Wednesday, October 28, 2009

For Goodness Sake

--Is there good without God? Can people be good without God? How can people be good, in the moral and ethical sense, without being grounded in some sort of belief in a being which is greater than they are? Where do concepts such as good and evil, right and wrong, come from if not from religion? From where do you get your sense of good and evil, right and wrong?

As a religious woman, I am convinced that the goodness in my life is grounded in a belief in God and as a Christian woman, I am convinced that the model for that goodness comes through Jesus. However, this is not a universal and I do know that there are plenty of people in this world who act in a good manner without the belief in a higher power. And to further that, there are many religious people who act in decidedly non-good manners, we could even call it evil, and do it under the guise of religious fervor.

A good friend of mine is an atheist. Not one who has been devoid of religious opportunity, but one who, after seeing the options, decided to be a conscientious atheist. According to the idea that goodness can only come from God, this would mean that this woman, no matter how hard she tried, could never be good until she grounded herself in a higher power. This woman, however, is studying to be a nurse and enact change in public policy and healthcare reform. Should she just stop now? Another atheist friend of mine is studying race relations and the inequalities therein. In fact, some of my friends who are the most "good" in societal terms are atheists. This in and of itself should disprove the idea that goodness is only possible through a relationship with God.

We as humans know what is right from wrong, it does not take a book filled with rules or a church building to instill those values in us. We know right from wrong because we are conscientious of other people. Why else does one feel guilt when one crosses the street to avoid a panhandler? Sure I can find a biblical text to support my guilt, but the initial feeling is one that is human. We know what is right and wrong because we can put ourselves in situations outside of our norm. Whether we choose to act on that knowledge is another case.

About 13 years ago, a three year old boy fell into the primate exhibit in Brookfield Zoo. A 150 pound female gorilla approached the little boy. According to the argument that something cannot be good without God, we should assume that this female gorilla would act in a decidedly un-good manner. Maybe harass the little boy for coming into her territory and threatening her kin, maybe attack. Instead, the female gorilla picked up the little boy, cradled it, and brought it to safety. That sounds pretty good to me, maybe even godly.

We must stop looking at ways to determine ourselves as better than others. Better than other religions, better than other people, better than creation. God created and God said it was good. It’s not our job to decide whether our goodness is more of God than others.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Hating With the Times - Why Our Laws Must Change

Congress is expected to expand federal hate crimes laws to add "sexual orientation" to a list that already includes "race, color, religion or national origin." Is this necessary? Should there be special laws against crimes motivated by intolerance, bigotry and hatred? Isn't a crime a crime?

Adding “sexual orientation” to the federal hate crime laws is absolutely necessary if we are to remain a society that provides laws to fit the time. Since laws are almost always enacted in response to a situation, it is the duty of federal lawmakers to pay vigilant attention to the needs of the culture.

I remember the first time I saw “The Laramie Project,” the play written about the brutal death and beating of Matthew Shepard. I was in college and had no idea what the play was about. When I emerged, I remember a powerful feeling of doom because there had not been much progress in creating a hate crime bill, yet hope since this brutal crime had gotten people talking about the situation.

But it seems like we’re back to where we started.

This issue is an issue that should deeply move the religious individual because at this point, crimes committed towards an individual solely because they are homosexual are not considered hate crimes. That means that they are not determined to be quite as hateful as violence motivated by hate towards individuals due to race, color, religion, or national origin.

Those of us who read the Bible know that there are certain laws that must be changed in order to fit the times. We no longer believe that parents should stone their child if that child is stubborn or rebellious (Deut. 21:18-12), and we definitely do not believe that a woman must marry the man that rapes her (Deut. 22:28029). If we are willing to see that our holy books must change with the times, how much more should we be willing to have our worldly laws change with the times?

Yes, crimes are crimes, but there should be special attention paid to those crimes that are motivated against individuals based on their race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, ability, etc. Indiscriminate crimes are tragic and deadly, but discriminate crimes are in a class all by themselves, a class that needs discriminate attention.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Few, The Proud, the Vaccinated

Check out my most recent blog posted in the Washington Post On Faith section!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Limbaugh and Beck - EPIC FAIL

This week, a class assignment had me listening to Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck (pause for the impact of that statement to settle). I have never, in my entire life, spent more than 30 seconds listening or watching either of these men, so this was quite a difficult task.

I decided to pick a subject that I thought might be one that I could find some common ground on - the Chicago Olympic bid. I was generally opposed to Chicago getting the Olympics for reasons surrounding environmental and social issues, so since I disagreed with Obama here, I thought maybe I could stomach these two men a little more easily.

I started with Rush Limbaugh. I could only find a strange recording of the show on youtube because Limbaugh requires you to be a member (and pay membership dues) if you want to access his podcasts. After the initial shock of Limbaugh's correlation of Obama with the failure "OBAMA LOSES THE OLYMPIC BID!!!", I was mainly struck by the derogatory manner of speaking of the President of the United States and other respectable figureheads in our country. "Barack Hussein Obama...MMM MMM MMM" or "Michelle my Belle" or "The Oprah". One can't help but believe that Limbaugh has some inside joke with his listeners about these people. One also can't help but assume that since he has no joke about Mayor Daley's name, that this is racism. It's racism, but it's even something scarier than racism: it's a powerful man spreading hateful ideas to people who think it's NOT racism. Limbaugh is re-naming people of color which harkens back to the days of slave owners choosing names for the slaves they had purchased. And no, I don't think I'm reading too far into this.

Next stop, Glenn Beck. Thankfully, Beck refrains from childish and racist attacks on the names of people, but he too connects this "failure" to Obama. He, like Limbaugh, blaims Obama for the fact that a group of people voted for the "best" city among the many already determined "best" cities in the world for the Olympics! First of all, that's not a failure!! Second of all, how can this be blamed on Obama? A good deal of the preparation and conversation over the Olympic bid happened before he even came to Washington! If we even need to point a finger in "blame", all we can do is blame the people who chose the site of the Olympics for finding Rio to be more appropriate (and it's about damn time since the Southern hemisphere has been overlooked up until this point). It's their turn. No one failed. Stop relishing in a moment where people may be disappointed after working very hard for a dream.

It's just all about failure. Failure is something that no one should wish upon a president or a country for that matter (I know I'm not the first to say this). As I've mentioned in other blogs, people seem to be waiting for Obama to fail and so every little thing that could be construed as a failure is blown out of proportion just like this situation.

If I had the opportunity to sit down and chat with Mr. Limbaugh or Mr. Beck, I would first ask them about their faith. Ask them who they identify as role models (not including political figures), and what characteristics they find admirable in people. Most likely they would lift up characteristics that all human beings treasure: honesty, trustworthiness, kindness, etc. Unfortunately, I find these individuals to exemplify what is wrong with humanity: hate, bitterness, judgmental, argumentative, scathing. The list can go on and on.

Mr. Limbaugh and Mr. Beck: I agree with you that there is something seriously wrong with the media, but I unfortunately include both of you in that statement. You illustrate what is wrong with this country, this world, this race, this humanity. Please report on something positive and constructive, not hateful and destructive.

Some additional websites about Limbaugh and his "techniques":

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Sticking With Afghanistan, Not Getting Stuck

This week's On Faith question:

Q-- Eight years after the U.S. attacked Afghanistan, fighting continues. Religious extremists in the Taliban and al-Qaeda retain significant power there. What is our moral responsibility to the people of Afghanistan? If religion is part of the problem there, how can it be part of the solution?

We as religious individuals can begin by saying: “we cannot fix this situation by ourselves.” We must look for support from those who are like us, those who are different from us, and finally, to God.

As Americans, we are taught early on that we are powerful. So powerful in fact that we are to help those who are less powerful, even if they are thousands of miles away from us. This is evident in our involvement with Vietnam, Bosnia, and Somalia, just to name a few. We seem poised and ready for any situation that necessitates our armed forces. And then we appear silent when tsunamis, earthquakes, and other natural disasters rear their ugly heads. And this is because we cannot put a face to our enemy. It’s easier to shake our fists at each other than at God.

The situation in Afghanistan is one that has allowed the U.S. to swoop in with our bandaids of war and weaponry, but unfortunately, that bandaid will soon weather and fall off. The Afghani people need help surviving, not fighting.

As religious people, we must acknowledge this primary need of survival, and respond accordingly with something that sticks. We must find allies in our own traditions of faith and work together to educate the Afghani people to stand on their own, not rely on the U.S. for all their needs. We must reach out across religious divisions and realize that those differences and the silences surrounding them are partially what has brought us to where we are. We must work together to find a common voice of compassion for the people of Afghanistan, rather than claim that religious conversion is the only option for us in that country.

And finally, we must turn to God. We must realize that this situation is one that needs prayer and the understanding that we are not powerful enough as individuals to solve this problem. This is not to say that we place this situation in God’s hands and then continue on our merry ways, but rather that we stop claiming that we have the right answer and that everyone else is wrong. Once we realize this fact, we will also realize the power in our humble humanity to connect with others working towards the common well-being for a people who are inherently good, not evil. Maybe that will stick.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Jon and Kate plus an Earthquake?

Yesterday, I read that 109 people had died resulting from the earthquake in Indonesia. This morning when I woke up, the number had climbed to around 918. This evening, as I went to see where the numbers were at, I couldn't find even a headline on the Chicago Tribune website. Instead, the website is covered with a countdown for the Olympic decision in Copenhagen.

What is wrong with the media these days? Yes, conservatives have been screaming about this issue for the past few months (years?), but where has our moral imperative gone in reporting what is really newsworthy? The top headlines of the Chicago Tribune included everything from Jon and Kate to what really killed the dinosaur that is in the Field Museum. By the way, as of right now, at least 1,100 people are dead in Indonesia.

It seems to me, a person of faith, that we as a society have lost sight of what really is important. We love to read about tragedy, but not real tragedy. Yes, the fact that Jon and Kate are having a messy public divorce is sexy and exciting (in a terribly disgusting way), but when it comes to real tragedy, we shield our eyes like fainting Victorian women who witness their daughter hiccup in public.

We are no strangers to tragedy. There is a tragic scenario that unfolds every second of every day and none of us can escape that tragic ending that is death. So why do we ignore it? We choose instead to watch the entertaining unraveling of reality television stars. We sit from a safe distance and clutch our popcorn as we see the Britneys, the Michaels, the Anna Nicoles, the David Hasselhoffs, waste away. And we don't have to do a thing.

And that's where the problem lies. Watching reality television and reading gossip magazines releases us from a moral responsibility. When something truly tragic happens, our internal morality (which thank God is still intact), nags at us to do something. And as annoying as this may be, this is hope for the human race.

We still know how to identify true tragedy. Society came together after 9/11, for New Orleans, for the tsunami - but it wasn't always quick or successful. We need to cultivate that inner voice that reminds us that "hey, you, it's time to do something. No, it's not pleasant to think about, but it's your responsibility as a human!"

The Indonesian earthquake isn't nearly as entertaining as watching the dissolution of Jon and Kate's marriage, but it is our human responsibility to pay attention to the uncomfortable tragedies, not just the ones that make us feel good about ourselves.

Copyright 2009 Windy-Wisdom