Tuesday, November 30, 2010

I'm religious, but only when it's convenient

Both the Left and Right are guilty of using religion to further their agendas, but each has no problem strapping on the blinders when religious doctrine runs counter to the cause. Consider the following from the Pew Research Center:

When it comes to opposing same-sex marriage and abortion -- staples of the political Right -- conservatives report their religious backgrounds as important influencers of their decision making, which makes sense. The Bible has spatterings of passages condemning homosexuality -- Leviticus 11:22-23 perhaps being the most commonly cited -- and the New Testament in particular speaks to the sanctity and importance of human life.

Those same passages that support the preservation of life likely lead conservatives to shy away from religion as an influence on beliefs surrounding the death penalty. Consequently, liberals find their religion on this issue because there is greater support for the political Left's view, namely the condemnation of the death penalty.

I don't have a problem with either side cherry picking from religious doctrine in this manner. Anyone who believes wholeheartedly in any philosophy either founded it or is too damn foolish to question it meaningfully.

I do think, however, that it is important to admit that religion is referenced only when it is personally, socially or politically expedient. This selective use means that religion -- at best -- informs our decisions, it doesn't dictate them.

If we can look past belief to justify our positions when necessary, then belief is not enough to codify our positions into law. In other words, a secular society should and does depend on reason to establish law. Religion alone is not enough.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Religion and politics

The old adage to never talk about religion or politics will be broken here, as I'll be talking about both. Time to offend, I suppose. The spark: an interesting crossover between "politics in the pulpit" as the PEW Research Center calls it.

According to a recent study, 15% of churchgoers said that political information was made available to them during religious services at the time of the 2010 midterm. Even more alarming, 5% said their respective clergymen urged them to vote a particular way.

Regular readers should know that my personal faith is waning, but regardless, I believe a separation of church and state is good not only for government, but for religion too. If religion begins sticking its nose is politics, the reverse is bound to happen -- and arguably already is.

And of course there are individuals ignorant of constitutionally-based separation, perhaps the most famous being former Delaware Senatorial candidate Christine O'Donnell. Granted, she is probably the most moronic of the latest crop of political sideshows, but her notoriety provides a platform for disseminating stupidity.

A point of clarification: the phrase "separation of church and state" does not explicitly appear in the constitution, but the First Amendment has been interpreted such a manner almost from its inception. Consider the following from a letter to the Danbury Baptists by Thomas Jefferson in 1802:
Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should "make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof," thus building a wall of separation between Church & State.
Most attribute the notion of separation to this letter, and the reader will notice that Jefferson justifies this notion of separation by quoting the First Amendment, so clearly there is a constitutional precedent.

Religion and politics should be separate in this country, but that wall may be eroding. I'm optimistic to see that 85% of churchgoers aren't getting political messages during services, but are they getting such messages from churches outside the walls of worship? Probably. And is the number of clergymen urging a particular vote on the rise or the decline? I would bet the former, but I hope the latter is true. Maybe a future longitudinal study will provide some answers.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Disbelief on global warming

Image by Mike Edwards
Global warming is a hot button and strangely partisan issue according to the PEW Research Center. Apparently, 53% of Republicans do not believe there is any evidence for global warming, up from 31% in 2007.

I find this shift interesting. My perception is that, about a decade ago, most Republicans shared this opinion. Then the rhetoric changed to agreeing that the problem existed, but that it was already too late to take action.

As conservative humorist P.J. O'Rourke puts it: "My argument is that we can't do anything [about climate change]. So, my suggestion is to install air conditioning and buy beachfront land in Greenland."

Now we're back to disbelief. Very odd, I think.

By no means am I an expert on climate change, but my perception is that the scientific community believes it is occurring, so I defer to their expertise. Wherever you stand on this issue, I think we could all agree with Bill O'Reily; and no, that's not a typo -- I said Bill O'Reily:
"My opinion is a cleaner planet is better for everyone. So I don't care whether it's the automobiles that are making it dirty or some guys in Ohio with smoke stacks or it's the natural cycle of the universe. It doesn't matter. When we have a cleaner planet it's better for everyone. So let's all work together to get the planet clean. That's all."
That's a good starting point, I feel.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Process over substance

The expiration of the Bush tax cuts is on the horizon, and since the resurgence of Republican power during the midterm elections, it seems an extension of tax cuts for the wealthy is inevitable. But why would this be, considering that -- at least during the election -- Democrats campaigned on repealing cuts for the wealthiest of the wealthy and the political "left" still controls the Senate and the veto power of the presidency?

Paul Krugman offers an interesting solution in an op-ed article in today's New York Times. In short, Obama is a political pussy.

I've been avoiding such emotionally charged language in my posts as of late, but I can't hold back on it any longer. If I vote for a Republican, he or she will take action that is usually in line with the campaign rhetoric. If I vote for a Democrat, he or she will fail to represent my interests in favor of promoting bipartisanship.

As Krugman puts it, Obama "defined America’s problem as one of process, not substance." Obama and the Democrats as a whole have elected to place the process of bipartisanship above the achievement of substantive legislation, and what has that gotten us? Gitmo is still open; "don't ask, don't tell" is still in place; we still lack meaningful economic reform; campaign financing is a mess; the Supreme Court lacks leadership from the left; health care reform stopped short of, well, reform; and now the deficit disaster tax cuts will likely continue.(And isn't reducing the deficit one of your things Tea partiers? I'm just saying.)

And the right has played Obama against himself perfectly. Knowing that he seeks compromise and opens negotiations from a moderate point, they counter with an offer from the extreme right, painting Democratic policy decisions with buzz words like "socialist" or "elitist." The Democratic response is to compromise from an already compromised position, moving legislation to a new center, which is in actuality the political right.

This scenario is maddening. The real outrage from the left doesn't come from a misunderstanding on the part of the electorate, but rather a misunderstanding on the part of the politician. Voters on the progressive side of the isle have no true voice; they are relegated to voting for Democrats, who are legislative centrists at best.

So I guess my holiday wish is for the Democrats we send to Washington to stand up on behalf of their principles, if not for their constituents then for themselves. If it were me, I'd rather lose my position because I fought and failed than because I lacked the courage and political will to do what I thought was right. So sack up!

Monday, November 1, 2010

The nonvoter

PEW research conducted an interesting study of nonvoters -- and considering that only 40% of adults vote in midterm election, nonvoters become that much more important.

According to PEW, when compared to likely voters, nonvoters are "younger, less educated and more financially stressed." In other words, they're Democrats.

In fact, nonvoters are typically more liberal on most issues than the general population and favor activist federal government. None of that information is particularly surprising. I'm young and financially stressed and I'd welcome a leg up too.

But if your wondering why Republicans may regain control of Congress in the coming days -- and they are projected to -- the answer is very simple. Throw out all the concern over the Citizens United ruling, the influence of corporations, the power of lobbyists, and the persuasiveness of fear, and you're left with a simple truth: Republicans vote, Democrats don't.