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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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    • Cedar Valley Chronicles
  • What Really Matters?

    • Posted on Jun 21, 2015
    This morning's (Sunday 6-21) Courier column--about what really matters.   Not 
    an easy subject, given the shock we've suffered this week--and I'm in Charleston (my second home city) right now, struggling with the unvarnished reality of race hatred that led to the cold-blooded murders of nine Charlestonians in their church.    

    Still, the idea that there's a larger reality that really matters is what's helping people get through that hatred and move toward healing.   

    Summertime, and the livin’ is easy, wrote Gershwin.  It’s true, at least 
    when summer vacations roll around and beaches and mountains loom.   
    Time for a change of scene, for easy relaxing and pondering.  

     Ponder what, you ask?   

    What really matters, that’s what.  It’s the best all-around question to ponder during those days without deadlines and pressures. 

     Everyone will answer it differently.  

     Winning matters hugely for some, meaning being first and best at everything.  The competitors, we might call them.  

     Others spend serious time finding and nurturing a soul-mate, a love of their life, and that’s what matters most to them.  They’re romantics, bless their moonstricken hearts.   

     Fame, for others, so that everyone notices them, seeks them out, makes them the center of attention.   “Look at me!” their lives seem to say, and cameras beckon to them like moths to flame.  They’re narcissists, and they’re everywhere these days. 

     Wealth, for still others, so that they never have to deny themselves a new Luxemobile, a granite-countered house, a fast boat, a perfect vacation.  They’re high-enders who seek big bucks.  

     For still others, friendships, near and far, supportive and intimate. They spend hours cultivating friendships, lunching, writing, catching up on social media.

     They delight in lending a hand or shoulder to those they’ve gotten to know, love to be
    counted upon for favors, and seek to maintain old friendships.  They’re our friends, and thank heavens for them. 

     We all belong to some of these groups, and derive satisfaction from the undeniable benefits that each provides. 

     So, is that all?  Once you’re winning, famous, rich, soul-mated, and surrounded by friends, have you found everything that matters?  Does your happiness at that point know no bounds? 

     Alas, no. We all know such seemingly fulfilled people who still rely on therapists and happy pills to calm their frayed nerves.  They’re still seeking something that really matters.   

     And what might that be?    

     Dylan’s 1979 song “You gotta Serve Somebody” points toward it:  
    "You may be an ambassador to England or France
    You may like to gamble, you might like to dance
    You may be the heavyweight champion of the world
    You may be a socialite with a long string of pearls.
    But you're gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
    You're gonna have to serve somebody,
    It may be the devil or it may be the Lord
    But you're gonna have to serve somebody."

     As Trish, the character who tries to commit suicide in that great film “Educating Rita” laments, “I’m not enough.”   

     If you live for furthering yourself and meeting your needs only, you’re headed for disappointment and suffering.   Truth be told, none of us are the complete center of anything.  Our egos don’t really matter. 

     Realizing this amounts to growing up, and the sooner the better.  

     This is not easy, especially with our little digital screens tempting us to believe that we are the center of everything. 

     Granted, a strong, confident self does help you succeed. But that’s not what really matters.   

     Religious folks get at what really matters through worship, faith in some supernatural power, and prayer.  

     Non-religious folks do it through wonder, curiosity, contemplation, and seeking enlightenment through in-depth awareness.  

     I’m among the non-religious, and have found what really matters is a spiritual path that’s stimulating, endlessly challenging, and ultimately satisfying. 

     If you like pondering what really matters this summer, and you’re leaning toward the non-religious, let me suggest two books I’ve found helpful:  Tara Brach’s 2005 “Radical Acceptance” and her more recent “True Refuge.”  She’s a clinical psychologist and an American Buddhist teacher who has been pondering what matters for 35 years.   

     If you’re curious and open to new approaches, these books make perfect summer reading. 

     I can’t imagine a summer without spending daily time seeking and pondering.  
    That’s what really matters. 

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