Tag Archives: Democracy

Love the Sinner; Hate the Sin

Have you heard the maxim, “Love the sinner; hate the sin”? I’ve heard it dozens of times. It always seemed like a good principle, and I do think it is well-meant.

This week, I read a wise follow-on:

Part of “loving the sinner” must be making sure that legitimate desires and activities are not unjustly classified as “sin.”

Excellent point! Do we love “sinners” enough to do the hard and painful work questioning our most basic assumptions?

The phrase love the sinner but hate the sin originated in Augustine’s letter 211, written to a group of nuns. The “sins” he has in view are excessive eye contact with men and receiving letters or gifts from men.

Though a passing glance be directed towards any man, let your eyes look fixedly at none; for when you are walking you are not forbidden to see men, but you must neither let your desires go out to them, nor wish to be the objects of desire on their part.

If any nun violates this dictum, the others are to discipline her “with due love for the persons and hatred of the sin.”

He continues,

But if any one among you has gone on into so great sin as to receive secretly from any man letters or gifts of any description, let her be pardoned and prayed for if she confess this of her own accord. If, however, she is found out and is convicted of such conduct, let her be more severely punished…

To be sure, each nun had made a vow of celibacy and violating any vow is a serious matter. However, many people today, including many Catholics, question the wisdom of such vows in the first place. They wonder whether natural sexual interest, even by members of religious orders, is really a sin and whether suppressing it so ruthlessly does more harm than good.

I’m encouraged to see more and more of this kind of questioning. Voters in two states recently legalized marijuana use. As of this writing, nine states allow same-sex marriage. The citizenry is loving the sinner by taking a fresh look at their own long-standing ideas about the sins.

At the same time, we are becoming more aware of sins that do real harm — sins like dogmatism and prejudice.

What do you think? Are we going to hell in a hand-basket, or are we throwing the hand-basket into the abyss and climbing toward fresh air?

31 Days – Democracy

One of life’s poetic joys is to observe a force producing a counterintuitive effect that is seen afterward to have been inevitable.

For example, I often marvel at how the ruthless, selfish process of natural selection has produced altruism and cooperation.

Our 31 Days of Wonder would not be complete without including one of the most beneficial and counterintuitive effects that mankind has ever enjoyed: the prosperity and power born of democracy.

When “government of the people, by the people, for the people”  was established in America, monarchies had long dominated Western civilization. The most successful states were the ones with the most powerful kings. Centralized, hereditary power was so entrenched as to have become a divine right.

The Declaration of Independence

The Declaration of Independence

Who could have imagined that a country could prosper under the ultimate control of … nobody in particular? How could a citizenry unschooled in economics and foreign affairs guide a brand-new nation to prosperity?

Thankfully the Founding Fathers had just that vision, and here we are.

What’s more, we find that the most powerful man on Earth is the one elected to preside over this stunning divestiture of power.

Now that’s poetic.

Marriage Is Not the Government’s Business

President Obama’s recent endorsement of same-sex marriage
has gotten people talking. I am late to the party, so maybe I can toss in a question that few people are asking.

Why should anyone need the government’s permission to marry?

The whole thing smacks of feudal times, when serfs needed their lord’s approval to marry. Today, we have freedom. Shouldn’t we be free to make a basic commitment to each other without the government’s say-so? We don’t need the government’s permission to commit ourselves to a particular god; why should it decide which interpersonal commitments are up to snuff?

Let’s get government out of the marriage business.

Wherever government now relies on marriage to determine something, let it use a civil contract. And I’m not talking about civil unions. What I have in mind is much more fine-grained. There could be contracts to establish a household for tax purposes, inheritance contracts, living will contracts, contracts to raise adopted children together, and so on. In each case, the restrictions on who could execute the contracts would be based on the relevant factors for that type of contract, not on the religiously charged concept of marriage.

If you talk with those on the Religious Right, who style themselves as the most ardent defenders of marriage, it’s clear that for them marriage is a religious institution, and their faith makes it especially hard for them to accept the idea of same-sex marriage. But can we not see that even in the context of faith, marriage means different things to different people?

Our country is supposed to allow everyone to practice their faith (or lack of faith). How do we have freedom of religion when we prohibit Muslims from following their custom of polygamy? And have we forgotten that the founders of the Judeo-Christian tradition were polygamous as well? (Yes, Abraham, Moses and many of the other patriarchs had multiple wives.) Finally, does anyone else see irony in the fact that the Republican platform of 2012 will almost certainly include a “one-man-one-woman” plank, and standing squarely on that plank will be … a Mormon?

Did you know that the Bible nowhere defines what it takes to be married? Certainly heterosexuality is assumed, but it’s remarkable how little the Bible actually says about the mechanics of getting married. There is no particular ceremony to follow, and no particular vow to take. And it isn’t until the New Testament that monogamy is unambiguously held up as the ideal. More to the point of this post, no government is invested with the authority to “declare you husband and wife.”

How have we Americans, of all people, ended up with a government that arrogates the right to define marriage not only according to one particular religion’s definition of it, but a late-arriving definition at that?

The first amendment  to our constitution expressly tells government to stay out of the religion business, but we have taken a long time to realize the full implications of that wisely drawn boundary.

  • The first prayer of the Continental Congress (admittedly predating the First Amendment) closes with, “All this we ask in the name and through the merits of Jesus Christ, Thy Son and our Savior.” Recent prayers  are generally less sectarian.
  • The history of blasphemy laws  in the United States may surprise you. As late as 1977, Pennsylvania used its law to prosecute a man who named his business I Choose Hell Productions, LLC. My own state’s general statues still threaten jail time for those who “reproach Jesus Christ.” Yet, one by one, we are realizing that these laws are unconstitutional.
  • It wasn’t until the 1960’s that many people thought twice about things like prayer and devotional Bible reading in schools. Now most Bible advocates realize that a time of silent reflection is probably the most that our constitution will allow.

We have gradually realized that the government does not belong in the prayer business, nor should it police blasphemy. Isn’t it time to realize that it should get out of the marriage business, too?

Let’s go back to the traditional practice of marriages that are covenants between free people – people chosen by each other, not by the government.

Those who want religion to be part of their marriage can enroll a religious leader to conduct a ceremony; those who don’t can pledge their commitment in front of friends or all by themselves. Most marriages will still be between one man and one woman, but a minority will not.

If it’s important for some groups of people to maintain a distinction between their brand of marriage and others, they could copyright a design for special rings.

Wait. That would be kind of like where we are today. Well, I’ve gotta go. One of my kids is asking me to read The Sneetches.

Why Do Atheists Care About Religion?

<< Previous in this series: Why Do Atheists Care About Other People?

I’ve noticed on the CNN Belief Blogs and elsewhere that atheists comprise many if not most of the commenters. That puzzles the believing portion of the commentariat.

When I was a Christian, I, too, could never understand why an unbeliever would care one way or the other about religion. Why would he or she waste time commenting on CNN’s Belief Blogs? Why not just leave religious people alone?

Now on the other side of the fence, I find that there are at least three reasons. [What follows is a Beagle’s Bark. ;) ]

To Warn of the Dangers of Faith

Many atheists are former believers. We have seen not only the benefits of a faith-based life, but also the damage it can do. Just as evangelical Christians want to warn the world about the peril of hell, atheists want to sound the alarm over the dangers of conservative Christianity. For me, these included the following.

  • I  became morally compromised by having to justify some of the commands and actions of God in the Bible. I’ve posted about this here.
  • I became intellectually twisted by having to fit modern, scientific knowledge into a framework that was forged in the Bronze Age.
  • I became emotionally damaged by believing that my Heavenly Father’s very best plan for the world included so many seemingly gratuitous instances of suffering, and by believing that even my righteousness is like a filthy menstrual rag.
  • I became relationally insecure when the God with whom I was supposedly having a relationship so often did not speak a word to me — at least none that I was able to hear.
  • I became socially toxic due to an excessive, us-versus-them mentality. It’s hard to be both graceful and sincere toward the rest of the human race when the Bible specifically says that “friendship with the world is hostility toward God” and calls all non-believers “fools.”
  • This one did not apply so much to me, but I saw others become bound by fear due to the doctrine of hell. (Here is a gift one otherwise gracious person gave me when I left the church.)
  • …and on and on.

To Do Penance For Our Sins of Faith

Second, some of us former believers feel guilt over our years spent in religion. Warning others away from it is a form of penance. In the Bible, God

This list, too, could go on and on.

During my 40 years as a Christian, I never felt as guilty and ashamed as I did when I realized that the book I had promoted as God’s Holy Word teaches atrocity after atrocity, and all my excuses for it were totally lame. I felt that my hands were drenched in blood. I hope that by speaking out now I can undo some of the harm I have brought on society.

To Protect the Body Politic

And speaking of society, here in America conservative Christianity drives at least one side’s passion in many political issues: abortion, homosexual marriage, school prayer, science curricula, global climate change, and recently even birth control.

While evangelical Christians seek to make their faith-based views into law, they ironically complain that our secular government is trying to deny their religious freedom. I say this is ironic because, far from promoting religious freedom, the Bible demands the death penalty for even a whispered suggestion of worshiping another god. But I digress. For now, let’s just say that the Bible’s definition of religious freedom is “worship Jehovah or else.” When a substantial portion of the American electorate upholds the Bible as God’s Unchanging Word, the rest of us get a little nervous.

That wraps up this series. I hope the reasons I have given for why an unbeliever would care about religion, other people, right and wrong and indeed anything at all make sense. If not, please leave a comment!

Is Multinational Democracy Possible?

Vaclav Klaus

Vaclav Klaus

While chewing on my Frosted Shredded Wheat this morning, I read a thought-provoking speech by the president of the Czech Republic, Vaclav Klaus.

A highly educated economist as well as a top politician in his country, Dr. Klaus says that Europe’s current economic malaise is the result of a decadent and paternalistic economic culture, especially in the wake of increased unification and the implementation of a single currency.

After distinguishing between integration (a good thing) and centralization (an ominous turn away from democracy), he spoke the line that really caught my eye:

It was forgotten that states are the only institutions where real democracy is possible.

His ideas are an interesting counterpoint to my last post, Morality, Fractals and the Arab Spring, where I waxed optimistic about the increasing scale of democracy in the world.

You can read his speech here: The Crisis of the European Union: Causes and Significance.

What do you think? Can democracy function at a super-national level, or is the nation-state the largest scale where it can be accountable to the people?