Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Religion in the Military

Here's a recent New York Times article about a free-thinking soldier sent home from Iraq because of threats leveled against him from religious soldiers. NYT article

Thursday, April 24, 2008

The Democrats' Religion "Debate"

In case any of you missed it, like I did, here's a transcript of the April 13 "religion debate" between Clinton and Obama. (Actually it wasn't a debate; they answered questions separately.)

Like the ABC debate more recently, little of substance flowed from this media creation. Questioners asked about the candidates' beliefs and how they might influence their decisions, but they clearly knew there was little to gain that night and everything to lose by a verbal slip-up or perceived insult to the faithful. If either candidate harbors any doubts or anti-religious beliefs, they certainly weren't going to air them on the road to the Presidency.

The fact that a much lower portion of Congress admits to being non-theists (just over zero percent) than the general population (around 12 percent) probably doesn't mean that Congress is more religious, but that for politicians, the stakes are higher for coming out of the secular closet.

So both Democrats carefully walked that wide line between not appearing as blindly religious as President Bush and not saying anything significant that might offend (or challenge) the assumptions of anyone.

Clinton's answers seemed more vague and focus-group tested ("I think it's important that we make clear that we believe people are people of faith because it is part of their whole being..."), yet both candidates' answers seemed rather incredible and inconsistent with a belief that I would suspect both Clinton and Obama hold - that human suffering suggests the absence of a loving God, and an hour praying for mercy is less fruitful than an hour working to relieve the suffering that persists regardless of his existence.

Though the audience laughed during some of the lighter moments - e.g., Obama: "And should it be part of God's plan to have me in the White House, I look forward to our collaboration." - no one laughed at one of the truly amusing moments.

The questioner asked how Obama would respond if one of his daughters asked whether God really made the world in six days. Obviously aware that the idea of a six-day construction timeframe for the Earth is preposterous, he hedged that they might not be true "24-hour days." Yet he saw nothing fantastical about telling his child that an invisible lord created the entire universe.

Of course, Obama also said that the story of God creating the Earth "is fundamentally true." I didn't see the video - perhaps when he said the word "fundamentally" there was a twinkle in his eye.

Social Justice Update

The NY Times has an article that updates and amplifies on how deranged our penal system is. It's part of a series called "American Exception: Millions Behind Bars" that "examines commonplace aspects of the American justice system that are actually unique in the world," to say the least . Not only unique but, I would suggest, extremely egregious. Be sure to check out the accompanying interactive graphic, "Prison Population Around the Globe."

Monday, April 21, 2008

2nd Annual Social Justice Conference

This past Saturday we set up a literature table at the 2nd Annual Social Justice Conference at Cabrillo College. By all indications it was a successful event. I unfortunately didn’t have a chance to attend any of the conference sessions, but I did have a chance to talk to some of the attendees. They were all interested in what secular humanism had to say about social justice issues.

I for one think that our so-called “criminal justice system” is in fact a “criminal” injustice system, if you get the gist of my drift. The statistics don’t lie and the disproportionate number of minorities incarcerated in California and country-wide are testament to that fact (1). On a broader scale the USA has a larger proportion of its population in jail than any other country including the much-maligned People’s Republic of China (2). As of 2002 the total number of prisoners in all jurisdictions in the US exceeded 2,000,000. Of these nearly 800,000 were African-American males! That’s nearly 40% of the prison population from a population that represents only 12.7% of the country’s total (3). Of course a large segment of those jailed are incarcerated on drug offences (4) compounding the problem. I can’t imagine that any of this is news to anybody. To my mind, however, it represents one of the greatest crises facing our nation in terms of the waste of human lives and material resources it all entails. More money is spent in California building prisons and warehousing prisoners than is spent on higher education. As an indication of the depths of denial in this country, nary a mention of these circumstances has been made in any of the innumerable presidential debates held to date and it is not an issue that has been raised at anytime during the campaign’s of any of the candidates.

As a secular humanist I would argue that our whole system of jailing prisoners in modern day dungeons, as depicted on TV in such series as MSNBC’s Lockup, is an anachronism of unimaginable magnitude. The whole raison d'ĂȘtre of our penal system is based on socially sanctioned retribution and punishment of the transgressor with its roots in the patriarchal tenets of the Old Testament. It only serves to perpetuate and exacerbate criminal behavior. Even when rehabilitation is considered a part of the process it is within the context of the total degradation and dehumanization of the prisoner. The humanist position should be (1) recognition of the need to remove the offender from society at large in order to protect the citizenry from injury; (2) placement of criminals in secure facilities that prevent them from escape, and (3) creating facilities that preserve human dignity, and give the prisoner opportunities for education and socially constructive and productive activities. This may sound like pie in the sky, but I think a human system of incarceration and rehabilitation is possible if we put our minds and commit our resources to the task.

Friday, April 11, 2008


$261,048.27. That's the cost incurred by society to give me a life. I've been fortunate enough to be employed by a community college district that supplied me with adequate health insurance coverage, so my life-saving quadruple by-pass operation was fully covered. My co-payment: $250.00. There have been times, however, when I lacked any health insurance coverage whatsoever. And if my life hadn't gone in the direction it did I could very well have been uninsured at present. If so, I may not have sought the tests that led to my surgery and very well could be written up in an obituary rather than writing this blog entry. As a humanist I can only hope that we as a society finally realize the urgent need for universal health care. 'Nuff said.