Friday, November 14, 2008

My faith

My religious background is a mixture of Methodist and Baptist. My mom’s side of the family is Baptist and my Dad’s side was Methodist. We went to Baptist church’s for awhile when I was young but eventually switched to Methodist by the time I was in junior high school.
I was active in the Methodist Youth Fellowship at my church when I was in high school and attended a Methodist church in college where I met my wife, whose family is strongly Methodist.
I went through a period in college, like many people do, where I was questioning my religious faith and it was during that time that I discovered Hans Kung, the Catholic theologian. His book “On Being a Christian” was both an inspiration and a comfort to me as I struggled through that period. Kung helped me realize that one can be intellectually honest and open-minded without losing one’s faith.

Once you see just how marvelously complex the world really is, it becomes clear that religions, which are man-made constructs that attempt to bridge the gap between humanity and the divine spiritual world, cannot explain it all. A lot of people who hit that wall turn towards atheism or agnosticism, while others go the other direction and become hyper-religious and fundamentalist. Most people, however, just go with the flow and pay little heed to the wall as they concentrate on other aspects of their lives.
What I came to understand is that there are many paths to God - some well-trodden, others less so - and no one path is particularly superior than another. It wasn’t long before I abandoned the notion that “non-Christians” go to Hell. The prospect of a loving God condemning billions and billions of people to eternal damnation because they were raised in a culture that did not practice Christianity seems absurd to me and I reject it outright. Likewise, I reject the notion that people who fail to jump through certain theological hoops (i.e. repeating the mantra “Jesus is my Saviour”) after being “exposed” to Christianity are Hellbound.

I don’t think God has the oversized ego that everyone imagines. I do not believe that he sits on a throne and demands ultimate fealty from his creation. I don’t think he particularly cares whether one is a Christian, Jew, Muslim, Budhist or Agnostic. What I think does matter to God is how a person lives their life and how they treat their fellow humans here on Earth. Whether he sends people to Hell when they fall short of his expectations, I do not know. I tend to think not. I believe God’s capacity for love and forgiveness is beyond our meager understanding of those concepts. I think God is all into giving second and third and fourth chances - whether through reincarnation or shipping souls off to other parts of the universe, I don’t know.

I am perfectly content in my belief that Jesus is the son of God, but I do not believe that Jesus came to Earth to have people fall at his feet and worship him. He came to show us the best way to live our lives and it is an example that is hard for most people to follow or even to accept. He stressed forgiveness and charity, turning the other cheek, helping the poor, healing the sick, visiting those in prison. He did not come to denounce homosexuals or abortion. He would certainly not condone the greed and bigotry prevalent in many of the right-wing offshoots of Christianity active in today’s society. He said the most important commandment was to Love God. But how do you do that? How do you show your love for God in a world where God is everywhere but nowhere? Perhaps by loving God’s creation? Loving your fellow humans as you love yourself? The second commandment, which necessarily complements the first, is the clear path that Jesus wants us to follow.

But all that is not to say that I think any less of religion. I believe religious faith can be a very good thing and I respect people who are faithful to their religions. I think that going to church and practicing one’s faith is an important part of living a good life, and while it may not be a necessity or a requirement, I do believe it is both helpful and beneficial.
The exception comes when that faith leads to violent confrontations with other people of different faiths. Or when it leads to ostracizing certain people from a community. And that is why efforts by people like Hans Kung to reach out and form connections between various religious faiths is so important. And it is why having a separation between Church and State is vital to maintain for the proper functioning of the government.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Catching up

It’s been a very busy week. Here are some links to things I thought were interesting....

Hey! Barack Obama really is a Lefty!
Barack Obama: The 50 facts you might not know

• He is left-handed – the sixth post-war president to be left-handed

Pat Buchanan gets it - sort of... Too often, GOP stood mute

During the recent campaign, Sen. John McCain and others deplored the failures of the Bush administration. The question is, what, exactly, did he do wrong?
What were the policy blunders to which Republicans vehemently objected at the time?
That Bush is a Big Government Republican is undeniable. His two great social spending initiatives, prescription-drug benefits for seniors under Medicare and No Child Left Behind, so testify. But how many Republicans opposed Bush on these initiatives? How many have called for the abolition of either program or for raising payroll taxes to pay for prescription drugs?
Two-thirds of Americans now believe that the Iraq war a mistake. Yet, all but a few Republicans backed the war....
The GOP needs to confront the truth: The failure of the Bush presidency lies not in a failed execution of policy but in the policies themselves and the neoconservative ideology that informed them.

All Hail Pelosi the All Powerful!
Pelosi’s power reigns supreme

As Pelosi enters her third year as speaker, by any measure, she has become the most powerful woman in U.S. political history and is now preparing to wield her gavel in a way that few, if any, recent speakers could match. Even former Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia, the architect of the 1994 Republican Revolution, pales in comparison. Pelosi is being mentioned by observers in the same breath as the legendary Sam Rayburn and Tip O’Neill, although she has yet to assemble a legislative record to match theirs.

At the height of their power in the House in 1994, Republicans held about 233 seats. Democrats today control 255.

Billionaire Backer Of Right-Wing Causes Is Down On His Luck

Filibuster buster

The exciting news this morning is that Democrat Mark Begich now has an 814-vote lead over Republican Ted Stevens in the Alaska Senate race after trailing by more than 3,000 votes on election day.
Combined with the hope that Democrat Al Franken could overtake Republican Norm Coleman following a recount of the Minnesota Senate race, that would give Democrats the eight-seat pickup that I had predicted. That would then mean that with the support of Independent Bernie Sanders of Vermont, they would be just one-vote away from the fillibuster-proof 60-vote margin they have been craving.
This might explain why the Democratic caucus is suddenly so willing to kiss up to Joe “Benedict Arnold” Lieberman and let bygones be bygones. This might be more important that it seems.
I remember how frustrated I felt in the early 90s after Bill Clinton was elected following 12-years of Republican domination of the executive branch - and yet despite having a Democratic majority in the House and Senate he was unable to get much of his legislative agenda passed because the Republicans still had just enough votes to filibuster.
It is a trend that continues today and could hamper early efforts by the Obama administration to fix the huge problems left by the Bushies.
But could Democrats depend on Lieberman in the stretch? Would owing his chairmanship to Obama’s good graces make Lieberman a more reliable vote to override filibusters?
Anyway, it is certainly nice knowing that Sarah Palin is less likely to be taking up residence in Washington now.


Oops. I think I miscounted. It looks like even with Begich and Franken in the Senate, Democrats would still be one short of the Magic 60 even counting Sanders and Lieberman. Therefore the runoff election in Georgia between the abhorrent Saxby Chamblis and the noble Jim Martin would be all-important. And I am much less inclined to believe that Democrats can pull off a victory in that contest than in Alaska or Minnesota. Darn.
Nevertheless, I think the finagling over Lieberman still makes sense because of the liklihood that a moderate Republican like Olympia Snowe, Susan Collins or Arlen Specter could close the gap on a critical filibuster.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Principle arguments

Making his pitch to lead the GOP, South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford has an Op-Ed on CNN that makes the usual argument that Republicans lost because they weren’t conservative enough...

Some on the left will say our electoral losses are a repudiation of our principles of lower taxes, smaller government and individual liberty. But Tuesday was not in fact a rejection of those principles -- it was a rejection of Republicans' failure to live up to those principles.

Watch those strawman arguments, Governor. No one is repudiating “individual liberty” on our side. In fact, the biggest opponents to individual liberty are on the Republican side where they want to strip away women’s rights to make their own choices on reproduction and where they want to deny homosexuals the social benefits of marriage.
But as to “lower taxes” and “smaller government”, those are two “principles” which can be taken too far to the point where it becomes detrimental for our country and our economy. Lower taxes are not ideal when we are fighting two wars at the same time and we are faced with a $10 trillion national debt. And smaller government is not ideal if it means that the government becomes too small to protect us from terrorist attacks or respond to natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina.
“Smaller government” sounds like a good principle, but the ideal that we should really strive for is an “effective government” and an “efficient government” and a “responsive government”.
A small government that is ineffective and unresponsive is NOT ideal by any means. And lower taxes are not ideal when it means that our troops don’t have adequate armor or when bridges are collapsing because our national infrastructure has been neglected.
Republican “principles” are not bad. They are just simplistic and unrealistic. And when they are relied on exclusively, as they have been for the past eight years, the results can be disasterous. Just as we have seen.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Goodbye again, Opus.

Berkely Breathed has done it again. He has brought the curtain down on Opus, the beloved comic strip penguin.
This is the third time he has pulled the cord on Opus. The first was in 1989 when he ended his Pulitzer Prize winning comic strip Bloom County, probably my all-time favorite. But he brought Opus back a few years later in a Sunday-only strip called Outland. But then that ended in 1995.
Then in 2003 he came back yet again with a Sunday strip called Opus, but now that is gone too.
Why, oh why, do the great comic strips seem to die young - Bloom County, The Far Side, Calvin and Hobbes, Fox Trot (at least the daily version), and so forth, while much inferior strips plod along forever like zombies with new syndicate authors who keep recylcing stale jokes long after the original artist is gone?
The San Antonio Express-News is filled with such strips - old, tired, lame, boring - while many really good strips have no room on their pages.
When Opus ended last week there was no mention of what the E-N would do to replace it. This week we find that all they did was shuffly their stale lineup around and expand a few to make up the space. I assume it is a cost-saving measure. But it still sucks. The two things I treasure the most about a local paper - aside from the obvious coverage of local news - is the comics page and the editorial page, and both are exceedlingly awful at the E-N.