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Posts Tagged ‘America’

A week or so ago, while scrolling through CNN, I found a video, that I think was supposed to be amusing, of people stealing Trump lawn signs. I strongly dislike Donald Trump and what he stands for…and almost everything that he says…however, I found myself upset at this.  My family and I took our first European trip this summer and we spent three days in Paris.  Our tour guide at Versailles told us that the thing that she thought was so startling about America was how we had political lawn signs.  She explained how signs like those would just get vandalized in France.  Now I see the same thing happening here.  A fellow alumna from my alma mater just posted that her Clinton/Kaine sign was taken down within a day.

 

Why do we think that this is an appropriate way to share our feelings or to react against those we disagree with? Having a Trump bumper sticker shouldn’t lead to your car getting vandalized.  The reason so many of us are afraid of a Trump presidency is that we believe he does not represent America’s enduring values.  One of those is freedom of expression.  We all have the right to our own beliefs and to share them.  The right of all of us to put up lawn signs, hold posters at polling places, and to fully participate every day in the dialogue of democracy is one of the things that makes our country great.  It’s hypocritical to tear down another’s property in the name of protecting American values.  Just because the news might read like a reality television show doesn’t mean that we need to act like it.  Protecting the rights of everyone is what America should stand for, even those that are different or that disagree with you.

 

To paraphrase Evelyn Hall, I might disapprove of who you vote for, but I’ll defend to the death your right to choose.

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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.

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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.

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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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Where do I start?  Where do I start?  It’s difficult for me to determine where I should begin to explain all the things that I find horrifying about this video… 

Let me start here.  I’m not ashamed to say I’m a Christian either.  Let me say this first: Rick Perry does not speak for all Christians. 

Guess we’ll work chronologically.

“You don’t need to be in the Pew every Sunday to know that there’s something wrong in this country when gays can serve openly in the military”

First of all, everyone who is capable and has a desire to serve our country in the armed forces should be welcomed as they are.  Men, women, homosexuals, heterosexuals, Caucasion, African-American, Asian, Christian, Buddhist, or Muslim, this is a country where all are welcome, and our military should reflect that.  There is no reason why people who are gay should be prohibited from serving in the military forces.  In the American Revolution or the Civil War, women dressed as men to try to serve their country, they had to hide who they were as well.  Now, women are valued members of the services, sometimes even being able to accomplish tasks that men are not, such as speaking with local women to gather information.  And really, gays being allowed to serve in the military, that’s really the worst thing you can think of that’s wrong with this country?  What about the fact that gay teens are feel forced to commit suicide because of excessive amounts of bullying because of their sexual orientation?  Don’t you think that’s much more concerning in what it says about America and our values?

“but our kids can’t openly celebrate Christmas or pray in school”

First of all, I’m a devout Christian, I’ve grown up celebrating Christmas, and I know no one who has had to hide the fact that they celebrated Christmas.  In fact, I’m a Christian and I sometimes wish people didn’t so openly celebrate Christmas.  I also have attended both Christian and public school.  I have lived in both worlds.  I miss having prayers in class, I’ll admit it, they can be a nice way for people to come together.  But I was in a Christian school.  It has never crossed my mind that it would be appropriate in a public school.  Aside from the fact that not everyone’s Christian, not everyone’s religious.  There are Creaster people (people who only go to church on Christmas and Easter, or in Jewish equivalents, only on High Holidays) and then there are outright atheists and agnostics.  Having organized prayer in school just isn’t appropriate in public school, the place for that is home, church, (or your equivalent) and within a group of people who have agreed that they are comfortable with something like that.  Besides, I pray in school all the time, but it’s between me and God, and that’s something that no one can legislate away from me.  I don’t know why we think that it has to be in an organized setting to be real.  Whatever personal feelings are, we are a nation that does not institutionalize religion, and that means that in our public institutions, organized prayer does not have its place. 

“as President, I’ll end Obama’s war on religion”

Okay, if you’re going to be making an ad that thousands of people are going to see, get your facts right.  Things you’re discussing, such as what is acceptable in terms of school prayer or in public Christmas displays, those decisions weren’t made by Obama, they were made by the supreme court.  There’s no war on religion, at least not from the government, that there’s a culture that’s turning more hostile to religion in general, I’ll give you that, but I don’t think government’s how you fix that.

“and I’ll fight against liberal attacks on our religious heritage”

Okay, as any of you can see if from the title of this blog, much of what this blog is about is the mistaken belief among many in our country (a disproportionate amount of them being in politics) that religion and politics go hand in hand.  Conservative=Religious (i.e. Christian), Liberal=Secular (i.e. evil…just kidding, sort of).  Things aren’t this clear-cut.  I’m a liberal and I’m an evangelical Christian.  There are religious liberals, there are secular conservatives.  There are conservatives and liberals who are both religious but believe the first amendment means that we shouldn’t insitutionalize religion.  I don’t like it when liberal is used to mean secular.  I don’t like it when conservative is used to mean Christian.  Things are much more complex than this.

All in all, I was rather horrified by Rick Perry’s ad, even more horrified when the only real outcries I heard were on social networking sites and not by any in the media.  Religion isn’t an us-them thing, there are no teams.  I found Rick Perry’s ad concerning and more than that, I found it sad that he actually thought that the majority of Americans held the same views.

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I know I haven’t posted in awhile, my apologies.  The past few weeks have been rather crazy.  Here is the long-promised Part 3 of 4 on Religious Literacy.

Religious Literacy: what every American needs to know and doesn’t is written by Stephen Prothero. It both discusses the history of religious literacy and illiteracy, chronicles the increased lack of religious literacy in America, and proposes solutions to religious illiteracy.

His first chapter is entitled “A Nation of Religious Illiterates”, discussing the staggering lack of informed knowledge that many Americans have on religion.  He mentions the odd paradox that while religion has fallen from prominence in the debate in many European countries though religion continues to be taught in schools, here in America, religion has flourished in the public debates, despite the fact that there are staggeringly few instances of the Bible or religious classes being offered in school.  The religious literacy quiz that you see below?  The vast majority of Prothero’s college students failed the exam.  When I was reading this book a few years ago, I sometimes informally administered it to friends and family, my observation was that performance on the exam was directly correlated with age.  Older people were much more likely to be able to answer the Biblical questions, but younger people were much more likely to be able to answer about other faiths (though it has been pointed out, and is true, that the test is more geared to Judeo-Christianity, I probably should have come up with a new test, but I’ll admit that I’m not sure enough in some of my knowledge of other religions to really create one I felt was really accurate and represenative, though I continue to try to improve my knowledge of other religions).  What I found troubling was his quoting of the statistic that apparently “two-thirds of Americans believe that the Bible holds the answers to all or most of life’s basic questions”.  Since Biblical illiteracy is so ubiquitous, the idea that while the majority look to it as authoritative but know little about it, I find concerning and dangerous.

Prothero goes on in quotation of statistics from surveys on Biblical illiteracy.  Half of American adults can name one of the four gospels…most Americans cannot identity the first book of the Bible…many believe that Billy Graham gave the Sermon on the Mount (for the record, it was Jesus)…most believe Jesus was born in Jerusalem…oh, and ten percent believe that Joan of Arc was Noah’s wife (I’m holding out hope that about half of those were just messing with the person taking the results).  In 2005, there was a bill in Alabama that proposed to protect public displays of the ten commandments.  A reporter interviewed all ten cosponsers of the bill and only one could name all ten.  A gallup poll found that 8 percent of teenagers thought that Moses was an apostle.

Propthero continues on to emphasize the importance of religion and to discuss both the religious literacy we once had (much do to the Protestant focus on reading the Bible at the start of our nation) and then how the literacy diminished.  Prothero also discusses an interesting phenomenon, that many of the organizations that were assumed would instill religious values and knowledge in their children, church, family, et cetera, now are not.  Prothero discusses that “some friends tell me that they don’t bring their sons and daughters to worship services or talk with them about their faith because they want their children to be free to choose a religion for themselves.  This is foolhardy, not unlike saying that you will not read anything to your daughter because you don’t want to enslave her to any one language.  The fact of the matter is that you cannot avoid teaching religion to your kids; if you offer them nothing, you are telling them that religion counts for nothing.”  I have to agree with much of this statement.  While I can accept that many parents do not want to repeat their parents’ mistakes by enforcing worship or dogma on their children, I think not bringing children into faith is equally a mistake.  I do not mean that every child should go to church or synagogue, etc.  Many parents do that, bring their children to church because they think they should and not out of any personal faith.  Except in rare cases or when there is a strong community in the church as a pull, most of those children will leave the church soon, and so will their parents.  Worship or religion is going to do little good if you don’t tell your kids that it matters.  I also think that the opposing idea, that we shouldn’t constrain our kids by teaching them a faith, is while well-intentioned, is rather naive.  There is a difference between explaining what you believe to your children, and telling them that they have no choice but to believe that too.  It is a crucial difference.

The rest of the book is Prothero’s argument on the necessity of religion in education.  He argues that every school should have a required Bible course and a required world religions course.  He discusses how many people are afraid to teach or mention religion in school because they feel it is unconstitutional.  It is not.  It is illegal to teach religion, it is not illegal to teach about religion.  We cannot advocate any particular creed or religion or idealogy, but that does not mean that we cannot teach information on it so that our students can be informed citizens.  Prothero maintains that his push for increased teaching of religion in schools is civic, not religious.  Prothero’s book is interesting and informative.  However, there’s a good likelihood that if you want to read the book in the first place, he’s preaching to the choir, but it still might be worth reading if you want to be more informed on issues of religious literacy.

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Here are the answers to the quiz that I posted the other day.  Some of the questions have flexibility in answers, such as it being said differently in another language or so on so please take that into account.  Two more parts to this series of articles still to come.  Again, the answers to this quiz (like th quiz itself) come from Stephen Prothero’s book “Religious Literacy”.

1. Name the four gospels.  List as many as you can.  (1 point each).

Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John

2. Name a sacred text of Hinduism. (1 point).

There are many possiblities here.  They include: the Vedas, Brahmanas, Aranyakas, Upanishads, Puranas, Mahabharata, Bhagavad Gita, Ramayana, Yoga Sutras, Laws of Manu, and the Kama Sutra.

3. What is the name of the holy book of Islam?  (1 point).

Quran

4. Where according to the Bible was Jesus born?  (1 point).

Bethlehem.

5. President George W. Bush spoke in his first inaugural address of the Jericho road.  What bible story was he invoking? (1 point.)

The Good Samaritan

6. What are the first five books of the Hebrew Bible or the Christian Old Testament? (1 point each)

Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy

7. What is the Golden Rule? (1 point.)

“Do unto others as you would have them do unot you” (Matthew 7:12), or a similar sentiment from Rabbi Hillel or Confucius.  (“Love your neighbor as yourself” is NOT the Golden Rule)

8. “God helps those who help themselves.” Is this in the Bible?  If so, where? (2 points.)

No, this is not in the Bible.  It was said by Ben Franklin.  It contradicts Proverbs 28:26: “He who trusts in himself is a fool”

9. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God”: Does this appear in the Bible?  If so, where? (2 points.)

Yes, this appears in the Beatitudes of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:3)

10. Name the Ten Commandments.  List as many as you can. (1o points)

The Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish traditions all have different versions of the ten commandments.  Give yourself credit if you have any ten of the following twelve.

1. I the Lord am your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, the house of bondage.

2. You shall have no other gods before me.

3. You shall not make ourself a graven image.

4. You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.

5. Remember the sabbath day and keep it hol.

6. Honor your father and your mother.

7. You shall not kill/murder.

8. You shall not commit adultery.

9. You shall not steal.

10. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

11. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife

12. You shall not covet your neighbor’s goods

11. Name the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism.  List as many as you can.  (4 points.)

1. Life is suffering

2. Suffering has an origin

3. Suffering can be overcome (nirvana)

4. The path to overcoming suffering is the Noble Eightfold Path

12. What are the seven sacraments of Catholicism?  List as many as youcan. (7 points).

1. Baptism

2. Eucharist/Mass/Holy Communion

3. Reconciliation/Confession/Penance

4. Confirmation

5. Marriage

6. Holy Orders (Nuns or the Priesthood)

7. Anointing of the Sick/Last Rites

13. The First Amendment says two things about religion, each in its own “clause”.  What are the two religion clauses in the first amendment?  (1 point each.)

“Congress shal make no law respecting the establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”.  The words before the comma are referred to as the establishment clause; the words that follow constitute the free exercise clause.

14.  What is Ramadan?  In what religion is it celebrated? (2 points.)

Ramadan is a Muslim holiday characterized by a month of fasting.

15. Match the Bible characters with the stories in which they appear by drawing a line from one to the other.  Some characters may be matched with more than one story or vice versa.  (7 points).  (I’m not going to retype this whole thing.  I’m just going to put the answer).

Adam and Eve and the Serpent-Garden of Eden

Paul-Road to Damascus

Moses-Parting of the Red Sea and Exodus

Noah-Olive Branch

Jesus-Garden of Gethsemane

Abraham-Binding of Isaac

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