Thursday, August 30, 2007

Grace in Texas

Texas Governor Rick Perry has heard the voice of the people (and I would suggest the voice of God) and has avoided what would have been a huge injustice by commuting the sentence of Kenneth Foster from death to life imprisonment.

In what was nearly a literal "eleventh hour" reprieve, Perry granted life to Foster on the day he was scheduled to be Texas' 403 execution since 1982. Foster had been tried jointly with the man who actually pulled the trigger in this murder. Foster's only crime was driving the car. The murder was not premeditated, rather it occurred after an altercation arose. The victim was shot approximately 80 feet away from the car. Since the convicted murderer has already been executed, this would have been a miscarriage of even "an eye for an eye" justice by taking two lives for one.

You can read more about Kenneth Foster (who will obviously remain an activist while in prison) here and you can see the Governor's statement here

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

What's Your Score?

I found this interesting site that gives you a score of your personal political view and then rates candidates against your responses. It is important to click on the question for some of them since it opens a separate page that helps to explain how the answers are scored. Here is the link

When you finish the questions you can change category (e.g. unannounced/withdrawn candidates, senators, etc.) and hit "score the quiz" again and the other lists will come up without having to take the quiz again.

You can also look at where you rank on a 4-sided array: left-liberal, libertarian, populist, right-conservative (and the middle section of moderate). There is a link that opens a page explaining the scale with a nice chart. By way of a brief explanation, a perfect hard-core liberal score would be 100% personal and 0% economic (see the site for explanation of the categories). Hard-core conservative would be the exact opposite 0% personal, 100% economic. Libertarian is 0/0 and populist is 100/100. Get the picture?

It came as no surprise to me that I was nearly "off the chart." The only thing that kept me from a perfect hard-core liberal score was my soft position on choice. I scored a 98/0. Apparently my support of "fair trade" over anti-globalization (which is also the position for "buy American") didn't affect the economic score. Granted, some of the issues are too complicated to fit neatly into this model leaving no room for nuance. For instance, I was unable to find a comfortable position on UN troops in Iraq being conflicted between my pacifist and multi-lateral views.

I was a bit surprised for by the way my views aligned with the candidates'. Kucinich topped my list with 90% agreement. I was then surprised by the second choice being Dodd at 75%. The next three in order were Clinton (73%), Obama (68%) and Edwards (63%). Of course, beyond the issues there are personal characteristics, assessment of an individual's ability to lead and inspire, integrity, believability, etc. that factor into a final decision. Not to mention that me as a registered member of the Green Party I won't be involved in choosing any of these candidates in the primaries (and I didn't have the option of testing my views against a Green, but it would clearly be equal to or greater than Kucinich).

The drop in percentage between the most conservative Democrat and the most liberal Republican was about 25% for me. On social issues, there were 4 Republicans whose match with my views was 0%, an absolute disagreement on all issues! They were Romney, Tancredo, Hunter and Gilmore. Brownback was my only 0% on the economic scale. He and Hunter were tied at 3% overall as my worst matches. I also checked my top ten best and worst matches of incumbent senators. Barbara Boxer topped my list and there were a full 8 Republican senators who got zeroes from me.

Among unannounced candidates no one would beat Kucinich, but Al Sharpton at 80% would move into second. And for today's quiz try naming the one unannounced potential candidates who would be an absolute 0 on my scale.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Questioning Your World

I am now writing a weekly column called Questioning Your World in the Tantasqua Town Common. The paper is delivered free to every home in Brimfield, Brookfield, Sturbridge, Wales and Holland. If you go to their site you can read the entire paper, but it is in pdf format, so it is a big download. I'm posting all my columns here at Cross Left (you can get an early read of tomorrow's column there today).

Saturday, August 18, 2007

The Skeptic's Way

There has been a rise in what is being called "the new atheism." Two leaders in this movement (if that indeed is what it is) are Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. While some Christians decry this trend, I contend that we have brought it on ourselves. Far too much of religious practice is superstition or faith claims that assault reason. Let's take a look at each of these.

Superstitious religious practices are those that claim a quid pro quo relationship with the divine. This may be seen in practices like burying a St. Joseph statue in the yard of a house you want to sell or simply showing up in church on Christmas and Easter to "cover your bases." Whether it is charismatic theology demanding the gift of tongues or health and wealth "name-it-and-claim-it" theology, we are practicing sorcery when we claim to so manipulate God. This creates a god who is either petty or weak. It is definitely creating gods in our own images and thus the atheists can easily dismiss this type of religion.

Fundamentalists of various stripes make truth claims that don't hold up to reason. The obvious current example is creationism (even disguised as intelligent design). This is a religious tenet when presented as young earth thinking or simply a philosophy when it doesn't rely on Biblical assertions. In either case it is not bad science, it is simply not science. That's ok as long as it doesn't pretend to be science, but sadly it does. Since the atheists are touting reason and the scientific method there is no room for discussion here.

Perhaps the greatest fuel for the fire of the current tendency to reject God is the way that so many religious folks claim exclusivity based on what they perceive to be ultimate reality revealed through a very particular tradition. These sorts of claims are not limited to fundamentalists. In Christianity, it is not only the Evangelicals and Orthodox believers who make this claim, but most of mainline Protestantism and nearly all of Catholicism claims that Jesus is the sole provider of salvation. Consider how this appears to the objective viewer. This claim of exclusivity has been at the heart of all the religious bloodshed throughout history. This is the reason that churches and individual believers have been able to act in ways completely counter to the teachings of the traditions they teach. This is handing the loaded gun to our detractors while it is still smoking from shooting ourselves in the foot!

So what would I say to the new atheists? Glad you asked ;-) My first challenge to them would be to prove what they claim, i.e. that there is no God. I'll concede that I cannot prove the existence of God, that is something that I take on faith for very personal reasons. But, there is also no proof that God doesn't exist and so that can only leave us all with some form of agnosticism, which literally means a lack of knowledge. I don't know that God exists, but I choose to believe that God does. The atheists likewise don't know, but they choose to believe that God doesn't exist. In either case we are agnostics with biases, some of us toward God and others away.

My next statement to the atheists would be to assure them that I also don't believe in the god they don't believe in. My journey of faith has taken me away from that place where I accepted that ultimate and objective truth had been handed down to me through the Bible. I now realize that that belief was simply a choice to believe what others taught. I now choose to believe that the Bible is a human document that charts our striving toward God, not God's vehicle to dictate doctrine to us. It is in this journeying, seeking, not knowing, but choosing to believe that I think I may share some common ground with the new atheists.

The new atheists are skeptics, testing hypotheses by employing the scientific method. If something doesn't stand the scrutiny of skeptical thought then it must be rejected and replaced with something that does. Frankly, I can embrace this methodology for my spiritual pilgrimage. I don't have a need for answers. I realize that ultimate truth is something that my finite mind is not capable of grasping completely. So instead I choose to look for truth in the present moment, appropriating it to where I am at this point, not trying to lay claim to the totality of the picture. So I am not afraid to ask tough questions, if God can't handle my questions, then God isn't God! My faith journey thus resembles a scientific inquiry. I form a hypothesis, such as God is love, and then I test it. In the course of this questioning I discover evidence to support the hypothesis and incorporate what I learn to deepen my faith, thus guiding me to further questioning.

Truth be told, I'm pretty certain that most religious people are this sort of seeker most of the time. It's just that we have bought the methodology of the catechism and subject ourselves to the tyranny of answers instead of the liberation of questions. We find it easier to retreat to dogma and fight to maintain integrity and purity of orthodox declarations. This is what fires up the rationalists to debunk what they see as destructive religion. And in this case they are right.

The problem I have with the atheists is that they don't have room in their thinking for something that can't be proven but might still be worth believing. I choose to believe that God exists because that is how I make meaning and learn to live a life that values the other. Atheists find other ways to do the same thing. I think there is something important to be learned from each other if we can stop sniping at each other long enough to listen.