Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Revisiting the Limits to Growth Ideas

By Gary Berg-Cross

I see that the ultra free market Club for Growth (CfG) has gotten into the news again today teaming with The Wall Street Journal against a legislative proposal to subsidize the adoption of natural-gas-based transportation vehicles. They say they aren’t against natural gas vehicles but like good conservatives they don’t support the idea of government should be picking winners and losers (aka "helping" a particular industry) to solve a big problem like energy. The Club, however, has been pretty active in picking winners and losers in political campaigns. They keep score. As Jonathan Weisman reported in The Times recently, a seeming moderate like Oren Hatch had a lifetime rating of 78 percent from the CfG, but, with the rise of the T-Party in the past two years, Hatch has radically elevated to close to a 100 percent rating – a fact bemoaned even by David Brooks.

Too bad
for many reasons including the naivety of its ideas on growth. The Club for Growth argues for a “high growth economy” believing that markets invisibly provide prosperity through market ideas couched in phrases like economic freedom. You hear the call to grow out of our woes all the time. Given the big downturn under the conservative Bush administration and its market policies one can understand the Club’s angst in this political season. But there may be real limits to simple bubble like growth that we are approaching. We saw some of that in the financial realm where artificial growth was pumped up by debt, leveraging and rapidly moving money with nothing real behind it. The fiscal problems in Europe as well as here suggests that we may have reached the limits of our current economic approaches.

Perhaps an equally important factor to consider is the long disparaged nemesis of growth advocates - the Club of Rome‘s (1972) The Limits to Growth. It is having a 40th anniversary this year and its conclusions looking more relevant all the time. The book modeling the consequences of a rapidly growing world population and finite resource supplies. Reflecting some of the concerns and predictions of Thomas Malthus in An Essay on the Principle of Population (1798) the research used the World3 model based on a technique known as systems dynamics, developed by Professor Jay Forrester at MIT to simulate the consequence of interactions between the Earth's and human systems.

One conclusion of the study suggests that without major change in the physical, economic, or social relationships that have traditionally governed world “development” human society will run out of the nonrenewable resources within a time span of less than 100 years (2072 usually rounded to 2100 for convenience). When resources like oil, clean water, rare earths etc. have been depleted, a decline and eventual collapse of the economic system will result. The results would be manifested in massive unemployment, decreased food production etc.

The report was about behavioral tendencies and population, capital, resource and pollution system activity. The intent was to stimulate debate and discussion about the challenges of these interactions and how to plan for the projected “overshoot” of global carrying capacity which their modeling revealed. What they got was a fierce attack against the warnings. People generally have the feeling that it was shown to be essentially erroneous. Whenever the limits to growth argument came up in later days it was denounced as disproven by claimed facts of continued growth. In particular it was attacked by people who fervently believe in the power of markets and market forces to silently, and wisely, overcome whatever needs arise. These are some shallow claims that get repeated s often they seem like facts but are only pseudo claims as shown by Graham Turner’s (2008) A COMPARISON OF THE LIMITS TO. GROWTH WITH THIRTY YEARS OF. REALITY. If you listen closely you can hear some pseudo claims about growth in some of the conservative politician arguments. Indeed they are attacked if they don't promote these beliefs. But perhaps these types of claims are more than a little bit due to a 1 % principle and confirmatory hypotheses at work. Perhaps this and the current downturn argues for a renewed view of natural limits to growth as we celebrate the idea's 40th year.

What are some of the real facts of depletion, decay and peaks? Have they been too threatening to the established industrial culture to be contemplated. Certainly that’s not the view one gets looking at 10 year update reports. The study team published both a 20 year (Meadows, Donella, J. Randers and D. Meadows. Beyond the Limits.) and a 30 (Meadows, Donella, J. Randers and D. Meadows. Limits to Growth: The Thirty Year Update 2004) year follow ups. These add measures and improvements in the computer simulation model, but the analyses came to the same conclusions as the original study – continued growth would lead to overshoot, leading to a collapse of growth with its consequences. In Revisiting the Limits to Growth After Peak Oil System Ecologists Hall and Day said:

The original projections of the limits-to-growth model examined the relation of a growing population to resources and pollution, but did not include a timescale between 1900 and 2100. If a halfway mark of 2000 is added, the projections up to the current time are largely accurate, although the future will tell about the wild oscillations predicted for upcoming years.

A recent review article in American Scientist of Revisiting the Limits to Growth After Peak Oil commented on the research this way:

“They have re-examined some of the data that led to the discrediting of the “limits to growth” theory and have shown that both resource use and costs have only risen, and are no longer being mitigated by market forces. Although new sources of energy have been found, they are much more expensive to extract, a declining return on investment that Hall and Day think could lead to large societal problems in the near future.”

It will probably be a few years before an analysis of the 40th year comes out, but it will probably have quite a bit to say about diminishing resources and increased pressures on a sustainable world. It will, I hope, spur some reasonable debate and discussion about how to manage the global carrying capacity.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Is A One Percent Justification Meme Spreading?

By Gary Berg-Cross

In The One Percent Doctrine Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Ron Suskind discussed the Bush Administration hunt for terrorists after 9/11 and its conflation with a justification for attacking Iraq. The title comes from VP Cheney’s position that:

“ If there's a 1% chance that Pakistani scientists are helping al-Qaeda build or develop a nuclear weapon, we have to treat it as a certainty in terms of our response. It's not about our analysis ... It's about our response.”

With the war drums beating for an attack on Iran some, like Robert Parry (Consortium News) see an early Return of Cheney's One Percent Doctrine:

But it should be clear what the game is. Israeli hardliners and American neocons want a return to former Vice President Dick Cheney's "one percent doctrine….. That is, if there is even a one percent chance that a terrorist attack might be launched against the United States, it must be treated as a certainty, thus justifying any preemptive military action that U.S. officials deem warranted.

That was the mad-hatter policy that governed the U.S. run-up to the Iraq War, when even the most dubious - and dishonest - claims by self-interested Iraqi exiles and their neocon friends were treated as requiring a bloody invasion of a country then at peace…

One % positions and their murky data provide weak justification for war but seem enough for people predisposed to hawkish positions. As Suskind himself argues t not every 1% hypothesis gets treated enough to get what Cheney calls “a response”. Besides being some broad rationalization of an angry, militant response the One Percent idea also has as an aspect of confirmatory bias that I’ve previously discussed. This means we can actually ignore data that doesn’t fit our hypothesis. Analysis leading to other conclusions is “undesired.”

In practice I believe that many people operate on something like a 1% approach and do it dynamically. That is, they may only require a small hint of something being possible to confirm it in their mind. Then over time on top of a 1% possibility we strengthen our belief by using a fraction of new evidence and selected analysis. One winds up with a .1 or .01% doctrine or principle.

This is the type of thing, I believe, one sees in layman beliefs and debates over climate change. Barely half the U.S. public thinks carbon pollution could warm Earth. It’s just too complex and as noted in The Psychology of Climate Change Denial:

Even as the science of global warming gets stronger, fewer Americans believe it’s real. In some ways, it’s nearly as jarring a disconnect as enduring disbelief in evolution or carbon dating…Our response to disturbing information is very complex. We negotiate it. We don’t just take it in and respond in a rational way.”

On one side there is an enormous aggregate of evidence and analysis such as in an IPCC report ranging from weather statistics and extremes, atmospheric measurements, climate history, glacier melting, changes in animal migration, arctic melting, rising sea level, stronger floods and droughts, the spread of tropical diseases and the decline of sensitive species. Against this a non-believer cites one little piece of evidence from how scientists discuss analysis in emails! It’s more of a .1% principle than even a 1%.

This has some relation to defining characteristic of true believers like VP Chaney, Newt Gingrich or Rick Santorum who seem to be spreading the meme for a low evidence belief. They have disdain for serious analysis and believe instead in a narrow view of reality that is emotionally backed by a cohesive group of fervent believers. You hear them in some Republican debates howling support for 1% claims such as a war on Religion or how Fannie and Freddie caused the real estate bubble. disturbing. Believing and understanding otherwise is something they don’t want to think about. So what they do in political debate is what they do in daily life - create a bubble world where the 99% possibilities are not present or accepted. Keep uncomfortable ideas at a distance is likely to lead to a serious problem 99% of the time or so.

Santorum Barfs into the Wind

by Edd Doerr

Campaigning in Michigan on 2/26, Rick Santorum, in an evident fit of desperation, slammed John F. Kennedy's 9/12/60 speech to the Ministerial Association of Greater Houston defending religious freedom and church-state separation. Rick said that JFK's speech "makes me throw up." He added that "I don't believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute."

Here is what Kennedy said: "I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute -- where no Catholic prelate would tell the President (should he be Catholic) how to act and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote -- where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference -- and where no man is denied public office merely because his religion differs from the President who might appoint him or the people who might elect him. . . . where no religious body seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly upon the general populace or the public acts of its officials. . . . "

There have been some who have questioned Kennedy's sincerity. However, my colleague Paul Blanshard, with whom I co-wrote a column in The Humanist back when Paul Kurtz was editor, told me that shortly after taking office Kennedy invited him to meet with Kennedy and adviser Ted Sorensen in the White House to discuss Kennedy's decision not to include religious private schools in his proposed education legislation. Blanshard told me that he was convinced that Kennedy meant exactly what he said. Only after Kennedy's assassination was Lyndon Johnson, in 1965, able to get education aid passed. Unfortunately, although Johnson had the votes in Congress to exclude church schools from the legislation, he gave in to pressure from the Catholic bishops.

So Santorum is barfing into a strong headwind. However, his shooting off his piehole should serve to alert voters to the very real threats to religious freedom and church-state separation that have been escalating dangerously of late, such as the efforts by Republican lawmakers and governors to role back women's religious freedom and rights of conscience, and their relentless drive to defund public education and divert public funds to discriminatory sectarian private schools through school vouchers or tuition tax credits.

(The Kennedy quotes and many others may be found in the book Great Quotations on Religious Freedom, compiled by Al Menendez and myself (Prometheus Books, 2002, 250 pages, available for $10 from me at Box 6656, Silver Spring, Md 20916).

Sunday, February 26, 2012

More Discussion Topics following Rob Boston’s Talk

By Gary Berg-Cross

A previous post has summarized Rob’s main points and another one on the big discussion topics of united approaches during Q and A. With Edd Doerr as our March speaker talking about“ Humanist Priorities and Strategies in an Election Year” we are likely to have another good session including the several hot button issues this year such as school vouchers, attacks on public education, the “invasion of the soul snatchers”, abortion rights, the new HHS birth control regulations, and what Humanists can do about all that. I hope that readers of this blog will turn out for this and participate

Rob’s February talk was a good warm up for this and for those who didn’t hear the Q & A here is a quick listing of six other topics and questions discussed in February with some links for more information:

  1. Originalism
  2. The Rhode Island prayer banner case
  3. George Washington’s letter to Touro Jews
  4. 19th century Blasphemy laws
  5. United States military chaplaincy
  6. Fights we might be able to win: Religion and Holding Public Office

1. Originalism the principle of interpretation that tries to discover the original meaning or original intent of the constitution was discussed. There is a kernel of truth to it but the constitution is neither rigid nor silly putty. It is more a set of general priniciples from which we progress. These general principles (perhaps derived from the experience o the tine) get expanded in the context of new times and in the face of experperience.

In a phrase used by Rob “Scalia is a phony” on orignialism (although his 1988 Taft Lecture, entitled Originalism: The Lesser Evil has been influential.

As Randy E. Barnett (G
eorgetown University Law Center) noted in his artiicle Scalia's Infidelity: A Critique of Faint-Hearted Originalism that Justice Scalia allows himself three ways to escape originalist results that he finds to be objectionable:

(1) when the text is insufficiently rule-like,

(2) when precedent has deviated from original meaning and

(3) (when the first two justifications are unavailing) just ignore Originalism

to avoid sufficiently objectionable results.

2. The Rhode Island prayer case where the public school district case committee voted not to appeal a federal court decision ordering the removal of a prayer banner displayed in Cranston High School West auditorium since 1963. It was a school tradition but then again slavery was a tradition.

The dispute began after student Ahlquist noticed the prayer banner displayed in the school auditorium at the end of her freshman year. Ahlquist, who has been an atheist since age 10, started a Facebook page to support removing the banner and argued for taking it down before the school committee, according to court filings.

3. George Washington’s letter to Jews of Touro synagogue (Newport, Rhode Island) on religious liberty and the expression:

To bigotry no sanction,to Persecution No Assistance”

4. Rob’s commentary on the Old Blasphemy laws that came back in the late 19th century and involved free thinking societies.

The summer of 1886 was a bad time for Charles B. Reynolds. The iconoclastic religious skeptic (and former Methodist minister) took his free-thought message to Boonton, New Jersey. If Reynolds expected Bosntonians to abandon Christianity and embrace free thought, he must have been disappointed. Instead, an unruly mob pelted him with rotten eggs, tore down his podium, and tried to hurl him into a pond.

The following spring Reynolds appeared in Morristown, where he was jailed on charges of blasphemy based on his remarks in Boonton. Reynolds was found guilty by a local jury and fined $25, but he was defended ably by the spirited Robert Green Ingersoll who in his famous address to the jury in the New Jersey blasphemy trial of 1897, described the wretched nature of the concept of blasphemy as well as the unconstitutional nature of the New Jersey law under which his client was being prosecuted.

“Now, gentlemen, what is blasphemy? Of course nobody knows what it is, unless he takes into consideration where he is. What is blasphemy in one country would be a religious exhortation in another. It is owing to where you are and who is in authority. And let me call your attention to the impudence and bigotry of the American Christians, We send missionaries to other countries. What for? To tell them that their religion is false, that their gods are myths and monsters, that their saviors and apostles were impostors, and that our religion is true. You send a man from Morristown -- a Presbyterian, over to Turkey. He goes there, and he tells the Mohammedans -- and he has it in a pamphlet and he distributes it -- that the Koran is a lie, that Mohammed was not a prophet of God, that the angel Gabriel is not so large that it is four hundred leagues between his eyes -- that it is all a mistake -- there never was an angel so large as that. Then what would the Turks do? Suppose the Turks had a law like this statute in New Jersey. They would put the Morristown missionary in jail, and he would send home word, and then what would the people of Morristown say? Honestly -- what do you think they would say? They would say, "Why, look at those poor, heathen wretches. We sent a man over there armed with the truth, and yet they were so blinded by their idolatrous religion, so steeped in superstition, that they actually put that man in prison." Gentlemen, does not that show the need of more missionaries? I would say, yes.

Now, let us turn the tables. A gentleman comes from Turkey to Morristown. He has got a pamphlet. He says, "The Koran is the inspired book, Mohammed is the real prophet, your Bible is false and your Savior simply a myth." Thereupon the Morristown people put him in jail. Then what would the Turks say? They would say, Morristown needs more missionaries," and I would agree with them.

In other words, what we want is intellectual hospitality. Let the world talk. And see how foolish this trial is. I have no doubt that the prosecuting attorney agrees with me today, that whether this law is good or bad, this trial should not have taken place. And let me tell you why. Here comes a man into your town and circulates a pamphlet. Now, if they had just kept still, very few would ever have heard of it. That would have been the end. The diameter of the echo would have been a few thousand feet. But in order to stop the discussion of that question, they indicted this man, and that question has been more discussed in this country since this indictment than all the discussions put together since New Jersey was first granted to Charles II.'s dearest brother James, the Duke of York. And what else? A trial here that is to be reported and published all over the United States, a trial that will give Mr. Reynolds a congregation of fifty millions of people. And yet this was done for the purpose of stopping a discussion of this subject. I want to show you that the thing is in itself almost idiotic -- that it defeats itself, and that you cannot crush out these things by force. Not only so, but Mr. Reynolds has the right to be defended, and his counsel has the right to give his opinions on this subject.”

….the late-nineteenth-century, post-Civil War period is probably the time the United States came the closest to being a "Christian nation," an ideal looked upon with great fondness by today's Religious Right. Indeed, if America ever was "Christian," the late nineteenth century--when courts boldly declared the country a "Christian nation" and the tenets of Protestantism received government favor--was the time.

5. The United States military chaplaincy traces its origins to the French and Indian War.

In a letter dated September 1756, Colonel George Washington noted that, "the want of a chaplain does, I humbly conceive, reflect dishonor upon the regiment."

But George Washington’s appointing of chaplains later in the revolution was a bit of reflection of his ideas about social utilitarianism. He wanted no looting after battles and thought chaplains useful in this way. This evolved a bit as there was more of a need for chaplains if soldiers were far from home.

6. Fights we might be able to win: Religion and Holding Public Office
In the early 1960
s, the Governor of Maryland appointed Roy Torcaso to be a Notary Public. As reported

"When the time came for him to actually assume his duties, he was denied his commission and had his appointment rescinded because he refused to declare his belief in God."

"Article 37 of Maryland's Declaration of Rights stated: '[N]o religious test ought ever to be required as a qualification for any office of profit or trust in this State, other than a declaration of belief in the existence of God'."

Torcaso filed suit in state court because he felt the test unfairly penalized him for his lack of belief in God. He argued that the religious test had violated his rights under U.S. Constitution.

He lost but e appealed to the State Court of Appeals where he lost again. Finally, he won before the U.S. Supreme Court… The question of whether the no religious test clause binds the states remains unresolved. Given the Court's First Amendment holding, that issue is largely academic….. But the MD law is still on the books and we might get it changed..Not too many ballots are needed to make amendments in MD.

Rob’s parting advice:

Some people believe that if you have no religion you have no morals. Just live your life to disprove that notion and show your humanistic values.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Beyond Hypocrisy –True Believers Becoming What They Hate

By Gary Berg-Cross

I was reminded of the hypothesis that we sometimes “become what we hate” by some recent events that are part of our national discussion in a very political season. Many of them involve some hypocritical moral stance such as religious freedom or fairness. But many of them are political. Here’s one from the whipped up voter fraud front:

"former head of the Arizona Republican Party and of the Arizona Christian Coalition....Sproul is connected with the Republican National Committee-funded voter registration organization, Voters' Outreach of America Inc." - Sproul's firm is accused of fraud and the destruction of voter registration forms.”

The article also went on to provide a backhand to Sproul, noting that he also failed to pay his workers and his office rent.

This can be looked at as the latest form of political hypocrisy. A long standing one is the claims of some conservative politicians and some fundamentalist preachers to lead a moral, family centric life and then wind up in sex scandals.

Certainly claims of hypocrisy are big sparring points in political debates. Rick Santorum defended his support for G.W. Bush's "No Child Left Behind" education plan and soliciting earmarks in this week's debate, claiming that Mitt Romney was a "hypocrite."I guess he's right about that. Mitt seems insincere about most things.

But as a self-proclaimed Christian, Santorum’s attack on President Obama’s Christian faith & “theology” itself seems a highly hypocritical one and un-Christian to boot:

“It's not about your job. It's about some phony ideal, some phony theology....Oh, not a theology based on the Bible, a different theology. But no less a theology.”

At times it seems that the group of national conservative candidates are angrily tangled up in their own, shallow inconsistent thoughts, but happy to launch talking point attacks with hateful labels like "food stamp president." On the whole shallow, right wing conversations have helped to create irresponsibility and political impasses. The result are real messes which politicians can point to as problems and scapegoate others as responsible for them. After all the other side won't "compromise." It's all done with a underlying hatred and a sense of otherness.

Perhaps these Pols are hollow people, blinded by a cause and the need to arouse their base. But their choices can also be attributed in part to the contradictions found in what Eric Hoffer discussed as the seemingly paradoxical behavior of True Believers:

“the man of fanatical faith who is ready to sacrifice his life for a holy cause.”

Leaders of the mass movement “must know how to kindle and fan an extravagant hope”

“If they join the movement as full converts they are reborn to a new life in its close-knit collective body, or if attracted as sympathizers they find elements of pride, confidence and purpose….” (p. 13)

The true believer is “without wonder and hesitation.”

“An active mass movement rejects the present and centers its interest on the future.” (p. 82)

The mass movement hates independence and individualism.

The focus is on “obedience” and “one mindedness.”

“Uniformity” must be developed. (p. 101)

Our modern true believers are righteous and can’t hear themselves pontificate about the moral values they seem to be expressing in attacking “different moral values” and questioning anyone's religious faith when arguing for “religious freedom”. Much of this seems to be a phony, shallow discussion of a war on religion; while, as some note, there is a real war on women and individual rights. But another factor is that perhaps they have just adopted some aspects of what they hate.

This builds on the old idea that hate draws us into dangerous grounds. When we hate something it gives us focus. That’s something important in war, but (now) also in political campaigns. You don’t have to be Machiavelli to know that anger and hatred makes us strong and offers some protection, but also isolates us. To hate someone like Obama, or something like his affordable health care program simplifies, motivates and clarifies. Hatred provides a focus and perspective, but has obvious downsides. Religious thinkers such as Walter Wink in Engaging the Powers have described hatred as an important ingredient seducing us and transforming us as people, tribes and cultres into something else:

"The very act of hating something draws it to us. Since our hate is usually a direct response to an evil done to us, our hate almost invariably causes us to respond in the terms already laid down by the enemy. Unaware of what is happening, we turn into the very thing we oppose…..the way violence spreads by mirroring itself in its victims. In a sense it’s like a virus, infecting everyone with whom it comes into contact. It’s so invisible that no one realizes that the violence itself is the enemy; instead we use it to defeat those whom we believe to be our adversaries, little realizing that we have become the enemy. (Page 195)

Adversarial hatred has been part of many of our wars and over time we have become good at manufacturing hatred of the latest, perceived enemy. Isn't Iraq, no Iran, just like Hitler's Germany? Rene Girard suggests that the United States emerge victorious from WWII with a compromised morality and acceptance of "enermizing" things. In a sleepy protective stance we adopted, as Ike noted later, a permanent war economy and a militarized conception of national security. During the cold war the US seemed to become more militant, waging dark conflicts, backing tyrants that favor us etc. A returning John Adams might see that we have become something too much like an empire hunting monsters aboard and quietly acquiescing to torture and the degradation of parts of humanity in the name of Democracy and tolerance. Now after a Cold War we see the world in binary, moral terms with our duty to police the world protecting our idea of freedom and justice. But we have become what the core of our Founders feared with a large standing army staffed by a permanent military and when necessary involuntary conscription (e.g. the National Guard) and supplemented by private, militant armies.

Rene Girard explained such things and much of human behavior as based on “mimesis”, which is an encompassing expression of imitation. We see unconscious imitation and its the compromising effects in conflicts of all types:

“The more a tragic conflict is prolonged, the more likely it is to culminate in a violent mimesis. The resemblance between the combatants grows ever stronger until each presents a mirror image of the other.”

The consequences?

“ We have created an invisible apparatus of surveillance and espionage that seems incapable of distinguished patriotic protest from sedition, is unaccountable to public authorities, and inaugurates wars without consent of the Congress. We have increasingly come to rely on military intervention instead of diplomacy, force rather than negotiations. We are one of the major purveyors of armaments to nations all over the globe, many of whom purchase weapons at the cost of the welfare of their own people and the destabilization of their own regions.” (summarized in The Spirituality of Nonviolence: On Not Becoming What We Hate)

It is sad to contemplate the possibility that the hatreds of military conflicts now seem to have become a steady part of political culture war conversations with claims about the otherness of fellow citizens, appeal to mythic past, divisive claims our one's own rights to the exclusion of others' rights and an intolerance for honest conversation. Now questions in national debates get booed down by what seems to be True Believers with extravagant claims on the truth.Too many have become what in the light of the day they may say they hate.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Baird v Eisenstadt at 40

by Edd Doerr

Every year on January 22 we celebrate Roe v Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court ruling that liberated women from the medieval misogynism that denied women the right to decide how to deal with problem pregnancies. Yet largely forgotten is the Supreme Court's ruling in Baird v Eisenstadt, the 6-1 decision on March 22, 1972,written by (Catholic) justice William Brennan that preceded and set the stage for Roe v Wade.

Brennan wrote that: "If the right to privacy means anything, it is the right of the individual, married or single, to be free from unwarranted government interference into matters so fundamentally affecting a person as the decision whether to bear or beget a child."

The case arose when Bill Baird, a leading birth control and abortion rights activist since 1963, was arrested in Boston for lecturing on birth control and handing a young unmarried woman a can of contraceptive foam, for which he was actually jailed for several weeks.

Since Roe and especially since the Republican sweep in November 2010, efforts in Congress and state legislatures to impede women's reproductive rights have mushroomed almost out of control. Religious and political differences have to be set aside. Women and men of all persuasions must work together to turn back these efforts. This year's federal and state elections will be critical. Roe v Wade hangs by a very thin thread. Whoever is President after November will shape the Supreme Court for generations to come.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

M.N.Roy, humanist philosopher`s books

Humanist Philosopher ( 1887-1955) M.N.Roy`s outstanding writings are now available in website to read and download:

Innaiah Narisetti

Monday, February 20, 2012

All Male Panels and the Culture Wars

By Gary Berg-Cross

Thursday on Capitol Hill in Washington Rep. Darrell Issa, chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, invited a panel for a four hour plus hearing on what he called a “federal rule's impact on freedom of religion and conscience” before the Oversight and Government Reform Committee of the House of Representatives. What we saw in the now infamous first panel was a Lutheran, 2 Baptist clergymen and an Orthodox rabbi who joined a Roman Catholic bishop on an all male panel. They proceeded to tell gathered lawmakers that President. Obama’s latest policy of shifting the responsibility for paying for such things as contraceptives and prenatal screenings from religious institutions to their health insurers was unworkable. I guess they are policy wonks too. But they had much more to say about their fears. The compromise did not allay their concerns about government entanglement with religion. In the words one hears from Republican candidates, its more of a broad, moral, "theological" argument. That seemed to be the big topic although to many it was about women’s rights to health care including contraception.
Why no women on the first panel? Well according to California Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Vista), who heads the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, it was all clear. She is not a member of the clergy, unlike the five men who did testify in the first panel. Representative Joe Walsh, Republican of Illinois, defended the choice this by dodging from individual rights to some vague combination that mixed organized religion rights and freedom:
“This is not about women. This is not about contraceptives. This is about religious freedom.”
The representative might have been better informed on such things if he had attended Rob Boston’s recent talk on what the Founders really intended here.
As someone at CNN said “welcome to the culture wars 2.0, where the front lines now are religious freedom and contraceptives.” This indeed may be a political gambit to switch the topic from a winning liberal issue on preventive and women’s health to a cultural-religious one. That was somewhat of Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va) who addressed the 5 very clerical men during the first half of the hearing:
"I believe today’s hearing is a sham. I have to believe each of you came here in good faith." But he added, "Surely you are being used for a political agenda."
I’ve now seen pictures of the 5 men in a number of venues, but I knew little about them. Who were they? Well here are their names and affiliations:
  1. Rev. William E. Lori, Roman Catholic Bishop of Bridgeport, Conn., who testified on behalf of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in opposition to the rule.

  1. Reverend Dr. Matthew C. Harrison, president of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod and moral philosophy professor. (wow, a Rev. Dr. !)
  1. C. Ben Mitchell, Graves Professor of Moral Philosophy at Union University in Tennessee
  1. Rabbi Meir Soloveichik, Director Straus Center of Torah and Western Thought at Yeshiva University, and
  1. Ethics professor Craig Mitchell of the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary
What they had to say had quite a bit of dog whistling. Lori, the Catholic bishop of Bridgeport, Connecticut, testified on behalf of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which denounced the compromise last week, saying it still raised "serious moral concerns." Bishop Lori is known as a “conservative cleric who has carried out controversial church mandates in the past. Some critics, however, say he does not question the church hierarchy and, at times, has acted harshly in order to please his superiors (from Wikipedia).” I think that Stephan Colbert did a reasonable job of laying out the hypocrisy of the Bishops on the contraception topic.
The Rev. Matthew Harrison, president of the large Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, told lawmakers that the St. Louis-based denomination:
"stand(s) with our friends in the Catholic Church" in opposition to a recent government ruling on contraception.
Harrison went on to say that the synod's opposition to "abortion-causing drugs" was one reason the denomination maintains its own health plan. He’s worried that the provision in the government's
new ruling would "grandfather" the Missouri Synod's plan, meaning its 50,000 members would not have to participate in the new mandate. Isn’t that a solution?
No, apparently he wants a total capitulation that imposes his values on others. It’s about moral conscience as defined by organized groups. It’s about violating the consciences of these group members, who feel they can impose their values on others. Sort of like the White Man’s moral burden idea. We should understand what a solution is to group like this.
C. Ben Mitchell of Union University told the committee the rule "is an unconscionable intrusion by the state into the consciences of American citizens."

"Contrary to portrayals in some of the popular media, this is not just a Catholic issue," said Mitchell, Graves professor of moral philosophy at the Baptist school in Jackson, Tenn. "All people of faith - and even those who claim no faith - have a stake in whether or not the government can violate the consciences of its citizenry. Religious liberty and the freedom to obey one's conscience is also not just a Baptist issue. It's an American issue enshrined in our founding documents."

There they go with that slanted view of the Founders again. They should have come to Rob Boston's talk to hear what the Constitution says and what the Founders thought about freedom of religion.
Rabbi Meir Soloveichik an Orthodox rabbi described in an Israeli paper as of impeccable pedigree at Yeshiva University. He testified orthodoxically which I guess is the old fashion word for fundamentalist:
"The administration impedes religious liberty by unilaterally redefining what it means to be religious." “The putative accommodation is no accommodation at all,” said the rabbi, from NYC:
“Religious organizations would still be obligated to provide employees with an insurance policy that facilitates acts violating the organization’s religious tenets.”
It’s all about violation and what it means to be religious? This seems like more than a bit of a stretch. As a BBC article points out Judeo-Christian ideas about contraception come from church teachings rather than scripture, as the Bible has little to say about the subject. But then again the rabbi is probably more comfortable in a religio-centric national environment.
Craig Mitchell, associate professor of Christian ethics at the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas told members the requirement
"is wrong not just for religious conservatives.It's wrong for all Americans, because it takes away the freedom of the citizens while emboldening the federal government to do whatever it wants,",. "It's wrong because it violates the Constitution. It's wrong because it violates religious liberty. It's wrong because it forces people to violate their consciences. ... This ruling is just plain wrong for America."
There’s lots of culture war bricks to be thrown about in rhetoric like this and I hope that we are saved by some sensible discussion. As part of more discussion we might get to the uncomfortable issues of contraception and sexual activity.
This very recent discussion which started as a health care discussion now seems like a regressive, perhaps reactionary one, with a subtext of group’s attitude toward sex and sexual morality. We had moved towards a more progressive attitude from our Puritan days. Even mainstream religious groups had come to see sex as other than a pure danger. Some Christians moved to the view sex as one of God's great gifts. One can rationalize this since sexual bonding helps preserve the institution of marriage and birth control helps mitigate the stresses caused by too many children.
This pragmatic view of mainstream Protestant churches on the use of birth control lead to a more tolerant policy of quietly letting its followers use birth control as their own consciences dictated as opposed to a doctrinaire view centrally imposed.
In a tide of fundamentalism we’re back to an intolerant and centralized view with imposed morality. As a result modern family planning/birth control "cannot be spoken of without repugnance. " It's now denounced as "demoralising to character and hostile to national welfare." All of which means that Culture War Part 2, with such things as silencing of women, may be with us for this political campaign period at least. We should all gear ourselves up with well-considered, humanistic moral arguments.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Some Highlights of Rob Boston’s Talk on “The Christian Nation Myth”

By Gary Berg-Cross

In January Rob Boston, the Senior Policy Analyst, Americans United (AU) for Separation of Church and State, was the featured speaker at the MDC chapter of WASH. Rob spoke on the very timely topic of “The Christian Nation Myth” and one of the follow on discussion topics was covered in an earlier blog. The MDC March speaker, Edd Doerr, is likely to add to this discussion so people interested in the topic should come March to hear Edd. As a precursor to this and because some may have missed Rob’s talk, I’ve provided some abbreviated notes on the 4 main arguments from Rob’s talk with a few supplements from other sources.

1. Back to Constitution.

As noted on the AU site:

Religious Right groups and their allies insist that the United States was designed to be officially Christian and that our laws should enforce the doctrines of (their version of) Christianity. Is this viewpoint accurate? Is there anything in the Constitution that gives special treatment or preference to Christianity? Did the founders of our government believe this or intend to create a government that gave special recognition to Christianity?

We can start with the Constitution and ask what it says about religion?
First there are no references to Christianity or God in the Constitution. Indeed the words "Jesus Christ, Christianity, Bible, Creator, Divine, and God" are never mentioned in the Constitution-- not even once.

The word "God" does not appear within the text of the Constitution of the United States. After spending three-and-a-half months debating and negotiating about what should go into the document that would govern the land, the framers drafted a constitution that is secular. The U.S. Constitution is often confused with the Declaration of Independence, and it's important to understand the difference.

There are 2 special clauses in Amendments but they show no preference for religion. The 1st Amendment says:

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.

Through ratification of the First Amendment, observed Jefferson, the American people built a "wall of separation between church and state."

The 2nd came from Charles Pinckney of South Carolina who put a prohibit against a religious test as a qualification for federal officeholders office in Article Six since some states required officeholders be of a particular religion. Article VI, which allows persons of all religious viewpoints to hold public office, was adopted by a unanimous vote. (Note - Some have a different view of what the founders intended by these amendments. Supporters of the role of religion in revolutionary times argue they intended only to defuse controversy by disarming potential critics who might claim religious discrimination in eligibility for public office.

We know something of the founders feelings about religion from Luther Martin of Maryland who gave said that:

a handful of delegates to the Constitutional Convention argued for formal recognition of Christianity in the Constitution, insisting that such language was necessary in order to "hold out some distinction between the professors of Christianity and downright infidelity or paganism." But that view was not adopted, and the Constitution gave government no authority over religion.

Luther as actually a fierce opponent of ratification, and reported that the "no religious test" clause easily had passed at Philadelphia, noting sarcastically:

However, there were some members so unfashionable as to think that a belief of the existence of a Deity, and of a state of future rewards and punishments would be some security for the good conduct of our rulers, and that in a Christian country it would be at least decent to hold out some distinction between the professors of Christianity and downright infidelity or paganism.

2 The American Experience and What the Founders thought

We should understand the American experience around the revolutionary time and their sense of its European history. The revolution was about breaking away from Europe, but also reforming the American approach. Americans (e.g. Franklyn and Adams) had already experienced harsh legacies of the Pilgrims and in Jefferson’s VA their was a too cozy combination of church and state.
Letters show that Madison and Jefferson’s views on the VA statute (1786) for religious liberty was not limited to Christians and included Moslems and infidels.

our civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions any more than [on] our opinions in physics or geometry; that therefore the proscribing [of] any citizen as unworthy [of] the public confidence by laying upon him an incapacity of being called to offices of trust and emolument unless he profess or renounce this or that religious opinion is depriving him injuriously of those privileges and advantages to which in common with his fellow citizens he has a natural right

It was clear, and the Founders wrote, that the new role of President would be only political an not religious.

3 The Founder's Religion

Were the core Founder’s Christians? There is a big effort by Christian Revisionists to rewrite history about the Founder’s religion. But this argument has been knocked down in blogs such as Rob’s’s article on five Founding Fathers Skepticism_about_Christianity

Washington, for example, didn’t talk about Christ but was a Deist and left the church. He had a social utilitarian belief of religion – It’s good for morals. And we have Washington's Promises Jewish Congregation that US Will Practice Religious Tolerance as well as this quote:

"As the government of the United States is not in any sense
founded on the Christian religion..."-- George Washington

Adams was Unitarian with a belief that Christ was not God. He believed, however that reason and faith could be combined.

In February 1756, Adams wrote in his diary about a discussion he had had with an officer called Major Greene. Greene was a devout Christian who sought to persuade Adams to adopt conservative Christian views. The 2 apparently argued over the divinity of Jesus & the Trinity. Questioned on the matter of Jesus’ divinity, Greene fell back on an old standby of playing the mystery card:

some matters of theology are too complex and mysterious for we puny humans to understand.
Adams wrote that this mystery defense was a convenient cover for “absurdity.”

We have lots of evidence of Jefferson’s religious belief including his famous Bible on display at the Smithsonian and a subject of a previous Blog posting.
There are also pieces from his Letters to Adams (1823):

“And the day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus, by the supreme being as his father in the womb of a virgin, will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerva in the brain of Jupiter.”

We also have his 1819 letter on what beliefs he doesn't accept including:

· Immaculate Conception

· Divinity and Trinity

· Orders of hierarchy

Madison might be a theist but was probably the strictest church-state separationist among the founders. He took stands more bold than the ACLU:

· He opposed government-paid chaplains in Congress and in the military.

· As president, Madison rejected a proposed census because it involved counting people by profession.

· For the government to count the clergy, Madison said, would violate the First Amendment. (from Alternet)

Tom Paine is a Founder less often mentioned, but a rationalist and enemy of religion.

· He was also a radical Deist whose later work, The Age of Reason, still infuriates fundamentalists. In the tome, Paine attacked institutionalized religion and all of the major tenets of Christianity. (from Alternet)

4. Founding Period Discussion and Later
This period tells us how the constitution and bill of rights documents were attacked by clergy like Millennialist Reverend David Austin (1759-1831). People tried to add Christian amendment to Constitution to rectify the preamble adding key phrases recognizing Lord Christ as ruler. On the other hand there were things written into the
Treaty of Tripoli 1796 that points another way:

As the Government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion.” Ordered by George Washington, Signed by President Adams

One of Rob's key points was that there was more Christian push back after the civil war (1864-1874).

In that period representatives voted the amendments down recognizing the dangers of union of church-state. But there was a national myth generated that was latched onto during the social dislocation of the civil war period. People had a hunger to go back to simpler times. The result is a national myth of a golden age. Many cultures have had such things including the garden of Eden idea and the golden age that Greeks looked back to from the 500 BCE era, which was pretty golden itself.

Among the legacies we have from the 1864-1874 period is the idea of putting “God is our Trust” on to coins. This was defeated then but a variant is of recent vintage, having been slipped in during the cold war. Another legacy is the idea of American exceptionalism as an expression of God's favor and will.

So part of the gold
en story we get is “Everything fine until .. (add your own disturbance such as Gay marriage, Hispanic immigrants, Secular Humanists…)
It’s a convenient ploy which harnesses a plot of a history suppressed by secular elites. One of its appeals is that in the story Christians appear as the exceptional heroes and defenders of civilization. It all seems right that they,
rather than others, are the ones who were originally meant to be in charge of society and the myth is that they were. This is an appealing, old tale as heard in the story of God’s chosen people. The Hebrew version now has evangelical updates and a Mormon corollary that mixes myth and secret knowledge.

Recent efforts to use a religious rules for society (e.g. in PA) ignores what governance were really like in biblical times. It was not a gracious society providing a model on how a society should run (remember slavery?). But earlier efforts have left some remnants such as the legacy of no shopping on Sunday. This was an agenda item of National religious reform effort and got a start along with efforts to allow prayer in school.

Indeed the
late 19th century saw efforts to get secular plays banned and the postal service stopped shipping free thinker publications. There was also a religious move against women's rights.

Rob concluded his talk noting where we stand today including recent efforts to not only rewrite history, but also Science. You can see a list of issues that religious folks have with secular governance on many web sites. He argued strongly that:

1. we have to strongly oppose the Christian establishment myth and its associated principles, which exclude many people who now it can claim, are not true Americans. We are still struggling with our pluralism and the claim that non-believers that don't have America’s best interest at heart.

2. We need to promote the teaching of true History and Science and we have to honor our constitutional values.

3. We need to counter the bad arguments that church-state wall is against religion and imposed by courts.

The follow-on discussion of the talk was of the same high quality and I will perhaps cover some of this in a later Blog post. I’m looking forward to Edd Doerr’s talk on March 3rd at the Wheaton Library which should be equally stimulating and enlightening.