Thursday, December 12, 2013

Reasons to Believe That Nelson Mandela Was a Non-Believer

Of all the words attributed to the late Nelson Mandela, the ones that I didn't find in his discussions of such matters as his political views,  his 27 year imprisonment and eventual release by South Africa's apartheid rulers, and his presidency of that country  were references to a belief in or a guidance by a supernatural power. In the matter of the unjust and horrific  incarceration such as what Mandela experienced, the tendency of many well known political leaders who have undergone similar hardship is to invoke prayer and faith in God as the source of their strength that got them through their ordeal.  However, in a passage from Nelson Mandela: Prison Years  Mandela instead said "...We drew strength and sustenance from the knowledge  that were part of a greater humanity than our jailers could claim."  Further, his outlook on life as reflected in  129 of  his quotes  are free of theistic allusions.
So was Nelson Mandela an atheist? Apparently, he was, even though he never declared himself outright as a non-believer. But even if it turns out that he was a theist, his lack of attribution to a supernatural being for his achievements was refreshing.

However, assuming for the sake of argument that Mandela was an atheist, did he come by this stance on his own or was it his membership in the African National Congress whose ally was the South African Communist Party that shaped his irreligionist views? In fact one source says that he was active and even held a leadership position in the latter organization.. But another source shades his affiliation with communism as tenuous and temporary. Mandela himself went so far as to acknowledge that the Communist Party did changed his views into accepting all races into the ANC and into realizing that African nationalism itself was not the exclusive property of any one ethnicity,  However, as previously noted, he doesn't mention whether the Party, known for its atheism, influenced him in this matter as well.

But in the end, the measure of this man was not a label on his philosophy but the scope of his deeds and his personal fortitude as the contribution that he made to not just South Africa but to a whole. 

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Getting Back At The Grinch Who Stole Thanksgiving

Economist Robert Reich's noteworthy essay "What Walmart Could Learn From Henry Ford" discusses among other issues Walmart's business model of reliance on low wages rather than more sales for its operations. He further discusses how  this policy is bad for the American economy as a whole. Reich urges consumers to boycott Walmart on Nov. 28 and 29th.  The  28th is Thanksgiving, but it is now also a retroactive extension of  Black Friday and is just another working day for Walmart employees who will "celebrate" the holiday in the break room instead of with their families.

Let's face it.  Walmart gets away with its abusive practices because consumers continue to shop there. All that people have to do to get this company to act humanely to its workers is boycott the damn place. But that won't happen because evidently shoppers in the U.S.would rather save a few bucks on the backs of exploited employees at places like Walmart, even though the ones who work there are their neighbors and maybe even family members.  (As a tacit admission that it doesn't adequately pay its people, a Walmart store in Ohio is  requesting holiday donations of canned food from employees for their hard up co-workers {how the store  will determine criteria for the recipients is unclear}). However, the company as a whole could increase its average wage of $9.00  per hour to $14.89 simply by refraining from buying back its own stock!

We all know that most Americans  workers were hurt  to one extent or another by the Great Recession.  Yet when it comes to the plight of Walmart employees, they show no sympathy for these fellow  members of the labor  force, let alone demonstrate a willingness to take to the streets to demand redress even for their own interests, unlike their forbears in the U.S. and modern day counterparts in Europe.

But for those who are are too intimidated or lazy to hit the bricks,  then they can simply refuse to do business  not just for two days at the end of November as per Reich's suggestion, but every day against companies like Walmart that not only underpay and mistreat  their employees, but in doing so drag down wages across the board for Americans as a wholeFurthermore, such boycotts  would not require a great deal of personal effort, and they  would be a major  step in the right direction of taking back the country from exploitive businesses.  In short, it's high time that Americans finally recognize and stand up for the entitled rights of U.S. workers to decent pay and working conditions. Only when that happens will  we be able to  put the"thanks" back into Thanksgiving.
Nov. 24 Update, To add insult to injury, according to "Walmart Thanksgiving Pay: Sounds Good, But…" unlike many (most?) other retailers Walmart doesn't even pay its employees who work on Thanksgiving a fixed overtime rate, e.g. the standard time and a half.  Instead the additional wage is computed based on a formula that depending on the number of hours the worker put in during the week prior the holiday,  his/her Thanksgiving pay may be little more than that earned on a regular workday.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Religion: Getting Credit Where Credit Is Not Due

Recently, a friend introduced me to an article "Neuroscience +Rabbinic Wisdom=Better Jewish Education", by Rabbi Justus N. Baird. The essay which was published  in discusses a  supposed link between neuroscience and rabbinic teachings about the mind and memory.  But as I see it, by making this  connection. Baird's conclusion is a forced marriage between science and religion.

His attribution to ancient rabbis scholars of having sophisticated awareness brings to mind  the old popular misconception that the ancient rabbis prohibited pork for consumption by Jews because undercooked pig's meat caused trichinosis. But they couldn't possibly have known such a thing. The parasite that causes this disease, Trichinella, was not discovered  until the 19th Century  through the use of microscopy, a process that was not used until the 1600's.  Furthermore, chickens and other fowl  also root in the dirt like pigs and likewise cause illness if not properly cooked.  Yet they're not considered traif (unclean under ancient Jewish dietary laws).

Similarly, there's no way that these men could have comprehended brain functions and the workings of the mind. One of the examples given in the article that supposedly demonstrates their keen awareness of  mental activity is spending years learning Torah and progressively forgetting this accumulation of this knowledge if it is not then regularly reviewed. However, awareness of this lapse  is just plain common sense (but has nevertheless  been validated by scientific studies). As my wife, a psychologist, who agrees that the phenomenon is not rocket science aptly expresses it, "What you have you may either use or lose".

The point is that there's no basis for the author to project specialized knowledge to people who didn't even have an awareness of the concept of science, let alone of the discoveries that have been made about the  mind and body in modern times. And as I pointed out in a previous post, the more we have come to understand the natural world by using the scientific method, the less need we have to look to biblical tales and a mythological supreme being  for answers. So in short, believing that the square peg of science can be joined with the round hole of religion under any circumstances in order to gain an understanding of humankind is utter folly.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Born Male—The New Original Sin?

Is violence towards women really the default setting of the male mentality? Christopher Zumki Finke, the author of "A New Dad Asks: If Male Violence Is the Biggest Threat to Women, How Do I Raise a Kind Son?"seems to think so and urges all other men to assume collective guilt and atone for the misogyny and vicious behavior of some members of our gender.

Sorry, Mr. Finke, I refuse to accept blame for a crime that I've never committed. Further, I believe that being expected to take that kind of heat is not only degrading to men, it in turn also feeds a sterotype of women as helpless creatures and  and encourages them to play the victim card instead of standing up for themselves and their rights and fighting back against abusers. Especially for mothers, such assertiveness  is essential not just for their own survival but as an example for their daughters.

And speaking of setting examples, it's obvious that men's behave towards the opposite sex is likewise heavily influenced by family upbringing.  The best thing a father can do for his son as my father did for me is to  set a positive example.  Sadly though, one of the biggest disappointments and insults that conscientious fathers and sons face is the unjust tarring by radical and misandric feminists and the media of all males as rapists and violent oppressors of women.

Personally (and no doubt as the result of what my father taught me), as far back as I can remember, I was a male proto-feminist before the latter term was even coined. I've never had a problem with a qualified female in positions of authority any more than I would have with a qualified male, and I vehemently oppose gender-based discrimination.

In the U.S. publicity is skewed towards aggressive and violent males ("If it bleeds, it leads") thus giving the misimpression that this is how all men behave. It doesn't matter that there are probably millions of other men who quietly go about their business, would never even think about raising a hand against a woman,and who automatically consider and treat them as their equals without giving it a second thought.  However, you'll never hear about them because they don't seek the limelight for doing the right thing. But it's time that their their presence is acknowledged.  In the name of fairness, aren't they just as deserving of the same respect from society that women expect for themselves? 

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Buried Treasure: A Hidden Gem in Obmacare

Although as an expatriate, I'm not eligible for coverage under the Affordable Health Act, (and as a retiree living outside the U.S., not even Medicare for that matter), I'm glad to see that the ACA has finally been enacted.  One outstanding plus about Obamacare not often mentioned is that it may well end job lock, which is the refusal of workers to leaveor to fear of getting fired fromjobs that they hate because their  employers offer badly needed health insurance at still relatively affordable rates. vs. those for an individual policy.  And as discussed below, therein lies the problem. (BTW as one who had "been there, done that" in my working years, I sympathize with those who are putting up with such employment conditions.)

Instead, under Obamacare, those in the labor force will be able to obtain insurance on their own at affordable rates. In doing so, job lock employees would be able to switch to companies that don't offer health insurance benefits, thereby giving workers more freedom when seeking or changing employment. In turn this could level the playing field and stimulate the job market as workers would no longer be at sharp disadvantage in this area in making decisions about working for such prospective employers.

Moreover, the system of employer-sponsored health plans (which was introduced in a full labor market  during World War II in lieu of pay raises that were restricted due to government imposed wage controls)  has lost its usefulness.  Over the past several years  premiums and co-pays have increased, wages adjusted for inflation have dropped,  and unemployment has soared. This is especially the case since the Great Recession. Meanwhile, individual insurance premiums have become prohibitively expensive for many Americans, especially those who are older and / or have pre-existing health conditions. Obviously, something needed to be done.

Yet it seems that the mindset of workers in the U.S. has nevertheless continued to be one of denial by ignoring the flaws in this "fringe benefit"(especially the fact that  employer sponsored health insurance terminates when the employee does and that COBRA can be very expensive), a misplaced attitude that has only aggravated the problem.  Maybe it would actually been better in the long run  if businesses had totally abandoned health care coverage long before now,  as employees' dependence on this ultimately unreliable source of protection artificially only delayed a day of reckoning and popular demand fornot to mention the  necessity ofgovernment sponsored insurance for the working people.  In other words, if workers had been more realistic about the limitations of  their companies' interest in their welfare, then America might have enjoyed Medicare for all by now.

Meanwhile, here in the Philippines, the government healthcare plan, Philhealth. which is already very popular  is aiming for universal coverage by 2016. Wouldn't it be sad if a third-world country were to implement a single payer plan for all ahead of America? One can only hope that the Obamacare will also eventually evolve into such a system, just like those in other first world countries and in at least one less developed nation as well. 

Monday, September 9, 2013

Back to Basics

The question posed by the clergy to religious believers "Where will you spend eternity" is of course a reminder to them that when they die, there is a  heaven and hell where God will send their souls forever. In which of the two destinations they will wind up is based on their faith in and adherence to biblical scripture.

As an atheist I find such a doctrine utterly absurd on so many levels. For one thing there's no evidence of  either a God; nor is there any proof of an afterlife, let alone one in the sky populated by harp-playing angels and streets of gold or alternatively, the other at the center of the earth filled with souls writhing in fire and brimstone. Then there are those who project "the next life" as a continuation of our current existence.  I know a woman who every year wishes her deceased mother a happy birthday in heaven. Then there are those who think that they will be reunited with their departed loved ones.

These are the images of eternity with which Americans and other Western world people (especially Christians) are most familiar and in which they are likely to believe.  However, this set of  fables is just one of many myths of life after death which are equal to the number of religions throughout  the world. They can't all be right, but most of their respective adherents claim that their particular version is the only real one.

I have considered another and more sublime scenario that awaits us when we die and one that sounds reasonable:  We know of course  that our bodies decompose and our minds cease to function.  But beyond that we disintegrate into the scattered atoms that constitute the elements of the universe from which we were formed individually and to which we will return. From there they may combine with other animate and inanimate substances alike. Further, this process will continue as long as the universe existsmost likely at least several billion more yearswhich is as close to immortality as we can hope to achieve.  As Carl Sagan put it: "The nitrogen in our DNA, the calcium in our teeth, the iron in our blood, the carbon in our apple pies were made from interiors of collapsing stars. We are made of starstuff."

On a personal level, IMO there is no reason to worry about death.  In the words of Mark Twain:  “I do not fear death. I had been dead for billions and billions of years before I was born, and had not suffered the slightest inconvenience from it.”  Nor do we have reason to believe that we will do so after we're gone.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Change The Channel

The annual televised Chabad Telethon will air  in thr U.S. this month. Chabad is a branch of  the Jewish ultra-orthodox Hasidic movement. Chabad in turn is divided  into various sects that have  a history of intense and violent rivalry with each other.  However, they all have some common traditions such as perpetrating  obscurantism by allowing only a  minimal secular education for their followers and by fostering a belief within each sect that its founder is the Messiah. The men wear black suits and the women wear headscarves and long dresses. Followers also have large families which is the result of official opposition and enforced ignorance for its members about birth control, along with a patriarchal social structure resulting in limitation of women's roles and rights. The latter not only includes their  expected function as serial child bearers but also the prohibition of their participation in Torah study and ordination as rabbis (Note the striking doctrinal similarities in this regard with Catholicism and Mormonism).

Of course this is not the image that Chabad and its ilk present to the public, especially when seeking contributions.   The logo of the program is a symbol or silhouette of a Chabad "rebbe" (rabbi)  dancing in spiritual joy.(Of course this avatar doesn't include his perpetually pregnant wife.)

But one would have to be practically living in a cave not to know that there's more to the story behind that facade. So why do many non-Orthodox and even non-observant Jews give undue deference and in the case of the telethon, donations  to the Ultra-Orthodox and its leaders?  Could it be due to feelings of inferiority and / or guilt about not being "observant enough", e.g. not keeping kosher, such that members of  devout sects are looked up to as "real Jews"?   And considering that this respect for these "holy" men is not reciprocal , it's stranger still.

One rationale for elevated status of Chabad is the supposed "good works" that it does not just for Jews but for the community at large. So the telethon includes non-Jewish celebrities as well in order to appeal to a wider audience and so to appear ecumenical.

Yet there are many other charitable sectarian and  nonsectarian organizations who likewise perform diverse and extensive services to the public without imposing the baggage of unenlightenment and oppressively strict  behavior codes on their congregants on one hand while displaying a deceitfully benign mask to the outside world with the other.  In short, the  mere visibility of its representatives on TV does not compensate for Chabad's lack of  transparency about the medieval culture and stifling lifestyle to which its members are expected to devote their lives.

Articles for further reading:

A Life Apart: Hasidism in America

Jewish Outreach: What You're Rabbi Isn't Telling You

Reform Reflections: The Good and Bad of Chabad 

Out of Enclaves, a Pressure to Accommodate Traditions 

Monday, July 8, 2013

A Response to Intrusive Evangelical Christianity

One of the more troubling doctrines of Christianity is its tenet of evangelism which is an often invasive and downright obnoxious means of  trying to gain new followers. One such Christian organization,  the Israel Restoration Ministries  has been targeting Jews in St Louis, MO  with solicitation phone calls promoting  the "good news"about Jesus,  and urging them to convert. The recipients of these annoying calls BTW were selected from the phone book based on Jewish sounding names. On a larger scale, Christian extremist Pat Robertson, through an organization called the Brazilian Center for Law and Justice, has made inroads in Brazil using religion as a front for right wing political activity in that country.

Why can't these fundamentalists get it through their arrogant skulls that there are billions of people in the world who have never heard of Christianity or who know about it but want no connection (Think China and Japan for example) and who are doing just fine with their own beliefs.  Do Christians think that they're going to be able to reach and "save" each and everyone of these "heathens" when they have no business trying to convert even one? Moreover, if the Christian deity is a god and Jesus a savior whom everyone must accept or otherwise be condemned to hell, why did he and his son supposedly reveal themselves  to only a very small portion of humankind, and only for a brief era centuries ago? If there's no way that those who have never heard or never will hear about this dynamic duo, then they are damned for eternity through no fault of their own? How can anyone in their right minds be persuaded into worshiping such extortionists?

And the upshot is that there is of course no more proof for the existence of the biblical God and  of Jesus as a divine messiah than there is of the numerous other ancient deities of legend such a Zeus and Woden, just to name a few.  Nor is there any  physical evidence of any of the miraculous events narrated in the scriptures. Furthermore,  the theme of a man-god rising from the dead is not even a Christian original. It occurs in pre-Christian religions too,

So in order  to counter  the sectarianism that Christians try to force on others in American society, including public elementary and high schools where they try to impose prayer and creationism,  I propose that colleges and universitiesespecially the secular ones— in the U.S.form and offer courses in Christianity as mythology just as they do for the religions of ancient Greece and Rome. By doing this,  these institutions of higher learning would be officially placing the story of Jesus into the category of  fiction which it really is anyway.  And despite the firestorm of protest they would likely encounter from believers, scholars would be taking an academic step that's long overdue. And hopefully, this  reassessment of Christianity would catch on in other countries as well. 

Importantly, this relegation might prompt enlightened Christians to reconsider their beliefs. Who knows, it might also well take some of the wind out of the sales of Christian evangelism if it is officially categorized at least by some authorities as a relic. In any event, there's no reason for believers of this religion and its practices to continue receiving the privileges and deference that they have been afforded for entirely too long.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Corporate Fraud As a Weapon Against Workers

I recently saw a program  about Andrew Carnegie on the History Channel Series, "The Innovators: The Men Who Built America". Carnegie is usually portrayed as one of the great philanthropists of America of the 19th Century.  But he had a dark side: his feckless dealings with the American labor movement. Rather than face  the likely prospect of labor unrest in one of his own factoriesHomestead Steelhimself, Carnegie shoved off the job of dealing with disgruntled workers onto the Homestead's chairman Henry Clay Frick while Carnegie ran off on a visit to Scotland.  In the name of reducing company expenses,  Frick, at the behest of Carnegie's implied directive and his own antipathy toward the working man cut wages and increased the work day to 12 hours, 6 days per week. Under such conditions, accidents and casualties on the production floor of course mounted until, in 1892, the workers finally rebelled. went on strike, and barricaded themselves in the plant.  Frick responded by bringing in the Pinkerton Agency whose agents shot and killed  9 workers and wounded many more. In the end, the strikers were forced to surrender. Carnegie's reputation suffered for this incident, but the struggle for workers'  rights and unions would continue for many decades.

This was just one of many incidents of physical volence in American history against workers in their attempts to organize and fight for their rights. But there have been other methods utilized as well by employers to render them and their unions powerless, some of which wereand are incredibly brazen.  One example is Peabody Energy Corp. This company, in a deliberate attempt to evade its retiree benefits obligations created a separate entity called Patriot Coal Corp. and transferred those liabilites to that corporation. Subsequently, Patriot filed bankruptcy in order to get out from under these expenses, leaving Peabody indemnified. So apparently, Patriot was really a shell organization all along set up by Peabody for the very purpose of reneging on its contract with the United Mine Workers to which the affected retirees belong. Yet the court approved the bankruptcy.

Union members are protesting this decision and are hoping for legislation or a successful appeal that will overturn this verdict Meantime,  the UMW is continuing negotiations with Patriot. But the very fact that this company and its parent organization would resort to such underhanded tactics in the first place demonstrates bad faith and a lack of trustworthiness that will likely make such bargaining futile and will once again leave the pensioners holding the bag. 

Friday, May 10, 2013

For Exploited Workers Everywhere, All Roads Lead to Bangladesh

Over the past several days I've come across several articles, such as "All talk about job creation" by columnist Boo Chanco that discuss programs and incentives to attract more foreign investments to third world countries like the Philippines (where, as an American expatriate, I happen to reside) and how bringing in such capital and employment opportunities will improve the economy of these nations.

One matter of concern that all these commentaries mention is the cost of doing business  including labor expenses in these locales, and how supposedly inflexible minimum wage policies for example can discourage foreign companies that are seeking to expand their international horizons from setting up shop in places that have this kind of  worker protection law. The Philippines is one such country. 

One proposed solution is to create special economic zones here for foreign companies that would be exempt from these salary restrictions, the logic being that a  minimum wage reduces the number of people that a foreign prospective employer is willing to hire, thus leaving many unemployed Filipinos out in the cold who would otherwise be in the labor force. And furthermore, according to this line of reasoning, isn't it better for the unemployed seeking jobs to work for less than minimum wage than for them to have no income at all?  However this proposal places the outcome of bidding down labor costs on the backs of the working people who even when paid minimum wagewhich itself is a pittancecan barely afford the basics. And under such a plan, nowhere have I seen a suggestion for the government to subsidize the difference between the substandard pay of the "special zone" employer and the minimum wage in that locale. Yet the government has no problem  about offering revenue-draining tax holidays to foreign companies to open plants here, but it can't offer a measly subsidy to their workers too? 

Moreover, is labor cost the real or even a major reason that more companies from abroad are discouraged from opening their doors or staying in the countries like the Philippines?  Actually, there are more onerous factors that drive up the cost of doing business in this country  such as expensive electricity, poor infrastructure, and corruption.  Yet if the Philippines managed to overcome all these problems, and as a result workers were to become more efficient and to expect higher wages, international businesses here would likely do what they always do when faced with having to pay their workers more: Pick up their operations and chase the lowest wages possible across the globe in a race to the bottom . American workers experienced this phenomenon with the textile industry. Years ago, apparel and linen manufacturers were originally located  mainly in New England  but then relocated to the Deep South, then to Mexico, and finally, along with major American and European retailers, outsourced their labor needs to contractors and subcontractors in Asia, including the Philippinesand Bangladesh   

The garment business in Bangladesh and the recent collapse of a shoddily built factory there that killed hundreds of employees are a logical outcome of this practice. They are a stark reminder of what happens when labor costs are slashed and worker safety standards are ignored with impunity. According to a CNN report, government officials themselves including members of parliament there often own such businesses and as such have no interest in enforcing regulations intended to protect the health and safety of employees or pay them decent salaries. The wage of  a garment worker in Bangladesh is $38.00 per month. If the Philippines were to become a major manufacturing  hub bolstered by companies from abroad, will this country which already has labor law enforcement issues turn into another Bangladesh for its factory workers?

And finally, I would like to add a word about the current plight of American workers, who have seen jobs, wages, rights and working conditions spiral downward since the Reagan era (which I personally witnessed and experienced prior my retirement), and especially since the Great Recession.  The latest assault  by the Republicans who have been mainly responsible for this decades-long attack is an attempt to end required overtime pay for employees  who labor beyond an  8-hour day or a 40-hour week and require them to take "comp time" instead. The joker in the deck is that it will be the employer, not the worker who decides if and when such time off will be scheduledif ever.

In short workers who have to put off with inequitable pay, unsafe working conditions leading to death and injury, and deprivation of their labor and human rights when there's less excuse than ever in this supposed modern, progressive era for these conditions to exist in the first place are really no better off than their counterparts of the past who toiled under similar circumstances in less enlightened times. For these people the only thing that's changed after all this time is the calendar.     

Friday, April 12, 2013

Why "Immigration Reform" Is Such a Joke

Of all the socioeconomic and political issues with which America is faced, the least contentious should be immigration, or at least the appropriate response to those who intentionally  enter and stay in the country without  obtaining legal clearance to do so.  As of 2011,  there were approximately 11.5 million illegal aliens in the U.S. Yet they and their advocates respond to those who want them deported with the excuse that many of them have been in the country a long time and have established roots in their community  and / or that they want a better life for their children  

The fact remains that these people are gate crashers regardless of how long they've been in the U.S. Want a better future for their children? Well, why we don't just throw open the borders and let every would be immigrant and all their children in too. American citizens and legal residents are already struggling to find and keep jobs. Let's make it even harder on them by having an unregulated tidal wave of aliens who will also compete for these jobs and resources and depress wages even further than the present swarm of illegals already in the U.S. have already done.

What's particularly galling is that under  the  proposed "path to citizenship", illegals will in effect be REWARDED for cutting ahead of LEGAL immigrants (many of whom also wanted a better life for their children) who played by the rules by applying for visas while still in their native countries and waiting years before being approved, then on arrival in America abiding by the laws of the land and waiting still more years for citizenship. Were they fools for going through all this when all they had to do was sneak into the country, bide their time, and eventually be granted naturalization?

BTW this is not the first time illegals (not "undocumented aliens") have been given a free pass aka "amnesty".  It was also done in 1986.  That act sent a message and set a bad precedent such that the U.S. is now flooded with more of these people who've been waiting for the dice to come up seven again. It looks as though their lucky day is at hand.

When will we ever learn?

Friday, March 15, 2013

Left Out

As many others may have also experienced I find that one of the most frustrating hazards of identifying with a particular ideology is to see its extremists hijack and sell out ideals for which this particular belief system stands and turn them on their heads.  This is what has happened with the  American political left.  And as a moderate social and economic progressive and humanist who advocates a secular society, respect for human rights,  and gender equality, and as one  who vehemently opposes repression by religious interestsvalues  which the American left wing have also long upheldI am alarmed and saddened to see a faction of its members sympathize with adherents of Islamofascism, which is an attempt by its Muslim adherents to force their virulently hateful and repressive religion and way of life on the rest of the world (See my post "Europe's Islamic Experience And its Implications for America".) 

Actually, I knew something was amiss but wasn't able to put my finger on and clearly identify this link between the  extreme left and the Islamic radical right especially in the Middle East until  I read a column written by a secular Muslim, Tarek Fatah, who spelled out the connection in "Social media Is the new public space" which appeared in the blog site "Lilley's Pad" wherein he discusses the plight of liberal Muslims who are not only persecuted  by other Islamists but who also experience discrimination by Facebook in getting their message across.  

Sure, strange bedfellow associations happen all the time but are usually temporary pacts of convenience between two enemies that obtain until their common objective has been achieved. Then they resume mutual hostilities. However, the ties between the American (and European) far left and extremist Islamic governments seem to go deeper than mere expedience.  One basis for this unholy alliance is their common hatred not only of Jews and  Zionism, but also of Israel and its very right to exist, not to mention Israel's perceived undue influence on American foreign policy.

The latter perspective itself held by these anti-Semites who often use the excuse of anti-Zionism  also serves as an excuse to use the American government as a  punching bag by the far left. Yet I never see or hear a word of organized protest by  these people against other ethnic groups who also have a strong influence in American politics such as the predominantly right wing Cuban-Americans who have held  the American government in thrall for over 50 years against normalizing relations with Cuba.  Some of the members of this community have resorted to murder against other Cuban Americans who disagree with that position. Then there is the Irish-American lobby and the collective and individual support of Irish Americans for the IRA and the Catholics against the Protestants and English rule  in Northern Ireland during the Troubles. Again, the American left was silent about such interference.

I have had some bruising online encounters and have been frequently flamed by far leftists over my dissenting comments on some of the posts that have been published in such  progressive newsletters as "Truthout" and "RSN"   These attacks on my positions (and often me personally as a Jew) are not  from the writers of these columns, but rather by other responders. In contrast, the publication such as "Free Inquiry" which is published by the moderately left leaning organization Committee for Inquiry has unabashedly criticized Islam and its irrational tenets. And at least one leftist organization the Marxist-Humanist Institute opposes both the Iranian and U.S. government leaders.

To be sure,  in the Middle East both Israel and the U.S. do have a lot to answer for, regarding some of their past and present policies including the Palestinian issue and the use of drones respectively.  Yet  the far left's support of Islamic countries such as Iran is blatantly hypocritical. Iran of course is a  totalitarian Islamic theocracy whose government hates the U.S. and Israel.

Then in the matter of the Syrian civil war, just  because the U.S. government has endorsed the rebels, many U.S. leftists back President al-Assad (who is not a radical Muslim but still a ruthless dictator nonetheless)  and his regime as the legitimate Syrian government despite the atrocities he has committed against has own people. Yet as author Nikolas Kozloff points out there is a double standard at work here in that if as many Palestinians  died at the hands of the Israeli government as the thousands of Syrians who have been massacred at the hands of their own leader, the American Left would be outraged over such an atrocity.

* * *

How did American Jews become involved with the political left in the first place? At the risk of oversimplification here' the story. For centuries Jewish tradition has emphasized the doctrine of tikkun olam (repairing the world) and social justice. These principles dovetailed with the leftist movement and its emphasis of the very principle of making the world a better place not just for the wealthy and powerful individuals but for humanity as a whole especially the underdogs and the persecuted, a position in which Jews historically often also found themselves.  In the 20th Century, it was the left that led the labor, civil rights, anti-war,  and feminist movements and reached its zenith as the New Left in the  civil rights movement and its opposition to the Vietnam War.  But  partly due to the excesses of some of its radical groups such as the Weather Underground and some factions of the Black Panthers, which itself became anti-Semitic  the legitimacy of the the leftist movement as a political force came under questions, and many of its disillusioned members, Jewish and non-Jewish  alike,  fell away. Some of them even joined and became prominent in the right wing political  organizations. 

But beginning with the George W. Bush presidency in 2000 (the election for which itself was hijacked by the Republican Right) culminating with  Great Recession in 2008, it became clear in the U.S. how powerful the American Right via the Republican party really is. Even with a Democrat in the White House, this political /economic right wing still gets its way. Corporate profits are extremely high and wages for the working people are extremely low. Millions of home owners are still under water on their mortgages. And these are just a few of the woes facing the American. The country  needs a resurgence of a strong left as it had in the 1930's, but one that whose members will not discredit the movement by cozying up to the enemies of freedom. 

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Reasoning It Out—a Deliberation

A close friend of mine,  a Reform Jew  whom I mentioned in a previous post, ("An Argument Against Theistic Based Humanism") and I recently carried on a discussion via email regarding God (in which he believes), atheism, scripture, and the universe. The exchange was very worthwhile because it made us both reflect deeply about what we believe. In turn this enabled—no,make that required—us to present our best arguments about our respective positions on these issues.  Following is the dialogue from this email string. I have changed my friend's name to protect his privacy. 

I want to emphasize that such discussions don't have to be acrimonious and can be carried on in a spirit of fellowship especially when each side really listens to what the other has to say. As you will see,  our debate ended on a rather upbeat note.   The first entry below is from my friend, "Isaac".

Personal question(s). 
I know we have talked about it a lot over wine. But what were the psychological repercussions when you finally became an atheist? 


For me the change from belief to atheism was rather gradual, so there wasn't much psych. impact along the way.  But when I completed my journey, I felt a sense of freedom and relief. Also certain matters became much simpler to deal with and address such as the issue of why bad things happen to good people (and vice versa) and whether things happen for a reason (they don't; they may have a cause, but not a reason--big difference). All this took a load off my mind.


What do you think of this: ("Theology: How Jews Picture God") 


As an atheist, I find the described exercise  of picturing God meaningless (surprise). I was really amazed at those who felt that God is not all powerful  for not having prevented Auschwitz? How can God not be all powerful and still be God? Anyway this ties in with your question yesterday about the psychological impact of becoming an atheist. Not having to deal any longer with such philosophical gymnastics or alternatively copping out by shrugging those things off as "God's mysteries has taken a big load off my mind. 


Before the Big Bang there either was a God who created the universe -- or -- the universe created itself. I cannot comprehend an infinite regression. Which ever option is chosen, it's hard to argue that the Torah was written by God. For those who believe, according to the survey, God is felt most in nature. So if there is Creator, then he speaks most through his creation (nature). The laws of nature is the word of God? Shades of Spinoza.


"Before the Big Bang there either was a God who created the universe -- or -- the universe created itself.". Well, the universe could be one of many multiverses, part of a multi dimensional  megaverse, or the last BB may not have been the first time. There could have been a cycle  of infinite of BB's  and then Big Crunches when the universe collapsed back in on itself. The latter may not be the best explanation because cosmologists no longer theorize that the universe will in fact recede inward as once thought.  They have discovered that the force of gravity for that scenario is not strong enough to offset the outward flight of stars and galaxies being repulsed from each other. since the BB. Over the next several billion years the stars will die out, and the universe will become a place of cold dead matter.

What would be God 's purpose in creating a universe that will one day be like that?  Also, if God created the universe at a discernible point in time, about 13 billion years ago, what was he doing before then? And why did he wait for that particular point in time to set off the Big Bang? What's so special about that instant that then and only then did he get the party started?  And of course, as for infinite regress, who created God, and who created that creator, etc?

The Torah is a composite work of several different authors who had very vivid imaginations. As I skim through it, I can't believe how mind boggling the stories are and how people still believe them  for anything but fables and myths that are no more true than the Greek myths.


That's why. I simply cannot comprehend an infinite regress. So instead of a first cause, there must have been an eternal cause.

But again, assuming God is that eternal cause, why did he wait until 13 billion years ago to create the universe, and one that along with all life will eventually  flicker out and die? 


Duh. I don't know. I'm just choosing what seems the least unreasonable to me. When confronted with the question of suffering, I've got 2 choices: to believe that there is a God but that I can't explain why there is suffering -- or -- since I can't explain, conclude that there is no God. As I said before, both are valid but mutually exclusive conclusions.

Here's another angle from Stephen Hawking my query about God and the concept of time that I should have remembered. {"Atheists: If you believe the universe was created by the big bang, what do you think happened before it?"


I can only go to ideas that I can comprehend. I renounced the Christian Trinity because I couldn't comprehend how there could be 3 persons in One God. I also renounced the idea of a Mother of God, because if God has no beginning and no end, then he cannot have a mother. As for Stephen Hawking's ideas, he may be too intelligent for me to comprehend him. "Time did not exist before the Big Bang, so there was no time for God to make the universe in." I can't even begin to fathom that. 


Don't sell yourself short. When it comes to intelligence, you're one of the smartest guys I know. I agree that physics and cosmology can be difficult to fathom sometimes., The theories of Hawkins et al are based on precise mathematical models, not guesswork. Since I was a kid I've loved astronomy /cosmology, and if it weren't for my deficient math abilities, I might well have gone into that field.


I can try to understand Hawking's idea below by guessing that space and time are related.
That's right. They're interconnected.

Since there was no space before the Big Bang, then there was no Time. 

Bingo! See? You've grasped it.

It was before Space and Time. But that's precisely what boggles my mind. A reality before Time and Space. 

Well if no space and time, then I'm guessing no reality either They were all born with the Big Bang. 

Maybe Greek mythology was on to something. In the beginning was Chaos.


Let's just drink a good bottle of wine. And celebrate your atheism and my belief in one God. And rock to the Chaos! 


I'll drink to that.


Saturday, January 12, 2013

(Not) Born This Way

How often have we heard the expression and maybe even used it ourselves: "I'm proud to have been born a ('Jew', .'American', etc.)"  But if we stop and think about it, that's a baseless perspective. For example (setting aside the complex issue of ethnic Jewry and discounting the maternal lineage tradition) in the case of adherents of the Jewish religion, no one is "born" a Jew, or for that matter as a member of any particular faith. We come into this world as natural atheists  but are indoctrinated by our families and culture into a set of theistic beliefs and values—usually beginning in the most impressionable period of our lives: early childhood. In other words, the religious identity that we come to accept for ourselves is the result of an accident of birth.

Another problem with having pride in one's religious beliefs or background, nationality, race, etc. is that this mindset can lead to feelings of superiority over other people who we deem as inferior because they are not "one of us". On the other hand, feelings of shame or inadequacy over one's birth status are likewise unproductive. Again, no one asked to be born into his or her particular demographic setting. But those who are particularly unhappy with their lot, see no chance of improvement in their futures, and have the opportunity to make a change (conversion,immigration, etc.) then they should seriously consider taking that step and act accordingly, which of course many such people do.

On the other hand for those who are content with whatever group that they happen to have been part of since birth, there's nothing wrong with being happy that things turned out this way. However, pride itself should come as the result of an accomplishment or achievement, not from a random act of fortune.