The Supreme Court decision to legalize gay marriage caused great celebration, symbolized by the Rainbow White House. However, if you venture into the right side of the blogsophere there is a sense of anger and dismay. Erick Erickson at Red State paints a picture of a society that has “lost its mind” with a wildfire burning and “normal” people being trounced by the insanity.
To many of us who support gay marriage and welcome the cultural shift of the last few decades, such a view might seem bizarre. No one is hurt by allowing gays to marry, this simply expands freedom and one has to be a bigot to oppose that, right? That is a view I hear among young people who are just as perplexed and angry about such opposition as the red staters are about gay marriage being made the law of the land.
A bit of perspective. In the 1700s, centered in France, the enlightenment began. After the explosive advance of science in the 1600s, beginning with Galileo and ending with Newton’s discovery of classical physics, people turned their rational minds towards understanding society and humanity. They encountered a world built on tradition, religion and superstition, and started to tear apart that edifice.
It started with the Deists. Believers in God (usually due to the need for a “first mover” in order to get a “world in motion”), they tore apart the Christian Bible, finding contradictions and pointing out that the God of the Old Testament is more like a petulant child than someone worthy of praise and love. Some like Rousseau saw God’s word in nature, but after the great Lisbon earthquake of 1755 Voltaire decided that while God made the world, there was no sign God really cared about it. God doesn’t need our love, our fellow humans do, Voltaire declared, beginning an approach that today is called “secular humanism.”
The attack on tradition began in earnest. In Great Britain this attack was pragmatic and gradual – the divine right to rule gave way to a parliament, and the power of the nobility and the Anglican church slowly waned as reforms dominated the 1700s and 1800s. In France the assault on tradition took the form of a radical revolution that wanted to change everything right away! That failed – and it showed a weakness of the enlightenment: reason is a tool, it does not provide the kind of values and core world view that a religion might. Once they pushed aside tradition, they couldn’t agree on how to move forward. Tradition and culture hold a society together; you mess with that at your peril.
Yet that is the enlightenment project – messing with tradition and culture. Edmund Burke, a conservative who hated the French revolution, didn’t oppose that project, he only insisted it move carefully and gradually, with progress showing respect for tradition, even as those traditions lose power.
Every step of the way, there were those convinced society was collapsing. Women getting to vote! That is not what God intended. In the South the assault on slavery led to a civil war. Women getting equal rights, entering the work force, not being subservient to their man – that to many seemed a direct rejection of Christian teaching. Every step of the way, society was seen as going deeper into the darkness.
In way, the critics were right. Unmoored from some kind of rule book, free to choose what we construct, we dabbled with Communism, Nazism, other forms of fascism and fought great wars. For awhile the West embraced radical racism, justifying conquest of virtually the entire planet, destroying cultures and looting natural resources. Many would say, with justification, we still do that, albeit in a less overt manner.
Yet there is no going back. If we opened Pandora’s box, it can’t be closed. Once we examine the world rationally and recognize that religious traditions are mythological and really can’t be true, we can’t say “oh well, it’s better just to believe in them.” Once women can work and succeed, we can’t tell them to just find a mate to serve. Once we make marriage about love, we can’t say that divorce shouldn’t exist and we should bring back “traditional marriage.” Once gays are accepted and can marry, we cannot tell them to scuttle back into the closet. And for all the difficulty our enlightenment freedom creates, it’s worth it.
The enlightenment is a process of human liberation. It is about freedom, it is about constructing a social world rather than adhering to past teachings and customs. It is a dangerous endeavor, as the holocaust, communist dictatorships, the French revolution, colonialism and capitalist sweatshops demonstrate. It is what has led to consumerism and global warming just as it has led to liberty.
That’s how we should understand opposition to gay marriage. They read this into the enlightenment’s dark side, a divorce from tradition, an anything goes mentality that can lead to chaos, lack of moral grounding, and collapse. Psychologically, they yearn for a “right answer,” stability, and a sense of security in the social world. Religion, tradition, and the values those represent are comforting and powerful to them. Symbolically, gay marriage represents a threat to all that.
But every step forward in the last 300 years has meant that. The rock band Rush sums up the enlightenment’s impact on the West well: “It’s the motor of the western world, spinning off to every extreme, pure as a lover’s desire, evil as a murderer’s dream.” Our freedom and rational thinking have led to advances in human dignity, as well as crimes against humanity. It’s a journey worth taking, even if landmines are scattered about.
In this case, gay marriage is to me up there with giving women the vote and the right to work, ending slavery, and eliminating the aristocracy and the divine right to rule. It expands human dignity and value, making it compatible with what Martin Luther King Jr. calls natural law in his “Letter to a Birmingham Jail.”
It is, however, just a step along the path we in the West have been traveling for centuries. And while I see it as a very positive step, I appreciate those who fear losing tradition. To keep us along a sustainable path of progress, we do have to respect the dangers of moving too fast, as Burke might say. The enlightenment is need of a kind of spiritual core to help us avoid the negative extremes. Even if traditional religious stories cannot provide that, they point to the need to take values seriously – something I plan to write about soon.
On this issue I think we haven’t moved too fast. Support for gay marriage is now a majority position, and among young people it’s at near 80%. We’re changing along with the culture, not moving out in front of it. The enlightenment project of expanding human liberation, a difficult and dangerous journey, moves forward!
No time to blog as I’m with three other faculty and 36 students in Italia – we’ve been to Florence and Rome and now are in Sorrento. I’m in the back row, on the far right. Feel free to check out the Facebook group “UMF Italia 2015″ for more pictures and updates! UMF Italia 2015
There is a sense of surprise at the re-election of David Cameron’s conservative party, which won 331 of the 650 mandates in the 2015 United Kingdom General Election. That is the smallest number of mandates a majority party has won in a British election since after the second 1974 election.
The result wasn’t as big a surprise as one might think.
To be sure, polls had shown a tight race. Most showed the Conservatives and Labour tied, or with a slight conservative lead at something like 36-35. Consider the following graphic:
Blue represents the Tories, red Labour, purple UKIP, yellow the LibDems, and green the Greens. Although the two major parties are nearly tied at the end at around 35%, Labour had been steadily losing support while the conservatives had been slightly climbing. If there was momentum, it was for the Tories.
Here are the actual results: Conservatives – 36.9%, Labour 30.4%, UKIP 12.6%, the Lib Dems 7.9% Scotish National Party 4.6%, Greens 3.6%
From this result here are the mandates: Conservatives 331, Labour 232, SNP 56, Lib Dems 8, Unionists 8, UKIP 1, Greens 1 Other 15.
One thing a single member district plurality (SMD-P) electoral system provides is that there can be a large swing in mandates won from a relatively small swing in total percentage of the vote. SMD-P is a system where people vote in districts for one candidate. Whichever candidate gets the most votes (known as a plurality) wins the seat. That’s how we run most of our Congressional elections in the US.
This hurts smaller parties. The anti-EU party could turn 12.6% of the vote into only one seat. Yet geographically based parties like the SNP could turn 4.6% of the vote into 56 seats as they swept Scotland. It also means that a 6.5% differential between the two top parties can turn into a difference of almost 100 seats, or 15% of the seats available.
Think of it this way. If the vote was perfectly even in every district, a party could win 51% to 49% in every district; a close election would yield all seats going to the party with 51%! Obviously some districts are safe for a particular party and others are contested at various levels. But the result almost always is that the party that “wins” has a much larger majority in parliament than the vote total would indicate.
(Aside: If you follow American politics you might counter that even though in 2012 the Democrats earned more votes than the Republicans, the GOP got a majority. That happens in part due to gerrymandering — designing districts to get the optimum outcome for a party– but also because Democrats rack up huge vote totals in urban districts, while Republicans win closer suburban and rural districts. In Great Britain the divisions aren’t so stark, so elections behave more like one would expect).
In 2010 Great Britain had its first hung parliament (no party gaining a majority) since 1974. That’s because the Liberal Democrats got 23% and 57 seats. The Conservatives only got 36.1% and 306 seats, while Labour got 29% and 258 seats.
The change from 2010 to 2015 for the top two parties was Conservative +0.8%, Labour +1.4%. Both parties gained, but Labour gained a bit more than the Conservatives. So why did the Tories gain 25 seats and Labour lose 26? The answer is due to the smaller parties. The LibDems went from 57 seats to only 8, while the SNP went from 6 to 56. In Scotland alone Labour lost nearly 40 seats to the SNP – that means they gained seats in the rest of the country.
The LibDem loss should have been expected. Small parties are always at risk when they form a coalition with larger parties, unless they can provide something unique that the voters want. Nick Clegg couldn’t do that. That loss of support translated to more mandates for the Conservatives.
That brings us to the polls. The pollsters were pretty accurate for the small parties, and pretty close for the conservatives too. The only real problem, then, was that Labour totals were inflated by about 3% consistently. That’s not a huge amount, but still a significant gap given how much agreement existed in the polls. The most likely reason is that conservative-leaning voters upset with the Cameron government told pollsters they were leaning Labour, but came home to the Conservatives on election day. Not that they were lying to the pollsters, but there’s something about actually voting that can cause people to stick with a party they thought they might abandon.
Before the elections some conservatives voiced optimism that by moving Labour more to the left, Miliband might inspire higher Tory turnout than expected. That sounded like the usual wishful thinking but may have actually happened.
Polls can be off, and as noted, just a few ticks in one direction can make a major difference in the result. I am not surprised that the conservatives gained a majority. The 2010 election was the first since 1974 with no majority, and it was obvious that the Lib Dems were not going to gain many seats this go around. So it appeared that either the Tories would gain a small majority (which they did), or that Labour would have to work with the SNP.
A change in power to Labour was unlikely for another reason. Labour leader Ed Miliband had not generated a sense that his leadership would provide a positive change. Labour had been declining in the polls and people weren’t warming to Miliband. Late deciders may have been swayed by Cameron’s positive economic results (compared to the rest of Europe).
Cameron has five years now to govern as a majority party, unless he calls an early election. He has promised a referendum on EU membership by 2017. The Cameron era continues.
In 1970 at the age of ten I became a serious Twins fan. I kept a scrapbook, including a story from the Minneapolis Tribune about a 19 year old rookie named Bert Blyleven who looked “too young to shave yet.” By the time I was 13 I was keeping score and kept a notebook with info from all the games, including who hit homeruns, the pitcher of record, and if there was a save. I’d listen to Herb Carneal call the game, glued to the radio.
My first live game was a double header against the Oakland A’s in 1973. That was the A’s heyday with Reggie Jackson, Sal Bando, Gene Tenace, Catfish Hunter, etc. The A’s would win their second world series in a row that year, but the Twins had their number, winning 14 of the 18 games they played. That included the two I saw, with the second being exciting. After starter Jim Kaat was knocked out of the game early, a rookie named Bill Campbell came in and pitched brilliantly as the Twins caught up. In the 10th Tony Olivia would double and George Mitterwald hit his second home run of the game to win 7-5!
In 1987 I was in grad school at the University of Minnesota, following the team as Gary Gaetti, Kirby Puckett, Dan Gladden, Frank Viola, Bert Blyleven, Tom Brunansky and Kent Hrbek led an unexpected drive to the Twins first world championship. In 1986 they had been last in their division. Nothing can replicate that experience for Twins fans – the first championship (unless you count when they were the Washington Senators in 1924), unexpected, with a core group that had come up through the farm system and endured some rough years.
Then four years later, in Berlin Germany to do research, I listened to every game of the 1991 series as Vin Scully and Johnny Bench called the play by play carried over Armed Forces radio. In the wee hours of the morning as Jack Morris pitched ten scoreless innings and Gene Larkin hit a game winner I was jumping around the apartment I was in, thrilled!
This all ended in 1995. I got a job in Maine, loaded a Ryder truck and took off. I spent the summer in Europe, and as I threw myself into my new job and home, baseball seemed distant. Moreover the 1994 strike and cancelled world series left a sour taste in my mouth. Baseball seemed tarnished. I was surrounded by Red Sox fans, and soon I lost track of the Twins. Oh, the years they made the playoffs I would watch. But I didn’t know the players or feel connected. But now, 20 years later, I’m finally a Twins fan again.
This year I got Directv’s “extra innings” major league baseball package. And so far I have managed to watch every one of the Twins first 25 games, albeit a few via DVR. Dick Bremer and Bert Blyleven are the announcers – the same Blyleven who was a rookie when I first started following the Twins .
It didn’t take long to get to know the team. Watching daily after following them somewhat close in spring training I am learning about each player. It’s my team again. The only bummer is a black hole in my Twins memory. I can recall Steve Braun, Bobby Darwin, Larry Hisle, Ray Corbin, Danny Ford and a host of others former players, some good some utterly forgettable. But there are twenty years of names – some very important – that are meaningless to me. Still, I’m even learning those, bit by bit.
The game has changed some. They’re really strict on the check swing rule now, pitchers are yanked earlier, even when pitching well, and I can’t believe how the fielders are shifting some hitters. I like how they show the speed of every pitch as well as keeping the pitch count (which I used to do myself). Still, it’s like coming home, reuniting with an old friend after 20 years, and realizing that you feel as close and connected as ever.
My nine year old son is watching with me quite often. I explain the game to him and he’s a quick study. He impressed me after a runner was held at second by a ground out to short. “Dad,” he said, ” you know, if you have a guy on second you should hit it on the other side, then he’d be able to get to third.” So cool that my son, on his own, re-discovered one of the fundamentals of baseball. “Yes,” I said, “that’s right – they say you should hit behind the runner.” He thought about that and smiled, “I get it!”
It’s not just about baseball, or the Twins, it’s about my youth. How often did I hear on the radio, “The Minnesota Twins are on the air!” Followed by the jingle, “We’re going to win Twins, we’re going to score…” Following Rod Carew’s quest to hit .400, every year thinking “this will be the year!” Even now when short stop Danny Santana makes eight errors early in the season I think, “wow, he’s fielding like Danny Thompson back in the 70s.”
Seeing the fans in the stands at Target Field – a place I have not yet visited, but will with two sons on July 8th – has me remembering many games at the Dome and the old Met. Back in grad school I’d often on rainy days get a $3 outfield bleacher ticket just to watch the game.
One of the more surreal experiences I had was at the Metrodome. It was 1986 and the Twins led the Angels. Ron Davis, their “ace reliever” (who that year blew almost all his save opportunities) was pitching and a storm outside caused the roof to tear and the dome to start to collapse. People went running for the exits, one lady screamed and pushed me aside as she dragged her kids down – I stayed on the second deck to watch. Soon the dome re-inflated, and then the Angels defeated the Twins. I miss the dome, but am glad they’re playing outdoors again!
Sunday after my son and I batted and played catch for about an hour we went in. We were watching the Twins together when they loaded the bases. I had told Dana about what a grand slam is, but he never saw one. “Maybe you’ll see your first,” I said. We then watched together as Trevor Plouffe launched a home run to left to give the Twins the lead. Dana jumped up and down with excitement and I realized that he’s where I was all those years ago, starting to become a fan. I’m glad I’m back and who knows – maybe this will be the year!
Events in Indiana this week have created an emotional national debate about religion and freedom. Conservative Christians claim that they should have the right to not offer services for gay weddings, on religious grounds. Others argue that not serving gays is an act of discrimination that violates American values. After all, opposition to interracial marriage and equal rights for blacks were also couched in religious terms.
Homosexuality is not a choice but a genetic predisposition according to both the American Medical Association and the American Psychology Association. This means it is like being black – a part of who a person is, not a choice they have made. More importantly there is a fundamental contradiction in the approach from the religious right.
Homosexuality is mentioned as a sin three times in the Bible. Unlike adultery, theft, and covetousness, for example, it isn’t mentioned in the ten commandments. In fact, most sins are talked about far more often than homosexuality. In the Old Testament it’s in Leviticus, right there along side admonitions against eating shell fish or touching women who are having their period. That part of the Bible also gives rules on how to treat slaves, and other clearly anachronistic laws!
Jesus does not mention homosexuality at all. When Jesus talks about sin it’s usually in the context of forgiveness, and he warns his followers “Judge not, lest you be judged.” Paul brings it up in Corinthians and Timothy, two letters where he lumps homosexuality with a number of other things — covetousness, drunkedness, trickery, etc. — as unrighteous behaviors. Even that is a bit unclear since the Greek word being translated could mean masturbation, pedophilia or something more vague.
So if there were a hierarchy of sins, homosexuality isn’t high up on what the Bible worries about. But there is no hierarchy of sins. Christians universally agree that everyone is a sinner. Therefore, singling out homosexuality as a special sin is anti-Christian. A real Christian business owner recognizes every customer as a sinner, with each sin is of equal distaste to God. Jesus didn’t turn people away because they were sinners, after all. The only time he got mad was when the capitalists of his day were using the temple for business!
So clearly this is not really about religion, but bigotry.
Still, if we expected religions to actually live up to their teachings, we’d have quite a peaceful world. Muhammad says don’t fight against people who do not want to fight, and that war should only be to defend the community as a last resort. ISIS and Al-Qaeda are decidedly un-Islamic. And how many people have been butchered in the name of Jesus?
So maybe that logical argument – that this is bigotry, not Christianity at work – sets the bar too high. Maybe we need to accept that people are going to use religion to justify hate and bigotry. Disappointing but, OK, that’s our world. How much leeway should we give religious freedom if we set the bar lower?
I think we can agree that groups like ISIS who commit human rights atrocities can’t claim religious freedom. The acts they engage in are crimes in and of themselves. No one can hide behind freedom of religion to justify a crime.
But what about acts in the public sphere – you know, like a pizzeria catering a gay wedding.
Libertarians might argue that any business should be able to buy or sell to whomever it wants. That sounds good in theory, but in practice it can and in history has led to segregation and second class treatment for whole groups of citizens – those who went and saw the movie Selma this year know that!
Within the church itself, religious freedom usually trumps. No clergy should be forced by the government to conduct a gay wedding. Some liberal churches may require their clergy to do so, but that’s within the religion. And if a church believes interracial marriage is wrong, well, they can refuse to conduct one of those too.
However restaurants, shops and other businesses that serve the general public do not have such leeway. If you limit your customers with a rule – say, coat and tie required, it has to apply to everyone equally. You can also choose to refuse service on rational grounds – someone has disrupted a business in the past, counts cards against the rules, etc. But you can’t choose to limit service against a group that suffers discrimination – race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, etc. There is some leeway for private clubs that aren’t completely open to the public, but even there it’s problematic.
Seen this way, the argument that this is some kind of “liberal fascism” makes no sense. It’s just applying a principle that has been law for decades. Just as it took until the 60’s for America to truly recognize the necessity of treating blacks as equal, it took until the early 21st Century to recognize the same about gays.
Perhaps the best argument for the religious right is a cultural one – religion is a defense of tradition; traditionally homosexuality has been seen as a perversion. But the culture is changing. Due to both science and evolved thinking we now consider that old view to be false – much like the view that said women shouldn’t vote, or blacks should be slaves. When culture changes, religion has to give way – at least in the public realm. Privately they can still argue for tradition. That’s unlikely to succeed, ultimately most religions will adapt.
I’ve been thinking about modern physics.
Reality consists of quantum fields. That’s it – just fields. These fields can vibrate. Those vibrations are perceived by us as particles: numerous vibrating fields create what we perceive as solid reality. Apparently those particles don’t really exist, they just are there when we observe them – it’s how our minds perceive the vibrations. If reality is not being observed in some way, it doesn’t exist. The fields may still be vibrating, but the “stuff” we understand to be reality is the result of our perceptual framework.
A paradox: if there are only fields, which sometimes can vibrate, and if our material bodies are a manifestation of these vibrating fields, why do we have consciousness? Why do we perceive these fields as “matter,” and are able to act within them as if there were a solid real world out there? And what about the symmetries that make all this possible?
Five possibilities come to mind:
1. This is all one really elaborate virtual reality game, and when we die we’ll find ourselves in the real world, suddenly realizing we’ve just been playing. Sort of a cool idea, but when you think of the pain endured by those experiencing rape, genocide and intense poverty, it seems a rather harsh game. But maybe our “real” selves want to experience that, at least sometimes.
2. A wild accident of nature. No meaning, somehow within this system of fields it’s possible for entities to emerge that can perceive it as a reality. This seems unrealistic to me, but it’s possible.
3. Some kind of God created this, and we’re the product of its imagination, living based on that God’s whims, laws and dictates. That seems even less realistic than 2, but again, it’s possible.
4. An entity (God, for lack of a better term) exists and wants to experience interaction and challenges. So it creates this realm and then is able to experience a variety of things stemming from its imagination. This is different from 1 in that we’d all be aspects of this God, experiencing this field-based vibrational reality from different perspectives. This view has some appeal, and harkens back to Platonist and especially neo-Platonist philosophies (e.g., Plotinus). Or, as Bishop Berkeley suggested, we’re just part of God’s dream.
5. There is something about consciousness that gives us the ability to perceive a world in this series of vibrating fields. That would mean that this world is not an accident, but was meant for us to be able to perceive reality. This option differs from the rest in that it doesn’t posit this as a product of a God (even if we are aspects of that God), a game or an accident.
Why does this matter? It’s easy to get caught up in the every day routines – the problems, the ambitions and concerns that drive us. Taking care of our kids, earning money, dealing with others, etc. But somehow that feels a bit empty – is that all there is? And why is it? Is there something more? And if we just live going through the motions, as dramatic and sometimes distressing as they are, are we just sleep walking? Are we going through life hypnotized, thinking this is REALITY, when really it’s a kind of illusion?
And if there is something more, is there something to gain by trying to understand it, probing with our minds, meditations and philosophy? Can studying world religions provide a hint? And if we can get a sense of a kind of deeper meaning, one that transcends this particular brief dance in space-time, will that actually pay dividends? Will it make this life more meaningful, can we have more control over the reality we experience?
That’s it for today. Just questions.
If you read some of the extremist literature about the UN, it’s alarming. The UN is out to get our guns with the Small Arms Treaty! Absurd. The UN wants to stop us from spanking our children with the Rights of the Child Treaty! Hardly. Though if you spank your kids, you’re really doing some bad parenting. Some even claim net neutrality is a doorway for UN control of the internet. And now – a UN Security Council resolution will bind the US to an agreement with Iran, circumvent Congress and sacrifice US sovereignty! And least so claim the latest UN-0-phobes.
Bottom line: The UN can do nothing to hurt the US. Nada. Zilch. In fact, the UN has proven itself very useful to the US given our position as a permanent member of the UN Security Council with veto power. We often use the UN to support US foreign policy. The most dramatic examples are the Korean war and the 1991 Iraq war.
So why the irrational fear? Part of it comes from a kind of animosity towards anything cosmopolitan among the tea party crowd, and a fear of losing American sovereignty. The truth is that globalization has already weakened sovereignty by creating deep interdependence. But that’s not the UN’s fault.
Not approving the Small Arms Treaty means its harder to stop the use of children in war zones. AK 47s are $6 a piece, that treaty is a fundamental tool in stopping atrocities in the third world. No one is going to use it against the US or American gun laws. That’s not possible. The Rights of the Child treaty has been approved by every country except the US and Saudi Arabia. UN soldiers aren’t going to round up people who spank their kids.
The only body that can approve enforcement of international law is the Security Council, and the US has veto power. The UN by definition cannot hurt the US.
So why the paranoia about Iran? Well, the Republicans just got a majority in both Houses but yet they can’t box in the President. They’re feeling a tad impotent, and resent the fact that he is using his executive powers deftly. Rather than admit that this is how split government works, they have come to believe that he’s “lawless” or ignoring the Congress and the Constitution. And of course, some of it is just to rile up the base. They know the UN doesn’t have the kind of power to somehow undermine the US – but fear that it does can be a powerful and emotional motivator!
The claim: President Obama seeks an executive agreement with Iran to get Iran to agree not to have a nuclear weapons program. An executive agreement – a common foreign policy tool – only binds the President during his term, and it does not need to pass Congress. A treaty would require ratification by 2/3 of the Senate, and that’s not going to happen. But if the US votes approval of a Security Council resolution calling for the removal of sanctions, then it is legally binding and voila, Congress has been bypassed.
Except that’s not how it works.
First, even if it all played out that way, the US Constitution and Supreme Court are clear that this would not be binding on the US. And even if it were, the only body who could enforce that agreement is the UN Security Council, and the US can block any Security Council action. But that’s irrelevant – if the US votes yes on a Security Council resolution requiring Congressional action and Congress does not act, then the US can’t follow what the resolution requires. That’s the way the law works. It will not be binding on the United States, just as an executive agreement cannot prevent Congress from acting as they will, and is not binding on the next President.
As always, the anti-UN paranoia is irrational…and very strange.