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United States v. Windsor v. democratic debate

July 10, 2013

I recently finished reading United States v. Windsor.  In that Supreme Court ruling, an incredible opportunity for public discussion and dialogue on a very fundamental topic was taken from us as a society. This saddens me.  In fact, I’m concerned because much of the marriage equality rhetoric is phrased to shut down dissent and debate, to stifle free speech.  Who hasn’t heard it said that if you oppose marriage equality, you’re on the wrong side of history, or you’re bigoted, or you’re a backwards fundamentalist?

The Supreme Court majority ruling basically side-stepped this question, and Justice Alito pointed it out on pages 13 and 14 of his dissent.  The question isn’t whether homosexual marriage is equal to heterosexual marriage, but more fundamentally the question of whether our culture’s view of marriage is what Alito calls the “traditional” or “conjugal” vision for marriage, or the “consent-based” vision for marriage.  The “traditional” or “conjugal” view of marriage is that in every culture and time of the world up until the year 2000, marriage was intrinsically an opposite-sex institution, because it had to carry the possibility of natural childbirth. The “consent-based” vision of marriage, Alito writes, is “a vision that primarily defines marriage as the solemnization of mutual commitment— marked by strong emotional attachment and sexual attraction—between two persons.”  No-fault divorce arises from the consent-based vision for marriage, as does the current push to legitimize and legalize homosexual unions as marriage.

If the consent-based view of marriage were my view, I would see no reason not to support marriage equality between any two consenting partners.  However, I hold the conjugal view, because I believe it is what our Creator designed for humanity, I believe it is the best environment for raising children, and forming stable families over the long-term, and I believe its prescribed in the Bible.

I’m deeply saddened that as a culture we’ve missed the opportunity for real, robust discussion and debate through democratic processes on this important issue.  We espouse democratic principles of governance, but at least on this one, the discussion has been framed to shut out debate before it happens, by making it sound like if you disagree you’re opposed to equal treatment before the law.  That concerns me: I support the rule of law, and the equality of persons before the law, but I also support free speech and broad, informed, democratic discussion by the people of fundamental issues.

Let me be clear: homosexual people deserve the same civil rights as other people, but this issue isn’t an inequality of civil rights between homosexual or heterosexual couples.  It’s an disagreement between the conjugal or consent-based visions for marriage, an issue of how we understand our humanity as individuals and in communities.  It only becomes a civil rights issue if the consent-based vision for marriage is actually right.

PS – if you think I’m “on the wrong side of history” with this post, please explain why in your comments below.

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Charting a pagan path for environmental care?

March 11, 2013
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Does anyone doubt the pagan religious foundation of much of our culture’s current powerful environmentalist movements? All the major players subscribe to the Earth Charter. I just read it, and on a number of points its deeply antithetical to orthodox, biblical Christianity. For example, its final section on democracy, non-violence, and peace calls everyone to: “Recognize that peace is the wholeness created by right relationships with oneself, other persons, other cultures, other life, Earth, and the larger whole of which all are a part.”

What’s missing in that definition of peace? Two things: it misses the real root of the problem: our alienation from God, and it assumes reality is ultimately one (“the larger whole of which all are a part.”), rather than the truth that reality is divided in two: God and his creation.  The ultimate oneness of all reality is a fundamentally pagan belief.

Many people today are convinced that because we live in a pluralist world, with many competing religions and worldviews, that there is no truth.  How could biblical Christianity be true, when there are so many options?  In reality, there are only two fundamental options: either one believes the Bible’s message that reality is fundamentally two, a Creator God and his creation of the entire physical cosmos and spiritual realm, or one holds a variation on the theme that reality is ultimately one–whether you are one-ist in a traditional pagan sense, a materialist atheist or agnostic sense, or in some other religion’s sense, its still an all-is-one viewpoint.  Biblical Christianity stands in stark contrast to those claims.

There are many half-truths in the Earth Charter (relationships with self, other persons, other creatures, and the earth do need to be righted, but this only happens when one’s relationship to God is restored first by Christ Jesus – cf. Romans 8 where creation groans with anticipation for redemption), and many well-meaning Christians, rightly concerned that we care responsibly for creation, are unknowingly embracing pagan perspectives.

You can read the Earth Charter for yourself, and then let me know what other pagan beliefs you see in that document. http://www.earthcharterinaction.org/content/pages/read-the-charter.html.

bitcoin? do you trust your money?

March 11, 2013
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Bitcoin.  Have you heard about the experimental crypto-currency?  If you’re in the know and want to donate, you can send me bitcoins here: 1485jYzBFEBTPEYSk7xdcABZKK724bvtRS.

For the rest of you who are wondering what that’s all about, here’s the gist of it.  In 2009, a bunch of computer programmers (or one guy, no one’s sure) designed an open-source peer-to-peer network that uses public and private key encryption to allow people to send Bitcoins to each other.  Due to the encryption standards used, and the public transaction records, its virtually impossible to double-spend bitcoins–which has always been one of the main problems with digital money.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about bitcoin is that there is no central authority controlling it.  The computer program that runs on all the client computers and establishes the network uses a mathematical algorithm to regulate the creation of new bitcoins, so its a deflationary currency.

Also, because relatively few people worldwide use it, the values at which bitcoin trades with traditional currencies can be quite volatile.  Recently one bitcoin has been trading for around $40 USD, but last November it was only around $9 USD, and in 2011 it had been up to $32, but then crashed all the way down to $2 or $3.  So yes, its experimental.

However, if you’re in the US, you may see Bitcoin reverse ATM machines coming to a convenience store near you, according to this article on CNET.  If you see one, and want so give me a gift, you can do so here: 1485jYzBFEBTPEYSk7xdcABZKK724bvtRS.  I haven’t bought any bitcoin myself–I’m still somewhat skeptical, but its an experiment I’m watching.

And it raises interesting questions about our money: who controls it, who can manipulate its value, and is it worth treasuring if its of fleeting value?

global warming: hype or reality?

August 18, 2012

Thomas Kuhn’s theory of scientific revolutions is that people will cling to older, outdated theories until there’s way too much evidence to the contrary.  The history of science shows this time and time again.

So what’s the deal with global warming?  Listening to most voices in western culture, one would conclude that all scientists believe there’s an imminent catastrophe around the corner.  Anyone who tries to offer an alternate account of the data is accused of sticking her head in the sand.

Yes, there is melting on the polar ice caps.  Yes, Greenland’s ice shelf is melting.  But since we don’t have accurate, worldwide temperature measurements older than the 1950s or 1960s, do we really know the recent warming trends are caused by human activity?  The very hype and apocalyptic scare tactics employed by the majority of the voices proclaiming a global warming crisis give me cause for skepticism.

Look at the past track record of supposed environmental crises: they haven’t happened as predicted.  Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, which many credit with starting modern environmentalism, claimed the pesticide DDT causes cancer–yet in the years since this hasn’t been proven.  The massive doomsday virus scares that’ve been predicted have so far failed to materialize.  We’re told that the earth is a population bomb, but every time naysayers say there’s too many people, humans creatively find new and more efficient energy sources, resources, and ways of agriculture (Remember Thomas Malthus back in the early 19th century, pre-industrial revolution?  Right, he was so wrong in his day, because he failed to account for human innovation.).  They said we’d run out of resources, of oil, of metals, etc.  Today pretty much all these resources are more abundant than ever, because of human creativity.  For details for each of my claims above regarding supposed past chemical, disease, people, & resource crises, see this Wired article: http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2012/08/ff_apocalypsenot/all/.

When I listen to the drastic calls for quitting fossil fuels cold turkey, for dramatic, massive structural changes to the freedoms and liberties we’ve enjoyed in our western liberal democracies because of the global warming crisis, I’m skeptical.

Rather than forcing radical changes because of a supposed crisis, let’s focus on strengthening our foundations of rule of law and the unique value and worth of every individual and community.  If we strengthen those foundations, and if we have plenty of creative people, we’ll innovate and adapt to face any real crisis that comes along.

a Victorian era novelist invented the flat earth theory

May 29, 2012
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Apparently Washington Irving came up with the flat earth theory in his fictional novel, The Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus I (1829). Then John Draper’s History of the Conflict between Religion and Science (1874) and Andrew Dickson White’s book A History of The Warfare Between Science and Theology in Christendom picked it up and popularized the idea that everybody thought the earth was flat until Columbus.

Rubbish!  That’s what happens when you let novelists write history.  So feel free to ignore Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code.  Novels shouldn’t be read as history.

In his book, Inventing the Flat Earth: Columbus and Modern Historians, Jeffery Burton Russell outlines the historical reality that from the third century B.C. onward, the vast majority of educated people believed the earth was round.  The medieval church as a whole did not teach or hold to a flat earth; rather this was a theory non-Christian Victorians popularized as part of the myth of conflict between science and religion.  Summarizing his book’s findings, Russell told the 1997 American Scientific Affiliation Conference:

[W]ith extraordinary few exceptions no educated person in the history of Western Civilization from the third century B.C. onward believed that the earth was flat. A round earth appears at least as early as the sixth century BC with Pythagoras, who was followed by Aristotle, Euclid, and Aristarchus, among others in observing that the earth was a sphere. Although there were a few dissenters—Leukippos and Demokritos for example–by the time of Eratosthenes (3 c. BC), followed by Crates(2 c. BC), Strabo (3 c. BC), and Ptolemy (first c. AD), the sphericity of the earth was accepted by all educated Greeks and Romans.

Nor did this situation change with the advent of Christianity. A few—at least two and at most five—early Christian fathers denied the spherically of earth by mistakenly taking passages such as Ps. 104:2-3 as geographical rather than metaphorical statements. On the other side tens of thousands of Christian theologians, poets, artists, and scientists took the spherical view throughout the early, medieval, and modern church. The point is that no educated person believed otherwise.

You can find the quote above and a lot more context over at the blog Contra Mundum, http://www.mandm.org.nz/2009/12/contra-mundum-the-flat-earth-myth.html.

Interruption

April 7, 2012
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The musician’s corollary to Murphy’s Law:

The probability of a mobile phone ringing during a concert is directly proportional to the tenderness of the moment.

(taken from http://euge.ca/2012/01/13/interruption/)

is meat for dinner?

March 30, 2012

Why do you eat what you eat?  One of my cousins recently shared a link to a dairy farmer Raechel Kilgore Sattazahn’s essay, Defending Meat.  In her essay, she posits human exceptionalism–that we are unique in the animal kingdom as a moral species, possessing rights and duties–and then she offers three reason why eating meat is a very human thing: first, our hunter-gatherer ancestors were omnivores; second, meat offers nutrients humans need that are difficult to obtain elsewhere; and finally, we’re part of the circle of life.

In a separate post on the Go Beyond the Barn blog, she describes the tension in the room when, in a debate with an animal welfare advocate, an animal rights activist tried to convince a roomful of young leaders at the Holstein Foundation’s Young Dairy Leaders Institute that animals are equal to humans and that everyone should only consume plant-based foods.  That debate left these young dairy farmers asking how to answer the views of radical animal rights activists.  The answer at the leadership institute, and her answer, is to remind the public, “Farm animals are not the same as companion animals.”

While I think she raises an important point, I left her a comment that the point only addresses half the issue:

…you asked, “how do we compete with the radical animal rights views,” and your answer only half-way answered your question. Among truly radical animal rights activists, there are many that disagree with your earlier point that humans are exceptional. Some of those radicals are quite politically motivated to push their non-exceptional view of humans on everybody else. If people aren’t exceptional, then what does it matter whether farm animals are companion animals or not? Across your industry, for the message that farm animals are not companion animals to stick, you’ve got to first convince people (and policy makers) that humans are exceptional.

Provide a strong basis for the uniqueness of humans, and you’ll have a strong basis for your argument that there are humane ways to farm animals, to provide safe, quality, affordable food to all us non-farmers.

I believe humans are exceptional, people are unique.  Most of the time, what’s good for animals will be good for people, too, but if its a choice between sustaining a human life and an animal’s life, the person has priority.  Treating farm animals inhumanely isn’t wrong because we’re not giving animals the same rights as humans, its wrong because doing so would make us less than fully human.  That’s part of human exceptionalism: we’re different from animals, and when we treat our animals badly, we’re not living up to what it means to be human. Paradoxically, promoting animal welfare almost always results in human welfare: if our farm animals are cleaner and healthier, their milk will be better, tastier; their meat safer and more delicious, which in turn is better for those farm businesses and their customers.

What is the basis for their belief that humans are exceptional?  Why are people unique in the animal kingdom?  If answered correctly, and worked out through business processes and structures, and communicated loudly to the public as the motivation behind the industry, this could transform modern farming into an industry with the trust of the general public.

I eat a lot of lentils, beans, and rice, because legumes are healthy, tasty, and help me save money.  I eat a lot of meatless meals partly because I have a far more sedentary life than my ancestors did, and partly because saving money allows me to splurge on better, more expensive meats when I eat meat.  I really enjoyed the Norwegian salmon I had last night.

So is meat for dinner?   Yes, decently raised farm animals and wild game, but we don’t eat the pets, because humans are exceptional.