Sunday, December 30, 2007

Am I Really the Enemy? (Politics, Morality, Miscellany)

Okay, so it's been a while since my last post. This has had nothing to do with the unhappiness at work that had previously coincided with my absences from blogging. I'm between full-time jobs, and I've been working more hours at the book store in the meantime. I've actually been having a blast! Working in retail during the holiday season provides a bizarre sort of thrill, and I've enjoyed it immensely. The new job starts in about a week.

I believe it was the day after my last post that Mitt Romney gave the world his fantastic speech about how his religion would or would not influence him as president. From what I heard, he really gave a stirring, impassioned, convincing, honest, and reassuring speech. Really great! Congratulations, Mitt.

However, as magnificent as his speech was, he made it clear that I and my ilk are what he considers to be the enemy. Truly. I think it's really that stark. The enemy.

Why? Because I really do believe that we are better served if we take religion clearly out of the governance equation. I have no religious faith, and I think that scares the hell out of Romney. A true separation of church and state is something that I wish we could achieve. I believe Romney wishes for a true integration of church and state. And that scares the hell out of me. However, I really don't view Romney as my enemy.

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I have now been to three stops on the Edwards campaign trail. I'm supporting him. I've done some volunteer canvassing and made some phone bank calls on his behalf. Perhaps that seems strange when you consider that I am running for president. It may seem entirely inconsistent that I don't consider him to be an opponent, to be defeated. I'm not bothered by any such concerns. I think he's a fine candidate, and I could easily vote for him in the general election. The same is not true of several of the other candidates, and I fear that I really might be put into the undesirable position of having to vote for myself.

Edwards does talk about restoring America's "moral authority" in the world. That bothers me, but only in a semantic sense. I consider myself to be amoral. Amoral is not the same as immoral, and I think that confusion is what has Romney so bothered by people like me.

I view the word morality as being tied deeply to a misguided belief that our better tendencies are somehow tied to god or godliness. I prefer to think in terms of ethics rather than morality. To me, the word ethics has absolutely no tie to religion or belief in a deity. Ethics has to do with behavior towards others and does not depend on a belief in any ties to the supernatural. Otherwise, as far as I'm concerned, the two terms are essentially interchangeable.

But the [pedestrian] religious-minded train of thought that I imagine holds sway in Romney's mind goes something like this:

  • Without [belief in or existence of] God, there is no morality.
  • No morality means immorality.
  • Immorality is bad.

The second bullet is incorrect. Correcting it requires just the substitution of a prefix: "No morality means amorality."

If you understand that difference, the third bullet is rendered completely irrelevant.

If you look at my life, the way I behave, the way I treat others...[and assuming you are among those who view the world through a religious prism] you would likely reach the conclusion that I am an extremely moral person. (Especially if you were allowed to assume that I go to a house of worship and that I pray.) I behave ethically, or at least I try to. And that keeps my behavior consistent with those who try to behave morally.

If you are a believer and if you take that second bullet as truth, then of course you would view me as the enemy. But that's wrong. There are many atheists out there who behave extremely well. We do so with an understanding that we have a choice. We have the good sense to not blame our failings on the work of the devil, and we therefore don't use superstition as an excuse. We are responsible for our own actions, and we understand as much. If you want to call this spiritual humanism, have at it. What it amounts to is that morality is unnecessary, except for those who need it as a justification for their own actions.

As for "restoring our moral authority", the phrase is troublesome to me. But not so much so that I view it as a detriment to Edwards. I've been thinking a lot about it, and I think it's just vernacular usage. We never had "moral authority". Not any more than anyone else had, anyway. Note: I'm NOT suggesting that Edwards is an atheist. He isn't. He's a man of faith. A believer. A God-fearing Christian. But I don't hold that against him.

What I think is the sentiment behind the notion of "moral authority" is this:

We should behave in a way that, in our moments of deepest clarity, we can and should honestly hope others will take as an example.

That's wordy. But it's a very good guiding principle.

And it's a principle that the Bush administration has ignored completely.

So the idea of "restoring our moral authority" is an idea that I believe in firmly. It's a noble goal. It's worthwhile. And it should be an extremely high priority for our next president. What I fear is that it is phrased in a way that comes across as arrogant and condescending. That's not setting a very good example. And I don't need to believe in a god to allow me to understand that.


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I went to see John McCain this evening. I missed his speech, but I caught most of the question and answer session. After it was all done, I approached him (with my John Edwards campaign sticker on my coat). He made some comment about my sticker. I shook his hand and told him that I can't possibly support him. But I thanked him (sincerely) for his service to our country and for his sacrifice. I told him I hope that if he does get the job, he will have a few epiphanies.

He thanked me (sincerely) for coming out and participating in the democratic process. He said [paraphrasing! Please don't quote!!!!] that having young people participate in democracy is really the important thing. To which I agreed.

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The Iowa caucuses are just 4 days away, and our New Hampshire primary is just 5 days after that. Let's hope for good outcomes.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

A Rant on Romney and Religious Fundamentalism

I was listening to NPR's "All Things Considered" the other day when they aired part of an interview with presidential candidate Mitt Romney. The interviewer (Robert Siegel) asked about Romney's belief in the literal truth of the Bible, and Romney very slickly evaded the question while trying to make Siegel feel somehow dirty for asking the question. What follows is the feedback I provided to NPR:

Shame on Mitt Romney for trying to make Robert Siegel feel ashamed for asking a legitimate question and, by extension, trying to make NPR listeners feel ashamed for caring about the answer.

Does it matter to me which specific book(s) of the Bible a candidate takes more literally than others? Nope. But does it matter to me whether my vote supports someone who believes in superstitious hokum, to the exclusion of reason, logic, science, sense, and critical thought? You bet!

It's terrifying to me that Romney can, in one sentence, decry the "global jihad" that's threatening our way of life and in the next sentence say "My point is the Bible is the word of God". I hope I am not alone in seeing absurdity here.

Blind faith in religion is blind faith in religion, regardless of which particular religion is being used as justification. And it is dangerous.

Fundamentalists in the Middle East are out to destroy America. And fundamentalists in this country are out to win the White House. A fundamentalist led us into invading and occupying Iraq, destroying their infrastructure, and making our nation responsible (directly or indirectly) in the deaths of tens- or hundreds of thousands of innocent people there (depending on whose estimates you believe). That latter fundamentalist is also directly responsible for our country's loss of respectability in the eyes of much of the rest of the world.

It is absolutely legitimate for me, as a voter (and for Robert Siegel, as a reporter) to want to know just how trustworthy a candidate is in making important judgments of serious consequence.