tolerance begins now

Wednesday 18 August 2010

Yes, Keith Obermann is probably described as a “crazy liberal” by many, but sometimes what he has to say is pretty spot on, and those who call him by that name are the ones who really need to listen.


textbooks and their impact on our ideologies

Sunday 14 March 2010

Ah yes, school textbooks.  Where would any of us be without hours and hours of reading and learning from these wonderful books.  Perhaps one of my favorite parts of textbooks was covering them with brown paper bags and drawing mazes on them (and now they have pre-made plastic or even “mesh” covers — the shame).  I even remember keeping my desk so full and organized in 3rd grade that I had no room for some of my textbooks and had to sit on them!

Perhaps the fact that my memories of textbooks are not of their contents is a good thing after reading this article, Texas Conservatives Win Vote on Textbook Standards, though sometimes the more harmful items of learning is actually the indoctrination that you DON’T remember.

Basically, the article talks about how the Texas Board of Education recently voted to approve the state curriculum for the coming decade.  A panel of teachers had proposed curricula in each subject, and then the TX Board of Ed. offered their own amendments to deal with the “liberal bias” they said they found in the curricula of certain subjects, such as history and economics.

This is an interesting subject to me because what it really comes down to is the question, “Who should decide what our children learn in school?”

We all know children are impressionable, and people of different ideologies, be they economic or religious or political or sociological, of course what children to grow up to believe the same things they believe and thus propagate the ideology further.

Two amendments noted in the article that the Tex. BOE made stuck out to me:

“Dr. McLeroy pushed through a change to the teaching of the civil rights movement to ensure that students study the violent philosophy of the Black Panthers in addition to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s nonviolent approach.”
“… an amendment stressing that Germans and Italians were interned in the United States as well as the Japanese during World War II, to counter the idea that the internment of Japanese was motivated by racism.”

(My note: if you follow the link, you’ll see that 10 times as many Japanese Americans — about 110,000 — were interned than whites, and an act of congress in 1988, signed by Reagan, mentioned “race prejudice” as one of the reason for internment of Japanese Americans.)

I’ll simply leave those for you to ponder as well.

The reason Texas’s decisions matter is because their have stringent textbook rules which ultimately dictate what is printed in textbooks that are then used in schools across the country.  I’ve heard of high school history teachers supplementing textbooks with Howard Zinn‘s (RIP) book, “A People’s History of the United States,” looking at events from another point of view that surely would not go over well with the conservatives on the Texas Board of Education.

I’m all for people getting all the information possible, but we all understand that there is limited amount of time in a school year, so someone has to decide.  Who and how is obviously not an exact science, so I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on the subject.

For me, it just further affirms the need for continuous education as we get older and a never ending quest for the truth, obtaining all the information we can get our hands on — whether it’s in a textbook or not.

Updated: you can check out The Colbert Report’s take on this subject, as well — looks like I broke this one people!
Update 2: Oh, and apparently Jon Stewart on The Daily Show got wind of this, too.

(Another much longer article on Texas’s textbook-making process was in the NY Times last month, too — How Christian Were the Founders? — if this subject particularly interests you?”)


another issue with divorces: religion

Thursday 18 February 2010

This was an interesting article I came across a few days ago:
Dad Pleads Not Guilty on Violating Court Order For Taking Daughter to Church

The mom’s Jewish, the dad was Catholic but apparently converted to Judaism when the two were married (though according to sources from the article, he remained connected to his Catholicism).  The parents get divorced, the mom has custody with the dad having some visitation rights, and one weekend the dad goes and has the child baptized in a Catholic church.  Then, as if that wasn’t enough, the mom gets the judge to order an injunction so the dad was forbidden from “exposing his daughter to any other religion than the Jewish religion,” as stated in the court order.

Was the judge (state) overstepping its rights of separation of church and state?  How is this to be dealt with, especially when the religions are as different as Jewish and Christian (as opposed to something like Catholic or Lutheran)?  Does the mom have to accept this, or do her legal rights of custody grant her other rights in what her child can or cannot be exposed to?

Thoughts?

I doubt it will end here, but I wonder how far it might go.


let’s (actually) talk politics

Thursday 20 August 2009

Written last week, but I think still very timely:

It was an innocuous breakfast table comment to start the day: my grandfather simply mentioned that, as is happening across the country, people were out in full force at a local town hall meeting to declare their views on the current health care reform situation.  But then he took a breath and showed sympathy for one side, saying he, too, disagreed with a plan that called for euthanasia.

I spoke up, a little too quickly and rashly, and said simply, “That’s not true.”

A few more sentences were exchanged between the two of us before he declared, “That’s it.  I’ve always made a point to not talk religion and politics.”

And that was that.  No more opportunity to share thoughts and ideas.  No time to see what beliefs we shared in common and how we differed.  No chance to try and separate truth from fiction.  We left the table carrying the same beliefs, opinions, and likely some falsehoods, that we had held minutes before.  Did he understand that I, too, have issues with euthanasia, but it was his facts I was questioning?  We never got far enough for me to find out.

I know my grandfather isn’t the only one to avoid the topics of politics and religion.  Every Thanksgiving, we are reminded that a civil gathering will include no mention of the recent election, the new Supreme Court justice, and whether God ordained marriage to be only between a man and a woman (just to name a few taboo topics).  Everyone knows that it never ends well when people “talk politics.”

And that’s just the problem.  We don’t talk politics; we scream them.  The recent congressional forums are just the latest example of groups staking out their ground and shouting their beliefs to anyone who will listen, or at least so that no one else can be heard.  Everyone is talking, but no one seems to be listening.

When I moved in with my grandparents this Spring, I decided to attend a discussion at their church that connected current events to the Bible.  Religion and politics, all in one place!  The first week I attended, I quickly discovered that many participants held political convictions contrary to my own.  As I listened to them talk, I thought to myself how easy it would be to simply not show up next week and find some people who felt like I did, who “understood me.”

But as I thought about it, I realized just how much we needed each other.

In our current society, we insulate ourselves with people who think just like us and believe exactly what we do.  We watch talking heads or listen to radio commentators who reinforce our beliefs,  who reassure us that it’s not we who are crazy, but it’s “those people.”  Religious figures either avoid anything that could be called political, so as not to alienate any of their followers, or preach loud and long a particular ideology to tap into one group or another.  And because we cannot choose our family, we simply avoid hot button issues with relatives altogether.

Should we really wonder why the political divide continues to widen and people become more entrenched in their views and ideologies?

I decided to stick with the current events discussion group, and it became the one place where I can have civil discussions with people I disagree with politically and still leave with no hard feelings.  We talk and we listen.  We make no commitments that we’ll agree with one another or change our minds about topics, and that’s OK.  We respect one another, recognizing that while we might not hold a similar view or opinion, that doesn’t make it any less valid for that person to hold their particular beliefs if they have the facts straight.

If there is hope for this country (I personally remain unconvinced), it’s not going to be found in one “side” taking power over another and imposing their will upon the minority.  Instead, it’s to be found in people sitting down with those they disagree with and openly listening to what others have to say.  Nonviolent communication is a practice where you engage with others, recognizing that you each hold some piece of the truth, listening for what exactly that might be, and moving forward with newfound insights toward a positive outcome.  If our communication continues to be the violent yelling of fundamentalists unwilling to listen to those who believe differently, we are doomed to fail.

We face many intricate and difficult challenges as a country, but they have still not reached insurmountable status.  Instead, we find ourselves at a turning point, all the more reason to put down our sandwich boards and get off our soap boxes right away and engage in some constructive conversation.

The fate of the country depends on it.


a sabbath mentality

Sunday 19 July 2009

In many religions, there is an idea of a day set aside for rest from work and labor, and usually it entails some kind of worship or ritual as well.  It’s oftentimes called the “Sabbath.” Every religion does things a little bit different, as do the people within that religion.  For some, it may mean just a trip to a church, mosque, or synagogue, others may have a family meal together, and still others may refrain from riding in a car or turning on/off electric lights (among many other options!).

A few weeks ago, I had a good conversation with a friend about honoring the Sabbath.  We were walking around a lake, far away from her home, and she was reminded how good it would be to get away from home and work in a place such as this one, as to more easily refrain from the temptations of cleaning her room, doing dishes, or undertaking other chores and activities that “needed to get done.”  I told her I thought it was a good place to start, and maybe a good way to begin the practice of ritually honoring the sabbath, but I hoped that soon she might become more confident in herself and able to resist those temptations to take up “work” that seemed to be beckoning in other places. While getting away can be helpful, it can also be limiting in the scope of allowing for what the sabbath might entail.  Or maybe that time away is exactly what you need on your sabbath.

For me, sabbath is about doing things that bring me joy and pleasure and release, things that bring me rest from the labors of things that I don’t necessarily want to do but must do anyway.  I try to attend a worship service each week, as it’s a ritual that helps me step aside and recognize the holy, but I also like to fill my day with other spirit-filling activities.

I’ll play my banjo, write letters, or go for a bike ride, but I don’t restrict myself to that which others easily see as leisure.  It’s really about how what I’m doing affects me that is important, isn’t it?  Doing laundry, when I’m able to hang the clothes on the line outside to dry, is soul-restoring to me, so why not do it on the “sabbath?”  Today, I plan to pick some blueberries, which to some might be seen as work.  But if I find enjoyment in it, I see no reason to refrain from it on my sabbath.  And if I pick for a while and it gets cumbersome, I’ll stop.

It’s all about a sabbath mentality.  What brings you joy?  What revives your soul?  What restores you after a week that maybe brought you down?  Take a day to do that, even if others might see it as “work.”  For truly, that’s what the sabbath is all about.


when religion breeds intolerance

Friday 18 April 2008

Religion is an interesting entity, isn’t it?  I’ve been a “religious person” since I can remember, and I would still consider myself one today, though that title makes me a little uncomfortable because of the many negative connotations it conjures up in so many people.  Many people have been hurt by religion, or probably stated more correctly, the “religious establishment.”  Religion can do many amazing things, as can be seen by some of the work religious entities do in times of crisis, but can also conjure up horrors, as we saw in the Crusades.  One could write books about a variety of issues concerning religion (and many people have — just visit any bookstore), but I want to talk about one issue on my mind today that connects with religion: intolerance.

I’ve had a few interesting conversations about religion this past week with someone I’ve met here in my travels, and the connection of religion to tolerance (or a lack there of) has crept into most of those conversations.  Our first conversation talked about how many religions do overlap in some qualities, like love and peace, but somehow the differences are what we tend to emphasize; and then, unfortunately, the values created out of those differences in some way cause us all to forget about the underlying values of love and peace found when one really looks at religion.

(Note: Instead of doing so for each example, I will iterate here that I believe each of the following religions, as a general rule, holds a value of love, peace, and tolerance, though each example shows that this can sometimes be forgotten about when looking at certain issues.)
A few examples:
The sector of Christianity which says God does not love or accept homosexuals.
The sector of Judaism which advocates for the expulsion of Palestinians from certain lands of the Middle East.
The sector of Islam which seeks a “holy war” against Westernism.

There are many great people in religious institutions and organizations working for peace and justice (CPT and LVC are just two examples), but it’s so easy to look at the bad instead of the overwhelming volume of good that is out there (the media certainly does it).  In general, I believe that religion should teach us how to be tolerant of one another and to seek ways to love and support one another in the struggles that exist for all of us in this world.

I certainly don’t want to be caught up in a “religion” which people associate with intolerance, but I haven’t let that be a reason to drop the “religious” adjective when I describe myself.  Hopefully as people experience who I am and what I stand for, they will realize that I, and maybe most of the religious community itself, believe in a life full of love and respect, hope and justice, for all people, and through connecting with others who share those values, we can truly make a difference.

Peace.


playing God

Sunday 13 January 2008

So this time it was a story from News of the Weird, of all places (along with discussion of globalization/imperialism and other harms to our earth), that got me thinking. Here’s the story:
A research team led by Richard Hanson of Case Western Reserve University (Cleveland) has produced a colony of “supermice” whose physical abilities are the rodent equivalent of those of gifted humans. By modifying a single metabolism gene, researchers enhanced the mouse’s ability to use body fat for energy, creating a mouse that can run five hours without stopping, live longer, and have three times as much sex as ordinary mice. According to Hanson, humans have exactly the same modifiable gene, “(b)ut this is not something that you’d do to a human. It’s completely wrong.” (6 Jan 2008 Issue)
Other stories on this: CNET News; The Independent (London)

The researcher’s quote made me think about what exactly you would “do to a human” and how we’re playing God so much already that doing something like modifying a metabolism gene really is maybe the least of our worries.

It seems shockingly horrible, doesn’t it: altering the essence of a human’s genetic code. But we have no problem making changes in the genetic codes of animals in our testing facilities — “in the name of Science” — and surely have no problem with genetically modified plants, as much or most of the crops grown in this country (and around the world?) have been altered to grow “better.” I think about my grandfather’s garden and some Monsanto corn he decided to grow which required the use of some Monsanto fertilizer, too. Unfortunately for his garden as a whole, any other plant grown close to the corn that got some of the fertilizer on it perished. And how does this genetic altering of plants and animals affect the future, and what of all the chemicals and pesticides that don’t affect their intended target? How are the estimated 99.9% of the 3 million tons of yearly pesticides globally that actually run off affecting this world for the worse? (More about pesticides here.)

I could go on many tangents here: greenhouse gases, corporate sweatshops and slave labor, oppressive governments (certainly not restricted to dictators), choices to act preemptively that kill others when you may have never been in danger yourself — the list is a long one. Ask yourself now, “What are some ways we, as a world, and maybe even I, myself, am playing God?”

The solutions to our world’s problems are not easy, and all the world’s oppressions are interconnected in some way. That’s why we must support one another as we work for change. As a quote attributed to Lila Watson(‘s group of Aboriginal activists) reminds us: “Your liberation is bound up with mine.” We’ve maybe come too far to return to an earth where we all farm our own fields and make our own clothes, but until we all find a way to collectively work and live so that no human, animal, plant, or anything on this earth — living or “non-living” — is oppressed, we are doing ourselves a grand disservice and expediting our own extinction.