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Posts Tagged ‘culture’

Often America is called a melting pot, a place where people from different countries come with different languages, beliefs, and customs and are then made into one people.

However I don’t see this.   And don’t think I would care for what I saw if I did see it.

I don’t see this because in traveling through my home city, through America, in reading my local paper and listening to those friends and acquaintances at work, I can see that we are not melted into one people.

Just within my own hometown city I see many different communities – Latin American, black, Asian, Muslim, Hindu, Irish, German, and more.  All with their own celebrated customs and foods, dress and religion.  Many with voices leavened with accents, pronunciations, and words from their ancestral country.

I see people with short hair, long hair, no hair; people in jeans and in suits, in saris and burqas, in hijabs and short skirts, in robes and shorts. I hear people speaking in different languages, eating different foods, going to different houses of worship, or none at all. I hear people expressing different thoughts and views.

A melting pot implies that these differences are melted out and that we are all then just one homogenous people.  But we are not.  Instead we are a diverse people.

 

And that is good.

 

It is our diversity that gives us new ideas and new ways of doing things.  It promotes innovation and an ability to adapt to a changing world.  It provides us with a pool in which we can dip in order to better understand the world.

It is our diversity that makes us interesting.  Different foods, different and wonderful customs and ways of life.  New words to use. Different ways of thinking and viewing the world.

Instead of a melting pot we are an orchestra.  And the music we create together, that is America.

use manchester_international_roots_orchestra-1024x658

Manchester International Roots Orchestra

Strings over here, woodwinds there, and drums over to the right.  Lets add the sitars next to the harps, the mandolins and banjoes next to the piccolos.  And the hurdy gurdy accordion next to the piano.  The Kora and Kalimba playing next to the tin whistle and kuuchir.

And let each play the music that is dear to them.  Let each play what they believe it means to be an American.

Oh, there is a framework for the music, a score if you will.   It is the Constitution and a belief in freedom and liberty. And of human rights. But the score is a loose and largely improvised one, one that is made to promote and protect diversity, not uniformity.

Of course the ideal would be that together we create a music that is beautiful and harmonious.  The truth is though that often there are discordances in the music – tones and notes out of key with others.  Differing rhythms and scales. During the worse of times each instrument, each player seems to be playing his own tune without regards to the others, and a cacophony is created instead of music.

But out of that cacophony, eventually,  a new music is created, a new variation on a theme of America.

 

 

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Due to a recent Supreme Court Decision (not upheld by God though), in order to allow full religious liberty for all, we have had to revise our requirements and procedures for the obtainment of marriage licenses. Please read these instructions carefully and follow them fully.

In addition to the previous requirements of a valid photo ID and, if a previous marriage has been dissolved, proof of that dissolvement, the following information must also be provided (please be aware that a divorce could affect your ability to obtain a marriage license from this office)(please also be aware that providing false information on any of the information required is cause to reject your application and could also result in a fine of not less than $100).

  1. Form 434463-8BBB must be filled out fully.
    1. Include all employers, no matter how briefly the employment may have been.
    2. Include all past addresses, no matter how briefly you may have resided there.
    3. Be aware that to verify your checking and savings account a voided check will be necessary for the checking account and a blank deposit slip for the savings account.
    4. Your e mail address and passcodes for access to your e mail account are required.
    5. Your Facebook page, LinkedIn page, and other social media accounts are required.
    6. All information requested is needed for a thorough background check and is required. All lines and questions need to be fully filled out.  Should the information requested not apply to you do NOT leave the line blank.  Instead, put NA down.
    7. Be aware that leaving out requested information or providing false information are causes for rejection of your application and could also  result in a fine of not less than $150.
  2. Please answer fully form 2424998-CBU-21-X about your hobbies, interests, proclivities, and other activities.
    1. Provide a complete listing of all interests, hobbies, and other activities whether it is chess club, shooting range, flying, political party, etc.
    2. Be sure to include whether or not you drink alcoholic beverages and consume pork.
    3. Include both you and your potential partner’s religion and racial status.
    4. Be aware that leaving out requested information or providing false information are causes for  rejection of your application and could also result in a fine of not less than $200.
  3. Please answer fully form EZ956-29XZ-86680 about sexual preferences, past sexual history, and current sexual activity.
    1. This includes not only heterosexual or homosexual activities but also all instances of adultery (provided you have previously been married) pre-marital sex, mastubational activities, sexual acts with those related to you (provide degree of relationship), sexual acts with more than one partner, and sexual acts with organism or objects other than human.
    2. Be aware that leaving out requested information or providing false information are causes for rejection of your application and could also result in a fine of not less than $350.
  1. Once all forms and information have been provided please allow four weeks to process.  This is in order to ensure that we have a county clerk who, due to their firmly held religious belief, is not offended by one or more of your activities, associations, past history, decisions, employment, religion, racial status, sexual orientation, and sexual activities and thus not able to issue you a marriage certificate.
  2. Should this office have no one available whom you have not offended the firmly held religious sensibilities of, we will forward your paperwork to the next nearest county clerk office to see if they have a clerk whose firmly held religious beliefs will allow them to process this for you.
    1. Should all clerks there find that processing your application for a marriage certificate violates one or more of their firmly held religious beliefs then there will be a nominal charge of $25 to forward the application to the next county office.

Provided you can obtain a marriage license from one of our clerks, we wish you a very happy marriage.

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Soon after the vicious and brutal murder of nine blacks at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church by Dylann Roof I started to hear conservative commentators commenting on how different the reaction of the Charleston community to this killing of blacks by a white than that of Ferguson; about how the Charleston community, both black and white, pulled together in unity while that of Ferguson erupted in violence.

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The clear inference (one often made explicit by some conservative commentators) was that there really is no underlying race problem in America and that those who say that there is are race baiters intent upon stirring up racial conflict and hatred for their own personal and/or political benefit. The reality, according to these commentators, is that our society and its institutions are largely free of racial bias. That, contrary to the stated experiences of many millions of blacks, that our police departments are enforcing laws and reacting to citizens without regards to their color, that our justice system dispenses justice to black and whites alike largely without regards to color, that our educational system treats all students alike regardless of color, and that job opportunities for black and white are such that skin color plays no role the vast majority of times. In other words, that our society has achieved racial equality.

I call this Kum Ba Yah bullshit.

The danger of conservative’s kum ba yah bullshit is that It puts the responsibility for all change firmly on the backs of blacks. They are responsible for creating better families, for better educating their children, for better following the law and the police, for doing better on finding jobs. They are responsible for their culture and it is the black culture that is the problem. Blacks, according to this “logic” just need to work and try harder. No need for whites to change anything.

Now, in a discussion on this with a conservative a few weeks ago, he used a baseball analogy to try to bring home his point. He said that my position was akin to defeatism, that if we tell blacks that they cannot do it, that their problems are the result of institutional racism and unconscious biases and prejudices instead of them, then we are like the coach of a team telling his team that they are losers. And that by so doing that team, and blacks, do lose.

I applauded his analogy. And I agree, blacks do need to work hard at changing things, at trying to achieve goals and change their culture. However, I pointed out that a better analogy would be that of two teams playing a game of baseball. One team has the standard three outs in order to get hits. The other team though only has two outs before they are retired. No matter how good the coaching, no matter how much that team works at it, no matter how motivated they are, they are going to lose most of the time. Not because of talent or ability, not because of motivation and persistence, but because the rules of the game are rigged against them. And until those rules are changed to be fair and just no matter who is playing the game then members of that team are, justifiably, going to feel anger, are going to feel frustrated. So much so that they may take out their anger on the other team or on the umpires of the game. Or even those of the spectators watching the game.

Yes, the black community needs to continue to work hard to improve their culture and lot, but at the same time they are operating under a handicap even more severe than that of a baseball team playing with only two outs in hand. They are operating within a society that still has institutional racism as part of its fabric and in which largely unconscious biases and prejudices still hold sway in determining the actions of those in power. What makes it worse, so many do not even acknowledge that such problems exist and deny them totally.ferguson-riots-lin_3116889k

Black culture. That is the favorite response of the conservative when asked what is at the root of the disparities in education, economic status, and justice between whites and blacks. And to an extent they are right. However, they never ask the more important question of how black culture was formed and what maintains it today. Instead, they seem to see black culture as something of a virgin birth or as something coming fully formed from the foam.

Conservatives ignore the fact that black culture was formed from the brutality that was slavery, modified by them chains of Jim Crow laws and lynchings, formed by government policies and industry actions, and reinforced by the media.

Black culture was formed by the broken families of the slave era, by the repression of the Jim Crow laws and actions of the KKK and others. It was formed by practices such as redlining which from 1934 – 1962 kept blacks form getting any of the 120 billion dollars handed out by the government for home loans which thus forced segregation by forcing blacks into living in ghettos. This has the ripple effect in that blacks, unlike the whites who received these loans, did not have property they could pass own to their children and use as a basis for creating wealth for themselves and their family.

Or consider the effect this had on education. Schools are funded by property taxes. Since the vast majority of blacks could not afford to live in good homes and could not get the loans to attain good homes, they did not have the tax base to create good schools. Combine this with the segregation effects and you have the basis for the educational disparities we see today. All of which then lead to less opportunities for getting better jobs.

And that is just one example of what is called institutional racism. Another is how blacks are portrayed in the media – tv, radio, newspapers, magazines. White skin and standards are held up as beautiful, blacks are not. Blacks are shown as criminals much more often than they are in real life, and whites much less than they are in real life.

Such practices as these and more effect all areas of society – medicine, justice, and family. They are what helped form black culture. And without efforts on the parts of whites to acknowledge this and change it, then blacks can only go go far, can only do so much. Individuals can overcome it – after all there are great people of all races, but most people of all races are average, and it is those people who are going to continue to suffer the most from this unresolved racism.
And then there is the very real effects of unconscious bias within our society. It affects whose resume will result in a call for an interview and whose will not, it affects how police and judges and jury react and dispense justice., it effects teachers and educators expectations.

The only way true racial justice and equality is going to be achieved is if all or most whites will recognize this problem. Many already do. However, this is a blind spot of most conservatives. They refuse to see this and thus make huge mistakes in judgements and in recommendations on what needs to be done. Mistakes that not only do nothing to solve the problems, but often actually make the problem worse.

For example, comparing Ferguson with Charleston. Yes, in both cases a white person killed a black person or people. However, that is as far as the comparison goes. In Ferguson, a white police officer and member of a police force that was found to be engaged in racist practices, shot and killed an unarmed black man. In Charleston nine blacks were killed by a lone racist gunman who belonged to no government organization or private one apparently. That lack of government affiliation makes a huge difference. Ferguson experienced riots not because a white had killed a black person, but because a white representative of a government agency which had been engaged in racist practices killed an unarmed black person. Charleston did not erupt into violent protests because the gunman was working on his own and did not represent a government with power over the black community.

A clear and easily seen difference. And yet, one that so many conservatives seem to be blind to.

Just as they seem to be blind to the problems inherent in the government flying the Confederate battle flag. Conservatives article-2249806-168FF9A7000005DC-246_634x423insist on defending this as just an exhibition of pride in their heritage. Pride in a heritage that included the attempted dissolution of the United States in order to protect their right to treat people as property, of no more worth than a hog or a cabinet. Yes, many like to phrase this in terms of state’s rights, but it was the state’s right to allow whites to own blacks to do with as they wish. It was a state right to refuse freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and freedom of assembly to those who advocated for abolition; to confiscate abolitionist literature and burn it, to break the presses of those publications advocating for the abolition of slavery, it was the fining, imprisonment, flogging, and tar and feathering of those who advocated for treating blacks as free people.

Those are the heritage that conservatives want to remember and honor? Yes, many brave and good men fought and died for the south. But so too did good and brave men die fighting for Nazi Germany. I wonder, if the conservatives would make the same argument for those who would honor the Nazi flag.

And finally, one last area of racial blindness conservatives seem to suffer from. Today, a podcast came out, an interview with President Obama by Marc Maron in which President Obama used the word “nigger”. Conservatives are jumping all over President Obama’s use of this word. However, just as in their comparison of Ferguson with Charleston, and defense of the Confederate flag, their blindness to context and meaning is apparent. Here is the full quote:

obama2010“The legacy of slavery, Jim Crow, discrimination in almost every institution of our lives, you know, that casts a long shadow, and that’s still part of our DNA that’s passed on. We’re not cured of it. And it’s not just a matter of it not being polite to say ‘nigger’ in public. That’s not the measure of whether racism still exists or not. It’s not just a matter of overt discrimination… Societies don’t, overnight, completely erase everything that happened 200 to 300 years prior.”

And this actually does a good job of summing up the problem with most conservatives. They believe that since we have made the use of nigger in public a thing to be ashamed of, since we have gotten rid of most of the overt discrimination that discrimination does not exist at all. And that is foolish of them. As President Obama said, “societies don’t, overnight, completely erase everything that happened 200 to 300 years prior”. In fact, I would amend that statement to say even as recently as the 1960s and 1970s this overt racism was still prevalent. And that past still lingers and impacts us today.

And this is something most conservatives do not see. They point to the very real gains that have been made in civil rights since the 1960s and declare victory. However, it is not. That was only the start of the victory. It is as if General Eisenhower had declared victory the day after the D Day invasion of Normandy and stopped all further actions since victory had been achieved. Blindness.

The greater struggle is with us now, the struggle to deal with those aspects of racism that are not so easily seen by those not on the receiving end of it. Change the institutional racism that still exists and make clear the hidden biases and prejudices that effect our decisions and then victory will be achieved. . And the first step that is needed to deal with this is to acknowledge that it exists.

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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.”

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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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One of the first items that crossed my mind on hearing of the stabbings at a Murrysville Pennsylvania high school was, thank goodness it was not a gun. Given that I am for strict gun control, my thoughts eventually did lead to the puzzling problems so many have with any sort of gun control; especially after I heard a conservative talk show host rhetorically asking if the gun control crowd was now going to outlaw knives. Given this, I thought it might be fun to blog about gun control and the various arguments given against it.

1)      Guns do not kill people, people do. 

That is true enough. However, humans are tool using animals, and the more effective and powerful the tool, the more effective and powerful the human using it. What this means is that a person with a gun can do a whole lot more killing and wounding than someone without a gun. Please note that no one in the Murrysville stabbings is going to die. In other words, they all survived. Had this teen had a gun or two, the odds greatly favor several people dying.

2)      People kill using different items all the time – knives for instance.

This is closely related to number 1 above. In addition to noting the differences in the number of deaths and wounded between a knife attack and a gun attack, let me also point out that a person with a knife is much easier to stop than a person with a gun. With a baseball bat, I like my odds against a person with a knife. Give that person a gun though and I am probably a dead man.

3)      We have a constitutional right to have guns.

And I am not advocating abolishing that right. However, all rights have limits and laws regulating them. With freedom of speech, there is the old standby of not being able to yell fire in a crowded theater. Also, you cannot just go anywhere and have your say – offices, schools, main street all have laws limiting a person’s absolute right to free speech. Then there are, of course, defamation, libel and slander laws.

Religion is also not an absolute right. Human sacrifice is prohibited. Most drugs are too. If you are a government employee you cannot proselytize while on the job. Churches have to follow zoning laws.

None of our rights are absolute. The reason for this is that we have many rights and because of this one person’s rights can conflict with another’s. In regards to gun control, people have a right to life and liberty too.

Yet those who argue against any sort of gun laws seem to believe that gun rights should be. Sorry guys, but our constitution does not work like that and I have yet to see a case made for why guns, out of all of our other rights, should be unlimited.

4)      We need guns for protection against crime.

Personally, I have never needed one. I used to investigate child abuse for the great state of Texas, and have been in the bad parts of town. My wife and I, in our poverty days, lived in those bad parts of towns. Yet I never needed a gun. Further, there are some studies indicating that owning a gun actually puts you at greater risk of being shot.

However, my personal comfort level is not the same as yours. If you feel you need one for protection then by all means buy one. Just register both yourself and your gun and enjoy the psychological benefit of owning a gun. Keep in mind that gun control is not the same as abolishing all guns. The only caveat here is that I see no reason to have military grade guns for protection – or for hunting. Nor cop killer ammunition. Nor large ammo clips. Protection and the joys of hunting can be had without these weapons, and their potential for extreme violence to others too great to allow them to be purchased by civilians. Again, one of those conflicts with others rights that I mentioned above.

5)      We need guns for protection against our government.

Sorry, if you think that owning guns, even military grade ones, is going to provide protection against a totally rogue government, then you have not kept up with the times. Or even with the times of our revolutionary war. Even with our forefathers all owning guns, we needed the professional army of France to win our freedom from Britain. It is a myth that a bunch of citizen soldiers on their own defeated the British. Without the professional help of the French in regards to arms, training and troops, we would still be British subjects today.  Today this is even more true.

To think that a disparate bunch of people armed with guns is going to be able to take on an organized and well trained military that can coordinate its various units and groups and which are equipped with advance communication equipment, advance weapons that include various types of missiles, cannons, aircraft, and other things that cause other things to go boom, have a strong logistics structure,  medical support and various and sundry other things that make for a modern, effective, and deadly military is delusional at best.

 

To summarize then – there is no reasonable and rational reason for being against gun control.  I would much rather face and deal with an epidemic of knife attacks from effective gun control laws than our current epidemic of attacks by guns.

Let me just say that this is not a complete discussion of this issue and was not meant to be. It was instead just dealing with some of the more popular arguments for exempting gun rights from any sort of controls, controls that all of our other rights, for good reasons,  have.

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All too often I see and hear atheists claim that organized religion has nothing to do with morality; that a person is good in spite of their religion.   They point out that morality is based on our own nature and not from religion; that our sense of sympathy and empathy as well as of fairness along with such things as our bonding behaviors, reciprocal altruism and other traits built into our species through our evolution into a highly social species are the true and apparently complete source of human morality.   I find it rather interesting that they seem to believe that morality can spring from our nature without help and without further fashioning, rather like Athena springing fully formed and ready for action from the forehead of Zeus.   For those who believe this, sorry, just as the Athena story is a myth, so too is this version of the source of our morality.  The social traits that underlie our morality are only the basic bricks of the structure.  And just like bricks need more than their mere existence to become a building so too do our evolutionary derived traits need more to become morals.

ApeMoralityFurther, in addition to our evolved social traits, we are also evolutionary inclined to cheat and be selfish, to look out only for ourselves.   This too is part of our nature.   It is our society and cultures that take these often conflicting impulses and vague traits and turn them into a system of ethics and morality that can sustain a society.  They do so through the use of different governmental and social institutions.   Organized religion is one of those societal institutions that helps bring this about and maintain it, and until fairly recently it was a necessary one.    To understand why let me make a slight digression into the formation of larger social groups, governments, and organized religion.

Many atheists seem to believe that organized religion and governments came into being separately with religion then casting its baleful and bitter influence on governments.   However this is not true.   Organized religion and governments came into being at the same time.   In fact, in the beginning, there was no separation; they were one entity.   The idea of separating religion and government is an idea that had to evolve along with the necessary institutions that would allow their separation.   Because of this organized religion cast no baleful influence but instead was a necessary part of government and society, without which we might not have ever formed groups larger than kinship groups.

Organized religion and large governments came into being as a result of the agricultural revolution around 10,000 years ago.   Until we discovered how to grow crops we were limited in size to family groups ranging in size from small family groups of just a very few members to tribes consisting of hundreds of individuals, For these smaller, family based groups, kinship ties and informal power structures worked well in making decisions for the group and in deciding how to allocate resources.

However with the coming of agriculture we found ourselves able to sustain much larger populations.  Instead of dealing with groups of just a few hundreds, all of whom are related in some way, we found ourselves creating societies with populations of many thousands who are made up of several different family groups.   The problem then became of what to do when conflicts arose between the different family groups making up a nascent large society?   If left up to kinship groups a larger society would dissolve into bitter feuds between these groups, or if they managed to hang together somehow despite these conflicts, they then become an easy target for those societies that had figured better ways to solve this problem.

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Another issue involved in the transition from small family groups to larger multi-family groups involved the distribution of resources and organization of labor.  I am about to quote extensively from part of Jared Diamond’s book, “Guns, Germ, and Steel”, but before I do I wish to make one thing clear.  When Mr. Diamond refers to “kleptocracy” he is referring to any government in which resources are taken from the many and then concentrated in the few.  This act by itself has no moral value either good or bad; all governments both good and bad engage in this.  The good ones use those resources for the benefit of their society whereas the bad use it for their own personal benefit.  Do not let the usual negative associations of this word prevent you from understanding what is being said here.

As for the quote, from pages 277 – 278:

“Bands and tribes already had supernatural beliefs, just as do modern established religions.  But the supernatural beliefs of bands and tribes did not serve to justify central authority, justify transfer of wealth, or maintain peace between unrelated individuals.  When supernatural beliefs gained those functions and became institutionalized, they were thereby transformed into what we term a religion.  Hawaiian chiefs were typical of chiefs elsewhere, in asserting divinity, divine descent, or at least a hotline to the gods.  The chief claimed to serve the people by interceding for them with the gods and reciting the ritual formulas required to obtain rain, good harvests, and success in fishing.

Chiefdoms characteristically have an ideology, precursor to an institutionalized religion, that buttresses the chief’s authority.  The chief may either combine the offices of political leader and priest in a single person or may support a separate group of kleptocrats (that is, priests) whose function is to provide ideological justification for the chiefs.  That is why chiefs devote so much collected tribute to constructing temples and other public works, which serve as centers of the official religion and visible signs of the chief’s power.

Besides justifying the transfer of wealth to the kleptocrats, institutionalized religion brings two other important benefits to centralized societies.  First, shared ideology or religion helps solve the problem of how unrelated individuals are to live together without killing each other – by providing them with a bond not based on kinship.  Second, it gives people a motive, other than genetic self-interest, for sacrificing their lives on behalf of others.  At the cost of a few society members who die in battle as soldiers, the whole society becomes much more effective at conquering other societies or resisting attacks.”

I would add here that these changes in superstitious belief mentioned above were, for the most part, not done in cold blooded calculation.  Rather it was changes that made internal sense and flowed naturally from the beliefs and the society.  Those changes that worked stayed.  Those that did not were changed or forgotten.

I am going on at length about this in order to make the point that organized religion and government were inextricably linked 10,000 years ago, and for good reasons.   That since they were linked and if not exactly the same, then very close (many cultures of the time did not have separate words for government and religion) that meant that organized religion had the responsibility of doing much of what secular institutions do now.

For example, as part of their role in creating a new identity beyond that of the family was their role in teaching and maintaining the values and morals of their society.   Many see religion as nothing more than a set of theological beliefs linked to certain historical acts.   While this is to an extent true, it is very much not the whole picture.   Organized religion is also a social institution that fulfills a role in the maintenance and change of a given society.

In other words, organized religion reflects the society’s values, enforces them, and is the means of transmitting them to the next generation.   All of which is not only valuable but also a requirement for any society that is going to last longer than a few years.   And, again, until recently organized religion was instrumental in the formation and shaping of those societal values and morals in individuals with no viable alternative in existence.

They did this in many ways, one of the primary ones being through religious instruction and services.232a  That still remains the domain of organized religion today.   Teach the young and they will grow and become parents and then pass those values on to their children.  These values will also then be reinforced by religious services and communion with other believers.

Parents were and remain the main force in teaching and passing on morality.   Today the difference is that organized religion no longer has sole responsibility for the other ways in which morality is passed on in a society.  Secular alternatives that were not available in the past have evolved to take their place.   One of the most important of these is education.

Education is a method in which not only knowledge but also a society’s values are passed on and molded.  Until recently education of the masses used to be the sole responsibility of the church.   No other real organization was available to provide instruction about the world, and I am discussing not just the religious world but the natural and social world.   It was also churches that created the first universities with their gathering of different experts and expertise.  Until their secular form evolved, without organized religion there would have been on or little education.   Which, again, makes organized religion a prime creator of a society’s morality.

Organized religion also upheld the worth of a government (or the government the religion – given their mix it is often hard to say which is which) with its many laws regulating human behavior, which in turn shapes and molds morality.

Then there were the many other societal roles that organized religion that also helped maintain a given society’s morals and values – resolving conflicts at both the local and governmental levels, setting up and distributing charity, setting up of hospitals, establishing courts and dispensing justice, etc.

One common criticism I get at this point is that, yes organized religion filled these roles but they are not necessary for such and therefore unnecessary at all.   My answer to this – yes… and no.

In terms of being an absolute necessity, I would agree that organized religion is not an absolute necessity.   Obviously so since we have secular institutions filling those roles today.  However, organized religion was a historical necessity.

Let me use Columbus’s voyage of the ocean blue in fourteen hundred and ninety two.   The ships that he sailed were caravels of different sizes with a crew of between 18 to 52.   Now, was it an absolute necessity that Columbus use these caravels to make his famous trip?   Of course not.   He could have, for example, used a 19th century Clipper ship instead.  In fact, had he used such a ship he would have crossed the Atlantic  in much faster time, more safely than he did in his three caravels, and would have had more men and cargo.   For that matter, he could have made the crossing using the QE 2 and been a great deal more comfortable.   There was no absolute necessity for him to use caravels in crossing, either one of the ones I just mentioned would have done just as well and in fact done a better job of crossing.   However, while there was no absolute necessity there was indeed a necessity involved, one of historical necessity.   Clippers and the QE 2 did not exist at the time of Columbus.  In fact, they had to evolve from the caravels of Columbus’ time.

So too with our modern secular institutions and outlook.   They did not exist in anything except the most basic, small, and nascent stage for the vast majority of our history.   Religious thought and organized religion did.   In fact, secular thinking and institutions grew largely from religious thought and institutions.   Organized religion was a historical necessity for our modern day.   And even today, with the rise of secularism, for many religion still plays a large role in protecting, shaping, and transmitting a society’s values and morals.   Today though it is not an exclusive role.

Let me now address one more aspect of the relationship between organized religion, society, and morality – it is not a simple one.   Indeed, it is a complicated and often contradictory relationship.

Many see organized religion as only being the defender of tradition, of being concerned only with maintaining things as they are no matter how unjust or immoral it be; as the resister of all change.   While it can and does play that role, to say that this is the only role it  plays is to greatly oversimplify reality.   Nor does the evidence of history support such a simplistic view.   In fact, it strongly goes against such a view.

One reason why this static view of religion is wrong is that organized religion is not a static entity.  Organized religion varies, both across geography and across time.  It is not a monolithic, unchanging entity in which all believe and behave alike.  In fact, the exact opposite is true.  It is because of this variety that religion has played often conflicting roles within cultures and societies, acting as both defender of tradition and at the same time as the catalyst and promoter of change, often radical change.

The anti-slavery movement is a good example of this.  The larger organized religions usually defended slavery for a variety of different reasons; from enthusiastic Biblical justification, to slavery being good for the salvation of the African souls, to slavery being a necessary social institution that the Bible does not condemn.

However, it was also organized religion that led the fight against slavery and which was largely responsible for ending that barbaric institution.   Within Christianity there had always been a strain that denounced and condemned slavery.   For a variety of reasons, both internal to organized religion and external to it, these voices and their influence grew stronger as time went on, especially among the newly developed evangelical religions – Quakers, Baptists, and Methodist (although the first anti-slavery society in the United States was create by a Puritan, John Williams, in the 17th century).

Now, I am not going to make an already long blog even longer by going into all the reasons for this change except to say, again, that some of the causes for this change lay within organized religion and some were external to it.   I will also point out that even in those cases where an outside force – social movement, intellectual changes, political events, etc. – creates the change in a religion, organized religion then often acts to magnify that change and spread it faster and more effectively than could any other institution at the time.  Although it may not the originator of the change it can act as a catalyst, greatly speeding the change.  And afterwards, once established it can maintain that change within a society.

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So, bottom line, until recently organized religion was necessary for the formation and continuance of a given society’s morals and values. However, as societies grew, changed, and evolved so too did the functions of organized religion (religious service, government support, education, health, etc) within that society.  Often these changes were in the direction of more inclusive and/or more secular institutions.  It was not until modern times – the 17th century – that institutions and ideals evolve that would finally separate organized religion from government and still allow governments to fully function.   In fact, at that time secular institutions became necessary because from being a benefit organized religion was becoming a liability.

Today I think (and hope) that organized religion is dying out.   I do not think it will ever disappear, but with the separation of church and state and the growth of those not affiliated with any religion its influence will wane.   I do think that individual belief in God and religion will remain the majority belief for a long time to come – but without it being organized as in the past and without being joined to government that this becomes a matter of individual belief and conscience rather than governmental policy.

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