Thinking About Things We Don’t Think About

Posted April 18, 2015 by billpeach
Categories: Uncategorized

Somewhere in the world of the internet, I found an article in which someone made the statement that 50% of Americans are stupid. I try to avoid the word, because I don’t think of it as a scientifically certifiable condition. It is more frequently used as an epithet to demean someone who disagrees with us in politics, religion, and organized team sports. Also, the people who comment on an article like that may not include the opinions of Americans who spend less time commenting on social media.

The fallacy of usage is in our inability to differentiate when it is directed at a fellow human, rather than at a “pointless or worthless” idea, statement, or action derived from a single error in judgment or a strongly held prejudice or harmful ideology. I find no moral justification for using the word in reference to a person.

I heard a story of a prominent psychologist who was unable to start his car in the parking lot of the mental institution at which he worked. One of the patients watched as he repeatedly turned his key with no success at ignition. The patient approached the car and asked him to unlock the hood. After some time in diagnosis and undefined activity, he said, “Now, try it.” The doctor thanked him as he was about to drive away, and expressed some surprise at the mechanical skills of the patient, who replied, “I’m here because I’m crazy, not because I’m stupid.”

In our political correctness, we limited our defamatory language to adults in public life and positions of prominence who appear to be “in a dazed or stunned state.” While it may have some degree of accuracy, the word often loses its validity in the ensuing dialogue between individuals with similar incoherent verbal skills.

In the field of education we sometimes use the designations “failing schools or failing students.” Our State Legislature targets inner city or remotely rural school districts designated within the lowest 5% based on standardized tests. One of the definitions of stupid is “slow to learn or understand.” This label has no place in the discussion of the merit of standardized tests, which measure a percentage of correct recall of information on specific subject material. Nor should it be part of the evaluation of the educators employed by one of those school districts.

Nobody would suggest that we are born stupid, but we all agree that the acquisition of intelligence is incremental, and over our lifetime is also cyclical. Having forgotten is very similar to not knowing, but more likely to be forgiven by your spouse and children. Also, intelligence is inversely proportional to the infusion of misinformation. This might come from network television, religious fanatics, a crazy relative, or conditioned resistance to new information or innovative ideas.

Intellect refers to the ability to “learn, reason, and understand.” We like to believe we teach all three skills in public schools. I remember a time when, “reading, writing, and arithmetic” were the measurable factors that defined public education. Success was measured by our need to learn what we needed to know in order to succeed at what we were destined to do in life.

Intellect is not easy to measure. It includes pragmatic skills essential for career objectives and economic success, and also has contemplative or aesthetic value. We tend to assign disproportional value to the information or belief system which validates our worldview. We still have a distrust of abstract or philosophical thought, or exploring “what we think about the things we don’t think about.”

Crusading, Campaigning, and Pandering

Posted April 13, 2015 by billpeach
Categories: Uncategorized

We normally think of the crusades as being associated with the Christian military expeditions to seize the Holy Land from the Muslims in a period that spanned about three centuries. Some of our earliest candidates for President in 2016 have assigned some divine purpose for their candidacy. There is within the ideology of the religious right a crusade to take back the country from a secular, or Christian left political environment.

As much as the Founding Fathers advocated separation of church and state, there are those who believe our Constitution is based on the content of the Bible, and that we are a Christian nation. In the last several election cycles, many candidates have campaigned ambiguously as conservative Christians or Christian conservatives.

There is a more generic definition for crusade as a “vigorous concerted movement for a cause or against an abuse.” Christians who embrace a more left of center political ideology also come to the campaign with an equally emotional movement that may or may not reach the definition of a crusade. We will watch to see at what point idealism and campaign speeches that include the catch phrases and sound bites of morality, patriotism, freedom, equal opportunity, will become a campaign dialogue that borders on pandering. One of the definitions of pander is “to cater to the lower tastes and desires of others or exploit their weaknesses.”

Following the announced candidacies of Hillary Clinton and Ted Cruz the first questions asked were to which voter constituency each would appeal. Hillary may have an image of being too hawkish, too conservative, and too closely tied to corporate supporters and money from foreign governments to the Clinton Foundation. Many Democrats would prefer someone more to the left.

The Republican Party has the problem of forcing early candidates to move more to the right in order to win the early primaries with an appeal to the tea party and the religious right. We are poised for a vicious campaign for an election eighteen months away. While we like to think of our elective process promoting idealistic principles it will more likely, from early indications, digress into negativity on both sides. More likely we will have a campaign of scandals, self-righteousness, failed foreign policy, income inequality, reproductive rights, guns, and any idealism will be lost in pandering to misinformation and prejudice.

Candidates are restrained by accusations that become counter intuitive. They begin by identifying their voter base and their irretrievable opposition. With Hillary as potentially the first woman president, it raises a similar comparison to President Obama being the first black president. Some people vote for, or against, a candidate solely because of gender or race. Most voters deny that motivation and offer either party affiliation or political ideology and policy as the final determinant. There is a wide gender gap among men leaning conservative or Republican and women leaning liberal or Democratic.

As the early campaigning begins and as we move toward the debates in the summer of 2016, it will be difficult to differentiate the noble causes and the opposition to abuses from obvious pandering. We all like to believe our candidates of choice will campaign appealing to reason and the principles of the Constitution. But we know that will not be true. Politicians appeal or cater to the lower tastes of low information voters who derive their information from media that validate their preconceived views. We reach out to our voter base by race, gender, age, religion, and economic status. Logic should lead us to believe that idealism should be an equally inclusive indiscriminate message for all voters.

The Transition of the Republican South

Posted April 11, 2015 by billpeach
Categories: Uncategorized

I remember a conversation in the early 1980s with a friend, much older than me, and his explaining why he was a Democrat. Like me, he had grown up in a rural environment in which there were isolated voters who identified as Republicans, but everyone who held public office was a Democrat. In his long list of reasons why he had been and was a Democrat were the traditional principles of southern conservatism currently embraced and advocated by the tea party and religious right wing of the Republican Party. Many southern conservatives were reluctant to give up the label of Democrat.

My earliest experience came with the 1952 election of President Eisenhower, a victory of a war hero over an intellectual who did not speak the language of a conservative South. Our invasion and tragic loss in Vietnam, the anti-war liberals, and the Woodstock revolution, did not fit the patriotic and cultural traditions of the South.

The Voting Rights Act and the Supreme Court decisions on integration of public facilities and public education and the events in Selma and other racial demonstrations gave rise to George Wallace and a group of southern senators who led the last resistance to the liberalization of the Democratic Party.

The coming of a welfare society with the war on poverty and aid to families with dependent children took on images of racial conflict with those perceived to be white middle class working people. We struggled through a period in which poor southern white people and poor southern black people competed for jobs, federal benefits, and the integrity of separate or integrated neighborhoods.

Brown v. Board of Education led to the creation of many white private schools. This was followed by the three Supreme Court decisions ruling that religious instruction and compelled religious speech were unconstitutional in public schools which led to the establishment of Christian academies and passage of legislation enabling parents to home-school their children exempt from compulsory attendance in public schools.

This was a period in southern history in which secular humanism became a catch phrase in southern dialogue. The Humanist Manifesto supplanted the image of the age of Enlightenment and affixed the word secular which evoked a revival of fundamentalism and gave birth to the religious right. The campaign of Jimmy Carter with a background in the Southern Baptist Church and dedicated Sunday school teacher emboldened the fragile support of the southern fundamentalist in Democratic politics. President Carter became a “liberal” Baptist and challenged the religious right over differences in interpretation of the teachings of Jesus. This rigid divide in liberal and conservative Christianity led the religious right to support Ronald Reagan and conservative Republican candidates thereafter.

Southern religion and cultural conservatism have played a major role in party affiliation and voting patterns along a gender divide. The patriarchal family unit of fundamental tradition has condoned resistance to equality in corporate positions and equal pay for women. State Legislatures with majorities of white, male, conservative leadership have consistently introduced and passed legislation based on traditions of male dominance and fundamentalist sexuality.

More recently in the 2014 elections, national and local, education became a volatile divide between Democrats and Republicans. National right-wing groups successfully and erroneously depicted Common Core State Standards as a federal program identified with Barack Obama.

Conservative Republicans have replaced conservative Democrats as the majority in southern politics. The current concern of southern Democrats and some Republicans is that the combination of the tea party and the religious right may be building a Republican Party similar to the segregated and regressive party that we called Democratic sixty years ago.

Misspeaking and Misthinking

Posted April 6, 2015 by billpeach
Categories: Uncategorized

Politicians and media personalities who spend their time in front of cameras and microphones are often brought before the altar of human condemnation begging forgiveness for having misspoken. Barack Obama, for example, in California misspoke of a segment of the population who in anger and bitterness embraced their religion and their guns. Public outcry voiced a natural offense that he had implied that religion and the Second Amendment were refuge for the frightened and the angry.

Weeks later, Mike Huckabee, speaking at a meeting of the National Rifle Association, injected a misdirected joke at Barack Obama. He reacted to an offstage noise identifying it as Obama tripping over a chair, distracted that someone had pointed a gun at him. The remark played well at the NRA gathering, but incited a cry for apology once aired in the Blue State parts of America. I am a little concerned when a former Baptist preacher jokes about someone being afraid of a gun. I would not suggest that the clear and present danger boundary of freedom of speech came into play, but given the tone of acerbic campaigning, Huckabee was wise to issue a disclaimer.

Not having learned from widely publicized inappropriate remarks, the Tennessee Republican Party launched a television advertisement aimed at Michelle Obama. The focus of the ad was her ambiguous reference to the first time in her adult life she had been proud of her country, another example of sound-bite vulnerability. However, the advertisement was poorly conceived and artistically tasteless. The images include a Vanderbilt graduate student whose message is unclear, followed by video of a man, shooting pool in a recreation room or den, with a background of rifles and shotguns mounted on the wall. This was well-planned to appeal to a voter base. In a vernacular that would bring an English teacher to tears, the man avows his inalienable right to bear arms and to worship God wherever and whenever he pleases.

As a defender of our inalienable Bill of Rights, I wish our state Republican Legislators did not link the First and Second Amendments within a political message that some may find offensive. Such an associative equation tends to trivialize religion, and attach some spiritual implication to the right to bear arms. Surely, in the weeks to follow, the Republican Party will see the errant depiction of Tennesseans and disclaim their misspeaking.

I offer two other meaningful quotes. There is a hymn from my early Church of Christ days which opens, “Angry words, oh let them never from the tongue unbridled slip. May the heart’s best impulse ever check them ere they soil the lips.” The other quote is from a sixties-era comedian Dave Gardner. When asked if he had to watch what he said, he answered, “No, I just have to watch what I think.”

We have an oft-used word, misspeak, to identify the inarticulate sin of incorrect and inappropriate speech, but my dictionaries disavow the usage of misthink as being archaic. Perhaps because it is easier to chastise our politicians for errors of speech replayed in prime time. Since we cannot know the unspoken thoughts of our candidates, we judge the content of their hearts based upon our interpretation of their spoken words. Compassion for human frailty demands that we forgive the lingual ineptitude of the penitent. Errors of speech, innocent or malicious, are easily detected and quickly corrected by apology or disclaimer, or consensual media lynching.

Errors of speech are condemned in the public forum and ultimately judged on lack of merit or truth. God, in his wisdom, gave us the right of quietude and privacy within the human mind. Unspoken thoughts go unquestioned. The great advances and tragedies of human history have originated, rightly or wrongly, within the realm of human thought. Words, spoken and misspoken, then become our windows to detect the subliminal indicators of lingual clumsiness or the blatant defamation of political villainy.

Discretion, Discrimination, Preference, and Prejudice

Posted March 29, 2015 by billpeach
Categories: Uncategorized

The Religious Freedom Restoration Act was passed in 1993 with an almost unanimous vote in the House and Senate and was signed by President Bill Clinton. I don’t think anyone questioned the intent of the wording of the bill which was basically an affirmation of the First Amendment. I don’t know the intent or need of the introduction of that bill in 1993.

The Indiana Legislature has just passed and Governor Mike Pence has signed a similar bill. The impetus for this was to validate the right of a business or retailer to refuse to provide a service or product for same sex couples. This was proposed as a religious freedom restoration or protection act to protect businesses for decisions made on religious grounds. Some opponents of the bill see it as enabling religious bigotry. The passage has evoked accusations of discrimination and prejudice. Many businesses and promoters of entertainment or sports events and convention activities have suggested cancellation of events in Indiana.

Among the definitions of discrimination is “To make distinctions on the basis of preference or prejudice.” Some business owners claim the right of discretion, the freedom of action or judgment based on firmly held religious values, including sexual orientation and denial of service for any lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, or transgender persons. This is a similar claim of objections of some businesses opposing contraception coverage in employer funded health coverage.

Unlike racial discrimination, sexual orientation is not easily discernible other than transactions that are part of same-sex marriage photography or catering. Religion is a faith based freedom, which in theory is based on commands within the Bible, Koran, or other sacred document. The debate is about whether one person, at their discretion and judgment, can legally deny a service offered to the general public, based on religious objection.

Businesses have traditionally been allowed to deny service to people with animals, for improper dress, and to eject customers displaying offensive behavior on the premises. The prevailing counter argument is that sexual orientation is one of the many categories of protected civil rights.

In the long history of discrimination, we have assigned a different status to objections based on real or contrived religious directives and opinions based on secular or philosophical objections. During the civil rights movement and the integration of public facilities, owners of businesses denied service based on race. Some defended this with the argument that integration of their clientele would cause them to lose customers. Ultimately this was found to be unconstitutional and discriminatory.

The specificity of the Indiana legislation has caused a rift within the Christian community. Some denominations and individual congregations within other denominations endorse the official position that prejudice toward sexual orientation is not consistent with Christian principles and the New Testament teachings of Jesus. This is another liberal/conservative divide on biblical interpretation. Some Christians believe this legislation gives legal sanction to promote religious bigotry, similar to denying equal legal status to atheists and members of other religions.

In public schools we have found that students often bring the religious values of their parents, or secular philosophical views from non-religious family traditions. This often leads to peer proselytizing of overzealous evangelical religious dialogue, or ridicule from the detractors of religion. Schools are a microcosm of our culture.

Our God-given or constitutional rights guarantee us discretion and preference. We have the right to our own distinct and differentiated identity, whether by birth or preference. We may choose our enclaves of separation and preferential customers, friendships and associates. The validity of religious freedom for Christians should require some evidence of reasonable compassionate discretion.


Disqualification for Belief or Disbelief

Posted March 26, 2015 by billpeach
Categories: Uncategorized

The Tennessee Constitution in Article 9, Section 1 reads: “Whereas Ministers of the Gospel are by their profession, dedicated to God and the care of souls, and ought not be diverted from the great duties of their functions; therefore, no minister of the Gospel, or priest of any denomination whatever, shall be eligible to a seat in either House of the Legislature. “

This seems contradictory, since Article 1, Section 4 reads: ”That no political or religious test, other than an oath to support the Constitution of the United States and of this state, shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under this state.” This wording is almost verbatim with Article 6 of the United States Constitution.

I don’t understand why this has not been challenged. Many fundamentalist religious denominations are lenient on the subject of ordination. Some people have full time employment and preach as a second career. The intent of the prohibition has good intentions in deferring to a higher calling. It does not address matters of faith or challenge any worldview or religious ideology.

However, the next section of Article 9 reads, “No person who denies the being of God, or a future state of rewards and punishments, shall hold any office in the civil department of this state.” One would think that if either of the preclusions were taken to court they would be found to be in conflict with the United States Constitution.

This raises the question about persons seeking public office. Is it the responsibility of the voter to identify persons who do not believe in God and persons who convey their faith in the open forum of a political campaign? For example, if a candidate for President who is not a preacher quotes Scripture or delivers a speech that contains religious content would it lead a voter to vote for or against this candidate? The same would be true if someone who has not “come out as an atheist” were to include some denial of a supreme being within the context of a political speech.

This kind of wording in our Constitution perpetuates the false perception that there is war on Christians or a war on atheists. If you are a student or an adult and you are reading your Constitution for the first time, there is nothing there to tell you this is unconstitutional. It just says that some people are not allowed to hold public office.

I don’t know that Tennessee Courts have enforced or overturned a specific infraction of these laws. However, this raises the question of whether a voter would vote for or against a candidate because he (or she in some denominations) was a preacher, and would similar or diametric opinion preclude voting for or against an atheist.

In the same week that Ted Cruz opened his presidential candidacy with an overtly religious speech to a compulsory attending student audience at Liberty University, the group Openly Secular has initiated an effort to get the discrimination of nonreligious persons off the pages of our Constitution.

Since Christianity is the majority religion of the United States and Tennessee, some use the terminology Christian Nation or Christian State. Both Constitutions establish and define a secular nation or secular state with unrestrained freedom of religion. I think one could argue that being a minister should not impede ones dedication to public service, and being a member of the Legislature should not diminish one’s time or ability in the role of minister. Neither should anyone be disqualified from public office for religious belief or disbelief.

Secular Humanism and Christian Humanism

Posted March 20, 2015 by billpeach
Categories: Uncategorized

There are two references to religion in our Constitution. The First Amendment reads, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Article VI reads, “…no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.” As the political parties in America divide along liberal and conservative ideologies we continue our arbitrary labeling of our adversaries.

On the left, most Democrats or Liberals are reluctant to include references to church or religion in campaign speeches. President Obama ends many of his presidential addresses with, “God bless the United States.” Yet a surprising percentage of people still believe he is a Muslim, and remember the infamous words of his former preacher. Many Liberals recite the Pledge of Allegiance in its original wording omitting the religious content. Much of the early posturing for the 2016 presidential election includes the implied equation of conservatism and Christianity, and the association of liberalism with some status of secularism or less religious persons.

The position generally held by most conservative evangelicals is a desire to see leaders who are shaped by a Judeo-Christian ethic and making governing decisions according to that ethic. Many conservatives reject what has come to be thought of as an absolute separation of church and state, a phrase not found in the Constitution.

This should be distinguished from Christian Reconstructionism, which is also known as Dominion theology, or theonomy. This is the conviction that governments should rule according to principles to the same extent that the nation of Israel was to be ruled according to the law that God had given them in the Old Testament. This includes a blending of religious or church authority and civil authority, as well as other spheres of life. Sometimes, as in Old Testament history, the belief that God rewards or punishes a Christian or secular nation for compliance or departure from ecclesiastical law.

There is a similar division or distinction within the Democratic or Liberal political camp. Some would insist that the phrase liberal Christian is a contradiction in terms. Most liberal political candidates interpret the writings and speeches of the Founding Fathers that ethics and morals are behavioral principles in humans that determine what is right and wrong. This is not in conflict and very much the same rules as the belief of the common man that Christianity is a religion bound by a certain set of ethical and moral rules imposed by the Almighty.

As Christianity became part of the Roman Empire, Christian ethics became primarily centered on grace, mercy, and forgiveness. Christian teaching includes the virtues of faith, hope, and love. Many Christians believe that goodness exists only from God. There is no other form of legitimate, genuine, and absolute good except from God.

After years of church authority during the religious Reformation and the secular Renaissance, in the writings of Protagoras, Petrarch, Erasmus, and others there was a return to academia, science, the arts more focused on Greek sources and individual criticism and interpretation of religious teaching. The position called secular humanism promotes ideals in the face of an indifferent universe.

Today, as in the Middle Ages, religion has shifted its emphasis to grace, mercy, forgiveness, and other-world reward and punishment. Somewhere between these extremes is the Christian Humanist, who also believes in the value of intellect, science, philosophy, and political science. Humanism implies good deeds and morality derived from human logic and empathetic charity and tolerance. The secular humanist excludes God in this; the Christian Humanist does not, accepting a loving and indiscriminate God.


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