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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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  • "What Went Wrong?"--Assessing Obama's Legacy

    • Posted on Aug 18, 2015
    This appeared in Sunday's (8-16) Waterloo Courier, and probably is the first of two installments, as you'll see if you read to the end.  Yes, Obama didn't do what he might have done, but. . . 

    Now that the end of President Obama’s second term looms, pundits of all persuasions have begun to ponder his presidency.  How good is/was he? 

     Did he fix problems?  Did he create new ones?  In what ways has he been good and bad for the country?  Did he forsake more promises then he fulfilled?    

     Granted, answers to these questions will no doubt change over the years. Presidents’ reputations rise and fall depending on unpredictable events and issues.  So current assessments of Barack Obama’s presidency are tentative at best. 

     Still, pundits need to work, and Presidents’ policies and personalities provide it, nonstop.  This applies especially to Obama, our first Black president, and a man whose actions have been endlessly scrutinized by a deeply hostile opposition.   

     The latest and most interesting assessment comes from David Bromwich, a Yale English Professor and political commentator.  His essay in the June Harper’s magazine,  “What Went Wrong?” offers a critical analysis of Obama, and deserves reading, especially for the President’s longtime supporters. 

    Bromwich is no hard left or right ideologue, as so many political commentators seem to be.  He offers a balanced, serious, and important analysis of Obama’s “centrist” approach to issues and problems.  

    Very likely, “What Went Wrong” will serve as a reference point for future historians looking to assess Obama’s legacy.  

    Essentially, Bromwich measures the President against an implied ideal leader—and Obama inevitably falls short.   For Bromwich, events since 2008 called for a decisive personality with no fear of conflict and political manipulation.  

    The ideal Obama would have handled an obstructionist GOP immediately, raised hackles to the skies, and proceeded through political mayhem to get a single payer health care system, closing down Guantanamo, and would have avoided getting bogged down Afghanistan.   

    That’s the powerful, decisive Obama who never appeared, insists Bromwich.  
    Instead, his unshakeable belief in working from consensus and agreement led to paralysis and indecision with too little follow-through, which would have taken serious political courage. 

     Issues like gun control and climate change have gone by the wayside because of vicious and organized political opposition that he might have confronted, especially during his first two years, when Democrats controlled both houses.   

     Bromwich ends his analysis with the damning assertion that . . .”Much as
    one would like to admire a leader so good at showing that he means well, and so earnest in projecting the good intentions of his country as the equivalent of his own, it would be a false consolation to pretend that the years of the Obama presidency have not been a large lost chance.”

    Because Bromwich compares Obama to what so many voters expected and wanted, rather than what we got, he falls short, and this frustrates supporters as much as detractors. 

    Yet there’s another way to measure him, and that has to do with comparing him to what he actually did accomplish.   That comparison yields a different result. 

     As an example of comparing ideal vs. real, consider measuring America by its ideals—its rebellion against an oppressive regime and founding documents based on enlightenment ideas of freedom, rights, equality, and justice. A shining city on a hill indeed.  

     But measured by how it actually treated indigenous peoples, slaves, women, and non-propertied citizens, it’s no better than any other country, and in some ways worse. 

    Ideal vs. real always yields such different results.   So too with Obama.   

     In fact, Bromwich himself asserts at beginning of “What Went Wrong?”   “His predecessor was worse, and his successor most likely will also be worse.”

     So compared to recent past and near-future Presidents, Obama stands tall. 
    Indeed, I would hope for another article soon from another pundit, “What Went Right?”  

    Plenty did, in spite of a shamelessly hostile GOP.  

    Go comment!
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