The Conversation — Part III (Conclusion)

This is the third and final part of my series about … anything and everything!  I’ve really enjoyed this, felt like I was actually chatting with Mary all the time.  I hope you guys feel free to chime in on any aspect or topic addressed here.  As with the first two, Mary’s comment is in normal text, my responses are in blue.

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And none of this mentions the third world countries and the horrible living conditions and poverty and starvation that are in their daily lives. And we think this will change?

No, sadly the situation in the third world countries is likely, with the effects of climate change, to become far worse in the coming years.  It would take the cooperation of all the industrialized nations and their willingness to work together to help those in poor nations, to make a concerted effort to combat the loss of arable land, to help find solutions to provide potable drinking water, and to help them become economically stable, not to mention providing a wide array of health services.  All of which is a pipe dream, when the industrialized nations cannot even agree on the simplest of concepts.

Some may say I’m pessimistic, but I feel I’m realistic. Maybe it’s just the way of Mother Nature. We are the destroyers and the only ones who can bring about a possible eventual return of a healed planet, when we are gone and nature can flourish once again in peace.

Until recently, at least a few of my friends said I got on their nerves with my optimism.  But that optimism has faded with the things I have seen from the human race in the past few years.  Like you, I consider myself neither an optimist nor a pessimist, but rather, a pragmatist, a realist.  The reality is that the human race is not living up to its potential, and in the process of destroying the planet, we are also destroying ourselves.  There is still time for us to start listening, learning and trying to change, and there are signs that some are, but unfortunately not enough.  I liked a comment Robert Vella made on Part I of this series … that we have to find a way to make Joe Blow feel like he is part of the solution.  When we figure out how to do that, then perhaps there will be hope.

And although the environment is of the utmost peril to fix if at all possible, something must be done to change people’s minds about the validity of science and the scourge of racism.  Education, to me is key. The two things that work against it are far right religion and racism pure and simple.

You are spot on!  Education is the answer to both of these things … making people realize that science is not a hoax, and that all people are equal, regardless of skin colour, ethnicity, religion, gender, gender identification, height, eye colour, language, culture, etc., etc., etc.  And education begins where?  In the home.  We can blame the Department of Education for a lot, rightfully, and we can blame the colleges for not stepping up to the plate, but we, as parents and grandparents, have the most influence over our children in their early, formative years.  Racism breeds racism, bigotry is carried from one generation to the next.  The question, then, becomes … how do we break that cycle?

Future generations could maybe slowly reverse this environmental damage through scientific research and new technologies, but not if science is not taught and respected.

I think that if we wait for ‘future generations’, based on what I have read of the IPCC and NCA reports on climate change, it will be too late.  We have to convince governments and industries that if we don’t act now, the human race won’t survive, and it won’t make a damn bit of difference how much money they had or how large their investment portfolio, how many rooms in their mansion, or how many trips to the Riviera they took.  In truth, I suspect that those who claim to deny a belief in the science behind climate change know that they are being obtuse, know that the science is real, but are just too stubborn to act, for it might require sacrifice on their part.  And some of the extremely religious, I imagine, believe that their god will not allow anything bad to happen.  Blind faith, they call it.

Wars will continue as long as politicians and big business makes money off of them.

Agreed.  Many profit greatly from wars, especially arms manufacturers.  Others lose their lives, their sons, their husbands …

Racism and bigotry in the US will continue as long as religion castigates other non Christian beliefs and lifestyle choices.

Bigotry in all its forms will continue as long as people believe, whether because of religion or society, that they are somehow superior to others based on some irrelevant criteria.  We keep fighting the same battles over and over, thinking that we’ve finally learned something, and then, a generation or two later, we fight the same battles again.  It’s the fatal flaw of the human race.

And thus concludes this three-part series.  I hope you found it interesting, found some food for thought, and maybe even shared your own opinion on some of these topics.  Special thanks to maryplumbago for sharing her thoughts, and for agreeing to participate in The Conversation.

Links to Part I and Part II, in case you missed them:  The Conversation — Part IThe Conversation — Part II

Snarkier Than Usual Snippets — Part I

A few stories I read last night truly made my blood boil and make me want to punch somebody.  As I am a kind and generous person who believes in sharing everything with my friends, I am sharing these stories with you so that you, too, can experience the rage that I felt.


A truly WTF moment …

There have been very few times in my life that I have actually wished something bad to happen to somebody, but this is one of those times.  No, it isn’t Trump this time … it is a man named Dave Johnson.  Dave is the Republican Party Chairman for Columbiana County, Ohio.  He owns the Spread Eagle Tavern in Hanoverton, a regular stop for politicians running for office in Ohio, and served as a delegate to the 2016 Republican National Convention.

Last Sunday, Dave posted the following meme to his Facebook page …Dave Johnson Calif fires meme

“God’s punishment to Liberal California”???  WTF???  

In the Camp Fire that destroyed the town of Paradise, California, the death toll is so far at 80 people and expected to rise.  As of this writing, 699 are still unaccounted for.  The fire has burned some 151,000 acres and destroyed approximately 15,000 homes and businesses.  And that is only one, albeit the worst, of the many, deadly fires that have plagued California this year and last.  And this excuse for a ‘man’ calls it “God’s punishment to Liberal California”?  Hey, GOP … really, is this the best you’ve got to offer???

As you might imagine, the outrage was immediate and ol’ Dave took the post down later the same day, but in an interview, he stands by what he said.

“Look, that’s a meme. And it’s how I feel about liberals, but did I mean that God is going to punish everyone who lives in California? No. It’s a figure of speech, and I probably shouldn’t have done it. But I did, and it doesn’t change how I feel about what’s happened in California.”

Somebody put this man out of our misery!


Unfit to parent …

Meet Emily Scheck …Emily-Scheck.pngEmily is 19 years old, a sophomore and cross-country runner at Canisius College in Buffalo, New York.  One day at the beginning of the school year, Emily received a series of angry text messages from her mother … her mother had found pictures of Emily and the woman she is currently dating on a social media site and was horrified.  Emily had not come out to her parents, knowing how they would react, but now the cat was out of the bag.

Emily’s “Christian” parents insisted that she would quit college and they would seek conversion therapy for her, else they would write her out of their lives.  Say what???  How does a parent just … poof … write their own child out of their life???

Emily refused to leave school and made it quite clear that she has no interest in any form of therapy.  Good for her!  The next day, her father traveled the 85 miles to the Canisius campus, unceremoniously dumped all of Emily’s belongings into her car and proceeded to remove the license plate from her vehicle, for he had already removed her from the family’s insurance policy.  He even included her birth certificate.  Her mother’s final text message was …

“Well, I am done with you. As of right now, declare yourself independent. You are on your own. Please don’t contact us or your siblings.  Because you disgust me.”

As it was the beginning of the term, Emily hadn’t yet bought her books, and now she couldn’t afford to, so she was reduced to borrowing friends’ books.  She managed to get two campus jobs and somehow squeeze them in along with her classes and athletic practices.  Before long, one of her friends came up with an idea and started a GoFundMe page, hoping to collect $5,000 to help Emily pay for licensing her car, getting insurance, buying books, and buying food!  Well, long story short, the GoFundMe quickly went to $58,000!!!  Yes, you heard me right!  About a year’s pay for most of us!  But … the NCAA has rules, and one is that its scholarship students cannot get outside contributions.  Emily would have to give the money back to the donors, or risk losing her scholarship.

Eventually, the NCAA relented in light of Emily’s special circumstances, and Emily was able to keep the money, which will help her get through the next three years of school.  Isn’t it a damn shame, though, that two parents can just disown their child for no reason at all other than their religion tells them to hate gay people?  Damn shame.


Jim Acosta is back … BUT …

AcostaYesterday, Jim Acosta had his full White House press credentials returned to him, and as a result, CNN has dropped their lawsuit.  I was a bit surprised, glad for Acosta, but in one sense, leery of CNN having dropped the lawsuit.  It seems to me that until this is stamped “Paid”, the issue is likely to rise again and again.  But then …

Later in the day, the White House released Trump’s new set of ‘rules’ by which the press must play.  They are as follows:

Please be advised of the following rules governing future press conferences:

(1) A journalist called upon to ask a question will ask a single question and then will yield the floor to other journalists;

(2) At the discretion of the President or other White House official taking questions, a follow-up question or questions may be permitted; and where a follow up has been allowed and asked, the questioner will then yield the floor;

(3) “Yielding the floor” includes, when applicable, surrendering the microphone to White House staff for use by the next questioner;

(4) Failure to abide by any of rules (1)-(3) may result in suspension or revocation of the journalist’s hard pass.

My opinion?  This is a blatant attempt to curtail the freedom of the press.  However, given that neither Sanders nor Trump never … NEVER … answer any of the questions that are important, the White House press briefings have become a joke, and his press conferences even more so.  I would love to see the mainstream media boycott the press briefings for about a week, for the really important things will be found out by other means anyway, not from Ms. Sarah Huckabee Sanders.  The press will, as they have been forced to do for nearly two years now, have to rely on those ‘anonymous’ and ‘insider’ sources, for that is the only way that We The People will have any idea what our paid government officials are up to.

I look for Sanders/Trump to seize on any excuse to pull the creds of reporters who don’t “play nice”, those who, like Acosta, ask the tough questions, hold the prez accountable.  When that happens, I hope to see lawsuits by any and all of the media outlets.  SOMEBODY needs to hold Donald Trump’s feet to the fire, and if our free press cannot do it … then who can?  Who will? Think about that one.


And since I have more, but am already over 1,000 words, I shall quit for now and produce Part II a bit later.  No need to thank me for sharing my angst … ’twas my pleasure!

Turn a Blind Eye …

Consider this from yesterday’s Washington Post

“A group of prominent U.S. evangelical figures, including several of President Trump’s evangelical advisers, met Thursday with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, whose role in the killing of Washington Post contributing columnist Jamal Khashoggi remains unclear.”

What strikes me about this is how these same evangelicals openly condemn women who have an abortion, take birth control, or leave their abusive husbands, but they are willing to meet with a man who has blood on his hands and is a known violator of human rights.  Can anybody explain to me how a woman who refuses to be a punching bag is worse than a man who just this year threatened to behead a woman and her husband for being human rights activists?  Or how the marriage of two men is somehow more terrible than the bombing of innocent men, women, and children in Yemen?khashoggi-posterAll indications are that Mohammed bin Salman authorized or ordered the brutal murder of Washington Post reporter Jamal Khashoggi last month, yet Donald Trump continues to throw his support behind bin Salman.  And why?  In part, because his friend, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asked him to, but also because Trump has significant financial interests in Saudi Arabia.  Trump has denigrated the leaders of many of the nations who are our allies, such as Canada, the UK and Germany, but at the same time, he is willing to befriend a cruel dictator … a man who almost certainly murdered one of our own.toon-3That Trump is such an unconscionable ‘man’ should not surprise us, but I am highly confused by a group of so-called evangelical Christians who are willing to turn a blind eye to bin Salman’s many human rights violations and sit around the fireside chuckling and telling jokes as if he were just another of the ‘good ol’ boys’.Evangelicals meet MBS.pngJust as an aside, does anybody remember that 15 of the 19 hijackers on 9/11 came from Saudi Arabia?

toon-4The Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act allows the president to impose sanctions, including freezing of assets, against individuals or entities responsible for or acting as an agent for someone responsible for “extrajudicial killings, torture, or other gross violations of internationally recognized human rights,” or if they are government officials or senior associates of government officials complicit in “acts of significant corruption.”  In other words, Trump could freeze any assets held in the U.S. by the Saudi government or by bin Salman.  Instead, Trump sends a delegation of his trusted ‘religious advisors’.

The group was led by author/activist Joel Rosenberg (pictured at top).  As to why they agreed to meet with bin Salman, an article in Religious News Service (RNS) sums it up …

“U.S. evangelical leaders decided to meet with the Saudi crown prince despite the Khashoggi controversy because Saudi Arabia is among the wealthiest, most powerful, and most important nations in the Middle East, in all of history.”

So … still have any doubts about what takes precedence in the evangelical community?

The Saudi royal family is consistently ranked among the “worst of the worst” in Freedom House’s annual survey of political and civil rights.  Their human rights violations include capital punishment, torture, human trafficking, censorship and imprisonment of journalists, killing of homosexuals and transgenders, and the list goes on.  But, the religious leaders seem to have no problem overlooking those minor details.toon-1Trump’s evangelical advisory board has come under fire before for having tested the limits of separation of church and state by advising Trump and White House staff on issues including taxes, health care and judicial appointments.  And now, they are assisting in setting foreign policy, supporting a cruel dictator.  Ah well, they’ve been turning a blind eye to Trump and his obscene behaviour for two years now, so what’s a little bit of murder, beheading and dismemberment among friends, eh?  Especially when there’s a profit to be turned.toon-2

Banned Books Week

banned booksFor those who might not have been aware, this week, September 23-29, is Banned Books Week.  Because I seem to have slipped back into the rabbit hole and cannot bring myself to write about any of the detritus swirling about in cyberspace today, I am instead writing about Banned Books Week.

What the heck, you ask, is Banned Books Week? According to the American Library Association

Banned Books Week 2018 is September 23-29. It brings together the entire book community — librarians, booksellers, publishers, journalists, teachers, and readers of all types — in shared support of the freedom to seek and to express ideas, even those some consider unorthodox or unpopular.

The books featured during Banned Books Week have all been targeted with removal or restricted in libraries and schools. By focusing on efforts across the country to remove or restrict access to books, Banned Books Week draws national attention to the harms of censorship.

Banned Books Week was launched in the 1980s, a time of increased challenges, organized protests, and the Island Trees School District v. Pico (1982) Supreme Court case, which ruled that school officials can’t ban books in libraries simply because of their content.

Banned books were showcased at the 1982 American Booksellers Association (ABA) BookExpo America trade show in Anaheim, California. At the entrance to the convention center towered large, padlocked metal cages, with some 500 challenged books stacked inside and a large overhead sign cautioning that some people considered these books dangerous.

Today, Banned Books Week coverage by mainstream media reaches an estimated 2.8 billion readers, and more than 90,000 publishing industry and library subscribers. The Banned Books page remains one of the top two most popular pages on the ALA website.

Let’s take a look at the Top Ten Most Challenged Books for 2017 …

  1. Thirteen Reasons Why written by Jay Asher
    Originally published in 2007, this New York Times bestseller has resurfaced as a controversial book after Netflix aired a TV series by the same name. This YA novel was challenged and banned in multiple school districts because it discusses suicide.
  2. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian written by Sherman Alexie
    Consistently challenged since its publication in 2007 for acknowledging issues such as poverty, alcoholism, and sexuality, this National Book Award winner was challenged in school curriculums because of profanity and situations that were deemed sexually explicit.
  3. Drama written and illustrated by Raina Telgemeier
    This Stonewall Honor Award-winning, 2012 graphic novel from an acclaimed cartoonist was challenged and banned in school libraries because it includes LGBT characters and was considered “confusing.”
  4. The Kite Runner written by Khaled Hosseini
    This critically acclaimed, multigenerational novel was challenged and banned because it includes sexual violence and was thought to “lead to terrorism” and “promote Islam.”
  5. George written by Alex Gino
    Written for elementary-age children, this Lambda Literary Award winner was challenged and banned because it includes a transgender child.
  6. Sex is a Funny Word written by Cory Silverberg and illustrated by Fiona Smyth
    This 2015 informational children’s book written by a certified sex educator was challenged because it addresses sex education and is believed to lead children to “want to have sex or ask questions about sex.”
  7. To Kill a Mockingbird written by Harper Lee
    This Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, considered an American classic, was challenged and banned because of violence and its use of the N-word.
  8. The Hate U Give written by Angie Thomas
    Despite winning multiple awards and being the most searched-for book on Goodreads during its debut year, this YA novel was challenged and banned in school libraries and curriculums because it was considered “pervasively vulgar” and because of drug useprofanity, and offensive language.
  9. And Tango Makes Three written by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson and illustrated by Henry Cole
    Returning after a brief hiatus from the Top Ten Most Challenged list, this ALA Notable Children’s Book, published in 2005, was challenged and labeled because it features a same-sex relationship.
  10. I Am Jazz written by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings and illustrated by Shelagh McNicholas
    This autobiographical picture book co-written by the 13-year-old protagonist was challenged because it addresses gender identity.

I have read two of the books on this list, The Kite Runner and To Kill A Mockingbird.  Given that the majority of the books on the list are children’s books or YA (young adult), I have no real interest in reading those, but I do have some observations about the list.

No less than four of the ten books on this list are considered dangerous because they either address LGBT issues or contain an LGBT character or relationship.  Come on … it is the 21st century, we have come out of the dark ages!  If I still had a small child at home, you can bet I would be on Amazon right now ordering And Tango Makes Three!

As I said, I read The Kite Runner, and when I reached the end, I neither became a terrorist nor did I feel drawn to convert to Islam.  Who thinks up these things?  Wait … let me guess … white supremacist, heterosexual, male evangelicals.

banned books-3Thirteen Reasons Why has been challenged and banned for discussing suicide.  Well, guess what folks?  Not discussing something doesn’t make it go away!  Suicide among teens is a very real concern, for the teen years are a time of transition, a time when hormones are going crazy and life is confusing.  It happens.  Kids kill themselves.  Not talking about it doesn’t make it go away!  Parents rarely talk to their kids about suicide, fearing that an open, frank discussion might put the idea into their head.  Perhaps this book is just the ticket for giving kids a better grasp of how to deal with their problems, what to do when they feel there is no other way out.

And by the way … regarding #6 on the list … how does discussing sex with a child, “make them want to have sex”?  Isn’t that an idea that went out in the 19th century?  Methinks some people need to grow up … or perhaps evolve?

I was looking back through the past several years of banned or challenged books, and the 2013 list brought a bit of jaw-dropping mirth.  Here are the ones that made me roll my eyes or chuckle:

  • Captain Underpants (series), by Dav Pilkey
  • Fifty Shades of Grey, by E.L. James
  • The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins (This one was banned because of ‘religious viewpoint’. Grrrrrrrrrrr)

A final observation.  Looking at these lists, and the reasons that specific books are challenged or outright banned goes a long way toward explaining the bigotry, particularly against the LGBT community, that we are seeing come out of the woodwork today.  A child who is shielded from all those who are slightly different in one way or another, whether the difference is skin colour, religion or sexual orientation, grows to adulthood without an understanding that it’s okay to be different.  I’m glad I took a few minutes to look into Banned Books Week, for I hadn’t previously given it much thought, and awareness is key.banned books-4

Taking Religious “Liberty” Too Far …

There is a recent push for a thing called “religious liberty”.  We already have constitutionally-mandated freedom of religion in the United States.  As long as your religion does not involve human sacrifices or some such atrocity, you are free to believe as you will, attend the church of your choice – or not – and live your life in a manner consistent with your beliefs.  What you do not have, however, is the right to force your beliefs on others.  This is, in a nutshell, what the “religious liberty” movement seeks to do.

In October 2017, Ryan Coleman took a job as a painter at a construction company, Dahled Up Construction, in Albany, Oregon, about an hour south of Portland.  After being hired, Coleman was told that it was a job requirement to attend Christian bible study classes.  Mr. Coleman is half-Native American (Cherokee and Blackfoot) does not follow the Christian faith and had no desire to attend the classes, but the company’s owner, Joe Dahl, insisted that it was a requirement, not a request.

Coleman has children to feed, and unwilling to risk losing his job, attended the classes for a few months, but eventually became too uncomfortable with the ‘teachings’ to continue.  He decided to stop attending, and he informed Mr. Dahl that he had tried, but the classes went against his own personal beliefs.  Mr. Dahl’s response was, “Well, I’m going to have to replace you. You’re not going to tell me how to run my own company.”

Coleman responded with, “I’m not trying to tell you how to run your own company, but you’re not going to tell me what god to pray to.”  Coleman was fired in April 2018 for refusing to follow the company mandate to attend religious classes.

Mr. Coleman has filed a lawsuit, the details of which I won’t get into here, but Mr. Dahl’s lawyers’ response is interesting, for they claim the requirement is perfectly legal since the employees are on company time and therefore are being paid to attend.  That, in my book, is akin to saying that whatever an employee is asked to do while ‘on the clock’, is legal.  Hmmmm … it seems to me this has the potential to open some cans of worms.  So, if I order an employee to commit murder, as long as I’m paying him, it’s okay?  I think not.religious demographicsThe above chart by Pew Research Center shows global religious demographics.  Note that, while Christianity has the largest following worldwide, it is far from a majority.  Other religions, Islam, Hindu, Judaism, Buddhism and hundreds of lesser-known religions have equal legitimacy. Note, also, that a fairly substantial portion, 16.3%, choose to follow no religion.

The United States has laws against workplace discrimination.  Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 forbids discrimination when it comes to any aspect of employment, including hiring, firing, pay, job assignments, promotions, layoff, training, fringe benefits, and any other term or condition of employment.  What part of this, I wonder, did Mr. Dahl not understand?

I am all for freedom of religion – for all, not just one sect or another.  I support a person’s right to run his or her business in a manner that is profitable.  These two, however, need not be mutually exclusive.  Why on earth anybody would think it’s acceptable to dictate the religion of his employees is beyond my comprehension!  Not only that, but it is beyond the rule of law.

According to guidance by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC):

“An employee cannot be forced to participate (or not participate) in a religious activity as a condition of employment.”

This seems fairly cut and dried, and one might be tempted to be complacent in the belief that the court will rule in Mr. Coleman’s favour.  But wait … this is the year 2018 … the year in which the Supreme Court decided (Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission) that a baker in Colorado, Jack Phillips, had the right to refuse to serve a gay couple based on his religious beliefs.  Although in that case, the court ruling warned that there were extenuating circumstances and this decision should not be interpreted as giving other businesses carte blanche to do what Jack Phillips did, some in the Christian community seem to have disregarded that warning.

In May, Donald Trump signed an executive order, “Establishment of a White House Faith and Opportunity Initiative”, that he said would “vigorously protect religious freedom”.  Taken at face value, that would indicate that Mr. Coleman’s freedom to refuse being forced to attend the Christian-based bible study courses would be protected and Mr. Dahl broke the law by terminating his employment. However, thus far it appears that Trump’s order has been interpreted to mean protecting only the Christian religions rather than all religious beliefs.

This will be an interesting case to follow. Will it end up on the docket of the Supreme Court?  It’s anybody’s guess at this early stage, and one would hope that the lower courts have the good sense to see that Mr. Dahl crossed a line.  But, this is the Era of Trump, the day of ‘alternative facts’, where up is down, red is green, and wrong is sometimes right. Hang on to your hats, folks.

Is This Any Way To Treat A Kid?

School has been back in session in most areas of the country for less than two weeks now, and while I am thankful that thus far there have been no school shootings (at least none that I’m aware of), I am furious over the blatant discrimination against kids … little kids … by two private parochial schools, one Catholic and one Christian.

CJ Stanley is a six-year-old African-American boy who was happy and eager for his first day of school on August 13th at A Book Christian Academy in Orlando, Florida.  Look how happy he looked …CJ Stanley-happyBut then … the school’s administrator, Sue Book, wiped that smile right off CJ’s little face when she sent him home for having long hair, or more likely for having dreadlocks.

“I still have the same rules I always had. The girls wear skirts, the boys wear trousers, hair above their ears and off their collars.”

The school is very small, only about 50 students and a half-dozen teachers. It was founded by Sue Book’s husband, Reverend John Butler Book, a man who believes a woman’s place is in the home, women should wear dresses, and who once wrote that he is “trying to save Central Florida from the same fate as Sodom, both inside his school and out.”  I fail to see what a little boy’s hairstyle has to do with anything relevant to education.

CJ StanleyCJ’s father wisely told the school, after a few attempts to reach some form of compromise, to remove his son from their roster, for he will not have anything to do with the school.


Faith Fennidy is an 11-year-old African-American student who attends Christ the King Parish School in Terrytown, Louisiana.  Faith’s school resumed on Monday, August 20th, and as was the case with CJ, she was sent home because of her hair style – she wore braided hair extensions.


Faith FennidySchool officials told Faith on the first day of school that her hairstyle did not align with school policy. So, the next day Faith changed her hair, spending a “considerable amount of money in the process”, but still the school officials were not satisfied, and Faith was told to pack her belongings, leave, and don’t come back.  It should be noted that Faith has worn the braids she began school with for the past two years … at the same school … but this year she was told they were “unnatural”.


For the past week or so, my dear friend David and I have been having a conversation about parochial schools and whether they should even exist, whether they do more harm than good.  We are both of a like mind that education should be about … well, education … academics.  The Constitution calls for what Thomas Jefferson referred to as “a wall of separation between church and state”.  The forbearance of religious schools, it seems to me, violates that ‘wall of separation’.  In the past, I didn’t think much about religious schools as being a bad thing, for I spent most of my youth attending Catholic schools.  But, with the recent evidence of massive abuse of children by priests and others in Catholic schools that has been going on and hidden from the public view for years, and then these cases of blatant racism that would not be tolerated in public schools, I think it may be time to re-think, reconsider the role of parochial schools in the U.S.

These two children did nothing wrong.  They were wearing their hair in the manner that many in their culture do.  I have heard the arguments on both sides that this was racism bordering on white supremacy, and that it wasn’t racism, but merely “Christian” rules.  Whichever it was, it was wrong.  It was discrimination.  It had absolutely nothing to do with education.

The U.S. education system ranks 15th in the 2018 Global Education Report, below …

  1. Russia
  2. UK
  3. Singapore
  4. South Korea
  5. Canada
  6. Ireland
  7. China
  8. Japan
  9. Sweden
  10. Finland
  11. Denmark
  12. New Zealand
  13. Israel
  14. India

It is time for us to focus on teaching our young people about history, literature, mathematics and science and leave the religious education to the parents and churches, if they so choose.  It is time for us to dedicate resources to public schools where children go to gain the foundation for their futures, where they go to learn to think, rather than allocating precious resources to vouchers for parochial schooling. This is not a ‘Christian’ nation, but a secular one where all religions are welcome, but no single religion is favoured over others.  I can see absolutely no value to a religious school to begin with, but when they ignore Civil Rights and feel that they have the right to discriminate against children based on no more than a cultural hairstyle, it is time to say, “Enough!!!” Parents:  if you don’t like it, then homeschool your children.  At least you will only be imposing your beliefs on one child, not an entire school.

Meanwhile, my heart breaks for CJ and Faith who got a first-hand lesson about discrimination at such a young age. Shame on those who taught the lesson.

Re-defining “Liberty”

Two weeks ago, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the creation of a “religious liberty task force” to help protect the right of every American “to believe, worship and exercise their faith in the public square.”  Religious liberty … what exactly does that mean?  To me, it means the right of every person to believe as he or she sees fit, to belong to any church of their choice, or none at all.  It is, as I see it, an individual ‘right’. It is not, however, the right to inflict your own beliefs upon others.

George Marsden, a religious historian at the University of Notre Dame, describes religious liberty as ‘inclusive pluralism’, a society in which no religion is preferred over another, and all believers can worship as they see fit.  Sounds about right, don’t you think?

But by Trump’s, Sessions’ and the evangelical’s definition, it changes to connote freedoms and privileges granted mostly to Christians — specifically, the white conservative Christians who form a vital part of the Republican base. Instead of inclusive pluralism, it now stands for exclusive primacy of the Christian faith.  Politicized religion.

In 2016, as he stumped along the campaign trail, Trump met with a large group of nearly 1,000 evangelicals, and here is what he said …

“This is such an important election. And I say to you folks because you have such power, such influence. Unfortunately, the government has weeded it away from you pretty strongly. But you’re going to get it back.”

I have two questions:

  • Why should any religious group have ‘power and influence’ in a secular government? Or society?
  • What the Sam Heck did the government “weed” away from the evangelicals?

bullshit

In the same meeting, he also promised them that they would be allowed to say “Merry Christmas” again. Excuse me, but nobody ever said they couldn’t!!!  Some businesses asked their employees to use “Happy Holidays” instead, as a courtesy to those of us who are not Christians, but are Jews, Muslims, Hindus or atheists, but nobody stopped anybody from saying “Merry Christmas”!

Then, to add insult to injury, Trump promised them that if they voted him into office, he would abandon the Johnson Amendment that forbids tax-exempt organizations from campaigning for a political candidate.  It doesn’t say that members of a church cannot campaign for a candidate as individuals, only that the church itself cannot endorse a specific candidate if they wish to maintain their tax-exempt status.  It is intended to keep religion out of politics – remember the concept of ‘separation of church and state’?

And that is precisely what he did with the religious liberty executive order he signed in May, bypassing Congress altogether … again.  Not that it would have mattered, for when he says “Jump!”, the boot-lickers in Congress ask “How high?”  And when he signed the bloody order, he commented, “We are giving our churches their voices back.”  They. Never. Lost. Their. Voices.

Only about 70% of the American public profess to be Christian.  What about the other 30% of us?  Religious liberty as defined by this administration and its supporters is liberty only for white Christians. In a recent Supreme Court decision, the Court granted Christian business owners the right to refuse service to LGBT people. The next logical step is that Christian business owners will be granted the right to refuse service to a Jew, or a Muslim, or a non-believer.  Perhaps business owners will be allowed to refuse service to African-Americans … or Latinos.

Envision a nation where your drivers’ license has a section for religion. For gender orientation.  Remember Trump’s comment a week or so ago about having to have a photo ID to buy groceries?  Maybe he was projecting into the future he envisions where an ID distinguishing religion, ethnicity, gender identification, and length of toenails are revealed.  Or perhaps … or perhaps all non-Christians will just wear a yellow star and have a number tattooed on their forearm like the one my Uncle Leon had.

Far-fetched?  Maybe, but … seemingly innocuous phrases like “religious liberty” and “family values” have become buzzwords for discrimination against any whose ideas or lifestyles differ from the Christian community.  It has become harsh and discriminatory.  ‘Values’ and ‘Liberty’ have somehow become something very ugly.

When Sessions announced his ‘task force’, he had a little celebratory ceremony … yes, by all means, let’s celebrate widespread discrimination!  He made a comment that was neither true nor sensible, referring to “nuns ordered to buy contraception” under President Obama.  To set the record straight, no nun in the history of the U.S. has ever been forced to buy contraceptives under any president!  And guess who was the guest speaker at Sessions’ little celebration?  None other than the bigoted Jack Phillips, the baker in Nevada who was so offended at being asked to place a topper with two men atop a wedding cake that he went all the way to the Supreme Court and forever changed the face of the nation.

I recently read an OpEd that said the founding fathers would not recognize the definition of ‘religious liberty’ in this, the 21st century.  To be honest, I don’t recognize it myself.  We have taken “white Christian privilege” too far, and this nation is headed down a very dangerous path.  It is one you can find in the history books if you go back to the early 1930s in Europe.

Labels, Labels, LABELS

Yesterday, a friend & reader left this comment on one of my posts:

“I don’t know if anyone has addressed this before, but it scares the bloomin’ hell out of a lot of us who USED to claim to be of the Christian persuasion. We don’t want to see this happen at all either. There are millions of us who feel that way. But the right-wing conservatives yell louder than we do. The rest of us are out there trying to push others to recognize the dignity of all people. So how do WE get the presses’ attention. I, for one, and most of my friends, am tired of being lumped into that crazy arse group of fundamentalists. (rolls eyes…) They horrify me. Ooo! Let’s crucify anyone who is gay, but we just have to pray for the Strumpet because he’s misguided, so we can excuse his behavior. What a load of crap.”

I must admit that it made me stop and think.  This is the problem with labels for people.  Labels on cans at the supermarket are a wonderful thing, for we would not otherwise know if we were getting corn or green beans.  Labels on clothing help us know the proper wash water temperature and how to care for a shirt or pair of pants.  Labels on most ‘things’ tend to be helpful and serve a purpose.  People, however, are not ‘things’. labels-3We label democrats and republicans, but what do those labels mean?  I know the basic ideologies of each of those two parties, but does that mean that every single person who is registered as a republican is against Universal Health Care?  Or that everyone who calls himself a ‘democrat’ supports a woman’s right to choose an abortion?  Think about this one for a bit.

We label men and women, heterosexuals and gays.  But why must the label define the person?  I have been as guilty as any of referring to republicans as ‘idiots’ and ‘fools’, though I count among my friends a few republicans who are good people, neither idiots nor fools, else they wouldn’t be my friends.  I remember one time in college, when I was venting to a male professor who happened to be a mentor and trusted friend, and I said that all men were assholes (don’t ask!).  His reply was, “Well, since I am a man, and you believe that all men are assholes, then either you think I am an asshole, or you think I am not a man.  Which is it?”  I have never forgotten that conversation, because I learned something that day.  I learned a lesson that I have since forgotten on more than one occasion:  don’t label people.

labels-2For the past decade or so, the political climate in the U.S. has been becoming more and more divided, antagonistic.  There is, no matter who you are or what ‘side’ you are on, “them” and “us”.  I hear it often … “well, he’s on our side, right?”  And I know that I cannot change that divisiveness with a simple post of about 1,000 words.  But I hope that I can make those who read these words stop for just a minute and let’s do some thinking.

European immigrants first came to this nation seeking religious freedom, freedom from persecution.  That means, at least in my mind, that you can be a Christian, go to the church of your choice, and follow the tenets of your chosen faith.  It also, however, means that Sal Rosenstein down the street can follow his faith, go to Synagogue as he chooses, and light the Menorah at Chanukah.  It means that Ali al-Dabbagh has the right to pray to Allah and attend the Mosque of his choice, without fear. And it further means that if I choose to observe no religion, I am free to do so without condemnation or persecution.

Recently, in this culture of divisiveness we are experiencing, some within the Christian religion have expressed some fairly radical views – views that the majority in this nation do not necessarily support, and that even many within the Christian faith do not support.  Without delving into the specifics, those views are largely discriminatory against any who are different in any way.   This group of people have been obnoxiously loud and vulgar in voicing their views and have drawn the attention of the press and the public alike.  Remember that old saying, “the squeaky wheel gets the oil”?  It’s true.  It’s not right, but it’s true.

To judge all Christians by the actions of only the evangelicals who would ban the LGBT community, rob a woman of the right to control her own body & destiny, and insist that the United States is a ‘Christian nation’, is wrong.  It is just as wrong as it would be to assume that all women with blonde hair are dumb, or that all tall people play basketball!

We will never stop using labels, for they serve a purpose.  If you are robbed at gunpoint in your home and you call the police, they will ask you for a description of the robber.  Male or female?  Black or white?  Young or old?  Tall or short?  These distinctions are necessary in this case, not to discriminate, not to judge, but to identify.  When we are discussing a group of people who behave in a certain way, it is simplest to label them as republicans or democrats, Christians or Jews, males or females.  So no, the practice of labeling human beings is not likely to see an end any time soon, but … let us stop and think when we are writing or speaking, before we apply a label, before we generalize about a group, let’s at least try to make sure that we are not using such a broad label that the net catches those who do not belong.  It’s tough, especially in today’s culture of ‘us’ vs ‘them’, but it’s only fair.

The majority of people in the world, I like to believe, are peace-loving, kind, caring individuals.  There are some who are otherwise.  Let’s try not to confuse the two.  If we must judge, let’s do so based on actions and behaviours rather than on labels.  Let’s try not to judge the whole based on the actions of the few.

*** Note to readers …. I think some have perhaps taken offense to my words in this post, and I want to set the record straight.  I was pointing no fingers at all, unless it was the fingers I had pointed at myself.  The reader who left me the comment, C, made me stop and think and realize that it isn’t fair to lump all Christians in with the evangelicals who are gay-bashing, white supremacist bigots.  I realized just how many times I had done this, and I was ashamed.  That said, I also understand how hard it is not to label or categorize people these days.  Please, take no offense from this post, as none was intended.

Trump Administration takes the first steps towards implementing theocracy in America

You all know I tip-toe around when it comes to religion, for it is never my goal to offend anyone, and that’s hard as heck to do when religion is the topic. Our friend Robert Vella wrote the post I was contemplating, and did so much better than I could have anyway.
‘Religious freedom’ used to mean that we each had the freedom to follow any faith or no faith without interference from the government or from others. But in recent months, it has taken on a new connotation … one that I and others find deeply disturbing. The new meaning takes away the freedoms of any who do not comply with the evangelical Christians, almost as though Christianity were the “official religion” of the U.S.
Please take a few minutes to read Robert’s excellent post about the latest push for religious bigotry. Thank you, Robert, for this post and implied permission to re-blog!

The Secular Jurist

By Robert A. Vella

The very first amendment to the U.S. Constitution, as part of the Bill of Rights ratified in 1791, states that:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

This separation of church and state was intended and repeatedly affirmed to ensure two things for the new nation:  1) that the United States government would be formally secular, and 2) that United States citizens could legally practice their various religions freely and without interference from other religions.  In a letter to the Danbury Baptist Association in 1802, President Thomas Jefferson wrote:

Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes…

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Does This Look Like Peace?

Yesterday, the United States officially relocated its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.  The move was not one I applauded. The timing could not likely have been worse, and the result was disastrous.  Donald Trump is playing a dangerous game on behalf of the nation he supposes to represent, the United States, and he is playing it with human lives as pawns.JerusalemJerusalem is a controversy in and of itself.  Jerusalem has been fought over sixteen times in its history. It has been destroyed twice, besieged 23 times, attacked 52 times, and captured and recaptured 44 times. Today, both the Palestinians and the Israelis claim Jerusalem as their capital, and the city contains sites sacred to both Jews and Muslims, as well as Christians.  The embassy move has been considered in the past by former presidents Clinton, Bush (Jr.), and Obama, but each of those held back, because it has long been the policy of the U.S. to remain neutral in the Israel-Palestine conflict, and moving the embassy would place the U.S. squarely on the side of Israel … and against Palestine. Ilan Goldenberg, a Middle East expert with the Center for New American Security, said that where the U.S. is “supposed to be acting like the fireman, instead, we’re acting like the arsonist — we’re making things worse.”

The move of the U.S. Embassy signals far more than a simple relocation … it signals that the United States recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.  Think about that one … who gave the U.S. the right to decide where Israel’s capital lies?  Nobody, that’s who.  So why did we do it?  Because he likes to keep campaign promises made to his base. Plain and simple. His base lobbied hard for the move, including evangelicals and, of course, Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, and son-in-law Jared Kushner lobbied for the idea as well.

The opening day festivities got under way, and it was a matter of minutes before trouble started.  The region, already in a heightened state of upheaval, partly as a result of Trump’s other disastrous decision to renege on the U.S.’ commitment to the Iran nuclear deal, erupted into chaos.  Well, technically, it should not have been considered chaos, as most of the Palestinian protestors were unarmed and were merely trying to get into Jerusalem.  But then the Israeli military opened fire.  As of this writing, there are at least 60 confirmed dead and more than 2,700 injured. No Israelis have been injured.  Donald Trump and Benjamin Netahyahu must own each and every one of those unnecessary deaths.

Meanwhile, the Kushers had a great time …kushners-partyThe utter ludicrousness of the scene was enhanced by the two U.S. evangelical pastors who took part in the opening ceremony. One, Robert Jeffries, was awarded Filosofa’s Idiot of the Week in November 2016 for his bigotry and hypocrisy  .  The man who once said that “Jews and Muslims will go to Hell”, yesterday said, “Israel has blessed this world by pointing us to you, the one true God, through the message of her prophets, the Scriptures, and the Messiah.”  He also managed to get in a plug for Trump, saying Trump “stands on the right side of you, O God, when it comes to Israel.”  Quick, somebody get me a bucket!

I am told that evangelicals believe an embassy in Jerusalem is a key step to the ‘end of days’.  Not being of their faith, I fail to see how ‘end of days’ is seen as a good thing, but given the chaos the move created, it appears they may well have hastened that event, at least for many living in the Middle-East.

When Trump first announced his intention to move the embassy, he called it, “a long-overdue step to advance the peace process and to work towards a lasting agreement.”  Does this look like peace to you?Peace-not