the least restrictive setting that is in the best interest of the child” and to explore reuniting these children with their family members.

This law was originally pushed by a bipartisan group of lawmakers as well as by evangelical associations concerned with sex trafficking. It passed unanimously.

Health – Despite the rumors, illegal immigrant children pose a very low health risk to the United States. Despite the rumor, they do not have the Ebola virus, which is an African disease and not one found in Latin America. Despite the rumors, dengue is spread by mosquitoes, not people.

679aa550c461b354cef4c5f72fe8c7ab_XLWhat these children do have are illnesses related to long journeys – diarrhea and respiratory illnesses – that do not pose a risk to Americans. In fact, although the U.S. has a 92% vaccination rate for our children, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras have a 93% vaccination rate for theirs. There is no danger of plague being unleashed upon American citizens by these children.

Gangmember Infiltration of US – Yes, there are gangs in the countries these children are fleeing from. That is why they are running after all. And yes, 16 children have been found with links to gangs. Sixteen out of over 50,000. And are these children trying to hook up to gangs here (unlikely) or are they trying to get out of the gangs by moving far away?

Here is a good article from Insight Crime on this.

Nevertheless, it is still possible that some of the youths are active gang members, but this is unlikely to pose a serious security threat to the United States.

Latin street gangs, especially the MS13, already have a presence in the United States and there is ample evidence that they coordinate criminal activities with counterparts in Central America, in particular in El Salvador. Gangs on both sides of the border likely have access to established networks for the movement of arms, drugs, people and money. It is therefore unlikely they would utilize the routes of common migrants, which are arduous, dangerous and risky, for any important gang operations.

The numbers support this; while the US authorities have discovered 16 gang members so far, if Townhall.com’s account is accurate, this is a tiny fraction of the tens of thousands of children crossing the border.

Border Security – If they are being stopped and detained, then we are securing our borders at the entry point. What more would you have them do – shoot on sight? More boots on the ground would not hurt, but that is not the problem. The problem is that we have this massive flood coming in and we ARE stopping them. Now we have to figure out how to handle them after we have stopped them.

 

Of Illegal Immigrant Children

Today – July 15, 2014 – there are protestors in Tucson Arizona. They are protesting the bussing of 40 immigrant children to a nearby academy for troubled youths. Holding signs reading “Return to sender” “Take them away from here” and “Go home non-Yankees”, they plan to physically block the buses. Just as did:

July 1, 2014. Murrieta California. There protestors shouting “Go back home”, “Nobody wants you”, and “USA” physically blocked three buses carrying illegal immigrant children.Protesters-block-immigration-bus-jpg

July 14, 2014. Vassar Michigan. Protestors waving American flags, holding signs, and praying together protested the possible arrival of 120 illegal immigrant children to be temporarily housed there while they receive their vaccinations and basic education before either being re-united with relatives or going into foster care. The process is supposed to take 2-4 weeks. Hence the adjective “temporarily”. Yet even this temporary is seemingly too long.

Today I see too many voices yelling at children. I see too many people displaying hatred to children. Today I see too many Americans following in the mindset of the 1930’s. No, these children are not fleeing a holocaust. But they are fleeing for their lives. Dead is dead whether in a Nazi gas chamber or beaten to death by a syndicate crime soldier. The crisis is the same, the lives of refugee children.

I hear many asking why are these children sent alone. They point out, quite rightly, that it is a long and dangerous journey from El Salvador, from Guatemala, from Honduras. However they and their family know that dangerous as that journey is it is still safer than staying in an impoverished home and being recruited for a gang. Just as the mother of Moses launched him to an uncertain fate in a basket upon the waters of the Nile, so too have these parents launched their children fate in the US, knowing too well what their fate will be should they stay.

SAN PEDRO SULA, Honduras — Twelve-year-old Maynor Serrano points to the rows of houses where his friends and neighbors used to live. All are gone — many fleeing to the U.S.

Two of his friends were killed as 10-year-olds, their bodies chopped to pieces in a suspected gang vendetta.
He saw homes reduced to crumbling wrecks, their walls pockmarked with bullet holes. Entire neighborhoods were abandoned in hours — the result of monstrous gang violence.

Some houses became casas locas, crazy homes, for torturing families in this macabre city, which has the highest homicide rate in the world. Daily newspapers are filled with graphic photographs of bodies.

Like many, Maynor Serrano yearns to escape to the U.S., where he has relatives.

“It’s tough to live without hope,” he said. “If it’s not there, you go look for it.”

fu_children_detention123_140606_16x9_992Some call me a bleeding heart. It is a label that I willingly, proudly, and loudly embrace. After all, for atheists, isn’t empathy for others’ pain, suffering and problems an essential part of what we are? Isn’t this an essential part of why we create societies? Without empathy, without our acting on these impulses, we, eventually, lose what makes us human. Bleeding hearts help set goals that reason and logic then find ways to best achieve.

For the Jews and Christians, I have already mentioned Moses. For Christians, remember also that Joseph and Mary and baby Jesus were refugees too at one time. Remember to love one another. Remember your Bible and Jesus’ words in Matthew 25: 37-40:

“37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

For all those who are religious, isn’t concern for the unfortunate, the poor and suffering, the needy an essential part of your religion? From what I have read, whether Buddhist or Jew, whether Muslim or Sikh, almost all religions require one to help the other, to treat those in need as us and not them.

I am not saying that we should make all of these children citizens. No. What I am saying is that we have a law and a process set up to determine whether these children are refugees and in need of protection and shelter. Fund it so that those organizations set to implement this law and these processes can do their job quickly, efficiently, and effectively. And then if need be, if they would be in danger if returned, then we find homes for them here – just as we have for so many in danger and need, and just as we did not do for the Jewish children.

I am saying that they should have legal counsel during these proceedings to ensure that they do not become merely window dressings for a rubber stamp saying “Go Away”.

I am saying that while here, while waiting for the process to work itself out, they need to receive medical care, food, and a proper place to live.

I am saying that we should not let our bigotry, fear, hatred, uncertainty get the better of us and display our lack of humanity by picketing children and shouting hateful words towards them. They are not the source of your frustration and disagreements. They are merely seeking shelter from a harsh world. Treat them as children in need.

I am saying that we should find solutions that are true to what makes us human.

I am saying that instead of ignoring our bleeding heart, denying its existence, or killing it we should be healing that which causes it to bleed.

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While I am not normally a fan of those who use worldviews to explain all the conflicts and problems in the world, it can, at times, when used judiciously, be a useful concept. This is one of those times.

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While Mr. Correia and I both have the same goals – reducing the number of shootings along with the number of innocents killed, and protecting our Constitutional rights – our ideas about how best to do this differs radically. And a great part of the reason they do is because of our differing view of our society and of how the world works.

This difference lies in how we answer two questions:

“Are we just individuals who happen to live close to each other, or are we part of a community and society?”

“How dangerous is this world that both Mr. Correia and I live; specifically the United States? “

The answer to the first question has a large subjective element, although there are relevant objective facts that should inform that subjective value judgment.

The answer to the second question is largely an objective one, although one that may be at odds with subjective evaluations.

Also, both questions are linked.

However, before going on to how Mr. Correia and I differ in our answers to those two questions, let me first point out the flaws in arguments and reasoning that Mr. Correia shares with the NRA and their allies.

1. When considering whether guns are a benefit or a bane, you need to look at total deaths and injuries from guns versus how many lives have been saved from death or injury. Too often they focus on just crime, and even then only on those instances when criminals are stopped or at mass shootings. What they do not consider are:

052011_WEB_a1_SHOOTING_2_v_t618A) Accidental shootings such as the one June 14th this year in a Jasper IN Walmart, where a man’s handgun went off as he was reaching in his pocket for something else. Or, more tragically, when a 19 month old boy was accidently shot and killed by his four year old sibling on April 29th of this year in Wichita Kansas.

B) They always make it sound as if only criminals shoot people, when the reality is that neighbors, family members, friends,  pissed off non-criminal strangers also shoot people. So far this year there has been several shootings of this sort.

2. From 2005 through 2010, over 1.4 million firearms were stolen from homes and other properties. That averages out to 232,400 guns every year according to the Justice Department of Justice Statistics. The problems and risks posed by these stolen guns needs to be considered when evaluating gun policies.

3. Almost always they either argue against the banning of all guns – something very few are proposing – or they slide the argument that way. This allows them to avoid the fact that if we are not proposing to ban all guns that people can still buy and carry guns if they feel they need them for self-defense, thus rendering that argument of their moot: law abiding citizens will still be able to purchase guns.

4. Argue that guns are needed for protection from the government. To that, I will refer you to my blog point 5 of my blog “Of Knives and Guns and….Fruit

5. If any proposal other than more guns and freer access to them is shown to have even just one failure in stopping a shooting,VT_April_16_memorial then the whole idea is fatally flawed and should be scrapped. The reality though is that perfection is not a reasonable standard as there are no policies which achieve that exalted status. A more rational and reasonable standard is does the new policy do better at reducing gun deaths and injuries than the previous one, without harming our constitutional rights.

Returning now to the two questions –the first of which was are we a people who happen to live near each other, or are we part of a society.

Mr. Correia makes much of individual actions and equipping individuals to take care of themselves. He downplays, mocks, and denigrates any societal attempt to solve this problem as not only being worthless, but being actually harmful. His view is summed up nicely by the NRA’s “The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is with a good guy with a gun”.

My view is that societal attempts to control gun violence are better and most likely to be effective. This includes such things as relying on the police and justice system and making them more effective, comprehensive background checks, dealing more effectively with issues of mental health, anti-bullying programs, comprehensive gun control laws, providing quality education, a strong economy, and more. It is the totality of these actions that have more to do with reducing violence than individuals armed with guns do.green2

Here are a few quotes that, I believe, illustrate Mr. Correia’s views about society and about how dangerous it is to live in our society.

The gun culture is who protects our country. Sure, there are plenty of soldiers and cops who are issued a gun and who use it as part of their job who could care less. However, the people who build the guns, really understand the guns, actually enjoy using the guns, and usually end up being picked to teach everybody else how to use the guns are the gun culture.

I find it interesting here that it is not our laws and justice system, it is not our culture and society, our shared values amid the differing ones that protect us and our country, but the gun culture. And what does this gun culture consist of? He says regular people, but I think this captures more who he is really talking about:

But for the sake of math, let’s say that there are only 80 million gun owners, and let’s say that the government decides to round up all those pesky guns once and for all. Let’s be generous and say that 90% of the gun owners don’t really believe in the 2ndAmendment, and their guns are just for duck hunting.
….

So ten percent refuse to turn their guns in. That is 8 million instantaneous felons. Let’s say that 90% of them are not wanting to comply out of sheer stubbornness. Let’s be super generous and say that 90% of them would still just roll over and turn their guns when pressed or legally threatened. That leaves 800,000 Americans who are not turning their guns in, no matter what. To put that in perspective there are only about 700,000 police officers in the whole country.

Let’s say that these hypothetical 10% of 10% are willing to actually fight to keep their guns. Even if my hypothetical estimate of 800,000 gun nuts willing to fight for their guns is correct, it is still 97% higher than the number of insurgents we faced at any one time in Iraq, a country about the size of Texas.

So, the gun culture consists of 10% of 10% of 80 million gun owners (out of a country with a population over 300 million). Mr. Correia is not talking everyday people. This is especially true when you look at the trends over the years and see that the number of people who own guns is declining.

The gun culture that Mr. Correia is referring to is a minority group, one that believes strongly in total self-reliance. However, that is not the way homo sapiens was meant to live. Alone, we are easy prey. As a society, we are a huge success (so far).

Which now leads me into the next question, since the two questions are actually related. Are we living in violent times, violent enough to make carrying guns a sensible precaution? The reasons I say these two questions – are we individuals or part of a society, and how violent are our times – are related is discussed in Steven Pinker’s book The Better Angels of Our Nature.

In this book he documents how through the ages there has been a downward trend in violence of all sorts – murders, wars, cruelty, etc. It has not been a smooth and even trend, but it is there.
And one of the reasons for this trend is, from the NY Times book review:

Pinker sees this decline as part of the “civilizing process,” a term he borrows from the sociologist Norbert Elias, who attributes it to the consolidation of the power of the state above feudal loyalties, and to the effect of the spread of commerce. (Consistent with this view, Pinker argues that at least part of the reason for the regional differences in American homicide rates is that people in the South are less likely to accept the state’s monopoly on force. Instead, a tradition of self-help justice and a “culture of honor” sanctions retaliation when one is insulted or mistreated. Statistics bear this out — the higher homicide rate in the South is due to quarrels that turn lethal, not to more killings during armed robberies — and experiments show that even today Southerners respond more strongly to insults than Northerners.)

Pinker also identifies five historical forces which have lead to the declines in violence. Although all are relevant, let me just mention that one that has the most direct relevance to the issue of gun violence and its reduction. And that force would be the rise of the modern nation state with its accompanying judiciary.

With the rise of a judicial system and the modern nation state, the legitimate use of force by individuals was instead shifted to the state. Instead of each individual having to use force to defend themselves and to solve problems, the judicial system and he state took over. This defuses the individual’s “temptation of exploitative attack, inhibit the impulse for revenge, and circumvent…self-serving biases”.

As for the other four forces, let me just say that they largely have to do with bringing us together as people by allowing us to see the others as like us in important ways. Societal changes in other words.

The reality of this can be readily seen in our own country and its crime statistics.

While living in the US, can be deadly dangerous at times, it is only so at times. For the most part life in the US does not consist of deadly dangers. I know that in my own life, during my 58 years of living, I have investigated child abuse in which I often went to the worst areas of Fort Worth and my wife and I have lived in some of those worst areas for a time. During all of this I never owned or carried a gun, and was never the victim of violence.

And for most Americans, this is true. Which is one of the reasons that violent acts take up a significant part of the news, especially those that result in multiple deaths. If they were common, they would not be nearly so well covered. Or consider this, according to FBI statistics, in a nation with over 310 million people:

  •   In 2011, an estimated 1,203,564 violent crimes occurred nationwide, a decrease of 3.8 percent from the 2010 estimate.
  •   When considering 5- and 10-year trends, the 2011 estimated violent crime total was 15.4 percent below the 2007 level and 15.5 percent below the 2002 level.
  •   There were an estimated 386.3 violent crimes per 100,000 inhabitants in 2011.
  •   Aggravated assaults accounted for the highest number of violent crimes reported to law enforcement at 62.4 percent. Robbery comprised 29.4 percent of violent crimes, forcible rape accounted for 6.9 percent, and murder accounted for 1.2 percent of estimated violent crimes in 2011.
  •   Information collected regarding type of weapon showed that firearms were used in 67.7 percent of the nation’s murders, 41.3 percent of robberies, and 21.2 percent of aggravated assaults.

While too many were the victims of violent crime, even more people were not. And, in that same report, you will find that the number of violent crimes is going down – from over 1.4 million in 2007 to a bit over 1.2 million in 2011.

And remember above where I said that it is societal institutions that have more to do with reducing violence than individuals armed with guns? While the crime rate is decreasing so too is the number of people who own guns (who have constituted less than half of the population for many decades). If guns were the reason for the drop in crime rate I would expect to see the number of people owning guns increasing and not decreasing.

In my view of the world we should be striving to continue this trend of making the world, and our country, a less violent place, a place where people do not feel the need to have guns for protection and instead can focus on those things that make life worth living and enjoying.

Mr. Correia seems to harken back to the day when friends and families were the source of protection and justice – a day of Second-Amendment-militiasfeuds such as the Hatfields and McCoys in American history. Rather like the man in Montana who, tiring of having stuff stolen from his garage, installed sensors outside his garage, a video monitoring system inside his garage, and then left the garage door open and waited.

This man could have had the motion detector turn the lights on, used the monitor system to take a picture, and called the police and given them the picture of the boy. And, if he was worried that the boy was going to break in, stand by the kitchen door and if the boy tries to turn the locked doorknob to open the door then warn him “I have a gun and will shoot”.

Instead he decides to forgo societal solutions for an individualist one. He goes out and shoots into the garage, blindly, arguing that it is his right to defend his home. As a result, a 17 year old foreign exchange student doing a stupid teenage prank is now dead. A dumb prank, but not one deserving the death penalty.

Now, I am not saying that this is what Mr. Correia wants – I am sure he does not. But his way, nonetheless, is a step back towards that world and will result in only more violence.

Is this the sort of society we want to create – one in which each of us has to totally look out for ourselves against everyone? And in which those who do face no consequences. At one time, perhaps, this sort of self-sufficiency made sense. Today though it does not, and our moving beyond this has led to less murders and a safer society than in times past. I do not wish to take any step that leads backwards, which is where I fear that Mr. Correia’s policies would. Maybe not totally, but at least part way down that path.

I see the American world as having dangerous moments, but largely able to be navigated by people in peaceful means. I would continue that trend seen in the FBI statistics and in Pinker’s book. And I believe that it can be done – that we can create a more peaceful society without giving up our rights to vote, to believe, to speak out, to associate. I believe that a more equal and just world can be created (not a perfect just and equal world, but one more so than today).

Instead of arming everyone and having people openly carrying heat , I believe that we would be better off focusing on preventive measures – mental health, anti-bullying programs, better protections for the poor and powerless, etc – and on establishing better controls on that most destructive of weapons, guns. Controls that apply equally to all states and cities and parts of the United States. These controls would include:
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- The continued highly effective ban on automatic weapons.

- The banning of large ammunition clips.

- The requirement that all gun owners attend a class on gun laws and gun safety.

- All guns must be registered at time of purchase.

- All guns must be re-registered every year.

- If sold, that transaction must be reported immediately.

- Persons buying guns must pass a thorough background check.

- We need to create a more effective network that includes criminal history, mental health issues, and restraining orders that can be accessed by those selling guns.

- Ammunition logs should be kept of all ammo purchased.

While many in the NRA, and I am sure Mr. Correia himself, would loudly protest this, they would be wrong to do so. Note, I do not ban semi-automatic weapons, concealed or open carry, private ownership of guns. People can still buy them for self-defense or sport. Also note how many of these requirements are the same ones we have for driving and owning cars. Last I checked, car ownership is doing just fine even with these restrictions.

One last point to make. There have been many studies done on various aspects of gun ownership and gun violence,. Often they conflict – for example, gun ownership, two studies show less than half the population owns guns and that their numbers are decreasing, a third though shows that over 60% of Americans own guns.worldviews

The reason for this is a lack of data. Records of everything related to guns and gun violence, from gun ownership to how often they are used in self-defense to how many are killed accidentally and more are lacking.

Now, I believe, and the majority of experts, believe that gun controls are needed to reduce gun violence, and that the US has a huge problem in regards to guns. I am perfectly willing to put this to the test by providing money and support for universities and agencies to gather the needed information and do good comprehensive studies that would definitively prove one way of the other which side is correct (or whether either side is totally correct).

However, those opposed to any gun control and whose every answer to these vexing problems it freer access for more and more people to guns oppose any and all such research. It is the NRA and the gun culture people who have blocked agencies such as the CDC from gathering information related to guns, blocked money being given as grants to universities for such studies, blocked setting up agencies and organizations that could gather this information. Even for established background checks, they block attempts to provide the information needed to make them more effective.

I find it telling that the NRA and its political supporters are on the side of ignorance in this case, while those for gun control are all for finding out what is happening. In my experience, those who promote and desire ignorance – whether in regards to evolution, climate change, the Holocaust, etc – are invariably wrong.

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