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Respect, Disrespect, and Conscience

Respect, Disrespect, and Conscience

I have seen a number of posts suggesting that those who won’t recite or stand for the pledge of allegiance are disrespectful, or perhaps just badly behaved. Good people, by implication, will say these words and join in the group.

My view of this is formed by my upbringing. I am a United States Air Force veteran. I was not wounded. I really didn’t feel great fear for my life, but I have the “been there” medals for three different overseas military actions. I am both proud to have served, and believe I did right by doing so.

My father, on the other hand, was a conscientious objector. He was a Seventh-day Adventist, and believed that taking lives even in war was wrong. He would have served in a medical capacity, but was not allowed that option in Canada during World War II. Some Canadians were accepted into medical roles, but many were not. So he spent World War II planting trees.

This was not a matter of disrespect for his county. It was a matter of conscience. He believed that training with and then carrying a rifle into combat was wrong. Obviously, I disagree. My participation in the military was without limitations. No, carrying a rifle is not the Air Force thing, but however distant we may be, in war people die partially as a result of our actions.

My dad also respected my choice, as much as he disagreed with it. He would have preferred that I not go into combat. We didn’t discuss it that much, but we knew the score.

So when people say that by protesting a war or any policy of the government someone is disrespecting my service, I firmly disagree. One of the things I am proud of is that my service helps defend a country where a conscientious objector can be diverted to service in some other way in war time.

I also defended a country which has, as one of its founding stories, the revolutionary and protest action of dumping tea—a commercial product of value to its owners—into the harbor in protest of the taxes imposed on it.

Some of the folks I see commenting today would surely have been incensed at this action. Destruction of public property! Against the law! Disrespectful! Aren’t they grateful for the defense provided by the British troops?

These protesters, however, felt that this was an important issue, with underlying principles that were worth breaking the existing law in order to protest. They were very, very disrespectful.

I know there are people who just don’t care for any form of authority. But the majority of cases come from two groups of people: 1) Those who have a reason of conscience for their actions, and 2) Those who believe they have been so badly handled by our society that they need to shake things up to get noticed.

Like my dad, who believed that in spite of conscription laws, God’s law said he could not fight in the war, some believe that they cannot swear oaths. This might be because Jesus said that (Matthew 5:33-37). Now I have a different interpretation of that passage, but some people believe that this is a specific and literal command. They don’t believe they can take oaths.

I’m glad that I served in defending a country that makes exceptions for those who do not believe they can swear an oath. There is alternative language that is permitted. I’m glad of that, I support it, and I am glad that I defended it.

Others don’t believe they can swear allegiance, or even affirm allegiance to any earthly power. Thus, “I pledge allegiance to the flag” is, to them, a denial of the sovereignty of Christ and acceptance of a lesser power. I don’t agree with them, as I believe every claim or affirmation I make falls into a category that is less than my allegiance to God, but that doesn’t change their consciences.

Again, I am glad to have served to defend a country that allows this right and I am disturbed when people mock them or make fun of them. They are following their conscience and are right to do so. I would say that they need to be “convinced in their own minds” (Romans 14:5, mildly out of context, I think!).

Further, if someone believes they have been so mistreated by our society that their best recourse is to call attention to the problem through acts of protest, whether or not I approve of their approach, I am not the one who has been treated unfairly. It is not for me to judge the depth of either pain or conviction, or more probably a combination of both, that has led to an act of protest.

I am again glad to have served to defend a country that will allow such protests. It is important that they be permitted. Don’t complain if the person doing the protest is privileged (yes, think Colin Kaepernick), because that person may well be using a position of influence on behalf of others less privileged.

Further, I don’t have to approve of the cause. The important thing about freedom of expression is that one is free to express things of which I (or anyone else) disapproves. Freedom of speech or expression is not for the things of which society approves. You don’t need a bill or declaration of rights to protect the things the majority wants to do. It’s there to protect the things that the majority disapproves.

The cause is separate from the method as well. I don’t have to approve even of the aim of the person protesting to approve of his or her right to protest. That again is why we need a right to freedom of speech. It’s for the things that make us angry. It’s for the people we want to shut up. Those are the people who need, and should have, protection.

There are religions of which I do not approve. No surprise there! You can note my disapproval because I haven’t joined those religions. But that is what freedom of religion is for. It protects the practice of religions that are not in the majority and may not be approved. And yes, this includes Islam, which, contrary to many assertions recently, is a religion.

And yes, I extend this to those of differing political views. This continues to apply whether they’re wearing MAGA hats or have Bernie Sanders bumper stickers. It’s most important that we have a free exchange of ideas in our society.

If this annoys you, just remember this: I also support your right to be annoyed. Enjoy!

(Theme image from Pixabay.com)

Lawyers and Politicians

Lawyers and Politicians

We like to hate lawyers, but the real problem with our laws is that they are written by politicians.

Replace Strategic Voting with Strategic Living

Replace Strategic Voting with Strategic Living

I’m not a fan of strategic voting. It seems to me that various arguments, such as voting in the other party’s primary, splitting one’s vote for president and for down-ballot candidates (an effort to guarantee divided government), or the ubiquitous “lesser of two evils” arguments generally amount to one thing: An attempt to persuade someone to vote their way.

In this election, I’ve been told that a vote for a third party candidate, usually Gary Johnson is a vote for Clinton. Or a vote for Trump. It just depends on who’s making the statement. Statistically, it appears that any impact one way or the other is within the margin of error. So votes for Johnson, Stein, or McMullin don’t appear to be all that likely to shift the final result in any case. Of course, one can’t be certain of that either.

I like to put my vote in context in two ways. First, my vote in the presidential election is just one vote I will cast on November 8. (Yes, I’m an election day voter.) As I noted earlier today, there are many other important races and issues on the ballot. Further, and even more important, as important as my vote is, it is only one thing I will do to try to influence society and to improve the country I live in.

If you are concerned with the nature of the election, consider that the events of the election grow out of our culture and the way we deal with one another. Just as the presidency is magnified in importance, so the election tends to emphasize and reveal the things that are or are not working well in our culture generally.

A more important question that who you will vote for in this election is this: What will you do to make this country and this world a better place? Will you work to break down barriers and open dialogue with other people or will you foster more anger and frustration?

When we look with horror at people’s behavior during the election we should consider that people were treating one another badly all the time. All the election did was put more of it on TV.

We’ll be reminded by candidates and others that our vote is important. It’s one little vote in a large pool, but that’s how major things are accomplished. Let’s remember at the same time that everything we say and everything we do is also just one small action but that the sum of these actions becomes our culture. What is our contribution to that whole?

That’s why I’d rather walk into the voting booth and vote for the person I think would be best, not the lesser of two evils. That’s also why I don’t even consider electability. I’ve been told that this is a selfish act and that I do so just to make myself feel better. (Note that I have not announced who I am voting for. It might just be a major party candidate; but my choice won’t be limited to the major parties.) If it does make me feel better, then I simply hope that I will, in turn, be more cheerful in my dealings with the next person and thus raise the “cheer” level just a tiny bit.

We like to argue the importance of one vote. I agree. It is important. Let me, in turn, argue the importance of one word, one smile, one good deed.

And let me proclaim the importance of a life lived with integrity. To the best of one’s ability.

Detecting Plagiarism in a Fantasy Universe

Detecting Plagiarism in a Fantasy Universe

Credit: OpenClipart.com
Credit: OpenClipart.com

In the good old days when I had time to do fantasy role-playing games, stodgy traditionalists would object that it wasn’t real. Why spend your time on something that isn’t real? This was often said by people who would spend hours watching and discussing football games with approximately the same effect on reality. But I see one great advantage to those fantasy games (and to fantasy literature, for that matter). They don’t pretend to be real.

And thus I turn to the fantasy world of modern politics, in which speeches are written by teams of people who test out turns of phrase and issues on samples of target groups, then place the text on teleprompters to be read by otherwise often incoherent people. The issues emphasized in the politicians’ campaigns are not those the politician things are important. Rather, they are what researchers have determined seem important to the public. The solutions proposed are not those that the politician believes will really work. Instead, they are those that will sound good to a particular constituency.

The controversy about Melania Trump’s speech, with its plagiarized section, bundled the problems of our modern political discourse into one small package. A speaker uses plagiarized lines put there (accidentally) by a speechwriter, and never even recognized by the person presenting the speech. I’m not an apologist for Donald Trump or his campaign, but I can easily understand how this happens. The speech writers doubtless studied speeches by first ladies and potential first ladies for material. You get scraps of this stuff all over the computer, and eventually you drop the wrong one into place. Friends forgive you. Enemies won’t, but they wouldn’t in any case, so it doesn’t matter that much. The media spends huge amounts of time discussing it. Then bloggers like me discuss the whole thing all over again.

I don’t have any idea how close this was because I didn’t listen to or read the speech. I’m not an apologist for Donald Trump; in fact, I can think of huge numbers of things that I dislike about him. This doesn’t make the list.

Why? Because it’s part of that fantasy land that political marketing has created for us, the media propagates for us, and we go ahead and consume, no matter how much we may say we don’t believe the media. Yes, it’s our problem. Even those who most claim that the media is biased frequently let themselves be influenced by it. What they really mean when they say they don’t believe the media, is that they don’t believe it when it contradicts their prejudices. When it supports those prejudices it’s just fine. The people who put in the dollars know how it works. There’s a whole industry (at least one) built on hating the mainstream media.

When I speak, I do so either without notes or with the minimum of notes. I have occasionally used a prepared text, but I didn’t follow it, even though I did write it. Sometimes I have notes to tell me what topics to avoid due to limited time. If a politician wants me to listen to a speech, he or she will have to work in just that way. If your text is prepared, let it be your words. In all cases, let it be your ideas expressed your way. Then I’ll listen. I’m sorry, but in my preferred fantasy universe, speech writers would be out of a job.

I know that no politician can know everything necessary to handling the issues that the president must address. Fine! Let the candidate produce the team members who would talk about those issues, and have them talk about them. “Look,” says the candidate, “I’m not an expert on the middle east, but here’s the person whose judgment I trust most.” It could be sort of like the British shadow ministers, except that it lasts just for the campaign.

In the meantime, folks, politics is a great deal like a marketing campaign for widgets, except that there is no FTC to take the politicians to court for false advertising. In that atmosphere, a couple of plagiarized paragraphs might manage to be as important as one H2O molecule in the ocean.

No, I Really Don’t

No, I Really Don’t

Vote?
Vote?

… have to vote for one of the major party candidates come November.

I’m going to take a break from not posting anything political. I haven’t stayed away from political posting because I think politics is bad and Christians shouldn’t be involved. I welcome the involvement of everyone in politics. For me, it is a matter of priorities. I choose to post about the gospel and about dialogue, especially but not exclusively among Christians. I’m still not going to tell you how I will vote, but rather about how I make the decision.

I have been registered as independent, not a member of either major party, for about 28 years. I honestly can’t remember (and have no records), whether it was 1986, 1988, or 1990 when I changed my registration from Republican to Independent, but it was one of those. The reason was that I could not accept being counted as a supporter of either of the major parties. I could say that my hope was to get the two parties removed from their privileged legal position. I do wish that, but “hope” is too strong a word. I have been told that I have given up much of my ability to influence the course of politics by this decision.

I have been told that I have given up much of my ability to influence the course of politics by this decision. I’m told by the same people that my one “vote” in changing my party affiliation is no sufficient to be meaningful. I find that oddly contradictory.

Each presidential election I have been told that I need to vote for one or the other of the major candidates, because one of them would become president (or holder of some other office), and indeed this is right. In all the elections in which I have voted, one of the major party candidates has won. In most cases, I voted for one or the other of them, though I have voted for other candidates on occasion.

And you know what? One of the major candidates won, no matter what I did. That was expected. I probably had an impact on that by taking away my vote from whichever major party candidate I would have voted for had I not voted third party or independent. In each case, I fully accepted that result.

The reason for all this is that I don’t belong to any of the political tribes into which we seem to be divided. I would never pledge to support the nominee, whoever that is, in either major party. I cannot call myself a conservative, a liberal, or even a libertarian, though I have some affinities for positions held by each.

Let me illustrate.

I am strongly opposed to foreign military intervention in almost all circumstances. I think that trying to occupy other countries and do “nation building” is especially unproductive—no, make that destructive—because for some reason other countries are not as enthusiastic about being made into the nation we think they should be as we are about “building” their nation. There simply aren’t enough troops out there to occupy all the countries where terrorists might hide and be overlooked by the local government.

At the same time, I favor a strong national defense, with the emphasis on intelligence, special operations, and technology, especially developing new technology to detect and deal with 21st-century threats.

I am fundamentally a capitalist, not pro-business, but capitalist. That means I oppose subsidies, corporate bailouts, protectionism, and governmental barriers to entry, such as most licensing laws.

At the same time, I believe in a safety net. The problem with our existing welfare system is not that it gives too much money to people who need it, but rather that it is so complex and unwieldy that it requires a good lawyer to sort out the requirements and an army of bureaucrats to manage it. And I do mean by this that we should not have children starving, we should not have people depending on the emergency room for their medical care, and we shouldn’t have people involuntarily in the street. Of course, there will always be some that we cannot reach, but those that can, should be helped.

I am very conservative in my lifestyle and in my personal ethics and morals.

I am libertarian about what choices others should be allowed to make.

I could go on and on and doubtless bore you to death. Every candidate will, if elected, do things that I consider wrong. When I vote, it’s not a matter of finding a candidate that agrees with me, but of choosing which wrong things I think should take place.

I don’t find this very surprising. That’s politics. I often have the same problem in church. That’s how living as a community, even a fractured community, works. What I refuse to do is tie myself to any party, and I wish more people would do so as well.

Don’t become disengaged, but at the same time don’t feel that you have to support everything because you support something, or nothing, because you can’t support everything. (I put that sentence in there to test your parsing ability!)

I will vote. After I vote, things will happen that I don’t like. That’s also part of living in community.

But I may vote for someone that has no chance of winning. Friends will tell me I threw away my vote. Some of them will think I hurt one major candidate, some the other. Then during the term of office to follow they’ll explain to me that one shouldn’t support any of the minor parties because they didn’t get enough votes.

Well, they got mine.

(Clipart source: Openclipart.org)

Abusing Polls

Abusing Polls

pollI suspect that most of the times numbers are used in the media, people are being misinformed in some way. Frequently it’s by ignoring the margin of error. I’m going to discuss this with others on this afternoon’s Global Christian Perspectives. I’m providing a couple of links:

Polling Fundamentals: Total Survey Error – explanation of the various elements that might cause a poll to be off.

Margin of Error (Langer Research) – Allows you to calculate the margin of error for a poll provided you have the data.

Why the Polls Missed Bernie Sanders’ Michigan Upset – Important in explaining in some detail what elements of various polls were off in this particular case.

Bottom line, however, is that a poll is not the election, i.e., it shows what people think when it is taken, not at the time of the election. It doesn’t predict; prediction is the result of analyzing the data.

 

 

 

Separating Church from State

Separating Church from State

I believe in the separation from church and state. I’m not talking about the principle derived from the First Amendment to the U. S. Constitution, though I do accept that as well, but rather about a Christian principle. I believe that the more we depend on the power of Caesar to accomplish our goals, the less likely we are to depend on the gospel and the more likely we are to become corrupted. Government power is corrupting, and I think the church should stay away from it.

Again, I don’t think that church leaders should be excluded from politics, but they should be especially careful to separate their personal political actions from the corporate actions of the church. I, as a member, should be able to handle having a pastor who works for political goals with which I disagree, provided he does not make me a part of his goals without my consent, and provided he is not committing the church to his own views.

As an aside, nearly every election we have some controversy over churches involved with politics. What are acceptable political activities? Is it an infringement of freedom of religion for the IRS to forbid pastors to do political advocacy from the pulpit? I’ll probably awaken more controversy with this than anything else, but this is why I am ambivalent about church tax exemption. Tax exemption has become a key element of religious liberty in this country. I grew up Seventh-day Adventist, and in every discussion of religion, a bedrock principle was that churches must be tax exempt. “The power to tax is the power to control” was the key phrase.

But it turns out that the power to define may also be the power to control, and if the government can provide tax exemption to “churches” it must somehow define what is and is not a church. Interestingly, some Christians of my acquaintance think this is obvious. We all know what a church is. But when a more marginal religious group is looking for tax exemption, they may be defined out of it. So is religious freedom for everyone, or just for the people that we think are obviously eligible? Perhaps tax exemption isn’t such a good thing.

Personally, I don’t want my church doing any of the things that would threaten its tax exempt status, so I have no particular problem. But the fact that certain pastors disagree, and out of their convictions, which I believe they should be free to hold, believe that their religious duty calls for their involvement in politics, what then? That’s when the definition of a church, and of the activities that go with being a church becomes important.

What do I mean by keeping the church out of politics but keeping individual members involved? I do not mean that Christians should not be involved in politics, whatever their nation. We are citizens of God’s kingdom, but we live in one or another of the kingdoms of this world. Like Nebuchadnezzar, we need to learn that God rules these kingdoms (Daniel 4:17), but he also expects us to live morally within them. I believe that means exercising what personal power we have within them in accordance with our Christian principles.

I was a bit disturbed at a recent event to be given a voter’s guide. It was given to me by a very nice person, but it told me very clearly how to vote, and the person who gave it to me implied that this was the “Christian” way to do it. I think that is unfortunate. Not that he should not have pursued his political goals. For that I applaud him, even though he and I will likely not be voting the same way on just about anything. No, my objection is to implying that a particular way to vote is the one and only Christian way to approach issues. I’ve encountered churches I might have joined, but have backed off when I found that a particular political posture was so thoroughly assumed that nobody would imagine a Christian could disagree.

I think the church would be much better served by working to create disciples, and then trusting that those disciples would act in accordance with the principles that they have learned.

Defensive Christianity

Defensive Christianity

PrayerI’ve seen a great number of words from Christians here in America recently, some of them coming from Facebook or Twitter, some in blog posts, some in words spoken directly to me, or on Television or the Radio. I’m not going to cite specific sources, because I’m not writing about what some particular person said. Rather, I’m writing about an atmosphere.

The atmosphere is one of defensiveness, reflecting a Christianity that is on the defensive. Sometimes this refers to the church as a whole losing ground or being in danger. Sometimes it refers to one’s personal position or standing with God. Sometimes it refers to personal safety. At other times it’s about the course our nation is taking.

Now I want to be clear that I’m talking about American Christianity here. I would hate for my brothers and sisters in places where they are truly threatened to think I’m talking about them.

We American Christians live in a land of plenty. Yes, we’ve had some times that have been harder than usual, but we’re still doing well financially when compared to the vast majority of people on this planet. We also live in a nation where we are in the majority. Now I know many will question this by asking how many true Christians there are as opposed to just nominal Christians. My response to that is simply to point out that we tend to claim all those who identify themselves as Christians when we want to emphasize the strength of Christianity. Should we be permitted to change the definition in another context so we can call ourselves a minority?

By defensive, I don’t mean that we actively defend our faith. I think apologetics is a good discipline. We should be able to give an answer for our faith.

What I mean is that we live our Christian lives in a state of fear. We’re afraid that our young people will learn something in college that will make them lose their faith. We’re afraid that a book that teaches something heretical will lead us (or someone we call “weaker”) astray. We’re afraid that a Mormon president might make heretics of us all, or that a liberal Christian as president will change the face of the country. We’re afraid that the language in party platforms or the content of political speeches will make or break our lives here.

We think that the results of this upcoming election may bring disaster and that we have to get desperate and persuade all our friends and relatives to vote the same way we do, because if the right person doesn’t win, our country is finished. We think we need to pray for God to make things go the right way, lest the wrong person get into power.

The sum of all our fears makes us seem, and indeed be, defensive. We do not witness to the God who rules in the kingdoms of men (Daniel 4:17) because we aren’t really sure that he does. We think that the issue depends on us: our prayers, our actions, our votes, our words.

It doesn’t depend on us.

I’m not suggesting that we don’t pray. We need to pray, but we need to pray especially that God will work in us (more on prayer).

I’m not suggesting that we don’t act. We need to act regularly. I’d suggest that Matthew 25:31-46 and related passages as a guide to our actions.

I’m not suggesting that we don’t speak. Let our words be a witness to the One we belong to.

I’m not suggesting that we don’t vote. I plan to vote. I hope you do too. In my view it’s a duty and a privilege. But God’s kingdom doesn’t depend on it.

But what about our rights? Shouldn’t we be defending our civil rights, our freedom of religion?

Yes, again, but remember that God’s kingdom doesn’t depend on our civil rights. In fact, some of Christianity’s greatest moments have been under persecution when church members had no rights at all.

And if we remember that, we might also remember to defend everyone’s rights. We might add to “doing to others what we would have them to do us” something new: Defending the rights of others as we would hope they would defend ours. Whose rights might those be?

Perhaps it would be a group of Muslims who want to build a mosque in “your” community.

Perhaps it would be the atheist child who doesn’t want to be made a participant in your prayers in a public place.

Perhaps it would be that person who has been singled out by security because he looks like a terrorist.

Our willingness to see people in each of these groups given less rights than we have is a sign of defensive Christianity.

A confident Christian would welcome Muslim neighbors and enter into dialogue with them, welcoming the opportunity to be a witness by demonstrating the love of Jesus.

A confident Christian would be more concerned with the discomfort of the atheist child than he would be with his desire to do things his own way. After all, he can pray just about anywhere.

A confident Christian would realize that the right thing to do is to defend the rights of the person who looks different than he is.

I pray for the day when I will truly be a confident Christian, when I will truly desire the well-being of others more than I do my own (Philippians 2:4). I’m praying, not that God will bring about one outcome or another in the election, but that no matter what happens I will learn to live the kingdom of God more and more fully every day.

I am praying that God will change me so my confidence is in God and not in myself. That’s the only way I can give up defensiveness and truly be defended.