Wednesday, October 29, 2008

organizing my thoughts

I'm trying to get a handle on what I'll be writing about for my Religion & Society paper, and realized some theological assumptions I hold that are making a difference in the way I'm reading texts and interpreting sociology, ethics, theology and life in general. So in order to help myself focus I decided to write them out.

I think my paper will be mainly about "Individualism vs. Individuality," with the point being that in American society we say we champion the individual, but what that really means is we champion the self--or perhaps the Id. We have a fear that there is a scarcity of individuality to go around, so I need to make sure that all my needs are met (and those of my family and friends and country that I think of as an extension of myself). If this has to happen at the expense of other individuals, so be it. This is individualism.

But individuality realizes that for my own needs to be met most fully, the needs of all other people and of the entire system of the world need to be met. There is enough to go around and we can live ethically with one another, but in order to do so we have to recognize the uniqueness and value of other people. If we do this, putting the other before the self, at the same time we create a world in which our own needs are met--both physical and metaphysical.

So: assumptions in my basic premise, as outlined above...

- The world is basically good.
- Humanity is basically good, but broken.
- Our human desires point to good things God has created, but we often express these desires out of a space of brokenness (e.g. it's good to want our needs to be met, and to work for that end, but we twist this into "my needs are more important than your needs.")
- We all have an inner knowledge of what's true and good, and we can cultivate this or ignore it (i.e. Inner Light, Light of Christ, Light Within, etc.).
- Human institutions tend to take one or more of our basic desires--or perhaps our only basic desire, that for meaning--and twist it to support the institution rather than humanity (e.g. desire for meaning and therefore quest for immortality twisted into supporting the continuation of our nation, of which we are a part and with which we identify, so that even if we die, we are immortal because the ideology with which we identify continues).
- Brokenness mainly revolves around lack of trust, and therefore fear, which are intimately connected. We fear there is not enough. We fear God isn't actually good, because bad things happen. We fear that if there is nothing good controlling the world, there is no meaning, and our lives are meaningless. Therefore we don't trust anything or anyone.
- Life is sacred, the life cycle is sacred not because of something inherent in people or animals, etc., but because of the Creator, who has chosen to be known through the created world (but is not the same as the created world).
- God is relational: we know God through relationship with God and with other people, as well as with nature.
- Freedom requires that we can't just have loving choices made for us. There probably wasn't a literal Eden, but Eden and the Fall are metaphors of freedom.
- Fear comes from freedom: we like and need boundaries, but chafe against them. We think we want freedom but we also like the security of the law.
- We need government and institutions because we need to have communities--we are social creatures who can't survive alone. Communities need rules of some sort that help us live a shared life. It would be great if we'd all live altruistically, in which case it wouldn't much matter what system we lived in, because whether communist, democratic, monarchical, theocratic or anarchic we would all look out for one another's needs. But since we don't do this on our own, we need laws and governments to enforce them. (But this, of course, gets into shady territory regarding HOW governments should enforce laws, and over whom those laws have jurisdiction.)

True ethics is always intimately personal, contextual, relational. This goes against most "rational" ethical theory, which assumes that if we make law impersonal it will be more just, but the problem is that when we create a system that is impersonal it automatically DE-personalizes people. Here's what Weber says:

"Today, however, the homo politicus, as well as the homo economicus, performs his[/her] duty best when [s/]he acts without regard to the person in question,...without hate and without love, without personal predilection and therefore without grace, but sheerly in accordance with the factual, material responsibility imposed by his[/her] calling, and not as a result of any concrete personal relationship. In short, [a] modern [hu]man discharges [one's] responsibility best when [one] acts as closely as possible in accordance with the rational regulations of the modern power system." (The Sociology of Religion, 1993, p 235)

Weber says this is more like karma than like Yahweh, who metes out vengeance on particular individuals/communities based on relationship with them. Karma, however, works within a set system where punishment and reward are carried out in perfect relation to one's actions, if not in this life then in another life, but always reflecting what one deserves.

The problem is, that isn't the way the Christian God works. God doesn't impersonally decide that based on one's actions, one receives a particular reward or punishment. God is a God of relationship and grace, who out of love does crazy, radical, over-the-top-merciful acts like die for people who aren't even paying attention, or worse--who are actively rejecting God's offer of relationship and wholeness.

Now, in my moments of vengeance (of which I hope I have relatively few), when I really wish someone was going to get "what they deserve" for some wrong they've done, I generally don't want a God like that to take vengeance on my "enemy"--I want to do it myself, or better yet have someone do it for me--because I don't trust a God like that to actually punish someone. If God is a God of crazy, radical, relational love, God's probably going to show mercy to that person, and then I won't get to see them suffer for the suffering they've caused. There are consequences, yes--but not God-caused suffering. Maybe someone will choose to suffer because of their own actions, and God will allow that because of our radical freedom, but God won't cause that.

Anyway, it seems like any legal system we set up inevitably impersonalizes laws to ensure everyone is treated equally. In theory this is a good idea: supposedly everyone who commits X crime receives Y punishment. Two problems, however, are born of this theory: 1) people do not always receive the same sentence, even in our own legal system with a jury of one's "peers," where people can hire more or less influential lawyers, and where some people have relational connections with those in the legal system such that they can literally "get away with murder"; and 2) there are always going to be exceptions to the rule--a law is never good 100% of the time. As Jesus put it, "The Sabbath was created for humanity, not humanity for the Sabbath." Laws are put in place for people, but when they get in the way of loving and helping people, they should be disregarded. Like when Jesus healed someone on the Sabbath: he broke the law of the Sabbath, but he broke it in order to do something good--to restore wholeness to creation--and that is what the Sabbath is for. (Of course, I may have just disproved my own point, because that means that although human laws are never good 100% of the time, my comment makes it clear that I think that there are ultimate laws behind the human laws, and those ultimate laws ARE true 100% of the time--it's just that our laws can't quite encompass those ultimate laws.)

I think there are tons of examples of this in modern literature and media, which deal with questions of morality and law quite frequently. One I think I've used before is from Les Miserables, when Jean val Jean was thrown in jail for stealing a loaf of bread because he had no other way of getting food for his starving family. What is the ethical thing to do? Feed one's family. What if it breaks the law? Who cares? Les Mis shows that the ethical thing is more correct, and that Javier, who lived for the law, eventually sees this, and finds himself swimming in a pool of relativity he can't handle, so he commits suicide.

The problem is when law and order is set higher than human individuals, and I think this is the heart of the matter, and the heart of the Christian problem of how to interact with governments. In the Weber quote above, he basically puts the law above the individual. Upholding the law creates a society that hopefully allows the individual to live free from fear, and so the law should always be upheld. But the problem is that then an ordered society becomes more important than anything else, so that we are willing to kill to keep that order. Karl Barth (theologian in Switzerland during and after WWII) faced this problem, recognizing that the New Testament requires an ethic of nonviolence--but he ultimately decided that since God is a God of order, we have to keep that order (that God has instituted) at all costs. When that order is threatened, that supersedes the injunction against violence. He knew this was not biblical, and even though he based his whole theology on "the Word alone," he fell into the trap of making the rule of law more important than individual lives, and more important than the Word (living or written).

But we need laws in order to live together!

So that's the main problem.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

civic duty

I exercised my right to vote the other day (we have mail-in ballots in Oregon). I decided to vote for one of the two main party candidates for president. (Betcha can't guess which one, based on my blogs! And the fact that I've been tempted to buy one of those "1.20.09" bumper stickers for oh, nearly 4 years now...). Although it's frustrating to have only two choices and neither of them perfect, I am much more in favor of a slight change over no change.'s hoping!

For state offices I voted for some Pacific Green Party candidates if they looked good. The Pacific Green Party advertises its candidates as a "Peace Slate." So that's encouraging! But I buckled to the pressure of the "a vote for Nader is a vote for Bush" mentality that perhaps cost the election in 2000, if we don't count the possibility of malfunctioning (read: tampered-with) voting machines.

At any rate, I hope whoever is the next president deals with foreign policy in a way that is cooperative with other nations in areas of ecology, economy and (I couldn't think of another e-word) "terrorism," and avoid being a terrorist nation ourselves.

Friday, October 17, 2008


The other day I was listening to music on Pandora (you should try it--it's really cool. You type in names of artists/groups you like and then it plays them and similar ones for you like a radio station, only you can say if you don't like a certain song and it goes to the next one, and you learn about all sorts of new artists...anyway...), while I was reading Durkheim, and John Lennon's "Imagine" came on.

Imagine there's no heaven
It's easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
Living for today

Imagine there's no countries
It isn't hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace

You may say I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will be as one

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man [er, humanity, if he was born 20 years later...]
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world

You may say I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will live as one

This seems like it's kind of Durkheim's vision, too: imagine if there was a world where we realized that the only "god" was society, and where we did what was right for each other and gave up on all the religion junk, because all that does is get us mad at each other and make it easy for someone to come and manipulate us using religious language so we're willing to kill each other.

These are good points, not easy to refute, because a lot of horrible stuff has happened in the name of religion. We can go back to the Crusades or further, back to God telling Israel to wipe out every living being in certain cities they took over, but we don't even have to go back in time. The same thing is happening as you read this. Our troops are in Iraq defending the cause of "freedom" for those like us, at the expense of the freedom of those not like us (the Iraqis).

And I'm all for a world with no religions, meaning no one has to perform specific ritual acts to get into heaven (or whatever it is they believe), there's no legalism, there's no hierarchy that people have to have their salvation mediated through. That would be a great improvement over what is currently practiced.

But I don't agree that if we just got rid of this silly God concept, then everyone would get a long because there'd be "nothing to kill or die for." Here are two reasons (and I'm sure there are more):

1. People are always going to form some sort of groups, because we are inherently social beings. We can't survive without other people--literally at least when we're babies--and when we make groups there are unfortunately alliances and bonds that encourage people to think about "our" people as more important than "their" people, our needs trumping their needs, and since there's not enough to go around we'll fight for what there is. (Note: I don't think there's not enough to go around, but that's the mentality of most groups, for some reason.)

2. If there's nothing worth dying for, is there anything worth living for? It seems like as humans, we have an innate need to be part of something larger than ourselves. This "something else" is worth so much that our own lives are worth little to us in comparison. This is what gives life meaning. Unfortunately, this is twisted and manipulated by so many cultures and religions that people think, "What's worth dying for is worth killing for," which is a perversion of this first feeling.

I think this sense of "something greater" that we all want to be part of points to the existence of God. Durkheim thinks although we call it God it's actually just society, but I'm unconvinced. If so, how could we all (from various times and cultures) have the same vision Lennon describes in "Imagine"? How could we all yearn for that ideal world of morality and wholeness? Where would we get the idea that this world wasn't whole, and where would our morals come from? Durkheim gives answers, but they are snatching at straws, in my opinion, that don't really explain the depth of the fact that all cultures yearn for this other world, this ideal life, and their myth structures form around that basic desire.

I know, maybe all our morals and such arise out of what's good for our species in order for it to perpetuate itself, so they're just evolutionary constructs. But that is unconvincing to me, because it seems like they're so much deeper than just utilitarian acts.

Although I could keep talking about this, that's all I have time for! So feel free to post your own thoughts in your comments!

Sunday, October 12, 2008

we skipped meeting today...

Well, we had some excuses: our son has a bit of a cold so we don't want him contaminating other kids; whenever we've been going to meeting lately he cries until one of us comes and rescues him from the nursery; we were all tired; it was a beautiful sunny day and we may not get many more...

So we didn't go to meeting.

I feel kind of bad, because I want to build community and I want to get to know people at our meeting, but oh well.

We've instituted a new tradition (2 weeks running so far) of going to coffee before meeting. (Well, I guess we can't say it's a tradition of going before meeting because we only did the meeting part once.) Anyway, there's a local coffee shop that I work at sometimes--I've worked there off and on since we moved here, but now since I have the research assistant job I just cover shifts now and then. But it's enough to still get our 40% discount! But anyway, there's only one independent coffee shop in town, except that it has two locations. It's a cool place. I really like it. So the one we go to most often now is the newer one, which is smaller and feels more like a neighborhood coffee shop. The other one is right downtown and it's fun to go study there, but it's crazy busy. This one is busy, but it's more laid back, and there's a constituency of regulars that you can get to know more quickly. So we went there this morning.

I think the single best pastoral asset I've gained in the last year and a half is my son. We have something in common with other people with babies, and he runs around and entertains people and then we strike up conversations. Today he petted a dog and laughed an amazing belly-laugh when it started licking his face. He brings a smile to everyone's faces, and makes us seem more approachable, apparently.

So I missed meeting this morning, but I felt like it was really important just being out in the community and chatting with regular people.

There's this sweet older gentleman who's a photographer, and the first time he saw us, the day after we got back from Oregon, he asked if he could take our picture, not knowing Joel's a photographer too. He and his wife seem really friendly and joy-filled. We've seen him each Sunday morning when we've gone to coffee and we chat with him for a little while. He wants to take our pictures for studio modeling, so maybe you'll see one of his pictures on our Christmas cards, if we get around to it! Today he invited Joel to a local photographer's club.

We talked with several other people while we were there, and our son made everyone smile who walked in and out of the coffee shop.

Then we went to a hospital rummage sale--one of the people we met at the coffee shop tipped us off about it. We got there at just the right time--about 10 minutes before they started a bag sale. We got to look around while everyone was generally well-behaved, then we bought our 2/$5 bags and could take anything we wanted even if it didn't fit in the bags. It was perfect for finding new kids books and toys. We even got a cool collapsible tunnel thing that we've seen other kids have, and always thought we should get one.

Anyway, while we were there I struck up conversations with a couple people working there and learned about their families and stuff. That's all because I had a little one running around, too--because he makes people smile and comment about how cute or busy (or both) he is.

So it was a good day. I feel like going to worship on a Sunday morning is important, and having that consistency and that community is great, but at the same time--it's also great to just be out in the community and bring a bit of joy into people's lives, and ours. I think our son enjoyed being with us more than he does being in the nursery with strangers, too, so maybe this is just a time in life where meeting isn't the end-all and be-all of ways to worship.

Friday, October 10, 2008

"what would you do if you found out the voting machines were rigged?"

On Tuesday in my Religion & Society class we talked about sacred rituals in various cultures and religions and why these are important. What makes something sacred or profane? Part of the equation, according to sociologists like Maurice Bloch (Ritual, History and Power) is those "on the top of the mountain" (literally in some cultures, and somewhat literally in our culture--Capitol Hill) set themselves up as our leaders and protectors. They demand tribute (taxes), and when some of that comes back to us in the form of gifts (roads, schools, etc.) we feel like we're getting something for free, something with which those on high are sending down to us as a gift. But really, of course, it's just our own stuff, but now it's been through the process of being sacralized.

My professor started talking about how our votes are kind of like this--the government gives us this "choice" of who to vote for and we feel blessed to get to choose. We feel like we're taking part in something sacred because our opinion supposedly really makes a difference in who's on the mountain and how they lead. They rain enough gifts down on us (tax breaks and kickers, adequate public services for most people, etc.) to keep us satisfied, then go about making themselves rich. (I'm feeling a little cynical today, I guess!) But we feel blessed by engaging in the sacramental act of voting.

Then my professor started talking about the way it appears that voting machines have been tampered with in the last two elections. (Actually he only said the last one, but there's plenty of hearsay and evidence about the Bush-Gore one that I think we can safely say the last two!) Exit interviews showed wins for Kerry in key states like Ohio and Florida last time, with margins of about 8%, but then when the results came out the next day from the voting machines, somehow Bush was up by 2%. My professor pointed out that the same method of exit interviews overthrew an election in the Ukraine a few years ago, so this is a good method--it's not like that method was flawed. So it can overthrow elections in the Ukraine, but here, that would be messing with a sacramental act. (Maybe it's similar to how people felt when there was a church controversy back in the third century over whether one had actually received the sacraments if one's priest was found to be deficient in some way. They decided that yes, even if there was corruption, you had still received the sacrament--you were safe.)

Now, voting isn't a matter of life or death, but still, if we mess with the idea that our vote doesn't count or whole country's principles are called into question. If we actually as a country believe that Bush won the last two elections unfairly, and yet he made all these policies that risked the lives of our own military, and took the lives of so many in other countries, how can we assuage our consciences? No, we prefer to say, he was elected by the people, for the people, however unfortunate that may be. (Sorry, just had to add that last part even though I know some of you are Bush supporters.) So we ignore evidence and we don't push too hard--we wouldn't want our whole system (of corruption, greed, idolatry...) to come crashing down. It's not a perfect system, but at least it works for me because I have roads to drive on and access to education, I have a place to live and food to eat.

So then my professor asked, "What would you do if you found out the voting machines were rigged or tampered with?" He said he didn't know what to do with this current generation, because we don't seem to protest like they did in the '60s and '70s. So what would we do? No one answered. "Cherice, what would you do?" He asked directly. (I felt a little like Ferris in "Ferris Buhler's Day Off"--"Anyone? Anyone? Buhler?"--except I'd done my homework.)

"Well, I'd complain about it on my blog," I said first. Which is undoubtedly true. But then I said it's hard to know what to do, because we've tried protest. We protested the Iraq War--we marched and we signed petitions and we sent letters to our Congresspeople and we met with our representatives--there were massive demonstrations all over the world--and yet we still went to war. We've protested additional troops, additional money given to the war with no stipulations on how it's spent, we've protested the fact that the US ignores UN policies...and nothing changes. So the way protest happened in the '60s and '70s isn't working for our generation. Why not, my professor asked? Well, there's a lot more control over the media now, and through the media the government makes all protest look unpatriotic, and makes unpatriotism look like the worst thing anyone could be (except maybe a terrorist, but you're probably helping the terrorists). This makes fewer people willing to protest, so that the media can downplay the importance of those who aren't going lock-step with the government's plan.

So we need to create new ways to protest that can't be ignored.

What do we do about a government that has no accountability to its people? What do we do when we supposedly have the right to vote but our votes don't count? Or even if there's a fair election, we don't really get to choose the people we want to represent us, we just choose between the options given to us? What do we do when our voice means nothing to our leaders?

We just got our ballots in the mail the other do we vote our conscience, or do we vote the lesser of two evils and vote for one of the options they've given us?

Since I'm feeling cynical I decided to include the lyrics to a Ben Folds song called "All U Can Eat." Here ya go:

Son look at all the people in this restaurant
What d'you think they weigh?
And out the window to the parking lot
At their SUVs taking all of the space

They give no [care]
They talk as loud as they want
They give no [care]
Just as long as there's enough for them

Gotta get on the microphone down at wallmart
Talk about some [stuff] that's been on my mind
Talk about the state of this great of this nation of ours
People look to your left, yeah look to your right

They give no [care]
They buy as much as they want
They give no [care]
Just as long as there's enough for them

Son look at the people lining up for plastic
Wouldn't you like to see them in the national geographic?
Squatting bare-[bumm]ed in the dirt eating rice from a bowl
With a towel on their head and maybe a bone in their nose
See that [jerk] with a peace-sign on his license plate
Giving me the finger and running me out of his lane

God made us number one because [s/]he loves us the best
Well maybe [s/]he should go bless someone else for a while, give us a rest
[They give no...]
Yeah and everyone can see
[They give no...]
We've eaten all that we can eat

Monday, October 06, 2008

foreign policy

In my previous post I decided I would run for president (at least on my blog), since I don't agree with the policies of either candidate, and think most of the time they evade questions and speak only rhetoric during the debates rather than giving any substantive answers. This was spurred by the VP debate last Thursday night. So I talked about the economy and health care and such, so now it's time for foreign policy.

First, I think it's so interesting how much trouble Obama's getting into because he said he'd sit down and TALK to foreign leaders. What kind of a democracy are we exemplifying when we have a list of people we won't even speak to? I would talk to any foreign leaders who wanted to talk: everyone would understand that my meeting with them did not mean that I agreed with their position, but that I genuinely wanted to hear their voice and work out something that would meet both their needs and ours. I would treat them with respect and dignity, listening to their grievances and trying to do something about it. I wouldn't say, "Oh, you're a terrorist organization! Well, that's freedom of choice for you! Let's just rubber-stamp your government plan as long as you give us control of the oil in your area--but look out, in a few years we'll run you out so we can have true control!" With terrorist organizations I would listen to their grievances against America, and try to get behind the list of grievances to the real pain and inequity that exists, and brainstorm with them what to do about it in a way that's realistic and makes life livable for the people they claim to represent and the people I have been elected to represent.

When meeting with foreign leaders--or anyone for that matter--I would have a time of centering silence first, where everyone involved sits in a circle together and connects with that of God in themselves. Hopefully this would break down barriers of "my religion vs. your religion" and barriers of hierarchy and power. Hopefully this would allow us to talk on a deeper level about the struggles and fears we have, and to connect with the God-given creative space within each of ourselves to come up with solutions that are life-giving.

I would take all our troops out of Iraq and replace them with people who build schools and infrastructure, and that pass out basic necessities, play with kids, and help life feel like it's returning to normal. I would start a federal educational program to send Americans there to learn Arabic so that we can communicate better, to create jobs there, and to build relationships between Americans and Iraqis in order to help more Americans remember the humanity of the "enemy."

In Afghanistan I would do what I think we should have done in the first place, which is for the President of the USA to say, "We are hurting over the attack that was brought against us, but we also understand the pain and hurt that would be required to pull off an attack like this. We are sorry for our policies that have created so much resentment against the USA. We are open to dialogue: we want to change so that this world and this global economy has a place for everyone. Please give us suggestions! While we're listening, we will do what we know is useful: we will build schools, we will support true democracies, and we will attempt to listen to and respect those who wish to speak to us." I would take troops out of Afghanistan and send engineers, teachers, and construction workers. I would give the reconstruction efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan the same amount of money it would cost to continue wars there, although I would give a higher percentage of that money to Afghanistan than is currently being allotted. This would be "operation hearts and minds" for real: creating friends by attempting to fix the horrific situation we've caused there for at least the last 20 years.

The hardest thing would be to deal with situations like Darfur, or like Bosnia, Rwanda, etc. in the past. What would we do in situations of genocide? The obvious answer is to stop situations like that before they start, but coming into an administration where there are already huge problems going on in several areas around the world would mean I would have to deal with them as they are. I would create a Christian Peacemaker Teams-style governmental agency, or perhaps just tell churches and synagogues and mosques to create their own versions of this group, and to send thousands and tens of thousands of men and women around the world to work on peace and reconciliation in trouble areas. I would also request that other nations send similar people to the US, to help us see the areas of injustice that occur in our own nation, and to see it with fresh eyes, and to help us deal with inequity more effectively because we had an outside mediator. I would request people from abroad to come help us with our immigration issue especially. How can we as a nation be welcoming toward others, but not be overrun by people who want to live here? And how can we be loving and grateful toward the immigrants who do the jobs here in the US that no Americans want to do (legally and illegally, such as picking fruits and veggies and working as janitors, factory workers and doing manual labor), but that really need to be done in order for our country's economy to work? I would admit that we as a nation don't know how to deal with this problem and need help.

I would also attempt to bolster the economies of the other American nations so that people don't need to move to the US in order to get a fair wage or find a job. I would support organic farming and renewable energy production so that their economies can thrive on things that are good and useful to the world, and so that even if we don't buy local products we can ensure that we're not buying products that required a lot of fossil fuel or other non-renewable, ecologically damaging energy to get to our stores.

Well, I know this is only the tip of the iceberg on foreign policy, but this is all I have time for.

Also, does anyone else struggle with knowing whether to vote with your conscience and vote someone you think would actually live out your ethics in office, or to vote for the lesser of the two evils? Should we try to break down the dualistic, black and white (somewhat literally, in this case) 2-party system we've created, or should we vote for someone like Kucinich who would stand for peace and the environment? (He's not running for president anymore because he doesn't want to be blamed for taking votes from Obama, but still, he would stand for what's right more strongly than either candidate, in my opinion, since no matter how much either of them talk about change they are still bound by popular ideas of war and Israel and the necessity of keeping oil companies happy and stuff like that.)

On another note, if anyone's still reading, while watching the VP debate I could hardly wait to see Saturday Night Live's spoof of it. And while I'm on this topic, the Republicans really should have thought twice before picking a candidate who looked so much like Tina Fey! The first thing I thought when I saw her was, "SNL is going to have the time of their lives with this one!" And I don't even watch SNL religiously. (Well, I suppose when I watch it, I watch it religiously, because everything in life is a sacrament, right? But that's beside the point.)

Friday, October 03, 2008

cherice for president!

OK, so last night's debate wasn't for the presidential candidates but for the VPs, but "Cherice for vice president" doesn't have the same ring to it. Anyway, I thought I'd answer the two main questions (briefly) that the VP candidates were asked last night: what would you do to strengthen the economy (and what would you have to give up in your dream policies in order to do so), and what would you do about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan?

Regarding the economy: I would arrange the national budget so that Congress-people and those employed by the executive branch would receive a minimum wage salary with the lowest possible legal benefit package, so that lawmakers know intimately the way their policies effect those who have to live under them.

Hopefully this would stimulate an increase in minimum wage, better laws about employer benefit plans, and better oversight of insurance companies--or better yet, we could get rid of the insurance system altogether and just set fair prices that doctors, etc. can charge for their services. I would set up a health care system that is similar to the socialized health care systems in the UK and parts of Europe, but there would be incentive for doctors who do an excellent job at dealing with patients, doing surgeries, or whatever their specific field needs in order for care to be excellent.
I would set a ratio of what a CEO could make to what their lowest paid employee makes, and require that the CEOs receive the same insurance plan as their lowest paid employees.

I would do something similar to Obama's plan of increasing taxes for those who make over $250,000/year. I think I would implement a flat percentage tax with zero loopholes for individuals who make this much, and corporations with a gross income of somewhere around $5 billion.

This extra tax money would be used to help schools truly come up to par so students have access to a quality education no matter where they live. I would also increase federal need grants for higher education so more students can afford to go to college. This would stimulate our economy in the future by having students trained with competitive knowledge and skills on the world market.

I would offer more readily available small business loans so that people could start up their own businesses. These loans would have no interest for companies who used renewable resources--energy, recycled products, locally grown/made, etc.

I would encourage the building of solar and wind power plants, which would create jobs, thus stimulating the economy. I would lower the government subsidy of oil so that gas cost so much that we had to become more creative in public transportation and services within walking/biking distance. This would create more jobs as a better infrastructure of public transportation was built, it would lower travel costs eventually, and it would create jobs and small business opportunities as people realized the need for neighborhood grocery stores, etc. These would receive government subsidies if they stocked their stores with mostly local products, encouraging local farmers and businesses.

OK, that's all I have time for today. Stay tuned for my foreign policy proposals!

Thursday, October 02, 2008

"are you a bit of a revolutionary?"

So this professor I've been talking about lately, for my religion & society class, is actually someone I really appreciate. I got on his case a couple posts ago, but that's because he actually was able to move the class into a space of attending to the presence of God together, and then he broke that space at one point--but at least he put us in that space in the first place! That's more than most of my profs have done.

Anyway, so he wants us to meet with him and talk about our paper topics. (He has this crazy idea that a "term paper" should be something we work on all term...go figure!) I've now met with him three times, one-on-one, to discuss my ideas. If I ever get to the point of being a teacher, I think that's a really good idea that I'll try to implement. Probably it won't work for every class, but at least for the smaller ones I'm sure it would. It's refreshing to have a prof who cares about our thoughts and listening to them develop and helping us put our finger on exactly what it is that we're trying to say.

Last week he said, "Have you written any of this down?" When I answered no he said, "Why don't you write some of this out for me and bring it next week." So last Friday I sat down to start writing out some of my thoughts about ideologies and America's version of Christianity, empire in general, what true faithfulness might look like, and how we can live as a society (which necessitates laws of some kind) without oppressing people (and ourselves) with legalism. Since then I've written 34 pages (typed, double-spaced), and that's pretty much just writing topic sentences and a bit about that topic and then moving on to the next somewhat-connected thought. It doesn't even do the work of citing authors and using quotes, although I did include thoughts of some people I've read and a lot of biblical quotes without references. And there is still tons more I could write about all this stuff. I guess it's good i want to do a dissertation on some sort of topic of this sort.

Today my professor was reading through what I had written, interacting with it, asking me questions, etc., and he pointed out that most of it is about the basic problem of one part of me that wants rules, law, stability, logic, and clear definitions, and another part of me that is fairly antinomian, which means "anti" against "nomos" law. I think this is a basic struggle that we deal with in the Quaker tradition: we're all about individual connection with God, but where do we draw the line? We can't just have anarchy (well, some Friends would suggest we should, but most of us don't think so), because no matter what, people are social creatures, and to live together best we need to be able to live in a way that is loving toward everyone and everything. And who gets to decide who's right about the correct way to live? Is the Bible the ultimate authority? If so, who gets to interpret it? If not, how do we know what we believe and who we are? These are some major questions I'm trying to deal with in this class.

I think authority isn't all bad, because we can learn from those who have gone before--we can learn both what to do and what not to do. But we can gain a lot of wisdom by listening to some people in authority. We shouldn't just take what they say at face value, however, but it should strike a chord of truth within us that connects to the Ultimate, that sense of truth and rightness and peace and love that we as Friends call the Inner Light. We need to "trust ourselves," as RW Emerson says, but we also need to trust others and listen for the truth through them. We don't hear everything, and what we do hear isn't always correct. So we need each other, and we need some of those who are in "authority," who have an aptitude for listening and who have gained their authority because of their gifts not because of their money or other traditional form of power.

So anyway, my professor was reading my paper about all this stuff, and said, "Are you a bit of a revolutionary?" I said yes, I guess I sort of am. He wanted to know if I'm doing alright--at least here at school--if I'm given any sort of hearing here. I said there's not a lot of space to talk about most of this stuff, but I enjoy it here in lots of ways, and find it good to be challenged by opinions with which I don't agree. Plus, I didn't say but thought about it, I have a blog and I can say whatever I want there!

He said he wants me to write the most radical paper I've ever written.

In some ways that is freeing--it's great to know that there's someone listening, someone who wants to see where I would go with all these thoughts and what's down deep, what issues are really brewing that need to come to the surface and be vocalized and acted upon.

But in other ways, it's intimidating. OK, write the most radical paper I've ever written...this had better be out there, or he's not going to be impressed! But there's me wanting to fit in with the world's systems again...even when I'm writing something crazy and revolutionary I want approval from the hierarchical system that will give me a degree so I can [do more school and] get a job.

I don't know that what I'm saying is so radical or revolutionary anyway--I think it's just that I want us, as a worldwide church, to actually live the stuff Jesus talked about.

But actually I'm not really a revolutionary, because as I've said here before, I want to be part of a revolution but I don't want to lead it. I don't have the guts...or maybe even the creativity. I have the brains to criticize what we're doing, but not the charisma or the courage to lead the way in doing something different. At least not on a large scale.

This week in class I said something about how our prof is asking two different things of us: he wants us to write papers on "the sacred," on our opinion of "the sacred" or on what is sacred to whatever group or something, and he criticizes hierarchy and traditional systems of authority...and yet we're supposed to write this paper using traditional logic and analysis, reading and interacting with the traditionally validated (male) authors in this field, write a paper of such and such a length and show him that we've done the reading, understand it, see the holes in their argument and can attack them, but also see the holes in our argument and can criticize our own perspective. So basically he's asking us to ditch hierarchy and tradition but do so within a traditional system of logic and research. He said with a wry smile, "So are you telling me I'm not practicing what I'm preaching?" I said with an equally wry smile, "Well I would if you weren't the professor and I wasn't the student!" But this is basically what I'm trying to do in life...have my cake and eat it too. Challenge the traditional system but at the same time work within it and be validated by it.

So, do you think I can do it?