Thursday, August 16, 2012

Freedom, Virtue, and Morality

The march of militant atheism continues unabated with the newest attack on God and those ignorant enough to believe in Him, resting on the mistaken belief that it is religion and God that establish the morality of a people. Of course this, like so many positions held by the glitterati rests firmly on ignorance and the absence of critical thinking. It would seem self-evident that the morals of a culture are established by the individuals that make up that culture. For example, (and I am not making this up) it is considered bad form to kill and eat your neighbor in most Western Cultures, but to the Cannibals of New Guinea, this is acceptable and indeed – expected. In some cultures it is an accepted practice for a man to have multiple wives while in most Western Countries it is frowned upon – outside of Utah. The point is that the atheists have started with a false assumption and that is that the morality of a culture is based in religion. It seems more likely that it is the religion that reflects the morality of the culture not vice versa.

Nevertheless, there does appear to be certain universal beliefs that are common to all cultures. For example, murder is not condoned by any human society but is prevalent in the animal kingdom. Adultery is another moral concept that seems to be common, even in those societies where multiple wives are permitted. So while there may be a fundamental moral code common to human society that still does not make morality and religion synonymous. The morals of a society may be related to the religion but the morality of that society is still reflected by those who do not believe in the religion. Thus the question becomes, without religion would a society degenerate into barbarism? This may be an unanswerable question since no known society exists that has no religion, even the Neanderthals seemed to have believed in a higher power. Even the most secular power today, has laws that govern that society that reflect the religious beliefs of the founders.

However, this opens the question “can a religious based society be barbaric” and act in an inhumane way. In effect, can religious people act in an immoral way in the name of God? Obviously this answer is yes, because we have many historical examples from all parts of the world. The Catholic Church persecuted Protestants, the Spanish Inquisition tortured and killed Jews as well as witches and heretics; the Protestants persecuted and killed Catholics. Even the Hindus have a violent record. Since the Western World has separated church and state, these religious persecutions have largely stopped today, except for Islam.

Islam purports to be more moral and virtuous than all other religions and has the objective of converting the world to Islam. Islam does not separate church and state, and the church is the state. Therefore, in the Muslim countries the morality of those countries is rooted directly in the religion. The most visible evidence of this is in the veil worn by women. Even in the more enlightened Islamic countries the women wear head scarves instead of the Burqua. But the question becomes does this enforced “modesty” indicate a higher level of virtue than that shown in Christendom or is it merely a reflection of the lack of freedom? The argument mounted my Muslims is that if freedom permits immodesty then freedom is wrong.

Does a woman who chooses to not wear a headscarf – as in the West – act immodestly? Does a man who chooses to shave his beard less manly or immodest? Do Draconian punishments for petty crimes, like cutting of the hands of thieves, make the Islamic countries more virtuous? Is the person who has the freedom to choose between modesty and immodesty, but chooses modesty more virtuous than the person who is forced by law to be “modest”. Is that person who is acting under duress even modest or is he simply enslaved? These radical Muslims – more accurately Islamofascists – clearly think that their opinions of what is “proper” transcend freedom of the press, speech, religion, and assembly. Clearly, in their eyes enforced “virtue” is to be desired and any person who chooses to deviate from their view of conduct must be harshly punished according to Shar’ia Law.

The reality is that morality is established by the society and while the morality of the culture can stem from religion, that religion cannot triumph over personal freedom. This means that the while the militant atheists are entitled to their opinions, they do not have the right to dominate or eliminate religions practice. It also means that the enforced modest and virtue associated with Islam is equally wrong because religion cannot overcome individual freedoms.

Monday, August 13, 2012

My Day in Paradise

We all look forward to that day when we can take the exit ramp from the rat race and coast into a blissful retirement. A time when our day is filled with trips to exotic places and leisure time spent with our loving children and grandchildren. Of course by the time you get to that exit ramp most of those plans are set aside because you are too busy with everything that you have to do now that you are retired. I’m not talking about all of those big projects like painting the house which you postponed until retirement, because now that you have the time getting on a ladder is impossible unless you are looking for a large insurance settlement. No – I’m talking about all of those simple little tasks like mowing the lawn or shopping for groceries. Of course I really love grocery shopping because I amuse myself as I cruise through the aisles randomly dropping products into the shopping carts of people who I think could use these products. My favorite is finding the person who has filled their cart with mountains of high fiber, low calorie, organic foods and dropping in a jar of Cheese Whiz.

But there are other simple tasks that seem to morph into major projects, like my recent attempt to water the lawn. Now watering the lawn doesn’t require a lot of skill, essentially it only requires placing the sprinkler on the lawn and turning the water on. But yesterday I turned the water on and noticed the hose connector to the sprinkler was leaking. I immediately got out my knife to cut off the end of the hose so I could replace it with a shiny new one. But senior citizens are a little forgetful and what I forgot was turning off the water BEFORE performing major hose surgery. Water gushes out soaking my pants leaving the impression that I might want to consider purchasing some “Depends”. Once I turned the water off and removed the end of the hose – only cutting myself once, I was ready to install the new connector. The connector was in one of those new plastic theft proof packages that require a sledge hammer or acetylene torch to penetrate. I did finally get the connector free – cutting myself the second time – and was ready for the installation – once I loosened the screws, which had been installed with super glue. Nevertheless I did get them loose cutting myself for the third time – except this time there was enough blood to warrant a CSI investigation. But I press on hampered only slightly by the band-aids and bandage, and eventually getting the new connector installed and the hose connected. I turn the water on and VOILA!! Water is squirting from the new connector with enough force and volume to wet me once again from top to bottom giving the impression that I am in the midst of a Depends crisis. I turned the water off (I learn fast) disconnected the offending hose, deposited it in the trash and installed a new hose straight from the store – leaky hose problem solved!! .

One of the major issues facing you in retirement is how to amuse your self once you tire of the Cheese-Whiz gambit. We see on television all of those wonderful retirement communities filled with senior citizens filling their time with exercise and blooming with the health that the average twenty year old would love to have. These advertisements promise a social life filled friends playing tennis and golf in between sailing in your own yacht and catching record breaking marlin. Well some people believe there’s a free lunch too, but the social circle for most retirees consists of bank clerks, the pharmacist, and a variety of doctors – with a couple that are on speed dial. So I don’t know where those senior citizens – as seen on TV – live and play but I strongly suspect they are photo-shopped twenty-something models. Just look at their waists, perfect teeth, tanned bodies and with hair in all of the ‘RIGHT” places. Real seniors have hair in all of the wrong places and haven’t seen a 30 inch waist in decades.

But there are some bright sides to retirement – in sort of a weird way. As we age our vision begins to play tricks on us. That is you see signs that you misread which can lead to some very funny times. For example something flashed across my TV screen that said “…dedicated heroism” except I read “… dedicated heroin” or on FaceBook the posting read “touch a hamster” but I read “touch a teamster” – the brain does pay tricks. So when I noticed a sign that said – in large bold letters – COOK WANTED. I laughed and said to my wife “Did you see that sign?” I think I’ll apply. She rolled her eyes, snickered and said “forgettaaboutit – it’s hard work and I don’t think you’re up for it!!. This ability to communicate is just one of life’s blessings that comes with age.

While retirement has many blessings there are some downsides, for example you lose your cutting edge with current culture and ability to communicate with the young. Recently I stopped into a Starbucks coffee shop for a cup of coffee but that turned out to be a humiliating experience because I hadn’t studied and wasn’t prepared for the test. I didn’t know how to order because I didn’t know that there was a process. . First you have to stand in a certain place to order and a special place to pick up your order – these instructions were administered in a style I that I associated with Nazi like precision. Once I moved to the “order station” I found you cannot just order a cup of coffee because there is a quiz. First you are asked what bean do you want? Very odd question which I failed because the only beans I know are baked or refried. Wrong answer – so the semi-friendly waitress (whom I’m sure was a Hitler Youth commandant) moved on to question two which was “the roast”. “I want coffee” was clearly the wrong answer once again because the young lady (silently named Brunhilda) moved on to the final question which was “whatsizedoyouwant”. With as much dignity as I had remaining I said “small” knowing that I would at least get one question right! Wrong again!! Brunhilda was no longer even talking she just pointed to a series of code words and since the only word I recognize is ‘Grande” I ended with enough coffee and caffeine to power the space shuttle. Later one of my young friends tells me that Starbucks doesn’t have waitresses they are called Baristas. I was amazed because I thought a Barista was a Guatemalan revolutionary.

So my next project for cultural enlightenment is to find out what a Kardashian is? That’s for my next report from paradise.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Marriage and Commitment

While the institution of marriage continues to outpace divorces, the reality is that the number of “common law’ arrangements continues to grow. But for those who actually engage in a true marriage the statistics show there is a fifty-fifty chance the marriage will end in divorce. Of course it is this astonishing level of divorce that is used by those who elect to pursue the common law path to justify their situation. The rationale seems to be that why would I get married because there is a real possibility of a divorce and its just a bunch of words anyway. It’s hard to argue with the statistics on divorce but is the marriage vow just a bunch of words? If they are just a bunch of words then why not say them? In fact why is there such a thing as marriage and how does it differ from these casual relationships?

The reality is that if two people enter into one of these live-in arrangements they are assuming a great deal of risk, risks that they probably don’t recognize or think won’t apply to them. The female in these arrangements is particularly at risk, especially if there are children. Generally the male is the breadwinner in these arrangements and the female may either not be employed or employed at a much lower salary. Thus the male holds the advantage because he can leave anytime taking his income with him and leaving the female destitute or nearly so. The female has no legal rights regarding community property, no claim for spousal support, but she might have a right to child support if a child is involved. Furthermore, the female can easily be manipulated by the male through intimidation and threats to leave. The fact is that these arrangements are conveniences – primarily for the male – that show a shocking lack of commitment and regardless of protestations to the contrary a lack of love as well.

Beyond these obvious risks there is the health risk. Suppose one of the partners suffers some devastating illness. The other partner has no legal right to act on behalf to the other, that right remains with the family and the “domestic partner” is not family in any legal sense. Suppose there is an accident and one of the partners is killed? Unless that partner has been careful to name the other as the beneficiary then the insurance goes to the estate not the partner. Essentially these informal domestic arrangements result in bastard children, legal issues, insecurity, and a shocking lack of commitment because the partners do not bond as they do in a legal and formal marriage.

Marriage requires a commitment – a public commitment that has both religious and legal ramifications. It is a formal ceremony where one person dedicates their life to the other and with this commitment comes numerous benefits, not the least of which is a sense of security that the other person won’t simply walk out and if they do there are some significant ramifications to that decision. At the very least there are the financial issues which govern the division of property and assets, but there are many longer term impacts as well.

Beyond these legal and mundane issues regarding marriage there are some very significant emotional ones as well. The first of these is “love” not the physical love that drives the informal arrangements but the deep and abiding emotional love that only comes with time and dedication to the other person’s well being and happiness. This doesn’t mean that this emotional bonding can’t happen in the common law arrangements but it is much less likely to happen because if this feeling of care and concern for the other person is there the commitment is not otherwise why not say those simple words that would have given legal protection to the other partner.

Certainly marriage is not a bed of roses and every marriage has its ups and downs. As anyone who has been married for more than a couple of years knows, keeping a marriage together requires work and commitment to making it work. Unfortunately that lesson seems to be the one that is missing today as more and more people spring from broken marriages. These people have no role model and what they saw was the going gets tough the solution is to leave and move on to a happier situation. The fact that this decision to place ones self above the other and any children is actually a selfish act is missed entirely. These seem to be the people who believe they are entitled to a life of perpetual happiness and indulgence that requires no sacrifice by them. Enduring marriages rest on the belief that commitment is required, personal sacrifice is required, and that for those who are willing to give up anything for the other partner, then nothing must be given up. Marriage is not a fifty-fifty proposition and on any given day it may be 90-10, but over time it works out to be a true partnership.