It’s like a penis…

A few months ago, I kicked around the idea of starting up a weekly limited feature focused on topics that some people might consider controversial, unpopular, or otherwise not appropriate for polite company. Nothing much came of the idea then, but it has stewed in my head ever since. This is the next of what I like to think will be a recurring series of Friday evening contemplations. If you’re easily offended, or for some reason have gotten the impression that your friends or family members have to agree with you on every conceivable topic, this might be a good time to look away. While it’s not my intention to be blatantly offensive, I only control the words I use, not how they’re received or interpreted.

I was raised Methodist, but as an adult the only interest I’ve really had in religion is an academic one. It’s hard, after all, to study any aspect of European (and by extension, American) history since the Romans pulled out without at least tangentially touching on the premise of Christianity and how it has been practiced and applied during the centuries.

My take is pretty consistently that religion, in spite of whatever uplifting and comforting elements it may have, has mostly been used as a cudgel against anyone who refused to live and die by its tenants. The Crusades, the European wars of religion, witch hunts, orthodoxy tests, and more laws based on “church teachings” than you could shake a forest of sticks at are just the most obvious examples. And that’s only including the violence-in-the-name-of-God delivered up under the auspices of Christianity. The rest of the pantheon is hardly less bloodthirsty.

Despite what the Moral Majority or whatever the religious right wants to call themselves these days says, the United States was not founded as a Christian country. I’m sorry. It just wasn’t. Saying that it was is simply presenting facts not in evidence. Actually, it’s flat out lying. The Founding Fathers went out of their way to codify the prohibition against establishing a state religion right there in the Bill of Rights. It follows directly from that prohibition that “because it’s what Jesus would want” is a singularly problematic reason to pass a law – it’s every bit as invalid as justifying your laws in the name of Allah, Vishnu, Zeus, or Ra. 

I know it’s a hard pill for the seriously religious to swallow, but it’s entirely possible to be an upright and honorable man without the threat of eternal punishment hanging over your head. In fact, if the only reason you’re “doing the right thing” is because you fear eternal hellfire, one might say you’re responding only to fear rather than any actual personal commitment to being morally upright. Being a decent person only because you’re under duress means you’re not, by definition, a decent person to begin with. 

I’m sure organized religion has many virtues for its practitioners. That’s fine. I don’t want to take any of those virtues away from them. They can rule their homes by the precepts of whatever God or gods they see fit. If they’re really feeling froggy, they can probably even gaggle up some like-minded folks and live their theocratic dream in a community setting. I am, however, going to insist that they don’t expect me to subscribe to and live quietly under some evangelical theocratic nightmare government they want to inflict on everyone else. I presume only the same liberty of conscience I extend to them. In fact, I insist on it… because otherwise, I’ll raise up and army myself and strike their tract-quoting, puritanical asses down.

As the poet said, “Religion is like a penis. It’s nice to have one and fine to be proud of, but don’t whip it out in public or shove it down someone else’s throat.” When you choose to ignore such wisdom, it makes it awfully difficult to see any significant difference between Christian extremists and the goddamned Taliban. The lesson, probably, is maybe try not to be some kind of asshole extremist and try some of that peace and tolerance that your God was so fond of talking about.

I support personal liberty and choice…

A few months ago, I kicked around the idea of starting up a weekly limited feature focused on topics that some people might consider controversial, unpopular, or otherwise not appropriate for polite company. Nothing much came of the idea then, but it has stewed in my head ever since. This is the next of what I like to think will be a recurring series of Friday evening contemplations. If you’re easily offended, or for some reason have gotten the impression that your friends or family members have to agree with you on every conceivable topic, this might be a good time to look away. While it’s not my intention to be blatantly offensive, I only control the words I use, not how they’re received or interpreted.

Well, it looks like the U.S. Supreme Court is set to hand down a ruling this summer that will overturn 50+ years of “settled law” and precedent. On January 22, 1973, the court’s ruling in Row v. Wade found that the Constitution protects a woman’s liberty to choose to have an abortion and that right could not be broadly restricted by the government. Associate Justice Blackmun hung his argument on the idea that such restrictions violate the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment.

Blackmun’s opinion in Roe was further exercised in a number of subsequent cases to enlarge a Constitutional protection of personal privacy rights. And before anyone says it, no, a specific right to privacy is not mentioned anywhere in the text of the Constitution. The right to privacy, however, is strongly implied by a plain text reading of the 4th, 5th, and the 14th Amendments. The whole intent of the Constitution was and is to restrain the actions and behavior of government. One might say there’s a compelling national interest in keeping the various levels of government as far out of people’s business as possible.

The people are, after all, the font of sovereignty in this country. And on this particular issue those people believe that Roe should be upheld by a 2-to-1 margin. 

My position on abortion is consistent with my position on most other things. Don’t want a gun? Don’t buy one. Don’t want a gay marriage? Don’t get married to someone of the same sex. Don’t want an abortion? Don’t have one. See what I’m getting at here? Personal liberty = good. Jamming your religio-political beliefs down everyone else’s throat = bad.

Yeah, if the thing you care so desperately about doesn’t actually impact you in any way, just mind your own goddamned business. I have no idea why that’s idea is so hard to glom onto for 25-30% of the people in this utterly beshitted country of ours.

The Scotsman’s Church of the Sacred Sausage Sandwich…

I was checking in at the doctor’s office a couple of days ago and the receptionist asked if I wanted to note my religion in the file. No one had ever asked that before. Maybe they’ve got a new block to fill in or something. In any case, the question caught me off guard. I’ve spent very little time pondering the issue as an adult. Sure, I was raised Methodist, but even back then I was more interested in hanging out at Scotty’s on Sunday morning to watch and listen to the grand old men of my hometown smoking their cigarettes, talking shit, and drinking copious amounts of coffee than I was in whatever was happening in Sunday school or church.

Scotty Orr. An institution unto himself.

Like the poet said, “Mama tried to raise me better,” but the formality of institutional church never really took hold in me. The older I got as a kid, the more my Sunday learning took place right there in the side booth of the best and only greasy spoon restaurant in town. Over the years, Scotty’s and the people in it have become a core memory, likely even foundational to how I think of myself as a person.

None of that answers the question about what religion the nice lady at the doctor’s office should write down, though. It’s not like I could ask her to put me down as a disciple of the Scotsman’s Church of the Sacred Sausage Sandwich or a parishioner of the Midland Temple of the Holy Cheeseburger, French Fries with Brown Gravy, and Strawberry Milkshake. Although, it’s the 21st century, so maybe I could have them plug that into my file without much argument.

The real answer is probably more complex. I tend to believe in the things I can see or taste or touch. I’ve never seen God or Jesus or an angel or any of the thousands of other gods scattered across human history. It’s awfully hard to prove a negative, though. My lack of seeing those things isn’t proof against their existing somewhere in the unknown universe.

If I had to distill my philosophy of religion into a single salient point, I think there’s probably just one universal commandment: Don’t be an asshole. If you can navigate life without doing that, or doing it as little as reasonably possible, I expect you’ll have done well in the eyes of an almighty. If that doesn’t satisfy some all-powerful sky lord, well, honestly that sounds like it’s more his problem than yours anyway.

So yeah, I stumbled on my response this week… but I think I know what I’m going to say the next time anyone asks.

Marking the long night…

I make a point never to let the winter solstice pass unremarked. Maybe it’s some kind of genetic memory harkening back to my 100x great grandparents who would have undoubtedly marked the long night in their own way, but it’s my favorite of the winter holidays.

Yes, it’s only the first day of winter. The promise of the solstice, though, means that every day now we’ll start clawing back seconds and then minutes of daylight. Like the other late December holiday traditions, the solstice offers hope of better things to come. If nothing else you’ve got to appreciate the consistency in branding the ancients came up with for their winter celebrations.

It’s almost as if people took a few minutes and looked at it unemotionally, they’d find the religious differences they’ve spent 2000 years fighting over are all horribly insignificant.

Thoughts on the day after…

Being a multi-animal household, I always have an interest in how they get along. Some simply mesh better than others – and knowing who needs to be fed separately or who’s apt to pick a fight over a certain toy can be awfully critical information to have at your fingertips. It’s not hard to sort out what’s what when you live with them day in and day out over a period of years. Getting it sorted, though, doesn’t take nearly that much time.

As for my crew, Hershel and Maggie regularly palled around, by which I mean you’d often catch them napping together in the living room. Even if occasionally he’d give her a quick bite seemingly out of nowhere, she mostly put up with it. They seemed to have their own kind of bond, but it was proof enough to me that cats and dogs can happily live together. Hershel’s the one who’s going to spend the next few days wandering around the house trying to figure things out. 

Maggie and Jorah’s relationship is a bit of a different story. They occupied the same space, interacted tangentially, and were mostly happy to do their own thing. It was a bit like observing two people who could be perfectly civil to one another without really being friends. With almost ten years between their individual stage of life, that was always easy enough to write off to the age gap. He seems to be happy enough mostly keeping to the well established routine.

Winston, gone now for the better part of three years, was always Maggie’s alter ego. They were unquestionably a pair, inseparable except in the ultimate extreme. She took losing him every bit as hard as I did.

I’m utterly unqualified to speculate on what’s beyond the veil that both Winston and Maggie have now passed through and that waits for us all. If there is something other than the end of consciousness and the return of energy to the universe, I’d hope they manage to find one another again.

It’s been a long time since I’ve been in a church for something other than a wedding or a funeral, but I vaguely remember some debate on whether or not animals go to the Christian heaven. Something about them not having the ability to “accept salvation.” Let me just go on the record here and now by saying that if there is, in fact, some echo of consciousness that carries on after life and it resides forever somewhere posted “no dogs allowed,” I want no part of it. 

I’ll happily take my chances going wherever it is they go.

Mute…

I stated definitively that I would never “unfriend” someone on social media because of their political views. I’ll block you in a hot second if you can’t manage to be at least civil, but never because of views alone. I have to confess that there are more than a few people out there who are really putting my determination to keep my word to the test.

The simple fact is I mostly don’t care what your politics are. It’s not the basis on which I pick my friends. I do however, judge people who simply decide to abandon the best available science and the rigorous application of reason because those two elements don’t quite jive with whatever particular world view they’ve staked out.

Look, I’m not even going to argue we should blindly follow along in lock step with the pronouncements of the scientists and doctors. We should at least acknowledge that modern medicine has a pretty good track record of keeping most of us alive well past the age when our distance ancestors were food for worms. At the very least, our decisions should be informed by science – even if we just use it to acknowledge that there’s a price in lives to pay for rushing to return to business as usual – and no, I’m not making a judgement there, just admitting that it has to be part of the calculus.

I know no one ever likes the smartest kid in the class. That’s practically the classic American trope. I’m not saying you even have to like the scientists, but history tells me that we’ll ignore them at our peril. I’m not going to unfriend anyone because they want to trust in the blood of Jesus instead of the shot of antivirals… but you can bet your ass I’ve been muting people with wild abandon these last couple of weeks.

The reason for the season…

Christmas is soon to be upon us. Yes, yes, it’s all about Jesus and Santa and shopping and family. I’m more than passingly familiar with what makes the contemporary Christmas season swing. I personally don’t have a thing against any of it.

Still, though, I think we’re all forgetting what makes this season really important… and that’s the simple truth that the winter solstice is about to arrive and that within a few days the amount of daylight we enjoy here in the northern hemisphere will start getting measurably longer. It’ll be an agonizingly slow process, but with a few weeks it will be really noticeable. Instead of darkness at 4:45, it will have pushed nightfall back to 5:00 PM and it won’t be pitch black when I take the dogs out for the last time before work.

I’ve never been the kind of guy who wants to lay out soaking up the sun, but I can certainly understand why there’s a thread running through ancient civilizations that finds many of them celebrating the Sun as a god. I’m not a particularly religious person by anyone’s standards, but you can bet your sweet ass I’ll be giving thanks this holiday season that the longest night of the year is about to be comfortably in the rear view and longer days are ahead.

Here I stand…

September 17th. It’s Constitution Day. I’ve spent a lot of time over the last half decade pondering the Constitution. That doesn’t make me a scholar or imbue me with expert status on the topic by a long stretch. I still like to think between reading and thinking and trying to digest just what the founding generation were up to, it gives me a better than average perspective on the fundamental taproot of our government and laws.

In my estimation, the men who wrote, argued over, and eventually signed the Constitution were a mountain taller than even the best politician serving in office today. The fact that the system they designed is able to even creak along under the guidance of the hacks we’ve collectively elected to office in Washington speaks to their ability to design a system that could be operated even by this bunch of strutting and preening empty suits.

Not so very long ago I was accused of “worshiping at the altar” of the Constitution, with the implication being that doing so was somehow “un-Christian.” I’m sure it was meant to imply something negative in my character, but in my mind the truth is precisely the opposite. I don’t propose to be governed any more by Christian theology any more than I’d accept being ruled by extremist Islam. You can bugger right off with that nonsense. A moral compass is a fine thing to have, but I’ve never found that you need to be overtly religious to have one of those in your kit bag.

I was raised and protected and have grown and prospered under the rights and liberties enshrined in the Constitution of the United States. As an adult I swore an oath to support and defend those rights and liberties against all enemies… and there’s not a force on earth or in heaven that could compel me to go back on that long held promise. I will walk this world cloaked in the protections and liberty afforded me as an American citizen and defined by the Constitution and its amendments.

Here I stand. Come and move me.

Giving up…

Someone, someone who clearly knows nothing about me, asked today what I was giving up for Lent. Well, look, while it’s all well and good for others who are moved by the spirit to give up chocolate, or booze, or sex, or social media for the duration, I’m not the type to willingly “give up” on anything really.

I’m the type to hang on to the things I like until my knuckles are white and my fingers shake with exhaustion. I’m the type to embrace my favored lost causes in a bear hug. I’m the type who takes his pleasures where he finds them in the here and now.

While I am those many things and more, what I’m not is the kind of guy who finds much use in fasting, penance, atonement, and self-denial. Hair shirts and self-flagellation just don’t fit into my view of the world and how I want to experience it. I don’t think, if there is an all knowing and all powerful God above, that He cares if we stop eating chocolate for the next 39 days. If I’m going to believe there’s a grand architect to this universe of ours, I have to believe that running it involves a little more focus on the big picture than worrying over what one individual, in one minor species, on a small planet, circling a insignificant star, in the outer spiral arm of a unremarkable galaxy is putting in his belly.

Argument nullification…

Although I’ve been disengaged from most of the week’s news and social media content, I haven’t been able to completely avoid the plethora of posts that insist “you can’t be a Christian if you do or believe ‘X'”. I also observe that this kind of comment is posted often by people who decry the influence of religion in government.

Maybe you see where I’m going with this. Arguing that elected leaders should “act like Christians” and in the next breath insist that religion has no role in government tends to nullify at least one if not both of your positions. If you’re going to criticize intellectual inconsistency from a place of intellectual inconsistency I’m going to struggle with your argument. But maybe that’s just me.