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Archive for November, 2015

So, we’re going to have a lot to be talking about for the next several months on this blog.  We can thank our sponsors, the Presidential Candidates.  Next week we will discuss Ben Carson and the Monochromatic Pyramids/Grain Silos.

 

So, as you all know, last week our brothers and sisters in France, Lebanon, and Iraq were the victims of terrorist attacks.  In the wake of these deadly acts, particularly in response to the attacks in France, the question of the acceptance of refugees in the United States, specifically Syrian refugees, has been raised.  About half of our governors (including mine, sadly) and the majority of our presidential candidates have all been stoutly anti-refugee.  We will discuss this more in-depth another time, but right now I want to talk about Religious Freedom.

 

Conservative Christians have been up in arms the past several months (and years) about how their religious freedom is being infringed upon.  Now, I want to state that I do feel that Christians are facing increasing disrespect in a growing secular world, but that is not the same as having their constitutional rights taken away.  Common instances include being asked to sign a same-sex marriage license or being asked to serve someone who is gay in their store (because, you know, every store I walk into, the first thing that happens is someone comes up and asks me my sexual orientation).  However, what really has been striking me the past several days has been the hypocrisy from some of these same Christians, especially our favorite Presidential Candidates.

 

Donald Trump recently said that he believed the United States needed to close down many mosques.  Now, aside from the purely selfish reasons for being horrified–everyone should remember that once they can shut down any religious institution, they can shut down yours too, your rights are tied to the rights of other citizens—this goes against all of the values that this country has always held dear.  I wish that I could tell you we have always been a welcoming place for religious minorities.  We both know that it hasn’t been.  Religious minorities have been exposed to disrespect, mockery, discrimination, and, sometimes, hate crimes.  However, we have seen the right to worship as sacred.  Look down on people who are different from us all we want, we have mostly, as a country, recognized that, whether or not we believe that Jesus is the true Messiah and our Lord and Savior, we cannot shut down a synagogue because a) it would be really wrong and b) because it would be illegal, and this has motivated us even when a) hasn’t.

 

George Washington wrote a famous letter to a synagogue in Rhode Island in 1790, assuring them that “it is now no more that toleration is spoken of as if it were the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights, for, happily, the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.”  How sad Washington would be if he saw people assisting in persecution and sanctioning bigotry on the basis of religious beliefs.

 

Multiple candidates have endorsed both having a religious test for refugees (an “Only Christians Allowed” sign is probably going to be voted to be added to the Statue of Liberty any day now…).  Ted Cruz and Jeb Bush both support this push.  Again, this is unconstitutional, there should never be a religious litmus test to be a citizen.  Candidates have also said that if elected they would create a national database of all Muslims in the country so they could be tracked (yes, aside from the horrifying dangers of this, it is also ironic that the “small government” people want a national database to track people).  Several said they would not rule out requiring Muslims to carry ID cards stating their religion.  And that would be when many of us liberals, already speechless with outrage and horror at all these suggestions, effectively lost it.  We know that ID cards with race or religion on them have led not only to discrimination, but to genocide.  Hitler famously required all Jews to wear a yellow star on their clothes to mark them as Jews for everyone to see.  Right before the Rwandan genocide, the government began issuing ID cards stating which ethnic group each individual belonged to.

 

And last, because all of this wasn’t bad enough a mayor of a Virginia town felt comfortable enough in this climate to suggest that we create internment camps for Muslims the same way we did for the Japanese.  No, just no.  If I have ever been tempted to use profanity on this blog, it has been in this post.  First of all, almost everyone agrees that the internment camps were completely wrong and ended up locking up thousands of loyal citizens on the basis of race.  Multiple presidents have apologized (including the Sainted Reagan, and it’s not easy to get presidents to apologize), and it was later deemed unconstitutional.  On the country’s mental list of awful things we have done, it usually goes 1) slavery 2) everything we did to Native Americans 3) Japanese internment camps.  I mean, what sane person thinks that this is not only a viable idea, but that this crazy idea should ever leave their head and be introduced into public dialogue?  Millennia of recorded history and we haven’t learned that any idea involving internment camps (aside from, you know, prisons for murderers) is an absolutely, horribly wrong, morally bankrupt idea that should never be suggested because it is always, always wrong.

 

Now, I could keep going.  I could talk about how Ben Carson thinks a Muslim shouldn’t be allowed to be president and how he clearly just has no idea what sharia actually is.  I could talk about the hate crimes that have occurred against Muslims since the Paris attacks.  I could talk about Kasich, who I had thought was the sane adult in the Republican race, apparently thinks we should have a national agency devoted to spreading “Judeo-Christian values” to the Muslim world (because again, it’s not like there are any constitutional problems with that idea).  I could talk about a lot more and I probably will in other posts, but for now, I think I just have to call this particular one to an end, take a deep breath, and tell George Washington that I’m sorry that we haven’t been able to be the country he thought we could be.

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Last week we had our fourth presidential debate. I missed most of it because it was unusually late and I was sick. However, I made sure to get the headlines before I went to bed, and immediately started internally twitching over one particular soundbite. No, it wasn’t something that Donald Trump said, surprisingly, but actually Marco Rubio.

“For the life of me, I don’t know why we have stigmatized vocational training. Welders make more money than philosophers. We need more welders and less philosophers.”

So, I’m actually just going to ignore the fact that on a purely factual level, it turns out he’s wrong (http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/statements/2015/nov/11/marco-rubio/marco-rubio-welders-more-money-philosophers/), and move on to the deeper question behind this kind of statement.

I want to state up front that I am a big fan of vocational training and I think we need more of it. However, valuing one form of education does not require the degradation of another. For me, the point was a particular point of irony, given how much the GOP loves to talk about the founding fathers and their brilliance. They seem to fail to realize that the constitution that they (and I) so love was not created out of sheer air or because some guys got together and said “hey, would this work?” The constitution is a colonial American amalgamation of the Enlightenment philosophies. Due process: Magna Carta. Social contract between the government and the people: Locke (with a bit of Hobbes thrown in). Separation of powers: Montesquieu. The founding fathers were amateur political philosophers themselves. John Adams used Enlightenment theology to develop the centralization of government and republicanism. Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence, was head of the American Philosophical society. He read philosophical texts prolifically, including not only the aforementioned authors but also Voltaire, Hume, and Bacon.

The founding fathers valued philosophy. They didn’t see it as abstract discussions, but as a topic and set of skills that was vitally important to contemporary problems. They studied and learned from those that had come before them, and they built upon those theories to create “a more perfect union”. The need to continue to create a more perfect union is just as vital now as it was then as we try to address questions around racial injustice, economic inequality, religious freedom, the role of the United States in a global society, and the preservation of our environment for future generations. Philosophy can aid in that process now, just as it did then. I’m not saying that everyone needs to be or should be a philosopher, because I agree that would be very impractical, but they serve a purpose to our society, a purpose that should be respected and valued.

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