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Lately I have seen several posts comparing the safety of pools with that of guns – with guns seemingly the much safer of the two (based on the work of Economist Steven Levitt) . This is almost inevitably followed with the complaint of “Why don’t the damned hypocritical idiotic liberals want to pass laws outlawing pools instead of guns?!”

hello-kitty-swimming-poolgun5s

So, to help out those who seem to be unclear on what the differences are between a pool and a gun, here is my quick down and dirty handy dandy reference guide to those differences.

1. Swimming Pools cannot be carried.

You will never find a person carrying a concealed pool sitting next to you at the restaurant of theater. Heck, you won’t even find one openly carrying a pool.

2. Swimming Pools cannot act over a distance.

To swim or drown in a pool you have to go to it. It cannot be thrown, launched or tossed at a person. However, the bullet of a gun can. And at a high speed killing velocity too.

3. Swimming Pools are meant for recreational use only.

The purpose of a pool is to have fun. The purpose of a gun is to kill.

Yes, people do enjoy firing ranges, target shooting, skeet shooting, and any other recreational use of a gun that I have missed. However, guns were invented with the intention to kill something. Most guns today are purchased with that purpose in mind. And even the guns used recreationally were intentionally created to be lethal too. If guns were not lethal sales would plummet so low as to be virtually non-existent.

I have yet to see a pool purposely designed to be lethal. If a pool could be designed so as to not ever be lethal – a drowning proof pool – sales would skyrocket.

4. Swimming Pools cannot be used in a fit of anger or annoyance to kill a family member, friend, enemy or stranger.

When someone is talking during a movie you cannot pull out a pool and drown him.
When that idiot driver cuts you off and almost causes you to crash into a guard rail you cannot then throw your pool at him.
When you are arguing with your brother in law over the $20.00 he owes you you cannot grab a pool and dunk him to death.

5. Swimming Pools cannot change owners or location without documentation.

You always know where a pool is located. Not so a gun. A gun can be sold without any accompanying paperwork fairly easily. A gun can be given as a gift to a friend or family member and no document created to give its new forwarding address. A gun can be stolen and never reported.

A pool is stable sort of entity, and rather boring. A pool always resides at the same home and never travels. Nor does it lend itself to being stolen…or, at least I have never heard of a pool thief before.

6. Swimming Pools do not kill as many adults as they do children. Guns kill more.

The article that created this rallying cry of radical gun owners groups is looking only at children’s deaths. Now, while it is flawed (something I discuss at the end of this blog) and while there are probably other factors involved in its finding (something I also discuss at the end of this blog), the bottom line is that more children are probably killed by accidental drownings in swimming pools than by guns.

However, that is not the case for adults. And I am not just talking about the killing of criminals. I am talking about accidental shootings, shootings between law abiding citizens who get into a heated argument, and suicides. Looking at those numbers then no, residential swimming pools do not cause more deaths than guns. Not even close.

In fact, according to the CDC, in 2010 unintentional drowning for all age groups was the tenth leading causes of unintentional deaths with 3,782 deaths. Coming in at numbers four and five though were suicide using a firearm with 19,393 deaths and homicides using firearms with 11,078 deaths. Either one of these gun categories totally eclipses the number of death by drownings – which by the way includes natural bodies of water as well as swimming pools.
Those of us advocating gun control do so not just because of children’s deaths, but because of all the deaths. However, a favorite tactic of the anti-gun control crowd is to follow that old advice about how to eat an elephant – one bite at a time (by the way, please  remember this elephant analogy – it comes into play again at the end of this blog). By doing so they can then ignore exactly how big and powerful that elephant is. This can be seen also in their almost monomaniacal devotion to only talking about crimes and criminals and ignoring the other aspects of guns.

Finally, let me point out just because one area may need to be more regulated – and I agree that pools probably should be – does not mean another area does not also need to be more regulated. This kinda falls under the heading of two wrongs do not make a right. But for the purpose of those opposed to gun control in any form, it does.

And a corollary to the two wrongs do not make a right rule is that hypocrisy by one group advocating an action does not mean that what they are advocating is wrong. It could well be right and they are just inconsistent on other issues. The solution then is not to not follow through on what they correctly advocate for but to get them to be more consistent while at the same time implementing their proposals.

Put into the context of this blogs subject – even if liberals and such were hypocrites in not advocating for laws more closely regulating swimming pools that does not mean that the ideas about gun control are wrong. They are two separate topics

And that’s it folks. Some (but probably not all) of the key differences between pools and guns. So now, when walking around the neighborhood, you can tell the difference between the two when you cross their paths.

Oh, and in regards to the study by Steven Levitt, here are a few problems with it:

1. It compares the number of homes with pools with the number of guns. The problem is that while almost all homes only have one pool while most homes with guns have more than one gun. When you look at households with pools versus households with guns and then do the comparison the numbers change. The chances of a child dying by gun increases from 1 in a million to 1 in 250,000. Still well below that of pools, but coming closer.

2. There have been several more recent studies strongly indicating that not all child deaths by gun get reported as such. They are often reported as just suicides or homicides. What this means is that the CDC data that Levitt used for his study may be seriously undercounting the number of gun deaths among children.

It would be nice if the anti-gun control groups were not so afraid of what further research would show and would allow further research to happen in order to clarify these questions. But no, they continue to obstruct and deny funding for this much needed data and research.

3. Other factors may be at play than just the safety of guns and pools – which is a risk of any straightforward comparison like this, it doesn’t really give us the reason for the difference in numbers. In this case it could be that:
a. Most parents consider guns more dangerous than pools and so guns are usually hidden away from children. If guns were left lying around and had the same level of supervision that pools do, then there is a good chance that children dying by guns would increase to the level of pools or possibly surpass it. Or possibly not. Intuitively I know it would increase. What is uncertain is the amount.

b. Given what I just wrote, then the simplistic comparison done by Levitt is really not valid. A better comparison would be a comparison of one activity when it is properly supervised and when it is not properly supervised against another activity when it is properly supervised and when it is not.

I eagerly await the results of such a study. I have a strong feeling it is only going to make that elephant the anti-gun control crowd is so studiously ignoring even bigger and stronger.

Inerrant Scripture Changing

So many people believe that religion cannot change – most especially the sacred scripture of their religion. To use Christianity as an example, the words of the Bible do not change and therefor our understanding of it is timeless – all that needs to be done is to read its words plain and simply. That is what I see repeatedly from both conservative literalists Christians and from many atheists. I find it amazing that such a wrong idea can be so strongly promoted by those at the opposite ends of belief. I imagine that this is probably the only area of agreement that literalists Christians and many atheists have. And it is ironic that it is so very wrong.

indexI wrote a paper for one of my graduate classes a couple of years ago that illustrate very nicely some of the reasons why it is wrong. It doesn’t hit at all the reasons, but gives an idea about how religious believers understanding of their sacred scripture can and does change over time. Although this paper focuses exclusively upon slavery and the Bible in the pre-civil war United States, the idea behind it applies to any and all scriptures – such as the Qur’an for example – and even such documents as the United States Constitution.

The Bible Wars: It’s Use For and Against Slavery

Slavery still exists today, not only in other countries but even here in the United States. However, today slavery is almost universally condemned instead of almost universally accepted as it once was. Governments have made slavery illegal. Religion and Christianity almost universally condemn it now. Not so very long ago this was not true.

In colonial America and in pre-Civil War United States slavery was a flourishing institution, one that was supported by many arguments ranging from the economic to the supposed nature of blacks. One argument of special importance and interest was the one based upon the Bible. Both the proslavery people and the abolitionists claimed Biblical support for their beliefs and positions. In this paper I plan to look at how the Bible was used to both justify and argue against slavery.

1. Pro-slavery arguments

The pro-slavery side had the initial advantage in using the Bible to support their views. The reason for this is that no special interpretation or treatment of the Bible was needed to justify the institution of slavery. Nowhere within the Bible does anyone condemn slavery, not even Jesus. It was an accepted institution, one that seemingly was considered both normal and moral. Because of this, the proslavery groups could rely on a literal reading of the Bible and upon Christian history to make their case.

Most Christians throughout history did not see the practice of slavery as conflicting with the Bible. Many church leaders from the first days of Christianity had slaves. Church policy since its earliest days supported the institution of slavery and the rights of slaveholders. Several early Christian writings include codes of household management; how husbands, wives, children, slaves, and slaveholders should behave. In these codes, slaves “were told to subordinate their wills to the wills of their master” (Glancy 55). Christian teachings often seemed to reinforce “the power of the slaveholder, even as they affirmed the dignity of the slave in God’s eyes.” (Glancy 53).

In fact, although there are some hints that some early Christians might have questioned slavery, real and unambiguous writings against slavery as being un-Christian did not come until medieval times when people such as Gregory of Nissa, Saint Patrick, and Saint Eligus started to write and speak out against slavery. However, other church leaders, such as Saint Augustine, Saint Aquinas, Calvin, and Martin Luther wrote that slavery was not un-Christianity. Although slavery eventually disappeared in Christian Europe it was still not widely condemned or considered un-Christian by most.

Due to this weight of history, and to a literal interpretation of the Bible, the development of a Christian defense of slavery in the United States did not come about until the early 19th century. In the years before this in America there had been no need for one. It was not until the rise of a larger abolitionist movement and a radical form of antislavery during the 1830’s that proslavery literature began to become significant.

The fact that the proslavery side had a plain reading of the Bible on their side can be readily seen in one of the first conflicts with the abolitionists. Initially the abolitionists had argued that the word translated as “slave” in the Bible actually meant “servant” and thus there was no slavery in the Bible. The proslavery side quickly pointed out that this was not only not how it had been historically translated but that the best and newest methods of biblical scholarship showed that the word in question meant slave and not servant. What is ironic is that those who used and understood the Bible literally to argue for slavery were able to use the new biblical criticism of the Bible, a methodology that would show the problems inherent in a literal understanding of the Bible, to support their position.

Those arguing that slavery was Biblical used a variety of arguments based on quotes from the Bible. They used the story of the Centurion’s Servant (Luke 7:1 – 10; Matt 8:5 – 13) to show that Jesus had not only met slaves but also had commended the slave’s owner, a Roman soldier, as a faithful man such as he had not seen even in Israel.

Taking the argument even further, they argued, on the basis of the example of the Roman soldier above and Jesus’ praise of him, as well as other verses, that not only was slavery not immoral, but that the proper Christian stance towards the world was hierarchical and patriarchical. “Importantly, Jesus praised the centurion’s use of commands to order military and domestic subordinates….The plain sense of this language means that military hierarchy and other forms of patriarchy ought to order human relations, especially between master and slave.” (Harrill, 183).

When the abolitionists used the Golden Rule to argue against slavery, the proslavery groups responded by referring to the above verses, saying that Jesus was not teaching egalitarianism, but rather patriarchical love. Such love does not make men social equals, but instead means that “the master should treat his slave as if the master, imagining himself a slave and aware of his own good, would like to be treated.” (Harrill, 185).

Using a plain reading of the Bible with the understanding that passages were to be understood in light of patriarchalism, and with a selective use of the new biblical criticisms, the proslavery groups defended the institution of slavery as being Biblical and Christian.

2. Abolitionist Arguments.

As I mentioned above, the proslavery groups had the easier argument to make in regards to the Bible and slavery. This was something the abolitionists recognized from the beginning. Because of this, instead of a literalist approach they used an interpretive approach.

Of course the proslavery groups interpreted passages too, as seen by their interpretation of the meaning of the Golden Rule. And the proslavery groups were influenced in their interpretations by outside sources such as their economic and political views and their prejudices. However, the difference was that while the proslavery groups found their key to interpreting biblical texts within the Bible (patriarchy), the abolitionists found their key from outside the Bible.

First and foremost of these outside keys was the outrage that slavery inflicted on their sense of morality. Regardless of the source of this feeling, morally they knew that slavery was wrong and that therefore any interpretation of the Bible that defended slavery was flawed. They had only to be perceptive and knowledgeable enough to discover the flaw. Or, failing that, some counseled rejecting the Bible altogether as a moral guide to slavery. “Garrison concluded that slavery, like just war and woman’s suffrage, ‘was not a bible question’, since nothing in regards to controversial matters had ever been settled by the Bible.” (Harrill, 176). While most did not go as far as Garrison, some did. All though were motivated by the same sense of moral outrage.

A large reason why this attempt to use outside sources to aide in interpreting the Bible was possible was due to the Enlightenment. It was an age of questioning everything, including Christianity and the Bible. It was an age of discoveries that made old understandings of the Bible questionable. The age of the earth, the orbiting earth and central sun, evolution, and other discoveries of science showed that the Bible could not be understood literally in regards to matters of how the physical universe worked.

The new higher criticism coming out of Germany was becoming increasingly influential among American scholars. It demonstrated that Moses did not write the Torah, that the Bible had multiple authors and did not always agree with known history and, most importantly, that the Bible might not always be the best guide in understanding itself.

At the same time a new religious movement had developed and was expanding, that of evangelism with an emphasis on a personal experience of God and not necessarily to adherence to old doctrine. Quakers were the earliest evangelical group to start to criticize and work for abolition. However they were joined by other such new evangelical religions as Methodists and Baptists.

It took some trial and error for abolitionists to find their way to their final arguments. One of their first attempts was to deny that Jesus had ever met any slaves, saying that the word translated as slave could also and more probably did mean servant. However, as noted above, that argument did not hold up to the new scholarship.

From there, they looked for another key by which to understand the Bible and its verses about slavery, one that would hold up to the new biblical criticism and would also align with their moral understanding of the Bible. Part of the key consisted of viewing the Bible as a work in progress instead of a static work with a finished understanding.

Taking their cues from their times, a time when progress was not only much talked about but actually being seen in the industrial and scientific revolutions, they argued that the Bible had “seeds” planted within it that would blossom and bear fruit as societies grew in knowledge and moral sensibilities. They argued that Jesus knew any condemnation of slavery would not take root in the culture and society of his age. Instead he planted a seed that would grow and blossom in the fullness of time. History, and our understanding of the Bible, were not static but were instead dynamic, growing, and progressive.
With this understanding of the Bible and how to read it the abolitionists then argued that the Golden Rule, as related in Matthew 7:12 and Luke 6:31, was the seed that Jesus planted and that now was the time for its blossoming. “True Christianity, through ‘fair application’ of the Golden Rule and related immutable principles such as charity and love of neighbor, is a Christianity against slavery.” (Harrill, 171)

The below quote of Dr. Thornton’s, taken from a report about slavery given to the Presbyterian Synod of South Carolina highlights this difference between the abolitionists and the proslavery groups.

“Opposition to Slavery has never been the offspring of the Bible. It has sprung from visionary theories of human nature and society. It has sprung from the misguided reason of man. It comes as natural, not as revealed truth; and when it is seen that the Word of God stands in the way of it, the lovely oracles will be stripped of their authority, and reduced to the level of mere human utterances.” (National Era).

Where the abolitionists would disagree with Dr. Thornton, is that this scheme amounted to “mere human utterances”. Instead they would say that, along with the Bible, God also created the natural world and the mind of man with its ability to reason.

Further, God had implanted within humanity a sense of morality. They would argue that theirs was taking the whole of what God had given them, whereas the literalist views of Dr. Thornton and the proslavery groups had rejected part of God’s revelations and gifts.

One final fact to note is that just because a white person was an abolitionist does not mean that they were not prejudiced. An argument that was used in conjunction with the early claim that Jesus had never met a slave was that if Jesus Christ had met slaves and condoned the institution, then it would have been the slavery of his time, a slavery involving whites. “This reductio ad absurdum disproof…. reveals the racism present in some abolitionist arguments: surely Jesus Christ agreed with the American beliefs that white people should not be enslaved.” (Harrill, 169).

While this was not an argument that was used as much after the abolitionists lost the argument on whether Jesus had met slaves, it does show that a white view of abolitionism might, and did, differ from that of an African American of the times.

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3. Free Blacks and Slaves

“Dark and Dismal was the day
When slavery began
All humble thoughts were put away
Then slaves were made by man.”

The above words are part of a poem by Jupiter Hammon, the first black poet in America and a slave since birth. The 25 stanza poem was titled: “An Essay on Slavery with Submission to Divine Providence Knowing that God Rules Over All Things” and, unlike his other poems and essays, it was never published; most likely due to its controversial nature.

In the beginning, blacks resisted Christianity. They feared that their master’s religion was meant as a means of control and oppression. At the time, the Christianity being preached was. As taught to the slaves, Christianity was strongly Calvinistic and taught that everyone had been put in their place by God, and that given this instead of questioning their God ordained station they should do their best within that station. Most African Americans were not attracted to this message.

Some blacks though did accept the religion of their masters; for example, Jupiter Hammon. Born a slave in Lloyd Harbor, NY in 1711, property of the Lloyd family of Queens, NY, he was fortunate enough to have owners who insisted that he attend school and learn to read and write. He was born and became Christian before the Great Awakening and the arrival of the evangelical Christianities that did not preach a religion of acquiescence to oppression, and so had a foot in both worlds.

The Christianity taught and accepted by Jupiter at his birth, and rejected by many blacks, was of a Calvinism that “did not believe that Christians, and even less so slaves, should do anything that distracted from a contemplation of a heavenly afterlife.” (Day, 2) This version of Calvinism, and not the one that “emphasized participation in the world with a view toward transforming it” (Day, 2) that many of the whites followed , was what the blacks were taught, when any were taught at all to become Christians. From the same poem:

“When God doth please for to permit
That slavery should be
It is our duty to submit
Till Christ shall set us free.”

But, while Christianity was taught as a means of oppression, it did not stay such. Instead it changed and became a means of resisting oppression; sometimes actively, sometimes more quietly. It did so by giving blacks “a sense of common identity and purpose that created the conditions for organization and collective action.” (Day, 3).

The African American was treated as and had the status of property, not person. Even Hammon’s owners, who by all accounts were good masters who treated him well, lists Hammon, along with their other slaves, as property in their ledgers, along with cattle and other goods. To resist this reduction to being nothing more than property, African Americans had to form a new identity as well as a new community. A large part of that new identity came with the arrival of the Great

Awakening. The Great Awakening created a number of new voices within religion, ones that were not part of the established religions with their political and economic ties, which allowed them to “reevaluate the old theologies and speak out against slavery as an organizational endeavor.” (Day, 15).

As a result of increasing literacy among the African Americans and the increasing numbers of itinerant ministers who were preaching a message of resistance to worldly oppression and not submission, blacks started to convert to Christianity in increasing numbers. They also started to assume leadership roles as preachers and ministers as well as organizing churches.

As they did so their understanding and ways of interpreting the Bible differed from that of not only their white masters and white society in general, but even from that of the white abolitionists. In fact, blacks often found themselves at loggerheads with their white abolitionist allies.

For example, the slave narrative became popular means by which the abolitionist movement pressed their cause. However, most of these narratives that had the approval of the white abolitionists were those that “focused on the ‘objective facts’ of slavery rather than on individuals’ ideas and interpretations.” (Day, 88).

This control of the narratives allowed the white abolitionists to control the content and priorities of the anti-slavery movement, resulting in an anti-slavery movement that was against slavery but not necessarily for equality. Even though sympathetic to the troubles of the blacks, most whites were not willing to give up power nor to examine with a critical eye their own views and thoughts about black.

Blacks agreed with and used the argument used by the white abolitionists of the Golden Rule being the key to understanding and interpreting the Bible. However, they also identified both themselves and their plight with biblical figures, most especially Moses and the Exodus narrative, although the figure of Christ as the “Suffering Servant” was also important. Blacks found much support and strength through such imagery and identification; and especially in the knowledge that both the Jews and Jesus were triumphant at the end of their sufferings.

And just like the earliest Christian groups, many blacks found the book of Revelation meaningful. It pointed to a time when slavery and prejudice would end, a time of the Apocalypse when “an abolitionist Warrior Jesus” (Harrill, 179) would come in wrath and retribution to end slavery and establish justice for the blacks.

Not only did the Bible provide support and comfort, but many blacks found within it the sense of group identity and organization necessary for an active resistance to slavery. Those times of unrest among the blacks that led into actual revolt against their masters were most often preceded by a rise in religious activity.

While the black community did have much in common with the white abolitionists, their goals and views were not identical. There were significant differences in how they understood and used the Bible. Given their differing social standings and needs this was inevitable.

4. Final Notes

These changes to Christian understanding of the Bible have now become ingrained and are considered the orthodox understanding today. Except for some small groups, even those Christians who claim to believe the Bible literally use this new interpretation of the Bible, this interpretation that takes into account ideas from outside the Bible to understand it, when they claim that the Bible is against slavery. This is a far cry from the literalists of the pre-Civil War era, and a change that has continued to create social changes up to today.

I know that I am weighing in late to an issue that has been ongoing for awhile now (as time is measured in the public eye); that of the numerous Religious Freedom Restoration Acts (RFRA) being proposed in many states, including my home state of Texas that would allow religious discrimination against gays. However, since this looks to continue to be an issue – better late than never.

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My first thought is to ask a rather basic questions – why do people create and run a business? The answer – to make enough money providing goods or services to live on. The primary purpose of their business then is to sell something.

With the rise of gay rights and the increasing likelihood of gay marriage becoming the law of the land, fundamentalist Christian caterers, florists, cake makers, and such (oh my!) do not want to provide their services for a gay couple’s wedding. The reason – they believe providing a service for something that violates their religious beliefs means that they are lending their approval of something they do not approve of.

However, I would say that there is some confusion on their part on what providing a service means, namely, that providing a service to a customer implies that they also approve of that person’s beliefs or lifestyle. However, the truth of the matter is – it does not.

Selling a good or service is not an endorsement.

11077923_821390421272134_5250065451992852373_nConsider the fact that those with religious objections have probably already catered to weddings of people they would not approve of, whose lifestyles and beliefs would conflict with their religious beliefs: divorced persons remarrying, people of different religions marrying (unequally yoked), people who may believe in an open marriage or who may be cheating on each other, etc. Or perhaps even marrying people of another faith altogether – catering to a Muslim, Jewish, Atheist or Wiccan marriage –and thereby participating in worship to a different and false God.

In none of those cases though are they implying approval of that wedding or of the beliefs and lifestyles of those being married. They are providing a service, which is what their business is about. If you cannot provide a service to a diverse population, to those you disagree with – sometimes strongly – then you should not be in business to begin with.

Again, selling a service or product to a customer is NOT the same as endorsing that person’s beliefs, actions, or lifestyle. If it were then these businesses should probably start screening all of their customers because I can almost guarantee you that they have served at least as many if not more people that believe or live in a way they would find objectionable as those whose beliefs they find compatible.. I can’t wait to see them start to do background checks on everyone who comes through their door before providing their service.

These Christians have created a business, and businesses are concerned with making money not endorsing lifestyles and beliefs.

Refusing a product vs refusing a group

A common counter argument against this is illustrated by the question of should a Jewish baker be forced to bake a cake with a Swastika for a Nazi. However, there is a difference. You can refuse to provide a certain product, but still provide a service to that person. In this case, you can refuse to bake a swastika cake, but still provide a different cake to the Nazi.

In other words, you can refuse to provide a particular product, but cannot refuse to serve a group of people. I would think this a rather obvious as well as important distinction.

Religious Rights and Business

Let me also say that in addition to some confusion on what providing a service means, there is also considerable confusion on the part of the religious right on when their rights are being violated as an owner of a business.

If you are asked to marry another person of the same gender and being forced to do so – then your rights are being violated. If you are asked to provide a service that you are in business to do with the general public – then no, your rights are not being violated. To insist that they are, and to single out a group of people that you refuse to provide that service for, is discrimination and forcing others to live by your religious beliefs.

If you are so concerned that you are providing approval for things that violate your religious beliefs then you should not be providing a service as a public business. Or, in order to show consistency when it comes to trial, you should start requiring all of your customers to pass background checks before providing that service. And then refusing those that engage in acts you find religiously objectionable.

A person’s religious beliefs do have a place in their business. However, it is in how they run their business – the benefits given to employees, store hours and days off, how they treat their employees, how they decorate their store, treat their customers, etc.

Their religion does not have a place in who they chose to serve though. They are a public business and so serve the whole public in all of its diversity. Otherwise their actions are nothing more than religiously disguised discrimination.

These Christian business owners would do well to look more closely at the example of their example – Jesus. Despite beingjesus-ate-with-sinners criticized for it Jesus routinely took meals with and visited the worst of sinners. He did so even though the pure and religious of his day accused him of endorsing these sinners. These business owners should follow Jesus’ example – and who knows, perhaps if they do it well they will wind up attracting more to follow Jesus. At the very least they will no longer be harming others through their discriminatory practices.
Addendum: It has been pointed out that there are Muslim caterers who also wish to discriminate against gay couples. That too is wrong and I condemn it just as strongly as I do the Christian ones. However, the difference is that in the United States it is the conservative Christian businesses and groups that are taking the lead in creating laws that would allow them to do this, not the Muslim ones. In the United States it is the conservative Christian groups that have the greatest power and pose the greatest threat to human rights, not the Muslim groups. To ignore this is to become focused on the gnat buzzing your head and ignoring the tiger pounding your way.

I imagine my views on politicians may be a minority one. I think that most of them are politicians because they feel that they can make a difference in people’s lives and in our community, state, and country. A difference for the better.

Yes, there are some who are in it as a power trip and/or for opportunities to make money. Others get seduced by the power and availability of money. However, these are the minority. Most are good people, many of whom I strongly disagree with.

The reason so many people disagree with me is due to the nature of politics in a democracy. Politics by its very nature is the art of not being crushed while continually working in the narrow, shifting space between rocks and hard places. Consider:

– Politicians are elected and are supposed to represent the views of their constituents. However, not all of their constituents think alike…not even close. So, who to listen to?
– In addition, while they are supposed to listen and heed the voice of the people they are roundly criticized if they follow the polls that tell them what most of their voters are thinking and believing. If they follow the polls they are seen as characterless and without principles, pandering to whichever way the popular wind is blowing. If they do not, then they are often perceived as arrogant and as not listening to the will of the people.
– They are supposed to stand for their values and not back down. However, politics is the art of compromise – you give up something in order to get something so that a bill is passed that doesn’t give anyone everything but gives most something – just enough something to pass. While this has always been risky in that it gives possible ammunition for opponents within their own party in the next election, it is much more so in today’s political environment – those who actually try to work out deals and compromise are being denounced loudly and roundly. Yet without compromise, nothing gets done – rather like our current Congress. Our founders were men of great principles, ones firmly believed in and fought for. Yet the Constitution is a document built on hard fought compromises, a document that pleased no one entirely during its time, but that most thought was an improvement over what they had. And the best that could be done in their own political climate.
– Politicians are roundly criticized for being beholden to those with money who contribute to their campaigns. Yet, if a candidate eschews such money, they will lose to the more well financed opponents. Very few or no politician accomplishes anything of worth in just one term.
– And while many voters are against money having such an outsized voice in our system, many voters shout in loud voices against any type of actual reform of the system. This adds the pressure of not only being accused of not “listening to the people” but also the twin risk of donor providing large amounts of money for your opponents election team and not yours. A double whammy.
– I would consider a person who changes their mind on issues due to thinking about the evidence a good thing. However, for politicians it is often considered a bad trait and they are accused then of being inconsistent, wishy washy , or spineless.

So, politicians are expected to be strongly principled representatives who do not back down, uphold their values and that of their varied constituents, who are leaders but who do what the people want and who listen to all of the people no matter how conflicted that people may be and who are not beholden to moneyed interests but are expected to run a winning campaign without money and are elected by voters of whom a large number are against significant financial reform. That is not to mention they are expected to get things done and address the problems of their communities, states, and nations without compromising any of their “values”.

Oh, they are also not supposed to be ambitious – although why not I am not sure. Ambition can be either good or bad depending on what the ambition is and what measures are considered acceptable for achieving it. But ever since George Washington (who was an ambitious man) this has been an expectation on the part of many.

For myself, I believe that most of our politicians do believe they are doing the right thing for the country and their constituents. Even those that disagree with, they believe the policies that they are fighting for will benefit the nation. Doesn’t mean that I don’t disagree, often quite strongly since I live in Texas.

This also does not mean we do not elect idiots and fools into office. Just that their intentions are good and mostly honorable. Of course, there is that proverbial road paved with good intentions and where it leads. Which is why though I cut them some slack on motivations I blast them on policies I disagree with. It is the democratic way.

religion 3“….no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.” Article VI, U.S. Constitution
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…” First Amendment U.S. Constitution

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“You shall have no other gods before me.” Exodus 20: 3. New International Version (NIV).morality 10 commandments

“You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me,” Exodus 20:5. NIV

“12 If you hear it said about one of the towns the LORD your God is giving you to live in 13 that troublemakers have arisen among you and have led the people of their town astray, saying, “Let us go and worship other gods” (gods you have not known), 14 then you must inquire, probe and investigate it thoroughly. And if it is true and it has been proved that this detestable thing has been done among you, 15 you must certainly put to the sword all who live in that town. You must destroy it completely, both its people and its livestock. 16 You are to gather all the plunder of the town into the middle of the public square and completely burn the town and all its plunder as a whole burnt offering to the LORD your God. That town is to remain a ruin forever, never to be rebuilt,” Deuteronomy 12: 13 – 16. NIV.

“10 They assembled at Jerusalem in the third month of the fifteenth year of Asa’s reign. ….12 They entered into a covenant to seek the LORD, the God of their ancestors, with all their heart and soul. 13 All who would not seek the LORD, the God of Israel, were to be put to death, whether small or great, man or woman: 2 Chronicles 15: 10, 12 – 13. NIV
Emperor Constantine I: In 317 he issued an edict to confiscate Donatist church property and sent the Donatist clergy into exile. In 325 he summoned the Council of Nicaea to determine what should be church doctrine.

The Northern Crusades: Crusades carried out by the Christian Kings of Sweden, Denmark, and Poland against their pagan neighbors in the 12th and 13th centuries. an-allegory-of-the-wars-of-religion

The Inquisitions: A group of institutions within the Catholic Church set up to combat heresy and blasphemy starting in 12th century France and lasting into the 19th century. Usually used in conjunction and with the support of the state. For example: King Ferdinand II of Aragon and Queen Isabella I of Castile established the Spanish Inquisition in 1478.

In England the Act of Supremacy of 1534 made the King or Queen of England “the only supreme head on earth of Church in England”. Due to this, being Catholic made one a traitor and was an act of treason against the state. The Scottish Reformation in 1560 also made it illegal to be a Catholic in Scotland.

The persecution of the Quakers by the Puritans in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. In 1656 the Massachusetts Bay Colony passed laws against anyone bringing Quakers into the Colony or anyone harboring them. They would be fined 100 pounds and then either imprisoned or banished. Other fines included 54 pounds for possessing Quaker books or writings, 40 pounds for defending the teachings of Quakers, 44 pounds for a second offence of defending the teachings, followed by imprisonment until the offender could be shipped out. The laws also allowed corporal punishment ie., whippings, cutting off of ears, boring holes in tongues, and hanging.

by Jan LuykenIn the recent past all countries had laws against blasphemy. Usually it was OK to speak out against other religions but not the religion of that country. Many countries, including those in Europe, still have laws against blasphemy on the books, although the last prosecutions using these were usually in the early 20th century. Despite this, some countries have resisted the elimination of laws against blasphemy. As recently as 1998 an attempt was made to rescind Finland’s laws against blasphemy, and failed.

In the United States the authors of the Constitution were heavily criticized for not enshrining God and Christianity into its text. This omission of God and Christianity was denounced by the Reverend John M. Mason who declared it “an omission which no pretext whatever can palliate.” He went on to warn “we will have every reason to tremble lest the Governor of the universe, who will not be treated with indignity by a people more than by individuals, overturn from its foundations the fabric we have been rearing and crush us to atoms in the wreck.” Others warned of the dangers of not putting God and Christianity into the Constitution because it would be an “invitation for Jews and pagans of every kind to come among us.” and that “a Turk, a Jew, a Roman Catholic, and what is worse than all, a Universalist, may be President of the United States.” This was one of the arguments made against ratifying the newly proposed Constitution.

Attempts were periodically made to correct this “mistake”. For example, during the beginning of the Civil War, the National Reform Association was founded in order to correct the mistake that was tearing our nation apart. No, it was not slavery that was the mistake in the eyes of these clergymen but, instead, it was the lack of an acknowledgement of God and Jesus in our Constitution.

In 1863 an attempt was made to amend the Constitution’s preamble and there acknowledge not only God but also Jesus Christ as the source our government. The clergy involved in the National Reform Association devised a statement that would not offend any of the mainstream Protestant denominations (they were not worried of course about Jews, Quakers, or Catholics who, being religious minorities, were aghast at the idea). It proposed replacing “We, the People of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union…” with “Recognizing almighty God as the source of all authority and power in civil government, and acknowledging the Lord Jesus Christ as the Governor among the nations, his revealed will as the supreme law of the land, in order to constitute a Christian government…”

The National Reform Association met with President Lincoln in February 1864 and presented him with their petition for a Christian government. His response was the observation that “…the work of amending the Constitution should never be done hastily.” and a promise to “take such action upon it as my responsibility to my Maker and our country demands.” He then took no action at all. Neither did Congress, instead tabling the resolution for years until it was forgotten.
The last attempt to insert a Christian amendment into the Constitution was in the early 1960’s. It never made it to Congress for a vote.

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christian_muslim
The contrast between the words of the Constitution and the words of the Bible and the example of history are stark and apparent. The Constitution is a secular document creating a secular government, not a Christian one.
“16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28: 16 – 20 NIV”

Given the above task given to Christians by Jesus – the Great Commission – governments have argued that to not promote Jesus and God leads to the eternal damnation of those not aware of Jesus and God’s mercy. To save people from this fate by bringing them to Christ is a basic Christian responsibility and a basic responsibility of a Christian nation. This is one of the major reasons governments promoted one religion and persecuted and condemned others. This is something Christian governments have done from the very beginning. Their not doing this is a thoroughly modern event.

In fact, it is our government, the government of the United States, that started this split between government and religion. It declared that no longer would government be concerned with the state and fate of an individual’s soul. Instead, that would be the province of each individual to deal with as they best saw fit. Instead the government would deal with purely secular matters.

The reason why our founders went against the clear teachings of the Bible and the example of almost 1800 years of Christian governments is due to their clear view of history. During the almost 1800 years of good Christian governments trying to follow the precepts of the 10 Commandments and the Bible religious conflict was pandemic. People within a country were often persecuted, tortured, and killed for being of the wrong faith. Religious differences made warfare between countries even more horrific.

This history made men of conscience such as Roger Williams and, later, our founders, realize that man cannot dictate the conscious of others through the use of government. Roger argued that Man and thus his creation governments, are fallible and can favor the wrong belief, thus causing many more to go to hell than would have otherwise.

Our founders dispensed with this part of the argument and kept to the fact that too much conflict, spilled blood, and evil is done when governments attempt to dictate the conscience of its citizens. Therefore it is best to be left to the individual if the goal is to create a just, long lasting and fair government.

I posted this in light of the recent Public Policy Poll showing that 57% of Republicans favor establishing Christianity as the national religion and only 30% opposed this idea (the relevant question is on page 3). This, as the above shows, displays an astonishing lack of knowledge of both Christian history and of our own Constitution. Or rather, it would be astonishing if I had seen so many displays of such ignorance before.

And that is not even mentioning the fact that so often these same people criticize Islam for wanting to establish Islam as the state religion (although this is not universal in Islam– either today or in history). It seems that whether mixing state and religion is a good idea or not depends on whose religion is about to be bonded to the state.

However, the establishment of state religions – whether they be Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Atheist or whatever – is always a bad idea. It is not religion alone that leads to the greatest conflicts and abuses but rather the mixing of the two that does so.

This is something I expounded on in an earlier blog “What Most Have Forgotten”.

“Although some of our founders were traditional Christians, most, while devout, were not traditionally so. Many believed that religion encouraged morality in the common people and so followed religious practices. All, though, recognized the danger that comes from religion and government becoming entangled. All recognized the necessity for a secular government. All remembered the reasons why a strict separation between church and state is necessary. I think it is time that many of us read more thoroughly our own and European history and take a good look at the world around us.

I think it is time that we start remembering again.”

Atheism, Theism, Violence.

Today there is a news story about a man who cold bloodedly shot and killed three Muslims students in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. A possible motive of the killer is that he is an atheist and hates religion. Regardless of the accuracy of this I find it interesting how many atheist blogs are saying that atheism has nothing to do with promoting violence and that this violence cannot be pinned on atheist beliefs as they can with theistic beliefs.

635592414342543132-Chapel-Hill

A typical example of this line of reasoning is from a blog by Joshua Kelly titled Atheism Did Not Kill Three Young Muslims in Chapel Hill:

“I’m not entirely convinced that any motive that might be stated could criminalize the idea of atheism or the atheist community’s aims and goals, even if he were to outright comment something as blatant as: “I killed them for atheism.”
This sounds immediately like a hypocritical statement. But, while it is true that faiths like Islam have inked within their primary tenets of morality mandates to slaughter those who leave the religion or those who outright oppose it, as do Christianity and Judaism with equally horrific language, we must absolutely remember that atheism does not have a series of standard social doctrines. We do not have a Bible. We do not have a Koran. The atheist mentality is stemmed from the simple truth that there are no gods, and thus the individual acts on philosophical bases on his own choosing. This contemptible man, whether over a parking spot or because of an innate psychopathy or any other reason, cannot be said to have killed anyone because his non-god told him to do it. “

I have several problems with this sort of reasoning.

First, it seems to me he is arguing that beliefs do not effect behavior, or have consequences in our behavior. Or at least atheistic ones do not.

Yes, not believing in God does not in and of itself create or hinder a disposition to violence. However, neither does a belief in God. What does determine that is what else is attached to this belief or non-belief. And just as with theism, what is attached can be conducive to violence, it can be against violence, or it can be neutral.

And that is the other thing that bothers me about this reasoning. It treats religion and all religious belief as if they were all the same. But they are not. They are varied in their exact beliefs, in how they practice and manifest their beliefs and how they interact with society. And yes, there are violent passages and exhortations within most sacred works that atheism does not have. But then, there is also much inked into their sacred works promoting social justice, equality, love, and charity. Something atheism also lacks. How these contradictory strains within religion become reconciled and acted upon depends on a great many factors beyond just believing in a God.

Although atheism does not have a sacred work, the same process is at work.

To take just one example, as an atheist do you value rationality above all else and feel that irrationality is at the root of all evil? Combine that belief with the belief that religion is the height of irrationality and has done nothing but evil, and then combine that with a belief that all Muslims are terrorists and responsible for acts such as 9/11, and viola …you have the makings of a killer. A killer looking for a trigger. Or possibly a killer just looking for an excuse. But then many of the deaths attributed to religion are really nothing more than killers looking for an excuse.

And least you think this is all theoretical, I would say that something very like this has already played out in the real world, and not just once. The Soviet Union with its promotion of atheism and its discouragement of religion as an evil. Or Albania under the Soviet Union. Or Communist China. All of these regimes have jailed, tortured, and killed believers just because they were believers. For that matter, you can look at the French Revolution as another example of this.

Neither the belief in God or the non-belief in God by themselves promote or hinder anything. It is what is attached to these beliefs as it interacts with the personal situation of the individual that determines that. And to me, to dismiss Christians or Muslims or other theist’s explanations for why violence committed by their practitioners is not really their fault but then to do the same as they when the killer is an atheist is indeed hypocritical.

Which brings me to my final objection to this line of reasoning. It divorces atheism from being human. Humans are capable of both great and good deeds and also terrible and evil ones. This means that human beliefs are brought in to serve in both human capacities. To say that this cannot happen with atheism seems to me to push atheism out of the realm of human belief and into….I know not where. However, wherever it winds up it winds up then not having any relevance to our existence.

Science can be used for good and evil and that good and evil justified by science. Philosophy can be used for good and evil and that good and evil justified by philosophy. Medicine can be used for good and evil and that good and evil justified by philosophy. Religion can be used for good and evil and that good and evil justified by religion. All of human thought and experience can be used for good and evil and that good and evil thereby justified by those thoughts and experiences. Except for atheism apparently.

Sorry, not buying it. Not believing in God is a human thought, a human belief, and like all of humanity’s creations it can be linked up with other ideas to do both good and evil. To pretend otherwise is to delude and blind ourselves to reality.

Freedom of speech. Almost everyone lauds it as not only necessary for a functioning democracy and a free society, but as a positive good. In the United States this concept is protected in our first amendment.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

However, some argue that there are limits on free speech. In fact, almost everyone, including me, agrees that there are limits on free speech, just as there are for all of our other rights whether it be freedom of religion or the right to own a gun. The more interesting questions though is what those limits are and who should be the ones enforcing those limits.

What brings this up today for me – and why this is not my next post on myths about the American Constitution – is that this has become a very hot topic with the murder of 11 people in the attack on the offices of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo by Muslim terrorists. Should speech that is hateful or strongly offends religious beliefs be limited?

Tribute To Victims Killed During Attack At Satirical Magazine Charlie Hebdo At Place De La Republique In Paris

Now, in the United States there are already many limits on free speech. For example:

– It is illegal to engage in speech that encourages others to commit specific and imminent illegal acts. To use the old (and outdated) analogy of shouting fire in a theater: shouting fire in a theater by itself is not illegal, but shouting fire when there is none that incites an unlawful and deadly or injurious riot would be. Relevant to this is the 1969 Supreme Court decision in Brandenburg v. Ohio that ruled that inflammatory speech, even speech advocating violence, is protected under the first Amendment unless the speech “is directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action and is likely to incite or produce such action.”

– Child pornography and other types that may be deemed obscene.

– Libel and slander.

– Copyright laws are also a limitation on free speech.

– Laws regulating advertising are also a limitation on free speech.

– Statements made by public employees in the performance of their work can also be limited and are not protected by the free speech clause of the First Amendment.

– Patent laws and laws against disclosing military secrets are likewise limitations to free speech.

– Laws limiting when and where public demonstrations can occur.

So, there are already several limitation on free speech in the United States. And that is not even considering the fact that free speech only applies to governmental actions. If you are working for a private business you have no right to free speech while working. Your employer can limit what you can and cannot say. For that matter, parents have the same power over their children.

freedom-of-speech1

Now though many feel that we should be adding one more restriction to free speech, a limitation or law against Hate Speech. The American Bar Association defines Hate Speech as:

Hate speech is speech that offends, threatens, or insults groups, based on race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, disability, or other traits.

Before I explain why I am against hate speech laws let me first declare that I am against all hate speech. I would like it purged from society. Having said that though I must now make a critical distinction – there are different ways of accomplishing this, through government action or through the actions of people acting both alone and in groups.

All of our laws are a balancing act between the protection, preservation, and furtherance of a civil and fair society and the protection, preservation, and furtherance of individual freedom. This balancing act is necessary because a viable democratic society requires both a strong social structure and strong protections of individual liberties. Without both there can also be no stable, viable, democratic society. The catch is that both of these necessary values are also in a state of continual and dynamic tension with the other. In other words, they often clash. And when they do, trying to find the right balance is often not clear and almost always contested.

For myself, legislating hate speech and outlawing it is going too far. Yes, it is easy to point to examples that are clear hate speech; however, laws are not starkly black and white affairs. The world and the people who inhabit and live in that world are always faced with shades of gray – is a certain act murder or self defense or negligent homicide or unavoidable accident for example. How does hate speech get defined and enforced in those gray areas? Who makes the decision in those cases? It would be very easy for those in power or for a majority group to use a power to define what is and is not hate speech within the vast greys of reality to promote their own interests and values; to the detriment of minority groups and views.

For myself, when I look at how governments have tried to use legitimate concerns about society and the protection of our government to create and enforce laws that unnecessarily limit the speech of political opponents and of those who hold minority views, I think that making hate speech illegal would be giving the government too much power. Examples abound, from the Alien and Seditions Act of 1798 to the Smith Act of 1940 to the Communist Control Act of 1954 to our modern debate over Edward Snowden’s illegal leaks of classified materials.

In the case of hate speech, a much better balance is to leave illegal speech connected to imminent violent acts where it currently is, illegal and enforced by the government, and to have hate speech be denounced and protested against by private individuals and groups.

human-shield-300x200For example, having the hateful speech of the Westboro Baptist Church members being met with counter protests or campaigns to raise money for billboards with the message that “God Loves Gays” or having other protesters screening mourners at funerals being picketed by the Westboro Baptist Church with their own bodies and signs of support.

Or this, from the Division for Public Education of the American Bar Association:

Here’s how one community recently approached an incidence of hate speech by calling attention to it rather than attempting to suppress it—by encouraging speech that pointed out how out of place the hate speech was in a community that values the dignity of all.

Matt Hale, a notorious racist, was recently asked to speak at the University of Illinois at Springfield. Hale is the leader of the World of the Creator, a white supremacist group. His presence on campus was controversial. Several students, faculty, and community members thought that the university should cancel his appearance. Instead, he was allowed to speak. Hale’s audience was not impressed. He came across as having a confusing set of beliefs that were out of place in a democratic, multicultural society. Several faculty and students spoke out against his message of hatred.

By allowing Hale to speak, the university recognized free speech rights but also provided a means for community members to respond. Communitarian and libertarian goals were both met.

Yes, hate speech needs to be opposed. However, using governmental laws to accomplish this societal good carry too much risk to individual rights. A risk that in the end could pose a greater risk to a democratic society than allowing hate speech would.  Provided that individuals and groups continue to oppose such speech.

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