Tag Archives: religion

Look! It’s the Spring Bunny!

The P.C. police are out in full force, just in time for the holiday. Which holiday, you ask? Well, it sure ain’t Easter. Yes, there are bunnies, there are eggs, there is chocolate, but we can’t call it Easter, because that term might offend some people. Actually, I can’t imagine why.

Easter as it is celebrated in this country has no more connection to the rising of Christ than Christmas has to his birthday. We have managed to eliminate most of the Christian parts of each holiday, while retaining only the pagan rituals. It’s amazing that anyone can relate a day filled with junk food and rabbits to a religious holiday. In fact, instead of not using words like Easter, we should be using them all over the place. There is nothing guaranteed to make words lose their meaning faster than uttering them without any context. Sort of the way parents yelling, “And I mean it this time!” comes to mean nothing if they fail to follow through yet again.

It is the words that are spoken in hushed, reverential tones that acquire mystical meanings. Those words that are tossed around like garbage quickly lose all ability to generate a rise out of anyone. Think of the words that are commonly used on network television this days. Not so long ago, those words were shocking, titillating, provocative.

Nowadays, if the young’uns hear words meant for grown-up ears, the response is more, “Just ignore that, dear,” than a gasp, a “Tsk!”, or a reach for the remote. We still may not want to hear the sounds coming from little mouths, but those words, so often heard these days, have lost a great deal of their power.

So is it with Easter. You’d have to look hard to find any Christian symbolism in any of the public celebrations of the day. For most people, the term “Easter” could easily be replaced with “Hiding Eggs Day”, “Fun Day”, or “Another Excuse to Pig Out on Chocolate Day”. I’m surprised that no one has yet come up with a non-religious acronym for Easter, like Eat All Sorts of Things Everyone Relishes.

You want people to continue to be offended by religious terms? Be very careful about which ones are used, and when, and make sure to infuse them with plenty of mystery and sacrament.

On the other hand, you want religious words to quickly lose their offensiveness? Invest the original meaning with new associations. For most people Easter will soon not have any connection with Christianity. Just as many groups have adopted terms that were once pejorative and made them standards, so allowing Easter to remain in use will deprive it of its religious meaning for all except those who practice the religion. In fact, they will decry its sacrilegious use.

We made up these words, we get to decide what they mean, and how much power we invest them with. After all, they are only words. As the great philosopher, Humpty Dumpty, once said about us versus words, “The question is, which is to be master—that’s all.”

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Mississippi Mud

Much as the liberals amuse themselves with the conservatives’ lack of belief in global warming, the conservatives have a field day with the liberals’ Panglossian notion that this is the best of all possible worlds, and that we ought to keep the planet exactly the way it was when we, the generations currently alive, chanced to embark upon our lives. As if.

I can almost always find the wellsprings for a rant or two in the pages of The Economist, and of course, TED Talks. (If that sounds too snooty, you should see me snort into my beer at some of the comments that Daniel Tosh makes.) I am not picky about the source of my ramblings—generally I want to be amused, entertained, or educated, and preferably all at once. I mention this because, with all of the evidence that surrounds us, at all levels of erudition, I can’t understand how anyone can believe that this world is not all about change. Back to The Economist.

Awhile back, there was an article on the Mississippi River, and how its flow has changed over the centuries. The illustration accompanying the article makes the flood plain painfully clear, and yet our government encourages people to build, and rebuild, in an area that can’t help but be inundated in the future. When will the madness stop? Who will be the first to say, yup, it’s a bad idea to try to drag this planet to a halt, right where it is. It’s the height of hubris to think that a) we can mold this big old earth into our version of heaven, and b) that we are the be-all and end-all of everything.

It’s interesting that conservatives tend to be more religious, but that liberals act as though humans are the teleological result of evolution. Change is the only constant, and evolution is a non-thinking phenomenon, regardless of the way it is portrayed in schools and on science shows. No creature thinks, wow, I got to get me a longer proboscis, so’s I can get the nectar buried deeper in the flower. It’s the poor fella who happens to be stuck with the longer proboscis that finds, or doesn’t find, the flower that happens to allow for that particular trait. Then he either dies off, or passes that mutation on to later generations, who find, or don’t find, flowers that work for them. Evolution is not a forward-thinking process. It’s only after it happens, and we see the current state of things versus what worked in the past, that we can figure out which random mutations are working right now. Even that won’t tell us what mutation will become necessary in the next five minutes as a result of ongoing changes.

Yet daily we are inundated with examples of the pervasive thinking that, because we exist at this point in the lifespan of our planet, this is the way things ought to be forever and ever. We can’t manage to find a source of power that can be made readily available to all, without causing harm to some part of the planet, but we have the right, and the ability, to keep the next ice age from occurring?

How about we get the religion out of the government—the religion that says that we are the all-powerful, all-knowing gods of this planet, and that if we merely tithe enough to Caesar, he will render paradise.How about we make adaptation a conscious process, conforming ourselves to the world we happen to find ourselves in, instead of acting as though throwing more money at the coastline will make the tide stop washing away the beach. Or plunking a house down will hem in the Mississippi River.

Somewhere, we glommed onto the notion that we’ve got all the answers, even in the face of the planet constantly demonstrating that we do not. Maybe this is the time we can step back and think things through, before rushing to an expensive, short-term solution that only ends up aggravating the whole situation. Or, I guess, we can just throw more money into the river.

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GONE WITH THE WIND

The biggest problem with constant polling is constant feedback. Of course, that is what polls are for: to tell politicians which way the wind of public opinion is blowing. But that is also the problem with them. The winds are variable, depending on who is doing the polling, and which way the pollsters sway the questions, and who they ask, and what day of the week it is, and whether their askees have had time for their morning coffee, or whether it’s raining…you get the picture, and that picture is muddled.

If the purpose of polling is to tell a politician what the people think, then it does its job either too well, or not at all. Constant polling is like tweeting: you know exactly how a person feels at any particular instant of any particular day, but you know nothing about that person. It’s only the latest random thought that dribbles out, depending upon how the question is worded, but any deep-seated principles remain buried.

That’s why it is important to reverse the process. The politicians need to be the ones who make their cherished beliefs known, so that the voters can choose whom they think will best represent them. If a politician bases his actions and his votes on the will-o’-the-wisp of each hour, he will bring no coherent system of principles to the table.

DSCN0487This is precisely the problem that we are facing in our global relations today. We, that is, our federal government, have no formulated plan for dealing with the issues that arise every day. Each step is singular; each approach stands on its own. Do we assist the refugees in the Sudan? Who knows? Do we interfere in Syria? Who can tell? Do we tell China to get its act together? Possibly. Do we protest when we learn of the deaths of dissidents in Cuba? It’s a thought. Or, maybe we continue our path of appeasement and negotiation, combined with a few well-placed assassinations here and there.

The voters who are displeased with Mr. Obama’s catch-as-catch-can approach to world politics are not assuaged by Mr. Romney’s I-thought-this-then-but-I-think-this-now method. With no strong individual, guided by his own set of moral principles at the helm, where do we turn? How do we fix this situation?

Picking at every pronouncement made on the campaign trail, and pouncing on every gaffe, perceived or real, does nothing to inspire confidence in either the voters or the candidates. Focusing on what are really distractions does not allow voters to discover where the candidates stand on any subject. That leads to indecision on the part of consumers, and inaction on the part of business. The entire economy suffers when the American public doesn’t know whether to shop or save, and companies don’t know whether to expand or contract.

And confusing the American voters is only part of the problem. The issue of what actions a politician may take when he assumes office becomes more dire when we factor in the opinions of other world leaders.

If the leaders of the European countries cannot count on what the leader of the United States says on any given day, true alliances cannot be made; true assistance cannot be given in any crisis. If the leaders of potential opponents cannot count on what the leader of the United States says on any given day, fraught situations can quickly devolve into real catastrophes.

With no set of principles to guide foreign diplomacy, Presidential policy seems to be merely a blundering about: trying appeasement here, negotiation there, with a few sanctions thrown in for good measure. The opposition cannot trust the appeasement, is skeptical about the utility of meaningful negotiation, and may decide to wait out any sanctions—after all, the President is dependent upon the will of the people, which fades quickly without stern moral guidance to back it up.

This is why the religion of a candidate is so important. Not that a candidate is a member of any particular religion, but that his stance is founded in inviolable principles that he will not compromise. His constituents must know that his word is law. That when he makes a promise, it is based on tenets that he believes in, that he will uphold no matter what.

More importantly, in this ever-shrinking world, his fellow leaders must know that he has bounds which he will not cross. He may be able to bluff during negotiations about exactly where the line may be drawn, but the people on the other side of the table are firmly convinced that there is such a line.

Relativism has no place in political life. If a candidate tosses out the religious playbook, then he must replace it with a new set of principles, conjured up out of whatever he wants, but forged in steel.

This is not to say that a candidate cannot change his mind, cannot evolve. But if he is to do so, he must make explicit the rationale behind his new-found principle. Otherwise, he risks looking merely opportunistic, and loses any advantage that he may have had in dealing with others. If you wavered here, why wouldn’t you waver there? is the next logical thought, and If that principle is not so important, then how important can your other principles be?

Politicians have worked hard to remove religion from politics, and that is understandable. The specifics of any religious belief tend to be offensive to those who adhere to a different religious belief, and it is difficult to be elected by a wide swath of voters with varied belief systems. But along with removing religion from politics, it seems as though politicians have removed all moral precepts as well.

We must have a mechanism for discerning a politician’s guiding principles; for discovering what he will tolerate, and what is beyond the pale; what he is willing to compromise for the sake of his other-believing constituents, and where he draws his lines. Without a firm rock to back him up, a politician sways in the slightest breeze, his constituents have no faith in his pronouncements, and his international opponents gain ground as he wavers.

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