Monday, July 24, 2017

And what does your conscience say?

When was the last time you paid attention to your conscience?

Do you believe that you have one?  If so, do you respect it and give it consideration, actually follow its lead?  Or, do you more often than not squelch it and ignore it and treat it as a kind of nuisance that is more bothersome than helpful?

What is a conscience?  You know.  It’s that small inner voice that warns you: “Don’t do this,” or “You better take care of that.”  It monitors your conduct, evaluates your intentions, and directs you toward making good and right choices, while blaming you for the bad choices you make.

Speaking of a conscience presumes the following realities:

It presumes that there is a right and wrong and that you know the difference between them.  That is, it presumes the knowledge of good and bad by means of a rationale and reasonable mind.

It presumes that, at the core of your innermost being, you’d really rather do what is right and good; you prefer goodness over evil.

It presumes free-choice, that it is a matter of the will—freewill.

And it presumes that there is a higher law of moral consequence and just-desserts.  That is that, ultimately one cannot get away with continually doing wrong; sooner or later one’s bad deeds will catch up.  That there is a Judgment Day, and goodness will finally prevail over evil.

Christian theology tells us as much: God created Human Beings as intelligent and moral beings.

Proverbs 20:27 says that “The human spirit is the lamp of the Lord, searching every innermost part.”  Given that point, we could say that God’s voice plays a role in the voice of our conscience, which is probably a good reason why we should give it some careful attention.  In more stark terms, we are told that “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight.  Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.”  (Hebrews 4:13.)

Responding to our conscience: Fight or flight?

To fight is to rebel, to stubbornly ignore, squelch, or squash one’s conscience.  The Bible speaks of those who seem to have no conscience at all and couldn’t care less, those whose consciences are seared as with a hot iron (1 Timothy 4:2).  These are those who may have had a conscience at one time in their life but no longer.  They have seared them; squashed, squelched, and smothered the conscience so often that it can no longer speak or be heard.  “They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts.”   (Ephesians 4:18)

To flee is to admit that one has a guilty conscience with the fear that there is no way of escaping its verdict.  One feels doomed and thus one flees.  Think of the story of Adam and Eve when they ran from God and hid in the garden for fear of being exposed.  They knew they were guilty of committing a wrong.  Humanity has been fleeing from God ever since.

Stop running.  Jesus tells us that he came into the world for this very reason.  “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”  (John 3:17)

This world, beautiful as it is, is also a very hard and painful place to live in.  There is much evil in this world, and many people do many bad things.  No one is without guilt of doing some wrong to others.

So, we have a choice.  Sear our consciences as with a hot iron and do what we want, as we want—good bad or indifferent.  Or, we can begin paying more careful attention to what it is that our conscience is really trying to tell us.  When we feel guilty, rather than run, the best thing to do is to seek God and His righteousness.  Seek the Savior, find forgiveness and redemption, and be given a whole new promise of hope and salvation in the face of a cruel, unjust, and evil world, not to mention our own wrongdoing.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Freedom and Equality! Are You Equal to Me?

Are we equal?

This is not meant to be a trick question, but a simple yes or no answer won’t do.

It’s complicated this question of equality.  For, we are certainly not equal when it comes to natural talent and skills.  For example: I can’t sing.  That is, I can’t wow people with my singing.  I certainly can’t bring in the crowds when I sing, unlike an Elvis Presley or a Frank Sinatra did back in their heyday.

Nor are we equal when it comes to income and lifestyle.  Some are born with the so-called silver-spoon in their mouths, while others are born barely able to survive their first year of life for want of nutrition and other health care needs.

We are not equal in size, mental capacity, strength, natural abilities, beauty, health, or success potential and so-on.  So when our U. S. Constitution speaks of equality, what does it mean and how is it to be applied in our American social construct?

This is where the Christian influence and backdrop to the birth of our nation comes in to play: It is a Christian assertion that all people are created in the image of God.

Practically speaking, despite our differences in talents and abilities and/or our economic status or mental capacity, the life of every human being is sacred and shares the same responsibility to give and receive mutual and reciprocated respect for one another as a fellow human being.

Take that particular premise away—that we are all created in the image of God—and you have a ready argument to begin to justify categorizing humans as more valuable or less valuable, as more worthy or less worthy of respect and dignity—based on varies metrics, such as natural strength & power or skills and abilities, etc.

It’s a question of what makes a human being valuable.  If value is simply based on performance, that is, on what one can do, than those who have little capacity to do anything have less value—may even be seen as totally worthless, having no value at all.

Or, to make the question of human value even more complicated, some will say that value is based on one’s goodness: The more bad a person is, the less value that person has as a person; that is, good people are more valuable than bad people are.  But then we get into the question of how to define “goodness” over “badness” and the difference between “being” a bad person versus “doing” a bad thing—they’re not one and the same.

So, the premise that we are created in God’s image gives us the necessary foundation for the building block of human equality.

Thus, rich or poor, all humans are to be given the dignity of respect and honor as a human being.  That is, one’s dignity is not based on one’s wealth or monetary value.

Thus, all humans are equal before the law and are to have the right to just treatment and with respect, regardless of physical stature or social status or mental capacity.

Thus, all humans, regardless of ethnic identity, language, culture, and or regional origin, are to be honored as deserving of dignity and respect.

And thus, the most pointed Christian message of human equality is this: though all humans are guilty of wrongdoing and are therefore deemed sinful in the eyes of God (for example: as liars and cheats, as unfaithful and/or unkind and hateful toward others, or as having hearts of greed, pride and arrogance, etc.) we humans are all offered the same means of salvation—redemption and forgiveness by means of Christ the Savior.

The further we move away from the premise that all humans are created in the image of God, the closer we move toward unjust laws, oppressive government, and the devaluing of human beings that we deem as unworthy of our honor and respect simply because they are not like us.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Kushner, Trump, the Russians, Why it Matters?

So, did Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, have a clandestine meeting with Russian ambassador, Sergey Kislyak, as well as a Russian Banker?  Why does it matter if he did?

Here’s a good reason: It matters because truth matters, integrity matters, morality matters, justice matters, trust matters, loyalty matters—especially in the exercise of POWER.

Question: Is there a moral backdrop to life?  Is there a higher authority to which we must answer to?

Who or what governs one’s heart?  Who or what rules one’s life?  To whom should one give answer to, respecting one’s actions and motives?  What is the measure of one’s integrity, morality, or ethics?

News Reporters are determined to get to the bottom of this Russian Thing.  Why?  Because, it is assumed that truth matters; and so do loyalty, integrity, and trust matter.  Note that these are moral issues.

Yet, we have apparently elected a president for which truth and reality, along with morality and integrity, does not seem to matter as much—or only so in a relative sense; which is quite fitting for a culture within which moral assertions are now, more often than not, said to be a matter of opinion and therefore merely private and personal.

On the other hand, for you relativists out there, if truth is relative (including ethics and morality), then President Trump need not answer to his actions—to anyone, not even us.  For, if morality is a matter of personal and private opinion, there is no place for giving account and Trump need not justify his words or deeds, personal or public—which he often does not bother to do anyway.

The irony is that this has always been considered one of the greatest responsibilities of a free press: to get to the truth of the matter.  But now, in an age of Relativism, certain sectors of the public are outraged when the Press constantly seeks to know.  Yes, the press operates on the assumption that there is indeed a moral backdrop to our universe, with moral absolutes—that is to say that our actions and words are expected to line up with that which is real and true, right and good.

So, for example, when News Reporters question Sean Spicer, the White House Press Secretary, and/or questions other White House spokespersons, pressing for more info and clarification as to the Presidents words and actions, their line of questioning presumes that motive and purpose make a difference as to how an action is to be substantively interpreted—for good or for bad.

So, is there virtue?  Are there ethical norms by which we live?  And should we hold our elected leaders to these ethical standards?  In short, are there moral boundaries or ethical lines that must not be crossed?  If so, then it matters whether Kushner, Trump, and/or anyone else in the presidential office, had clandestine meetings with the Russians.  And so we must find out why, and to what end or purpose.

In other words, it is not enough to know what IS; we also need to know what IS, within a moral context of what should or OUGHT to be.  Thus, we need to know what IS as measured by motive, for we presume that there are good and that there are bad intentions.

This is why Trump’s administration’s refusal to give answer to the many mounting questions that are arising from the Russian Investigation, among other things, is or should be very disturbing.  In actuality, most of us, if not all of us, believe that there ARE lines that must not be crossed, boundaries that must be maintained, and rules that must be adhered to.  Thus, to evade accountability is tantamount to admitting that the boundaries have not been maintained with integrity—vis-Ă -vis, they’re hiding something!

And so, investigations and good solid news reporting matter.  We therefore must not so easily dismiss or disregard Presidential statements or actions that even only appear to sidestep the light of scrutiny let alone outright smack of actual deceit and/or falsehood—unless of course we actually do buy into a reality where truth, goodness, and trustworthiness, are in fact relative, and that these virtues are only a matter of personal and private opinion.

Monday, May 29, 2017

The Trump Push

Trump’s attitude, tone, posturing, and verbiage often come across as arrogant, boastful, and self-gratulatory.

So, when Trump bullied his way to the front of NATO leaders by pushing aside Dusko Markovic, the prime minister of Montenegro, that said it all.

Did you see it?

Did you see Trump’s face?  Did you notice his posture and catch his dismissiveness of Mr. Markovic?

Some Americans liked what they saw; thinking that that was a great way for Trump to show his commitment to “Put America First!”

And that is so very, very sad.

Why?

Do you believe in “Karma” or do you believe in “What goes around comes around” or the idea that “For every action there is always an equal and opposing reaction”?

In other words, as you already know, anger breeds anger, hate breeds hate, and so-on and so-forth.  That is to say that Trump’s presumptuous attitude, coupled with his arrogant actions, will have its equal and opposing reactions—and it won’t be nice.

If you’re familiar with the Biblical book of Proverbs, two verses come to mind, Proverbs chapter 16 verse 5 and verse18.  Verse 5 says, “The Lord detests all the proud of heart.  Be sure of this: They will not go unpunished.”  And verse 18 says, “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.”  (NIV)

“America First,” Trump says.  “Make America Great Again,” Trump asserts.  And many Americans with pride in the hearts, arrogance in their tone, and Triumphalism in their spirits, resound with a “Hoorah!  Make it so!!  Let’s do this!!”

So, we have elected a president who, acting in our behalf, acts proudly, arrogantly, and even insultingly toward others, as a way of representing us, the people of the United States of America.

Thus, if the Biblical statements of Proverbs chapter 16 verses 5 and 8 are true, I wonder: How can we say “God Bless America!” expecting God to do so, when God clearly condemns proud, haughty, and arrogant people?

Be kind, considerate, generous, and respectful, mind your manners, be polite, don’t shove and push, wait your turn; and don’t boast and brag or be conceited.  These were the social rules, the “how to behave yourself” rules, that previous generations of Americans were taught and were brought up with.  Whether you were old or young, high or low, rich or poor, these were the norms of expected behavior within our social interactions.  And we are losing them. 

And with their loss we are fast becoming a small self-inflated people, curt and contentious, belligerent and bellicose, pompous and petulant, pretentious and plebian in manner.  Indeed, in the person of President Trump, it seems that he is the best representative for us at this time, if this is truly the kind of people we are becoming.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Who’s Reality, Which Reality?

It’s a question of Reality.  What is real, true, good, right, and/or just?

Facts are facts.  It’s been said that everyone is entitled to their own opinion but not to their own facts.  So true.

But facts must be interpreted and are done so according to context, perspective, and more importantly, Worldview.  In other words, individual facts make no sense to us, unless or until they are connected in a meaningful way, like putting together pieces of a puzzle to make a picture or connecting the dots to form a meaningful shape or image.

As you know, it is much easier to put the pieces of a puzzle together if you have the picture in front of you, especially if there are a large number of pieces to the puzzle, like 500 or more.

What the individual pieces of a puzzle are, to its picture; facts are to a Worldview.

A Worldview is a comprehensive conception of the world.  It is an understanding of how the world operates.  Thus, a Worldview serves as the interpretive mechanism for one’s Truth, fitting information into an understood picture of Reality.  So, a Worldview makes sense and provides meaning to any given set of facts—objects, subjects, events, actions, etcetera—in one’s world.

For example, as a matter of fact, a man dies only a few hours after eating a chicken dinner.  In one culture’s Worldview it may be a case of salmonella poisoning; the chicken was bad.  In another culture’s Worldview, the man died because a witchdoctor may have placed a curse on the man for failing to honor a pledge.  And yet, in another culture’s Worldview, the man died because the god’s were angry with him for breaking a ritual taboo.  That is, this one fact, a man dies after eating a chicken dinner, now has three different interpreted meanings to it, according to three different Worldviews as to how the world operates or how Reality is defined.

As Westerners, we laugh.  We think, “Of course it was salmonella poisoning.  Talk of witchdoctors and angry gods; that’s all nonsense.”  And we are so sure.  We know that we are right.  For, we have the better knowledge of Reality and Truth in this matter.  We assume.

Yet, that is exactly where we seem to be as a nation, with respect to our political debates when addressing our government’s economic or social policies.  We are now a nation of conflicting Worldviews.  For example, Worldview 1: Global warming is a real threat and we humans are culpable.  We are responsible and must change the way we use, handle, and consume carbon deposits.  Worldview 2: Global warming is a hoax.  We are neither responsible nor culpable.  Let’s keep doing what we’ve been doing!  So, who is right and how do we know?

Or, Worldview 1: There are no gods and there is no God.  Thus, we humans are on our own.  That is, we are our own gods.  We make the laws; we set the standards of conduct, define justice, and rule the day as we determine.  Worldview 2: God created the universe and all that is within it, including humanity.  God is righteous, just, and true.  God sets the standards and defines goodness for us.  We must obey God’s laws.  Who is right, and how do we know?

This is a significant reason as to why our national politics is more like a contact sport, more of a battle for complete control where winner takes all—a naked power struggle.  We are fighting over conflicting variations of defined Truth and Reality itself.  Trump’s constant tweeting about fake news, for example, accentuates what it feels like to live in a world where one’s very sense of Reality is constantly called into question.

Is it possible for our nation to have a unified Worldview?  Can our Constitution adequately serve as that larger picture of Reality?

If a society cannot agree on the facts, that’s a huge problem in itself.  But if a society cannot even agree on the larger Truth or greater Reality, within which those facts are to be given meaning; that is a far greater problem indeed.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

What is a “Constitutional Crisis”; Are We about to Have One?

Basic grade-school level knowledge tells us that we have three branches to our government operative system: executive, judicial, and legislative.  Among other things, they serve as checks and balances to each other.

The U. S. Constitution gives shape to our government’s organization.  It defines its operative system and establishes its philosophical foundation.   And it builds upon that foundation by providing form and structure.  Hence, it is a legal document, an operative document, and a philosophical document.

But the Constitution is only as good as the people that choose to own it and abide by it.  For example, a people may choose to revolt and disown a constitution—we call such action a “Revolution.”

But a constitution may also break down when certain entities within its framed government choose to ignore its laws or refuse to apply its operative mechanisms or question the trustworthiness of its longstanding legitimacy.  If such action results in a breakdown of normal government operations, there is a Constitutional Crisis.

What lies underneath such a Constitutional Crisis is a power struggle between factions within the government system; a power struggle that apparently cannot be resolved by the normal application of constitutional operative mechanisms.

For example, should the President of the United States willfully violate a constitutional law or one of its conventional rules and at the same time refuse to be held accountable or culpable for such refusal, a Constitutional Crisis may ensue.  Such a crisis can lead to governmental paralysis or the collapse of government altogether; or it may even lead to a civil war.  Our own Civil War between the North and the South was a constitutional crisis, caused by the decision of Southern States to secede from the Union.

As a native born citizen with legal voting rights, as well as a contemporary observer of present day political action (or lack thereof), I have been hearing a few political pundits warning us that President Trump is effectively taking us down the pathway toward a Constitutional Crisis.  It sounds over the top, as in hyperbolic exaggeration.

But I understand their reasoning.  And, given recent developments at the White House, I must say that I wouldn’t be surprised if we do eventually get there.  That is, it now seems realistic to think that, with Trump in office, an actual Constitution Crisis may be in our horizon.

Yet, Trump still has a core following of dazzled-eyed supporters that refuse to acknowledge that Trump has done anything or is doing anything wrong, let alone anything that calls for impeachment or threatens to lead us into a real Constitutional Crisis.  For now, they all seem to believe that it is all made up stuff by his political enemies and the so-called false-news press.  Talk about self-imposed blindness.

Of course it’s easy for Democrats to call for the impeachment of Trump.  But, if and when Republicans should ever do so, that’s when all hell will break lose and a real Constitutional Crisis may begin to play itself out.  For, Trump is not the type to go down without a fight.

So it does seem like only a matter of time, especially in light of recent developments.

Time will tell.

Until then, I do have to wonder; what will it take, for a Republican controlled House and Senate to finally say, “Enough is enough!”   This hasn’t happened yet because Trump’s party continues to see Trump as a political asset.  So they tolerate him, knowing that his core supporters continue to love him.

We’ve never had a president quite like Trump.  (And I hope that we never have one like him again.)

So, the only thing that can be done is to carefully monitor Trump’s every move.  Yes, Trump is being watched very carefully by the Media.  And that is a good thing, and quite a necessary thing, if our democracy is going to stay strong and healthy.

It takes time, but eventually all the facts will be laid out—precisely, concisely, and decisively.  And then these facts will be interpreted in light of our democratic principles.  And, if a solid case is built against Trump, so be it.

All that is at stake here is the vitality, vibrancy, and relevancy of our Constitution.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Healthcare and the Value of Human Life

Okay, so is healthcare a universal right or a special privilege?

Is healthcare a commodity, a business product for consumers to individually purchase as they will, or is it a service that the whole community should have access to and therefore collectively support?

Consider our Fire Departments.  The whole community shares the financial burden for supporting the establishment of a Fire Department.  If a house is on fire and the Fire Department is called, the homeowner is not first asked, “Did you purchase a Fire Department Policy from us?  First please show proof that you are covered and then we will come and put out the fire.”

Why is this?  It is so because we believe that fire protection (as well as police protection) is a right for everyone in our communities.  It is not a commodity to be bought and sold in a market system.  It is a necessity for healthy thriving communities.

So, why is this same attitude not extended to the principle of healthcare coverage?

As a homeowner I do not shop around for the best and cheapest Fire department protection policy.  Fire Department services are not seen as a privilege for only those that could afford to have it, nor is it viewed as a product that should be sold on a for-profit base.  So why is medical healthcare coverage handled as a for-profit product?

As mentioned above, no one views Fire Department services as a for-profit business and thus no one sees fire department protection as a product that some can choose to opt-out of, while others are free to choose which type, quality, and degree of Fire Department service they’d like to have or can afford to have—as in fair, good, better, or best Fire Department coverage.

In other words, when it comes to a house on fire, everyone gets the same treatment, however small or large the fire emergency may be; because fundamentally, putting out a house that is on fire is seen as a community problem expecting community ownership, not viewed as a personal privilege to be bought and sold in the open market system.  It seems that the same community principle should apply to healthcare.  But it is not.

Why not?

There are many reasons for this.  Primarily our economic system prevents us from seeing healthcare as anything other than a business transaction—rather than as a collective or social/community service.  Thus, the “business” of health has too much at stake to lose, if we, the people, were to view healthcare as a community right for all.  That is the biggest hurdle.

Yet, imagine if we distributed community fire protection and/or police protection in the same way that we distribute healthcare protection.  Homeowners that opted-out of, or that could not afford fire protection would have to sit there and watch their houses burn down.  People in need of the police, if they could not afford to pay their police protection premiums would have to be told that they are on their own in a police emergency call.  How is the need for medical healthcare not the same as the need to have help in putting out a fire at one’s home?

In short, there are some things in a community that are not to be bought and sold on a product or commodity bases but rather should be seen as a common/community right of service for each and all, and thus collectively paid-for by all that belong to said community.  Good medical healthcare should be one of those services.

But for us Americans, it would seem that financial profit has become more the guiding truth and principle of substance rather than morality and the principle of community and social cohesion, respecting healthcare.

In effect, we have qualified, separated and categorized our human value according to monetary value rather than a common human value.

That is, with respect to our healthcare system, we are not operating as if all of us are as one people, bonded by our human commonality, in terms of our right to respect, dignity, honor, and equal attention to healthcare needs.  We do not see ourselves as one collective body or as a unity of persons deserving of the same attention when healthcare needs arise.

Rather, we divide ourselves into the young and healthy, the old and decrepit, preexisting and non-preexisting conditional, and the payable versus the unpayable—those who have money to pay for healthcare versus those who do not have money to pay for it.

Ergo, we do not see ourselves as a community of equals in this together, respecting our common humanity and our healthcare rights.  So, when it comes to the value of our life and its healthcare needs, we are separate and unequal.

By contrast, if someone’s home is on fire, he, she, or they are treated with total equality by the fire department, no questions asked; and the whole community pays for its service.