Friday, June 29, 2007

Of T-Bones and Caffeine

My Mormon Fairy Godmother recently lost her patience with me when I ended an email message to her with the following typical (for me) wisecrack: “If God wants me to burn for eternity in fire and brimstone for my morning coffee and red wine with dinner, I probably wouldn’t get along with Her anyway. It has to do with Sam Harris's claims in "The End of Faith.”

The gist of the standard LDS rebuttal, restated very effectively in my friend's messag to me, professes that “conversion” means having the "light" of Christ’s truth revealed, and in turn that means a change of lifestyle and giving up all of one’s vices... unless one is “stupid.” It was my friend’s use of that word (more than once) that told me she had finally become impatient with me. In responding to her, my first reaction would be to point out that there are probably billions of people on the planet who would use the same word to describe those who preach that only the believers in Joseph Smith’s religion are committed to living a lifestyle consistent with the light of revealed truth. My second reaction (and a more typical one for me) would be to quote John Stuart Mill who said: “Although it is not true that all conservatives are stupid people… it is true that most stupid people are conservative.” I’ve been called many things in my life, and stupid is an epithet I’m quite familiar with, but not once in my memory have I ever been accused by anyone of being conservative. Therefore, the odds are that I am not stupid, though I may be crazy, still, (after all these years.) In any case, my dear Fairy Godmother need not worry about offending me; though sticks and stones may break my bones, her words certainly could never hurt me. I admire her far too much to let that happen.
Of course I realize she will probably become impatient again when she reads this, but perhaps it will make her happy to know that I am supporting Mitt Romney for the Republican nomination, and if I were faced with a choice between Edwards and Romney, I might vote for Mitt because he's such a certified flip-flopper I'm sure he'd switch to the Democrat party before seeking a second term. I like firsts, and if we can't have the first woman president, I want to have the first Mormon president. We've already had our first black president, and plenty of crackers and lawyers have had a chance to insure manifest destiny and tinker with their particular brand of the American Dream. I think Mitt would be a lot like Arnold in California, and I believe Arnold would be the next president if the constitution allowed it. I'm in favor of repealing that anachronism from the Consittution by the way, along with the electoral college.

Of course the above prologue is no rebuttal to the gist of my friend’s real argument about the meaning of faith, but I’m prepared to address it, and have formed the beginning of a thesis in my head. I’m looking forward to expanding and exploring my thinking about such issues in this venue; as I’ve said before, what else on earth is a blog for? And as others have said before: the best way to find out what we think is to constantly write about our ideas and beliefs. So here goes:

Dear “Adopted Fairy God-Mom”,

I’m a spiritual person because of the gut grabbing awe and terror which the beauty and the inconceivable vastness of the universe inspire in me. One of the reasons I’m a religious person springs from the common sense logic of Pascal’s Bet , which I have ultimately come to accept for my own peace of mind and comfort. (Of course it may not really be such a good bet after all, from the perspective of the probable future fate of our benighted, fragile planet—the Mother/Father of us all, in a very real sense. Note: I’ll add my explanation of that particular bit of deductive reasoning later, should anyone be interested.)

I am also a religious person because my parents and grandparents were, and many of the people in history whose accomplishments I most admire have chosen to worship a god—Thomas More, Abe Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jimmy Carter, Mother Theresa, L. Ron Hubbard... just kidding about that last one. I’m convinced by their examples that I can be most effective in my determination to “love the Lord by serving the Lord’s Children” if I work in the context of a group of organized Christians who choose to believe and act as I attempt to do. Over the past 12 years I've chosen to practice my religion by supporting activist Christians in the membership of two Honolulu congregations: Pacific Community Church (now known as Anuenue Christian Church) and since 1998, Church of the Crossroads. More than any other that I know of, the latter congregation is one whose members choose to be in solidarity with them, have taken progressive stands on social issues, and ministered to the outcasts, despised, and oppressed in Hawaii. They have seldom shrunk from what they see as the Christian duty to speak inconvenient truths to the powers that be. Along with other members of United Church of Christ Congregations across our all too often disgraced nation, they have been shunned and despised by fundamentalists and evangelicals, but far more frequently than not, it has eventually been acknowledged as being on the right (and the righteous) side. In today’s culture wars as much as ever, members of U.C.C. congregations are the leaders in the struggle for peace and justice, and our Honolulu Congregation of “Crossroaders” is consistently at the leading edge of the movement, from the fight against the coming global climate catastrophe, to the civil rights struggle of the 21st century—promoting fairness and equality for all families and sexual orientations. As the bumper sticker I recently ordered for my car says: “Gay Marriage Doesn’t Scare Me; Hatred and Inequality do.”

I do not accept literally every word I read in every book of the Bible, and certainly not in the books of Leviticus (in which stoning is prescribed for every “abomination” from the sin of Onan to touching the skin of a swine) or theBook of Joshua (in which God dutifully follows Joshua’s command to stop the sun’s movement in the sky for a whole day, in order that his chosen people can finish their extermination of the Israelites’ enemies.)

As Clarence Darrow is said to have explained to the court during the Tennessee Scopes trial, this requires literal believers to deny the most basic principles of science taught in public schools from 1st grade on. In any discussion of the slaughter of Jericho’s inhabitants and the armies of the Amorites, as described in Joshua (Chapters 7 – 10) a committed fundamentalist / literalist must be prepared to assert and admit either that (1) our globe actually stopped turning, so the sun’s light would continue shining down on the battle, and thus that an understanding of the Bible’s language does sometimes require “interpretation”, and / or (2) that the human powers of reason and observation are essentially useless to, and inconsistent with, eternal salvation for practicing Christians.

So, I am resigned to being a “Jack Mormon” at best, regardless of what happens to me in the future. Lightning may strike; visions of Golden Tablets may appear before my eyes; I may receive thousands of email messages monthly from the LDS faithful around the world begging me to join them in an LDS crusade to end global warming; all of these would be good reasons for me to “convert”; but knowing what I know about myself and my character now, there’s no way I can believe I’d ever swear off that early morning mug of caffeine courage, or the obligatory and blissful glass of cabernet sauvignon with a fine steak dinner. Likewise, I doubt I could ever be more than a “Jack Buddhist”, knowing how hard it would be to give up those tenderloins, and T-Bone steaks.

Finally, no one can tell me that Mormons don't have vices of their own. Until their Prophet / President's epiphany in the 1960's, the "Sons of Ham" were persona non grata as Elders / Priests of the church, though the Jim Crow era was coming to an end in the U.S. It didn't escape notice of the sports fans in the Western Athletic Conference back then that the Prophet's "conversion" changing the status of African American men in the church occurred coincidentally when several university athletic departments were threatening to boycott Utah's Brigham Young University's sports teams on grounds of racism. And apparently even the most devout LDS believers routinely refer to the beliefs and practices of non-members as "stupid", a vice that seems clearly inconsistent with Jesus's admonition to "judge not, lest ye be judged." Maybe the Savior meant something different than it seems when he gave us that teaching, as I'm told he did when he talked about the rich man, the camel, and the eye of the needle. But my common sense tells me that I know how to interpret the injunction to remove the beam in my eye before pointing out another's mote, and I believe this principle overrides anything Leviticus says about pigs or sodomites. If you think I'm incorrect, tell me why? Let's discuss it, if not debate. I look forward to the conversation.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Common Dreams of Hillary

I visited one of my favorite "progressive" Web sites today and was surprised by the hostility of its readers to the possibility of a Hillary Clinton presidency. These are the types who voted for Nader in 2000 and cost Gore the election. With a fraction of the 90,000 Florida votes that went to Nader, Gore would have had a clear win in Florida, and it would not have been possible for the U.S. to be "betrayed" by its Supreme Court. (See Vincent Bugliosi's book "The Betrayal of America at Google's Books website--hilite link, right click, and choose the "search" option),M1I posted a comment in the Discussion comments to an article by Ruth Coniff titled "Hillary Clinton and the Woman Thing." You can read highlights below, or follow this link to the original post. Comments are welcome, as always.
Here's the link:

The gist of my argument posted a few hours ago:
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Most of you so-called progressives are supposedly pining for a “humanist” woman or a “true progressive”, to vote for as president, but view “Billary” as the scum of the Beltway, un-derserving of your support under any circumstances. You blindly dismiss her achievements, political skills, and sheer powers of endurance, saying “[S]urely we can do better than this….” Well, you may need to wait another century or so for that chance–in the meantime, will your tunnel vision (changed from "obstinacy") enables our disgraced and disgraceful nation’s leaders to continue plundering and sewing the seeds of destruction for future generations. Richardson and Kucinich a dream ticket? Give me a break! How about Richardson as Secretary of State, and Kucinich as Secretary of HUD? In a Hillary Clinton administration, why not?

Please, Commondreamers, I implore you and your ilk — refrain from lending aid and comfort to those intent on sabotaging the good Senator’s chances of being the first woman and former First Lady to be become Commander in Chief and wielder of the bully pulpit. Work for Kucinich or Obama if you choose, and then stoically accept Clinton if she is the winner of the Democrat primaries. With a Democrat majority in both houses, and having made history simply by virtue of her election alone, President Hillary Clinton will be uniquely unfettered by the compulsation to ensure election to a second term. I predict history will be made: a Moon Program / Marshall Plan type initiative on global warming will be launched; restoration of civil liberties and rehabilitation of our voting system will be a top priority; appointment of appropriate judges and justices will be assured (Supreme Court for Lani Guinier?); world leadership and cooperation through participation in a re-invigorated United Nations could become a reality. And finally, the beginning of the end of the destructive Blue / Red State divide could be at hand– Bill Clinton could become not simply an ambassador to the world, but a builder of bridges between the estranged Americas as well.

You’ve really got very little to lose if you think about it, and a maybe a new world to gain. Let’s show our allies and the international community that unlike France, we can elect a woman chief executive — a woman who has pledged to end the war she would have been powerless to prevent, even if it had made sense to destroy her political career trying to do so. Admit it my fellow “progressives”: this is a war that none of us who has not been daily protesting in the streets for the past 5 years, or enduring a series of hunger strikes, can truly avoid responsibility for.

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Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Fallacies of argument

My WRI 1200 students seem to have the same difficulty I have with the often discussed concept "logical fallacy". I think that's an oxymoron of sorts, and prefer "fallacies of argument", "fallacies of rhetoric", or "fallacies of logic."
There's a ****load of them to be found in the latest Krauthammer Op Ed piece in today's Advertiser; however, I'm so happy I don't have to look at Victor Davis Hansen's ****eating grin that I can take anything from the paraplegic pundit, the supreme spinmeister of the Republican propaganda factory, and keep smiling. Charles K. raises to a high literary art the kind of hack's work O'Reilly does nightly in his "no spin zone" on the Fox network.

See how many non-sequiturs, canards, and downright lies you can find:

Writing Things Down

As I was falling to sleep the other night I thought of a great "Mormon Joke" and chuckled so long that I considered getting up and writing it down. I didn't, and of course the next day I could only remember that I'd laughed about it, and I've been trying to remember it ever since. It will go so well with the Christian Stand-up Routine I started writing awhile back but can't share here because of course someone might steal my material. I'm going to ask my brother Pat for help later in the week when son John and I go to Kaua`i. The point is, I've resolved to start using this venue to make a record of my epiphanies, brain farts, nightmares, and religious visions. What else is a blog for?
So, here's the latest brain fart, or whatevah. As my brain and I were having our early morning discussion about how the day would turn out, what we thought of yesterday's happenings, what needs to be accomplished in the remainder of the week, etc., I began a conversation in my head explaining to hypothetical Mormon friends the basis of my decision to join their church and hang out with them. The fact that they are all wonderful people and mostly rich folks who do exciting things like cruise around the world and experiment with ways to make even more money would not be sufficient to justify my conversion to them, I assume. My LDS mother-in-law, who knows what an accomplished "lawyer / liar" (spin artist?) I am when it suits my purpose, recently opined that any dicision to become a Mormon should be sincere. We didn't waste breath debating the meaning of sincerity, but I know that I will not quit drinking things with caffeine in them, and if I'm asked by anyone whether I'm addicted to coffee, I certainly won't bother to lie. So if they want to keep me from beoming a "latter day saint" on those grounds, so be it. I assume it's more likely that the gatekeepers will decide "better a Jack Mormon who tithes as required" than a heathen, and will welcome me with open arms. More on ideas such as "leap of faith" and how quantum physics and creationism are entirely compatible later, for now I simply want to record my idea for the creation of an International Island of Faith here in Hawaii. My dream would be that it could be located in what is now Volcanoes National Park after the U.S. cedes it to a newly created and sovereign Native Hawaiian entity. Since Hawaiians apparently won't be permitted to create gambling casinos here in the islands but will no doubt want to have a "visitor industry", I envision a huge campus with visitor accomodations and a place of worship for every religion in the world that wishes to be included, along with a central teaching complex, and of course space for any other group that wishes to construct its own facilities. I will be the Executive Director, of course.
That's all for now. Have a great day.

Friday, June 08, 2007

By the way ...

Christopher Hitchens has finally managed to redeem himself a bit in my eyes with his epitaph for Jerry Fallwell. Paraphrasing: If the mortician had given him an enema, they could have buried him in a shoebox.

Jerry Falwell's Best Friend

George Bush's vow to veto the latest stem cell bill is an obvious attempt to mend fences with his base, the fundamentalist Christian wing of the Republican party. Many are hopping mad about his refusal to allow Iran to develop nuclear weapons. They figure that the sooner Iran's President, Mahmoud Ahmed "mini-jihad", tries to make good on his idea of wiping Israel off the map, the sooner Israel retaliates with its estimated 200 nuclear weapons (which it denies having) and then Jesus comes a second time and raptures them all to glory land. Of couse the rest of us will be left here to rot for 1000 years before we're all sent to Hell to burn in damnation for eternity. The Jews who don't accept Jesus as their personal savior will of course suffer the same fate. God works in strange and wondrous ways, and those who pray for another holocaust at the earliest possible time are unshakable in their faith in the Lord's everlasting mercy and goodness.

Capital Punishment

When are Americans going to figure out that the sooner they abolish capital punishment, the less often their TV screens will be filled with the faces of depraved human excrement like the alleged killer of the Kansas City teenager who disappeared from the parking lot of the local Target store last weekend after being sent there on an errand by her parents. If our legal system didn’t contain the option of “offing” a killer, drug seller, rapist, etc., trials would usually be unnecessary, as in Canada, where the death penalty has been abolished and the murder rate per capita is about 1/3 of that in the U.S. An accused killer’s choice could be to go to trial and risk a sentence of a series of consecutive life terms without possibility of parole, or cop a plea and receive a 99 year sentence with the possibility of parole. Parole for those like Charles Manson, serial killers etc. would be very rare; rapists might be more likely to be let out. By allowing their testicles to be removed and submitting to lobotomies, their chances of parole could be improved considerably, no doubt.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

A Civil Rights Don Quixote?

Reading the pious, self-serving commentary of would be civil rights “Don Quixote” David Rosen in Sunday’s Advertiser on May 27th was enough to make this “local haole” want to upchuck his fried rice & bangers. It was worth it, however, to see the exposure given to the logically unassailable rebuttals from kanaka ma‘oli luminaries such as Jon Osorio and Oswald Stender. I’m disgusted to hear the word “aloha” coming from the mouths of those who use it for one purpose – to pervert its meaning and employ their twisted definitions for personal gain. Unfortunately, the “final authority” that attorney Rosen seeks to appeal to contains even more neo-con sympathizers and hacks than the Supreme Court which betrayed America in December 2000, and it may even be possible for Bush to appoint more justices before a new president takes office in January 2009. It is clear from the shameless hypocrisy of Rosen’s commentary that his mouth is still watering from coming so close to achieving the kind of name recognition O.J defender Johnny Cochran grabbed with his slight of hand during Simpson’s nationally televised murder trial. If this parasite manages to round up a sufficient number of gullible plaintiffs to make it worth his while to take another run at the KSBE windmill, I’ll be happy to donate money to the school’s legal defense fund, and won’t expect any tax deduction. Ultimately I believe that Pauahi’s sacred trust will prevail, whether the Bush Supreme Court forces it to choose between giving up tax exempt status or admitting non-Hawaiians; and whatever the outcome, there may be a greater silver lining to be found. Perhaps such misguided legal attacks on the birthright and entitlements of Native Hawaiians will have the result of uniting their community behind Senator Akaka’s bill. Whatever one thinks of the framework it would establish, there is no question that it begins to get the ball rolling in the direction of compensation of kanaka ma‘oli for the wrongs acknowledged by the U.S government in 1993. It is imperative that the momentum toward a measure of sovereignty and justice be reestablished, and that Congress be persuaded to enact an unassailable framework to protect against future assaults in the courts by plunderers like Rosen and his ilk. If Hawaiians had rallied behind a realistic plan during the Clinton years in the wake of our Congressional team’s historic achievement in securing enactment of the 1993 Apology legislation, the citizens of the “Aloha State” would be much further down the road toward a society based on justice, peace, and true aloha.