Sunday, November 23, 2008

Marriage, Abortion and Gays! Oh My!

I can sympathize with the revulsion some might feel toward the so-called religious right. Though I agree with the moral concerns of values voters and their right to express them in the political arena, the zeal with which the message is conveyed (by some, not all) often drowns out the mercy and compassion that are also supposed to be part of their message. I fully agree with them that abortion and homosexuality are egregious sins. But then again, so are heterosexual adultery and fornication, groundless divorce and other forms of spousal abandonment, cheating on your income tax and other forms of theft, all forms of deceit ranging from simple lies to full scale perjury, harsh words spoken in anger, and (last, but certainly not least) hypocrisy, pride or self-righteous attitudes toward those who practice any of the above. All these and countless other unlisted evils are equally effective at evoking divine displeasure. And all of them are equally forgivable where there is genuine remorse and a desire to change.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

It Ain't Looking Good, Folks!

[Originally posted at "Down with Absolutes" on 11/19/2008]

On Friday, 11/14/2008, the Dow Jones Industrial Average closed at 8497.31, down 337.94 points from its previous close and down 5% for the week. Though up and down volatility has been the order of the day (we were up 552.59 on Thursday), the general trend has been unmistakably downward. As of Wednesday, 11/19/2008, the Dow hit a five year low of 7,997.28. Yeesh!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

The Maryland What????

So why name a blogsite after Maryland marine life?

I grew up in Cecil County, Maryland and currently live in the Washington suburbs of Prince George’s County. I actually love my home state. In elementary school I was taught that Maryland had at least three nicknames: (1) Old Line State; (2) Free State and (3) America in Miniature. The latter moniker is quite appropriate and descriptive, because Maryland has it all.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Why Bother? -- Part II

[Originally posted at "Down With Absolutes" on  November 10, 2008]

It has been quite an interesting discussion resulting from three separate but related posts:

  1. "As seen on cars outside Corpus Christi Church in Elsmere" by Mike Matthews
  2. "Jesus Christ" by Mat Marshall
  3. "Why Bother?" by Leo

I am impressed by the level of thought that has gone into the discussion. I am particularly blown away by Mat, whose formidable synapses keep firing with breathtaking efficiency as he states his case, though of course I disagree with him. There have been some equally thoughtful observations from Dominique, Jonathan Moseley, Steve Newton, Paul Fakowlski and others. A lot of the comments and counter-comments were interesting, but perhaps we were talking past each other because it was not clear whether the subject at hand was (1) the separation of church and state, (2) the validity and consistency of the Bible, (3) church history, (4) the moral underpinnings of our laws and government or (5) whether or not there is any real point or foundation to law and morality if there is no Supreme Lawgiver.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Why Bother

[Originally posted at "Down with Absolutes" on November 5, 2008]

Michael Matthews may or may not have intended to stir up a hornet’s nest on election eve, November 3, 2008 when he posted “As seen on cars outside Corpus Christi Church in Elsmere”. If he did, I was the first to take the bait, which generated a grand total of 22 responses, including a number of thoughtful and some not so thoughtful comments about religion and politics, the founding fathers, and the separation of church and state.

After also taking a stab at these issues, my second posted comment ended in an attempt at notching up the discussion to explore the underpinnings of our laws and government:

Mike, let’s take this to a broader and saner level. Can you at least acknowledge that there is a moral component to government, law and politics? We have laws against murder, stealing, fraud, tax evasion and (in most states) prostitution. Why? These laws are based on a commonly held morality for the good of society. Even traffic laws have a moral component to them.
Let me just leave you with a question as food for thought: What is that morality based on?

Jonathon Moseley offered some very insightful comments about our laws being built on consensus stemming from a variety of motivations, including but not limited to the influence of Christianity or other religious belief, as well as practical considerations that would contribute to a well ordered society. But I must go back to my proposition that law is based on some form of morality. Matthews objects to this proposition, calling himself a moral relativist and taking a stab at my deliberately extreme example of even traffic laws having a moral component:

As for there being some morality behind traffic laws, I disagree. When I do 75 in a 55, I don’t think of morality. I realize I’m breaking the law. If I get a ticket, I don’t get pissed off. I just realize I shouldn’t be so cavalier about the whole deal. In short, to me, morals are subjective. What YOU think is moral, I may NOT think is moral.

True enough. But aren’t you already making a moral judgment when you admit that you should not be so cavalier about breaking the speed limit? Why is it cavalier? Perhaps because you are potentially putting yourself and others in danger of serious bodily harm or even death? But if there is no fixed objective basis for morality, why would that even matter? Are you not acknowledging that you have a sense of morality, though it differs from mine?

My question to you is: what is the basis of your morality? Why should we have any morality at all? And what is the moral basis of our laws and system of government?

Let’s start with a familiar phrase from the beginning of our Declaration of Independence.

We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal…

Actually, if we take that phrase in isolation, I must disagree. Anyone with even the slightest powers of observation will tell you that we are not equal. Some have the athletic abilities and muscular build of Olympic champion Michael Phelps or basketball legend Michael Jordan, while others of us look more like… Mike Matthews. The same can be said with regard to our intellectual capacities, our talents, etc. We are anything but equal.

So what on earth was Jefferson talking about when he said “all men are created equal”? Was he referring to human potential? Hardly. Let’s face it. Some of us just don’t have it in us. Was he referring to human dignity? You might say, “Yeah, that’s it.” But what is human dignity? Dignity according to whom? Well, let’s read the rest of the sentence:

“… that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights: the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

Therein lies the fundamental difference between the American Revolution of 1776 and the French Revolution of 1789. The former had as its foundation a fixed basis of morality in the Judeo-Christian ethic and resulted in a nation that, though imperfect, became a beacon of hope to the world. The latter, relying on a mixture of humanistic rationalism and slogans like liberté, egalité, fraternité, resulted in an orgy of class warfare that filled the town squares with guillotines and the streets with blood.

Before you dismiss the comparison as an over simplification, let me ask the question in a slightly different manner. What is it that gives us the “inalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” Says who? Many of you who disagree with me politically still have an inner sense of right and wrong. It may differ slightly from mine, but from where do you get your sense of right and wrong? Why should you bother or care so passionately about human rights, economic justice, promoting the general welfare or saving the whales?

In his very thoughtful post entitled Jesus Christ, Mat answers my point about laws against murder, stealing, etc. being based on morality by stating:

This simply isn’t a precedent. Besides the fact that murder and stealing are prohibited by, surely, every religion and society, there are clear secular cases to be made against them. Murder creates a victim (except for, arguably, when the murder is in response to another murder). Theft, too, creates a victim. Prostitution, tax evasion and fraud all create victims.

But if there is no God, then why should we be concerned about victims? Darwin’s Origin of the Species was based on the premise that life evolved (i.e., improved) on the basis of natural selection, i.e., survival of the fittest. If this is the case, who cares about victims, as long as the victim does not happen to be me? What works perfectly well in the animal kingdom should work equally well for human societies. (Actually, what makes humans so special that we insist on separating ourselves from the animal kingdom?)

Oh, but you protest, we are a well advanced society in a technological age. We have evolved to the point where we are far beyond the natural selection processes of the animal kingdom, and we choose to live in a well ordered society. Well, perhaps the best example of a well ordered society is Nazi Germany. You gotta hand it to Adolf. He took the defeated economic basket case that was post-WWI Germany and turned it into a thriving society, revved up its economic engines, and turned it into a model of efficiency. The trains ran on time in Germany. And it was a perfect model of Darwin’s theory of survival of the fittest, as it included in its program the elimination of elements of society that it considered undesirable obstacles to an efficient, well ordered and pure society.

If there is no God, who are we to say that the Nazis were wrong, or that our concern for victims is any better or advanced or noble than their taking natural selection to the next degree? Where did we come up with this silly notion of human rights and dignity?

Why bother?

Sunday, November 2, 2008

"Who the hell is Leo?"

[Originally posted at “Down with Absolutes” on November 2, 2008]

In response to a legitimate question from a commenter on my first blogpost (Breathtaking Double Standards 10/28/2008), I guess I should start by apologizing for bursting onto the scene without introducing myself. I should also thank Mike Matthews for agreeing to let me contribute to this site, knowing full well that I am his political polar opposite.

I am a 50 year old bureaucrat living in Prince George’s County, Maryland. My wife Susan and I grew up next door to most of you in Cecil County, Maryland. We have been blessed with three wonderful children, the oldest of which has in turn blessed us with a great son-in-law and a grandson. Life is good.

By now, all of you have figured out that I am a political conservative, though not consistently, as my views on some issues might surprise you. I have not always been a conservative. Back in 1976 when I turned 18, I proudly registered as a Democrat and cast my first ballot in the Maryland primary for Jerry Brown (remember him?) I did not vote in the general election, having neglected to cast an absentee ballot from the University of Maryland, College Park, but I was thrilled that Jimmy Carter won the presidency. I was the product of an era that viscerally reacted against the Vietnam War, the scandal ridden Nixon Administration, the military-industrial complex, or anything else that represented the “establishment”. Though I do not necessarily repudiate all the beliefs I held back then, I could not tell you why I held to them. I just believed them; I did not know anything else.

After graduating from UMCP in 1979 and getting married the same year, my values started changing. I am not sure how long the transition took, but I do remember the quandary I was in as I approached the 1980 election. I still wanted Jimmy Carter to win, believing he was a good and decent man (I still do). But I also saw what a mess we were in after four years in his administration: high unemployment, double digit inflation, double digit interest rates, and one foreign policy disaster after another. (Those of you old enough to remember and who are honest will acknowledge that those times were far worse than the turmoil we are going through now.) Anyway, as I compared the 1980 presidential candidates’ stands on the issues that were important to me, I was shocked to discover that I aligned more with Ronald Reagan than with Jimmy Carter. So believe it or not, I actually voted for Reagan, though in my heart I was still hoping Carter would win!