Talking to Conservatives: Tips on Reaching Across the Aisle

Tips on talking to political adversaries. Moving past politics, partisanship and labels, recognizing corporatism masquerading as progressivism or conservatism, and going straight to the issues. Read on...

Soldier Fitness Tracker: How Would It Grade Pat Tillman?

DENIGRATION IS A FINE WAY TO TREAT A HERO - Many patriotic people stake a claim on Pat Tillman's heroism. However, it turns out he's an atheist (hero) in a foxhole denigrated, along with his family, by some Christians for his beliefs. Click here for more about his story >>

In joining the military, young troops give up some basic Constitutional rights given the civilian population. The vagaries of war sometimes require it. The military is not a democracy and that’s as it should be.

However, there are some rights they don’t and shouldn’t give up, including the right to worship or not worship as they see fit. A slew of recent events and complaints about the religious components of the Army’s mandatory Soldier Fitness Tracker (SFT) test show abuses that cannot stand.

I’m not a militant atheist. I’m not particularly troubled by most of the many Christian symbols and deeds that appear in clearly secular places. Whether you want to worship Jesus, Mohammad, Buddha, or rocks and trees is none of my concern. I even say Merry Christmas and not Happy Holidays on occasion.

In God Some of Us Don’t Trust

However, I strongly believe that one’s rights stop at the point where they infringe upon others’. Scribbling “In God We Trust” on a dollar doesn’t make it  worth less. It doesn’t infringe on my right to spend the dollar as I see fit. I prefer to see it as a label that identifies God’s cash when it goes into a collection plate or tithe, even though you’d think an omniscent being could figure it out on their own. No harm and no huge foul. More of a bum call actually, but nothing to get dangerously huffy over.

War is Hell, even if Hell is a religious construct. It’s a dark place that breaks bodies and minds and that’s why I’m not against SFT in principle. Everyone could use a little help on the battlefield. If God is your answer, who am I to deprive you of that comfort? If God isn’t, who are you to deprive me of that comfort?

My objection stems from non-Christians and non-theists being tested against a purely Christian scale. Not only are they deemed failures if they don’t answer questions “properly”, but they receive help clearly not right for them. In effect, they get no help at all. Worse yet, they’re compelled to see the chaplain about arrangements for being “born again” or attending Christian concerts.

The problem is less SFT than the measuring metrics used, how the Army interprets the results,  and whether or what kind of emotional support the non-Christians may need. There’s nothing in the test that can’t be remedied with more attention to the needs of all soldiers, not just the select few.

The Army is No Theocracy
As a group, it’s probably safe to say that the majority of those agreeing with such Christianization of the military are the same ones who prattle on about DADT victims being such grave dangers to “unit cohesion and morale”. Doesn’t it seem a soldier labeled a failure, told their beliefs are wrong, and deprived of support offered to Christian soldiers wouldn’t have such great morale and possibly feel alienated enough to damage unit cohesion? The Army may not be a democracy, but it’s not a theocracy either.

American Christians represent a far greater portion of the population than non-theists, polytheists, and non-christians combined. Yet, their constant hosannas are about their rights being lost to the Great Godless Hordes – even to the point that the new Alabama governor publicly suggests his relationship with Christian constituents is greater than his relationship with other Alabamans.

Christians’ insistent imposition of their beliefs on other Americans is exactly what drives the more militant Atheists to distraction. Christians have built a slippery slope not unlike the NRA‘s where many Atheists feel the need to fight every new slight as though it means the death of the Constitution and their inevitable excommunication as Americans. And we’re all – Christians and non-Christians alike – going for a long slide if it continues.

My Christian friends – this isn’t persecution of you, but by you.

Cross posted at The Omnipotent Poobah Speaks!

Soldier Fitness Tracker: How Would It Grade Pat Tillman?

DENIGRATION IS A FINE WAY TO TREAT A HERO - Many patriotic people stake a claim on Pat Tillman's heroism. However, it turns out he's an atheist (hero) in a foxhole denigrated, along with his family, by some Christians for his beliefs. Click here for more about his story >>

In joining the military, young troops give up some basic Constitutional rights given the civilian population. The vagaries of war sometimes require it. The military is not a democracy and that’s as it should be.

However, there are some rights they don’t and shouldn’t give up, including the right to worship or not worship as they see fit. A slew of recent events and complaints about the religious components of the Army’s mandatory Soldier Fitness Tracker (SFT) test show abuses that cannot stand.

I’m not a militant atheist. I’m not particularly troubled by most of the many Christian symbols and deeds that appear in clearly secular places. Whether you want to worship Jesus, Mohammad, Buddha, or rocks and trees is none of my concern. I even say Merry Christmas and not Happy Holidays on occasion.

In God Some of Us Don’t Trust

However, I strongly believe that one’s rights stop at the point where they infringe upon others’. Scribbling “In God We Trust” on a dollar doesn’t make it  worth less. It doesn’t infringe on my right to spend the dollar as I see fit. I prefer to see it as a label that identifies God’s cash when it goes into a collection plate or tithe, even though you’d think an omniscent being could figure it out on their own. No harm and no huge foul. More of a bum call actually, but nothing to get dangerously huffy over.

War is Hell, even if Hell is a religious construct. It’s a dark place that breaks bodies and minds and that’s why I’m not against SFT in principle. Everyone could use a little help on the battlefield. If God is your answer, who am I to deprive you of that comfort? If God isn’t, who are you to deprive me of that comfort?

My objection stems from non-Christians and non-theists being tested against a purely Christian scale. Not only are they deemed failures if they don’t answer questions “properly”, but they receive help clearly not right for them. In effect, they get no help at all. Worse yet, they’re compelled to see the chaplain about arrangements for being “born again” or attending Christian concerts.

The problem is less SFT than the measuring metrics used, how the Army interprets the results,  and whether or what kind of emotional support the non-Christians may need. There’s nothing in the test that can’t be remedied with more attention to the needs of all soldiers, not just the select few.

The Army is No Theocracy
As a group, it’s probably safe to say that the majority of those agreeing with such Christianization of the military are the same ones who prattle on about DADT victims being such grave dangers to “unit cohesion and morale”. Doesn’t it seem a soldier labeled a failure, told their beliefs are wrong, and deprived of support offered to Christian soldiers wouldn’t have such great morale and possibly feel alienated enough to damage unit cohesion? The Army may not be a democracy, but it’s not a theocracy either.

American Christians represent a far greater portion of the population than non-theists, polytheists, and non-christians combined. Yet, their constant hosannas are about their rights being lost to the Great Godless Hordes – even to the point that the new Alabama governor publicly suggests his relationship with Christian constituents is greater than his relationship with other Alabamans.

Christians’ insistent imposition of their beliefs on other Americans is exactly what drives the more militant Atheists to distraction. Christians have built a slippery slope not unlike the NRA‘s where many Atheists feel the need to fight every new slight as though it means the death of the Constitution and their inevitable excommunication as Americans. And we’re all – Christians and non-Christians alike – going for a long slide if it continues.

My Christian friends – this isn’t persecution of you, but by you.

Cross posted at The Omnipotent Poobah Speaks!

The Hell With Atheists After the Foxholes

Many people say, “There are no atheists in foxholes.” As a practical matter this obviously isn’t the case, but the Army’s new Comprehensive Soldier Fitness Program (CSFP) implies it should.

The mandatory program measures soldier fitness in a variety of dimensions to help them cope with the rigors of combat. It’s spiritual dimension has a wealth of information for believers. However, it  implies that only believers need or can be helped in this dimension. In short, non-theists need not apply.

There’s nothing wrong with measuring and grading this dimension. It is critical to overcoming battlefield trauma. Whatever gets you through the terrors of war is great. But grading and providing solely religious-based feedback can demoralize non-believers and deprive them of helpful information in much the same way DADT chose to simply ignore the presence of gays. Non-theists are similarly marginalized.

Clean Toilets or Go to Chruch?
And, this ignoring of other than religious – more often than not non-Christian points of view – is larger than this program.

As a young airman in basic training during the 1970s everyone was offered two choices each Sunday – attend church or stay in the barracks and clean toilets.

Hmm…clean toilets or escape the tedium of 24×7 training for an hour singing and laughing with friends? Which shall I choose?

To the Air Force’s credit, the services were non-denominational and mentioned God only once or twice per service. There were two prayers, both of which were generic enough to interpret in any way, including as a non-theist statement. Services were comprised of signing vaguely religious, up tempo, and “modern” songs. To escape cleaning toilets with a toothbrush most atheists saw it as a good trade.

Nods to religion for the rest of my Air Force career were limited to my dog tags – which you could label as atheist, any religion, or not applicable. I entered “Granitellism” a faux belief that race car driver Andy Granitelli was God because he could pick up a screwdriver covered in oil. It didn’t cause an eyebrow to flutter.

It seems there has been a steady movement backward since those days.

In addition to CSFP, the Air Force Academy has suffered a long-standing bias against all but Christians and despite several Pentagon attempts to change, it continues. Individual unit commanders sometimes cross the same line and chaplains – which in my day did more social work than God’s work – have upped the ante.

Service members sometimes refuse to attend nondenominational services conducted by Islamic chaplains or vice versa. The Navy has squabbled over building mosques on large bases. National cemeteries banned atheist and multi-theist symbols on graves until recently because they “offended” the religious.

Unreasonable Demands?
Generally speaking, non-thesists haven’t made unreasonable demands for accommodation just as gays haven’t. When services build chapels and mosques there isn’t a clamor for an atheist house for contemplation. Asking for a symbol on a veteran’s grave is hardly a big thing. But, the CSFP goes a step beyond.

By refusing to include non-theists in CSFP the Army denies help to those service members, even though they remained atheists while in the foxholes…arm to arm with straight, gay, and minority soldiers.

The military is all about releasing some individuality to serve a greater purpose, a non-religious purpose. The Army used to call this, “An Army of One”. It degrades the contributions of non-believers because they didn’t give up an individual right guaranteed by the Constitution, and at least nominally by military training.

It’s simply wrong for the military to tout individual rights during training while denying those rights when the bullets fly.

After all, bullets don’t have an opinion about God.

Cross posted at The Omnipotent Poobah Speaks!

 

 

The Cost of Victory

The ultimate decision about what is accepted as right and wrong will be made not by individual human wisdom but by the disappearance of the groups that have adhered to the "wrong" beliefs. - Friedrich August von Hayek

As the President begins his victory laps and the pundicracy begins to fall back in line by touting the recent passage of some historic legislation I think it is important that we remember what the cost of these victories has been and what it will be in the future. So let’s be clear it took 700 billion dollars to get the Republicans to enact legislation that the majority of Americans supported. Is paying the ransom to the kidnappers a victory? I do not want to appear as if I am raining on the President and the Congress’ parade but the reason this legislation got passed was not because the Dems finally realized they had a majority that was due to expire or that the Republicans finally decided that bi-partisanship was worth pursuing, it was because the Dems gave them 700 billion dollars.

What we have seen the last few weeks is how our legislative system was created to work. Legislation was proposed, debated, and voted on. The only problem is that in America for our political process to work it took a bribe of 700 billion dollars. Welcome to the banana republic of America where payoffs and kickbacks are required to do the people’s business. The fact that everyone is so thrilled that the process worked just demonstrates how truly broken our system is. Forgive me but I will not celebrate this process as a victory. It may be a victory for this President but it is not a victory for the American people. The question we must ask is simply this, is any one President’s personal political survival worth giving up our principles? The repeal of DADT is an historic achievement by this President but at what costs?

Some may say that I am being overly dramatic but I don’t think so. By making the concessions that this President and Congress have made they have created two very big problems in the coming years. The first is that they have embolden the wing-nuts to take more hostages and this will be played out following the holidays when they begin debating the budget for the fiscal year of 2011 since no spending bill was passed this year. Anyone who thinks that what has happened recently will ring in this era of compromise from the wing-nuts is in for a rude awakening. Their constant refrain has been and will continue to be that everything must be paid for except tax-cuts for the wealthy. Now that they have delivered on the tax-cuts they will focus their attention on paying for them through cuts to our social safety nets. Funding for health and financial reform will be their first targets followed by our regulatory apparatus.

The second problem will be that by accepting the wing-nut philosophy of tax-cuts the President has now opened the door for negotiations on Medicare and Social Security. Based on how they have negotiated thus far I am not convinced that these programs will remain intact. The wing-nuts have learned that if you say something loud enough and enough times it becomes fact and in this case it will be that we can no longer afford these programs. The wing-nuts don’t want to “pull the plug” on granny they just want to work her to death. Make no mistake about it Social Security and all of the other safety net programs we have come to accept will now be re-litigated and are now negotiable. Were the legislative victories of the last few weeks worth dismantling the last 50 years of liberal values and programs?

Unlike many of my progressive and liberal friends I am not calling for a primary challenge of this President. To me this would be counterproductive and would allow a group that I know does not represent anything I support to come to power and this to me would be foolish. I am not a purist but I refuse to accept that everything is negotiable. There has to be some principles that are not open for debate or negotiation. I refuse to accept this false moral equivalency being promoted by the media and funded by the wealthy. There is no moral equivalency between funding unemployment for those ravaged by the greed of Wall Street and the huge bonuses for those same Wall Streeters. There is no moral equivalency between funding the medical expenses for first responders and tax-cuts for the wealthiest Americans.

Our job as progressives and as liberals is not to fall in line with the pundits and the apologist but to remain true to our visions and our principles that we may keep the light burning for those who may lose their way in the darkness. If those who seek our support will not stand for our principles then it is incumbent upon us to find those who will be willing to stand and create our own vehicles for success.

As long as we continue to allow these clowns the cover of moral equivalency then they will continue to take hostages. Our government has to become more representative of the people. We cannot continue to allow Senators from under populated and safe states to undermine the will of the majority of Americans. There is no moral equivalency between someone who represents 100,000 people and someone who represents a 1,000,000 people and by allowing this travesty to continue we will continue to have these obstructionists holding the rest of the country hostage.

Enjoy your victory Mr. President but know that those who were preparing your demise continue to lie in wait with their steely knives and their deceptive smiles.

In the beginning of a change the patriot is a scarce man and brave, and hated and scorned. When his cause succeeds, the timid join him for then it costs nothing to be a patriot. - Mark Twain

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