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Today, my political theory class discussed Socrates and Crito. The Crito is a discussion between Socrates and one of his followers, Crito, where Crito tries, unsuccessfully, to convince Socrates to escape Athens after he has been convicted and sentenced to death.  The question our teacher ended up posing to us was “Is it possible to be loyal to the state while you disobey its laws?”  I answered in the affirmative.  I believe in the ideals of our country: free speech, freedom of religion, freedom to live our lives the way we want (assuming we don’t harm anyone else), social mobility, meritocracy, everyone is equal under the law.  But I also know that our country doesn’t, has never fully, lived out those ideals.  We are a country that shuts out its religious minorities, oppresses its racial minorities, degrades its women, and gives advantages based on birth from the second you begin to get medical care or education.

 

Many conservatives complain that liberals don’t love this country, that they only want to focus on America’s flaws and changing its awesomeness. Liberals, particularly many of my young friends, all but shout back, “But it is flawed!  This is wrong!  How can you praise your country when one out of six women will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime and a black woman is much more likely to end up in jail or killed rather than college?”  They’re angry—and rightly so.  Anger in the face of injustice is understandable and perhaps, when channeled productively, is even the most rational, ethical response at times.

 

I understand. I share the frustration.  However, I also believe that a country is more than its individual politicians, its court decisions, its flawed laws.  I can still love this country because I love it at its best, at what I want it to become.  Whistleblowers, practitioners of civil disobedience, are all willing to take risks, take the consequences of their actions out of a desire to make our country better than it is.  Our class discussed the difference between laws and Laws.  Laws being the highest ideals, the underlying principles upon which we try to found everything else.  Patriotism doesn’t require obedience or lip service, in fact, an institution like a state should be strong enough to withstand criticism and discourse.  The fact that we have these ideals, often, I think, is what makes all of this so hard.  Something in our national consciousness cries out that this is not right, because this is not how it should be. This isn’t who we should be.

 

As I was thinking of all of this, I couldn’t help but suspect that part of this trend of disillusionment is why many millennials are opting for spiritual rather than religious, for personal development rather than a church. They look at hypocrisy among church leaders, abuse scandals, dogma that denies facts…a system that doesn’t live out its ideals, because it is made of flawed men and women who have not been able to live up to the promise of God’s true church.

 

Yesterday was Ash Wednesday, marking the start of Lent. For me, Lent is a time where we try, in our own lives, to get closer to that idealized version of ourselves.  It’s a time where we have to face our own brokenness and how far we have to go, but commit to trying nevertheless.  I think our country could use some Lent.

A week from tomorrow, voters in Iowa will gather for the first primary election of the season, but it’s been election season for several months now and it has already felt like an intense ride so far. While I usually watch the primary debates, and follow along with the political ups and downs of the process, I’m a nerd, and so it’s been a new experience this year to find that most of my friends are following the elections this year.  I can’t go to facebook without someone making a political post.  People are feeling very strongly this year, not all in agreement, but strongly nevertheless.  Due to where I live, I’ve heard lots of ranting from people about some of the Republican candidates (okay, some of that ranting is from me…(okay, a lot of that ranting is from me…)) and, as you can imagine, one candidate is drawing a disproportionate amount of vitriol.  And that would be Rand Paul.  I’m just kidding, no one really hates Rand Paul (or is voting for him, it appears).  Obviously, I’m talking about Donald Trump.  Not that Ted Cruz is winning popularity contests among me or any of my friends.

 

From friends, relatives, the random hordes on the internet, I keep hearing the same thing, half-joking, half-serious, that if Trump wins, they’re moving to Canada. Now, this is a threat that gets made by thousands of people during every election if their candidate doesn’t win.  People say it about every candidate, from Hillary to Romney and so on.  People said the same thing when the Supreme Court ruled on same-sex marriage (joke was on them when they realized that same-sex marriage had been legal in Canada for years).  Everyone throws up their hands and says that there’s no way they’re living in a country led by this person who they don’t respect, find terrifying, and who is going to obviously transform our nation into an Apocalyptic wasteland devoid of all freedoms or a working economy.

 

Now, I really hope that Trump never gets anywhere near the presidency (I could say that about a few other candidates, but I’m focusing on one here to give an example) and I think it would be really bad for our country if he got elected, but I’ll admit, that, even if it’s mostly joking, I’ve never understood why people say that they’d move if he won the election. You don’t agree with Trump’s policies?  You think he’s going to terrorize America and destroy our rights?  Fine, stay here and fight him.

 

If you care about this country and its people, you don’t leave when there’s something about it you don’t like, you stay and you fix it. You protest on the Washington Mall, you write letters, you vote in people to block him, you write op-eds, you practice civil disobedience, you file lawsuits to go to the supreme court.  You don’t leave.  You stay here and you put yourself in the way of plans.  You stay here and you stand beside the people who are going to be suffering in Trump’s America.

 

I studied the Vietnam war in eighth grade and our teacher asked each of us what we would do if we were drafted. Most either said they would go and fight, even if they thought it was wrong, or they’d go to Canada.  I was one of the kids who said I would stay, not fight, and protest.  I can’t take your ideals seriously if you live them out by running away, not willing to take any consequences for them.  I’ve just never understood that.

 

Countries and societies are built by the people who live in them. If you don’t like the direction a country is going, you take action to stop it.  I know that people who are saying these things are joking (most of the time), but it speaks to a truth that they’re acknowledging: “I don’t want to live in a country where this person is in charge.”  I understand that, I really do, but vote and organize to stop that from happening, and try to work to improve and protect the country no matter who is sitting in the oval office next year.

 

Several weeks ago, my sixteen-year-old sister informed me that if Donald Trump won the election she was going to look at colleges in the UK. I told her that I’d be staying here and protesting against whatever crazy thing he was trying to do and that I thought, with her brains and determination, she should stay here and do the same.

A few months ago it seemed I couldn’t go through my newsfeed without seeing a post about Kim Davis. Given the fact that I’m a college student and I live in New England, it should come as no surprise that almost all of the shares were very negative (I’m actually not sure if I saw a single positive one, but since I can’t remember all of them, I want to hedge my bets…).

 

The issue of religious freedom in the context of more right-wing causes has always been something I’ve tried to take seriously. I’ve struggled back and forth regarding whether a Catholic school should have to pay for insurance that provides birth control for their teachers.  I’ve felt strongly that ministers who are against gay marriage shouldn’t be required to marry a same-sex couple, just like I don’t think they should be required to marry a couple who are living together outside of marriage or basically really anyone, I think it’s the minister’s discretion.  A little part of me has even wondered about whether maybe someone does have a right to not make a wedding cake for a gay couple.  I mean, wouldn’t we support their right to not bake a cake that had a swastika on it?  I enjoy playing devil’s advocate.  I want to make sure that I’m not jumping one way or another because I disagree with a person.  There’s a difference between something being illegal and something just being wrong and obnoxious.  Religious freedom is something that does need to be protected, and we do have to be careful with the increasing secularization of our society.  However, too often many people overreact and take the fact that their religion is not the default as an attack.

 

Despite all of this, the case of Kim Davis is one that I don’t in any way find to be a gray area. She clearly either needs to issue the licenses or be removed from office.  Here is how I look at it.  Accommodations need to be given for religious freedom, and similarly, accommodations are also needed for disabilities.  I want to emphasize here that I’m not saying that religion and disability are the same, just that legally there are a lot of parallels in the case.  Those accommodations are all protected.  However, the key fact that decides whether or not an accommodation is reasonable is whether or not it affects the essential functions of the job.  As an example, say I take a job as a secretary.  I have neck problems.  If I can answer the phone, do the filing, set up appointments, work the computer, et cetera, that’s great.  If my boss asks me to move some file boxes down the hall, I have a right to explain that I have a disability and could someone else please move them for me.  That is a reasonable accommodation because moving a file box is not an essential function of the job.  However, if I took a job at a shipping company and my job was to unload and load crates, I couldn’t claim that I was unable to do that because of my neck issues, because carrying crates is an essential function of the job, it is the job, and if I can’t do that, I can’t do the job.  I think the same standard needs to apply to the religious freedom questions.

 

One of the first articles I wrote on this blog was in defense of a girl who had been fired from her job at Abercrombie because her hijab wasn’t part of the company dress code, even if she wore it in appropriate colors. That was unjust, because wearing a headscarf does not affect her ability to do her job as a salesperson.  Kim Davis held a job that, as one of its essential functions, required her to issue marriage licenses.  That was what the job was.  Either she has to perform the job or she needed to resign.  I’ve felt the same way about the so-called religious freedom clauses that allow magistrates or other workers to not perform ceremonies or file paperwork related to gay marriages.  Their job isn’t to pass judgment on who is getting married, it’s to do the process and allow the people to be on their way.  We don’t give clerks in divorce court an option to opt-out if they don’t agree why the person is getting divorced.  People need to do their jobs.  They are not obligated to be in those jobs if they feel uncomfortable, but the jobs have to get done.

 

Religious freedom is incredibly valuable in this country, and we owe it more than this.

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.

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.

I apologize for my extreme negligence in posting. I’ve been struggling with health issues.

I am aware that I am probably incredibly liberal when it comes to Immigration. While I’m all for controlling who comes in, so that criminals, terrorists, and drugs are kept out of our country, I wish that we let in more people who wanted to come into our country to work and learn.

My feelings are biased by personal history. My family came here in the early twentieth century. We came during the massive waves of immigration from the turn of the century, during a time when, aside from the nauseating voyage to get here, if you could afford a ticket and you weren’t obviously ill, you probably were let in. During that time my great-grandparents, my great-aunts and uncles, my great-great-aunts and uncles, my great-great-grandparents, cousins…everyone, one by one, family by family, packed up their things and headed for a strange country because they wanted a better life, economically and politically. There was racism and hostility towards immigrants then too, but we were let in. Since that time, my family has worked hard, gotten degrees, served in the military…I like to think that we have contributed to our American society in our small way. I believe that the people who want to immigrate today want the same thing for them and their children. My family was given an opportunity and I feel that I am in no position to deny other families the same opportunity.

Right now, there are hundreds of thousands of children sitting in detention centers on the border, having endured far worse things than most of our ancestors did to be here, dehydration, exhaustion, and sexual and physical abuse. Right now, there are ethnic and religious minorities in places like Iraq that are fleeing persecution by groups like ISIS. This includes our Christian brothers and sisters. For any of you who don’t know, in places like Mosul, Christians were told they could either convert, pay a tax for their faith, flee with nothing but the clothes on their backs, or die.

I believe, that if any of those people want a chance here, we should give it to them. I think that our country has always been a nation of immigrants and for many years we operated under the approach that if you wanted to be part of our club, our American experiment, we’d let you have a shot, a chance to practice your religious beliefs in peace and to work your way up the ladder.

I understand the practical and political difficulties with this approach, I really do, but for me, this is a moral issue.

In the Book of Matthew, Jesus says: “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angers. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’ They will also answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’” Mathew 25: 34-45

I believe that this verse is extremely clear and for immigrants and refugees, they are the stranger that we are meant to invite in. To turn them away, it is as if we turned away Jesus, our savior, himself. It would be a sin. As Christians, our moral obligations do not stop at our borders or to be people with the same nationality, religion, or skin color as ourselves. We have an obligation to any people of the world who look to us as a haven, a place that has more opportunities and is safer than their home countries. For whatever we have not done for the least of these, we have not done for our God.

About four years ago I wrote my second sermon and I chose the topic of doubt.  My premise was that doubt was not a shameful failing, but a step on our faith journey.

 

Years later, it’s still a lesson I struggle to remember and I suspect that doubt is something that most of us share, often secretly, from time to time.  I’ve wondered where we got the notion that doubt is a spiritual sin.  I think that it’s not because we decided it was wrong, but because our religion views faith as a virtue.  It’s not wrong, the Bible and our own hearts confirm that faith—the ability to hold our belief in God, the ability to take that mental leap—is indeed a virtue.  In the Christian communities, it’s become increasingly defended over the past decades as many people have tried to equate faith and ignorance.  However, faith as a virtue doesn’t make doubt a vice. 

 

We’re asked to have faith.  We’re not asked to have blind faith.  Without those periods of doubt, we never question and go searching, without a search, we never find God.  The ability to allow for possibilities, to question one’s faith, one’s god, and one’s own self is a necessary one for spiritual growth.  It’s necessary to having a real relationship with our Lord.  It’s not belief if we don’t think about it, we don’t think about it if we don’t consider everything, and we don’t consider without doubting.

 

Acknowledging that it’s okay to doubt is the first step into moving beyond the doubt.  Sometimes we need to admit that we’re furious at God or that we’re not sure of his love.  Admitting those things is the only way to be honest, with ourselves and with God, and honesty is the only way to a dialogue.

 

Most Christians hold to the doctrine that Jesus, while being human, was also sinless.  That’s why we can take comfort that on this Good Friday, even Jesus, asked, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

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