Just Another Day

"Any idiot can handle a crisis, it's day to day living that wears you out." - Chekhov

Monday, November 15, 2004

My Dad & I

In the words of George Carlin, "I tried. I really, really tried." I don't believe in god and am not sure whether I ever did, but I sure as hell tried and went along with the way my father tried to teach me. I went along with the Presbyterian churches, the evangelical churches, the Catholic churches, the non-denominational chapels on the military bases, and the Assembly of God church during high school, etc. I read the bible, I prayed, I argued with people (believers, non-believers, and those who believed differently than what I was being taught) about what I had read and what I understood. In the end, as I learned more about myself and more about the world around me, I found that I don't believe...that I can't believe. Even if god itself came down to talk to me, I wouldn't believe it, I would think it was some kind of alien from another corner of the universe. My father, I know, is disappointed in this. He is, after all, a retired Navy chaplain (25 years active duty), and has been a Presbyterian minister for almost 50 years. However, I know he isn't disappointed in the type of person I have become since, in his words, even without the belief, I at least carry myself in a more Christian manner than most self-proclaimed Christians he knows. There is a simple reason for this, what he calls Christian values, I call human values. I believe that we are nothing more than social animals and need to find a way to get along. My father looks at it from a Christian perspective and I look at it from a Constitutional perspective. Jesus laid out the Golden Rule, "Do unto others as you have done unto yourself." Thomas Jefferson gave us the Constitutional angle, when referring to the inclusiveness of the US Constitution and the objections that taking religion out of our premier national framework would mean that Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, or atheists could become leaders in the US, "It neither breaks my leg, nor picks my pocket."

Laying it out, where is the intersection in our beliefs for America with current concerns:

  • Abortion - we would both love for it to not happen but making it illegal will only endanger women. There are plenty of other methods to reduce abortions such as providing easier access to comprehensive sex education, contraceptives, counseling, and reducing the stigma of kids talking about sexual matters with their parents or counselors, or teachers, or doctors, or some other adult they trust. He believes that it is a mattter between god and the woman. I believe it is a matter of what the woman wants or doesn't want. Either way, both of us believe it is a personal choice in which the state should have little say.
  • Taxes/Economics - we are both of the Teddy Roosevelt mindset that those who benefit the most from our economic system owe the most. Neither one of us wants to see punitive taxes and neither one of us believes that wealth itself is an evil. Those who really do earn it should be able to be as rich as they want from the fruits of their labors. However, those who profit without merit, e.g., winning the birth lottery or being able to cheat the system, should be taxed and made to pay more, if not sent to jail in the latter case, than those who aren't so lucky or so lacking in scruples. He looks at it from the point of view of a Depression-era kid who saw that leveling the playing field through New Deal programs is what turned our country around and made it the power it is today. I look at it from the standpoint of economic stability. If there is too wide a discrepancy in wealth and there isn't equal opportunity for all, whether or not people take advantage of the opportunity is a personal matter, chaos is inevitable as revolution is born out of severe discrepancies in the socio-economic situation of a nation.
  • Religion - both of us believe that god has no place in the political realm. My father believes that god doesn't give a damn what laws we make, how strong or wealthy we are, or how Christian we call ourselves on a national level. God doesn't care about nations. God cares about individuals. He also agrees with those who won the constitutional battle more than 200 years ago that mixing politics and religion cheapens both. I look at it from a personal choice standpoint, going back to Jefferson's quote, that the government's role is in the economic and legal well-being of the nation, making sure that individuals are able to pursue life, liberty, and happiness as they choose so long as they do not infringe on the same rights of other individuals. The government has no role in shaping the moral values or playing caretaker of the souls of the individuals within the nation.
  • Foreign Policy - we both agree that wars of choice are not negotiable and our kids in the armed forces should be sent into battle to defend the country. Iraq - wrong. Afghanistan - right. Vietnam - wrong. WWII - right. Alliances go much further in protecting the well being of the nation than unilateral military action deemed unnecessary by so many of our friends who then have a diminished view of us and are less likely to be allies in the future without long, hard-thought debate within their own borders. The Iraq war has done just that damage, i.e., our allies no longer blindly see us carrying the banner of democracy and human rights. By entering into a war that was not needed for our national security, we have further endangered our national security, gotten many of our youth injured, crippled, or killed needlessly, and made it less likely that other nations will cooperate with us even if our security is truly threatened. We are now a bully who, if we think we are so right and so tough, can protect ourselves and if we can't, then the bully has gotten what it deserves. Compare that with the Le Monde headline on Sept. 12, 2001, "We Are All Americans Now."
  • Gay Rights - as with the abortion issue, it is not for the government to decide what is right for the nation based on the personal choices of individuals if it does not damage the chosen lifestyles of other individuals. As noted above, my father believes god doesn't care if the nation makes laws restricting rights of individuals. God probably does care, however, that people who are trying to speak in god's name exhibit less than love towards people who don't share their own morals. I look at it from the social perspective. What business is it of mine that someone else does something that I won't do when it does no harm to me. I even think allowing gays to marry and have the full legal rights enjoyed by my wife and me would do quite a bit of good for the country in that gays would then feel less resentment towards straights and would thus provide a better atmosphere for all. Making the socio-economic playing field apply equally to all makes for a more stable environment which means the country is in better shape to continue its existence as we know it.

Anything else? Give me a question and we'll see how it comes out. In short, my father believes that god doesn't get involved in day-to-day activities of nations but concentrates on individuals. I believe that nations shouldn't be involved in day-today activities of individuals as long as those activities do not infringe upon the rights of other individuals as our Constitution so clearly lays out.