Our rights to life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness
can only be secured by a state strictly separated from religion

30 December 2009

In Praise of Consumerism

By Diana Hsieh

CSG supporter Joseph Kellard published a letter to the editor in USA Today in defense of consumerism -- always under attack during the Christmas season by Christians and their secular humanist offspring. The letter is entitled "Buying is a virtue":

The perennial rants against Christmas consumerism fail to acknowledge man's highest virtue: production -- the virtue that makes consumption possible, sustains his life and uplifts his spirit. ("You can't buy the real gifts of Christmas," The Forum, Dec. 21).

Productive individuals must exercise other virtuous behavior, particularly rationality, honesty, efficiency and love of hard work.

When productive individuals buy cars, computers, iPhones and other material goods, they celebrate their highest virtues. And they develop well-earned self-esteem, happiness and pride.

In contrast, the stereotypical insatiable consumer is essentially a social conformist, motivated to keep up with the Joneses and who has never learned to appreciate the inseparable connection between productivity and virtue.

However, when that connection is made, consumerism is something to celebrate.

Joseph Kellard
East Meadow, N.Y.

Read more...

28 December 2009

What Have the Personhood Folks Been Up To?

By Gina Liggett

I'm taking a break from my investigation into the Religious Left and have decided to focus on what the Colorado Fertilized Egg Gang has been up to lately.

And those Fertilized Eggers have been really boiling and rockin' and rollin'!

They've been working on their public relations campaign to come across as... more, more... well... well... better at expropriating intellectual property rights as well as attempting to violate individual rights. In particular, they have a YouTube announcement of their intent to try to get another constitutional amendment on the Colorado ballot for 2010.

In their attempt to grovify themselves across a broader spectrum of the electorate, they've selected the works of singer/songwriter "Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers" as their rallying really-cool song. Playing loudly in the backgroud, Tom Petty's, "I Won't Back Down" introduces their rejuvenated attack on the culture. They are going to try again in 2010 to get another Personhood Amendment on the ballot in Colorado.

Because I really dig "Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers" and really disagree with the Personhooders, I sent an email to the record company informing them that Mr. Petty's song was being used to advance "Colorado Personhood USA's" agenda to grant full legal rights to fertilized eggs. If the rock group is in agreement with this agenda, then that is their own business and their right, and I acknowledged as much in my email. But I would be very surprised if this Colorado Religious Right activist group had obtained proper permission to propagandize with this incredibly groovy song.

So, who are the players now, and what scrambled eggs get rights in the next election?

Let's be clear: these activists are not to be underestimated.

They have studied very carefully why their amendment failed by about 75% in the last Colorado election. They are not going to make the same mistakes twice.

So they've altered the language of their proposal. Previously, the key wording referred to rights of "any human being from the moment of fertilization." Now, they have altered the wording so it is more palatable to the general electorate:

An amendment to the Colorado Constitution applying the term 'person' as used in those provisions of the Colorado Constitution relating to inalienable rights, equality of justice and due process of law, to every human being from the beginning of the biological development of that human being.
The key phrase is: "from the beginning of the biological development," rather than from "from the moment of fertilization," which is easier for many mainstream religious Americans to accept.

The next step is to get enough signatures, around 76,000 registered Colorado voters, to place the measure on the ballot.

Let us not underestimate these people. They may be your next-door neighbor, or the person in line at the supermarket, or your coworker. These are Americans who believe that those "at the beginning of biological development" have rights; and because of their religious beliefs, they maintain that somehow fetuses are people and the right to abortion is wrong.

Let me bring us back to the fundamentals of human existence in a rational way. The right to life only applies to the living, born human being. Ayn Rand, the genius novelist and philosopher of Objectivism cogently writes:
Rights do not pertain to a potential, only to an actual being. A child cannot acquire any rights until it is born. The living take precedence over the non-yet-living... Never mind the vicious nonsense of claiming that an embryo has "right to life. A piece of protoplasm has no rights--and no life in the human sense of the term... To equate a potential with an actual, is vicious; to advocate sacrifice of the latter to the former, is unspeakable...
We must watch these people because they are evil. Our true right to life is at risk.

Read more...

24 December 2009

Merry Christmas!

By Diana Hsieh

Onkar Ghate published an excellent essay on the joy of Christmas in US News and World Report. It begins:

I'm an atheist, and I love Christmas. If you think that's a contradiction, think again.

Do you remember as a child composing wish lists of things you genuinely valued, thought you deserved, and knew would bring you pleasure? Do you remember eagerly awaiting the arrival of Christmas morning and the new bike, book, or chemistry set you were hoping for? That childhood feeling captures the spirit of Christmas and explains why so many of us look forward to the season each year.
That joyful spirit of Christmas, Ghate argues, is part and parcel of a commercial Christmas. It's nowhere to be found in a truly Christian Christmas.

So ... May you enjoy all the delights and pleasures of a secular, capitalist Christmas!

Read more...

23 December 2009

The Religious Left: The Audacity of Obama's Anti-Capitalism

By Gina Liggett

Obama's Economic Ideas are Mystical Mumbo-Jumbo

President Obama may have chosen as his official home church the same one attended by his political opposite, the Religious-Right-placating G.W. Bush. But to meet his true spiritual needs, Obama has surrounded himself with spiritual advisers that come straight from the Religious Left, like his former pastor Black Liberation Theology-proponent Jeremiah Wright.

Let's take Bishop Vashti McKenzie of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. This enthralling minister really works the congregation into a lather, preaching in a dramatic, rhythmical, and provocative vocal style. Once listeners are primed like an intoxicated audience at a rock concert with Bible quotes and thanks to Jesus, she begins to screech her circuitous point that "although we have deprivation... and... wounds... nothing can get in the way of God's love." The riveting sermon is tapped off with soulful gospel music that could convert even an agnostic.

But there's more to Bishop McKenzie than bringing Jesus to life at the pulpit. She's vehemently anti-capitalist, as exemplified by her speech, "Who Benefits," in which she links AIDS in Africa, the war in Iraq, "predatory" lending, and the pharmaceutical industry with purported evils of the profit motive. She never makes a logical argument defining profit in the first place, or why the profit motive is bad, but instead relies on explicit innuendo and her charismatic presentation style to transmit her disgust of American capitalism. She simply says, "if we track the money, we'll find out... Follow the money..."

And THISSSSSZZZZZ-AAAHHH, is one of Obama's closest advisers.

The notion that pursuing wealth for one's own benefit is cold and thoughtless comes from the religion shared by Obama and McKenzie. Obama aligns his ideals for the country with Black Liberation theories of social disorder, in which America is a zero-sum battle between social classes (from his book, "The Audacity of Hope," p. 215):

After all, the problems of poverty and racism, the uninsured and the unemployed, are not simply technical problems in search of the perfect ten-point plan. They are also rooted in societal indifference and individual callousness -- the desire among those at the top of the social ladder to maintain their wealth and status whatever the cost, as well as the despair and self-destructiveness among those at the bottom of the social ladder. ... I am suggesting that if we [Christian] progressives shed some of our own biases, we might recognize... the call to sacrifice on behalf of the next generation, the need to think in terms of "thou" and not just "I."
Obama is appallingly ignorant of business and capitalism, characterizing them as "winner take all." In a March 2008 speech, he chastised companies for their audacity to be profitable: "[T]he real problem is not that someone who doesn't look like you might take your job; it's that the corporation you work for will ship it overseas for nothing more than a profit."

In his book he at least acknowledges America's economic achievements and the kind of social system that made this progress possible:
It takes a trip overseas to fully appreciate just how good Americans have it; even our poor take for granted goods and services -- electricity, clean water, indoor plumbing, telephones, television, and household appliances -- that are still unattainable for most of the world... Our greatest asset has been our system of social organization, a system that for generations has encouraged constant innovation, individual initiative, and the efficient allocation or resources.
However, Obama undertakes no philosophical analysis whatsoever to explain how the social system created these life-enhancing things. So, it's easy for him to evade facts, formulate irrational ideas, rattle off lots of data in a clever way, and come up with floating, conflicting, and mystical explanations that conform to his Black Liberation worldview.

As an prime example, in a speech also entitled, "The Audacity of Hope," given at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, Obama espouses the contradictory notion that individuals can pursue happiness while living in a society that requires God-inspired sacrifice for the benefit of collectivist categories of people. He said,
It is that fundamental belief, it is that fundamental belief, I am my brother's keeper, I am my sister's keeper that makes this country work. It's what allows us to pursue our individual dreams and yet still come together as one American family. E pluribus unum. Out of many, one. In the end, that is God's greatest gift to us, the bedrock of this nation. A belief in things not seen. A belief that there are better days ahead. I believe that we can give our middle class relief and provide working families with a road to opportunity. I believe we can provide jobs to the jobless, homes to the homeless, and reclaim young people in cities across America from violence and despair.
Obama Performs a Perfect Marriage of Religion and Leftism

Obama finds the perfect pragmatic model for carrying out his good works: FDR's huge federal government. He says in his book (AOH, p.176):
FDR led the nation to a new social compact -- a bargain between government, business, and workers that resulted in widespread prosperity and economic security for more than fifty years...[T]hat security rested on... a job that paid enough... a package of health and retirement benefits from his employer, and a government safety net -- Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare, unemployment insurance..... ut his compact also rested on an understanding that a system of sharing risks and rewards can actually improve the workings of the market.
Obama Thinks Big Government ROCKS

Obama actually believes that government is better at managing people's lives than individuals themselves in a free market.
[A]lthough the benefits of our free-market system have mostly derived from the individual efforts of generations of men and women pursuing their own vision of happiness, in each and every period of great economic upheaval and transition we've depended on government action to open up opportunity, encourage competition, and make the market work better...
Retirement and Health Care...

As an example, Obama disparages the "Ownership Society" for legitimately exercising their property rights concerning retirement and health care (AOH, p. 179). His ignorance of economics is also evidenced.
Take the [Bush] Administration's attempt to privatize Social Security... that the stock market can provide individuals a better return on investment... But individual investment decisions will always produce winners and losers... What would the Ownership Society do with the losers? Unless we're willing to see seniors starve on the street, we're going to have to cover their retirement expenses... In other words, the Ownership Society doesn't even try to spread the risks and rewards of the new economy among all Americans. Instead it magnifies the uneven risks and rewards of today's winner-take-all economy.
And in a July 2009 news conference on health care he rambles on and on, tossing out mind-numbing "this" and poor-Joe-family "that" and how government can somehow sort it all out, because the "American people need some relief." Obama says, "The House suggested a surcharge on wealthy Americans. And my understanding, although I haven't seen the final versions, is that there has been talk about making that basically only apply to families whose joint income is $1 million."

As we know, the House passed in October a multi-billion dollar bill that in fact surcharges "wealthy" Americans to help pay for it.

Economic Recovery...

And you can follow the progress of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, delivered right in the comfort of your own home by Obama and his Congress for a few billions and billions of dollars. Follow how it's going to create jobs, save jobs, spur economic activity and economic growth. To borrow Bishop McKenzie's words, "follow the money."

Financial Reform...

As far as the financial sector goes, Obama doesn't hesitate to place full blame on Wall Street for the financial crisis:
We were on the verge of a complete financial meltdown. And the reason was because Wall Street took extraordinary risks with other people's money...(H)ear my words: We will not go back to the days of reckless behavior and unchecked excess at the heart of this crisis, where too many were motivated only by the appetite for quick kills and bloated bonuses.


And get ready for this one from September 2009: "We have a host of members of Congress, but there's one that I have to single out because he is going to be helping to shape the agenda going forward to make sure that we have one of the strongest, most dynamic, and most innovative financial markets in the world for many years to come, and that's my good friend, Barney Frank." [emphasis mine]

Just to remind you, despite warnings going back to 2001 that the quasi-governmental lending giants Fanny Mae and Freddy Mac were on the brink of an insolvency that could spread to the whole financial system, the now-Chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, Rep. Barney Frank, said everything was just fiiiinnnnne. Obama ignores this fact and argues instead for sweeping regulatory control over the financial markets.

The Audacity to Take Our Money

Obama contradicts himself again and holds back some love of FDR, and decides to go for a kind of middle-ground way to implement his Religious Leftism. He claims that neither Democratic New Deal policies or Republican Reaganomics will work in today's global economy. He writes, "But our history should give us confidence that we don't have to choose between an oppressive, government-run economy and a chaotic and unforgiving capitalism." (?!) -- [my own facial tic, sorry]...

Blah Blah Blah...

"We should be guided by what works." "(I)nvestment" in education, "provid(ing) many students and parents with more direct help in meeting college expenses... [I]nvest[ing] in our future innovators -- by doubling federal funding of basic research over the next five years... It's hard to overstate the degree to which our addiction to oil undermines our future... It undermines our national security... And then there are the environmental consequences of our fossil fuel-based economy... What we can do is create renewable, cleaner energy sources for the 21st century... [We should] demand that 1 percent of the revenues from oil companies with over $1 billion in quarterly profits go towards financing alternative energy research and the necessary infrastructure."

But What of the Individual?

The Religious Left has big plans to create an egalitarian and "just" America by doing good works of Jesus. Obama and Congress are going to accomplish this by a massive wealth re-distribution scheme and lots of borrowing. And they're going to sell it to America by invoking the power of envy and religious indignation.

If only we could convince them to read Ayn Rand's "Capitalism: the Unknown Ideal" and Andrew Bernstein's, "The Capitalist Manifesto: The Historic, Economic and Philosophical Case for Laissez-Faire." They would learn that statism and freedom are mutually exclusive and incompatible.

I like the way Dr. Bernstein puts it: "Is a human being a sovereign individual who owns his life, mind, effort and its products -- or is he a slave to society, who can control his life, dictate his thinking and expropriate his property?"

And the final word on capitalism I take away from Obama and give to Ayn Rand
If there were such a thing as a passion for equality (not equality de jure, but de facto), it would be obvious to its exponents that there are only two ways to achieve it: either by raising all men to the mountaintop--or by razing the mountains. The first method is impossible because it is the faculty of volition that determines a man's stature and action; but the nearest approach to it was demonstrated by the United States and capitalism, which protected the freedom, the rewards and the incentives for every individual's achievement, ... thus raising the intellectual, moral and economic state of the whole society.

Read more...

17 December 2009

Conservative Sees the Light on Pragmatism

By Diana Hsieh

Crossposted with permission from The American Individualist.

Conservative Sees the Light on Pragmatism
By Joseph Kellard

Over at the conservative commentary site townhall.com, I was intrigued to read "Principle vs. Pragmatism," a column by Ken Connor, who is unknown to me.

Halfway through reading this column, I thought that perhaps a conservative has come to see the light about the destructiveness of pragmatism. Heck, he even invokes Aristotle:

"The truth of the matter is that when it comes to the most fundamental questions about human society, culture, and government, the middle ground is not a sensible place to occupy. When it comes down to the fundamentals, things are either right or they are wrong; to suggest that they may be right for me and wrong for you is nonsense. Moral relativism comes into conflict with the Law of Non-Contradiction when operating at the level of fundamental values."

But, alas, the light this conservative was seeing came from Heaven.

"There are, as our forefathers recognized, certain universal and self-evident truths. Human beings, for example, have been endowed by their Creator with an unalienable right to life. It is, therefore, wrong to murder an innocent human being, regardless of whether they are in the womb or in a nursing home. The act of murder is wrong regardless of who makes the decision to carry it out (mother, doctor, family) or how it is denominated (abortion, mercy killing, euthanasia). The character of an act is not changed by the rhetoric that accompanies it or the person who performs it. Such an act cannot be both right and wrong--right for you and wrong for me. It is either right or wrong--period.

"There are certain principles that define the world view of Christian conservatives, principles that we are unwilling to budge on …"

Connor goes on to invoke God and "other principles" that he and other Christians will not compromise on, without noting what those alleged principles are exactly.

Since Connor's basis of morality is God's arbitrary commandments and not the one-and-only reality from which principles are rationally derived, Lord only knows what those "other principles" of his may be, but you can safely bet that they are not a proper foundation for freedom.

Read more...

14 December 2009

The Religious Left: Obama and Black Liberation Theology

By Gina Liggett

New Home Church is Politically Correct for Religious Leftist Obama

President Obama finally found a home church last June after breaking his 20-year-old spiritual ties with his former pastor, the venom-spewing Reverend Jeremiah Wright. The First Family now belongs to the same non-denominational Christian church attended by former President G.W. Bush, Evergreen Chapel at Camp David. It was probably more politically palatable for Obama to align with a church open to hundreds of military personnel with sermons delivered by a Navy Lieutenant chaplain, than to join another church that proselytizes Black Liberation Theology.

As we know, for decades the Religious Right has been bludgeoning the wall separating church and state. Now the Religious Left has made its national debut, with President Obama as the poster child. While leftist Christianity may seem like an oxymoron because of the Marxist influence on the American Left, it's actually a perfect marriage of irrational ideas. Defenders of capitalism and freedom have at least as much cause to worry about the Religious Left's agenda as the puritanical obsessions of conservative evangelicals.

The newly-empowered Religious Left is egalitarian, tribal, anti-reason, and deeply anti-capitalist. And unlike the Religious Right which focuses on the soul and the glory of heaven, the Religious Left promotes activism in Jesus's name in the here and now. In examining Black Liberation Theology, which has been our President's spiritual bedrock for over 20 years, it becomes very clear where he will take America -- despite the eye-rolling stunt to appear more worthy of the title "Commander-in-Chief."

Foaming at the Mouth: What the Reverend Wright Says to America and Obama

Months before the 2008 Presidential election, the media let a spitting, scratching cat out of the bag: Reverend Jeremiah Wright. YouTube videos of his pugilistic, outrageous sermons shocked many Americans, ultimately leading to Obama disavowing his relationship with the fire-breathing Reverend.

You may remember Reverend Wright's infamous sermon in the late fall of 2001 in which he blamed American friendship with Israel for the 9/11 attacks by Islamic terrorists:

Last year's conference in Africa on racism, which the United States would not participate in because somebody dared to point out the racism that still supports both here and in Israel. I said that dirty word again... Don't be skerd! Don't be skerd! You don't see the connection between 9-1-1-0-1 and the Israeli-Palestinian?! Something wrong?! You wanna borrow my glasses?"
Or how about the "chickens come home to roost" sermon in which the Reverend expands his sphere of contempt for American foreign policy and his blatant multiculturalism to imply that America deserved 9/11.
... We have moved from the hatred of armed enemies to the hatred of unarmed innocents. We want revenge, we want paybacks, and we don't care who gets hurt in the process. Now, I asked the Lord, "what should our response be, in light of such an unthinkable act?" ... I heard Ambassador Peck on... Fox News... This is a white man... and an ambassador! He pointed out that what Malcolm X said ... was in fact true: that America's chickens are coming home to roost! We took this country, by terror, away from the Sioux, the Apache, the Arawak, the Comanche, the Arapaho, the Navajo. Terrorism! We took Africans from their country to build our way of ease and kept them enslaved and living in fear. Terrorism! We bombed Grenada and killed innocent civilians, babies, non-military personnel. We bombed the black civilian community of Panama with stealth bombers and killed unarmed teenagers and toddlers, pregnant mothers, and hard-working fathers! We bombed Qaddafi's home and killed his child. Blessed are they that bash your children's head against a rock! We bombed Iraq! We killed unarmed civilians trying to make a living! We bombed a plant in Sudan to pay back for their attack on our embassy, killed hundreds of unarmed people ... We bombed Hiroshima, we bombed Nagasaki, and we nuked far more than the thousands in New York and the Pentagon. And we never batted an eye... We have supported state terrorism against the Palestinians and black South Africans. And now we are indignant because the stuff we have done overseas has now been brought back to our own front yards. America's chickens are coming home to roost! Violence begets violence, hatred begets hatred, and terrorism begets terrorism.
And then there is Reverend Wright's best example of what he thinks the American political system and capitalism are all about:
Who cares what a poor, black man has to face every day in a country and a culture controlled by RICH, WHITE, PEOPLE. ... Jesus was a POOR, BLACK man who lived in a country and who lived in a culture controlled by RICH, WHITE, PEOPLE. ... It just came to me within the past few weeks why so many folks are hating on [candidate] Barack Obama. He doesn't fit the model. He ain't WHITE. He ain't RICH. He ain't PRIVILEGED. ... Hillary fits the mold. Europeans fit the mold. ... Hillary ain't never been called a nigger. ... I'm so glad that I got a God who knows what it is like to be a poor, black man in a country and a culture controlled by and run by RICH, WHITE, PEOPLE. ... [Jesus] never let [his enemies'] hatred dampen his hope.
When the Reverend is not at the pulpit arousing the envy and resentment of his mostly-black congregation, he credits Black Liberation Theology in forming his views. The founder of Black Liberation Theology in the 1960s, James Cone, explains that it is essentially about doing Jesus's work for the poor and oppressed in the here and now, as applies specifically to black oppression in America. In a 2008 NPR interview he said:
Black Liberation theology sees God as primarily concerned with the poor and weak ... in society. It's not just for black people. ... Justice for the poor is the very heart of what God is about. ... The white church didn't talk about blacks struggle for justice. ... The gospel isn't about going to heaven; it's about justice and peace. ... Salvation in the Bible means being delivered from bondage. ... Jesus was crucified ... because he disturbed the consciousness of the people.
He also explains that it is blacks who don't love themselves, and that the justice Jesus fought for is for them too, in this way merging Malcom X's Black Power with Martin Luther King's Christianity.

Now decades past the Civil Rights era, Reverend Wright has exploded the tenants of "Jesus Justice" into a tirade of rage against what he considers the symbols of an evil America: war (regardless of the reasons for it): cultural repression (regardless of American ideals of freedom and individual rights); and racism (regardless of the fact that America has eliminated the evil of slavery and made quantum leaps in correcting past legalized oppression of blacks).

Yet still, proponents of the various permutations of Black Liberation Theology profess that America should be transformed into a society characterized by:
1. Mysticism: That Biblical Scripture, not a Constitution, should be the law of the land.

2. Socialism: That taking care of the "poor" and "oppressed," rather than promoting capitalism and the freedom of individuals, should be the social mandate.

3. Racism: That identity is based on race, rather than on the metaphysically given primary, the individual; and

4. Multiculturalism: That we should consider as morally equal to America all societies, such as World War II-era Japan and Germany, Palestinian terrorists, primitive tribal societies, dictatorial Libya, etc. etc.
Obama Disavows Wright but Not the Ideas

If there is any doubt about whether or not the Reverend Wright had a profound influence on Obama's present-day thinking, there should not be. In a 2007 interview, Obama said:
During this holiday season and during this political season I'm continually reminded that the values that I learned at Trinity (Wright's church) and as part of the UCC (United Church of Christ) community are values that can't just stay in church but have to be applied outside of church. ... I realized that Scripture and the words of God fit into the values I was raised in... [W]hat was intellectual and what was emotional joined, and the belief in the redemptive power of Jesus Christ, that he died for our sins, that through him we could achieve eternal life -- but also that, through good works we could find order and meaning here on Earth and transcend our limits and our flaws and our foibles -- I found that powerful.
As a poignant summary of Obama's creed: "Race is a central test of our belief that we're our brother's keeper, our sister's keeper ..."

How the theology of Obama translates into the policies of his Administration will be the subject of my next post.

Read more...

10 December 2009

A Joke

By Gina Liggett

The Reader's Digest June 2009 issue ran an article featuring 10 jokes chosen by a panel of comedy legends (Sid Caesar, Montal Hall, Arthur Hiller, Rocky Kalish, Hal Kanter, Gary Owens, John Rappaport, and Matty Simmons). Readers could vote for "The Best Joke in America." My favorite was number 9, submitted by Mitchell Hauser:

A priest, a minister, and a rabbi want to see who's best at his job. So they each go into the woods, find a bear, and attempt to convert it. Later they get together. The priest begins: "When I found the bear, I read to him from the Catechism and sprinkled him with holy water. Next week is his First Communion."

"I found a bear by the stream," says the minister, "and preached God's holy word. The bear was so mesmerized that he let me baptize him."

They both look down at the rabbi, who is lying on a gurney in a body cast. "Looking back," he says, "maybe I shouldn't have started with the circumcision."

Read more...

07 December 2009

Religious Right Takes a Deep Philosophical Breath

By Gina Liggett

For two decades, the Religious Right has reveled in the successes of their crusade to erode the wall separating church and state. Since America's sharp Left turn in 2008, they have not been so quick to gloat. Dr. James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family, said, "I'm not grieving over Barack Obama's victory, but over the loss of things that I've fought for, for 35 years," particularly concerning abortion rights and advancement of the so-called homosexual agenda. The Religious Right itself seems to be taking a soul-searching sabbatical, to get back in touch with its deeper mission: to live by the rule of God.

In October over 500 evangelical Christian leaders attended a conference at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary on "renewing the evangelical mission." Many felt that evangelicals had veered from the mission of Jesus. As one pastor put it: "The missing ingredient is not the primacy of the mind and doctrine. It's the willingness to suffer."

To this point, attendees sang a hymn with the words, "We spurned God's way and sought our own, and so have become worthless." I'm not sure if in this context "worthlessness" pertains to human beings or to evangelism's usefulness to society. Indeed, one pastor lamented, "We've become useless in a society that desperately needs us."

Another theologian urged pastors to talk less about fulfilling individual potential and teach more from Old Testament prophets like Prophet Joel, who urged repentance before God. Others argued for embracing Christian Reconstructionism, a movement emphasizing the total reformation of society according to God's Law. Yet another pastor, spoke of his frustration in getting evangelicals of differing perspectives to collaborate on goals such as fighting abortion rights.

But in the end, all conferees agreed that Scripture should be the foundation for whatever direction Christianity is to take.

In a well-publicized coming-together, another prominent group of Catholic and Protestant leaders announced in November their joint document called The Manhattan Declaration: a Call of Christian Conscience. It states:

We are Orthodox, Catholic, and evangelical Christians who have united at this hour to reaffirm fundamental truths about justice and the common good and to call upon our fellow citizens...to join us in defending them. These truths are: the sanctity of human life; the dignity of marriage as the conjugal union of husband and wife; the rights of conscience and religious liberty.....We make this commitment not as partisans of any political group but as followers of Jesus Christ, the crucified and risen Lord, who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
As defenders of Christianity's 2000-year-old legacy of "proclaiming God's word," they claim that it because of Christian "obedience to the one true God...who has laid total claim on our lives..." that the moral good has manifested in society (e.g., babies being rescued from ancient Roman trash heaps, and the emergence of modern democracy).

It is in this spirit that the Christian leaders have drawn their philosophical line in the sand:
(W)e will not comply with any edict that purports to compel our institutions to participate in abortions, embryo-destructive research, assisted suicide and euthanasia, or any other anti-life act; nor will we bend to any rule purporting to force us to bless immoral sexual partnerships, treat them as marriages or the equivalent, or refrain from proclaiming the truth, as we know it, about morality and immorality and marriage and the family. We will fully and ungrudgingly render to Caesar what is Caesar's. But under no circumstances will we render to Caesar what is God's.
These two events, the writing of the Manhattan Declaration and the Gordon-Conwell conference, have made it clear that the Religious Right is getting back to its philosophical roots: that truth and human society should be "grounded in Holy Scripture."

Contrast this with Ayn Rand's philosophy of Objectivism. Ayn Rand integrated the inescapable axiom that "existence exists" with the fact that humans rely on their faculty of reason to survive, validating that the moral good is the pursuit of human life-enhancing values.

In direct opposition are the Christian beliefs of a dual universe consisting of a mystical God ruling over humans, the reliance on Scripture as the source of truth, and self-sacrificing service to God's laws as the moral good. These fundamentally irrational ideas are anti-life in the most profound sense of the term, and can lead only to tyranny.

The Christians are returning to their philosophical roots. It is time for rational individuals to follow the religious right's example of philosophical introspection. But let's become grounded in a philosophy that holds as absolute--not God--but reason, reality and rational egoism.

Read more...

06 December 2009

Restart

By Diana Hsieh

With some very welcome help from Gina Liggett and Ari Armstrong, posting to Politics without God will resume Monday! Of course, I'd prefer a cultural shift to universal respect for the proper wall of separation between church and state. Since that's not likely, I'm glad that we're jumping back into the fray.

Read more...

13 April 2009

Good News / Bad News from North Dakota

By Diana Hsieh

The good news is that North Dakota's anti-abortion "personhood" bill -- a mirror of Colorado's own Amendment 48 -- failed to pass its state senate. The bad news is that various other unjust controls on abortion did pass.

Here's the report from the anti-abortion LifeSiteNews:

BISMARCK, North Dakota, April 6, 2009 (LifeSiteNews.com) - On Friday the North Dakota Senate voted down a bill that would have granted personhood status to human beings from the moment of conception, but passed two informed consent bills with strong support.

Senate lawmakers voted down the personhood bill by a 29-16 margin after it had passed the state House in mid-February. House Bill 1572 would have defined a "person" in law as including "a human being includes any organism with the genome of homo sapiens," and thus afforded unborn children full legal protection.

Four days before the Senate hearing on the bill, North Dakota's two Catholic Bishops, Paul Zipfel of Bismarck and Samuel Aquila of Fargo, called a news conference to announce that they would not support the current form of the bill. According to reports, the amendments offered by the bishops were sweeping - striking every word of the original bill - and the bishops had not contacted the bill's sponsor, Rep. Dan Ruby, prior to the press conference.

Personhood legislation has been introduced in a handful of states around the country, including Maryland, South Carolina, Alabama and Georgia. Other states, such as Oregon and Mississippi, aim to introduce personhood language through a constitutional amendment.

The same day North Dakota senators turned down the state's personhood bid, the Senate voted in favor of two other pro-life bills that had passed the House. A bill requiring abortion providers to inform a patient that "the abortion will terminate the life of a separate, unique living human being," passed 34-11. Another bill, requiring abortion providers to perform an ultrasound and give mothers the option to view the ultrasound image of their unborn child, passed by a 44-1 margin.

In addition, the Senate passed a resolution urging U.S. Congress to strike down the Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA), which would nullify all state and federal abortion regulations, according to the Christian Post.
That's odious. Women have the right to undergo any medical procedure of their choosing, so long as the doctor is a willing provider thereof. Legislators violate the rights of those women and their doctors by demanding more, namely that the women hear certain dogmas and see certain body parts beforehand. Nonetheless, I suppose that I should be glad, as the "personhood" measure would have been far, far worse.

Read more...

06 April 2009

The Meaning of Animal Husbandry

By Diana Hsieh

This bit of news is too funny not to blog: Larcenia Bullard -- Florida state senator, Vice-Chair of the Agricultural Committee, and former teacher -- was confused about the meaning of "animal husbandry." Here's what happened during a discussion of a law that would outlaw bestiality:

Rich's legislation would target only those who derived or helped others derive "sexual gratification" from an animal, specifying that conventional dog-judging contests and animal-husbandry practices are permissible.

That last provision tripped up Miami Democratic Sen. Larcenia Bullard.

"People are taking these animals as their husbands? What's husbandry?" she asked. Some senators stifled their laughter as Sen. Charlie Dean, an Inverness Republican, explained that husbandry is raising and caring for animals. Bullard didn't get it.

"So that maybe was the reason the lady was so upset about that monkey?" Bullard asked, referring to a Connecticut case where a woman's suburban chimpanzee went mad and was shot.
Wow. Sadly, the funny of that story is marred by the fact that such laughably ignorant politicians wield astonishing powers over nearly every facet of our lives, usually with little regard for individual rights. (Via Pope Hat.)

Read more...

30 March 2009

A Free Market of Ideas

By Diana Hsieh

Rob Abiera of The Morality War published an excellent letter in the Oklahoma Gazette last week in defense of separation of church and state in a capitalist economy:

In his article, "Conspiracy 'synthesis'", in the March 11th Oklahoma Gazette, Ben Fenwick quotes state Rep. Mike Ritze, R-Broken Arrow, referring to a plot to destroy "our economic basis of free enterprise".

Rep. Ritze's bill to put a monument to the Ten Commandments on the grounds of the state Capitol proves to me that he hasn't got the slightest idea what freedom really is, much less free enterprise.

What do people such as Ritze, state Rep. Sally Kern and state Sen. Randy Brogdon think would happen to religion under a system of completely free enterprise? Religions would have to compete on a free and open market just like everything else. That means laws granting favoritism to one religion over another would be forbidden, just as they currently are under the U.S. Constitution's separation of church and state.

That people such as Ritze don't see this and persist in attempting to tie their favorite religion to support for "free enterprise" is evidence enough for me that these people are no real friends of freedom - economic, religious or otherwise.

Rob Abiera
Oklahoma City

Read more...

16 March 2009

Justice in Saudi Arabia?

By Diana Hsieh

Here is theocracy in action: Saudis order 40 lashes for elderly woman for mingling.

A Saudi Arabian court has sentenced a 75-year-old Syrian woman to 40 lashes, four months imprisonment and deportation from the kingdom for having two unrelated men in her house, according to local media reports.

According to the Saudi daily newspaper Al-Watan, troubles for the woman, Khamisa Mohammed Sawadi, began last year when a member of the religious police entered her house in the city of Al-Chamli and found her with two unrelated men, "Fahd" and "Hadian."

Fahd told the policeman he had the right to be there, because Sawadi had breast-fed him as a baby and was therefore considered to be a son to her in Islam, according to Al-Watan. Fahd, 24, added that his friend Hadian was escorting him as he delivered bread for the elderly woman. The policeman then arrested both men.

Saudi Arabia follows a strict interpretation of Islam called Wahhabism and punishes unrelated men and women who are caught mingling. The Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, feared by many Saudis, is made up of several thousand religious policemen charged with duties such as enforcing dress codes, prayer times and segregation of the sexes. Under Saudi law, women face many restrictions, including a strict dress code and a ban on driving. Women also need to have a man's permission to travel.

Al Watan obtained the court's verdict and reported it was partly based on the testimony of the religious police. In his ruling, the judge said it was proved that Fahd is not Sawadi's son through breastfeeding. The court also doled out punishment to the two men. Fahd was sentenced to four months in prison and 40 lashes; Hadian was sentenced to six months in prison and 60 lashes. In a phone call with Al Watan, the judge declined to comment and suggested the newspaper review the case with the Ministry of Justice. Sawadi told the newspaper that she will appeal, adding that Fahd is indeed her son through breastfeeding.

A top Saudi human rights lawyer, Abdulrahman Al-Lahem, volunteered to defend the woman and the two men and has been given power of attorney by them. He told CNN he plans to file an appeal in the case next week.

Efforts to reach Saudi officials at the Justice Ministry, religious police and other agencies were unsuccessful. A spokesman for the Saudi embassy in Washington said he had no details on the case.

The case sparked anger in Saudi Arabia. "It's made everybody angry because this is like a grandmother," Saudi women's rights activist Wajeha Al-Huwaider told CNN. "Forty lashes -- how can she handle that pain? You cannot justify it."
This horrid story -- like so many others -- reminds of me of Ayn Rand's notable comment on the essence of civilization: "Civilization is the progress toward a society of privacy. The savage's whole existence is public, ruled by the laws of his tribe. Civilization is the process of setting man free from men."

Read more...

09 March 2009

Christian Love?

By Diana Hsieh

By what stretch of the imagination is the anti-abortion movement supposed to be "pro-life"? Forcing a nine-year-old girl to carry twins to term after she was raped for years by her stepfather is morally repugnant and rationally indefensible. Yet that is what the Catholic Church demands with its excommunication of the doctor who performed the abortion:

The Archbishop of the Brazilian city of Recife has announced the excommunication of a doctor who performed an abortion on a nine year old girl, as well as the family members who made the decision to carry out the procedure. The girl, whose name has not been revealed by the Brazilian media, was found to be pregnant with twins recently. Her stepfather has confessed that he began molesting her at the age of three and that he is the father of the child. He is under arrest pending an investigation of his relationship with his stepdaughter, as well as her 14 year old sister.

Although doctors at the hospital where the girl was initially admitted, Imip, reportedly said that her life was not in danger, her mother reportedly transferred her to another hospital, Cisam, that was willing to do the abortion, which is not penalized under Brazilian law because the girl was raped.

José Cardoso Sobrinho, Archbishop of Olinda and Recife, confirmed that while the child would not be held accountable for the act, the doctor who carried out the abortion and anyone who assisted or gave their approval were excommunicated by the Church. "To be subject to this penalty is it is necessary to be of age. The Church is very benevolent, especially with minors," the Archbishop told the media. "Now the adults, those who approved, who carried out this abortion, are excommunicated."

Sobrinho brushed aside the notion that the legality of the abortion under Brazilian law was a sufficient excuse for those involved. "The law of God is above all human law," he said. "Therefore, when a human law, meaning a law promulgated by human legislators, is contrary to the law of God, this human law has no value." Abortion, he said, is "homicide against innocent life. We are talking about a silent holocaust, that kills a one million innocents in Brazil and fifty million in the world every year, a holocaust worse than the six million Jews, which we lament every year."
Abortion is very much morally defensible based on the facts of pregnancy, as Ari Armstrong and I argued in our policy paper Amendment 48 Is Anti-Life.

Read more...

02 March 2009

Renfroe Should Resign Over Bigoted Remarks

By Ari

(Reposted:) In a just world, State Senator Scott Renfroe's constituents would rise up and throw the bum out of office. If he had a lick of sense, he would resign. Of course, if he had a lick of sense, he wouldn't have called homosexuality an abomination and a sin comparable to murder on the Senate floor in a blatant attack on church-state boundaries.

I have seen no sign of Renfroe's repentance, however, and so I call on the Republican Party of Colorado to publicly condemn Renfroe's remarks. It's the right thing to do, and it's also the prudent political move, if the GOP wishes to be taken seriously as a political force in Colorado.

At issue is a "bill to allow gay and lesbian state employees to share health benefits with their partners," reports the Denver Post. Here I do not wish to discuss the arguments for and against the bill, but only to condemn Renfroe's tirade against it.

Mike Littwin has written about the sorry affair for the Rocky Mountain News. And my good friends over at Progress Now Colorado, having actually discovered a wolf this time, have posted the entire speech on YouTube. Following is the complete transcript:

Transcript of State Senator Scott Renfroe's Speech to the Senate on February 23, 2009

Thank you madame chair. Members, I also come down here to oppose this bill. Look at some of the declarations in the bill, some of those arguments used here to do this, I guess.

Number One, is that there are employers that offer this are at a competitive advantage over those employers that do not offer such benefits. And, number one, employers, that's the private sector, and I believe in that choice, and the private sector should be allowed to do that. And businesses should have that opportunity to choose how they run their business and what they want to do.

The state, on the other hand, we are here to represent the people of Colorado, and do the state's business. And like Senator Brophy said, the state did actually speak almost directly to this issue two years ago, and the last three years we've had bills that contradict what the people of the state of Colorado voted on directly in 2006. So with that, I think that part of the declaration should be considered, in that what the will of the people was.

And, for me personally, I guess I oppose this bill because of what the vote of the people was. And then I also oppose this bill because of what my personal beliefs are. And I think that what our country was founded upon was those beliefs also.

You know, in the beginning, God created our Earth, and the structure for creation, when you have God, you have the Son, and then you have the Holy Spirit, you have that trinity. You also have that same trinity, which is in my opinion a mimic over to what we have within the family. You have the father, the husband, you have the wife, and then you have the children. And I think when you look at that scenario, that is what we were created for. And I think that's what the Bible says.

Through the whole beginning of Creation, it talks about how things were created, and that it was good, it was good, it was good. It says over and over, that it was good. Then we get to verse 18 in Genesis 2, "The Lord God said it is not good for man to be alone. And so he made him a helper, suitable for him. And that was woman."

And then if you go on, and talk about that, God blessed them and said, "Then be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea, over the birds, over the sky, over every living thing that moves on the earth."

And then in Genesis 9 he said to Noah again, "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth." And I think that that goes back to this whole picture of family, which God created us for. And we need to honor that.

Homosexuality is seen as a violation of this natural, created order. And it is in a sense to God, the creator, who created men and women, male and female, for procreation.

Leviticus 18:22 says, "You shall not lie with a man as one lies with a female. It is an abomination."

Leviticus 20:13 says, "If there is a man who lies with a male as though to lie with a woman, both of them have committed a detestable act, and they shall surely be put to death. Their bloodguiltness is upon them."

Then Romans 1:18: "For the wrath of God is revealed from Heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteous men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness."

And that's what we're doing here. We're suppressing the truth. The truth is what the family was created for in the beginning. That is the a husband, a wife, and children. And that is why we are here, and this goes against that. And this is just a continuation of the traction of the family.

And I say all that to back up my beliefs in where we're going with this. I believe government is here, we are here, to create the laws of our land, and when we create laws that goes against what Biblically we are supposed to stand for, I think we are agreeing or allowing to go forward a sin which should not be treated by government as something that is legal.

And that is what we are going to do with this, and what we've done in the past. We are taking sins and making them to be legally okay, and that is wrong. That is an abomination, according to scripture.

And I'm not saying that this is the only sin that's out there. Obviously we have sin, we have murder, we have all sorts of sin. We have adultery, and we don't making those legal, and we would never think to make murder legal.

But what I'm saying that for, is all sin is equal. That sin there is as equal to any other sin that's in the Bible, to having wandering eyes, to coveting your neighbor's things. Whatever you do, that sin is equal, and it can be forgiven because of that.

So with that, I think I need to go back and say that I stand in my belief, that this is wrong, and we should not condone it as a government. And I think the verses that I quoted you in Leviticus back that up in a strong way, and I'd ask you to vote no on this bill.
Renfroe here explicitly calls for the laws of Colorado to be based on Old Testament scripture. This, obviously, violates the separation of church and state. The proper purpose of government is to protect individual rights, not enforce religious dogma, whether or not the majority agrees with it. Murder and theft are properly illegal because they violate individual rights. Homosexuality between consenting adults does not. Moreover, many Coloradans reject Renfroe's religious views or his particular interpretation of Christianity.

For Renfroe to quote a religious text calling for the murder of homosexuals is outrageous, and it is wrong. It is no more appropriate than if a member of some other religion took the floor and read different texts calling for murder.

By Renfroe's account, the divine purpose of marriage is procreation. Never mind the fact that many heterosexual couples choose not to have children or cannot have them. Are their marriages similarly tainted in Renfroe's account?

Renfroe's claim that the 2006 election had anything to do with the bill at hand is nonsense. That year, voters banned gay marriage and voted against domestic partnerships. I think the majority was wrong on both counts, but that has no direct connection to extending benefits to the partners of state employees.

Renfroe's tirade illustrates why the Republicans are the minority party in Colorado. In attempting to impose their religious doctrines by force of law, such Republicans undermine individual rights and alienate mainstream voters.

Again I call on the Republican Party of Colorado to publicly condemn Renfroe's remarks. Whether the party does so will say a great deal about whether the party wishes to win competitive elections here again. And, more importantly, whether it deserves to win.

Read more...

23 February 2009

Taxes and Religion in Schools

By Ari

Reposted: Mike Adams is irritated that a teacher at Los Angeles City College called a student a "fascist bastard" for promoting religion in a class presentation. And Adams has picked an easy target; the teacher's behavior is inexcusable. However, the target is so easy that Adams neglects to put more serious issues in his cross-hairs.

Adams writes, "In November, Jonathan Lopez attempted to give his informative speech on God and the ways he has seen God act miraculously in his life and in the lives of others. In the middle of that speech, Lopez spoke of God and morality and read the dictionary definition of marriage. He also read two verses from the Bible."

Curiously, Adams neglects to mention what the two Bible verses were, but it's clear where this was headed. The teacher, Adams relates, is a supporter of gay marriage.

The teacher, John Matteson, left a note with the student: "prostyelsyszing [sic] is inappropriate in a public school."

You could make a pretty good case that any teacher who refers to students "fascist bastards" -- as this teacher apparently did twice -- should be fired. What a jerk. Yet Adams fails to seriously explore matters of free speech in the context of tax-funded institutions.

Adams equates the teacher's conduct with censorship with a "chilling effect on First Amendment expression." (I would be interested to learn whether Adams is similarly committed to overturning censorship of pornography and unsavory language.)

The basic issue, then, is whether the student has a Constitutionally protected right of free speech to rail against homosexuals in a tax-funded classroom. The only possible answer is that no answer is possible. Forcing others to fund religiously motivated attacks on homosexuals violates their rights of free speech -- people have the right not to fund speech they find offensive. But excluding such speech violates the rights of the student and his supporters, who also pay (or will pay) taxes. Forced wealth transfers for the propagation of ideas inherently violates people's rights.

The only solution that consistently upholds people's right of free speech -- along with their rights of property -- is to stop the forced wealth transfers. But Adams, along with practically all conservatives, show no interest in that. Instead, many conservatives look to increase tax funding of "faith-based initiatives" and the like.

On a free market, should schools allow speeches, in speech class, of a religious or bigoted nature? I think so. However, a school that allows attacks on homosexuals is going to have a hard time banning racist speeches. My sense is that the student should be able to meet the assignment according to his own judgment, and if he's an idiot, he will earn a reputation as such. Teachers obviously can grade down for lack of cogent argument. Surely there are lines that no school would like to cross, such as neo-Nazi marches on campus. But these are tricky issues best left to the boards and leaders of private institutions.

Read more...

19 February 2009

Light Posting Schedule

By Diana Hsieh

Due to the demands of my dissertation, teaching, and other non-negotiable obligations, Politics without God will be on a reduced schedule for the next month or so. I'll likely only be able to post once or maybe twice per week.

Read more...

18 February 2009

Jesus On the Dole

By Ari

Reposted: Apparently God needs more welfare. Via Diana Hsieh:

Declaring that "there is a force for good greater than government," President Barack Obama on Thursday established a White House office of faith-based initiatives with a broader mission than the one overseen by his Republican predecessor.
The article discusses the problem of tax-funded religious groups hiring on religious grounds. But that is merely a peripheral problem. The gigantic problem is simply the forcible transfer of funds to faith-based groups. Any such program inherently violates the rights of conscience and property of those who do not wish to finance such organizations.

Obviously the other major problem is that the expanded program will bring religious organizations more under the power and influence of federal politicians. He who pays the piper calls the tune. The bipartisan faith-based initiatives threaten to undermine the separation of church and state that has significantly contributed to the relative liberty of the West.

Everyone who cares about religious liberty, believers and nonbelievers alike, must criticize Obama's effort at every opportunity. Faith-based welfare should not be expanded, it should not be reformed, it should be completely eliminated, in the name of liberty.

Read more...

16 February 2009

Muslim Man Beheads His Wife in Buffalo

By Diana Hsieh

This story from The Buffalo News shows the horrifying reality of the Islamic view of women as chattel:

Prominent Orchard Park man charged with beheading his wife
By Gene Warner

Orchard Park police are investigating a particularly gruesome killing, the beheading of a woman, after her husband -- an influential member of the local Muslim community -- reported her death to police Thursday.

Police identified the victim as Aasiya Z. Hassan, 37. Detectives have charged her husband, Muzzammil Hassan, 44, with second-degree murder. "He came to the police station at 6:20 p.m. [Thursday] and told us that she was dead," Orchard Park Police Chief Andrew Benz said late this morning. Muzzammil Hassan told police that his wife was at his business, Bridges TV, on Thorn Avenue in the village. Officers went to that location and discovered her body.

Muzzammil Hassan is the founder and chief executive officer of Bridges TV, which he launched in 2004, amid hopes that it would help portray Muslims in a more positive light. The killing apparently occurred some time late Thursday afternoon. Detectives still are looking for the murder weapon.

"Obviously, this is the worst form of domestic violence possible," Erie County District Attorney Frank A. Sedita III said today. Authorities say Aasiya Hassan recently had filed for divorce from her husband. "She had an order of protection that had him out of the home as of Friday the 6th [of February]," Benz said.

Muzzammil Hassan was arraigned before Village Justice Deborah Chimes and sent to the Erie County Holding Center.
Honor killings are commonplace in Europe, as this excellent 2005 article in Der Spiegel details. To refer to such murders as "domestic violence" trivializes them: they are pure barbarism. And if Americans do not wish to see more of them, we must treat them as such.

Read more...

13 February 2009

Huckabee: Stimulus Is Anti-Religious

By Diana Hsieh

I suppose that I shouldn't be surprised by this news: Huckabee: Stimulus is 'anti-religious':

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee warned supporters Tuesday that the $828 billion stimulus package is "anti-religious."

In an e-mail that was also posted on his blog ahead of the Senate's passage, Huckabee wrote: "The dust is settling on the 'bipartisan' stimulus bill and one thing is clear: It is anti-religious."

The former Republican presidential candidate pointed to a provision in both the House and Senate versions banning higher education funds in the bill from being used on a "school or department of divinity."
The valid reason to oppose the stimulus -- and the bailout before it -- was that it authorized frighteningly irresponsible government spending without any regard for the principles of limited government or individual rights. Funding some churches wouldn't have changed that one iota; it only would have further entangled church and state.

Read more...

11 February 2009

A Terry Schiavo Case in Italy

By Gina Liggett

Remember in 2005 when then-President Bush rushed back to Washington to get the Republican-dominated Congress to intervene directly in the Terry Schiavo right-to-die case? Terry Schiavo had been in a persistent vegetative state for 15 years, alive only because she was receiving nutrition through a feeding tube. Her husband and legal guardian--who knew she would never want to live like that--fought Terry's staunchly Catholic family in the court system for years over her right to die in such a circumstance. A Florida state appeals court agreed with Terry's husband and allowed the feeding tube to be removed in spring of 2005.

Out of all legal options, the family went to the top of the political ladder, and got President Bush and his religious-right powerhouse in Congress to counteract that ruling. Congress passed, and Bush signed, emergency legislation, sending the case back to the federal court. But wisely, the federal court did not overrule the previous decision. The feeding tube was not reinserted, and Terry was allowed to die.

The case was a sickening display of not only the breach of the separation of powers as well as the separation of church and state, but also of how quickly and deeply one's personal life can be penetrated by a government. A federal appeals court judge in Atlanta quite eloquently admonished Congress and the White House for acting “in a manner demonstrably at odds with our Founding Fathers’ blueprint for the governance of a free people — our Constitution.”

Fast forward to 2009, and there is an eerily similar kind of family nightmare in Italy. A 37-year old woman, Eluana Englaro, has been in a coma since a car crash in 1992. Her father, who claims that her daughter would not want to live in such a vegetative state, has spent years petitioning the Italian court system to allow her to die. Finally, doctors were allowed to implement a medical protocol for withdrawing Eluana's artificial nutrition--that is, until Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, after consulting with the Vatican, issued an emergency decree stating nutrition cannot be withdrawn.

Magnifying the absurdity of the Italian government's and Vatican's interference in the private lives of these citizens is the Prime Minister's justification for his decree: physically at least, Eluana was "in the condition to have babies."

Allow me to elucidate. Irregardless of the comatose woman's inability to consent to anything, the Italian Prime Minister and the Vatican are in effect saying that it would be acceptable for someone to impregnate this woman, have her body incubate a fetus, then deliver it; but to allow her to die a natural and dignified death by withdrawing artificial nutrition would be immoral, despite what Eluana would have wanted.

Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, who pleaded with Berlusconi to not permit Eluana to die, told him "We have to stop this crime against humanity." (I must say, I find it ludicrous and ironic that the religious institution responsible for the horrific crimes of the medieval Crusades and the systematic enabling of pedophilia in the priesthood has the audacity to say anything about crimes against humanity.)

In these two right-to-die cases, Terry and Eluana were young when they suffered their irreversible brain damage and had not made their wishes explicitly known in writing. But those closest to them and legally responsible for making decisions on their behalf have a better idea than the government or the Church about whether or not they would want to linger for decades in an unconscious state.

Even more fundamentally important than the ethics of proxy medical decision-making is the right to die. I think this right is a corollary of Ayn Rand's concept of the right to life: "There is only one fundamental right (all the others are its consequences or corollaries): a man's right to his own life."

In their quest to take away the right-to-die, the Vatican and America's Religious Right are basically taking away the right to life, claiming your life belongs to God, not to you. This religious view is the reason the Schiavo family fought Terry's right to die; this was the reason they took their case to a President who actively promulgated religious initiatives; and this is what the Italian father is fighting.

Your right to life includes your right to end your life according to your values. If you would not want to be kept alive for decades in a comatose state--and your proxy decision makers know that--then they have the ethical and legal obligation to carry out your wishes. And any governmental or church interference with that right is an immoral and egregious offense to the citizens of a society obligated to uphold their Constitutional rights.

An update: Eluana died Monday Feb. 9 as the Italian legislators debated her case. The Italian government plans to continue to push for an anti-right--to-die law.

Read more...

09 February 2009

School Prayer Stupidity

By Greg Perkins

Radio/TV host Glenn Beck had James "Focus on the Family" Dobson on to talk about a recent court decision that a 'moment of silence' rule in a public school was a sham to introduce sectarian religious belief into the classroom.



Beck poses as a victim, asking why it is that the 10% of the country who doesn't believe in God is pushing the other 90% around and forcing their nonbelief down their throats. Believers don't do that, he says, so why not just let people be? Of course, striking down a mandatory moment of silence-or-prayer isn't forcing nonbelief down peoples' throats -- it's only stopping believers from forcing their religion down others' throats via violations of individual rights. Talk about spin. Even purely secular-sounding "moments of silence" only exist because of believers' desire to get God into the classroom to indoctrinate children.

Beck goes on to exaggerate that "it's been deemed unconstitutional to even say the word 'prayer' to our children," and Dobson says that "they just have to eliminate even the possibility that someone might pray." Um, no: the kiddies are free to pray anywhere at any time as long as they aren't being disruptive. What's been deemed unconstitutional is taking money from taxpayers by force to fund schools students are compelled to attend, and then requiring them to do or be indoctrinated in your religion. Reading the text of the ruling, you can see how the judge traces out where and how the line is crossed. (Of course, if we didn't have government schools that people are forced to fund and required to attend, then this would be a non-issue. Don't like your school's policy regarding religious indoctrination? No rights violation there, and you're free to find or form another school. Have a nice day.)

So, does it count as dishonest or just weak-minded when Beck turns to a wider point to claim that "in this country, our rights come from God" and to ask the rhetorical question, "if you take God out of the picture, then where do rights come from?" Oh, I see your point: you don't seek to ram your religion down peoples' throats... but we really do have to make sure your religious ideas are rammed down peoples' throats lest civilization collapse. Got it.

But I'm happy he asks about the basis of rights, because it reminds me that more people need to appreciate the analysis Ayn Rand offered in her classic essay, "Man's Rights":

The concept of individual rights is so new in human history that most men have not grasped it fully to this day. In accordance with the two theories of ethics, the mystical or the social, some men assert that rights are a gift of God -- others, that rights are a gift of society. But, in fact, the source of rights is man's nature.

The Declaration of Independence stated that men "are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights." Whether one believes that man is the product of a Creator or of nature, the issue of man¿s origin does not alter the fact that he is an entity of a specific kind -- a rational being -- that he cannot function successfully under coercion, and that rights are a necessary condition of his particular mode of survival.

"The source of man's rights is not divine law or congressional law, but the law of identity. A is A -- and Man is Man. Rights are conditions of existence required by man's nature for his proper survival. If man is to live on earth, it is right for him to use his mind, it is right to act on his own free judgment, it is right to work for his values and to keep the product of his work. If life on earth is his purpose, he has a right to live as a rational being: nature forbids him the irrational." (Atlas Shrugged)
Once again, the answer to the idea that our options are restricted to either religion or anything-goes subjectivism is that this alternative is malformed. Rather: it is either objectivity and facts, or whim. The right-religious whimsy approach to "rights" is just as wrongheaded and dangerous as the left-secular whimsy approach to "rights."

[HT: Pharyngula, crossposted to Noodlefood.]

Read more...

06 February 2009

13 Year Old Girl Stoned to Death

By Diana Hsieh

The BBC reports on a horrifying case of a young girl stoned to death for being raped:

A young woman recently stoned to death in Somalia first pleaded for her life, a witness has told the BBC.

"Don't kill me, don't kill me," she said, according to the man who wanted to remain anonymous. A few minutes later, more than 50 men threw stones.

Human rights group Amnesty International says the victim was a 13-year-old girl who had been raped. Initial reports had said she was a 23-year-old woman who had confessed to adultery before a Sharia court.

Numerous eye-witnesses say she was forced into a hole, buried up to her neck then pelted with stones until she died in front of more than 1,000 people last week.
That such could happen in this day and age -- anywhere in the world -- is horrifying. Is a worse injustice possible? I think not. Yet such injustices are the inevitable result of blind adherence to religious dogma: the facts of this world do not matter in face of God's will. As one of the Islamic administrators said, "We will do what Allah has instructed us." So they did.

Read more...

04 February 2009

Mexican Court Case on Abortion

By Diana Hsieh

The AP reports on a court case in Mexico worth watching:

Mexico's Supreme Court agreed Wednesday to hear a challenge to recent changes in the Baja California state constitution that grant legal protection to children from the moment of conception.

The court accepted for review an appeal filed by Baja California state human rights officials, who argue a constitutional clause enacted Dec. 26 appears intended to overturn the current legal status for abortions in cases of rape or danger to the mother's life.

"An individual is granted legal protection from the moment in which they are conceived," according to the new version of Article 7 of the state's constitution.
...
This constitutional provision is basically the same as Colorado's defeated Amendment 48. As Ari Armstrong and I argued in our policy paper on that measure, any attempt to grant rights from the moment of conception entails not just a total ban on abortion (except perhaps in cases of dire risk to the woman), but also a ban on hormonal birth control and the most common methods of in vitro fertilization.

Read more...

02 February 2009

Dirty Tricks in Kansas

By Diana Hsieh

Kansas' Lawrence Journal reports on yet another attempt by the religious right to intimidate women into forgoing their right to abortion:

Topeka — The House Judiciary Committee's chairman has opened the Legislature's annual debate on abortion with what he calls a "woman's right to know and see" bill. Rep. Lance Kinzer, an Olathe Republican, introduced legislation Monday requiring that 30 minutes before performing an abortion, the doctor give the woman a chance to see a sonogram and get a copy of the image. If fetal heart monitoring is done, the woman would have a right to listen.

"There is no better way to know the physiological development than to see," Kinzer said. "This bill is a sincere attempt by those of us on the pro-life side to find an area where we can have some consensus." Peter Brownlie, president of Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri, said the bill "is basically trying to use ultrasound as a political tool rather than a medical procedure."

The bill also requires that 24 hours before an abortion, the woman must be provided a list of free sonogram locations. She also must receive information about counseling and other assistance for medically challenging pregnancies, and contacts for free perinatal hospice services.

Brownlie said Planned Parenthood already provides that information to women. Kinzer's proposal also requires that abortion clinics post "anti-coercion" signs so that women will know their legal rights. "Every woman submitting to an abortion should only do so after giving her voluntary and well-informed consent," Kinzer said.

Brownlie called the signage "unnecessary and intrusive." "It is based on a made-up theory that lots of women are coerced into having abortions," he said.

Many of Kinzer's proposals were included in a wide-ranging abortion bill vetoed last year by Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, who supports abortion rights. Kinzer said none of the provisions in this year's bill were singled out by the governor in her veto message.
Abortion is a medical procedure like any other. It ought to be treated as such in the law. Opponents of abortion have every right to speak their mind in the forums open to them. They have no right to interject themselves into a woman's relationship with her doctor. They have no right to impose government controls on abortion providers in order to discourage women from exercising their rights over their own bodies. That's reprehensible -- and I hope this bill dies a quick death.

Read more...

30 January 2009

Credit Pilot, Not God

By Diana Hsieh

The Rocky Mountain News published a good letter on the "Miracle on the Hudson" on January 28th:

Credit pilot, not God

Concerning US Airways Flight 1549, we are all elated that there were no deaths. However, several television stations reporting on the incident must have mentioned God more than 40 times as the reason everyone aboard survived.

Why don't we give credit to the real hero, the pilot? His quick thinking and calmness under duress saved many lives.

If there was a God involved, why would he have the plane crash to begin with?

We know that almost all air crashes involve most, if not all, passengers being killed. Do we ever invoke God when people are killed? A quick-thinking pilot and some luck saved all the lives on this particular flight.

Marc Tanenbaum, Longmont
For a more detailed analysis along similar lines, see Greg Perkins' post on NoodleFood.

A legal system -- particularly criminal or tort law -- cannot stand if God were seriously taken to the author of such events: everything would happen as a matter of God's perfect will, and so no person could regard himself as wronged by another. Unless, of course, God wanted you to right the wrong that he permitted to happen -- and then the law becomes an arbitrary game of guessing God's will.

The lesson? Capitalism cannot be grounded in religious faith.

Read more...

28 January 2009

End Government Prayers

By Diana Hsieh

Here's a surprisingly good letter to the editor recently published in the Colorado Springs Gazette on prayer at government meetings:

RELIGIOUS FREEDOM
Government-sponsored prayer sidelines those of different faiths

The case for respecting the true spirit of religious freedom by ending publicly sanctioned prayer was eloquently and rationally made by Charles Haynes of the First Amendment Center ("Civil religion no longer fits nation of many, varied beliefs," Opinion, Jan. 19).

The activist religious right sometimes makes hysterical claims that the moral foundation of our culture is threatened without such state-sponsored displays of faith, or that eliminating official prayer "kicks God out of the public square."

They either fail to understand and sympathize with everyone's religious freedom, or don't value others' equal rights and want their own personal religious beliefs to be espoused as official state policy.

The absence of official prayer never precludes individuals from offering their own personal prayers. Many devout people of faith recognize that the separation of church and state protects their religious freedom, as well as others'. Numerous Christian principles themselves argue against pressing religious observances onto others, not least of which is Jesus' admonition to "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."

We should no more start a City Council meeting with a statement that God does not exist than begin with a sectarian religious prayer. Either is dismissive of a cross-section of our citizenry. Let's not wait for a court decision to end state sponsored public prayer; let's do it out of the goodness of our hearts.

Barb Ferrill Van Hoy, Executive director Citizens Project Colorado Springs

Read more...

26 January 2009

A Nice Segue into the Freedom of Choice Act

By Gina Liggett

President Barack Obama has signed an executive order eliminating Bush's "global gag rule" on U.S. funding of groups abroad that provide abortion services or counseling, of groups that provide family planning if they also provide abortion services, and of groups lobbying to reduce abortion restrictions. The original order was a product of the conservative social agenda of the Reagan administration, and has been one of the Religious Right's favorite political victories. The Religious Right is not happy about Obama's action, and is worried that Obama's next move will be the passage of the Freedom of Choice Act.

I think that would be a perfect next step. The Freedom of Choice Act was introduced in 2004 and again in 2007 by Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), but never passed. In summary The Freedom of Choice Act:

Declares that it is the policy of the United States that every woman has the fundamental right to choose to: (1) bear a child; (2) terminate a pregnancy prior to fetal viability; or (3) terminate a pregnancy after fetal viability when necessary to protect her life or her health. Prohibits a federal, state, or local governmental entity from: (1) denying or interfering with a woman's right to exercise such choices; or (2) discriminating against the exercise of those rights in the regulation or provision of benefits, facilities, services, or information. Provides that such prohibition shall apply retroactively. Authorizes an individual aggrieved by a violation of this Act to obtain appropriate relief, including relief against a governmental entity, in a civil action.
Despite the bill's limiting of abortions past the point of "fetal viability" only when the health or life of a woman is at stake (unrestricted abortion rights should apply at anytime during the pregnancy) this is a critically important and sweeping piece of legislation. It will help codify the absolute right to abortion, and help thwart the Religious Right's piecemeal actions to eviscerate abortion access across the country.

During his presidential campaign, Barack Obama promised to sign the Freedom of Choice Act. I'm going to hijack a term misused by the Religious Right and say: Let's build on this Pro-Life momentum and advocate for passage of the Freedom of Choice Act.

I have written the following letter to Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) urging her to reintroduce her bill as soon as possible.
Dear Senator Boxer,

Let's build on the momentum of President Obama's executive order rescinding the "global gag rule." Please reintroduce your very important piece of legislation, the Freedom of Choice Act. The Religious Right has attacked a woman's fundamental right to choose in every possible way, at every level of government. It is time to codify a woman's right to choose--permanently and absolutely. This really is a pro-life issue in the correct sense of the term: for the woman whose rights are violated by anti-abortion measures. President Obama has promised to sign your bill. Please reintroduce it as soon as possible! Thank you.

Read more...

23 January 2009

No Miracle on the Hudson

By Diana Hsieh

Adam Reed posted the following excellent comment on an NPR story on the "Miracle on the Hudson":

Count on a politician - in this case New York Gov. David Paterson - to insult the competence and rationality of everyone involved, by calling their exercise of rational human virtue a "miracle on the Hudson." The designers of an airplane that can be landed on water and safely evacuated; the Captain and the crew and the emergency professionals who were prepared, knew what to do, and did it faultlessly; and the passengers, who stayed calm and rational as they acted together to secure their own and each other's lives - this is what our Human Civilization is all about. This is not any kind of arbitrary "miracle." This is about Humans, the animal of the mind, as we can be and can become, using our minds, our evolved organ of survival, for our life and our happiness on Earth.
For a more humorous take, try this YouTube video.

Read more...

21 January 2009

Catholic Ban on Kissing

By Diana Hsieh

Another mind-boggling news story via iFeminists:

In Ultra-Catholic Mexican City, Local Government Bans Public Kissing

MEXICO CITY -- Kissing in public will be punished with fines and even jail time in the central Mexican city of Guanajuato under a new municipal ordinance that also bans begging, using rude words and street peddling. The measure emerged Tuesday from a municipal government controlled by the rightist National Action Party, or PAN, which has been in power at the national level since 2000.

The ordinance also punishes tourism promoters who approach motorists, people who cross streets without using pedestrian bridges, those offering windshield-cleaning services and those who engage in street demonstrations. For example, the law bans "obscene words and attitudes in public places that offend third parties, as well as touching obscenely in public spaces." Those who fail to abide by the ordinance can be punished with 36 hours in jail and fines up to 1,500 pesos ($108).

Paradoxically, one of the tourist attractions of Guanajuato, capital of the likenamed state, is El Callejon del Beso (Kiss Alley), which as its name implies is an alley where, according to legend, visitors kiss in order to enjoy seven years of happiness.

For Mayor Eduardo Romero Hicks, the ordinance is neither excessive nor a form of persecution, and its goal is "to inculcate values and civility" among residents.

Opposition City Councilman Jorge Luis Hernandez does not agree - he told Efe Friday that the PAN measure looks like a "return to the Middle Ages."

He said that the text "lacks legislative accuracy and contains more than 100 errors."

For example, he said, the ordinance forces people to cross streets on pedestrian bridges that are often not suited for use by invalids.

The national leadership of the PAN distanced itself entirely from the Guanajuato ordinance.

In a communique, the party of Mexican President Felipe Calderon said that the "full and responsible exercise of individual freedoms is not only a right guaranteed in the judicial system of our country, but a fundamental condition for democratic coexistence."

Guanajuato is a university town with a rich cultural life where the International Cervantes Festival is held every October.

It is also considered one of the regions where the ultra-Catholic right has the greatest influence.
Two comments:

(1) This law is not as bad as the law against dirty words in public or to minors recently proposed in the United States by a South Carolina state senator. Although a $100 fine is absurd, at least it doesn't carry a possible five-year prison term.

(2) It is not the job of any government to "inculcate values and civility." The only proper function of a government is to protect individual rights to life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness. Laws mandating some conception of virtue violate those rights: each person has a right to live according to his own values, so long as he does not violate the rights of others.

Read more...

19 January 2009

Hot Damn!

By Diana Hsieh

Eugene Volokh reports that South Carolina state senator Robert Ford -- a Democrat -- proposes a bill against "dirty" language, including the following provisions:

It is unlawful for a person in a public forum or place of public accommodation wilfully and knowingly to publish orally or in writing, exhibit, or otherwise make available material containing words, language, or actions of a profane, vulgar, lewd, lascivious, or indecent nature.
And:
It is unlawful for a person to disseminate profanity to a minor if he wilfully and knowingly publishes orally or in writing, exhibits, or otherwise makes available material containing words, language, or actions of profane, vulgar, lewd, lascivious, or indecent nature.
Violating either provision would be a felony -- with the potential for five years in prison: "a person who violates [either provision] is guilty of a felony and, upon conviction, must be fined not more than five thousand dollars or imprisoned not more than five years, or both."

Ah well, at least the Bible would be banned along with Atlas Shrugged -- and almost everything else, including swearing within earshot of your 17-year-old kid.

The bill is currently in committee. While I'm sure it won't go anywhere, the fact that such legislation could even be proposed in 21st century America is mind-boggling.

Read more...

16 January 2009

Should America Be More Like China?

By Diana Hsieh

Should America be more like China? Yes, says One News Now, a fundamentalist Christian news service: America ought to ban pornography.

The Internet search engine Google has bowed to China's demand that it clean up its act.

Google and other major Internet sites were threatened by China because of the proliferation of pornography. But Pat Trueman of Alliance Defense Fund reports Google formally apologized.

"They said they would eliminate all vulgar material 'which may have had a negative effect on web users,'" Trueman notes. "Well, of course it has a negative effect. Child pornography and hardcore adult pornography harm people -- and Google apologized to the Chinese."

Google's statement, which was posted in the company blog on its Chinese side, added: "Google is willing to be a law-abiding citizen in China."

Trueman contends that Google and others can control pornography just as much for America as they can for China. "They should apologize to the world -- particularly to the United States of America, where they are a facilitator of child pornography and hardcore adult pornography," says the pro-family attorney.

Google was one of 20 Internet companies singled out earlier this month by the Chinese government, accusing them of spreading porn and other material that could corrupt young people. China's most popular search engine, Baidu, also issued an apology "for the negative impacts we brought upon the society."
In fact, the religious right should apologize for ignoring the 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."

Read more...

14 January 2009

Duty of Sexual Restraint?

By Diana Hsieh

The Hill's Blog Briefing Room reports the following:

Former Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, a leading candidate for the chairmanship of the Republican National Committee (RNC), is coming under fire Monday for making remarks this summer that gays and lesbians suffer from a "compulsion" that can be "restrained."

"You can choose to restrain that compulsion," Blackwell told radio host Michelangelo Signorile, a gay and lesbian advocate, this summer during the Republican National Convention. "And so I think in fact you don't have to give in to the compulsion to be homosexual."

"I've never had to make the choice because I've never had the urge to be other than a heterosexual," Blackwell added, "but if in fact I had the urge to be something else I could have in fact suppressed that urge."

Another RNC chairman candidate, Chip Saltsman, saw his bid derailed after circulating a CD to RNC voters that critics said was racially insensitive toward President-elect Obama.
The worst part of this statement is not Blackwell's bizarre hypothetical that if he did have homosexual urges, he knows that he could resist them. If by that, he means "I could remain celibate for the rest of my life," then sure, a person could do that. But the question is "Why?!?" In particular, why should gays and lesbians cut themselves off from the possibility of healthy, loving, fulfilling sexual relationships for their whole lives?

Ultimately, the only answer is because God forbids it. According to scripture, he commanded, "You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination" (Leviticus 18:22). We are supposed to obey without question, whatever the cost to our own personal happiness -- just the faithful Abraham does in the story of the Binding of Isaac.

Of course, politicians are welcome to embrace the religious values of obedience and sacrifice, if they so choose. However, such beliefs ought to be regarded by all as private and personal -- not as relevant to public policy. After all, in a free society, every person has the right to enter into whatever consensual sexual relationships he wishes. The government has no business legislating sexuality.

Unfortunately, that's not the view of politicians today, particularly not in the GOP. So the worst part of this interview is that a person seeking the top job of a major political party in America -- a country founded on the principle of inalienable rights to life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness -- would suggest that gays and lesbians have any kind of obligation to suppress their sexual desires. Given today's climate of pervasive statism, the step from such publicly-expressed opinions to attempting to restrict or even forbid gay and lesbian relationships is very, very short.

Read more...

Back to TOP