Posts Tagged ‘religion’

A Game-Changer? Hopefully

Yesterday, the U.S. Supreme Court decided not to intervene in several appeals of same-sex marriage equality. There are reams and reams of analysis on the ramifications of this decision all over the Interwebs, all of it better than mine, so I won’t even try.

I think this is great news. I support same-sex marriage and general equality for the LGBT community. Part of this is my own system of values. I just don’t see anything wrong with it amongst consenting adults.

But beyond that, I think this is great news for the principle of a limited government. I think even conservatives should rejoice. It really boils down to good, limited governance of a free society.

I know staunch libertarians will disagree with me on this, but a free & prosperous society actually requires a strong, functioning government. The key is strong & functioning with regards to what a good government should be doing.

In my view, the good government of a free society needs to provide these functions:

  • defending the nation from external attacks
  • keeping the internal peace when individuals cannot do so themselves
  • providing a legal framework for conducting business and settling disputes
  • ensuring all citizens have equal voice and are subject to fair treatment; and that the weak are protected from being abused by the strong
  • funding and implementing beneficial public works projects that cannot effectively be completed by the private sector

And … that’s it. Sure, one can quibble on exactly how these functions should be done, but this is really the list on what a government should do for its people.


The problem many social conservatives have is they add this sixth bullet, in one form or another:

  • be the guardian of a moral code

This is what the gay rights limiters, the “no sodomy” lawmakers, the abortion deniers really want: they want the U.S. government to be the enforcer of a moral code (specifically, their moral code).

Ugh, what a horrid thought. It amazes me that these folks don’t see this as a horrid thought!

It’s not too hard to imagine a world where governments enforce moral codes. It’s happened ever since the dawn of civilization. Tyrannical regime after tyrannical regime has done everything from slavery to ethnic/religious cleansing to forced castration to progroms and ghettoization, all to enforce their “moral code”. These are all terrible things, and to think some people don’t see it this way is immensely troubling. A government, even the U.S. government, enforcing moral codes is a bad idea!

Plus it’s just a waste of money, if you’ll permit me to be so crass. Do we really want to pay taxes to enforce this stuff? I don’t

This ruling should be taken as a signal that laws governing behavior solely for the enforcement of a moral code, and for no other valid reason covered by good governance, should be overruled.

The Other Reason This Is Right







All are terms, terms across so many religions and belief systems. Toss in Heaven, or Nirvana, or Bodhi, or any of a number of more specific words. All words connoting the apex of spiritual existence.

Now look at all the greats across all these religions or philosophies. St. Thomas Aquinas. John the Baptist. Siddhārtha Gautama. Mohandas Ghandi. Mother Theresa. There are lots, lots more.

Do you think any of them needed a government entity to enforce their moral code upon them? No. They believed it, took it to heart, made it their own, and based their lives upon it. Oh, and what lives they led! Such lives, that we we still speak their names with reverance, even millenia later!

Religion, spirituality, philosophy: these are all things that are yours. They are personal to you. Your journey to whatever the apex of your own belief system is yours, your own, no one else’s.

And it is a hard journey. I don’t know of any major religion that claims it’s easy. It’s difficult, and it is intended to be difficult. Heaven isn’t just something that you can stroll into, you have to earn it, through good works, or a pious life, or self-sacrifice, or whatever your beliefs call for. It requires strength of will and strength of character.

if you need a government to enforce your morality upon you or another, you may want to consider not only what, exactly, that morality means to you, but also what your character lacks that you can’t lead the good, clean life you want on your own, without the government enforcing it for you.

This is a good ruling, no matter how you look at it.

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Peace & Respect

In this blog, I try to recreate the thoughts, experiences & emotions I felt during a visit to each site in the National Park System.

On the day I visited Gloria Dei, the old Swedish church in Philadelphia, there were services going on. Therefore, I unobtrusively snapped a couple of pictures and moved on my way, as quiet as I could be. This post will reflect that visit: a few pics and a few  unobtrusive sentences.

Peaceful people practicing their faith in a peaceful manner need to be respected. Give them that respect, whether it’s in the NPS or not.


[This post is dedicated to the memory of David Ericson, formerly of Naugatuck, Connecticut. He was a church choir singer, Boy Scout leader, proud father, devoted husband, strong UCONN Women’s Basketball fan, the nicest guy I have ever worked with in a professional setting anywhere anytime, and a true-blue Swede. Rest in peace, Dave.

Photos on this post are mine and thusly copyrighted.]



Gloria Dei Church National Historic Site

The Old Swede’s Church

Swedish Immigration in North America

Google map to Gloria Dei

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I am a full-fledged agnostic, have been for most if not all of my life. I may even be called “atheist” in practice, but I do wish I could be more spiritual, and have the inner peace earned through a spiritual life. That is the theory of it, isn’t it?

Unfortunately, theory and reality often conflict. The current crop of religions and spiritual movements proves this out. At best, they’re social clubs no more “spiritual” than a college fraternity, a place to be with your neighbors and try to get laid. Some are no more than line items on a personal resume, like a gaggle of IT certifications. Some are inertial organizations where folks belong simply because they’ve always belonged, like their fathers before them. Some are escapist fantasies, allowing the cowardly to retreat into blissfully ignorant “happy places”, occasionally assisted by various mind-altering substances. At the very worst, religions and movements are controlling forces, wielded by the wicked for their own benefit or profit, to the detriment of the adherents. Somewhere along the line, I think Mankind has lost the true meaning of spirituality.

In my view, the true meaning of spirituality is the understanding we’re all self-aware cogs in a greater machine known as The Universe, and if we understand, obey and serve the laws of The Universe, then we’ll have a decent existence. Fight the laws of The Universe and you’ll be a miserable SOB. Like it or not, we’re part of something greater than ourselves. Everything is connected, and the failure of one equals the failure of all. Spirituality is only valid when it ties one to the practical universe, the real world of life, nature, human interrelationships, etc. It’s only valid when it helps all of us survive and thrive. That’s why I enjoyed “The Wind is My Mother: The Life and Teachings of a Native American Shaman” by Bear Heart.

Bear Heart is a member of the Muskogee Nation , a father, a husband, a psychologist, a writer, and, above all, a shaman. He was selected to be a medicine man by other shamans of his tribe, men who saw he had the responsibility, courage, and compassion to be a medicine man. The story of how that came to pass is one of the prime tales in his memoir, “The Wind is My Mother”. But “Wind” is not wholly a memoir. Yes, there are plenty of autobiographical stories in the book, written in that simple, but powerful, spoken-word narrative style indicative of Native American writings. More potently, “Wind” is a collection of anecdotes illustrating basic tribal beliefs. Bear Heart explains concepts such as the significance of each of the four compass points, each of the four seasons, and of the sun, and the moon, and the earth, and the sky. This is all very fascinating, and I’m sure many readers will become enthralled by this. But it’s not really what’s important about the book.

Bear Heart doesn’t just talk about the Wind Spirits. The book is also peppered with philosophies on life and living. Again through anecdotes, Bear Heart talks about happiness, and pain, and loss, and joy, and redemption, and death. He talks about the harm of an unbalanced life, the trouble caused by arrogance, the damage caused by materialism, and the pain brought about by drug and alcohol abuse. He tells all these tales, straight from his life and experiences as a Muskogee medicine man, in this tremendously humble, non-accusatory, parable manner. “The Wind is My Mother” is a good, uplifting read, and I recommend it as a respite from heavier fare (like the tomes on history I usually read).

I think Native American beliefs, as described by Bear Heart, were closer to the truth than any other religion out there. I’m not talking about the beliefs in the Wind Spirits or any of that (and I know all about the recent, scary “sweat lodge” incidents), but theirs was a belief structured around the concept that Nature is actually the Great Spirit, that we’re all interrelated, and that we all need to obey and serve natural laws in order to live well. Theirs was a belief rooted in the fact that you defy Nature at your own peril, and it’s far better (and easier) to let her guide your path down the road of life. Pay attention to the world around you, both the natural world and the voices of the people around you. Listen, act accordingly, respect others, and be the best cog in that universal machine you can be.

Of course, in a society dictated by the philosophy of “me me me me me me me!”, that’s not that easy.


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Competitive Religion and the All-You-Can-Eat Buffet

Daniel Boone Escorting Settlers through the Cumberland Gap

Nobody talks about Daniel Boone anymore. Folks my age remember Fess Parker as Daniel Boone on NBC between 1964 and 1970, and there was some interest during the Bicentennial in 1976. But now, no one cares or probably even knows who he was. Unless there’s a Hollywood movie about someone, no one knows or cares. If no one knows about Daniel Boone anymore, it’s doubtful anyone knows about the Cumberland Gap, that pass through Appalachia exploited by Boone, resulting in the nation growing beyond the Original 13. Nowadays, the Gap is both paved over by Hwy 25, and a chain of crappy clothing stores stretching all across Generica.

Cumberland Gap is in the Appalachian region of eastern Kentucky. True to stereotype, Appalachia is poor, there’s no doubt about it. Driving around the region, I was unsurprised to see economic distress & ramshackle housing. If you drive by with the windows down, you can practically smell the meth cooking. It’s pretty sad, really, for when I went (late 1990’s), the country was at the height of its economic cycle. Nowadays, with the nation on the precipice of the next Depression, I can’t imagine what’s going on down there. Of course, those nearest to the bottom don’t have as far to fall, but I digress.

Jesus Saves

There is one business in high gear in Appalachia: religion. I’m not a religious man, but I do acknowledge and respect religions. I think if I didn’t collect National Park sites, I’d drive around the country and take photos of churches. Large stone churches or modern glass-and-metal churches or one-room stick buildings, I wouldn’t care. Say what you will about all the controversies: the history, diversity, and evolution of religion in America is fascinating.

In eastern Kentucky, the story of religion is the story of competition. Throughout the region, you’ll see small stick church after small stick church, each having one of those quick-change trailer-towed portable billboards in front, mismatched letters stating “Newcomers Welcome”. It’s not just “Jesus Saves”, it’s “Jesus Saves Quicker Here Than the Church Around the Corner, They’re Really Pagans Disguised as Christians Anyway.” I wonder if there are Save-Offs, where the various hardscrabble churches meet and compete on which church wipes away sin quicker?

These quick-build churches really are competing for parishioners, each one scratching around for followers in a sparsely populated area. There’s a lot of poverty and a lot of want, but there aren’t a lot of folks. Hard conditions foster hard-core fanaticism, and it appears that hard-core fanaticism fosters hard-core soul-saving competition. A smart sociologist could have a field day here, studying religious competition in Appalachia. There’s definitely a cool doctoral thesis in there somewhere.

Golden Corral

There is one topic that has received much study, and that’s of obesity amongst the nation’s poor. Shortly before I took my trip to Kentucky, I heard of the theory that the poor are more likely to be obese than the rich, primarily because of bad food choices in local restaurants and grocery stores. Our twisted application of agricultural policies coupled with the borderline unethical practices of the nation’s fast-food chains makes it cheaper to eat fatty, corn-syrupy garbage that will surely kill you, than to eat fresh vegetables and lean meats.

On my trip to Cumberland Gap, these two factors: bad food choices and competitive religion, threatened to steamroll me into oblivion. Hungry after hiking through the park, I headed to nearby Middletown, KY, for dinner. Choices were, of course, crap. Fast-food outlets and all-you-can-eat buffets as far as the eye can see. I hate buffets almost as much as I do fast-food outlets, they’re usually bland as hell and festooned with pasta, meatballs, over-fried chicken and mashed potatoes, not exactly healthy eating.

I finally sucked it up and headed to one (buffets beat out starvation, that’s for sure). I pulled into the parking lot … right behind a church bus carrying half a dozen 300-lb. Bible Baptists. I had to politely let them go first (I tend to avoid fire-and-brimstone moments as much as possible), and was worried there wouldn’t be much left for me. I headed to the salad bar, figuring it’d be totally avoided by the locals (it was), for a feast of brown iceburg lettuce & rock-hard cherry tomatoes. Mmmm, feast of champions.

Honestly, I managed to get a sizable dinner there, and survived the post-processing. I only had “firsts”, surely I looked like an outcast, one of them there rich folks that don’t likes fatty vittles. I didn’t care what they thought, I was confident I could outrun them all.

[I didn’t own a camera when I visited Cumberland Gap. All photos are,  I believe, in the public domain. If you know any differently, please let me know and I’ll get the owner’s permission or remove them outright.]

[Special note to readers: I was contacted by http://chriscrawfordphoto.com/index.php about my use of one photo that belonged to him. I honestly don’t remember where I found that photo in the first place (this post is five years old), but I was clearly in the wrong and have removed the photo. My apologies to Mr. Crawford.]



Cumberland Gap National Historical Park

Frontline: Why Poverty Persists in Appalachia

Child Obesity in Poor Neighborhoods

Church Sign Generator

Google map to Cumberland Gap

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