the stupidest idea ever: the pay by the mile tax

ladies and gentlemen, we have a winner. the award for the stupidest idea ever goes to: transportation secretary ray lahood. in a recent newsday article, lahood said he was looking into the idea of taxing americans based upon the ‘miles that they traveled.’ the former illinois lawmaker said,

We should look at the vehicular miles program where people are actually clocked on the number of miles that they traveled.

really, that’s your brilliant idea? eliminate the gasoline tax???? how about raise the gas tax like we do the cigarette tax and alcohol tax until people stop using it. don’t get me wrong – i hate taxes, especially those that are simply attempts to take advantage of people and that are counterproductive to every rational line of thought. but we should tax the fire out of things we don’t want people to use because they are bad for our health. gas is no exception. we have the technology to make hybrid and electric cars, and we need to move towards getting people into them.

this idea is a slap in the face to the entire environmental and energy independence movement. all of us who have done our part to buy hybrid and electric cars would now have to pay the same as people driving gas guzzlers. why? the answer is simple: it’s actually starting to work! oil has fallen to its lowest level in years. foreign oil producing countries realize that this time, the u.s. is serious about switching to renewable energy. they are trying to sabotage the transition by offering oil on the cheap for a while during economic hard times in an effort to get us to continue using oil.

but congress also realizes that we are finally shifting towards cleaner, renewable energy – like we’re supposed to. but as we wean ourselves from oil (and oil companies), tax revenues will begin to fall (along with oil company profits), and congress want their money (as do oil companies), in part, so they can pay for the ginormous spending program they just passed (the proceeds of which will be paid to big businesses).

everything about this tax-by-the-mile transportation tax is wrong.

god does not have a plan for your life

i’ll get beat up by evangelicals for this, but here goes…

god does not have a plan for your life. not for yours, not for mine. that’s not how god works, and we need to stop thinking that way as soon as possible. there may be some grand design, which by design must have some fixed end, but i am certainly not the center of it, and the decisions i make in between beginning and end are by no means predetermined. we should therefore do the best we can with what we’ve been given, wherever we are.

perhaps god has a plan in general. maybe. but then again, maybe not. but that point is moot. christians need to stop thinking of following jesus and christianity as if following some organizational chart or systematized plan. lose the notion of ‘steps to salvation’. there is no ‘sacred path’. and if there is some cosmic order to life, it is governed by physics and the free-will choices we make, and not by some divine plan that controls our mind and governs us.

the bible offers ways to act, ways to serve, and ways to live that bring us into accordance with what the faithful understand to be god’s prescribed way of living. we are asked to make decisions, and to make good ones. we are asked to be loving neighbors and faithful servants, regardless of the circumstances, and regardless of the faith, race, gender, or socio-economic makeup of others.

sometimes, two choices are set before us, and one decision is clearly beneficial, while the other is clearly harmful. these choices are easy to make. but other times, we may be presented with two or three equally good options. in these cases, god does not lead you to make one decision over the other, and he certainly does not choose for you! the choice is ours and ours alone. god only asks that the faithful consider his instructions, namely, to treat all peoples with kindness whatever they decide and wherever they go.

the will of god certainly does not revolve around us. christians need to stop thinking this way. and yes, it is a product of this whole ‘personal jesus’ movement, which focuses solely on the individual consumer christian, and all too often neglects the larger community that jesus specifically asked his followers to serve, namely, the poor, the oppressed, and the neglected.

why do christians do this? perhaps it is to avoid responsibility for their decisions by claiming divine sanction for their choices. that is to say, christians may argue, “i was supposed to change careers because that is part of god’s plan for my life.” or perhaps, “i am supposed to move to a new town because it is a part of god’s plan for my life.”

but this kind of thinking causes a potential dilemma to the “god-has-a-plan-for-my-life christian”. specifically, what happens when the decision ultimately proves to be a bad one? what happens when the girl leaves, or the move is a disaster, or the job gets laid off? did god make a wrong choice? this kind of thinking usually results in the “god-has-a-plan-for-my-life christian” left wondering, “but god led me here,” which is a far less crackpot way of saying, “god told me to do it.”

what is worse, there is often a stubborn rationality that follows a decision that did not go as planned. unfortunately, many “god-has-a-plan-for-my-life christians” attempt to (mis)use their own misguided understanding of god’s will in a desperate attempt to guilt others into doing what they want. for instance, imagine the engaged man whose fiancée broke off their engagement. he truly believed that she was a part of god’s plan for his life. when she left, he tells her, “but god wants us together.” later, in retrospect, the man realizes that he was simply abusing his understanding of ‘god’s will’ to guilt a girl into staying with him.

this is the problem with the misguided notion that ‘god has a plan for my life’. it is essentially a forfeiture of responsibility, a trait so common among christians seeking an excuse for their selfish actions, a pardon their misdeeds, and an explanation for their failed relationships.

stop acting like every decision you make is a right or wrong one, black or white, for there is so much color in the world, and several shades of gray. jump out and embrace life. make good decisions. if you are of faith, bring god’s prescribed way of living into your life. god does not live our lives for us. he is not the micromanaging trail guide telling us which way to turn in the forest. for the faithful, he is more like the compass pointing us in the correct general direction. the individual paths we choose are our decisions, and ours alone. god simply asks that we head the right direction, and help others along the way.

it is not about god’s plan for you. it is about your participation in his world. he asks the faithful to make wise decisions, and asks them to bring him with wherever they go, whatever they choose. he does not make the decisions, he just wants to come along.

god does not have a plan for your life. your life is yours to live. stop worrying about life after death, and start living the life you have now. if you live it well, the afterlife will take care of itself.

It Is OK for Christians to Vote No on Prop 8

below is a piece i wrote on facebook prior to the november 2008 election. i’m posting it here now so that i can refer to it in a forthcoming post. enjoy! (and forgive the caps – i don’t usually do that ; – ) – bc

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Introduction

Christians are regularly asked to vote upon political measures that have tremendous secular significance but often possess few ethical or religious implications. These include tax increases and school bond measures. As a result, Christians are routinely divided along typical political lines, such as party, gender, or age on civil issues, with their faith playing no observable role in many of these decisions. But on certain occasions, Christians are faced with issues and ballot propositions that force them to vote along a different demographic line: that of faith. These measures have included issues of abortion, euthanasia, and capital punishment, among others. This year is no exception.

California’s Proposition 8 has emerged as a high profile issue on the November 2008 ballot because of its simple, yet highly consequential implications for the definition of marriage in the eyes of the state. In fourteen short words, Proposition 8 states: “Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.” While the proposition is intentionally terse and simply stated, its repercussions are far-reaching and unambiguous.

Proposition 8 would amend California’s constitution so that only heterosexual marriages are recognized by the state. This would overturn California’s existing marriage laws, which presently allow for same-sex marriage and its accompanying benefits. The benefits of state-recognized marriage include visitation rights in a hospital, authority to make decisions on the partner’s behalf in the case of incapacitation, social security, disability, Medicaid, military, veterans’, and other financial benefits, Native American eligibility status, first time homebuyer assistance, joint income tax filing status, child support enforcement, and estate and gift inheritance, among others. A complete list of the 1,049 federal laws in which marital status is a factor can be found in the US General Accounting Office’s letter to House Judiciary Chairman Henry Hyde on Jan. 31, 1997. Thus, there is a great deal of civil benefit to being recognized as a married couple in California.

Prop 8 is Not a Judgment Against Homosexuals or Homosexuality

Proposition 8 is not a judgment against homosexuality or homosexuals. It is a referendum on the civil benefits of same-sex marriages, with no affect upon the doctrines of any religious group. Yet many Christians will be voting for Prop 8 because of their moral opposition to the practice of homosexuality, which is forbidden in numerous biblical texts. 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 states, “Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.” (NIV)

Homosexuality is clearly listed as a vice in 1 Corinthians 6. Yet, many Christians have singled out homosexuality as a greater threat than the other acts listed, and same-sex marriage has been elevated by the proponents of Prop 8 as the symbolic example of the immorality of the state’s civil law code. Never mind that the 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 passage lists several other sins such as drunkenness and adultery that are said to preclude individuals from inheriting the kingdom of God. And yet, there are no ballot initiatives that call for the elimination of civil rights and the nullification of state recognition of marriage for those who have ever been drunk or participated in extra-marital affairs. For some reason, homosexuality is singled out in this list as a sin that requires a constitutional amendment to protect the faith from the danger of homosexual couples enjoying the same civil rights as heterosexual couples.

Singling out homosexuality as an act that warrants a revocation of civil rights for married couples is a clear double standard of Biblical interpretation. For instance, Luke 16:18 states, “Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery, and the man who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.” According to this line of reasoning used by advocates of Prop 8, those who are divorced are adulterers, and thereby ineligible to inherit the kingdom. And yet, we see no ballot proposition limiting marriage to those who have never been divorced, even though the Bible clearly defines the act of remarriage of divorced individuals as adultery.

It is also important to draw a distinction between Biblical reasons for exclusion from the kingdom of heaven (which is the context of 1 Corinthians 6) and state civil law. The prohibition against homosexuality might be a prohibition against entering the kingdom of God, but it is not said to be a reason for not having a marriage recognized by the state.

The Myth of a “Traditional” (i.e., Biblical, Christian) Marriage

Proponents of Prop 8 argue that the measure will defend “traditional” marriage. However, proponents of Prop 8 are very careful not to use the words “Biblical” or “Christian” for fear of betraying the real reasoning behind their cause. Rather, they allow voters to supply their own reasoning for not wanting the state to recognize same-sex marriage. Many Christians argue in favor of Prop 8 because of their belief that the sanctity of marriage is rooted in the Bible and its teachings. However, an examination of the Biblical text reveals that Christian marriage is not as “traditional” as one might assume.

The Apostle Paul has a very low view of marriage. In fact, Paul encourages Christians not to marry at all. In 1 Corinthians 7:27, Paul states, “Are you unmarried? Do not look for a wife.” (NIV) Paul then continues to counsel Christians that while marriage is “not a sin,” Christians should ideally not marry at all. Paul states in 1 Corinthians 7:28, “If you do marry, you have not sinned; and if a virgin marries, she has not sinned. But those who marry will face many troubles in this life, and I want to spare you this.” (NIV) Again, Paul discourages Christians from marrying at all, including heterosexual marriage.

Thus, the entire argument that marriage is a God-ordained union between a man and a woman, and that this union is the preferred social institution for Christians is a myth that has been promoted by the church for millennia. The very issue of whether or not to have heterosexual Christian marriages was debated within the text of the Bible itself. For every passage like Genesis 2:18 that reads, “The Lord God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him’,” (which ironically does not deal with marriage at all, but with the creation of females), or Ephesians 5:21-31 (which instructs those Christians that did, in fact, choose to be married or that already were married), there are other verses like 1 Corinthians 7:8, which states, “Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: it is good for them to stay unmarried, as I am.”

Neither Jesus nor Paul ever married, and Paul continued to preach against Christians getting married, allowing for marriage only as a concession to those who could not “practice self-control” and wanted to have sex. Thus, Paul states in 1 Corinthians 7:9, “But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.” Paul only allowed marriage for those who lacked the self-control and discipline necessary for what he understood to be the more devout, single life as a Christian. Thus, while the proponents of Prop 8 argue that people of faith ought to fight to preserve “traditional marriage,” Christians who actually read their Bibles know that there is no consensus on a Biblical, Christian, “traditional marriage,” and that the very question of even whether or not to marry is debated in the Bible. Marriage in the Bible is far more complex than simple “traditional Christian marriage” that proponents of Prop 8 attempt to portray.

The Tactics of the Yes on 8 Campaign

The “Yes on 8” lobby is attempting to make this election into a vote on homosexuality. They are hoping that Christians and other people of faith will equate a yes vote on Prop 8 as a stance against the “sin of homosexuality” as defined in the Bible. However, this is not what Prop 8 does. Prop 8 seeks to overturn existing California law and deny civil rights to certain individuals based upon their sexual preference as defined by religious tradition.

Christians have been told that same-sex marriage is a threat to the sacred union of marriage, and that were Prop 8 to pass, the state would be able to dictate religious doctrine to religious groups. The Yes on 8 lobby routinely claims that if Prop 8 is not passed, a civil authority (i.e., the state) can impact their religious rites. This is simply not true. The state cannot affect the religious definition of anything, nor should it. A no vote on Prop 8 will do absolutely nothing to a religious organization’s understanding, sanctioning, or recognition of their own understanding of marriage. All a no vote on Prop 8 will do is continue to allow for secular, civil recognition of same sex marriages, and the civil rights, benefits, and privileges thereto appertaining.

California’s recognition of same-sex marriages will do nothing to alter any religious group’s definition of marriage. The Catholic Church will continue to view only marriages performed by a Catholic priest as religiously valid. Likewise, Mormons will continue to insist that only Mormon marriages (preferably in a Temple) will be acceptable as valid Mormon unions. Muslims and Jews will also continue to be allowed to define marriage as their traditional interpretations dictate.

Popular Vote Does Not Equal Constitutionality

State recognition of same-sex marriage is already the law in California. Prop 8 seeks to overturn this law by using a direct ballot initiative to amend the constitution and prohibit same-sex marriage. A direct ballot initiative was employed because our elected California state legislature is smart enough not to pass legislation that is deliberately unconstitutional. Likewise, California judiciary officials are wise enough to overturn any legislation that attempts to deny the civil rights of state citizens by implementing legislation that is based solely in tradition, religious or otherwise. The fact of the matter is that proponents of Prop 8 are seeking a popular vote via ballot initiative because they know the only way that the legislation can even be put before the public for consideration is to play on the fears of the population and call for a popular vote. However, a popular vote does not always equal constitutionality.

Some will certainly object and argue that the laws recognizing same-sex marriage in California are merely the product of “activist judges” legislating from the bench and imposing their will on the majority of California voters, who previously voted in March of 2000 to ban same-sex marriage under California Prop 22. Have no doubt that should Prop 8 pass, it too will be struck down as unconstitutional, despite being voted for by a majority of California citizens. This is due to the fact that just because a majority holds a particular opinion of belief does make that belief constitutional. Likewise, a popular vote does not keep particular religious belief systems from trampling on the civil rights of state citizens.

Take the issue of slavery in southern states in the 1850’s for example, or the desegregation of public schools during the civil rights movement. Were a ballot initiative proposed that amended a southern state’s constitution to guarantee the right of slavery or segregated schools, a majority of voters may have voted based upon their conscience or their religious beliefs to retain slavery and segregated schools. The results of these votes, however heartfelt, would have violated the civil rights of many citizens of the state, particularly African-Americans. Thus, it is possible, and sometimes necessary for courts to step in and strike down unconstitutional laws, even if a majority of voters support the measure. It is possible that on rare occasions, hatred, intolerance, or religious tradition can so pervade the populace that people vote to violate the civil rights of others. It has happened in the past and we rightly look back on our actions during these periods in disgust, asking how any civilized nation can openly and actively violate the civil rights of its own people. Yet here were are in 2008 dealing with a similar ballot initiative in Prop 8.

The proponents of this simply crafted proposition are relying on voters to supply their own reasoning, and for many, fears, prejudices, traditions, and religious beliefs for supporting the measure. And because there have been few Christians that have stood up and opposed Prop 8, a good case for the religious rationale behind opposing Prop 8 has not been offered. Regardless of how convincing the public policy and civil rights reasons might be, many Christians will not feel comfortable voting no on Prop 8 until a broad, theological case is made for allowing same-sex marriage to be recognized by the state. Therefore, the remainder of this editorial will provide the theological reasoning for voting no on Prop 8.

The Argument from Slavery

The process of separating civil law from Biblical teaching on issues of social importance is nothing new. Christians have had to deal with similar social issues in the past. In fact, several other Christian social positions based in scripture, which were also once endorsed by the state, are no longer held by civil government. That is, the government has stricken down laws that were rooted in Biblical teaching, because even though they had the support of the Bible, they were deemed unconstitutional.

The most obvious example that comes to mind is the aforementioned issue of slavery. Up until the Civil War, and unfortunately far beyond the Brown vs. the Board of Education ruling that desegregated public schools in the south, the argument in favor of the practice of slavery was based upon religious tradition rooted in the Bible. And unfortunately, the Bible is very clear about its stance on slavery. Colossians 3:22 states, “Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything, not only while being watched and in order to please them, but wholeheartedly.” (NRSV) 1 Peter 2:18 says slaves should obey even harsh slave masters, stating, “Slaves, accept the authority of your masters with all deference, not only those who are kind and gentle but also those who are harsh.” (NRSV) Ephesians 6:5 goes so far as to equate one’s service to one’s master with service to Jesus himself, stating, “Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, in singleness of heart, as you obey Christ.” (NRSV) Obviously, as far as the Bible is concerned, the state practice of slavery in Rome was not a core civil rights issue that required addressing. Rather, it was simply accepted.

And while the Apostle Paul argues in Galatians 3:28 that there is no longer Jew or Greek, slave or free, male and female “in Christ,” as far as Roman state practice of slavery was concerned, the Bible makes no call for the abolition of slavery, and Jesus makes no grand “I have a dream” speech. In fact, the Apostle Paul argues quite the opposite. When a slave named Onesimus ran away from his master Philemon, the Apostle Paul instructs the runaway slave to return to his slave master, writing only to Philemon to ask that he not punish the defecting slave because he had become a Christian. Far from a call for the abolition of slavery, the Bible clearly accepts the practice, and defends it with stern admonitions to slaves to accept their fates and obey their masters.

Despite the fact that the Bible essentially endorsed slavery, the United States rightly abolished the practice. But this serves as an example that while the Bible may teach a certain way on a certain social matter, it is incumbent upon Christians to do what is righteous as freedoms are won over time. Slavery was abolished by abolitionist Christians even though many southern Christians used Biblical verses defending slavery to argue on its behalf. Today, the proponents of Prop 8 are employing the same tactics to argue for tradition, and when possible, are using Biblical teachings about homosexuality to defend their position. But it does not change the fact that what they are proposing via Prop 8 violates the fundamental state civil rights of some citizens, just as slavery did 150 years ago.

The Argument from Women’s Rights

Another example is the portrayal of the role of women in the Bible. On several occasions in the Bible, women are instructed to “remain silent” and to “submit to their husbands.” 1 Corinthians 14:34 states, “Women should be silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as the law also says,” demonstrating that the early church simply accepted the existing law of women remaining subject to men. 1 Timothy 2:12 states, “I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent,” again reinforcing the notion that women are subject to men’s authority. Colossians 3:18 reminds women, “Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord,” arguing that submission to their husbands is ordained by God. Ephesians 5:22-23 makes the case for a hierarchy among men and women more clearly, stating, “Wives, be subject to your husbands as you are to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife just as Christ is the head of the church.” All of these Biblical examples have been used in the past as scriptural support for the subjugation of women, in marriage, in the church, and in the realm of civil government. When combined with the history of the subjugation of women that existed long before the Bible was composed, the Biblical injunctions against women, especially against women assuming leadership roles, were used in part to deny women the right to vote in many Christian nations, including the United States.

But many Christian women began to argue for equality, despite the Bible’s teachings. When the Women’s Suffrage movement began in France in the mid-eighteenth century, women began to argue for equal civil recognition under the law. In the United States, the movement culminated in the Nineteenth Amendment to the US Constitution, ratified in 1920, which prohibits states from denying any citizen the right to vote because of a citizen’s sex. Yet despite this progress on behalf of women, the Equal Rights Amendment, which was adopted by the US House of Representatives in 1971, and US Senate in 1972, still has not been ratified by the requisite three-fourths of the states needed to ratify the amendment. It may not be mere coincidence that despite the fact that 35 of the 50 states have ratified the Equal Rights Amendment, the area of the country that chiefly has not yet ratified the ERA is the southern Bible Belt. Additionally, the United Nations adopted the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women in 1979. Interestingly, while the US has signed the treaty, it still has not ratified the CEDAW convention, making it the only developed nation still not to do so.

Despite the progress women have made in the civil realm, there is still much to be accomplished before there is genuine gender equality in the United States. One cannot help but wonder if we are still faced with what can only be described as the unwillingness of many Christians to grant civil rights to women because of the enduring Biblical traditions against granting women authority over men. And while women have achieved the right to vote in the civil realm, and the opportunity to work many of the same jobs for nearly equal pay in the secular realm, women have yet to achieve equal progress in the religious realm, be it Christianity, Judaism, or Islam. This is due to the fact that despite the state’s persistent march towards equality among the sexes, the civil realm simply does not have the power to influence the teachings and beliefs of these religious organizations. This is a key point to remember when the proponents of Prop 8 argue that state recognition of same-sex marriage will influence a religious organization’s power to define marriage as they see fit. If many religious faiths and denominations are still opposed to allowing women equal authority in the church, synagogue, and mosque, how much influence does the state really have over these religious institutions? And why will the state suddenly have more power with regard to the definition of marriage than it does with the role of women in the church?

The Argument from Divorce

Another example of a Biblical teaching that is not expressed in civil law is the remarriage of divorced persons. If Biblical sin is the standard by which Christians are denying same-sex couples the civil rights that come with marriage, then why are other actions described as sins by the Bible, such as divorce, not also grounds for the denial of the right to marry. The Bible speaks plainly about divorce, stating in 1 Corinthians 7:11 that a divorced individual should be reconciled to his or her spouse, and should not remarry. And there is no doubt that in most cases, divorce negatively affects child rearing and gender roles (or lack thereof) in divorced, single parent homes—an argument made by proponents of Prop 8 as to why same-sex couples should not marry. Why is same-sex marriage treated differently than divorce, when both are stated as reasons not to marry?

To most Christians, divorce is just as much a sin as homosexuality. And yet, there is no proposition on the ballot arguing that the state should only recognize marriage as between a never-divorced male and female. Likewise, there is no proposed state proposition that would prohibit divorced individuals seeking to remarry from receiving state marriage benefits. This is because as far as divorce is concerned, Christians have learned to separate the scriptural teachings on divorce from the civil and state ramifications of it. Divorced individuals have the legal right to remarry in this state, even thought the Bible argues against it. Why should this be different for same-sex couples seeking to get married?

The Threat of Christian Sharia Law

Why is it important to discuss issues of slavery and women’s rights in the United States in a debate about Prop 8? Because the arguments that proponents of Prop 8 are making are the very same arguments that many Christians made during the abolitionist movement and the Civil War era, and about the Women’s Suffrage movement during the 1920’s and even up until today. We should not make the same mistakes again.

During slavery and Women’s Suffrage, Christians were faced with an ethical dilemma; Should Christians adhere to a fundamentalist, literal interpretation of the Bible, which endorsed and defended the practice of slavery and the subjugation of women, or should they part with these inhumane and civilly irresponsible practices, even though they are sanctioned in the Bible, and defend the civil rights of those who were being denied them? In the end, Christians made the right choice, but the decision was not an easy one. The division among Christians was so great, the nation fought a civil war, in part, because of the economic implications of this grave ethical decision. It was a time where many Christians decided to break with their simple, traditional interpretation of the Bible, and their previously held insistence that the Bible’s teachings be wholly integrated into civil law. Instead, many Christians adopted a new hermeneutic, or way of reading the Bible, distinguished its teachings from the civil laws of the state, and voted to abolish slavery and the subjugation of women in the civil realm on the grounds of unconstitutionality.

The same principal must guide the hearts and minds of Christians today. Regardless of one’s personal stance on homosexuality—sin or permissible, a life choice or something genetically inherited, biblically abhorrent or the by-product of ancient fears and traditions—Christians must today distinguish between their religious beliefs and state civil rights, just as our ancestors did when they made the difficult decision to abolish slavery despite the Bible’s sanctioning of it. It is the only way to guarantee the civil rights of our citizens. Likewise, it is the only way to protect against a far greater threat: the creation of the Christian equivalent of sharia law.

Sharia law” is the use of a particular interpretation of Islamic law contained within the Muslim holy book, the Qur’an, for civil administration. Simply stated, it is the use of a religious text and set of beliefs to govern all aspects of civil society. This is the kind of civil law that is used, for instance, by the Taliban to keep women veiled, in Saudi Arabia to keep women from driving, and in Iran to banish and punish homosexuality. We in the West rightly decry these abuses and criticize the use of religious traditions to suppress the rights of a state’s citizens. And yet, when religious fundamentalists in the United States insist that state law only define marriage according to their particular religious interpretation, they embark on that same pattern of religious lawmaking. This same brand of religious fundamentalism has been used to oppose the abolition of slavery in the South, women’s right to vote, and mixed-race marriages in the United States. And now, this same brand of using the Bible and “tradition” to dictate civil law now backs Prop 8.

It is clear to see that the use of a religious tradition to suppress the civil rights of citizens is not only unconstitutional, it is the Christian equivalent of sharia law. It is also vastly hypocritical and inconsistent. Christians in California cannot, on the one hand, argue against the abuses of sharia law in Iran, while at the same time argue that civil rights be limited and state law be determined by traditional religious interpretations of marriage. It is the epitome of hypocrisy, where we become the very thing we despise.

If California citizens begin down this slippery slope of allowing religious institutions and traditions to define marriage for the state, we run the risk of becoming like modern day Israel. In Israel today, only marriages performed by Orthodox Jewish, Muslim, or Catholic officials are considered valid under Israel’s state law, despite the fact that a high percentage of the population are Reformed Jews, Protestant Christians, or agnostic, with no religious affiliation whatsoever. There are no civil or even mixed religion marriages in Israel. This is due to the fact that some religious entities, in this case a minority of Israelis adhering to Orthodox Judaism, continue to define marriage based upon their own religious interpretations. Israel has allowed their civil marriage laws to remain hijacked by Orthodox religious councils, who continue to dictate what is and is not acceptable for the state. And while many legislators in Israel are moving towards ending this unfortunate tradition, some here in California are hoping to adopt this trend and allow religious tradition to define state marriage law.

We cannot allow any religious traditions, or a coalition of them, to dictate state law. The separation of church and state must be maintained, even in this very sensitive issue.

Conclusion

It is ok for Christians to vote no on California Proposition 8. Prop 8 is not a sanctioning of, or judgment upon, homosexuality. It is about equal treatment under the law for California citizens. Prop 8 does not redefine marriage for religious institutions. Prop 8 does insist that same-sex marriages have the same equal protection under the law as heterosexual marriages.

Prop 8 asks the question: should religious institutions define marriage for the state? If so, another question must be asked: should the state be in the business of deciding what forms of marriage are valid? If so, what religious institution or consortiums thereof get to decide? Catholics don’t accept protestant marriage, and only see Catholic weddings as valid. Mormons don’t accept non-Mormon marriages, and insist that only marriages performed in a Mormon temple allow the couple to remain married in the afterlife. Orthodox Jews only accept Orthodox weddings, and Muslims likewise only accept Islamic marriages as valid. Who gets to decide?

The solution is a simple one. All “marriages” in California should be understood by the state as “civil unions.” This would separate the church from the state, and distinguish between the religious aspects of the sacred union of marriage as defined by one’s particular religious tradition, and the secular aspect of the union as defined by the state. Religious traditions would be free from state influence to define marriage as they see fit, and the state would be free from religious influence to administer the benefits of civil unions. This solution also renders moot any judgment upon homosexuality. People of faith can continue to debate whether the practice is right or wrong, while the state is free from any and all religious debate on the matter. Religious institutions could continue to marry their adherents according to their views and sacred rites, while couples would continue to fill out civil union licenses to confirm the union in the eyes of the state. Religious institutions can continue to define marriage as they see fit, while the state can define civil unions in a non-discriminatory manner.

The one common denominator for all marriages in the state’s eyes is that each couple files a marriage license with their respective County Recorder’s office. The state should not distinguish between which religious organizations’ beliefs are valid and which are not. Fortunately for us, this is already the case in California. A couple can already choose to be married by a non-religiously affiliated Justice of the Peace at a local courthouse. Thus, as far as the state of California is concerned, there is no binding religious obligation imposed upon marriages performed in the State of California. We should not allow Prop 8 to change this. If all marriages are defined as civil unions under the law, California would progress a long way towards finding a solution for this divisive issue.

As a Christian, I believe it is important to bless and not curse, forgive and not judge, and to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with my God. And as an American and a California citizen, I also believe it important to abide by the law, and when given the opportunity, vote for laws that extend equal rights to all citizens, allowing all persons the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Proposition 8 stands in the way of both of these goals in that it allows a particular religious interpretation to influence and mandate state law. This is a clear violation of the constitution.

It is possible for Christians to vote no on Prop 8 on religious, civil, and public policy grounds. It is not the state’s place to discriminate against or impose limitations upon the civil recognition of marriages based upon race, class, religion, or sexual orientation. I ask Californians, especially Christians, to look within their hearts and ask themselves whether we want to treat homosexuals today as we treated women in the 1920’s, and blacks in the 1850’s. Will we look back in 40 years’ time in disgust and shake our heads and ask how we ever voted to deny civil rights to groups based upon a personal sexual choice? Or, will we as Christians choose to distinguish between our personal religious beliefs and civil law, and show the true power of Christianity: its mercy, humility, and self restraint?

I humbly, yet strongly urge everyone to vote no on Proposition 8 on November 4, 2008.

Robert R. Cargill, Ph.D.
October 30, 2008

on the occasion of charles darwin’s 200th birthday

 

Smithsonian)

Charles Darwin (photo: Smithsonian)

today is charles darwin’s 200th birthday. 200 hundred years. it seems like so long ago. and yet, we’re still so far away.

 many people of faith understand the so-called father of human evolution to be some incarnation of satan, sent to earth to tempt the faithful away from the truth of a biblical creation. others, the atheist fundamentalists on the opposite end of the spectrum, worship darwin as he who rang the death knell for a still believed modern myth. and somewhere in between, there are those of us who see darwin for who he was: a deeply moral man who asked a lot of questions.

darwin used his eyes and his brain. he observed and he thought. and he had the courage to ask questions. and once he did, he set in motion a revolution that was nothing less than an alternative way of understanding the world, or at least its origin. until darwin, many people simply believed what they were told despite what they saw, and feared social alienation or physical harm for failing to do so. but darwin took the next logical step and asked whether or not we had to blindly accept how the church understood the origin of the earth. in a sense, darwin is not unlike martin luther, who dared to question the catholic establishment’s authority over the interpretation of the world. thus, darwin was to the church what luther was, well, to the church. they both dared to ask the question of why we must accept what tradition tells us.

200 years later, people of faith are still wrestling with the question of whence we came. those with a fundamentalist understanding of the bible argue that if even a single part of it is not historical truth, none of it can be. they invoke a slippery slope argument in an effort to hold on to what ‘we’ have always believed, instead of asking questions, searching for truth no matter where it lies, and relying on faith to see them through. as an unfortunate result, much of science has been denied, or worse yet, ignored, in an attempt to cling to how a pre-scientific text explains the earth’s origins. and in its place, a pseudo-scientific amalgam of intelligent design and irrational archaeology has been exalted for the full viewing of the faithful.

so while, on lincoln’s 200th birthday, we can celebrate the fact that an african american has been elected president of a nation that once enslaved his like, we cannot yet celebrate a true reconciliation between science and faith. fundamentalists cling to a literal six day creation today like they clung to biblical teachings of ‘slaves obey your masters’ during the civil war. and like slavery, fundamentalist christianity and its black and white understanding of the bible must be overcome.

i am hopeful that just as we overcame a religious opposition to an equality among races, so too will we of faith one day embrace an interpretation of the bible that allows science to explain the ‘how,’ and frees the bible to provide a word as to ‘why.’ until such a time as this, those of us who have dedicated our lives to scientific inquiry, and who happen to live lives of faith, must continue to speak boldly and offer a hermeneutic for both science and the bible that asks the hard questions, follows the data, and lets the truth fall where it may.

so as we celebrate darwin’s birth, let him not be a lightning rod for controversy, but let him be a reminder that we should commit ourselves to observing and thinking about our world and our faith. for like the human species, our understanding of the bible changes over time, and so too must our faith. for both humans and their faith are endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful, which from so simple a beginning have been, and are being, evolved.

yet another ark quest: randall price, liberty university, and pseudo-scientific religious fundamentalism

here we go again. ’tis the season for gearing up the recruiting and fundraising efforts for this year’s trek into the near east. all archaeology programs must do it. they ask for volunteers to contribute their blood, sweat, tears, and tuition for the chance to uncover the foundations of a 10th century bce structure (or 9th century, if dr. finkelstein is recruiting : – ) that will tell us more about the origins of a people we know as ‘israel.’

unfortunately, it is also the season for pseudoscientific fundamentalists to venture out into the world and attempt to prove things that are sure to yield no results, lots of press, and raise lots of dollars in the process.

dr. randall price of liberty university‘s new center for judaic studies (and of fundamentalist ‘world of the bible ministries‘ fame) is off to turkey in an attempt to locate noah’s fabled ark (read here).

i shake my head.

for those that are not familiar with the science of archaeology in the near east, there are a couple of items that scholars in the field hold as irrecoverable. these items include the tree of life, the ark of the covenant, the cross of jesus, a holy grail, and a host of other things, including the object at the top of the list: noah’s ark. most of these are considered irrecoverable because their very existence is questioned by all credible scholars. there is simply no evidence other than the biblical narrative that speak to their existence, and lots of evidence that they did not exist. and if they did exist, many of these items are made of wood (which tends to decompose over time when it gets wet) or metals (that get melted down and recycled, especially when a people’s enemies capture them). noah’s ark holds the distinction of being both made of wood and considered ahistorical. in fact, the flood narratives top the list of ahistorical narratives incorporated into bible. (yes, ‘narratives‘ is plural – there are two different flood stories intertwined in genesis. don’t believe me? ask yourself: how many animals were on the ark? two of each, male and female (gen 6:19) or seven pairs of clean animals and only one pair of unclean animals (gen 7:2)?) thus, for centuries, well intending explorers have gone in search for a wooden object that at best decomposed long ago, and more than likely never existed in the first place. (that is, outside of the minds of early priests who had heard or read copies of the epics of gilgamesh or atrahasis.)

but this does not stop some ‘archaeologists’ from raising money to go and look for it. backed by a desire to prove every word of the bible historically accurate, fundamentalist scholars parade the words of mainstream scholars, who claim noah’s ark to be ahistorical (not unlike my words here) to anger fundamentalists into giving money to their cause. and their cause is no less than to defend the historicity of the bible (and thereby god) and disprove the so-called ‘learned’ scholars, who prefer rational thought, data, evidence, science, and academic integrity (which are chided as the mere ‘thoughts of men’) to a biblical tale. as dr. price puts it,

Our aim is to show that the Bible is good history.

fundamentalist educators raise money by fueling the fire against these ‘liberal’ scholars, who deny the ‘truth’ of the historical accuracy, inerrancy, and infallibility of the bible. their pitch is simple: ‘we need to show these heretical archaeologists the truth of the inerrancy of the bible, and you can help. for a small gift of $1000, you too can participate in discovering…..’

and make no mistake about it, raising funds for a new center for judaic studies is what this search for noah’s ark is all about. dr. price wasted no time in reaching for the ‘easy button,’ that is, appealing to the most popular archaeological ‘prize’ with the least potential for actual recovery. this entire quest is about raising money from those angry enough to give it. don’t believe me? read what dr. price wrote himself:

We at the Center are excited about the potential for training a whole new generation of evangelicals in Jewish studies. As the Lord provides donations, the Center will also establish a Biblical Museum (architectural plans for a building have already been drawn). The Center can be contacted at (434) 592-3249 Monday-Friday from 8 a.m.–5 p.m. Dr. Price’s e-mail address is jrprice4@liberty.edu. Maranatha!

i love this. what is incredible is that the potential donor isn’t even really giving the money. it is ‘the lord’ who provides the donations. see? don’t you want to do the lord’s work? and see, the plans for the new buildings have already been drawn. you don’t want us to go broke, do you? if we do, those heretical ‘archaeologists’ win. just to drive home the point, the plea ends with a classic ‘maranatha’ (‘come, our lord’), just in case you forgot whose side we are on.

and the fox news article was sure to include the price tag and a justification for the funds:

Price estimated that the team needs to raise about $60,000 to pay for permission to use the site, to buy the necessary machinery and to fund about two months of work on location.”The only thing that’s holding us back is to finance the machinery that we need.”

that is to say, this is all possible, as long as we raise enough money to pay for the equipment (and airfare and lodging and permission and staff salaries) necessary to uncover the ark. otherwise, we’ll never know if it’s up there, and those skeptical scholars will continue to rule the day.

and now for the good part. what evidence does dr. price produce to cause him to think that this time he will finally be successful? what new piece of data or technology does he possess that causes him to raise funds for the expedition? the fox news story continues:

A Kurdish shepherd told them that he had seen the ark, and even climbed on top of it, when he was a boy.

well there you go. who can argue with that? and what of the motives of the young shepherd boy? dr. price responds:

“That’s when he saw it as a boy, Price said, adding that they had interviewed the shepherd and could find no reason to distrust him. The shepherd asked for nothing in return, and agreed to lead Bright to the site where he said he had seen the ark.

apparently, dr. price is not familiar with the concept that drives the industry of reality television: pointing a camera at someone is often reason enough for making sensational claims. and make no mistake: the small kurdish shepherd boy probably really does believe it’s noah’s ark. but is that reason enough to raise money from equally devout and unsuspecting christians and begin an ark expedition? again?

it is easy to see how this ‘operation’ works. tell the world you’re going in search of evidence of the ark. raise a ton of money. get trips to turkey for you and your staff paid for. find nothing. come home and use the proceeds to build your new center. or better yet, find some wood and call your investigation ‘inconclusive’ and then raise even more money. maybe a second trip?

in sum, this is all very disappointing. it makes legitimate archaeologists look bad. there are legitimate issues in archaeology that must be investigated. unfortunately, not too many people are concerned about issues of assyrian invasions or canaanite settlement patterns or hellenistic influence on judaism. no, some must chase after the unattainable, and divert funds and valuable credibility away from legitimate archaeology.

now, dr. price (or anyone else) has every right to raise funds and go in search of anything he wants. but the overt religious, and yes, political, overtones of this entire initiative are made evident by dr. price himself. dr. price has written about dr. jerry falwell’s desire to train ‘a whole new generation of evangelicals in Jewish studies.’ this is archaeology for the sake of attempting to prove a particular fundamentalist, premillennialist, political point of view, and not for the betterment of science and understanding. (i offer his organization’s book catalog as ‘exhibit a’.) dr. price is not following the data, he’s attempting to invent and manipulate data to fit his preconceived religious and political notions.

my only point, i guess, is to decry the sensationalism that is used to sell what amounts to nothing more than sheer speculation. most expeditions are based on an initial discovery, be it scrolls from a cave, blocks from a wall unearthed by a highway construction crew’s bulldozer, or tablets uncovered by a farmer’s till. there is an initial discovery, an investigation, an excavation, and then published results in a peer-review journal, followed by open debate in journals and academic conferences. this academic process results in either consensus or a number of camps that interpret the data differently and continue their debate. dr. price’s search for the ark, however, is nothing more than a hunch based upon a boy’s claim, by an organization that wants to prove the bible historical, get some quick press, and raise a ton of money in the process.

and this frustrates scholars and scientists, because there are those critics on one side who will attempt to link all ‘archaeologists’ together and cast them as evil god haters who want to destroy the church, and those on the other side who want to paint all people of faith together as science-hating fundamentalists. let’s call this liberty university quest for noah’s ark what it is:

a focused program of education from a Christian world-view that embraces Israel as the center of the divine purpose can effect a practical change in the Christian academic communities. The Center will seek to accomplish this purpose by providing the means for the student preparing for Christian ministry or service to gain a biblical perspective of the Jewish mission and help equip the Church in making a biblical response to the Jewish people and the modern State of Israel. A special purpose will be to provide instruction to students at the undergraduate level and especially to prepare graduate students for Jewish ministries and for doctoral programs with related foci. (reference here)

jerry falwell couldn’t be prouder.

 

update: eric cline has posted a very good article dealing with this issue on the asor blog. read it here.

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