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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Conservative Compassion and the New Tone

(c) 2011 by Tom King

Philosopher John Locke - Noted Liberal
and champion of individual rights.
There are those who would say those two words are an oxymoron. Conservatives get constantly painted by the left-wing media as tub-thumping, gun-toting Neanderthals who are, let me see if I remember this correctly - racist, homophobic, bigoted, ignorant, knuckle-dragging, cold-hearted, selfish and narrow-minded drones.

I'm sure I didn't get them all.

Don't get me wrong, I'm well aware what epithets some of the knuckle draggers on my side of the political aisle have tossed out about the left. They aren't any better than their liberal adversaries and deserve a slap-down from their fellow conservatives. They get it too - pretty regularly. If we're going to argue with our liberal friends we need not - indeed must not - use the same techniques they do. Most conservatives would find it repugnant to dip into the Saul Alinsky/Karl Marx playbook to make their argument anyway.  It would feel slimy and besides it's not in our nature. Lying for a good cause doesn't sit well with those for whom telling the truth is one of the commandments.

The problem is the label conservative. A conservative today is not what he was 200 years ago. Those who are now tagged conservatives embrace a philosophy that was once considered liberal in this country. John Locke, Ben Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and the like were considered the great liberal minds of their day.  The conservatives wanted to preserve the nobility and the monarchy. They opposed the revolution because it dethroned the elite and took away what they considered their birthright - the right to rule the ignorant masses.

In the 1800s the once powerful conservatives searched for a way to transmorgrify themselves in America into something that preserved the right of the privileged class to rule.  They found it in a movement that on its surface was meant to "free the masses" - progressive socialism. The tenant of this new movement was that the ignorant masses needed the guidance of smart people - people that the new Darwinian theory of survival of the fittest said would pass along their superior intelligence to their offspring. So with the aid of poorly understood science, some political sleight of hand and a conserted effort to redefine the meaning of "liberal", the nation's high and mighty put on the mantle of the founding fathers for a while - for as long as they needed it to consolidate their power which was the whole point of the thing anyway.

Meanwhile the constitutional liberals who believed in liberty, freedom, self-reliance and treating others the way you want to be treated found themselves becoming what conservatives have always been - people opposed to radical change.  In America, however, we had already built a foundation on liberal principles and instead of like European conservatives who fought to maintain the power of the noble elite and to convince the "masses" willingly to submit to their governance, America conservatives, instead,  fought to maintain the power of the people, to break the power of the high and mighty who would create an American nobility if they could and convince the "ignorant masses" that they should come along quietly like good little workers.

Conservatives today believe what liberals of the 1700s believed. We believe that all men are created equal, that they have the right to life, liberty and the free pursuit of happiness. We believe that no man or woman has the right to lord over us, to arbitrarily take our rights to self-govern and hem us about with regulation, interferance and bureaucracy.  We give to the poor and needy far more than our so-called liberal opponents who consistently give a tiny percentage of income compared to their conservative neighbors. We believe your faith is your business so long as you leave us to worship as we see fit.

There are racist homophobic bigots among us on both sides of the political aisle, just as there are profoundly unChristian people who sit in a pew every Sunday, prayerbook firmly in hand. Today's conservative principles do not preclude a person being loving, charitable, compassionate and good. They are, in fact, the same principles that guided the framers of the Constitution, which in turn framed the real change that took place in our country and led to emancipation, women's suffrage and a level of general prosperity unknown in history. Our poor are fat, our sick are cared for better than anywhere else and our nation, though we fight fiercely among ourselves in the arena of ideas, we have renounced empire building and settled into our current role as the world's peacekeeper.  We have defeated enemies and built them back up again, better than they were before - Germany, Italy, Iraq. We have shed American blood to try and save others from invaders - Kuwait, Korea and Vietnam. We have done wrong and regretted it and tried to make amends. We carry guilt for our mistakes - for Native Americans and slavery in particular.

But it has always been stubbornly clinging to the great liberating ideas of the Constitution and Declaration that has transformed us into the bastion of liberty we are today. We who believe you shouldn't mess with a good thing are painted as selfish and bigoted by our opponents, when every principle we hold dear argues against selfishness and bigotry.  There are those who would toss aside our founding principles in the name of change, offering the illusion of "security" in exchange for a bit less liberty.

Given the history of rule by the special people, we conservatives, though disposed by nature to be compassionate, can, perhaps be forgiven for believing that's not a good idea and getting a bit riled up about the whole thing. 

Just sayin'

Tom King

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Why This Ad Doesn't Creep Me Out

(c) 2011 by Tom King

There have been a series of ads recently on television from a group called  One of the ads always makes me cry....

It's a daughter sitting beside her dying father's hospital bed and remembering back to scenes of the two of them together growing up.  Somebody posted a complaint on Facebook the other day that the ad creeped them out.

"Does the ad mean she thinks her life will be better off without her father?" the poster asked.

It's interesting that someone would fasten on that idea, especially someone who tends to be a conservative. I think he was probably looking for liberal bugaboos in the thing since the commercial runs on the evil mainstream media.

But the ad is not about death panels. Whoever made it is someone who has an aquaintance with death. I've lost two brothers and my dad under tragic circumstances. My wife buried her parents within six months of each other. She and I work with seniors and have stood by more than one bedside while someone 'shuffled off this mortal coil'.

We've seen the families who cling to a dying loved one long past the time they should have let them go. I'm reminded of how my mother-in-law died. Her kids were all around her. She was dying from inoperable cancer and was no longer even fully conscious, yet she clung to life tenaciously. Her youngest daughter had been very close to her and the girl was grieving hard. Recognizing that it was time, my wife and her brother and sister came close and said goodbye. They told their Mama that they loved her and that they would be okay.  But it wasn't until the youngest, was finally persuaded to tell her Mama it was okay that she quietly slipped away. 

Families sometimes go to heroic lengths to keep their loved ones alive, long past the point where life is worth hanging on to.  As a Christian, I believe death is not permanent. I jokingly call it a "dirt nap" because if you believe you are going to wake up, then death is naught but a heavy sleep.  Jesus called it sleep.  What awaits us at the end of our "nap" is something worth getting to. 

No one else should decide when it is your time to go. No one else should make you stay longer than you need to in order to accomplish whatever God had in mind for you to accomplish. And when you go, it's nice if somebody tells you how much they love you and that they'll be alright till they see you again.

That's what that advertisement was all about. There are only two reasons I can see for someone to object to the sentiment in that commercial: 

(1) They can see nothing beyond the grave and for them loss is just loss - nothing more. They must think that making someone you love hang on is somehow the correct way to show love and that letting them go is selfish and creepy.

(2) They really believe that old people ought to hurry up and get out of the way of the young and they're afraid this ad makes that sentiment look callous.

I can't think of another reason why that commercial is a problem for anyone.

Just one man's opinion

Tom King

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Disproving God

(c) 2011 by Tom King
(Sorry this runs long - it's a long philosophical muse, written on a soft Sabbath afternoon.)

Someone recently told me with perfect certainty that God and all religion can be easily disproved.

Simply because you have not seen it, does not mean it does not exist.  You can say you are reasonably certain the thing does not exist, but I'm pretty sure an omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient trans-dimensional being might just be able to avoid appearing on your radar without a lot of trouble if it suited Him.

Easily disproved?


And how is it you can disprove the existence of a thing anyway? Not having seen it yourself will not do. I have never seen an atom, but I'm fair certain they exist.  In "proving" the existence of black holes, for instance, you can only do so by observing what is happening around them to infer their existence. Physicists infer the existence of dark energy because something must be pushing the universe apart at ever increasing speed because otherwise it would be slowing down all the time due to gravity.

Physicists first postulated dark energy based things they observed in the heavens. Then, they sought to find mathematical proofs of their theory about dark energy, thereby building a case for its existence.

In the same way no one can prove the existence of a multi-dimensional, powerful being, save by observation of the world around us and the ways in which God (or whatever you wish to call him) impacts that world.

Plenty of eye-witness testimony, some of it contemporary, claims to have witnessed or experienced acts of God. I have a couple of my own experiences that are not readily explainable by either physics or psychology.

Does this mean that all who experience such events are liars because their conclusions about whether or not God exists differ from yours. I would hope, given most of you believe strongly in science, that you would wait for empirical evidence before drawing a conclusion.

Carl Sagan argued, that if God existed, he would surely provide unmistakable proof of His existence. This might not be so, if God were deliberately limiting man's access to such absolute proof for a reason – some purpose he had for insuring that the evidence of His existence remained deliberately thin on the ground. If this were true, you would only find hints of his existence in unexplainable phenomenon like dark energy, the properties of water, the exactitude of Earth's orbit, the presence of its moon to insure stability and perfect size and composition to promote life. As Freeman Dyson once said, “ looks as though the universe knew we were coming.”

Given that even the scientific community remains divided over whether God or some vast intelligence exists, it seems to me a truly open-minded person would wait for the theory to be tested. Christianity is just such a testing procedure for the theory that God does exist and cares for us personally. I came to Christianity making a deal with God. "Prove to me you exist. I'll follow the program You've laid out to the best of my ability and you show me that You exist.”

I have tested the hypothesis that God exists to the point that I am convinced that He does. Unless you have thoroughly tested the hypothesis for yourself, you cannot say one way or another whether my own experiment is valid or not.

The fact that Christians squabble among themselves over points of doctrine or church practices means nothing. Scientists do the same thing over points of scientific doctrine. The proof of the pudding, as they say, is in the eating.

My experience has been that God patiently changes a person as a result of that person's on-going relationship with Him. I find that I am free of things that once held me down. I find that I do what I want more than what I was once compelled to do by my nature or upbringing.

Do people abuse power as Christian leaders? Absolutely.

Do scientists abuse their power? For sure!

Do politicians? Ya, you betcha.

The great controversy in this world is not God vs. Not God. It is between those who serve themselves and those who serve others.

If God wished to create an immortal race of individuals with complete free will; a people that God could be sure wouldn't mess things up again, who would do what is right, because it is right and not just when it suits their selfish purpose and, if, at the same time He could preserve the creativity, the energy and the vast potential of creatures with free will, how would He do that?

My theory is that God would plant those creatures alone on a planet, allow them to work out both sides of the argument - the mercenary vs the philanthropic approach to life and see what happens. Then at the end of it all, save the essence of who they are, grant them immortal bodies and turn them loose in the galaxy to live, love and create.

The only creature capable of such a thing would be one who exists beyond mere three dimensions, one who can see today, tomorrow and yesterday all at the same time, one to whom time and space are endless, who can work out ever detail so that in the end, the great goal is achieved -- a free people who, by their very nature, will never perpetrate evil upon each other or anyone else.

The idea makes sense, I'm not the only one who ever believed such an idea. Millions of Christians believe something along those lines. I can't think of any other way to make people with free will that won't wreck the universe. The Earth, I firmly believe, is a crucible in which free people are made. Everyone has a choice. Live for yourself and do what you want and you get this life and then die and disappear (Eccl. 9:5). The other choice means you accept the discipline and educational program God offers and you get eternal life and total freedom given back to you for completing the coursework.

I'm betting the second pathway is correct. Whichever way is correct, it shouldn't matter to anyone else. It is my choice and affects those who choose their own way not in the least. You may do as you wish, live as you want. The only thing I'll fight you on is if you try to limit my right to live as I choose.

It's a philosophical difference. It is not something you can play philosophical "Tag You're It" over. You believe one way or the other and it's hardly likely you'll ever agree. It comes down to majority rules in the end.

If religion is a fraud, it may perhaps one day be crushed by the preponderance of evidence. Or, Jesus may come back and settle the matter. As in science, the wisest thing to do is to wait for enough studies to come in before you plant your flag on one side or the other.

Tom King - Tyler, TX

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

The PC Police Go After Huckleberry

(c) 2010 by Tom King

The PC police finally did it. I knew they eventually would. It's been coming for a long time. Mark Twain, like most authors who tell the truth, was doomed from the beginning. His original sin was telling the truth about African Americans. He portrayed “one of them” as an authentic and admirable human being, while the white folk who surrounded him seemed a motely lot of con men, gossips, swindlers and dimwits. It was a revelation for its time and Huckleberry Finn, particularly, is an important book. Much of what we common folks understand about the black community of the early 1800's South, we learned in high school, not from Harriet Beecher Stowe's melodramatic Uncle Tom characters, but from Mark Twain's gentle and surprisingly wise Jim.

Twain's prose is authentic, gritty and realistic for the time. It's really sad. If he'd laced Tom and Huck with f-bombs, he'd be a literary lion in today's educational world. Instead, Sam Clemens used a word beginning with “N” that, used in virtually any context these days, will not only end your career, but get you sued in the process. An Auburn English Professor has decided to protect us all from the N-word. Twain Scholar Alan Gribben has removed every incidence of the word, replacing it's use mostly with the word “slave”.

I'm not sure I like Slave Jim any better and it certainly doesn't have the kick in the gut that N.... Jim does.

I blame Walt Disney, the Brothers Grimm and J.K. Rowlings. We all grew up listening to and reading stories in which certain words were magic. “Open Sesame” and magic doors stand ajar. “Alakazam” and bad guys disappear in a puff of smoke.

Myself, I don't believe in magic words. Words are tools for good or ill. We use them to communicate ideas. They have no power outside the context in which we use them. If we attach some sort of imaginary “power” to words like the one I'm talking about, we are, in essence, saying there are things that cannot be said or ideas which may not be considered. I, for one, have a real problem with the “F” word and do not ever use it. I might in a discussion find a reason to discuss and even use the word. I might not even bother to read a book laced with that type of profanity. I don't pay much attention if it's used in context – say quoting someone or adding a little authenticity to a very nasty character.

I wouldn't rewrite the book to leave it out, though. You don't fiddle with art like that. Twain used language to exact purpose. A “Twain Scholar” ought to know better. I usually don't hope another author's book fails, but in this case, I'll make an exception.

Oh, well. Mark Twain is no stranger to having his books censored. That's one of the dangers of being truthful. Lots of folks really hate that.

Just one man's opinion....

Tom King