Tag Archives: Obama

Ruled for the Pleasure of Men

On Friday, I visited the wonderful Hill-Stead Museum in Farmington, Connecticut, where I saw Dancers in Pink by Degas. The docent told us that these girls were poor, and were selected more for their looks than for their talent. They were not the main attraction, but would perform during the intermission at the opera.

As you can see, one of them wears an earring.

The earring signified that its wearer had a patron — someone who had promised to take care of her and her family for the rest of her life.

“For the rest of her life, or for the rest of his life?” one of my fellow tour-takers asked.

“Good point. For the rest of his life,” replied the docent, a sweet woman in her seventies.

“So was she like a mistress?”

“Yes, that’s right,” the docent finally disclosed.

All at once, I saw two things.

The first was that poverty brings with it many ills and humiliations beyond being poor. One can imagine a poor family with a beautiful daughter. It fell to her to sell her very person to support her family. You can write the script from there — her degradation; the devaluing of her own marriage, if she were fortunate enough to have one; her worries for her children; her feeling of being forever trapped.

Dancing girls looking for “patrons” no longer vie for the attention of wealthy men during the intermissions of operas. However, plenty of women resort to prostitution, or simply live with abusive, unstable boyfriends because they feel they have no better option.

I call on those who loudly care about morality (I’m looking at you, Religious Right) to work to structure society so as few women as possible face these impossible choices.

I readily agree that we cannot solve the problem by throwing government money at the symptoms. We have tried that by giving money to women who have out-of-wedlock births, and — surprise — the out-of-wedlock birthrate has gone up, not down.

What will work? I’m not sure, but I do know one thing: the people least likely to find the solution are the powerful, white males who have both promoted and benefited from the inequalities of power and wealth for all of Western history.

That brings me to the second thing. I felt another reason to rejoice in President Obama’s reelection victory. He won with a coalition of the relatively powerless: young people, African-Americans, Hispanics, homosexuals, secularists — and women. Romney’s base of older, white,  evangelical men are no longer enough to carry the day. They still have plenty of power, but they don’t have the monopoly they once had.

With Obama’s reelection, all segments of society are seated firmly at the table, so we are more likely to find solutions to some of our most vexing problems. No segment will write the rules for everyone else.

Powerful males wrote the rules of Degas’ society. The dancers were ruled for the pleasure of men.

I’m glad we have given ourselves a chance to get past that.

Obama Is More Pro-Life Than Romney

This weekend, I’m going to do something I have never done before. I will travel to the neighboring “battleground state” of New Hampshire and knock on doors to get out the vote for President Obama.

My main reason is that I view him as more pro-life than Governor Romney.

To many people, being pro-life is synonymous with being against abortion. Those people are are fighting a battle that was lost years ago. If presidents Reagan and Bush could not overturn Roe vs. Wade during their 16 years in office, I’m ready to conclude that abortion will remain legal in the United States for the the next 8, regardless of who is President.

The real battle for life is the battle for accessible healthcare.

If people in my extended family had not had good preventive care, several of them would probably be dead by now. For example, thanks to regular check-ups, at least 2 cases of cancer  were caught in time to save lives. If those family members had had to wait until it was time to go to the emergency room, as many poor people do, they would have died. Being pro-life means saving those lives as well as saving the unborn.

Thanks to the Massachusetts system of universal insurance on which Obamacare is modeled (and from which Romney now distances himself), my immediate family was able to obtain much-needed help when I had no income — not because I was one of the 47% who would never take responsibility for their lives, but because I was an entrepreneur starting a business. Being pro-life means caring for people who have no income as well as those who are well-off.

In her early days, America was a land of small towns where people knew and cared for each other and where medical care was primitive and inexpensive. We have grown, and there are now large sections of our cities and rural areas where virtually everyone is poor. They simply don’t have the wherewithal to help each other, especially in light of the tremendous cost of modern medicine.

Thankfully, we have grown richer as well as larger. As a society, we can now afford to take care of each other on a larger scale. Private charities and churches can help, but a church will never be an intensive-care unit. To care for each other, we need everyone to pitch in. That’s one thing that modern government is uniquely equipped to organize, however imperfectly.

President Obama understands this. Now that Mr. Romney is no longer governor of Massachusetts, he seems to have forgotten it.

Those are the reasons I think President Obama is more pro-life than Governor Romney, and those are the reasons I will travel to New Hampshire this weekend.

I hope you will consider casting your vote to re-elect the President.

Sex-Selective Abortions

[This post is a Beagle’s Bark.]

President Obama recently stated his opposition to a House bill that would have jailed doctors who knowingly perform abortions for sex-selection.

Predictably, the president has been roundly criticized by the Religious Right. Even his defenders acknowledge, “Banning abortions based on sex-selection is something everyone can sign on to in principle.”

I confess that I am uneasy about abortion. Even the most ardently pro-choice people are at some point (surely at 8-1/2 months!). I also think that the reasons the president’s deputy press secretary gave for the president’s position are dubious. So, I am not writing to defend the president’s decision on a bill that I have not even read.

Instead, I would like to challenge those who criticize the president based on their biblical convictions to take the plank out of their own eye before they attempt to take the speck of sawdust out of the president’s.

If sex-selective abortion is bad, surely sex-selective infanticide is much worse. I humbly ask my Bible-believing friends to grapple with the fact that the Bible claims God ordered exactly that.

I am thinking the book of Numbers, chapter 31. God has commanded Moses to take vengeance on the Midianites. In verses 17 and 18, Moses commands:

…kill all the boys, … but save for yourselves every girl who has never slept with a man.

Lest we think that this was just Moses’ idea, remember that the chapter makes it clear throughout (verses 7, 31, 41 and 47) that Moses was doing as the Lord commanded.

So, according to the Bible, we have God selecting which children will live and which will die based solely on their sex. Isn’t that exactly what we object to in the case of sex-selective abortions? (The excuse is that this was an act of divine judgment, but see my post here for a response to that idea.)

Next, consider Psalm 139:13:

…you [God] knit me together in my mother’s womb.

The Bible says that God fashions the developing child in the womb. How does that square with the fact that up to half of all pregnancies terminate with spontaneous abortion? Are these “acts of God”? It may be argued that miscarriages are the result of The Fall, but the Bible says that God is still active in “opening and closing the womb.” One of the prophets even implores God to cause miscarriages. The Bible does not depict God as standing idly by while the consequences of The Fall work themselves out.

I will continue to grapple with the abortion issue. In return, will my religious friends wrestle honestly with these troubling Bible passages?

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.

Contraception and Religious Freedom

President Obama has recently taken flak from the Right over his requirement that employer-funded insurance plans cover contraception. The top Republicans running for president have cast this as an issue of religious freedom.

I’m all for religious freedom. I would quite literally be dead without it. However, I wonder whether Romney and Santorum see the irony in their position, for the Bible is consistently against religious freedom.

Back when God was directly in charge of the nation of Israel (even before there were kings), here is how he chose to run things, according to the Bible (Deuteronomy 13:6-10):

If your very own brother, or your son or daughter, or the wife you love, or your closest friend secretly entices you, saying, “Let us go and worship other gods” … Show them no pity. … You must certainly put them to death. Your hand must be the first in putting them to death, and then the hands of all the people. Stone them to death…

Let that sink in. If your own child even whispers a suggestion to worship other gods, you are to stone him to death without pity. That’s how the God of Romney and Santorum ran things when he was in charge, according to the Bible.

Things are not much better in the supposedly kinder and gentler New Testament. The apostle Paul called down God’s curse (“May they go to hell,” basically) on all who would preach contrary to his message (Galatians 1:8-9):

But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse!

Lest we think that this is a harmless figure of speech, consider that Paul also said that if you take communion “unworthily” God might strike you with sickness or even death (1 Corinthians 11:27-30):

So then, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves. That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep.

Let’s all work for religious freedom. For the Religious Right, the first step in that struggle must be to disavow passages like these.

The second step might be to apologize for the burnings-at-the-stake and other atrocities that their forebears carried out under the influence of passages like the one from Deuteronomy.

As a third step, if they’re really serious about religious freedom, the Religious Right could lead the way to removing blasphemy laws from the books. In my state of Massachusetts, Chapter 272, Section36 is still on the books:

Whoever willfully blasphemes the holy name of God by denying, cursing or contumeliously reproaching God, His creation, government or final judging of the world, or by cursing or contumeliously reproaching Jesus Christ or the Holy Ghost, or by cursing or contumeliously reproaching or exposing to contempt and ridicule, the holy word of God contained in the holy scriptures shall be punished by imprisonment in jail for not more than one year or by a fine of not more than three hundred dollars, and may also be bound to good behavior.

Those steps would communicate loud and clear that the Religious Right really are concerned about religious freedom, and not just about getting their own way. They would also show a humility that would do a lot to foster dialog with the more secular part of the political spectrum.

Which Politicians Tell the Truth?

Whoever the next president of the United States is, he or she will confront crises that have never crossed our minds. How to respond to terrorists flying commercial jets into skyscrapers was not a campaign issue when George W. Bush campaigned, but the event defined his presidency.

The most we can do to prepare for unforeseen crises is to elect a president who has good character.

Most aspects of character are impossible to measure, but there is one important attribute that can be easily rated: truthfulness. Politicians make statements that are either true or false, and we can see how often they lie.

Politifact on Bachmann

Michele Bachmann's Politifact Scorecard as of 8/18/2011

Of course it’s not quite that simple. A politician’s truthiness will depend on which statements we evaluate, and the truthfulness of some claims can be hard to determine. Nevertheless, as a fun and informal exercise, I went to the non-partisan, Pulitzer-Prize-winning website Politifact.com today and gave it a try.

Politifact on Barack Obama

Barack Obama's Politifact Scorecard as of 8/18/2011

Politifact evaluates the truthfulness of many newsworthy statements made by public figures and rates them as you see in the illustrations here.

For most of my life, I would have assumed that politicians on the Christian Right would tell the truth more often than those damned liberals. After all, they’re Christians, right? I mean, they do what the Bible says and liberals have no moral compass at all. Right?

The data call that assumption into question.

I looked up the ratings of all the candidates for president in 2012. I threw in the Republican and Democratic leaders of the House and Senate as well as Vice President Biden for good measure.

I then subjectively divided the field into Christian Right, Secular Right and Moderate/Left.

  • In the Christian Right camp were Bachmann, Perry, Santorum and Pawlenty.
  • The Secular Right were Cain, Romney, Gingrich, Paul, Boehner, and McConnell.
  • The Moderate/Left camp consisted of all the Democrats.

If you care to quibble about some of of my assignments, feel free to do your own study and leave the results as comments to this post. You can also get my raw numbers on an Excel spreadsheet here: Politifact Scorecards 2011-08-18. I’m confident, though, that my main point will remain with any reasonable categorization.

Here’s what I found.

  • Based on the statements that Politifact rated, the most consistent truth-tellers were in Moderate/Left group and the most consistent liars were in the Christian Right. The Secular Right were in the middle.
  • The Christian Right’s statements were False or Pants on Fire 41% of the time. The Moderate/Left’s were in that range less than half that often. Yes, I know that PolitiFact rates only the statements that are provocative enough that people will want to look them up, but still…
  • The two biggest liars were two of the Christian Right’s hottest firebrands. A whopping two-thirds of Bachmann’s statements were either False or Pants on Fire. Rick Santorum’s rating was identical to hers.
  • The most truthful person on the list was our president. In fact, he and Vice President Biden (yes, plagiarist Biden) were the only ones on the list to have False/Pants on Fire percentages only in the teens, at 17% and 18% respectively.

Yes, I know that my study is very unscientific, but it does square with my general experience. It seems that when I hear a truly outrageous statement, it’s more likely to have come from the Right than from the Left. Also, it’s no exaggeration to say that most of the claims that have gotten my right-leaning acquaintances really mad have turned out to be lies spread by the Right.

In a future post, I may speculate on why this study turned out the way it did. [Done, here.] Is Politifact biased? (Check them out before you answer.) Or is it really true that politicians who are known for wearing Christianity on their sleeves lie more often than those who don’t? If so, why might that be? In the meantime, what do you think?