Monday, July 27, 2015

Gun Laws: All We Want is Reasoned and Good Sense Regulation

Guns!  Absolute evil?  Or one’s best friend?  We seem to love them or hate them. 

There is no middle ground, and therefore no common sense.

Past studies have shown that appropriate gun laws can reduce gun-related deaths.  (See link: http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2013/03/07/gun-violence-study-chicago/1969227/).  Yet we can have none of that.  We are either pro-gun or anti-gun and there can be nothing in between.

Why?  How did we get here?  Appropriate, enforceable and accountable gun-laws make good sense.  Further study and research on the consequences and effects of gun ownership (e.g. accidental gun-deaths of children) would also help—but the NRA would have none of that either.

According to the one study (see link above), “States with the most laws had a mortality rate of 42% lower than those states with the fewest laws, they found.  The strong law states’ firearm-related homicide rate was also 40% lower and their firearm-related suicide rate was 37% lower.”  That’s significant.

Yet, we are no longer even studying the issue: “The larger problem is that the United States effectively stopped doing research on gun laws and violence 15 years ago and now has no evidence that shows causes and effect.”

The NRA fights research.  They want no research done.  They want no oversight and accountability.  They want no public awareness of actual facts, statistics, case studies, and/or cause-and-effect studies.

The average American citizen doesn’t want radical and extreme gun law measures.  Most Americans are reasonable and sensible people and want to respect and support our “right to bear arms.”  But, being reasonable people, we also want sensible and enforceable gun laws that protect our communities from senseless gun-deaths, accidental or otherwise.

Yet, the NRA continues to campaign against all and any perceived encroachment upon gun rights—they seem to be against gun laws of any kind.  They are even against having good solid scientific research done on gun ownership, the effects of gun laws or the lack thereof, etc.  They don’t want us to know!  Knowledge is power; so, better keep the public ignorant and in the dark.

When are the more moderate voices going to stand up and be noticed?  When will we, as a majority voice—reasonable, sensible people with good sense—finally say, enough is enough?  Let's do some smart regulation of guns so as to reduce gun-deaths.

If anyone has gone too far, become too radical and extreme, it’s the NRA!

Monday, July 20, 2015

Why the Word “Content” Upset Obama

Reporters like to think that they’re just “calling it like it is”—even when they load their questions with accusatory “spin” or prejudicial perspective.

Major Garret, News Chief White House Correspondent, asks President Obama during the question and answer period at a White House news conference regarding the nuclear arms deal with Iran: “Can you tell the country, sir, why you are content – with all the fanfare around this deal – to leave the conscience of this nation and the strength of this nation unaccounted for in relation to these four Americans?”  Garret was referring to four Americans that are being held in Iran, apparently as political prisoners.

Obama responds: “The notion that I am content as I celebrate with Americans citizens languishing in Iranian jails – Major, that’s nonsense.  You should know better.”

Why is the use of the word “content” by Garret a loaded word and offensive to President Obama?  Because, by using it, Garret presumes he knows what is going on in Obama’s heart and soul.  Contentment is a feeling statement that describes an internal state of being within a person.  Objectively speaking, if you are supposedly the contented one, only you can tell me so.  As a statement of feeling, contentment or discontentment (about an action or situation), can only be testified to by the person owning such feelings.  As such, if others are to know how you feel, it must be claimed from the inside out.  That is, no outsider looking in, is in a position to authoritatively declare to you whether or not you are content and therefore certainly has no right to declare to others whether or not you are feeling content about something—without, that is, you first owning and admitting as much.  Thus, such a declaration from another person other than yourself would be presumptuous and crossing personal boundaries.  And this is precisely what Major Garret did.

Therefore, Obama’s irritated reaction to Garret’s use of the word “content,” makes perfect sense.  Obama had all the right in the world to be offended by Garret’s presumptuous declaration that Obama is supposedly content about the situation respecting the four Americans imprisoned in Iran.  In the course of normal interaction with others, you or I would be just as offended if someone presumed to know and then declare to others what our internal state of being is, with respect to a given situation, especially if it makes us look crude, rude, insensitive, or unsympathetic to that situation.  For example, imagine if someone was discussing the fact that a family member of yours had recently been diagnosed with cancer and I, standing nearby, chimed in the discussion by declaring to you and those around you, “Oh, well, I know it means little to you, since you don’t care that he has cancer anyway.”  Who am I to tell you that you “don’t care”?  Unless you have already told me and others that you actually do not care, I am in no position to presume so and certainly have no right to say as much.

It is quite evident that Garret carefully crafted his question so as to subtly accuse Obama of being insensitive and uncaring.  The nature of this carefully crafted question is not unlike the question: “So, have you stopped beating your wife yet?”  Obviously, to answer the question with a simple yes or no, buys into a presumption within the question itself—that the man has been, and may very well still be, beating his wife on a regular bases.  Now, if the man vehemently objects to the question’s assumption (and with much irritation), saying: “Nonsense!  I don’t beat my wife and never have!!”  He may then be accused of being hyper defensive, and therefore having something to hide.  He may then be depicted as a liar and/or a man who is in denial.  And for those who don’t like the man and never trusted him to begin with, the man’s response simply confirms their worst suspicions.  They then walk away, confident that the man continues to beat his wife.  Hence, the man can’t win whatever he says or however he says it.

This is what happens in politics all the time.  There is no real argument and grappling with the facts.  Rather, there is character assassination and name calling.  We hear little actual objective and respectful debate over principles and ideas and their reasoned application in given circumstances.  Instead of hearing counter arguments that include actual facts and variables and concrete factors that affect decisions, we hear things like “This is stupid,” and “You lie,” and “You’re heartless” and “You’re being naĂ¯ve.”  These are not arguments.  They are attacks on the person.  It is posturing, grandstanding, and it is insulting both to the American democratic system and to the American people.

Perhaps, next time, a White House Reporter should ask Obama whether or not he has stopped beating his wife and why he is content to continue to do so.  I’m sure many Republicans will be more than happy to confirm a rumor like that and spread it around with glee—anything to make him look bad.

Monday, July 13, 2015

More Than Just About Gay Rights and Religious Freedom

“I will force you.  You WILL do this!”

“Oh, no you don’t!  I have a right to say NO.  I refuse!”

A baker chooses not to do a wedding cake for a gay couple’s wedding celebration.  The gay couple sues.  They’re going to make sure he can’t refuse them.

Is it about religious freedom, freedom of faith and conviction?  Is it about civil rights, gay rights, illegal discrimination?  Yes…and no.  It may very well be more about hatred, anger, and resentment.  It’s more about attitude, spirit, and motive, power and control.

Let’s begin with the baker.  The baker refuses to do a wedding cake for a gay couple on the bases of his Christian convictions.  And let us acknowledge that it is a good thing for people to have religious and moral convictions.  It makes for good character and good citizenship.

But, I have to wonder.  Would this same Christian baker, on the bases of his convictions and the keeping of a clear conscience, also refuse to sell his goods and services, his baker’s bread, cookies, pies, and wedding cakes, to known prostitutes, drug-addicts, alcoholics, gamblers, adulterers and fornicators?  Would he also refuse to sell to known atheists and agnostics or followers of other competing faiths such as adherents to Islam, Buddhism, or members of the Transcendental New Age movement?  My guess is that the answer is probably not—he would not refuse them service or sales.

So I wonder, is the baker applying his religious convictions too narrowly and/or preferentially?  Obviously he is against gay unions, gay marriage, and gay rights.  The gay community knows this and they are outraged.  Thus, they are on the attack, while the Christian baker digs in his heels defiantly.  It is a battle of wills and obstinate spirits.

It should be asked, “Why do Christian businessmen and women refuse service to gays on the bases of religious freedom of faith and conviction but seem to have no such qualms when it comes to selling or serving people who may be guilty of the many other well-known Biblical sins, such as those already mentioned?  In short, why the specific focus on gays?  And why the anger; indeed, for some, it is not just anger but thinly disguised disgust and/or hatred of gays?

To an extent, it seems appropriate that a private business owner should have the right to refuse service to anyone he/she wants (within reason).  For example: Have you never seen a sign in front of a restaurant, perhaps while at the beach, that says, “No shirt, no shoes, NO service!”?  By refusing to serve people without shirt or shoes, a business is exercising a right to choose its clientele.  This, of course, stays within acceptable social limits.  For it took a Civil Rights movement to finally deal with discrimination against African Americans.  Thus, there are always limits and boundaries to all freedoms and rights.  It is a way society prevents unfair practices and unjust extremes.  Out and out discrimination against a designated people—Blacks, Asians, Hispanics, and Other—is just wrong.

Now let’s look at a gay couple demanding that a baker sell them a wedding cake.  I have to ask, are there no other bakers in town?  I’m sure there may even be a bakery owned and operated by an outstanding member within the gay community.  Why not go there?  Why force the issue?  Why make the demand of a Christian baker who makes it clear that he wishes not to serve gay couples because of his personal faith convictions?  Why?  Because they want to make an example of him, for one; and more importantly, they don’t want this particular baker or any other particular business person to have the power to be able to say NO to them.

It comes down to a naked power struggle.  It is a struggle for out-and-out control in the public square, the public arena.  They are forcing the baker’s hand.  “You will NOT say no to us—EVER!”  Such a fighting spirit comes from years of discrimination, years of anti-gay bashing, years of denial and second-class citizenship status, years of pain, hurt, grief, and rejection.   The gay community will no longer stand for it.  They’ve had enough.  And so they are fighting mad.  Many are therefore seething with hatred for the so-called “homophobic, anti-gay, right-wing, bigoted, conservative Christian.”  Given that many gay people have literally suffered physical abuse, sometimes beaten to the point of death, just for being gay, they are ready to fight tooth and nail for their demands and their perceived rights.

Thus, in its worst case scenario, the struggle becomes one of mutual hatred, hatred versus hatred, condemnation versus condemnation, judgment versus judgment.  In such a context the ability to listen and agree-to-disagree with mutual respect in the face of conflicting convictions/beliefs is not only lost but deliberately avoided, stamped out, and rejected.  It becomes a “win-all” or “lose everything” confrontation.  It becomes total warfare—all or nothing.  Even though individual battles may be won here and there, the nature of the war itself will have destroyed something in everyone on both sides.  Both sides become losers with no one really winning.  It is the nature of fighting for revenge and/or fighting in the spirit of hatred, wanting to totally destroy one’s opponent and completely bury his/her cause.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Who Defines America and Why Christians Should NOT Care

We have just celebrated the Fourth of July, the birth of our Nation.  What does this National celebration exactly mean?

We celebrate our system of government.  We are a democracy.  To us this means that we-the-people rule, and that we have certain rights and freedoms: Freedom of speech, the right to bear arms, freedom of religion, the right of free assembly, and so-on and so-forth.  We are a free nation, which means that we won’t tolerate an oppressive government or a dictator.  We believe in the dignity of the individual, and as individuals we have a right to live according to the dictates of our own convictions and conscience.

Celebrating our nation’s birth highlights the ideals of our particular form of government, delimits our land, and marks our place in the world.  It rallies us together as a people—a people united in terms of its purpose—which we define as the right to pursue life, liberty, and happiness.

And we are proud of ourselves.  We are proud of what we have accomplished in our 239 year history.  We like to think that we are the best; no other nation like us.  We especially like our freedoms and privileges.  For we like to think that we are the most powerful nation on earth and the wealthiest.  We like our status and our strength and our land and all the resources that come with it, as we enjoy its fruit.

But all is not well.  On the 4th of July we celebrate as one united people.  But on every other day of the year we bemoan our factions and decry our divisions.  We struggle with our pluralism and our diversity.  We are pained by racism.  We are angered by illegal aliens invading our precious land.  We are irritated when we hear anything other than English spoken in our schools in our offices or on our public streets.  We are uncomfortable with strange customs and habits of lifestyle.  And we are especially wary of the many new religions we see among our citizens, Transcendentalism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Shintoism, Islamism, New Age Pantheism, and more.

It’s as if, for Christians, the US is the new Roman Empire of its day.  Remember that Christianity was born in the early stages of the great Roman Empire.  And during Christianity’s first 300 years of history Rome gave no special treatment to Christianity; Christianity had no special status.  It was NOT the religion of the empire.  It was a step-child to the other competing religions throughout Rome.  In fact, Christians within the Empire were generally marginalized from better Roman society.  Christians had to watch their step.  They were often persecuted for their faith, even to the point of death.  A few Roman Emperors even tried to stamp-out Christianity altogether.

Even so, during the first 300 years of its history, as Christianity spread throughout the Roman Empire, Christians never tried to seize control of the Roman Empire.  They did not try to dominate the Roman State Senate.  They did not worry about the state of the Roman Empire and its politicians, its senators, and its emperors—except to pray for their salvation.

Christians understood themselves to be loyal followers of a King who rules a Kingdom that is not of this world.  For Christians believe that eventually all earthly kingdoms and rulers and governments and nations will someday pass away.  Only the Kingdom of Christ will last forever.  “Our citizenship is in Heaven,” says the Apostle Paul to fellow believers in Christ.  As followers of Christ, we now belong to God’s Kingdom and are members of God’s household (See Philippians 3:20 and Ephesians 2:19 including context).

When standing trial before Pontius Pilate, the local representative of Roman Imperial power and authority at the time, Jesus calmly acknowledged to Pilate that he is indeed a King.  Jesus also calmly declared that His Kingdom is NOT of this world.  (See John 18:33-37.)  Jesus Rules!  God will not have divided hearts.  There will be one kingdom, one rule, one power and authority, one King—Jesus!  (See Philippians 2:9-11.)  What are the implications of this—in terms of Christian citizenship and allegiance?

American Christians are upset over the direction that this nation seems to be heading.  We are upset that we may be losing our religious freedoms.  We are concerned for our rights as Christian Americans.  So, instead of being a people who offer love and salvation and mercy and grace, we are angry and belligerent.  We are hostile and mean-spirited, and fight against those who oppose us.  We condemn them and we curse them to hell.  In short, we do the very opposite that Christ, our Lord, King, and Ruler, has called us to do—be the salt of the earth and the light of the world.

Such defensiveness and fighting-for-our-rights is out of place.  There is no place for bitterness, disgust, anger, and condemnation or judgment for a Christian.  This is so because the world will continue to do what it has always done—seek its own way, apart from God.  But we are not of this world, so Christ says (John 17).  The world fights and condemns and cheats and steals and slaughters and kills its enemies.  Followers of Christ are to love its enemies into His Kingdom.

Jesus said, “He who is without sin cast the first stone.”

Stones are flying all over the place these days, stones in the shape of harsh and condemning words, stones in the shape of hard-heartedness, stones in the shape of fear and hatred and greed and self-righteous, stones in the shape of the abuse of power-and-authority, stones in the shape of bigotry and racism, stones in the shape of rights and privileges and freedoms and demands and envy and cruelty and jealousy and lust and self-gratification. Christ tells us to lay down our stones and then he tells us to pick up His cross and follow Him.

Hence, we are to be followers-of-Christ, nothing more and nothing less; it’s as simple as that.  Christ-followers do not do the things of the world; neither do they fight the way the world fights.  Neither do they have the same attitude as the world has.  As citizens of God’s Kingdom we are to embrace a sojourner’s identity here on earth.  According to the Apostle Peter, we are strangers and aliens in this world, among the world’s nations, including the US.  (See 1 Peter 2:11-17.)

What does this mean then as to our allegiance as Christians?  It means that we are loyal to Christ first and foremost above any earthly power or rule or government.  It means that our true freedom is in Christ—internal, spiritual, and eschatological.  It means that we are to live and die for Christ and His Kingdom above and beyond any earthly rule and power.  It means that we are to live as Christ lived—for the good of the other, for the salvation and healing and redemption of the lost and wayward, however that may be defined.  And that calls for the proclamation of Christ’s Gospel, which is supposed to be Good News, the Good News of peace and reconciliation, mercy and forgiveness, and grace to all!  Are we American Christians living for and spreading that Good News?  Or are we too busy fighting for our own earthly territorial rights and worldly imperial privileges?