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  • Wise Conservatives Needed

    • Posted on Sep 27, 2015
    Here's this morning's (9-27) Courier column.  It's about how little wisdom we see on the national political scene, particularly among the GOP candidates for President.  With the Pope's visit, we're seeing a huge split among conservatives--instead of changing their minds about climate change, etc. they reject the Pope, as do Catholics, amazingly enough. 

    Do adults ever change their minds?  I'm beginning to believe that very few ever do.  Where are the wise conservatives who can, in fact, change their minds.   

    Wisdom—the “better angels of our nature,” as Lincoln so memorably put it—is never in long supply.  We all need more from everyone.  

     It’s the ability to take the high road, the long view, to accept the things you cannot change, to radiate gratitude and kindness, to empathize more than criticize, to recognize that we’re all in this together.   

     On the current scene, Pope Francis best exemplifies wisdom, and Catholics rightly and mostly support him for what he’s doing for their Church.  He’s energizing and challenging, a transformative figure.  

     He’s still a conservative, understand.  He supports the basic tenets of Catholicism, yet wisely challenges aspects of them. 
    Conservatives believe in tradition, authority, sanctity, and loyalty as core values.  Pope Francis has exhibited all of these in his speeches and behavior.   Yet he also insists that authority can go too far. 

     “Who am I to judge?” he said in reference to gay priests.  He’s also been following the humble path of all genuine spiritual leaders, literally washing the feet of poor and homeless people.   That startles everyone.   

     The polar opposite of the Pope, would be—duh—Donald Trump.  He’s the role model for fools and folly, for ignorance and ego.  He currently leads the Republican field.  Wise conservatives must feel mortified.   

     I’m among the first to admit that any working government needs a balance of conservatives with their insistence on tradition, etc. and liberals, whose core values 
    of equality, justice, diversity, and change inevitably clash with conservatives’ values.     Ideally, somewhere between those two a balance emerges.  Too much of either ideology leads to indefensible policies and unsustainable practices. 

     That’s where we need wisdom.  And that’s where the current crop of GOP contenders fall short.  Perilously, frighteningly, shockingly short, with Trump leading the pack to the bottom.  

    He’s probably the most foolish human being in the western hemisphere, a fool’s fool.  Worse, he’s probably a phony fool, putting on a bully mask to garner support.  
    In contrast, wise conservative leaders, from Pope Francis to Eisenhower to (at times) Reagan, the elder Bush, and Colin Powell all deserve respect and credit for upholding conservative principles, but doing it wisely.   

     Where is such wisdom in the current GOP field?  They use Obama as a scapegoat for all the world’s ills, they lie about his background and record, they cannot give him any credit or gratitude for his accomplishments.  That would include lowering the deficit, expanding health care coverage, growing attention to climate change (which the Pope supports), serious use of negotiations to resolve conflicts (Cuba and Iran) and so on.  

     Wisdom begins with giving credit where credit is due.  That sets the stage for focusing on where real disagreements lie.  Then the work starts, and everyone benefits.    
    A reverse case in point, now generating massive controversy, is the GOP’s Planned Parenthood defunding.  Carly Fiorina’s impassioned address at the GOP debate could have begun with her admitting that abortions cannot legally be funded by the government, and that abortion services amount to just 3 percent of women’s health services that Planned Parenthood provides.  

     Then she might have asserted that those videos were in fact disturbing, and she would support an investigation to determine if the group was selling “body parts,”
    which is flat-out illegal.   

     That approach would have boosted her wisdom credentials. Instead, she took the fool’s low road, referring to stock video footage not related to Planned Parenthood, and made a blatant attempt to smear the organization.  

     GOP lawmakers continue on this path with threatening to defund the entire federal government over a non-issue that whips up their base. 

    Where are the leaders who would side with the Pope and other wise conservatives to stop this foolishness? 

     We need them, now.   

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  • Kim Davis, Beliefs, and Truth

    • Posted on Sep 13, 2015
    Here's this morning's Waterloo Courier column.  Kim Davis continues to be a hero to Mike Huckabee and his ilk, but to the rest of us she's a scofflaw who deserves both firing and oblivion.  
    Not everything we believe is true.  Hard to believe, I know, but it’s true.  
    True believers remain convinced that their beliefs are not beliefs at all, but Truths.  
    Absolute, unchangeable Truths, usually with the authority of a supernatural being behind them.   

     Kim Davis, the jailed Kentucky county clerk, asserts her belief that her Christian God supports only heterosexual marriage.  For her, that’s not merely a belief but the Truth.  Thus same-sex marriages are not really marriages, but sinful violations of God’s law. 

    Therefore people who don’t share her belief in fact violate her Truth.   
    Once someone is convinced that they have the Truth, they can’t be convinced that their “Truth” is actually a belief that not everyone shares.  

    Truths are not open to question.  Beliefs are. 
    Ms. Davis has plenty of fans and followers.  Fellow Christians who agree that her Apostolic Pentecostal belief is Truth, not neurons firing in their direction. 
    Why did she (or any true believer) shift from belief to Truth? I can only speculate, but many beliefs begin as central tenants of a community of believers.   In her case, the Apostolic Pentecostal sect that Ms. Davis joined in 2013 believes as a sect that certain passages of the Bible are absolute Truths. 

     Once she joined, accepting the group’s beliefs became mandatory.  One cannot join a community of believers unless you profess their beliefs. 

     That’s how many beliefs become Truths, in my experience—joining and identifying with a group’s set of beliefs.  We all do it one way or another, though not necessarily to find eternal Truth.    

     Ideally, none of us should accept beliefs as Truths, no matter how much we need to belong.  That’s what critical thinking means, and students are supposed to learn the process in high school and college.   We’re individuals, after all, and don’t have to convert group beliefs into personal truths without investigating and choosing.        

     Had Ms. Davis investigated the Biblical condemnation of homosexuality, she might have found that the Bible also condemns adultery, divorce, tattoos, pork, certain haircuts, etc. with the same God-given certainty.  As a three-time divorcee, she has already violated God’s written law, and Biblically shouldn’t have been granted church sanction for her second or third marriages. 

     I don’t want to judge Kim Davis harshly for being a hypocrite.  Who among us isn’t? 

     However, I do want to roundly judge and condemn her for not understanding that her Truth is a merely a belief.  No one is compelled to share it.   

     As a government employee, she’s constitutionally forbidden to impose her
    religious beliefs.  

     Ms. Davis tried to get around it by not issuing any marriage licenses for either traditional or same-sex couples, but that simply closed down one of her duties altogether.  Unacceptable.  

    Hence she rightly received a contempt of court citation and jail for refusing to follow the court’s order to issue marriage licenses to everyone.  

     So is this a case of civil disobedience, following in the honored tradition of Thoreau, Gandhi, and Martin Luther King, among others?  Going to jail for following one’s conscience?  

    Technically, it was an act of civil disobedience in that she refused to obey a law because of a personal belief.  But she did so as a government employee breaking her oath of office.  Hence it was insubordination as much as civil disobedience. 
    Moreover, Thoreau, et. al. broke laws to broaden rights and correct injustices in their societies.  In contrast, Davis broke the law in order to limit citizens’ rights and continue injustices against a minority—a major difference that cannot be overlooked.   

    Hence, the loss of her job seems both right and just, as does jail time for noncompliance.    
    Meanwhile, let’s remind ourselves that government officials who think they have the Truth can be dangerous.   


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