Pro-Life?

Congress is heading off today for a 5 week vacation and there appears to be a very decent chance that when they resume their work in September, we could be headed for another budget stalemate over the federal funding of Planned Parenthood in reaction to the recent string of videos released by anti-abortion groups.

First of all, let me say this. I am extremely grateful for Planned Parenthood as an organization, as my wife and I utilized their services when we first got married and had absolutely no money and could not afford contraception. To think that Planned Parenthood is just a place where women go to get abortions is an incredibly ignorant viewpoint, as they provide services covering the full range of women’s health, including cancer screening, HIV screening, and counseling. I am extremely grateful that we were able to rely on this resource in our younger lives, as it gave us a necessary spring board to develop some stability and be better able to support and care for a family.

Now, I really want to deconstruct this term of “pro-life”. I went to a pro-life rally when I was a kid, but it was really quite confusing, because the rally was much more focused on what the group was against (abortion) than what the group was for. If we’re going to be “pro-life”, doesn’t that have a broader meaning beyond just trying to get rid of abortion? For example, the fetal tissue from abortion procedures that is at the heart of the current controversy surrounding Planned Parenthood was being used in research that could lead to new developments in the treatment of illnesses for people who are currently suffering. I’m not saying I love the idea of abortion, but I’d much rather provide women the option of having a clean and safe procedure and use the fetal tissue to further our understanding of medicine and biology than to have women bleeding out in their bathroom from an unsafe procedure or dumping a baby in a dumpster because they just don’t know what else to do.

Here’s the reality: this latest attempt by religious conservatives to cut public funding from Planned Parenthood will, like so many other issues (read: Affordable Care Act), will disproportionately impact the most poor and vulnerable citizens in our society, and that is just plan unjust. Women with resources will always be able to access whatever procedures they want. Women with less resources depend upon services like Planned Parenthood to maintain their health, wellness, independence, and dignity.

Leadership is not always just standing up for what you believe in. It’s also being willing to examine areas where you might be biased, and then it’s speaking up for those who can’t speak up for themselves.

I don’t want to be pissed anymore, I want things to change. Can we please start having reasonable conversations about these important issues, without resorting to name-calling, fear-mongering, and jumping to assumptions before we have all the facts?

Church and State

Was talking with a good friend​ around the fire the other night and sharing my frustration with the toxic influence religious fundamentalism has had on public policy in my lifetime and throughout history. Separation of church and state is for the protection of the state just as much as it is for the protection of the church (if not more-so). In my reading this evening, I came across this quote from the book “Heaven: A History” by Colleen McDannell and Bernhard Lang:

As the Reformation became a political issue for magistrates and princes, Luther and Calvin worked out the practical implications of their teaching more fully. It is impossible “to rule a country, let alone the entire world, by the gospel,” Luther insisted. Since worldly affairs can be successfully conducted by reason and experience, they can be autonomous and independent from religious involvement. “God has placed human civil life under the dominion of natural reason which has ability enough to rule physical things,” the reformer noted; “we need not look to Scripture for advice” in such temporal matters. Even the heathen are blessed with reason and thus are able to live their daily lives.

Now, while I have not tracked down the original writings of Martin Luther and am therefore relying on McDannell and Lang for interpretation and context, I certainly find validity in this idea. In fact, it is the very absence of reason is what leads to atrocious human acts. Like genocide. Or bombing abortion clinics. Or Matthew Shepard.

Instead of allowing ancient religious texts to guide public policy on social moral issues in the twenty-first century, perhaps we should take Luther’s advice and give natural reason a shot.

Pissed

I’ve been relatively quite for a while, the verboseness of my twenties being replaced with a crippling fear about how I’ll be perceived if I start actually speaking up for what I believe in. Will my friends and family still love me when they find out how differently I view the world than how I was raised? How many more conversations do I have to endure in which it is hinted that people who think like me will be responsible for the ultimate downfall of society? Where people are less interested in the content of what I’m saying and more interested in proving their staunchly-held beliefs that if we could just get everyone back in line with the will of God then everything would be okay.

Let’s remember that it is in the name of this same God that some of the worst atrocities in human history have been carried out, all focused around the idea that a group of humans knew God’s will and saw it as their destiny to carry it out. Murdering millions of native americans as part of “manifest destiny” or the attempted establishment of the true kingdom of god through the violence of the crusades are just two historic examples. The most recent example can be seen in the images of ISIL destroying ancient artifacts and launching attacks on “infidels” in their own attempt to create heaven on earth.

I’m tired of living in a world in which the only problems that exist are those of our own creation. I’m tired of belonging to a race that can turn on itself so easily and inflict such terrible suffering and violence on its own kind…what other species on this entire planet exhibits that same self-destructive behavior? I’m tired of watching people run around in anxiety to create some sort of meaning out of their existence, all too often at the expense of other’s well-being.

But more than tired, I’m downright pissed off. I’m angry that we have numerous elected officials who, in the last round of campaigning, publicly talked about things like “legitimate rape”, and a woman not getting pregnant by rape if it wasn’t God’s will, and still got elected. I’m pissed off that some of the most loving people I know in my friends and family have been so hateful in their speech toward our current president and toward members of the LGBTQ community. I’m angry that scientific advancements are consistently ignored and shunned in favor of ancient religious texts that have gone through countless interpretations and are often misinterpreted. I’m angry that people seem to get so comfortable in their thinking they are not even willing to listen to anything that may disconfirm their assumptions.

But here’s what I’m most angry about: this ill-conceived belief that seems to exist that the United States is supposed to be a “Christian” nation. Bullshit. This country existed long before my people ever came here, and it was inhabited by a sustainable and spiritual existence based on the earth. elements, and seasons. Then a group of people fleeing the religious tyranny of another nation landed on these shores in an attempt to set up a state in which all were free to worship the god of their choosing. This same group then proceeded to expand westward, killing and claiming land as they saw fit for their new nation, referred to by some as the “new Jerusalem”. Now, centuries, later, far from actually having religious freedom, the religious right has infiltrated the Republican party and attempted to establish its own form of a moral kingdom on earth, free from all those pesky social evils like falling in love and having a family with a person of the same sex.

A lot of my friends and family right now are scared of where the country is headed because of all the liberal progress that’s been made on social moral issues over the last few years. I’m scared as well, but not because of the progress. I’m scared at how people are responding to the progress with such hate and vitriol that it makes me want to cry. After I hit things repeatedly in a fit of rage.

What the hell are we doing to each other?

Perspective

I was recently feeling a bit bogged down in my thinking and in need of some perspective. So, I did what I usually do when I’m feeling down. I headed for the woods.

The weather of the day was not exactly welcoming and visibility on the hike up was limited to about 25 feet. I remember thinking on the hike up that the scene was eerily resemblant of how I had been experiencing my life: in a fog, only able to see a limited distance in front of me, and not entirely sure of where I was going.

By the time I reached the top, the dreary weather had cleared, the fog had lifted, and this is what I saw:

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Suddenly, all the problems of my life that were clouding my vision seemed so small and insignificant. It’s amazing what a little perspective will do.

I think it’s important to find ways to restore perspective in our lives, especially in the current reality that throws a new sensory stimulus our way with each passing second. Some people refer to this as prayer, some as meditation, some as mindfulness, some as quieting the mind.

I had a professor in grad school who used to talk about the importance of taking time to step up on the balcony of your life to look down on the scene. If we spend all our time down in the midst of the party that is our life, we can lose sense of who we are and what is important to us. That trip up to the balcony, however it happens, reminds us of our values so that we can act with intention instead of wasting our time reacting to circumstantial developments.

Take time to restore perspective today. You can’t afford not to.