About Rufus

A recent change in my living circumstances allows me to be more free to express my views than I previously could. I felt stifled. My wife is an ordained Lutheran pastor, but is no longer leading a congregation. And, we moved out of the town, my hometown, where she led worship. I no longer feel the need to suppress my political opinions lest I offend parishoners who disagree with my politics, knowing how people tend to conflate political and religious beliefs (as do I). My aim is to write new posts or pages weekly or bi-weekly. Wish me luck with that! But at least at the outset, I am reasonably confident that current events will provide me sufficient fodder to keep my fingers typing. My wife is not only a resource as my live-in theological scholar, but she is also my editor. It's too bad she isn't preaching because she's really good at it. But she's also good at writing, and she's working on a novel. Besides faith and politics, I do have other interests. I like sports and music and comedy... lots of things. But I don't feel a burning need to write about these things except for how they tie into faith and/or politics. This site is dedicated to the memory and honor of my daughter, taken way too early from us by brain cancer. Supposedly I have an email account @gl4c.com, and I intend to figure out how to access it. When I do, please feel free to contact me. -- Rufus --

On Atheism

As I see it, here are the options:

  • Gods exist.
  • One true God exists.
  • There is no God.

Have I left anything out?  If so, please advise.

The range of beliefs within those possibilities is broad and I cannot speak to a large swath of that range.  I know that some civilizations have professed official belief in multiple gods, each with defined realms, but I don’t have personal experience in actually believing in such a system, so I can’t speak with authority on that.  (… unless you count the Trinity, but that’s not the way non-Unitarian Christians view it.  Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are the triune nature of the same God, not three different gods.  …  Ahh, never mind.)  Similarly, I can’t relate to the concept of the afterlife belief in reincarnation except to make jokes about it.  It’s not very respectful of me, I know, but reverence has seldom been a priority of mine.  If you are offended, I am sorry.  That’s not necessarily to say I’m sorry to say what I have said, but rather I’m sorry you are the kind of person who is offended by what I say.  That is truly regrettable.

At the same time, I don’t personally relate to other monotheistic religions.  I was raised as a Christian and remain one to this day.  I do not know what it is like to believe what a Jew believes or what a Muslim believes.  I might be more able to relate to Jews than Muslims seeing as how Jesus of Nazareth was a Jew (a liberal Jew, as you well know), but the divinity of Christ is sort of a big deal for Christians.  But here’s the thing:  If each of the Abrahamic religions, or any other monotheistic religion, operates on the premise that there is but one true God, it stands to reason that we are all worshipping the same God.  There are not multiple gods; there are not any false gods, save for human-created concepts that we put ahead of God (e.g., money, power, football, sex).  There is just one God but multiple names for that God and multiple understandings and interpretations of the nature of that God.  Yahweh (unless it’s Jehovah) and Allah: the same God.  Yahweh and Allah cannot really be in competition with each other since only one God exists according to monotheistic faiths.  What I don’t relate to, then, is not the concept of one true God, but rather the varying interpretations of said God.

Similarly, I do not relate to all interpretations of the nature of God within Christianity.  I believe I have clearly declared that fundamentalism causes me to bristle.  Claims of literal interpretation or inerrancy of scripture are untenable.  I do not embrace the practices of speaking in tongues or snake handling.  I have never been Roman Catholic, so things like transubstantiation and infallibility and salvation through good works (as opposed to salvation by grace) are foreign to me.  To my way of thinking, a pope is plenty fallible!

For that matter, the notion that half the population should be excluded from the clergy has become nothing short of ludicrous to me.  If women should not be pastors (or priests, rabbis, imams, etc.), why are so many women gifted preachers and ministers?  How did God screw that up by gifting members of the wrong gender?  How is it possible — in this millennium — that possession of male genitalia and the capacity to grow facial hair are prerequisite to speaking from a pulpit or comforting a grieving widow?  I would argue that having male genitals could be downright detrimental to effective ministry.  Need I name names?

But I digress.  My point is that my perspective on God is shaped and limited by my upbringing and experiences.  Accordingly, I claim no expertise in matters of faith outside my own, if that.  Which, at long last, brings me to atheism.

I have not embraced atheism, but I sometimes find it tempting.  I sometimes think it would be easier to be an atheist, to train my understanding purely on reason and logic.  In all honesty, I don’t fathom any religion able to exist or operate strictly within those bounds.  Religion requires departure from reason at some basic level.

Now, when I say that I think it would be easier to be an atheist, that is not to say or imply that atheism is in any way equated with intellectual laziness.  Far from it!  Atheists I know tend to be on the upper end of the intelligence spectrum.  Furthermore, I understand and respect their outlook.  I presume that they have all followed the paths of their own lives, used their own experiences and thought processes, weighed the idea of the existence of God versus the non-existence of God, and come down on the side of non-existence.  Some believers may find that to be baffling or even threatening, but I don’t.  In fact, I think I understand it.

For me, God is sometimes problematic.  Things have happened in my life, in the lives of people I love, and in the lives of others, that make me wonder what could possibly be God’s purpose.  When I was fifteen, I was visiting my same-age cousin when he died in front of me.  One moment he was sniffing a non-stick pan spray from a plastic bag and the next moment he was convulsing and turning blue, and I was running to get help.  Why?

My younger brother died in my home.  One morning he was getting prepared for going to work, and later I was pushing open a door against which his body was propped, only to find him non-responsive, discolored, and stiffened.  Back when he was born, he was the joy of my life.  I finally, finally had a brother instead of a fourth sister.  As an adult, he was my fellow liberal in our family of origin.  Now he is gone.  Why?

My daughter, at age twenty, was diagnosed with brain cancer.  She was a poised, charming, intelligent, socially conscious young woman with a versatile and beautiful singing voice, and she had just completed her sophomore year of college.  She habitually got in the last words, “love you,” whenever parting company with someone dear to her.  She was widely adored and had many, many people praying for her.  But after a five-year battle punctuated with incremental decline, she died.  Why?

Does God have a purpose for these deaths that can only be perceived as too young?  I understand that God’s ways are beyond our mortal comprehension and we cannot know what they are, but that is far from comforting.  And that does not reconcile easily with a compassionate, merciful, loving God, a God in control of all things, or even a God that grieves with us.

So it is tempting to believe that the significant too-soon deaths that have affected my life are random godless events.  There is no significant meaning to them, these things just happen, and there is no God for whom they have purpose.  It is tempting, indeed, to let go of God.  But I cannot.  If I let go of God, then I let go of the idea of Heaven and the afterlife.  If I let go of Heaven, then I let go of those who have died before me; they are gone and I will never be with them again.  How can I let go of my daughter?  I’d sooner sell my soul.

I enjoy the humor of comedian/political commentator Bill Maher.  I have attended tapings of his show on HBO and enjoyed the program for years.  If you know nothing else about Maher, he is an avowed non-believer.  He even produced and starred in a documentary, “Religulous,” which set about questioning (even mocking) religion.  Many people of faith find the views he expresses to be disrespectful and insulting.  And so, they respond in kind.  Or maybe it’s the other way around.  Maybe it’s Maher who is reacting to the disrespect and insults of the believers toward his non-belief.

Earlier this month (February 2012), a conservative guest panelist on the show asked Maher why he had to be insulting toward people’s beliefs.  It occurred to me that the question could have been stood on its head:  Why do many conservative Christians define religious freedom as the freedom only to believe as they do?  Why are so many averse to extending religious freedom to, say, Muslims?  Does freedom of religion (or from religion) only extend so far?

Maher bristles at those who say that atheism is a religion.  “No, it’s not,” he says.  “It’s the opposite of religion.”  He is correct.  By definition, religion relies on the belief in God or of gods.  How does one go about worshipping a not-God in whose existence you do not believe?  What atheism and religion have in common is that they are beliefs.  Also, my belief in the existence of God and Maher’s belief in the non-existence of God are equally irrelevant to the fact of God’s existence or lack thereof.  Neither of us can prove whether or not God exists.  Whatever evidence we think we have proving or disproving, no volume of evidence amounts to proof.  We can only believe; we cannot know.  And it matters not how many others take one side or the other, or whether the number is growing or shrinking.  I think whoever might, one day, succeed in proving or disproving the existence of God would become one of the most celebrated persons in all of history.

Further in Maher’s defense (as if he needs my defense), he does not come to his position from a dearth of exposure to or knowledge of religion.  He is well- versed in the Roman Catholic Christian faith.  It’s simply that, on balance, he has rejected it.

Also this month, presidential candidate and former Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA) said that President Barack Obama’s beliefs were based on “some phony theology, not a theology based on the bible, a different theology.”  By a reasonably sane extrapolation, I can presume that Santorum would similarly find my theology suspect.  Fair enough, I’m not a Roman Catholic.  I feel unbound by official teachings of the Catholic Church.  (For that matter, I am not particularly bound by the official positions of my own church.)  So Santorum called Obama’s theology bullshit.  Back atcha, Rick!  For that matter, many Christians consider Mormonism, Judaism, and Islam to be bullshit.  (Especially Islam!)   And vice-versa.  We people of faith are capable of speaking respectfully of other faiths or of other sects within our respective faiths, but deep down we tend to reject competing theologies, doctrines, dogmas, and orthodoxies as bullshit.  So how is Maher’s characterization of all religions as bullshit more insulting than Santorum’s slam on President Obama’s?  And why, weighing one against the other, should Santorum’s win the day?  Shall we suspend the First Amendment of the Constitution for this particular instance?

Personally, I don’t want Santorum imposing his religious and/or moral views on me or anyone I know.  Likewise, I do not seek to impose my religious views on anyone.  I will not try to persuade a non-believer to become a believer.  I will not proselytize, in accordance with the Golden Rule, any more than I invite Jehovah’s Witnesses or Mormon missionaries to come knock on my door.

Maybe when we die, as atheists believe, we will simply cease to exist.  Or maybe I will meet Bill Maher in Heaven!  Who knows?  Maybe Jesus died for all sins and sinners.  And if God wants Maher in, who am I to argue?  I am not God, so I don’t get to decide any more than you do who is in and who is out.  Therefore, I decline to speculate.

So does one true God exist?  That’s what I believe, and I will believe that until the day I die.  Or until the day I don’t believe it; whichever comes first.  And if I come not to believe, I reserve the right to change my mind back.  I guess the thing for me is that I hope God exists.  Like faith, hope exists outside the realm of reason.  I cannot make a logical case for it.  However, persons wiser than myself have put great stock in faith and hope, for whatever reason.

A Lesson Learned Later

Mary was, without doubt, the prettiest girl in my sixth grade class.  She sat at the front of the row nearest the classroom door far to my right.  She is not the main character in this story, however.

On one of the few memorable days of that school year, Mary had become upset.  A sexually suggestive note had been passed to her from behind, and she properly gave the note to the teacher.  Two boys who sat behind her in her row were identified as suspects for having written the note.  Each, of course, denied having done so and both were sent to the office to be questioned by the principal.

One boy was Craig.  Craig was a pal of mine, and while he was not such a close friend as to come visit me at my home, we did things together at school.  We played football at recess.  We both were in the band, he playing the trombone and I the trumpet.  Brass guys.  He was well-liked by others in the class, too.  He was just a good guy.  People liked Craig.  The other suspected boy, Terry, did not have the same popularity.  He was fairly new to the school and had not really hit it off with the other kids.  He was gangly, disheveled and, to be honest, unattractive.  He was often disruptive and in trouble.  He would do and say things in class that would make the rest of us roll our eyes and shake our heads.

The interrogation must have gone on for hours.  Much later in the day, Terry returned to class and we learned that Craig had been suspended for writing the note.  But we knew that had to be wrong!  Clearly that could not be so!  Craig must have been worn down from the questioning; he must have given a false confession just to put an end to it.  Terry, conversely, liar that we just knew him to be, must have held firm to his fabrication, causing Craig to feel pressure to take the fall for writing the note that had upset Mary so.

At late-afternoon recess, I joined a group of kids that ganged up on Terry.  We didn’t believe him.  We cursed him.  “We know that you wrote that note!  Why don’t you just admit it?”  Our friend, the good guy, Craig, was being punished for something that the villain, Terry, had done.  If Terry didn’t get the righteous consequence of a school suspension, we would make him pay the social price.  Thusly, Terry was shunned by his peers.

But as it turned out, Terry didn’t write the note; Craig did.  When Craig returned to school from his suspension, he told us so.

I wish I could say that upon hearing Craig’s confession, a flood of remorse came over me.  But that’s not true.  I was still angry with Terry.  I did not want my friend to be the guilty one.  Maybe today a lewd note would not shock and upset a girl as it had Mary.  Maybe sixth graders being suspended from school is no longer considered a big deal.  But it was back in 1968-69.  And, I was not ready to accept that Craig – my friend, the good guy – was the creep who had inflicted pain upon Mary.

Now, with the perspective of an adult, no longer a sixth-grade boy, I realize that the villain in the story was actually me.  I was the creep!  Mary was the innocent victim; the teacher took appropriate action, the principal suspended the right guy.  Terry had done nothing wrong, save perhaps having passed the offending note forward from Craig toward Mary without having looked at it.  Even Craig, though belatedly, eventually told the truth and accepted his righteous punishment.  But I judged.  I judged without mercy.  I judged falsely.  I discriminated.  What I did to Terry was wrong and unjust.  Terry did not deserve our scorn.  My scorn.  I wonder now how we made him feel.  How I made him feel.  I am so, so sorry.  It’s rather late for that now.

But hey, Terry was judged by a jury of his peers, after all.  And the too-tall, gangly, freckly, unkempt guy with crooked teeth, beady eyes, and odd behavior was probably the guy who wrote the nasty note.  Right?  Right?

No, not right.  And even today I have to guard against that way of thinking because it’s so easy to slip back into it.  It doesn’t serve the truth.  I wonder if there are other people out there who have been falsely accused of something because of the way they look or act.

Many years after the incident, the lesson I learned is this:  Just because I believe something — no matter how fervently and deeply I believe it, no matter how many other people also believe it – that’s not what makes it true.  Truly, I can believe something that is utterly false.  Unfortunately, I can’t say that I learned that lesson the hard way; someone else paid the price.

That’s what I learned in sixth grade, the lesson that took years to sink in.

The Book Of Amendments

The Book Of Amendments is quite possibly the most popular book in the bible.  Of course, it’s not in the bible in the literal sense.  The Book contains sayings that perhaps people think are in scripture, or they act as if there is some scriptural basis for what they say.  Now, I know that there is an admonition in the Book Of Revelation against changing or adding to scripture, but that that doesn’t stop people from adding bits of folk wisdom or twists and contortions in interpreting the Word of God.  In so doing, we ascribe to God our own biases; after all, we create God in our own image.  If I got to edit the bible, I think I’d get rid of that piece-of-shit Book Of Revelation.  “But Rufus, that’s apostasy!” you protest.  Yeah, sure.  But I can live with that.  Who’s to say that some Pope in the Dark Ages knew what the hell he was doing when he decided to include it?  That decision seems subjective and arbitrary to me.  Lord knows he was human.  Anyway, what’s a little heresy between friends?

Mainly, many believers believe that there are uniformly embraced official Christian positions on social issues of the day that are anything but uniformly embraced.  Prominently, issues regarding sexual behavior come to mind.  Sorry, but Christians are not unified on much besides that Jesus is divine.  If that.

I would like contributions to this book.  Please send submissions to my site-related email account, rufus@gl4c.com.  If you want attribution, I am more than happy to oblige.  In fact, I would prefer to do so (unless I really did think of it first).  But if you wish to remain anonymous, I will still indicate when items are submitted rather than products of my own ‘intellectual processes.’  Perhaps if it gets voluminous enough, I’ll edit it into Chapter and Verse form.

So without further ado, The Book Of Amendments:

  • Prayer changes things—  I used to drive past a sign along a freeway that said this, and my thought was, “Like what, for example?”  Now, before I launch into an anti-prayer tirade, I’ll say that I do intend sometime to write more extensively on the subject, and that my stance has softened.  I’m less cynical than I once was.

Indeed, there are several passages regarding prayer in the bible; how to pray, when to pray, etc., but I remain a prayer skeptic.  I do not believe in an intervening God that answers prayers based on criteria found in scripture (or not, as the case may be).  I don’t, for example, think that God is up there counting, “One, two, three… Yep!  There’s the threshold.  That prayer is getting answered!”  Oh, how I wish it worked that way, but it doesn’t.  It just doesn’t, dammit!

Neither do I believe in an aloof God that doesn’t listen or care.  I believe that God does care.  But for reasons that are beyond our comprehension, bad things happen to good people, good things happen to bad people, and some things happen that have no relationship to our lives at all.  I do understand that some things that destroy and kill are vital to life.  We would not have land without seismic activity.  No one prays for earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, tsunamis, hurricanes, fires, floods, etc., but they all serve their purposes in nature.

But if God counted the Prayer Warriors (whatever the hell that means) and bestowed Shazzam! Power to His faithful followers, my daughter would be alive today.  Her brain cancer would have been cured or she never would have gotten it in the first place.  Or I would have gotten it in her stead.  (That was my prayer; give it to me, not her.)  However, her health deteriorated incrementally over a period of five years until she finally lapsed into a coma and died.  It was not for a shortage of prayer on her behalf.  Many, many people prayed for her.  Nor was there a dearth of sincerity of the prayers.  She was beloved.  She was atypically young for her type of cancer.  Neither did she lack for medical interventions:  Two surgeries, proton radiation, several kinds of chemotherapy – oral and infused — physical therapy, and several other medications.  So we did our part, too, whatever our resources allowed.

Prayer changes things?  All right, well then, we did that.

  • God never gives you more than you can handle.  —  Seriously?  Hey, my daughter had brain cancer and died.  So she ‘handled’ her affliction by enduring five years of deterioration and dying.  Okay, so maybe there’s the technicality that God did not give the cancer to her.  In that case, the saying is totally worthless.  If you’re going to let God off the hook for horrible problems that come into your life, then maybe they are too much for you to handle.  Which way do you want to have it?  You can’t have both.

And how did her parents (and her brother) ‘handle’ her illness and death, you ask?  Not too well, in my estimation.  More than two years later, our grief is still strong and our ability to function has been affected.

How do people ‘handle’ homelessness?  Terminal diseases?  Debilitating mental illness?  Violence?  Disaster?  God never gives you more than you can handle?  This trite saying isn’t very well thought through.

  • The Lord helps those who help themselves. —   It seems to me that scripture advises that God wants us to help others.  Jesus is especially emphatic on this point.  I’m scanning through my mental files and memory bank to seek an example of when God suggests ‘help yourself’ is the way to go.  I’m drawing a blank.

The Firesign Theatre offered a variation on the theme:  “The Lord helps those who take a big helping for themselves.”  Of course this is also scripturally unsound, but that’s the point.

  •  It’s ‘Adam and Eve,’ not ‘Adam and Steve.’  —  Ha-ha!  Isn’t that clever!  That’s the first line of defense against those who think that homosexual queer fairies of the gay persuasion should have equal protection under the law.  Who could even think that same-sex couples are anything like people who are married to one person of the opposite sex at a time?

Yes, there are passages in the bible that condemn homosexual acts.  The Apostle Paul (nee Saul) in the New Testament was so judgmental that I suspect he was closeted gay.  You know, like former Senator Larry Craig (R-ID).  Other passages are found in the codes of Leviticus, where we are also admonished not to shave the sides of our faces or the tops of our heads, work on the Sabbath, get tattoos, touch a woman during her menstrual period, and a host of other transgressions we seldom take seriously today.  For some, we must slaughter a goat or sheep without flaw at the east end of the altar at dusk to atone.  For others, such as homosexual acts or working on the Sabbath, a stoning is in order.  Up for that?

All the passages in the Bible that do mention homosexuality are specific to male homosexuality.  You’d be hard pressed to find any condemnation of lesbianism.  Look all you want.  You’ll only find it in the Book Of Amendments, if there… I mean here.  My hypothesis is that God has a special place in His heart for lesbians.  He just loves that lady-on-lady lovin’!  And it’s apparently healthy, too.  Remember when the bible-thumpers were shouting that the HIV/AIDS epidemic was God’s punishment for homosexuality?  Well, lesbians were and are the lowest-risk group for sexually-transmitted diseases in the population.  So lesbians are God’s special people.  It stands to reason.

Curiously, you won’t find Jesus making any mention of homosexuality.  Not a word.  But you just know – don’t you? – that Jesus is a family-values kind of guy.  Okay, so he traveled and hung around with a bunch of guys, but if He walked among us today, I’d bet He’d have one wife (at a time) and kids and a sensible SUV, and he’d condemn gays to Hell right and left.

But wait a gol-darned, ding-danged, rootin’-tootin’ minute!  God does so love Steve.  God created Steve and all the other non-heteros.    Steve is part of God’s creation.  Steve is a Child of God!

If God hates homosexuals, why did He create so many of them over the course of human existence?  Homosexuality has been documented throughout the history of civilization.  It exists in communities where it is accepted.  It exists in places where it is punishable by death.  It exists wherever there are people.  And if homosexuality is unnatural, why does it exist in other species in nature as well?  Homosexual behavior has been observed among other primates, other mammal species, birds, reptiles, insects….  And don’t get me started on the perverse sexual behaviors of mollusks and barnacles.  Barnacles change genders daily!  Back and forth, back and forth… freaky!

Hey, Steve!  God loves you.  Never mind the sign from the bigot.  Give my regards to Adam.

…..

So there are my proposed amendments so far.  Not to the actual bible, of course, but rather examples of people’s… let’s say, enhanced interpretations.  And as I mentioned before, feel free to propose your own amendments.  (rufus@gl4c.com).  Unlike the U.S. Constitution, the amendment process here is much simpler.  Instead of requiring passage in both chambers of Congress and ratification by 75% of the states, I am the sole arbiter.  That’s not to say I’m God – after all, God would not solicit contributions from others. …  But come to think of it, perhaps he should!  “For starters, get rid of that Book Of Revelation End-Of-Days nonsense that frightens believers and inspires crackpottery.  That was probably meaningful only to the persecuted Christ-followers in the era of the Roman Empire.  And purge the irrelevant bullshit from Leviticus and Deuteronomy while you’re at it.”

But I digress.

Life Begins At…

Fifty?  Forty?  All right, no one really believes that.  ‘Life begins at fifty’ is just a corny bromide said to make people feel better about aging.  But in choosing a word to complete the above title, I have eliminated ‘conception’ as a contender.

There are many people who strongly believe that life begins at conception, but they believe it without backing from scripture.  A fine-tooth-comb examination of scripture will not reveal personhood status for a fetus.  There is a passage in the Old Testament that prescribes what to do when someone causes a woman to miscarry.  The consequence for that is financial compensation to… get ready for it… the woman’s husband.  Sad to say it does not take the position, as I do, that a fetus is part of the woman’s body.  Sorry, ladies (and gentlemen), I’m on your side on this issue, but the bible does not have our backs.  So solely using scripture as our guide, a fetus is not a sovereign person in and of himself or herself, nor is it part of its host’s body.  Rather, a fetus is a man’s property.

I might, just might, be willing to regard the ‘Life begins at conception’ position as somewhat less ludicrous than I currently do if our institutions did so.  But none do.  Not one.  Lives of people are measured from when they were born, not when they were conceived, when the sperm cell fertilized the egg cell and became a zygote.  Maybe that’s because pinpointing that moment is just too damn hard.  And really, who wants to think about it?  Who wants to think of our parents having sex?  Yuck!  Or that split second in the Petri dish at the fertility clinic?  All our milestones are dated from our date of birth.  (In some cultures, the day our age advances one year is the start of a new year regardless of the actual date of birth.)  All sorts of adult privileges and responsibilities are bestowed to a person on his or her eighteenth birthday.  Legal drinking age is attained on one’s 21st birthday.  There is no consideration of when you were conceived.  It matters not at all whether your gestation was longer or shorter than average, whether you emerged from the womb before or after the due date.  The date from which we measure to determine your age is the day you draw your first breath.

Late term abortions are controversial for a reason, and I agree that they should be rare.  That is, I do not think it’s a good idea to rule them out if the life of the mother is threatened, or if the soon-to-be-born baby’s life would be painful and brief due to a lethal prenatal condition, but there are profound legal and moral implications if the pregnancy is otherwise normal.  Then we get into the nebulous concept of ‘viability.’  I could be mistaken, but I don’t think that there is a consensus view of precisely when viability occurs.  There is a definition, of course.  It’s when an emergent baby is able to breathe on its own.  But I don’t think doctors and technicians can determine that just from a sonogram or other diagnostic tool.  So when does a fetus become viable short of its actual birth?  Maybe……now!  How ‘bout now?   NOW?!!

Anyway, with the issue of viability in the picture, there is some credibility to the idea that life begins sometime before birth despite using dates of birth for official purposes.

But conception?  As I stated above, there is not one institution that recognizes life beginning at conception.  None.  Zero.  Zip.  Zilch.  Nada.  Nyet.  Nein.  So before I start to campaign for equal rights for Fetal Americans, the notion of personhood for fetuses has to make a lick of sense.  So far it has not approached that threshold.

I offer as anecdotal evidence examples from my own experience.  Between the live births of our son and daughter, my wife suffered a miscarriage, or as they call it in medical circles, a spontaneous abortion.  I didn’t make that up; that’s what they call it.  And I will tell you truly that it was a sad time for us.  We had begun to dare to ponder and dream about our pending child and plan for her or his future.  And then the dream died.  A sonogram revealed that the fetus was not growing.  It was, in fact, dead.  My wife then endured a procedure called a D & C (which the medical people jokingly called ‘dust ‘n’ clean,’ which didn’t really bring levity to the ordeal), which happens to also be a common procedure for surgical abortions.  (Side note:  Absent elective abortions, D & C procedures clearly have a legitimate medical purpose, so doctors are going to be trained to perform them, anyway.)

Around that same time, one of my sisters suffered a stillbirth.  Needless to say, I would think, the grief she and her husband experienced was profound.  The outpouring of sympathy directed at my sister and brother-in-law far, far outweighed the sympathy directed at my wife and me over the miscarriage.  And rightly so.  Our losses were not equal.  Far from it.  A miscarriage, while a sad event, is not nearly the same thing as the death of an actual person.

I don’t want to minimize the impact of miscarriages.  I realize that there are couples that desperately want to have a baby but endure serial, multiple miscarriages.  I cannot deny the trauma and tragedy of that.  Those are sad, sad cases and my heart goes out to them.  But overall, miscarriages are very common.  Spontaneous abortions way, way outnumber the surgical kind.  Many happen without the host mother even being aware that conception occurred in the first place.  By that measurement, you could say that God is the biggest abortionist of all!  Or, if you are a non-believer, nature would be that abortionist.

So let’s compare how our institutions regard fetuses.  In the medical field, certificates of live birth are issued for babies.  With stillbirths, there is a death certificate, just as they issue for people who actually did draw breath at some point.  With a miscarriage, not so much.  No certificate of any kind.  The woman who endures the miscarriage is the only patient.  For society, the stillborn has an obituary in the newspaper, complete with its name (even if that name is ‘Baby Smith’ or ‘Infant Jones’:  My stillborn nephew did have a given name.) and a list of surviving relatives.  With a miscarriage, not so much.  In the church, stillborns have funerals.  For miscarriages, not so much.

So for those of you scoring at home, here are the stats:

Death certificate  —  Stillborn – yes, miscarriage – no.

Obituary  —              Stillborn – yes, miscarriage – no.

Funeral  —               Stillborn – yes, miscarriage – no.

Medical community, society, and church regard a stillborn as a person, but there is no such distinction for a miscarried fetus.  So there is a case to be made that life begins sometime before birth, but conception is definitely not that point.

Life begins at….  Until further notice, I’m going with ‘birth.’  Don’t hold your breath for further notice.

Accountability

No, I’m not referring to my previously stated aim of posting something new every week or two.  But I have an excuse!  Wanna hear it?  Didn’t think so.

Re:  Romney

If you’re like me, you get frustrated with the media sometimes.  Maybe our reasons are different, but I’ll bet that you can relate to that statement if I put it that broadly.

My gripe is about reporters who don’t ask the obvious questions.  When, for example, Mitt Romney declares that he is not a politician, it should not be left for his opponents on the debate stage to ask what the hell he could possibly mean by that.  What kind of not-a-politician runs for and holds elective office over so many years?  If not that, how would he define what a politician is?

That is not to say that Romney would give a straight answer if asked such a straight question.  In getting to know more about him during this election campaign season, I can certainly understand why so many Republicans are reluctant to warm up to him.  Dislike him or hate him, it’s really difficult to get a grip on where he stands on an issue.  Never mind his numerous well-documented flip-flops; Romney has shown himself to be averse to taking positions in the first place.

For example, Romney has frequently criticized President Obama’s leadership.  That’s obviously not a bold stance for someone of the opposition party to take, so it behooves him to expand on the theme.  Romney is against how Obama handled the situation in Libya.  Naturally.  A logical follow-up question, then, would be, “Okay, smart-ass, if you were leader, what would you have done differently?”

Why is that a hard question to ask?  How is that a hard question to think of on the spot?  One of my basic criticisms of politicians and other weasels in general — and conservatives specifically — is the assumption of agreement, that they can let their assertions lie there unchallenged.  So Romney gets away with essentially saying, “Of course I would have handled it better because of who I am and who he is, no further explanation necessary.”  But no, it is the duty of reporters to press for explanations.  How are we to be well informed if they don’t inform?

In a televised debate before the New Hampshire primary, Romney was asked if he would favor banning the most popular form of birth control.  He acted as if he was befuddled that such a question would be asked.  “What do you mean by such a question?  Why would I take a position on that?  No state is trying to ban birth control!  Why would you ask me that?”, he said.  But the question was not as out-of-the-blue as Romney pretended it was.  First, Romney’s newly minted top debate foe, former Senator Rick Santorum, had previously made remarks that the use of birth control is a problem for society.  Where Romney ties into the issue, he would need to recall way, way back to November 2011.  Two months before that evening’s debate, the state of Mississippi had a ballot measure that would have defined life as beginning at conception.  As a consequence, hormone-based birth control pills, which thwart (or terminate) pregnancy by preventing a fertilized egg from implanting in a uterine wall, would effectively destroy ‘life.’  Thusly, using birth control pills would be criminalized.  Before that vote took place, Romney was a guest on the TV show “Huckabee,” and the host, Mike Huckabee, asked him if he would support a constitutional amendment defining life as beginning at conception.  Contrary to his previously stated position, Romney answered, “Absolutely!”

So Romney believes, at least for this election cycle, that life begins at conception.  Given that, connecting the dots of recent developments, it’s not far-fetched to say that he believes (for now, anyway) that birth control pills should be illegal.  But he doesn’t want to come out and say that.  Well, I can’t exactly blame him for that since it is a ridiculous and wildly unpopular position to take.  And in his defense, the ballot measure was soundly defeated, even in Mississippi.  Perhaps he felt that the crushing defeat of the measure rendered the question moot.

But the questioner, ABC’s George Stephanopolous, blew it.  He had all the dots for connection, but it was his duty not to assume that all the viewers did as well.  He let Romney get away with playing dumb.  However, his duty was to press Romney to explain his position in light of the Mississippi measure and in light of Romney’s own response to Huckabee’s question.  Stephanopolous had an opportunity to inform the viewers and he neglected to do so.

 

Re:  Santorum

Remember former Senator John Ensign (R-NV)?  Perhaps you do because the most memorable thing about him has to do with sex.  I intend to write more about him later, but rest assured my angle here is to pin a charge of hypocrisy on his fellow former Senator (R-PA), current presidential candidate Rick Santorum.  Before I get back to Ensign, I just want to say that Santorum’s speech after the Iowa Caucuses was great.  It struck a populist tone and told a compelling personal story.  Mitt Romney outwaited Santorum, each determined to go last and snatch the perception of victory while the actual outcome was still being tabulated, but Romney’s ‘victory’ speech (by order, not by content) paled in comparison to Santorum’s.  During the subsequent week in New Hampshire, it sure didn’t take Santorum long to turn back into himself:  intolerant, sanctimonious, belligerent.

So to bring you up to speed on John Ensign, his enduring blot on the political landscape was his prolonged affair with his political treasurer, Cynthia Hampton, whose husband Doug was Ensign’s administrative assistant.  She reportedly tried to end the affair sooner, but was trapped on account of both her husband and her being dependent on Senator Ensign for employment.  (Spoiler alert:  Ensign fired them both, anyway.)  There was also $ 96,000 paid to the Hamptons by Ensign’s parents as a ‘generous gift to family friends,’ but certainly not as hush money.  Who said anything about hush money?  Why would you think such a thing?

Distraught and desperate for his wife’s affair with the Senator to end, Doug Hampton contacted Ensign’s friend, former Senator Santorum, and told him that he was going to go public with the story in order to force Ensign into breaking off the affair.

Now you may claim that this is entirely speculative on my part, but I believe that if Ensign had been a Democrat rather than Santorum’s friend and fellow Republican, Santorum would have reacted differently.  He would have told Ensign that he found his conduct to be disgusting and reprehensible, and that he should resign from office immediately.  That is Santorum’s pattern; to be shocked at the immoral behavior of others.  What did he do instead?  He called his pal Ensign and tipped him off that the affair was about to be exposed, and he might want to get out ahead of the story.

So why isn’t Rick Santorum, a candidate for president, being questioned about his conduct?  Does his character not matter?  He’s certainly not shy about holding others accountable… Democrats, anyway.

Come on, reporters!  Do your job!  Ask the questions that beg for answers:

“Senator Santorum:  Why did you not encourage Senator Ensign to resign from office?”

“Senator Santorum:  As a family-values guy, please comment on your friend Senator Ensign’s destroying the marriage of his friends, the Hamptons.”  (To date, I believe that the Ensigns are still together despite John’s infidelity.)

“Senator Santorum:  Why did you rat out Doug Hampton?”

All I’m asking is that he, and all candidates, Republicans and Democrats, be held accountable for their words, their actions, and especially their words vis-à-vis their actions.  What’s so hard about that?

My Essential Premise

I am a Christian, but…

  •  I am not a Fundamentalist.
  • I am not an atheist, but if atheism and fundamentalism were the only choices offered, I would choose atheism.  I’m sure God understands.
  • I do not believe in the inerrancy of scripture or a literal interpretation of the same, and I highly doubt that you do, either.
  • I am not easily impressed by people who can quote selected passages of scripture, chapter and verse.
  • I believe God is bigger than the Bible, or a stack of bibles, or a pile of bibles, or the volume of all bibles put together.  God cannot be contained.  I do not worship the Bible, nor do I always capitalize it.
  • I believe God loves you whether or not you love God back.  Sometimes I don’t love God.  Loving God isn’t always easy.
  • I believe Jesus of Nazareth was the most liberal liberal in the history of liberalism.  I only wish I could be so liberal.  Feel free to disagree, but you’d be hard-pressed to name anyone so liberal.
  • Even if you do not believe that Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior, there is much to be valued about what Jesus said, did and taught, or at least what was written that he said, did and taught.  I think so, anyway.
  • I believe faith and reason are separate realms.  Faith cannot be explained on the same terms as reason, and faith is not an excuse to reject reason.
  • Believing and knowing are not the same.  I believe there is a God.  I do not know that God exists.  When people say they know, they don’t.  They believe.
  • I believe the term “Conservative Christian” is an oxymoron.  People who call themselves Conservative Christians make my case frequently.
  • The Religious Right does not speak for me.  I don’t think they represent Jesus very well, either.  Maybe he should sue them for defamation.
  • I have yet to see or hear a televangelist that does not strike me as utterly phony, if not downright fraudulent.
  • I believe in science, and I believe that just because something can be explained scientifically does not diminish a miracle.
  • Science has not unlocked all the mysteries of the universe, but I can’t blame it for trying.  Religion has not unlocked all the mysteries of the universe and is not obligated to try.
  • My opinions and beliefs are not carved into stone.  I am open to new ideas and evidence.  Likewise, my faith is not steadfast.  I wish it were, but it isn’t.