Saturday News Chum Stew — Post ACSAC Edition

Observation StewWhat would a Saturday be without News Chum Stew? It was a busy week at ACSAC, so I only have a few news articles that caught my eye:


Religion in the News

userpic=chanukah-christmasI gotta think about something other than the shutdown, so here are a few religion related items that have accumulated in the links list. I’m sure you’ve seen some of these floating around FB:

And speaking of close-mindedness… but then again, enough on the shutdown.


And The First Thing I’ll Do as State Senator…

userpic=camelsThe first thing I’ll do as state senator is figure out how to prevent corporate cafeterias whose kitchens are closed for remodeling from putting out such a bad selection for lunch. Tomorrow, I’m bringing my lunch.

While eating my so-called lunch of a chicken salad wrap (I consider tortillas kosher l’pesach, as they aren’t risen), I was reading about the kerfluffle about Google changing their logo yesterday to honor Cesar Chavez, a leader who didn’t rise from the dead, instead of Jesus, who apparently did. Of course, I see it differently. In my eyes, Google changed their logo to honor Chavez on Cesar Chavez Day, a legal holiday in California, where Google is headquartered. I’ll note that if Google hadn’t changed their logo at all yesterday, no one would have been upset. It is only because they chose to change it, and didn’t change it to honor Jesus, that a number of self-righteous Christians have gotten upset.

Google is a private company. They can choose to honor whomever they want to honor. If people don’t like it, they can take their business elsewhere, although Google makes that extremely sticky. They could take their business to Microsoft, which honored the religious nature of Easter by putting up pictures of… eggs. Oh, right, eggs were a pagan custom, not mentioned in the Bible. Just like Christmas trees.

Personally, as someone who is not Christian, I’m glad that Google kept their doodle non-sectarian (just as the state should). For those that choose to worship Jesus, there’s a place to do that. It’s not on the Internet and it is not in Government offices or schools. It is in your local Church. There you have the experts on his teachings, in a house where he resides, free of the influence of the marketplace and the government.

Easter is not made by a Google doodle. Easter is made by an individual’s faith. So please stop picking on a successful California business that recognizes the wide variety of people that make up this great state.

Religions often preach that we should turn the other cheek, that we should not let perceived insults get under our skin. They preach that we should love one another. But far too often, these are words not practice. If it is our religion to which we perceive an insult, we go to war. We are willing to love, as long as it is those like us. Don’t believe me? Those who are often the most vocal about theocracies in the Middle East are often equally vocal about how this should be a Christian nation, and who get offended and go on the virtual warpath when a corporate doodle honors a non-sectarian leader. To my religious friends I say: If you want your religion to be a beacon to the world, then you have to live your life to be that beacon. The Christian faith, as I understand it, is more than eggs and trees, and family dinners. It is words and deeds and doing good in the community — doing good for the poor, needy, and downtrodden. It is those good deeds (what in Judiasm is called Tikkun Olam – repairing the world) that government can do.

At least those are my thoughts. Remember to vote for me for your state senator, and help to contribute to my campaign as soon as I get the Kickstarter site set up. Plum patronage positions will be available.



Government Involvement in Religious Practices

userpic=needlepointA few days ago, a former next-door neighbor alerted me to an article that he believed was representative of unwarranted government intrusion in our lives. Now, that’s not a surprise as Steve holds right-wing/tea party political views. We enjoy discussing politics (even though he’s wrong, but then again, he thinks I’m wrong 🙂 ). I try not to convince him that he’s wrong, other than the occasional documented correction. I find it very important to read and see outside my bubble, and to at least try to understand where the other side is coming from. For those that don’t do it, it is well worth doing.

In any case, reading the article got me thinking. The gist of the article, with much of the slant filtered out, was covered in the LA Times today. Essentially, the situation is this: Hobby Lobby, a privately-owned crafting company, is refusing to pay for medical coverage (per the Affordable Care Act) that covers the emergency contraception pill, because providing such coverage goes against their Christian beliefs. The right has picked up this story, using it as an example of how the government is trying to dictate against religion.

First and foremost, I should note that I think the government is often too Christian. Why else would I have to spend vacation days for Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur, but forcibly have to take Christmas or Easter off? So I have no problem with the government making decisions independent of a particular religious stricture. Study after study has shown that providing birth control saves money in the long run, and it does not hike the cost of insurance. Further, it creates an environment where all children are wanted by their parents, which is a good thing for preserving the family.

Hobby Lobby is objecting to paying for coverage for emergency contraception, claiming that such contraception violates their religious views. A few questions here. First, if Hobby Lobby is heavily Christian, why aren’t they restricting hiring to people who agree with their views and will not use such contraception (answer: because that is probably illegal)? Why aren’t they requiring employees to at least agree to restrain from having unprotected sex out of marriage? (answer: because they can’t interfere in the private life of an employee) So they are trying to exert control in the only way they can. However, this control imposes their religious position on an employee, which is discriminating against that employee’s right to practice their religion. Who’s rights should predominate: the employer’s rights, or the employee’s rights?

I personally believe that Hobby Lobby should provide the emergency contraception insurance. They should also be confident enough in their hiring practices that the people they hire wouldn’t use the particular coverage, making the issue of whether there is coverage for it a non-issue. However, if Hobby Lobby is choosing to hire people who do not share their beliefs, they should not be imposing their religious beliefs on those employees. The employee must be able to freely exercise their religion. It is not Hobby Lobby providing the pill; they are providing the insurance, and the insurance is providing the pill. For all Hobby Lobby knows, the dollars that paid for that pill came from some other employer.

Whether the government should mandate such contraception as part of coverage is a different question. Assuming that the government can dictate minimum capabilities to include in all coverages (which is probably a form of consumer protection), their goal in doing so should be practices that increase the health care of all Americans, while lowering overall health costs. That benefits Medicare. Government also has an interesting in ensuring that families do not have more children than they can afford, for such unwanted children often end up on public assistance. It is in the Government’s interest to reduce the number of people on public assistance. Government should not be making the decisions of what to cover based on the beliefs of one particular religious group over the beliefs of a different religious group. That’s showing preferential behavior towards a particular religion, and is essentially enshrining those religious beliefs as government protected religion. That goes against the freedom of religion position in the Constitution. However, I can also see how the employer would view this as the government dictating something that goes against their religion. I think that happening for a small percentage of employers is the price we pay for living in a pluralistic society. If the employer doesn’t like that price, they can move their operations to a country where there is a state religion.

I’ve written before how I believe that a God who imposes moral laws would want people to consciously choose to follow those laws, even when faced with temptation. That’s what I understand Judaism to say regarding free choice and free will. If morality is dictated, then the mitzvah (I have no good word for the opposite of sin) of choosing to do right is impossible. We should be teaching people that they have the responsibility to make the correct and moral decisions, not abrogating them from the responsibility of doing the right thing.

[Yes, I acknowledge there are some slippery slope arguments here. I think those will exist in any moral discussion, and thus reiterate this is my opinion.]

As for me, this puts Hobby Lobby in the same camp as Chik-Fil-A. I do not wish to provide profits to a company that behaves in this fashion. Others may differ, and decide to support Hobby Lobby. That’s their choice. That’s what makes America great.


Doing it Right, and Doing It Wrong

(I meant to write this up yesterday at lunch… and today at lunch… but life got away from me)

Yesterday, I had reason to go onto the Air Force base. As I’m walking across the quad, what do I see but a portable sukkah. The Jewish group on base had set up a sukkah for those service and civilian personnel to be able to observe the holiday of Sukkot. This is something I truly admire about the services. For the most part (yes, there are some exceptions) they take what is the law and follow it. The services respect freedom of religion, and that’s great.

I thought about this when I read about the behavior of some Christian groups in Israel. Groups like Daystar and TBN have set up offices in Jerusalem and are actively attempting to convert Jews to Christianity through the ruse of “Messianic Judaism” (a variant of the better named “Jews for Jesus”). This is on top of the article I read a few days ago about Christian TV, which is beaming anti-Muslim and “convert to Christianity” messages into the Middle East.

I’m sorry folks, but this is doing it wrong.

One of the things I appreciate about Judaism is that there is no active missionary effort. Judaism accepts that there may be multiple paths to God (and in fact, all it asks of other paths is a common set of guidelines, not conversion to Judaism). I think that the folks that subscribe to the notion that one must convert to their religion in order to be saved are creating a lot of the problems that the world has seen (cough, crusades, cough, inquisition) or is seeing today.

Just my 2c.



Thoughts on Gay Marriage

With President Obama’s announcement yesterday and the North Carolina vote the day before, the subject of gay marriage has been in the news. You can find a good analysis of it here. My thoughts, essentially, are “it’s about time” and “what’s the fuss about, anyway”. I thought I would take a few minutes during lunch to elaborate on this:

  • The government, in general, has no business dictating what are legal marriages. That goes for “traditional” as well as whatever “non-traditional” groupings you can think of. Essentially, that is the government intruding into religious space. However…
  • Given that the government does recognize such “personal corporate entities” (for lack of a better term) for the purposes of visitation, inheritance, etc., that recognition must reflect the attitude of “equal under the law”. That means interracial, interreligious, and samesex must be accepted. If a group files to be recognized by the state, it should be recognized (and yes, I do think there are some groups that should be prohibited, primarily those involving “below the age of legal consent” or “incapable of legal consent”–that is, children and animals).
  • Government recognition does not mandate religious recognition, or what is taught in religious schools. The government can’t tell religious leaders they must participate in any ceremony, or that they have to–from the point of view of what a church accepts–accept a particular view. The government can only have a say for those areas where the government provides funds: thus if a church provides a community service funded by the government, that community service must be “equal under the law”.
  • [Caveat 1: Now, this might open the can of worms of whether IRS exemptions for churches are government funding. They might be, and arguably, if a church wants to have that exemption, they must recognize same-sex marriages. You might argue that this would make churches suffer. Well, churches have always suffered for the sake of what is “morally right”. But I’ll agree that this is a muddy water, and I’d be equally happy with looking the other way on this.]
  • [Caveat 2: Yes, this extends to abortion as well. The right to abortion should be legal–to do anything else is to have the government impose one religious view on those with a different religious view. Don’t want to offer abortions? Fine. You don’t have to take government funds.]
  • However, the linked article is correct when this is called a cultural war. There are two clear camps: those who believe that the government should not be dictating morals based on a specific religious creed, and those that believe that they have to impose their religious beliefs on those they view as non- or lax-believers so that they will have a better share in the world-to-come. I think the outcome of this “war” will truly dictate the future of this great nation, and determine whether it will hold true to its founding ideals as a place where minority religions and groups are free.

Those are my thoughts. What are yours?



Assorted Chum: Church and State, Things That Aren’t Dead, and Things That Are

I’ve accumulated a bunch of interesting articles for lunchtime news chum, but they don’t seem to be fitting into a theme. So, I think, as this week started without a theme, I’ll just dribble them out over the next few days:

Music: Crazy for You (1992 Original Broadway Cast): What Causes That?