Principle and Outcome

January 19th, 2011

This post was written several years ago.  I did not post it on a blog at that time, it has been accessible on my personal web site  in the Theology and Faith section.  I place it here in hope that it will generate some comment, and perhaps dialogue.  I don’t identify my own religion in the article, because I prefer to avoid the tie to religion and to concentrate on faith and relationship as my form of worship.  I am trying to avoid the middleman.

A group of people I correspond with via Email has been debating several subjects.  As I thought about them recently I realized that all of them had a basic root.  Some of us are concerned about the principles underlying the issues and others are focused on the outcome of events.  I have chosen three of the subjects as illustrations of the point I wish to make.

The first is about the religion of Islam and the fact that the majority of the recently reported acts of terrorism have been committed by members of that religion.  Another is about homosexuality and how the desire of some homosexuals to be married to each other is an affront to, or perhaps an attack on, the Christian religion’s idea of marriage.  A third is about whether this is a Christian country, and if it was intended to be Christian by the founders, that is to say those who wrote the constitution.  I realize that to a large degree the last two merge into one, at least in the minds of some of us.

There may be other topics that would also illustrate my point but I believe these three will be sufficient.  It seems to me that religion is the basis of each of these discussions, and that there is an implied position that Christianity is in fact the only true religion.  We may in fact all agree to that premise, though it would be wrong for me to assume so.

What I am thinking about is the correlation of what we claim to believe and how we act.  It occurs to me that what we
believe and the label we give it are not always consistent.  If we claim a belief that relates to a well known and documented topic, then it seems to me that the documentation should, in some significant way, dictate the way we act.  If to the contrary we do not act according to the documentation, in the case of religious scripture, we are not justified in claiming that we are acting in the name of that which we claim to believe.  And in the case of citizenship we should act in our country according to the laws of the country and its documents of principle, which are its founding documents.

Consider Islam and terrorism.  Just because some who claim to be Muslim commit acts of terror It does not follow that all terrorists are Islamic. It also does not follow that all who are Islamic are also terrorists.  But because the largest majority of those who are terrorists claim to be Muslims it would be reasonable to assume that if you wanted to find terrorists it would be a good idea to look among Muslims.  If on the other hand you were a faithful Muslim who read and attempted to follow the Koran in your daily life, you might consider that to be a crazy idea.  After all if one reads the Koran carefully one will find that killing of innocents, that is non-combatants, is forbidden.  No true Muslim would commit terrorism because to do so would offend Allah and condemn them to the status of infidel.  The truest evil is that where a person claims to believe one thing while doing the opposite.  Terrorism is destructive to its non-Islamic victims and to its Islamic victims as well. By the way I believe that in many cases those who are actually doing the acts of terrorism are the greatest victims of the act.  They have been misled by someone who is using their desire to serve their god to do the exact opposite.  It is not for God’s benefit or glory or for their own but for the benefit and objectives of the one misleading them.
Shift now to the last item:  The claim that this is a Christian country, and that the founders intended it to be.  In this case the document of import is not scripture.  It is a body of work written by the founders including the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of rights.  It also includes less formal writings such as the Federalists Papers, Common Sense by Thomas Paine and letters from men such as John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and George Washington. Collectively those writings tell us several things.  First that the authors were engaged in a serious physical and mental struggle with how to wrest control of the government of the American Colonies away from England and to survive doing so.  Second they disagreed on quite a lot.  Some of them undoubtedly thought this should be a Christian Country, while others felt it was dangerous to mix religion with the governing of a country. Some felt a single nation with a strong central government was the only way to succeed while others wanted individual states with only a cooperative agreement to assure mutual protection. In the end, after much debate and discussion including a public
discussion through the Federalist Papers, they settled on a Declaration of Independence, stating their reasons to the world for breaking away from England, and a Constitution which limited the power of the government more than
it enabled it.  These men were cautious almost to the point of being suspicious of government.  They considered it necessary, but worthy of close watching.  I would argue that if one wants to be an American one needs to view the Constitution of the United States as the document of standard for the actions as a citizen.

I would also assert that if those men had agreed that this country needed to be known specifically as a Christian country, they would have said so in terms not likely to be misunderstood.  The fact that they did not tells me they considered the importance of keeping the government out of the religious lives of its citizens to be very important.  The fact that they later amended the adopted constitution to specifically restrict the government from either denying people from worshiping in their chosen form or from requiring people to worship in any form at all, tells me that they did not intend so.  And that they felt to simply leave the words “Christian Nation” unspoken was communicating strongly enough.

Now to the topic of marriage:  There are two forms of marriage in this country, religious marriage and civil marriage.  The government has every right and responsibility to oversee civil marriage.  It is after all the authority which grants the marriage.  It is also the authority which oversees the subsequent activities.  It acknowledges the child of a marriage of two citizens as a new citizen of the country, it adjusts tax structures based on the status of a person whether married or unmarried, it oversees the division of property upon the dissolution of marriage and so on. It also takes the reasonable action of accepting a religious marriage as meeting the requirements for civil recognition that a marriage is in fact complete.  That does not violate the admonition that the government cannot direct or deny religious belief, it simply allows any religion to declare a couple married and applies all of the civil consequences to that couple.  It makes the government friendly to the religious practice of marriage without specifying a particular marriage or requiring all marriage to be religious event.

In the eyes of the government the marriage can never be a religious event, it can only see it from the civil perspective.  If marriage is also a religious event the rules concerning it are the business of the religion.  If it is both then one will be subservient to the other and our practice has allowed religion to conduct the marriage, but the authority to marry is granted by the government.  In so granting it also offers certain benefits of the marriage.  If it allows one religion to define the terms under which marriage can occur for all people including those who do not hold that religion it turns over control of the granting of those benefits to that religion. If on the other hand the government states that no religion can perform a marriage between same sex individuals it is declaring the rules governing that religion and is in violation of its own founding documents. Therefore, if the government were to allow marriage of same sex couples, but not require any religion to conduct such marriages, or prevent any religion from doing so it would be in line with its founding documents.

If the government were to allow civil marriages of same sex people it would not be making any statement at all about the religious view of marriage, which is consistent with its enabling documents. If on the other hand if the government accepts marriages of religions who only allow heterosexual marriages as being civilly legal but denies the civil legality of homosexual marriages from religions who allow them, it has violated its charter which instructs it not to interfere with the religious beliefs of its citizens.

All of this is based on one idea.  If you claim to believe something you should be as familiar as possible with what it is you claim to believe.  There is a lot of talk these days about our national values and concerns over loosing them.  The discussion is coming from both political parties and both are claiming the high moral ground.  But the basis of the values they are discussing is not the constitution or the principles articulated by the founders of this nation.  They are stated
as principles of faith.  But in fact the principles are only alluded to, never clearly stated.  They are called “Our Christian Heritage” by both sides, and are sometimes diametrically opposed in application.  How is this possible?  Well, it is easy if you never read Christian scripture and depend on the religious rhetoric which supports what you want life to be like as your standard.  The problem is that while faith is indeed based on principle that is not necessarily so of religion.  In this country there are hundreds of religions calling themselves Christian.  Some of them are distinguished by relatively minor differences.  Others are so far from the basic truths of Christian scripture as to be laughable. Calling this a Christian country would include beliefs that many would not consider Christian at all, yet the principles underlying many of the
non-Christian religions are so close to the tenants of Christian principle, as described in Christian scripture, that in normal conduct of social intercourse you would never know the difference.

If one wants to talk about one’s faith the scripture that defines that faith is the appropriate source of that discussion.
If one wants to talk about the society of the United States of America, the principle that should guide the discussion is the constitution and other founding documents of the country.  I can find no place where either refers to the other for authority.

Illegal Aliens and Job Loss

March 21st, 2010

I had a fairly heated discussion with a man in an Auto Paint shop a few days ago.  We were both customers.  He was not from Arizona but expressed his disfavor with John McCain.  I am inclined to agree with that much, but his specific issue was what he called amnesty.  He did not like the idea of making it easy for someone who has come here illegally to become a citizen.  This topic could take many directions and cover a lot of pages with opinion.  But his specific concern was that “Mexican illegals were taking jobs from Americans” (by which I understood he meant US Citizens).

He stated that the number of unemployed “Americans” was equal to the number of Mexicans who are here illegally, implying that the only cause of lost jobs is illegal aliens.  While he stated numbers, he did not supply any source information.  His single biggest argument was that a factory near his place of residence was almost completely staffed by Mexicans, which was the reason that so many of the local “Americans” were out of a job.

We did not continue the conversation, for two reasons.  I was constrained for time and had to leave, and I found his bigotry so offensive that I did not wish to continue the discussion.  However as I have considered the issue, there are a number of thoughts that have come to mind.

Employers are required to verify that a new employee is legally able to accept employment, and to collect taxes and social security contributions from those employees.  If the Mexican employees are indeed in the country illegally there are two possibilities; first that the employer chose not to check the credentials of the new employee, and second that the credentials were forged, stolen or duplicated.  The employer is not likely to simply hire someone and just fail to report them as an employee, to do so means that he cannot claim the wages paid as a business expense, and it means that he could loose his whole business over breaking of IRS rules.  If the credentials are faked in any of several possible ways, then money will go to the government that will have no one claiming tax refunds against or social security benefits from it.  This is not a negative impact to either IRS or Social Security funds.

The employer wants to get the best possible work done for the lowest possible wage.  If the Mexican workers are willing to work for less, and do good work, then it is capitalism at work that is taking the jobs away from the “Americans” who feel entitled to the jobs.  And I have never heard an employer complain about the quality of work from Mexican workers.

It seems odd to me that the political party which is arguing that illegal workers are the cause of the unemployment, have nothing to say about the jobs lost to off-shore manufacturing under the name of US companies.  That is seen as capitalism at work, and any attempt to penalize those companies who do so as a liberal plot to socialize the government.  Yet when essentially the same thing happens on-shore, it is also a liberal plot if less expensive workers of a different race are allowed jobs replacing more expensive local workers.

I have to wonder when the conservative middle class will realize that they are loosing rather than gaining from the process of defending the corporate right to move jobs off shore while arguing that workers who are from neighboring countries are causing the downturn in employment.  Unfettered capitalism is as dangerous to humanity as is any other extreme economic or political structure.

To begin

July 18th, 2009

I have thought a lot about writing for the last 20 years or so, and have done a little but kept it to myself for the most part.  There never seems to be enough time to complete my thoughts and when I want to go back to them they always seem to be in some other place than where I am at the time.  I have notebooks stashed around in more places than I can even remember, some of them with the same thoughts captured for future consideration.  On my laptop are hundreds of files I have either saved for future reference or to attempt completion of one thought or another.  In short I am not a disciplined writer.  I hope this media will provide an opportunity to finish some of the things I began years ago, or maybe will start tomorrow.