Thursday, November 18, 2004

God, Indivdualism and Pendulums

*One of my readers suggest I rename this piece, to reflect more accurately the theme and ideas of the discussion. His kind advice is appreciated.*

The following will be my last thoughts on the political divide we see in our country today, for now.

Before I go on, firstly let me apologize for being a day late. Work and matters of a personal nature precluded me from meeting that self imposed deadline.

In addition, I'd like to clarify a few matters raised by some thoughtful comments made in reference to my previous post

It has never been my intention my intent to make relativism a component in defining right from wrong. There is right and wrong and there is good and evil. Those truths that have influenced choices man has made from the earliest days.

Whether from a societal or religious standpoint, right and wrong must be dealt with, as well as good and evil. It is in the definition of those attributes that we differ.

Now, clearly, we call all see certain evils. September 11 was an evil, perpetrated by evil people. While we can all agree on that, the rest becomes fuzzier.

Some will say (mistakenly, I believe) that we foisted that evil upon ourselves, as a result of our policies. While I there is no need to discuss that now, obviously, I disagree whole heartedly. Nevertheless, there are people who see things differently. That in itself does not obviate the real evil.

There is no middle ground against evil. Societies thrive and endure when common efforts are exerted to keep evil at bay. If and when a society neglects that truth, that society will not endure and will collapse on itself. History is full of examples of failed Empires, the demise of whom can traced to not addressing an evil of one kind or another.

For the purposes of this discussion, I want to address not so much specifics as I do fundamental issues that are on the front burner.

Given the current climate of political debate, one question stands out.

Can God coexist with notion of the absolute right of individualism?

These two notions are diametrically opposed. Either we acknowledge God's Dominion and live our lives as directed by religious dictate, or we don’t. Any expression of individualism must be secondary to those dictates. That individuality and total freedom of expression, would be outside the confines of a Godly relationship.

We answer to God, or God answers to us.

On the surface, there is no possible reconciliation. Ideologues at either extreme of the debate keep fanning the flames of intolerance, believing that even one concession will undermine their entire belief structure.

In the end of course, they are wrong. Societies flourish when they interact with each other and in the long run, nothing can change that. The source of all democracies is the ability to live and let live.

Wars of all kinds, military, cultural and those of the class variety, are begun and fought by absolutists and phony 'patriots' of all stripes. Well meaning or not, when that absolutism reigns in a free society, no one wins, regardless of the outcome

Democratic governments and cultures don't go to war with one another. They work things out, find common ground and move on. If groups within a democracy (for the moment, extremists on either side of the debate) that do not have that fundamental understanding, instead choosing absolutism or direct confrontation, we are headed toward a train wreck.

It is with this in mind that we must examine the role of God in our society. That question needs to be addressed because it is one of the defining issues of our time. Whether you believe in God as Him, as a manifestation of an undefined spiritual being or not all, how we choose to find a place for believers or non believers as equals, defines our nation.

As in economics, there is a free market of ideas and thoughts, as I like to say. That market place responds in the same way the financial ones do- laissez faire, or let the marketplace decide. Over a period of time, the wild sways of the pendulum tend to self correct and the markets, like ideas, reach a certain equilibrium.

As the Church once repressed and subjugated whole classes of people, so too did secularists, foisting upon their adherents a value system that placed the importance of the individual above all, minimizing the necessary contributions the individual must make for society and the greater good.

Within a short period of time, the rift had occurred. From blind devotion to God and fear of Divine Retribution, society migrated to devout secularism and faith as science, that empirical deity.

It is interesting and bears remembering that both religious adherents and secularists claim the 'Judeo-Christian' ethic as the basis for their fundamental belief structure, finding within that ethic, expressions of God and expressions of the Self.

Still, it was inevitable that a clash would occur.

Absolutists on either side attempted to define their beliefs for all of us. The belivers clung with tenacity to an unshakable and unbendable faith and the non believers attempted to negate faith and God at every turn.

The problem was, and still is, people resist being 'defined.' Despite attempts by the religious to shun evidenced progress and their refusal to share scientific findings with faith, people did not ignore science.

Despite attempts by secularists to negate spiritualism, that didn’t quite work out either. People still believe, and want to believe.

This is the real silent majority, accompanied by a silent truth:

Most religious people and most secularists have made peace with coexistence. The marketplace of free thoughts and ideas has self corrected. There will always be that tension below the surface, but by and large, the loudest voices are the extremes on either side.

Those voices are what is upsetting the applecart. They impede our lives and our communities. We have found ways to make it work- and work well, but those shrill voices who purport to speak for us, keep distracting us from our better selves. Sadly, too many of us are too easily coopted, preferring to upset that applecart so that they are heard. When that applecart tumbles, no one eats.

Our understanding of God and Science has deepened. It is not an issue of the sacred and the profane. That is too simple and too inelegant. There is within the material and the scientific realities, much spiritual dimension that all but the most callous cannot see.

Why is this so hard to see- and for many to accept- is the result of many influences. Our parents and communities play no small role. Our educational experiences as children and as college students, help shape our perceptions greatly. Gullible 19 year olds, sitting in a classroom listening to a professor pontificate on his own subjective beliefs, followed by textbooks designed to obscure the truth, have a profound impact on who we are. Couple that with the now emotional 'all or nothing' political ideologies of today and it is easy to see how realities become obscured

We must find a way to make that silent, accepting and coexisting majority, speak for us. The voices that are imposed upon us must give way.

For the religious, and the believers, it is important to remember that were endowed with free will. The choice to do what we do, is our own. In other words, it is up to each individual to live life as best he sees how. Belief is not to be imposed, it is rather, to arrived at and understood, by everyone, as individuals. It is not contrary to faith be an individual. The same truth can be applied to some liberal ideas and values. Many conservatives reject those ideas simply because they came from liberal sources, as if somehow, they are tainted.

By the same token, secularists must recall, that the rights of the individual include the right to believe in God. When God is rejected by secularists, it is important to realize they are rejecting their own definition of God. While it is easy to reject an absolutist God, it is a bit more difficult to reject a God that endowed us with free will and the right to express that free will through our individuality Many pundits say that the last election was lost because many with liberal ideas who do believe in God, felt rejected and unwelcome by a mainstream political party. It is interesting to note that many secularists that reject religious influence and participation, define a God that most believers do not worship. That is no coincidence.

It is very difficult, admittedly, to reach beyond our own ‘four cubits.’ To examine who and what we are- and why we are, can be painful.. Still, facing ourselves and challenging ourselves is a high calling indeed. We can only be the better for it and reinvigorated by the process.

In the end, no good spiritual beliefs will be undone by man made ones, and no good secularist ideal is in conflict with those who believe in God.

Will there be conflicts? Of course. Will it always be easy? No. Nevertheless, by each side of the divide rightly claiming a basis in the Judeo-Christian ethic, there is a way to resolution. The biggest impediment to accepting the doctrine of coexistence are those shrill voices I spoke of earlier.

One idea does stand out.

From the millennia of an absolutist and rejectionist God, to a couple of centuries of extraordinary 'Enlightenment', and 'Progress,' of culture and technology, we have been through a lot. We have seen religions run amuck and destroy. We have seen man on his own, spill the blood of hundreds of millions with nary a mention of God, much less a belief.

And he we are, once again, talking about God.

I don't imagine I've made anyone happy, but maybe I've given you something to think about.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Inside the box, outside the box, part two of two

They say every country has it's 'Founding Myth.'

This is true of course, as heroes and villains need to be clearly defined. Children need to be taught in a clear and concise a fashion the merits and uniqueness of their nation and the nobility of their Founding Fathers. This is true of all nations, everywhere. Patriotism demands this pedagogical approach, for reasons far to numerous to elaborate here.

Of course, using our own country as an example, we learn that life isn't that simple.

Washington kept slaves. Jefferson loved (?) the slave girl Sally Hemmings, and so on.

In the end, we learn what we all know, that we are imperfect beings. The best of us, the real heroes, try to excel and exceed their own capacities and capabilities. They sacrifice their earthly souls (a metaphor, for my non religious, liberal readers), so that their ideas and contributions may benefit us all. For that, we are grateful.

Still, these heroes, like the rest of us, are imperfect and flawed. None of that, of course, diminishes their efforts or contributions to our nation, our communities or even our small neighborhoods. We love our heroes, because they represent the best of us and because through them, we hope to see a bit of ourselves, despite our own flaws and imperfections.

A recent casual conversation with a highly regarded Federal Judge prompted me to write this, and yesterday's piece. Now, I don't spend time with Judges-- so I thought I'd make the most of our few minutes together.

In a serious exchange, His Honor candidly admitted the struggle he faces, daily. In his words, he is "Torn between two women- Lady Justice and Lady Liberty." He went on to say that "It was no accident that Lady Justice was blind and that Lady Liberty bore a torch."

"Justice" he said, "must always be blind, to be dispensed without favor or influence."

"Liberty must shed light," he said, "on the human ideal to excel and exceed."

I was immediately struck. In those few words, His Honor forever exorcised my notion of political and legal absolutes.

At times, we demand absolute Justice and at times we demand absolute Liberty, sometimes forgetting there may be a necessary friction so as to keep us on our guard. Neither liberty or justice are meant to be taken lightly. They are meant to be discussed, debated and at times, argued. These democratic attributes are to be regarded as the living and breathing embodiment of rights, the blood that runs through that living breathing body we call democracy.

As I wrote yesterday, "Elections and issues are now emotional exercises, rather than intellectual ones. As any good Hollywood director knows, 'make 'em laugh or make 'em cry, and you'll sell tickets.' We are being sold tickets and the studio with the funnier or sadder film, wins. This cannot continue."

This sorry state of affairs are the result of mass marketing of ideas and the oversimplification of ideas. Both sides of the political spectrum dismiss each other with generalizations and the deliberate mischaracterization of of beliefs and intent. Human nature being what it is, we are ever eager to have the difficult things in life explained to us or handed to us on a silver platter- and the Washington political elites know it.

Welcome to Hollywood, DC.

My conversation with the Judge humbled me. I can be opinionated and so sure of the absoluteness of my beliefs, ever easy to dismiss or deny those who disagree with me. I also know that I am flawed and that sometimes, I dont think, or I allow others to think for me. I justify that behavior with a shrug and say to myself, well, everyone else does it.

Are we as nation, hurtling towards that 'House divided against itself'? I don't know, for sure. In a recent exchange with a friend, I asked that very question. My correspondent thought not, but the words weren't as strong as they might have been. Perhaps they were words of a silent wish or prayer.

In any case, there are realities that tie and bind us-- bonds, I believe, that are stronger than our dissentions.

Our election produced a record turnout of voters, well in excess of 115 million voices, exercising their right and resposibility as citizens. No matter how they voted, the passion of that exercise in debate and the willingness to participate, is a good thing. Passion is always better than lethargy or complacency. As a nation, we cared deeply, each in our own way. We cared about liberty and justice.

There is a passionate argument, made by liberals for universal compassion and and the deeply held belief in the tolerance and acceptance of all.

There is an equally passionate argument, made by social and religious conservatives, that an absolute faith in God makes clear the difference between right and wrong. That comittment is to a just and caring society. It is the belief that we are all 'Created in His Image,' that demands as much from us as we can give.

There is no great chasm between the ideas between the groups and ideologies they share, only the paths taken. The chasm is an artificial one, really, a construct of the political parties themselves and the media:

Liberals are all hard left wingers, wanting to usurp everything that America stands for- or they are progressive and forward thinking, always ready to stand up for the weak and oppressed.

Conservatives are fascists or bigots- or, they are people of faith, values and patriotism, always ready to defend the just society based on the Golden Rule.

Any way you cut it, the division is one of direction, not values. There isn't anyone who can obviate the values of these two groups. They are the same, in reality. It is the struggle that define our differences-- the struggle between Lady Justice and Lady Liberty.

In the best of all worlds, we would find comfort in the middle ground. In nature, we find the opposites in every organism and opposites in every man made endeavor. Trees have solid trunks, immovable and resolute, and they have branches that sway in the wind, leaves fluttering. Language has defined letters and punctuation, from which poetry and great literature emerges, and causes us to emote and reflect. Music is result of a rigid, mathematical structure from which emerges a passion so deep so as to move people of different backgrounds, together.

Does God belong in politics? Some would answer no, the doctrine of the Church and State division acts as a buffer to religious extremism. There is after all, a history of Church repression. Political Islam, speaks for itself. Faith is best kept a private and personal matter.

Others might say that this country was founded on religious principles, and indeed, faith based good works have left an indelible mark on this nation. Thus, faith alone is the underpinning of our society.

In truth, religion was used as method of oppression. However, that expression of faith has no foothold here. We founded by those who wished to escape that and other forms of tyranny. It is religion that allowed and was the orginal guarantors of freedom in this country.

Is secularism the answer to our future? Secularism, and all it's derivatives, were understandable reactions to being held underfoot by a Church and faith that cared not for it's believers. That Church, thankfully no longer exists, in no small measure due to the reality that human dignity, especially under God's Dominion, demanded freedom. When a slave broke the chains of his bondage, he didn't stay long enough to have tea and say good bye to his master. He ran, as far and fast as he could.

Those former slaves that false Church founded a new replacement for God. That new religion, for many, was Science. Nietzsche defiantly and confidently declared that "God is Dead." He was right. The God that Nietzche and the other starring cast of the Enlightenment understood and knew, was indeed dead. In it's place a new belief structure arouse. As the Church once oppressed, in extremis, so too did the resulting backlash of secularism, a hedonistic orgy of self centeredness.

The Church has changed and Secularism has changed.

Much has changed, in both the liberal and conservative communities. Take away the politics and there is ground for discussion and acceptance.

I meant to finish this today, but I have a few closing conclusions and ideas that may surprise you. My last thoughts on the matter will be posted tomorrow.

If I have caused you even a few moments of thought, I am grateful. If indeed, you find yourself questioning the status quo, even better.

That I have once again, pleased no one, is a given.

One does not have to change their own beliefs to question them.

Acceptance of new ideas, thoughts, hopes and dreams are what fuel our better selves.

We may not always undestand what we are getting into when we step into the breach, but as with any new endeavor, we can choose to see it defensively or choose to see it as an opportunity.
Even our own beliefs and ideas can be strengthened by new understandings.

Lastly, I received numerous emails and a few comments from some very thoughtful minds. I will answer them all tomorrow.

Monday, November 15, 2004

Inside the box, outside the box, part one of two

The recent election will be analyzed for years to come, with pundits crunching the numbers and opining on what went right and what went wrong, for the each of Presidential contenders.

What very few pundits and analysts will attempt to do, in a real and meaningful way, is examine why it is that religion and politics are so divisive.

Much conventional liberal thought despises the notion of religion as being influential in politics and many liberals openly abhor the participation of religious adherents in the political process.

Many conservatives wish to obliterate any idea that is deemed to originate from a liberal source, as if liberals wish to poison the well we all drink from.

A few weeks after the election, we are once again comfortable in the mindless bashing. Rather than discuss relevant issues in a meaningful exchange, as
BunkerMulligan has often stated, the next round of debates have begun- debates in name only, with the intent of silencing the any and all of the opposing voices.

There are reasoned voices out there, of course, heard at
The Commons, LittleRedBlog and Bittersweet and a host of other here on HSB. For some reason, HSB seems to have found a good mix of well reasoned bloggers. No small feat, that- the blogsphere is replete with forgettable, shrill voices.

Having said that, with a bit of reasoned thought, this 'great divide' may serve a higher purpose.

If we consider the nature of the divide and the driving forces behind it, we may perhaps better understand the real issues. Some issues will continue to divide us- not in terms of our value as citizens, but rather in how we look at things. Others issues aren't the national catastrophe that some, including the media, would have us believe, and still other issues do not divide us at all. They are rather, looking at the same idea from different angles.

For the purposes of this piece, I will state that I will exclude the radical idiots, on both sides of the political landscape. While it is tempting to define those mindless voices, I shall not. We all are a whole lot smarter than most political pundits and the media would have us believe.

To paraphrase the Supreme Court definition on pornography, "We know stupidity when we see it."

The matters that have caused this great chasm between Americans and the vitriol they seem to inspire, must be addressed. Simply being dismissive of voices in opposition serves no one- not the country, not our communities and last but not least, not ourselves. The real outrage is that we tolerate this divide, that has been manufactured in the same way that Hollywood makes movies.

While we like to see our candidates reflective of our views and beliefs, here's a reality check:

Candidates are the creation of well funded machines, packaged, marketed and put on display. There is nothing 'real' about any candidate today. What we see is Hollywoood, DC, no more, no less.

The R&D department of the political machines do well funded market studies and determine the 'mood' of a particular constituency. If that 'mood' needs a bit of tweaking, well, there's enough money to go round. It isn't pretty, but it's reality.

If that reality isn't apparent, quit reading now, because this piece isn't headed into the fantasy land of self serving political, passionate pleasures.

There is of course, the mindless pablum of Hollywood's influence, but in the end, bakers need to bake and hatmakers should make hats. Everyone of course is free to express their opinions- and they should. But being influenced by star power is a sad commnetary on the rest of us. What is even more sad is that the political machines attempt to utilize the tactic. Do they think so little of us?

No candidate today, for a variety of reasons, including the PAC's that fund campaigns in the hope of gaining influence or access, can run on real vision, program for change (and thus giving us a better country) or even real conviction. What at times may appear to be convictions may be no more than pandering to a political base or well organized agendas.

There are no longer visionaries that can run on ideas and higher convictions alone.

The last President that was able to do that was Lyndon Johnson- and his vision of the Great Society was bitterly opposed by many for no other reason than it upset too many apple carts.

As a wise man once said, "If you want to make an enemy, propose change."

Real change and real progress, from either side of the political spectrum, is both elusive and ethereal.

Candidates today are selected because the machines that regurgitate winning political campaigns have focused on manipulation our emotions and not appealing to our real and reasoned sensibilities.

We are reminded of real and legitimate fears, and cajoled into carefully crafted ones, with the intent of presenting the opposing candidate as a potential Benedict Arnold or ready for immediate capitutalion to the dark forces we oppose.

Like or not, admit it or not, politics is driven by money (pork), financial considerations and agenda based ideologies.

There are no Abe Lincolns that can run for office anymore, and there are no Jimmy Stewart portrayals of 'Mr Smith Goes to Washington,' that aren't parodies- and 'we the people' are poorer for it.

In this reality and environment, much has been forgotten.

Liberals have forgotten that our country includes even those who disagree with them and their voices are just as relelvant as theirs. Simply disagreeing with some ideas does not make someone stupid. They have also forgotten that simply because they wish to define morality, their definitions by extension, must therefore define us. Life, politics and morality are not zero sum games, that all or nothing proposition. Nor do definitions serve as the means of measure of anyone's worth.

Religious Conservatives have forgotten that 'free will' applies to everyone, and that God places value on everyone. It is not for them decide who is meritorious and who isn't. Nor is it for somepeople to decide morality for everyone. Morality is and will always be, a personal matter. Further, as disconcerting as it may be to some, God made Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims and atheists, as well. Part of the bigger picture that seems to be forgotten sometimes.

Secular Conservatives have forgotten that 'My country, right or wrong,' is a bumper sticker, not a profound ideology. The Founders placed great import on debate and spirited oppsosition. To simply follow along, without great thought, is antithetical to what this country stands for and values.

Lemmings are hardly the model for political inspiration.

Fortunately, the truth prevails, notwithstanding Mr Carville or Mr Rove.

Plenty of Christians voted Mr for Kerry, and plenty of progressives voted for Mr Bush in numbers that are beyond a statistical blip.

That happened because some religious voters recognize a greater spirituality as opposed to a specific set of beliefs, and felt comfortable with their choice. Some secular voters felt comfortable with how things are being handled now. Despite all the packaging, pundits and shrill political voices warning of impending doom, many Americans, quietly reasoned and came to decisions without being influenced and without tearing anyone down.

America was founded and made great by many liberal beliefs and convictions, by people of great conviction, honesty and foresight

America was was also founded and made great by many conservative values, by people of great conviction, honesty and foresight.

America it seems, also needs it's cowboys, some wearing white hats, some wearing black hats, all interchangeable. It is to that notion that the 'Hollywoodization' of politics was exploited, by the political powers that be.

Elections and issues are now emotional exercises, rather than intellectual ones. As any good Hollywood director knows, 'make 'em laugh or make 'em cry, and you'll sell tickets.'

We are being sold tickets and the studio with the funnier or sadder film, wins.

This cannot continue.

We, as human beings, always look to our inner compass, our belief and value systems. For some, the magnetic North is the church and faith. For others, it is the 'good works,' sans religion, of much Liberal thought and ideology.

Many mouths a day are fed by religious people, and many mouths a day are fed by secularists. To the hungry I think, it matters not.

As a result of the media and the packaging, however, somehow what has become important is who's picture is seen dispensing the food. Each side declares the other's kitchen as infested with disease, and each side manufactures conspiracy dark theories, implying that 'they' really want to poison us all.

Faced with the barrage of orchestrated and contrived crises, we retreat into ourselves, into the boxes that have been provided to us. All too often, we refuse to think outside that box. And the cycle contiues.

Now that I've haven't made anybody happy, the conclusion to these thoughts will be up tomorrow. No doubt, more head shaking in store.

I can hear it now- "Alex, how little we knew ye."

Tomorrow, I'm going to discuss what is outside the box, that threatens the current political leadership and landscape:
Common ground.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

On this day, Divine Justice

November 11, 2004.

On this day, we see Divine Justice.

On the day we remember that 'band of brothers,' our veterans and their comrades who were left behind, Yasser Arafat has breathed his last.

Immortalized in a poem entitled
Flanders Field, on Vimy Ridge and a host of other long forgotten blood soaked battlefields, we, from who's ranks and families came those quiet men of honor, can clearly differentiate between the sacred glory of warriors for peace and liberty and the profane idolater of evil, Yasser Arafat.

Much will be written and said about Arafat over the next few days. Some will eulogize him as a great leader and father figure to the Palestinians and others will apologize and jsutify much of what he has done. Others, even more effusive, will refer to him as the ultimate 'freedom fighter,' as if to say he too, shared the honor of a noble warrior.

As I wrote once before, nothing could be further from the truth. Arafat was a terrorist of the worst kind. He attempted to put a noble face on his evil and to have it seen as good.

"Terrorism" is a description of a means, a method of deliberately attacking or threatening to attack civilian targets in order to achieve political goals. "Freedom fighting" is a description of an end, as a freedom fighter's goal is national liberation. An individual could participate in "terrorism" and "freedom fighting" simultaneously, because one word describes means, while the other describes ends. To say that a Palestinian suicide bomber is not condemnable as a terrorist because the bomber's cause is national liberation is to argue that the end justifies the means."

Arafat espoused the deliberate attempt to legitimize his evil deeds, by couching those deeds in terms of honor- as if somehow words alone could transform reality.

Those men, from the Great War, WW2, Korea, Vietnam and now, Iraq, share no moral equivalence to Yasser Arafat's 'freedom fighting.'

Those men fought a war to bring freedom and liberty to those who would take them away.

Those men fought a war for to defend the highest principles, that all men should be free.

Those men fought a war in the hope, naive perhaps, that through their efforts, blood and tears, there would be an end to all wars.

Believing in those principles, some of those men were never came home, instead buried in fields close and far away. Some graves remain unmarked, are the bottom of a forever cold ocean, with young and good men entombed in deep dark water, never to have the sun shine on on their final resting places.

Familes too, paid for their sacrifices.

Children who never again would see their father.

Wives learning that, 'what God hath brought together' can be 'torn asunder,' at the hands of other men that held close evil to their heats.

Parents, having to live through nature in reverse, burying their sons and daughters.

Yasser Arafat and his ilk know nothing of such nobility. They know nothing of sacrifice, only of greed and deceit. They fight not for the principles that make men great, but rather for what makes men petty and cruel.

They rejoice at the death of innocents and in a world turned upside down, refer to the murderers as 'martyrs,' to be glorified amd revered.

In all of wars darkest hours, we spoke of high ideals and principles. We spoke of freedom and the determination that we would pay, with our blood, so that ourselves and others may live free. Our leaders asked not for glory, but rather suffered in anguish at the loss of young lives.

"I have been shown in the files of the War Department a statement of the Adjutant-General of Massachusetts that you are the mother of five sons who have died gloriously on the field of battle

"I feel how weak and fruitless must be any word of mine which shall attempt to beguile you from the grief of a loss so overwhelming. But I cannot refrain from tendering you the consolation that may be found in the thanks of the Republic they died to save.

I pray that our Heavenly Father may assuage the anguish of your bereavement, and leave you only the cherished memory of the loved and lost, and the solemn pride that must be yours to have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of freedom. "

So said Abraham Lincoln, in a letter to a mother who lost 5 sons, defending the nation. These are not the words of a leader, who with calculated indifference, pushed children into harms way, so as to garner sympathy for himself and his cause.

Arafat was incapable of even understanding what liberty means, much less the Altar of Freedom Lincoln referred to.

The Palestinians deserve a homeland, no doubt. They deserve to make the decisions and choices that will affect their lives. They do not have that right to take that away from others, as so many of openly say they wish to do.

Freedom is earned, not given away. Freedom must been paid for and sometimes defended, with the blood of patriots.

Arafat never offered freedom to his people, only tyranny and hate.

It is on this day, we can clearly contrast the differences between mean of real honor and those that defile it.

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow

In Flanders fields.

Sleep well, oh Band of Brothers. The torch you have passed is in good hands. We have not broken faith with you. Those noble ideals and beliefs for which you paid so much, are safe in the hands of all good, free men.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

To be free, times three

Many words have been written on what is to be a citizen of free society and country.

Lofty ideals and words, profound thoughts and heroic actions, are usually exploited in the attempt to define and describe the ethereal values and charateristics of what being free really means.

While rummaging around in the attic of my small thoughts, it occured to me that to be free is to be a part of an ever changing landscape. No Five Year Plans, no Great Leap Forward. To be free is to paint a single brushstroke, wherever we please.

I have a friend suffering from a chronic illness. Despite the constant pain and debiliating psychological assault on well being, my friend worries about our country and what it means to defend our values.

My friend reached beyond herself. Like the athelete that performs beyond his abilities in the big game, my friend rejoiced in the first free election in Afghnistan, a country so far away, with secret tears of joy she never admitted to. My friend knows and understands what free choice means to average people. My friend understands what it means for people to be able to have a say in their own lives, irrespective of their choice of candidate, win or lose.

My friend selected her choice for President and her stand on the issues of the day with care, despite her current condition. The arguments defending her beliefs and choices were eloquently and passionately argued. Her small voice, and millions like her, chose not to be silent, but rather to participate.

I remember quite clearly, when I was in Eastern Europe before the Wall came down, how disenfranchised people were from participating in matters that affected them. Dreary, passionless and tired, those sad lives were reignited with the fire of freedom when the chance to participate was a possibility.

My friend values her freedom, so much so, that she participates, even when it would be easier not to.

Another friend, a speechwriter, is a true artist with words. From the unique perspective of a wordsmith, my friend clearly understands how words, carefully crafted, can convey a decidedly toxic message and make it palatable.

After working all day with words, it would be easy to succumb to someone else's efforts, just like everyone else. My friend chooses not to do that. Instead, my friend chooses to think, ponder and weigh issues- and despite an obvious facility with words, will not attempt to sway anyone in one directon or another, until the issues are clearly understood. Most extraorinarily, I think, my friend will not even do that. My friend wants people to think for themselves, make their own choices and not be spoon fed and not be part of crowd, simply agreeing so as to fit in.

Anyone can opine on any subject, of course. Simply having access to soapbox does not make opinions any more relevant, than does command of the English language. Issues need to be understood and digested, looked at from every angle.

All too often, we forget that. Opinions are thrown about without regard to veracity, or even real knowledge of the subject at hand. For example, I know someone who has studied the Middle East for decades. He can write a well researched, reasoned and measured article and is immediately excoriated by people who disagree with his point of view and see this as a justification for personal attack.

My speechwriter friend knows better than to ever do something like that, despite having the serious firepower to do just that.

Lastly, there are people whom I've come to know and respect, that take freedom seriously. They have wives, children and family responsibilities. We don't always agree and don't neccesarily see eye to eye on everything, but somehow we all speak the same language. I do wonder (and sometimes worry about) about the irrepresible and mildly insane NickyGoomba at times, but he makes me laugh, always.

BunkerMulligan, Paulie, John Adams, Nathan Hale and Capt Trevett over at The Commons, Sherry at Bittersweet, the ever thoughtful Marvin at LittleRedBlog, the research and incisive analysis icon that is Chrenkoff, Daisycutter,Pacetown and BrainShavings are all voices that have chosen to participate. Tom adds to the mix with interesting discussions and exchanges that challenge me, as does David of a Physicist's Perspective. Much to my delight, I no longer think of physicists as strange whack jobs.

There are many others on the Homespun blogroll who are no less a part of the mix. We don't all agree on many things and may even take issue with each other from time to time, but all in all, I'm lucky to be in such good company.

We are all small voices, participating in the free market place of thoughts and ideas, a marketplace ever growing.

Why did I write this? Because in free societies, there is no monolithic state voice. In free societies, there is a symphony of loud, cacaphonous voices, the sweetest sound ever known to the human spirit. In a free society, we willingly make room for variant voices.

In free societies, little voices matter. They are real heroes of free societies, irrespective of how they vote. The passion of those voices, inclusionists all, are the clarion call of free people.

Monday, November 08, 2004

Dinner, civil debate and the National Anthem

A friend of mine recently recounted part of a recent, shared conversation. Over dinner, my friends mother made the remark that she "could not understand how anyone would want to live in the US," given the state of our current political climate.

My friend, a rather thoughful and insightful person was rather surprised at the off handedness of the remark and the implications implied. I should mention that my friend is probably more liberal in ideaology than I am. Nevertheless, my friend was rather taken aback by the remarks. More liberal or not, my friend is nothing if not reflective, honest and thoughtful and most important, focused. My friend exhibits a great sense of balance, proportion and wisdom. I have learned much. We don't always agree, but it is intersting to see that where we differ can usually be reduced to style, not import.

The conversation relayed, irked me a bit, not because of one person's opinion, but rather, because of it's casualness.

Irrespective of one's views, it has become part of our reality that complex issues and political positions can be summed up with one liners. Even more disheartening is the reality that this kind of discourse has become acceptable and de riguer.

A while back I had an exchange with
BunkerMulligan. We were discussing a variant of this topic. I mentioned that simply having differing views did not disqualify the relevance or patriotism of worthy adversaries. I went on to mention that I considered Patrick Daniel Moynihan a real American patriot. Although in many areas, the late senator Moynihan challenged the views of some conservtives, there was never a question of his love of country or his dream to make America a better place for all her citizens. Mr Moynihan often crossed party lines and confounded his supporters and detractors on a regular basis. His entire raison d'etre was to help build a better America.

BunkerMulligan, in his usual elegant way, concurred. With a few simple words, he stated plainly that he missed Mr Moynihan and wished there were more like him.

While I can't speak for BunkerMulligan, I think we share a few similiar ideas.

Debate is just that, debate. Debate can be a healthy exercise giving us pause and insisting that we think for ourselves. At its, lowest, debate can be reduced to a toxic level, with the sole intent of poisining what I call the free market of thoughts and ideas.

The demise of real debate is cancerous. The acceptance of 'spin' as reality has made for vitriol heretofore unknown. We're all guilty of it. It is easier to buy off the shelf than to cook for ourselves. We are filled with adulterated foods, real taste compromised and the empty calories of a mindless ideology, whatever it is, providing us with intellectual irrelevant weight.

We have forgotten what fresh food for thought tastes like.

Recently, I wrote this same friend about a someone who had made rather foolish sounding allegations about the recent elections and expected them to be taken at face value

...irrespective of one's politics, [the claim that] that Mr Bush or any of his colleagues are 'facists' is not in evidence. Until such time as truly fascist behavior is exhibited, such as taking control of the press, suspending the US Constitution and the Bill ofRights or declaring martial law, John's allegations are certainly not a historical event.

Lacking any serious evidence and corroberation, John's claims are spurious at best.There is no evidence whatsoever the election was 'stolen' as John contends. Neither Mr Kerry, the Democrat Party, Democrat Party pollworkers, observers or the UN observers in place, made such allegations. If as John says, 'the fix was in,' it would be a good thing if he were to present such evidence. I'm sure the Federal ElectionCommission, in conjuction with the media, would examine such evidence carefully and seriously.

There is no evidence that the Mr Bush wishes to establish a theocracy. Is John implying that there are no Democrats who believe in God, or attend church? Is his implying that that no atheists voted for Mr Bush? There is ample evidence to suggest that there is plenty of crossover voting. I am a bit uncomfortable with the idea that democracy has no
room for some of a particular stripe. All in all, John seems to have not posted on a historical event, but rather on an unsubstatiated set of allegations.

To be certain, John's views are one side of the same coin. The same type of silliness can be heard on the reverse of that coin.

One writer in the NYT recently said that Europeans see Americans as having more in common with the Taliban than they do with Western Europeans. It is this type of thinking and pandering, along with others propogating the idea that Europe as the center of immorality, that provides in part for the decline of our civilization, as much as any other threat we face.

There are rational voices to be heard- and listened to. In an intersting confluence of fate, recent columns by liberal and conservative pundits shared a similiar concerns. Mort Zuckerman recently wrote,

... Americans rejected the hedonism of Woodstock, in which individual choice and uninhibited, personal expression trumped all. Hollywood came to epitomize for them thisnarcissism and repudiation of conventional values. They were tired ofthe new counterculture of radical change, seeing in the New Left acontempt for middle America and its values, reflected in fathers abandoning their families, the delegitimization of the sanctity of marriage, raising children without clear moral guideposts — all of which, in their minds, led to increased criminality, drug abuse,people being recast as society's victims rather than acceptingresponsibility for their own actions. They yearned to restore the authority of public institutions and toremove some of the violenceand sexuality in TV programs, records, and computer games, whose content they ascribed to the liberals who write the screenplays for TV and movies.

Against this backdrop, the Democratic Party saw its leadership shifting away from its working-class and middle-class roots, away from moral traditionalists, especially families that go to church, awayfrom those who live in unfashionable tract suburbs and even in working-class neighborhoods. The Democratic Party was increasingly identifying more with the rising elites of the information andentertainment age - what commentator Joel Kotkin calls the"hip-ocracy" of well-educated people, high-tech tycoons, Hollywood moguls and celebrities, Wall Street financiers, and an academic world of people with graduate degrees - a new social elite, much moreliberal than the country at large. Bill Clinton's "I feel your pain" and "It's the economy, stupid!" reflected the need to reconnect withthe traditional Democratic middle-class constituencies, but then he exacerbated the concern over moral values and family issues with his personal behavior.

Liberals will abhor such remarks, of course, but in the context of civil debate, they are indeed, relevant.

Conservatives will applaud such remarks, of course. After all, Zuckerman is preaching to the choir. The more important question is, how will conservatives react to the following, from Common Dreams?

Tens of millions of Americans feel betrayed by a society that seems to place materialism and selfishness above moral values. They know that "looking out for number one" has become the common sense of our society, but they want a life that is about something more --- a framework of meaning and purpose to their lives that would transcend the grasping and narcissism that surrounds them. Sure, they will admit that they have material needs, and that they worry about adequate health care, stability in employment, and enough money to give their kids a college education. But even more deeply they want their lives to have meaning --- and they respond to candidates who seem to care about values and some sense of transcendent purpose...

Yet to move in this direction, many Democrats would have to give up their attachment to a core belief: that those who voted for Bush are fundamentally stupid or evil. Its time they got over that elitist self righteousness and developed strategies that could affirm their common humanity with those who voted for the Right. Teaching themselves to see the good in the rest of the American public would be a critical first step in liberals and progressives learning how to teach the rest of American society how to see that same goodness in the rest of the people on this planet. It is this spiritual lesson --- that our own well-being depends on the well-being of everyone else on the planet and on the well-being of the earth --- a lesson rooted deeply in the spiritual wisdom of virtually every religion on the planet, that could be the center of a revived Democratic Party.

Yet to take that seriously, the Democrats are going to have to get over the false and demeaning perception that the Americans who voted for Bush could never be moved to care about the well being of anyone but themselves. That transformation in the Democrats would make them into serious contenders

Can anyone deny the truth of what the writer states? Can anyone deny the fundamental reality that given the right focus and direction, liberal values will appeal to many? I for one, have no doubt of that. I share some of the writers ideas and thoughts. I may not agree with all his politics, but like Patrick Moynihan, Rabbi Lerner cannot be dismissed simply because of his political affiliations. We would do well to read and understand his points of view and ideas, if for no other reason that they are sound and contain more than a kernel of truth.

The fact of the matter is, truth is no less truth simply because we don't like the bearer.

I wrote recently that words can be the rifle scope on the gun, that fires the bullets that kill.

If the uncivil debate continues unabated, we will have have lost something in this country, far more precious than elections or debates. We will have lost that part of ourselves that made America great- the intoxicating addiction to the truth and the notion that as a nation, Americans want a 'land of the free and the home of the brave.'

We must be free to express ourselves, without fear of exclusion and brave enough to consider ideas and thoughts that challenge us.

As newspapers become more partisan and elites of all stripes want to do our thinking for us, we would do well to remember the words of the Pledge of Allegiance-- One nation...with liberty and justice, for all.

Who we are and can be, cannot and should not be reduced to an offhanded remark over dinner.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Day after comments

There isn't much I can add to the blogshere pundits that are analyzing the election.

Instead, I visited the Atrios website and read through some of the comments left on that left leaning site.

Civil discourse? I think not

Goal now is to make it living Hell for all Republicans...No hold barred, nothing to outrageous or dirty. I don't want to see any more virtuous, serious-minded discussions of policy or ideas. What I want to see is relentless attacks beyond imagination of every damn filthy Republican and all of their supporters. Non-stop attack. Meanwhile, start building the 08 campaign now. I will never quit fighting the ignorance that Murka has become. It's my F-ing country, they've just stolen it

America the Ugly, America the Destroyer, America the Asshole of the World...

Wear whatever the fuck you want, it ain't gonna mean shit unless you're willing to spill blood

its not the messenger - its the receiver we got out our message - it is righteous true and noble....the sheep cannot understand progressive politics they don't comprehend how we believe in women and their right to choose - remember women those 54% are against choice they don't comprehend how we have embraced the gay community instead of alienating it ...bottom line: so long as the cult religion is allowed to flourish, ignorance and intolerance will be the majority alas - gays guns grizzlies and the GOP are fine by the merican sheeplewhat do you expect - country of retards

Finally, I truly feel sorry for the Canadians. If there was ever a reason to beef up the border, this is it:

Let's all move to Canada together. We can start a new town. Atriostown. We'll blow up your teevees, throw away our papers go to the country, build some homes. Plant a little garden, eat a lot of peaches Try an find Jesus on our own. As far as income, I hear marijuana commands a high price.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Somber reminders

See Nicky Goomba and Bittersweet.

Both posts are disturbing, relevant and important.


Postmodern courtesan follow up

There has been a flood of emails to my post on the Postmodern Courtesan.

For those of you, on either side of the issue that chose to write thoughtful critique, I shall respond over the course of the day, via email, as time permits.

To those of you on either side of the issue that responded in a less than civil manner, well, as in real life, you shall be ignored.

I may or may not choose to post again on the matter. It is not my intent to be a cheering section or lightning rod for debating the issue.

To one email correspondent in particular, let me say that Olympia Manet if far more 'relevant' as a person than you will ever be.

Irrespective of some of what she chooses to do-- and that choice is hers to make-- as a human being she has contributed far more to society than you ever will.

Monday, November 01, 2004

Postmodern courtesan comments and email

Despite the late evening post, I've received a number of emails on my post below, The Postmodern Courtesan Responds.

Not altogther unexpectedly, I have been excoriated for even having a discussion with the "likes" of Olympia Manet, and I have been called a racist homophobe (among other things) on the other extreme.

As I made clear, I wrote the piece as a discussion- an important one. As the ever succint Paulie of
The Commons notes in a comment he posted below, there is a strong argument to be made about the effects of gay marriage on children.

In any case, unless and until civil discourse becomes the norm, diverse opinion will become even more divisive-- and that means we all lose.

The Post Modern Coutesan Responds

The Post Modern Courtesan has responded to my post, via an email. I shall post the entire correspondence and my responses to her. I want her letter to me to be taken in context, rather than 'cherry pick' a few disjointed remarks and comment on them.

Thus, this post will be long. I hope my readers forgive me.
It is however, an important discussion. What follows below is an exchange of opinions and thoughts.

As The Post Modern Coutesan writes,

"High-minded debate is something so acutely lacking in society today that I find an intelligent dissenter far more rewarding than a fawning supporter."

Olympia Manet's (the nom de plume of the Post Modern Courtesan) letter was thoughtful, relevant and in it's own way, very poignant.

Let me be clear. I have no objection to to Ms. Manet herself-- only some of the choices she has made. As I posted in my
earlier piece, "It is authored by an obviously intelligent, educated and erudite writer."

Ms. Manet is not a Nazi, Islamofascist and she does not wear a white hood. She is not looking to corrupt your children nor steal Grandpa's Social Security check.

After reading her letter to me I can only reiterate those things as truths. While I do not agree with much of what Ms. Manet writes and ascribes to, I certainly respect her.

For those of you who will react in a religiously reflexive manner, please recall that both the Old and New Testaments are replete with examples of tolerance and understanding, even for those who have sinned.

For those of you who hate religion and anything else that smacks of conservative values, let me remind you that many of the liberal values we have in this country came about as the result of the efforts of many who invoked God's name.

Here is the letter:

Dear Alex,

I am Olympia Manet, the nom de plume of the postmodern courtesan. I'm writing because a reader forwarded me the link to your blog and your posting on mine.

Let me start by saying that though I suspect our political views would tend to be different, I really appreciate and respect the way you criticized my site and lifestyle without denigrating me as a person. High-minded debate is something so acutely lacking insociety today that I find an intelligent dissenter far more rewarding than a fawning supporter.

I took a moment to acquaint myself with your site as a whole so that I could better contextualize your comments on my site. One of the things I like about your site is that I have been able to pin very few associations on you. I have deduced from your divorced dad of a teenage daughter note that you are a man, and I am assuming you are both white and Christian, though I can't decide if your defense of the Catholic Church was sympathy or empathy. And you appear to be from the beautiful state of North Carolina.

I did want to take a moment to respond to some of your assertions, if only to give you a different perspective, one which I hope is free of rhetoric and cliches. You mention three things in your posting:homosexuality, prostitution, and terrorism that you consider to be disadvantageous to us as a society. I guess my disagreement can be traced to the fact that those three things have been in existence since the dawn of recorded history. Homosexuality, whether sanctioned or closeted has been around since at least Ancient Greece, and prostitution can be found in the Old Testament. Terrorism makes an appearance there as well: the Philistines who attack the Israelites from behind without provocation, killing women and children in a dishonorable manner.

I would wager to guess that these things will be around long after you and I cease to record our digital thoughts. I think what has changed is that we now talk about them. Issues that were once considered unacceptable to air publicly are now well in the public domain. I don't think this is a bad thing.

I'm not solely trying to pick apart your argument piece by piece, but the following passages juxtaposed made me curious:

"I don't believe that mental illness is a curse from God, nor do I believe that Gays are inherently sinfully choice or that that aren't issues that aren't struggled with everyday. I've written about that before as have many others.

Nevertheless, there comes a point where we have to take responsibility for our actions, good or bad.While we can rightly claim the good we do, we must also take the blame for the wrongs we do- or those done in our name."

Does the second paragraph mean that people must take responsibility for their homosexuality and acknowledge it as bad? Are people to be blamed for that? (I'm not going to ask about mental illness, as I am pretty positive you don't think people ought to be owning up to that and accepting blame for being mentally ill). And if they are to be blamed, what does that mean? Is a public apology good enough? Is returning to a time when we just don't talk about those kinds of people enough? Is the proper conclusion that gays should realize their actions are bad and stop requesting rights on par with straight people?

No, Ms Manet, I do not believe that homosexuals need acknowledge their behavior as bad. That is something I will leave for others to determine. Nor do I believe that we ought not talk about homosexuality, sexuality or even question other long held beliefs. That is not and has never been an issue.

I do not believe that there ought to be different rights for different groups of people. Christians, Jews and Muslims share the same equal rights and there is no need to place one religion 'over' another. Indeed, that was the Framers original intent, to preclude a government sanctioned (majority or otherwise) religion from imposing itself on the nation, to the exclusion of other faiths. The same is true of all equal protection laws.

I do however believe, that the homosexual community needs to acknowledge their behavior as different and that attempting to 'normalize' that behavior as an acceptable-- and thus equivalent-- lifestyle has repurcussions to society at large. This is no different than the Amish acknowledging their way of life different, in the same way that Orthodox Jews or Orthodox Muslims acknowledge their own differences. None of those groups ask for or receive special rights that are outside those already afforded them. They do not ask that we change our lifestyles so that we respect their respective Sabbath Days.

Society and government have the obligation to preserve and defend the standard definition of family, if for no other reason than they they are the foundations of our past, current and future existence.

It is true that prostitution, adultery and homosexuality have been around a long time and will always be an issue in society.

Having said that, let me point out that I am all for civil unions. However that works itself out, is fine with me. I do not wish to see any persons in 'this great experiment in democracy,' excluded from equal protections. Equal protections however, does not mean equivalence. Nor does that imply a superior or inferior status. Equal protections are just that- to be applied equally.

As the late Prime Minister of Canada, Pierre Elliot Trudeau once said, "Government has no business in the bedrooms of the nation."

That oft quoted remark will always remain relevant.

Adultery laws, and those about homosexuality, found in the bible (and the quran) were put in place at a time when societies were fragmented and the most important thing was to keep the society together and to propagate it. If you were having sex with someone other than your wife, or with a man, you weren't having children who would in turn further the aims of the society. Most of the biblical laws were put in place to prevent societal atrophy. The entire Old Testament is geared towards making sure there would be enough people to sustain the religion. Adultery and homosexuality were seen to be barriers to that (as was the honoring of parents, the ban on false idols, the coveting of those things that rightly belonged to one's neighbor). Regardless of whether the issue of sustaining a society is still relevant today (which I would posit it isn't, or certainly not in the dire way it was portrayed 2 and 3 thousand years ago), the problem with using those mores as a foundation for a secular government is that it is inherently exclusive. I have always felt that democracy strives to be inclusive, to provide a safe place for people to actas they wish while respecting the laws of the land. Laws that are of utmost importance would be not stealing from other people and not killing them. Without those laws in place, anarchy would certainly reign. I just don't see how homosexuality and prostitution pose the same threat. Yes, there are religions, and those religions have the majority of the U.S. population as followers, that disdain adultery, prostitution, and homosexuality, but that alone cannot be justification for secular laws against them.

Here, I'm not sure what Ms. Manet is saying. Is she implying that there are laws that are actively discriminatory towards gays? If anything, it is clear that there are no laws that are specifically anti gay in nature. There have been laws that have been found to be exclusionary in their implementation, but those laws were reinterpreted by the courts and clarified to be more inclusive. Herein lies the strength of our society. The courts are constantly redefining who we are and what our laws mean. We don't always like these 'activist' courts (unless of course, they rule in our favor, whatever the cause du jour may be), but in reality, overall the courts have worked remakably well.

Ms. Manet's assertion disappoints me in that she implies there are laws that are actively discriminatory, is an unfair characterization of our laws and as such, lessens open and honest debate.

Further, biblical laws pertaining to prostitution and homosexuality were established for more than simply propogation of the religion. It would seem to me that the issues those laws adderssed are as equally valid today as they were back then. The issues the address are the same as the ones we face today. Families are disintegrating and children are being reduced to chattel, bought and paid for on a weekend to weekend basis. We are less engaged with our families. This results in even more detachment.

Even the "It takes a village to raise a child" philosophy is meaningless if there aren't strong families to populate and commit to those villages.

I cannot argue Ms Manet's point that laws pertaining to adultery and prostitution are not the equivalent of the laws relating to murder and theft. Nevertheless, we have somehow managed to find ourselves in a society and culture that is more callous and less grounded. While not resulting in the anachy of murder and mayhem, perhaps we ought to be looking at the slow disintegration of values we hold dear. There is an increasing sexualization of children and the depressing state of what passes for TV and film entertainment, seems to be headed to even lower depths.

Those are not strictly the religious values Ms. Manet would have you believe. I would submit that someone as thoughtful as her would concur that we, in this generation, face challenges never before imagined. We cannot even imagine what the future holds. By Ms. Manet's own words, "biblical laws were put in place to prevent societal atrophy." Why would that be no less true today? Since when is societal atrophy a religious matter only?

To say that moral corruption is a religious matter only, is a disingenious argument, because the obverse would also be true-- that morality is a religious construct.

If that were true, why is the fight for gay marriage being called a moral fight? Why should marriage be relevant at all, outside religious boundries?

Morality exists outside the boundries of religion, as does immorality. As such, there are a whole range of moral issues that must be dealt with by society as a whole.

Putting aside religion, morality and politics for a moment, consider this. In some states, girls as young as 14 can have an abortion without their parents knowledge.

Something is wrong with that. Very wrong and very tragic.

I have yet to receive a response I understand for how granting marriage to homosexuals weakens heterosexual marriage. I don't understand how adultery with a prostitute is any more damaging than adultery with a lay person - and I don't think there would be much support for an anti-adultery law. You yourself are divorced, and I can only imagine what a painful decision that must have been, but the result is that, through what I will guess was neither homosexuality nor the solicitation of a prostitute, your family has become non-nuclear. If the nuclear family is the key towards righting our social ills, I might suggest that both you and I are guilty of contravening that goal.

As I stated earlier, I have no problem with civil unions.

Ms. Manet is right to say that divorce is always painful and neither homosexuality or prostitution played a role in my own, and for that matter, in the demise of most, marriages.

Still, the remark that "I don't understand how adultery with a prostitute is any more damaging than adultery with a lay person...," troubles me.

Nowhere in the letter does Ms. Manet denigrate marriage, nor given her apparent ideology, condemn marraige. Therefore, the remarks are confusing. With adultery and sex with a prostitute, the marriage vows are compromised. Notwithstanding any religious beliefs, society has accepted marital fidelity as a given.

Prostitution reduces intimacy to commodity, no more no less. It is bought and paid for with no consequence. It is the exact opposite of intimacy. It is a commercial exchange, with the emphasis on the commercial. Men (or women) pay for sex, period. While is true there is often the illusion of a relationship, as you have written yourself, in the end, it is just that-- an illusion.

Arguments can be made that adultery is 'better' or 'worse' than prostitution, but regardless, the results are the same. There are consequences to the individuals, families and society at large.

In both cases, prostitution and adultery, social and religious lines are crossed.

But that's not my point. I think that we encounter far greater threats to our way of life and our livelihood than either homosexuality or prostitution pose, and I am saddened that those issues, especially the former, are seized upon in an attempt to distance ourselves from the stickier problems that affect us: poor education, poor race relations, general intolerance, general greed, and the converse, general poverty. I find that arguments made against sexual issues are an avoidance tactic that allows people to be galvanized while simultaneously allowing them to ignore the problems that may well affect them more directly on a day to day basis.

In this area, I find myself somewhat agreeing with Ms Manet. It is true there are greater societal needs than prostitition. I would argue however, that the eradication of the very real issues you mention, go hand in hand with proper perspective. They cannot be attacked piecemeal. When we attempt to deal with societal ills, we need to deal with all of them. Still, she is right. In the great scheme of things, the triage of what must be dealt with, would place prostitution on a lower rung.

On a more personal note, let me be honest and say I know I make my money off human weakness and moral relativism. My livelihood is directly linked to people wanting more and varied sex, being unable to confront their partners with these desires, and coming to a third party for fulfillment. If it breaks up families, obviously I feel bad. But not responsible. A marriage that breaks up because one or both partners stray cannot be attributed to the straying itself, but rather the causes for that straying. If adultery wasn't going to terminate the marriage, something else would have. The world is too complex for that to be a black and white issue. And whether couples break up for reasons of adultery, money problems, or the old irreconcilable differences, and children of that union will be hurt. A child who has just witnessed a divorce isn't going to take time to rank how bad the reasons for the divorce were, he or she will simply be devastated by the divorce itself. But thinking that had one of the parents not seen a prostitute the marriage would still be intact is just poor reasoning.

I admire Ms. Manet's candor with regard to human weakness and moral relativism. With those few words, she concedes much.

I do question her when she remarks that prostitution doesn't break marriages. In a sense of course, that is true. In another sense, an argument can be made that prostitution can contribute mightily to the dissolution of a marriage.

Prostitutes cultivate relationships. That is their business. A good prostitute knows that by being the object of an infatuation, the relationship will flourish and thus be lucrative. I do wonder if Ms. Manet grasps the magnitude of that obsession, in all it's implications.

Prostitution and adultery can indeed contribute to the breakup of a marriage

Ms. Monet seems to make light on the impact divorce has on children, when it comes about as the result of adultery or prostitution. Younger children are perhaps immune to the issues of betrayal, but older children are not. Children as young as 8 years old, the age when rational thought and consequence become apparent, can be acutely aware and traumatized by impact of infidelity and betrayal.
Those wounds are hard to heal.

Similarly, I would like to say that, on a more altruistic note, the way I handle my business affairs is far more responsible than one might imagine. My rule of mandatory STD screening for both me and my clients prevents the spread of a terror with fartherreaching consequences than simple divorce. Men who choose to see prostitutes with less stringent rules run the risk of infecting their wives with something they picked up from a prostitute.

Finally, I'd like to end with your last paragraph:

"Democracy is about a lot more than legitimizing the morally corrupt notion of that 'all is fair in love and war."

You've said a mouthful here. Morally corrupt, as I attempted to describe above, is a spiritual construct, not a secular one. Morality is relative, and though you and I probably subscribe to a basic set of similar morals, those should not be the basis on which we govern. Government should be free from such influence and should instead focus on what is civicley corrupt. Morality is an issue each of us must confront with that to which we pray or believe. Making it something more removes the singularity of our democratic processes and makes it about a special interest. People who preach morality do so, generally, because they truly believe they have the answers to the ills of our society, but their voices are only some of many, and to give credence to any one group overanother is a recipe for disaster. Democracy is about alot more than legitimizing notions. Democracy is about creating an environment where people are free to livetheir lives unoppressed and unmolested. But it is als oabout preserving my right to think that gays should marry and I should be permitted to have sex for moneyand preserving your right to think otherwise. And if some of those thoughts come up against laws where we are restricted from leading our lives because we subscribe to different beliefs or lifestyles, something has gone drastically wrong. It is easy to dismiss the similarities between the rights for gays and the rights for blacks or women, but at the time that equal rights for both blacks and women were debated, there were plenty of people who subscribed to the notion that granting equal rights to those demographics would erode the family and our society as a whole. I'm glad to say that eventuality happened in neither case.

Anything goes no matter if we want it to or not, but I'm not sure if punishment and secrecy are the answer to the problems you see in society. I would wager aguess that if our society were stronger, neither homosexuality nor prostitution would pose the great threat you feel they do. If our children were educated and tolerant; if we didn't have hordes of starving and sick people barely surviving throughout our rich country; if our air and water quality were better; andif we learned to prize and respect each other as unique and contributing individuals, rejoicing in our similarities and our ability to create great things,and not wallowing in those petty differences we often use to separate ourselves - maybe then it wouldn't matter if our next door neighbors were a gay couple with two adopted kids. Utopian, this thought might be, but no less utopian than the world I saw you envision in your post.

I have discussed moral corruption as a social and not strictly religious issue, so I need not repeat myself.

As for much of what Ms Monet goes on to say, I agree. We disagree however, it the conclusions.

As she says, "Democracy is about creating an environment where people are free to live their lives unoppressed and unmolested."

Ms Monet sees the issue of democracy as primarily an expression of individual rights and then communal rights.

I see democracy as an expression of communal rights first, because it is from the community that all sense of individual rights are derived. I too, recognize Ms Monet's notion of 'creating an environment' conducive to democracy where personal liberties flourish. However, those personal liberties are not an absolute. Free speech does not allow for yelling 'Fire!' in a crowded theater. At some point, the well being of the community trumps the individual's rights.

Nowhere did I mention or suggest 'punishment' for those I disagree with. That characterization is unfair and is an atempt to miscontrue my words.

Like Ms Monet, I stuggle at times with the balance. As
I've written before, regarding abortion, that struggle has been very real for me.

Ms Monet tries to equate civil rights for blacks and women as equal to civil rights for gays. That argument won't hold water.

Black Americans were discriminated against simply because they existed. There is no more fundamentall right than the right to live. It took too long, a war was fought over it and we finally corrected that injustice.

Women suffered at the hands of a culture that in many cases, demeaned and denigrated them. That too, over time, was a wrong, rightly overcome. We changed the way we think about women and that has benefited all of society enormously.

The discrimination of gays is also a matter that must be addressed-- and they are being addressed, in the courts and in the market place of thoughts and ideas. Nevertheless, addressing discrimination does not mean specific rights for any group of people. Nor does it mean forcing society into accepting an alternative lifestyle as equal. At some point, society has a right to define itself.

Ms Monet calls me on 'preaching morality.'

I suppose she's right. I do believe in right and wrong. However, I don't believe that I have all the answers. She is wrong however, when she implies I'm trying to cure all the worlds ills. I do have strong beliefs in what would make for a better world, but in reality, I can only attempt to influence that small circle around me. Sometimes I will be successful, sometimes I won't.

I have written that America is a uniquely self correcting endeavor. Elections happen, power is handed over and somehow, the cycle continues and we all seem to move forward.

I have nowhere near the answers for what ails the world, any more than Ms Manet does. I think Ms Manet would admit to that.

Let me also say that discussions of this nature are never final or definative. They can however be instructive and provide food for thought.

Perhaps neither Ms, Manet's way of thinking or mine holds the key to that magical kingdom we both envision, but in the end, we do share similiar ideas about the kind of world we want to live in.

We both want the world to be a better place. That's a start.

This has gone on far too long, and if you're still reading, thank you. I chose to write you personally rather than leave a comment on your blog. However, if you wanted to reprint any of this email for your readers, you have my permission provided that you donot unfairly excerpt. I trust you wouldn't, but I wanted to make my preferences known. I tried not to take your writing out of context when penning this missive, and I would hope you would show me the same respect were you to reprint a part of this. We might have some radically different opinions, but I found your site to be well-written and certainly thoughtful.



Wandering Mind

may not be suitable for political vegans