KKK Reevaluates Discriminatory Policy But Decides to Keep Discriminating

by Don on July 18th, 2012
in General Wellness, Politics

The Kids Klux Klan, or KKK, a patriotic youth organization that teaches life skills in the context of heterosexual, male Christian supremacy, announced that, after an extensive review of its admission policy, it would continue to ban gays, girls and godless atheists. This was a disappointment for civil liberty interest groups. In their defense, KKK spokespersons explained that this decision to continue discriminating enabled the organization to maintain the loyalty and support of the group?s traditional base.

The KKK issued a statement to the effect that ?good people can personally disagree on discrimination.?

For over a decade, the organization has been under pressure from gay, lesbian and freethinker protest campaigns. It has also run afoul of local nondiscrimination laws and, consequently, been banned from the use of some public facilities. Curiously, female youth-oriented interest groups, such as the Girl Scouts of the USA and Camp Fire, have not complained at all, preferring to ignore the KKK and concentrate on their own flourishing all-girl organizations that have no such discrimination policies.

However, it seems likely that the discriminatory policy of the KKK will end soon, despite the latest reaffirmation of the infamous ban, for one of two reasons: Courts will strike it down in whole or part as unconstitutional, or kids and their parents will lose interest in the KKK, deeming it no longer trustworthy.

+++++

Note: There is, of course, no such organization as the Kids Klux Klan, at least not to my knowledge. If there ever is, however, I?m sure it won?t last long in our contemporary society, which is less accepting of discrimination based on age, gender, sexual orientation, religious affiliation or beliefs or no religious affiliation or beliefs than was the case in an earlier America.

America Is Divided Into Two Kinds of People: Those Who Support a Kinder and More Decent Society, and Those Who Do Not

by admin on July 1st, 2012
in General Wellness, Politics

The ruling last week by the U.S. Supreme Court upholding nearly all of the Affordable Health Care Act shocked conservatives and liberals alike. After a decade of odious 5-4 decisions, the majority got one right, thanks to a decisive switch by Chief Justice John Roberts from the predictable majority to the liberal minority. Never mind that the remaining four far-right Republicans voted to overturn the entire Act - it was the Chief Justice who saved the day.

As a consequence of this decision, millions of Americans without access to medical care now have it. No Americans will be denied insurance because of pre-existing conditions, under-26 years-of-age Americans can remain on their parents health plans, no lifetime caps on coverage will be imposed by insurers and insurance companies must spend 85 cents out of every dollar paying for actual care, not "administrative costs." Americans are now much less likely to lose their homes or suffer bankruptcies because of unmanageable medical bills. These are just a few of the ways the Court?s action will, as Paul Krugman put it, enable citizens to ?benefit from a kinder and more decent society.?

While what Republicans derisively call ?Obamacare? is a big improvement on the status quo, America still needs universal health care or, if you like, Medicare for all. Despite the name (Affordable Health Care Act), medical care is anything but affordable - the annual cost amounts to 20% of GDP, or $8000 per person, the highest in the world and a key contributor to our massive deficit. In addition, at least 26 million people remain uninsured, despite the new law and all it entails. Worst of all, the health insurance companies remain in control. In fact, the individual mandate that Republicans hated so much is a jackpot of riches for health insurance companies - they will make additional billions from the millions of new clients the law sends their way.

All this suggests that there is in America what Michael Moore calls ?a great divide.? In a Huffington Post column published the day after the Supreme Court decision affirming the law, he describes it as follows:

It's not blue state vs. red state, liberal vs. conservative, Democrat vs. Republican. The split we have in America can be boiled down in its simplest form to this: On one side are the people who believe Adam and Eve rode on dinosaurs 6,000 years ago -- and then there's everyone else. On that first side are the people who've been fed a diet of fear and lies and hate. And who is feeding them? The 1%. The richest people in the country, the ones who aren't done with us yet because they still don't have enough wealth, have done their best to dumb down the population through destroying our educational system and using media to provide them with a vastly distorted sense of reality. The rich's only obstacle is that they only hold 1% of the votes in the country. So they have to try to get a slim majority of Americans to vote their way. And fear, plus keeping them stupid, usually works.

If the easily fooled, manipulated and dumbed down Americans hell-bent on voting against their own interests elect Mitt Romney and a Republican Congress, we will all lose the benefits of the Affordable Health Care Act because Romney and the rest of the Republicans will eliminate the law they loath. There will be no chance of expanding Medicare for all. And there will be more appointees to the Supreme Court the likes of Justices Anthony M. Kennedy, Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr.

The 1% agenda is not about a ?kinder and more decent society,? at least not for most Americans, including the rabble who obtain their take on reality from the likes of Catholic bishops, fundamentalist preachers, Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, Donald Trump, Sarah Palin and Rick Perry.

So, what should we do? What can you do if you agree with my analysis?

How about considering two basic strategies?

  1. Do everything you possibly can to promote the chances of re-electing the president - and as many Democrats as possible. I urge this position not because I?m so fond of most Democrats but rather because I?m so appalled, sickened, horrified and gobsmacked by so many evil ways of Republicans.
  2. Look after yourself - reduce your chances of requiring medical care by shaping and fine-tuning your current REAL wellness lifestyle. The absence of a decent health or medical system will still be a national disaster, but the impact on you personally will be less if you don?t have to use it that much. It?s hard to believe that half of America is supportive of the poisonous agenda of the Republican Party; it?s even harder to believe that one in three American adults is obese - 78 million fat Americans.

Kurt Vonnegut was a self-described total pessimist. Maybe he was on to something, though an optimistic outlook has almost always been highlighted as a key element in a healthy profile. But, considering the horror that would follow from a takeover by the Republican half of the American divide, it may be that pessimism deserves a second look.

How pessimistic was Vonnegut? In a remarkable commencement address to the 1970 graduates of Bennington College in Vermont, he described his major achievement in three years of teaching at the University of Iowa: As nearly as I am able to determine, not one of my ex-students has seen fit to reproduce. Now that's pessimism - and it might be something I'll include in future recommendations if in November Romney is elected president.

But Vonnegut was not a total pessimist, despite his claim to such an outlook. His sense of humor, however dark, was too well developed for that. While he spent most of that Bennington commencement speech urging the young grads to enjoy themselves and lose the idea of saving the world, at the end he said they might want to give it a try, later in life. I love the sendoff conclusion of the address, as profound today, 42 years later, as it was at the time:

When it really is time for you to save the world, when you have some power and know your way around, when people can't mock you for looking so young, I suggest that you work for a socialist form of government. Free Enterprise is much too hard on the old and the sick and the shy and the poor and the stupid, and on people nobody likes. They just can't cut the mustard under Free Enterprise. They lack that certain something that Nelson Rockefeller, for instance, so abundantly has.

So let's divide up the wealth more fairly than we have divided it up so far. Let's make sure that everybody has enough to eat, and a decent place to live, and medical help when he needs it. Let's stop spending money on weapons, which don't work anyway, thank God, and spend money on each other. It isn't moonbeams to talk of modest plenty for all. They have it in Sweden. We can have it here. Dwight David Eisenhower once pointed out that Sweden, with its many Utopian programs, had a high rate of alcoholism and suicide and youthful unrest. Even so, I would like to see America try socialism. If we start drinking heavily and killing ourselves, and if our children start acting crazy, we can go back to good old Free Enterprise again.

Why I Am Evolving from Mild Manner Freethinkerist to Militantly Zealous Devangelist

by Don on June 7th, 2012
in General Wellness, Politics, Religion

There is no such word as devangelist but everyone's entitled to put forward a neologism. Houghton-Mifflin offers two closely related definitional statements for evangelism:

  1. The zealous preaching and dissemination of the gospel, as through missionary work.
  2. Militant zeal for a cause.

I offer devangelist to describe an infidel/freethinker/atheist or non-believer by any name zealous in disseminating information at odds with gospels and dogmas, faiths and superstitions. A devangelist is a person wholly devoted to science, reason and evidence who exhibits a militant zeal for debunking religion of all kinds and safeguarding the absolute separation of church and state. I hope you like my new word.

The pace of my evolution from mild-mannered freethinker to militantly zealous devangelist has been increased dramatically by the political activism of U.S. Roman Catholic bishops. However, there is much else that really and truly vexes me about religion in this country and around the world. The bishops, however, have sent me over the edge.  
Like the Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) and many secular organizations, I don't believe Catholic Bishops have any business politicking for veto power over women's contraceptive health insurance coverage. I don't think they should be serving as campaign allies for the Republican Party. Nor do I think bishops have any right to foist their religious doctrines on American workers, most of whom do not belong to the Catholic Church or subscribe to the medieval tenets of this faith. And I don't think Catholic or any other religious groups are entitled to federal funds for the delivery of health and other services if unwilling to provide services for which said funds are designated.

If Catholic bishops do not want to abide by guidelines for impartial delivery of medical and other services funded by taxpayers, they're free to decline such involvement. No one is holding a proverbial gun to Catholic heads saying, you must participate in these programs. Catholic service program leaders can use their own funds to provide whatever medical or other services they choose to offer, and not offer whatever they choose to withhold.

The bishops' lament about loss of religious freedom is a huge pile of horse dung.

A few details about the bishops egregious sins against church/state separation seem in order. After noting a few such transgressions, I'll suggest a strategy for others who may find themselves on the evolutionary track leading to militantly zealous devangelism.

  • The U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops pledged a multimillion-dollar attack against the contraceptive mandate. They are using tax-free church pulpits to promote dogma-based politics.
  • About 40 Roman Catholic dioceses have sued to block the contraceptive mandate in the new Affordable Health Act.
  • The bishops' lawsuits are an attempt to compel the government to pay religions to do less than other, secular recipients of grant funds for health care services. The bishops, in effect, seek to make the government complicit in dogma-driven denial of birth control to non-Catholics as well as Catholics, whether or not these people desire such assistance.
  • In decrying what they claim is an assault against religious freedom, the bishops impose their faith-based idea that contraception is sinful on everyone else, which is in fact the true threat to religious and other forms of liberty.
  • The Church has initiated a multi-million dollar anti-contraceptive PR campaign featuring pulpit-driven lobbying drives. Fortunately, these funds may well be wasted, since 98 percent of Catholic don't agree with or ignore the church?s injunction against contraception.

Mild mannered freethinkers are too polite and diplomatic to do so, but militantly zealous devangelists will not hesitate to call out these pompous emperors as naked enemies of intellectual liberty and personal freedom. The Catholic bishops are leaders of the world's largest, most powerful cult of unreason. Those like myself who are evolving into MZDs - militantly zealous devangelists, will not stop at simply opposing the campaign of the bishops to restrict contraceptive services. We can and will do more - we will respond in a fashion that makes a difference. This requires efforts to persuade church followers to reassess the nature of the religion imposed upon them as children.

We can in varied ways help Catholics do what I did - escape to freedom and a rational life, shorn of dogma, liberated from pie-in-the-sky heaven and free of the hellish dungeon of eternal darkness, fear and pain.

Such efforts are already underway.

The most notable of such counter-offensives is led by FFRF. The campaign is called It?s Time to Quit the Catholic Church. Ads to this effect have appeared in the Washington Post, USA Today and elsewhere. One typically attention-grabbing ad asks, "Will it be reproductive freedom, or back to the Dark Ages? Do you choose women and their rights, or Bishops and their wrongs? Another is just as bold: As a member of the ?flock? of an avowedly antidemocratic Old Boys Club, isn?t it time you vote with your feet? Please, exit en Mass.

This campaign was, like my neologism, inspired by the church's war against contraception. FFRF is spot on in its criticisms of the Catholic cult. The organization is advising Catholics that their church has launched a legal assault against personal secular freedoms that amount to a ruthless political Inquisition. I love it.

We devangelists agree with FFRF that Catholics should be given a chance to consider the idea that maybe life begins after excommunication and that the time might well have come to join the millions who, like me, have put humanity above dogma and resigned from the church.

Let's do what we can to oppose the bishops and in every way possible prevent these autocrats from allowing their dogma to trump our civil liberties.

Mitt Romney's Religion: Questions I Suggest Voters Should Be Asking

by Don on May 31st, 2012
in General Wellness, Politics

In 1898, Robert Green Ingersoll wrote an essay entitled, What Is Superstition? It contained this excerpt:

The belief in gods and devils has been substantially universal. Back of the good, man placed a god; back of the evil, a devil; back of health, sunshine and harvest was a good deity; back of disease, misfortune and death he placed a malicious fiend.

Anyone familiar with Mr. Romney?s strong religious beliefs knows that the former Massachusetts governor believes in gods and devils, and credits the former for bringing sunshine and harvest while blaming the latter (a malicious fiend) for disease, misfortune and death.

Should voters care about a candidate?s beliefs about gods and devils? Yes, I think voters should care and would care, if the issues were addressed in very specific ways in public forums.

Do you believe in God? Do you pray? Do you accept Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior? Americans expect their politicians to respond yes to these kinds of general questions.

But, what if the questions went deeper? The above questions are almost cliches with the faithful, that is, the nominally faith-based majority. Such questions are too broad to get at what a candidate really thinks ? and in Romney?s case, as would have been true of candidates Bachmann or Santorum, what the candidate really believes just might give even otherwise favorably inclined conservatives more than a little pause.

While most Americans claim to be religious and say they believe in God and rarely challenge established norms of supernatural beliefs, I think most would be startled if reporters and others could get Romney to be more specific about his supernatural convictions. If he were just a citizen or a candidate for a lesser office, maybe this would not be such a big deal. But president?

Consider a few other sentences in Ingersoll?s take on superstition:

Is there any evidence that gods and devils exist? The evidence of the existence of a god and of a devil is substantially the same. Both of these deities are inferences; each one is a perhaps. They have not been seen ? they are invisible ? and they have not ventured within the horizon of the senses. The old lady who said there must be a devil, else how could they make pictures that looked exactly like him, reasoned like a trained theologian ? like a doctor of divinity. Now no intelligent man believes in the existence of a devil ? no longer fears the leering fiend. Most people who think have given up a personal God, a creative deity. They now talk about the ?Unknown,? the ?Infinite Energy,? but they put Jehovah with Jupiter. They regard them both as broken dolls from the nursery of the past.

Most adults reason like trained theologians. There is plenty of skepticism but a shortage of nerve to talk about doubts. Most adults have embraced religions and all that came with them during the long years of socialization. They were fed a diet of god-talk, bible fables, angels, ghosts, prayers, magical miracles, told about heaven and hell, the authority of priests and so on.  All this Twilight Zone indoctrination arrived unaccompanied by alternate explanations.

This kind of faith only goes so deep. When the ludicrous nature of religion is brought into conscious awareness under certain conditions suitable for rational reassessment, many adults have second thoughts. A pause in consent that is only habitual can lead some to revisit the intellectual appeal of faith contrasted with less familiar explanations from science concerning the natural world.

No better opportunity exists at the moment for sparking this kind of reassessment than the 2012 presidential presidential election. For that, we can thank Mitt Romney.

Here?s a radical idea: Get Romney to be specific about his supernatural beliefs. If non-Romney enthusiasts can do that, enough citizens might take a closer look at the implications of this particular Mormon in the White House. A fuller recognition of his supernatural convictions could swing the election to President Obama. While Obama himself is no Ingersoll, or a even a secularist, compared with Romney he?s Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris.

I find it hard to believe that even religion-besotted Americans want a commander-in-chief, a leader who will have the power to blow up a good chunk of the planet that embraces the supernatural insanities that animate Mitt Romney.

Let me offer a few questions I?d like to see put to the candidate, the better to prompt Americans to look more closely at Romney?s mental state. The attributions about his beliefs are all found in a speech given at the George Bush Presidential Library ? see Michael Luo?s article entitled, Romney, Eye on Evangelicals, Defends His Faith, New York Times, December 7, 2007.

  • You have called for a robust role for religion in public life. What would you like to see as part of that role that does not exist at present?
  • You have declared your intention not (to) separate us from the God who gave us liberty. What is the nature of the separation you have in mind and how will you prevent it using the powers of the presidency?
  • What is the evidence that God gave us liberty, versus the liberties provided by our secular Constitution, as written by the Founders after we gained our independent from Great Britain?
  • You say you would not separate us from our religious heritage. Is this a role for the president and, if so, what does it entail and how will you prevent such a separation?
  • What is the evidence for your assertion that the nation?s founders envisioned a prominent place for faith in the public square?
  • You have criticized those who seek to remove from the public domain any acknowledgment of God, claiming that some are intent on establishing a new religion in America ? the religion of secularism. To what extent would you, as president, work to have God acknowledged in the public domain beyond any such acknowledgement than is now the case?
  • What would you say to those who affirm that secularism, which you have termed a new religion, is simply the non-presence of deities in government, and thus no more a religion than not collecting stamps is a hobby.
  • You have often stated that a president will need the prayers of the people of all faiths. How do you know this? How does that work? Can a president not succeed if some faiths don?t come through with prayers? Are some prayers more helpful to a president than others? Which ones are best and how do we know that?
  • You declared: We do not insist on a single strain of religion?rather, we welcome our nation?s symphony of faith. Who is we? Besides welcoming a symphony of faith, how do you feel about a symphony of reason, a quintet of doubt or other combinations from citizen players who prefer no faith at all but rather reliance on critical thinking, evidence and empiricism? Is there an equal place for them in America if you are elected president?
  • You have stated that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the Savior of mankind. Billions of people around the world would not agree with that statement, tens of millions of Americans would not, either and, what?s more, it?s doubtful that anyone has any idea what it even means. Why does mankind need to be saved, and how will Jesus do that?

No doubt many Americans will have others such questions, and as the campaign gets going more will be suggested. It would, for instance, be helpful to hear from the candidate about religious ideas that he has not volunteered in his frequent appearances in churches, at religious universities and in forums composed primarily of evangelicals. Here are just a few that would most interest secularists like myself:

  • Is the God you believe in male, female or something else?
  • Does ?God? speak English? If so, does he/she/it have an accent?
  • Do you believe every word the Mormon religion professes about how Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon from Egyptian texts? Can you understand why most Americans find this story difficult to believe?
  • You have talked about having conversations with God. Could you tell us a bit more about these chats? What is the nature of the conversations, how often do they occur, how frequently are you influenced by God?s answers and what does God think about separation of church and state?

For now, answers to these questions will surely encourage original thinking amongst the faithful.

If Mitt Romney?s could be induced to be more specific about his superstitions, I believe his prospects for election as president would soon fall in the category Ingersoll described as the broken dolls from the nursery of the past.

Americans Have Rejected Or Defeated Monarchists, Socialists, Fascists and Communists: Can We Resist the Theocrats?

by Don on May 23rd, 2012
in General Wellness, Religion

The Republican Party initials GOP that once stood for Grand Old Party now mean God's Own Party. The Republican Party primaries featured Christian fundamentalists (Santorum, Bachmann, Perry and Cain) and another willing to act like one to get elected (Gingrich). The winning nominee (Romney) might be as much a zealot as the others, depending upon what position he takes at any given time. His remarks to date show little tolerance for secularism.

It's sad that the agenda of the party of Abraham Lincoln, Robert Green Ingersoll and so many notable Americans has become such a Right-Wing force for dogmatism. Republicans want us to view this country as a Christian nation; there is little tolerance for church/state separation in the Republican version of a nation under God.

I believe that Romney and the Republican Congress would be only too happy to make a few key changes in the Constitution and have the United States of America dedicated as a theocracy in the service of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Chist. Holy shit.

Lillian Hellman famously remarked that people change and forget to tell each other. Well, it seems political parties change, too, as today's Party of God amply demonstrates. I wonder if the majority of those who call themselves Republicans or worse, actually vote Republican, really want an American theocracy? Do they appreciate the nature of the beast and recognize that this is where the GOP wants to take us? Do most want such qualities of government policy as the following:

  • A constitutional office of chief priest or minister?
  • Exemptions from military service for self-described devout Christians? This provision would enable the faithful to exercise a peculiar option regarding military service, even if we someday go back to conscription: take up bibles (i.e., study religion in-depth) or take up arms (i.e., enter military service).
  • Welfare payments to support the most devout Christians who pursue biblical and other religious studies?
  • Public school mandatory prayers and religious studies at the expense of course reductions for secular subjects, such as math, English and science.

The above examples are not hypothetical or speculative. These are conditions in a somewhat democratic, theocratic state - Israel.

In addition to the obvious burdens such subsidies impose on the non-zealot population, favoritism laws for the orthodox create divisions in society. An article in the New York Times describes the consequences. In Israel, the privileged ultra-Orthodox Haredim have grown so influential, costly and arrogant that they are commonly perceived as the enemy in the Jewish state, hated by most of the people. (See The Fight Over Who Fights in Israel by Jodi Rudoren, published on May 19, 2012.) The author cites influential observers who consider the situation bad for Israel, bad for the Jewish people, bad for the government and simply bizarre and abnormal. A cautionary tale? I think so.

While not a theocracy yet, we in the U.S.A. have our conflicts over special favors for religion and especially over the intrusion of religion in ways that are seen by secularists as unconstitutional. A few examples:

  • In God we trust on the coins of the realm.
  • Under God in the Pledge of Allegiance.
  • Subsidies for chaplains in the military, ministerial parsonages and tax-exempt churches.

God's Own Party presidential candidate Mitt Romney recently accused the president of having a secular agenda. Really? Were it so! The president who ends every speech with God bless you and God bless the United States of America and who has continued funding for the faith-based agenda of the previous Administration and who participates in and defends a day of prayer? Wow. Mr. President surely is keeping that secular agenda under wraps. I wonder how Mitt made this amazing discovery.

If we are so unfortunate to descend into a theocracy in the future, there will be hell to pay concerning certain values that the founders envisioned as uniquely American at the time, including religious tolerance and freedom for all faiths - and for those who prefer no faiths, no religions, no gods, no masters.

One of the most divisive moves toward theocracy remains the clearly unconstitutional National Day of Prayer, a grotesque aberration of church/state separation. By Congressional decree, this infamous event, like the religious Pledge, was instituted by Christian-nation bullies. God and government, however, are a dangerous mix. Secularists across the country want to put a stop to all this before we find ourselves as divided as Israel. Our Christian version of the Israeli Haredim want a theocracy. Let's all do our part, in whatever modest ways might be available. Besides personal action, we can participate in and financially back organized resistance. In this way, we can do our part in the effort to prevent Christian evangelicals from hijacking our secular Constitution more than they already have.

My own favorite sources of organized resistance include these four organizations:

  • The Council for Secular Humanism
  • The Secular Coalition for America
  • The Freedom from Religion Foundation
  • Americans United for Separation of Church and State

As Thomas Paine advised: Those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom, must undergo the fatigue . . . of supporting it. In a recent (2/24/2012) blog, Nathan Cox explained why Secular Values Are American Values. Quite clearly, religious values are not. If you doubt it, have a look at the first four commandments or just about any section in the Christian bibles. What you will find there are not American values, at least not any of the American values we associate with liberty and freedom - as embodied in the Bill of Rights. Theocracies are not founded on values that guarantee life, liberty or the pursuit of happiness; rather they specialize in dogmatic, totalitarian commandments and biblical fables.

Theocracy anyone? I hope not even Republicans really want to go there.

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