Sex, Politics and Religion
There is survivability in being emotional about sex, politics and religion. People are very good at killing one another. Feelings that inspire loyalty and adherence to a code help people band together to defend themselves, their families and their tribe against enemies who want to kill them. Survival is the only absolute mandate.
I believe politics is about organizing in ways that makes it possible to feed, clothe, house and protect ourselves while religion provides a conscience that makes it possible for like-minded people to live together in harmony.
In his Sermon on the Mount Jesus prescribed how to be happy. According to him to attain happiness one needs to remember that .Blessed are the poor, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.
Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Jesus emphasized the ideals of love and humility over force and pride as the paths to happiness.
Thomas Jefferson, and most founding fathers, were lay scientists, businessmen and farmers. Jefferson was also a scholar with an extensive library who studied science, literature, modern philosophers, ancient Greek philosophers and the Bible.
In The Declaration of Independence Thomas Jefferson focused on attainment of individual happiness, a subject about which Jesus taught. In the Declaration of Independence Thomas Jefferson wrote "they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." Having personally witnessed political and religious persecution he and a majority of the founding fathers were very concerned about the ways in which hyper-religious politicians mixed religion and politics. He wrote religious freedom into the Bill of Rights after seeing how badly Anglican politicians treated Christians who worshiped in ways slightly different from themselves.
Ethnocentricity appears to be a universal trait and even within our own tribe we categorize each-other as low-class, middle-class or high-class. According to Jesus, and if one believes what Thomas Jefferson wrote instead of how he lived, people with nice clothes, homes and ice cream are no more worthy than day laborers begging for jobs outside Home Depot. On the other hand I really like air-conditioning and a comfortable cool bed.
The religious culture in which one was raised may make it possible to predict how a person feels about work and politics. I was raised within The United Church of Christ (UCC), a confederation of churches that includes the one brought to America by Pilgrims in 1620.
The first pilgrims had no government officials or priests with them. Before they came ashore each free man signed The Mayflower Compact which guaranteed he and his household could own property and benefit from his worthy endeavors and frugality. Individual ownership of property, and earning a living from that property, is fundamental to attainment of The American Dream.
United Church of Christ pastors are chosen by the people to whom they preach and serve and are expected to be highly educated. The Pilgrims who founded the United Church of Christ almost immediately founded Harvard and Yale Universities to insure there would be well-educated potential pastors from whom to choose.
The United Church of Christ also includes like-minded German immigrants who fled Germany to escape being drafted to fight wars in which they had no interest. The pastor of St John's United Church of Christ, the German rooted church where I received religious training and was confirmed, was shunned for speaking out against the war in Vietnam. I believe Jesus would have been against the war in Vietnam and would have sided with the fired pastor. History is also on our pastor's side.
Family culture also counts. I grew up in a family of readers in a home that included an eclectic library. A home where the Kankakee Daily Journal was read every day: And at least one popular magazine and one scientific magazine arrived each week.
Being raised in a questioning culture influenced how I view religion. What makes Christianity real to me is that Jesus Christ was a real man who lived a well-documented life. That we are still quoting stories he told thousands of years ago is significant to me.
To me the Bible is worth study and quotation as great literature. It describes universal truths in ways that appeal to persons who base their beliefs on scientifically observed facts and persons who believe everything they read in the Bible happened exactly as written in whatever translation of the Bible they own. I consider Jesus Christ to have been the best teacher of all time: I was a teacher who was lucky if students remembered anything I said for more than a week.
Age and observation have made me more careful. My first speech as a 1958 high school junior was about how much better off Cubans would be once Batista was deposed. In my youthful exuberance I believed my Cuban relatives when they said no government could have a worse leader than Batista -- Castro was a lot worse.
I have become conservative (Not Republican) when it comes to endorsement of political change. In this country we take it for granted that we can bloodlessly change political leaders every few years and I am completely in favor of that.
About half of all Illinoisans live in the Greater Chicago Area; the rest live "down-state" where I was raised. Many "down-staters," equate Democratic Party officials who govern Chicago with gangsters. Where I was raised we were taught that Chicago politicians would control the entire state if we didn't keep them at bay by voting Republican. Immediate past Governors from both the Republican and Democratic parties are currently in prison for corruption. Party affiliation is less important than personal character.
Brain scans have proven that normal human beings are soft-wired for empathy. Normal human beings instinctively want to nurture and protect children, widows, and the poor, elderly and sick which is also what Jesus commanded. The only persons scientifically proven to lack empathy are persons who are autistic and cannot "fake it" and psychopaths who can "fake it" when doing so gets them something they want.
Men and women who use their religion to justify mean-spirited inhumanity are not adhering to the teachings of Jesus Christ. The danger became obvious when Bishop Olmsted of Phoenix excommunicated Sister Margaret McBride of St Joseph's Hospital and Medical Center. Sister McBride allowed termination of the pregnancy of a woman who already had five children, and who according to all doctors consulted was 100% sure to die, if her current pregnancy was not terminated.
Zealots like Bishop Olmsted would only have been appeased by the death of this mother of five. The only possible excuse for such behavior is that he, and like-minded people, are either autistic who know no better or psychopaths who enjoy inflicting pain.
Jesus accepted women into his inner circle. Just a few years after he was crucified male disciples and apostles excluded women from key leadership positions and some churches still discriminate against women. Interestingly, even though some male church leaders treat women like lesser beings it has been my experience that it is usually women who perform the most profound acts of kindness.
While I strive to live in accordance with Christian principles I constantly backslide when it comes to forgiveness. Forgiveness is good for everyone which is why I am so strong a believer in the prayer believed to have been authored by Jesus himself.Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come, yours will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
Not wanting more than what we need is fairly easy for me; forgiveness is more difficult. Both are good for everyone so I must try harder.
Jesus was a socialist. He spent the last two years of his life criticizing the cruelty, dogmatism, self-righteousness, greed, selfishness, and pursuit of material wealth by local religious leaders and wealthy lay elite who supported them. It was in response to popular support for his socialistic beliefs and actions that rich religious leaders and wealthy lay supporters trumped up charges against him that made it legal for local politicians to have him crucified. On the other hand pure socialism doesn't work well because it negates the human drive to acquire goods as needed to improve the life of oneself and one's dependents. The Mayflower Compact created a modified culture which combined socialism with capitalism.
Northeastern America thrived in large part because the Pilgrims made it legal for the head of each household to practice capitalism by owning property and prospering from their own hard work and frugality. It was in New England that the Protestant Work Ethic facilitated industrialization and general prosperity. This was an earth-changing shift from standard political and religious practice of the day and how most nations are still governed today.
Immigrants granted royal charters to rule southern North American colonies lived in states that experienced slower economic development and growth of a vibrant middle class than their Northern neighbors. Worst of all the royal belief that only the elite few deserve prosperity led to support of slavery which eventually caused this nation's bloodiest civil war and to this day still slows the economic development of Southern States .
South Americans and Central Americans, who came to America under the supervision of old world royalty and religious leaders, who considered it acceptable for a tiny minority of chosen people to prosper at the expense of everyone else, have also not prospered.
On the other hand even North Americans can become destructively selfish and greedy.
Members and leaders of most capitalistic, political and religious organizations tend to eventually forget why their organizations were created and increasingly use their affiliations to accumulate excessive personal status and wealth. It appears most of our currently elected political leaders have distorted the protestant work ethic in ways that favor them and their wealthy supporters.
America has become a "plutocracy" with 16,000 families at the very top doing quite well while most middle-class Americans find it increasingly difficult to make it economically unless at least two family members work full-time. As recently as thirty years ago this was the land of opportunity.
America used to be home to a large well-off middle class who owned homes and whose children lived as well or better than they had. Today only 40% of all America earn a middle-class income of $35,000 to $95,000 per year.
The well-to-do versus working class income gap among Americans is wider than at any time in recent history and this is having a negative impact on our health, lifespan and basic values like trust. Plutocracy has been harmful to all Americans. More than 200 studies prove that societies in which incomes are more equally distributed are healthier and happier than societies with widespread income inequality.
Scholars like Jared Diamond write very descriptively about how excessive use of natural resources, and failure of the societal elite to share with middle class citizens always eventually leads to societal collapse. The official position of the political party that represents the wealthy elite now denies responsibility for protecting the air, water and climate we all depend on to survive. Their justification for this denial is that caring for the environment reduces the amount of money currently being funneled into their bank accounts.
In her book "Empire" Amy Chau documented the historical fact that whenever a society makes it impossible for talented people to rise socio-economically, and ignores superior foreign ideas and immigrants, it becomes weak and declines. The national reaction to the 911 attack on this nation fostered a xenophobic reaction that has reduced the ability of highly educated entrepreneurs, who have been responsible for a majority of high-tech startups, to immigrate to The United States of America.
It appears many talented immigrants are instead prospering in Canada. The 2012 net worth of the average Canadian household is more than $360,000 while the average American household has a net worth slightly less than $320,000. In fact there has been a decline in the median American family income each year for the past three years and this nation has more citizens in prison than any other nation on earth.
In the early eighties influential business leaders like Jack Welch actualized their belief that patriotism was a fools' game and that corporate executives only owe allegiance to shareholders. Many Americans consider such super wealthy Americans to be worthy role models. Prestigious business schools popularized the ideal that the only responsibility of executives was to maximize share-holder, and their own, profit.
Eliminating jobs and pension plans and moving corporate headquarters to other nations as a way to avoid paying corporate income tax is now considered "good business." American workers have been deprived of the fruits of their labor. Many American business leaders no longer act in accordance with this nation's protestant work ethic heritage.
While the Ten Commandments still hang on the wall behind Supreme Court Judges, and our money still displays "In God We Trust," most leaders apparently no longer live by those beliefs. Some of these men and a few women are doing their best to end Christian support for our most vulnerable citizens - opposite of what Jesus taught. What is most interesting is that some of the men who consider themselves Christian use their warped sense of Christian doctrine to justify their mean-spirited actions.
Until recently upward social mobility was considered the heart of the American Dream. Today few of the wealthiest Americans were raised poor or middle class: Most were born to wealthy parents. According to The Business Insider 83 percent of all U.S. stocks are in the hands of 1 percent of the people: The top 1% only pay the 15 percent capital gains tax on income earned this way. Since the late-1970s, the richest Americans, who make their income from capital gains, have been getting wealthier and wealthier. Two-thirds of American children born to poor parents will remain that way their entire life.
A major reason for the decline of this nation is that political campaigns have become so expensive elected politicians must devote a large part of each day asking wealthy supporters for money. In Perfectly Legal David Cay Johnston explained that since it is wealthy people who have money to donate they have had the ability to dictate rewriting of the tax code to support tax breaks, loopholes, bailouts and deregulation that benefit them. After tax incomes of the very rich have skyrocketed while after-tax income for the bottom 90 percent have plummeted at an increasing rate ever since 1980.
Middle class Americans, most who earn a living from jobs where they work for wages, have gotten poorer and poorer. According to the same source 61% of all Americans now "always or usually" live paycheck to paycheck. In part this is because they pay a 12.4% payroll tax plus an additional 15% to 25% income tax while the super wealthy only pay the 15% "Capital Gains" tax. This is because most of their income comes from the buying of stock and property at a lower price than it is later sold for: An income earning opportunity unavailable to anyone but the super wealthy.
It has been decades since the economic policies of this nation mirrored Christian principles or the protestant work ethic. America has become a plutocracy like the European nations from which most ancestors fled.
I want religious leaders who consistently act with kindness, only collect property and wealth as needed to take care of the needy and campaign for peace no matter how the majority of their parishioners feel. Mean spirited religious leaders who mistreat women and children, and endorse candidates who do, are beneath contempt.
I want political leaders who realize we need to make it possible for business to generate wealth enough for workers to buy the essentials of a middle-class life, to benefit from their hard work and frugality and to take care of those of us in need. Mother Nature doesn't care whether our species survives or not. We all live on the same planet and their irresponsible actions impact the lives of my Grandchildren.
I want corporate leaders who realize this nation prospered because of the protestant work ethic and that everyone benefits when everyone is allowed to benefit from their honest hard work and frugality. In my opinion corporate leaders, like Jack Welch, who make it impossible for American workers to prosper from their hard work, steal their pensions and destroy their ability to earn a living by ship employment opportunities and their ill-gotten wealth overseas to avoid paying a fair share of what it costs to maintain this nation, are traitors. Being banished from this nation is too good for greedy men who engage in such un-American behavior.
Ours is an exceptional nation. Only a small percentage of our land is fertile; a lot is uninhabitable. It was because of the unique convergence of this being a secular nation whose leaders embraced the Protestant work ethic that The United States of America became the beacon of light that attracts ambitious persons from around the world.
My hope is that our children and grandchildren
will be as able to engage in the pursuit of happiness
as have we.