Thursday, September 2, 2021

Are the Reborn Truly Reborn?

For years now, it's been a common experience to hear of people, even politicians, boast of being reborn; that they have a personal relationship with Christ.   Yet they never act very Christ-like.   What are we to make of this?

Buddhism teaches that we are all born with a luminous mind, with the true Buddha nature inside us.   But as in the Garden of Eden, we partake of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, which is learned experience, and so are drawn into the world of conflict, insecurity, and suffering.

In Buddhism, spiritual rebirth is a mind-altering experience.  It takes you back to that time when you were freshly born and were free of all judgmental thoughts, all learned emotions and cravings – free of the products of your temporal mind – and were at one with Buddha nature, your divine essence.   While anyone can have this experience, few do because it means disavowing all one's learned experience, all one has learned from the prevailing culture.  It requires not just deep faith but great discipline.

To be reborn in Christianity means something quite different.   The Evangelical community is particularly rife with people saying they are reborn and have a personal relationship with Christ because it is a rite of passage.   But Evangelical rebirth means being saved; it is a commitment to Christ in the form they have been taught.   While they thus may no longer be "sinners" and have this personal relationship, and in that sense begin a new life and are reborn, they have not connected with their divine essence, with the fundamental teachings of Jesus Christ, and so they are not spiritually reborn. 

The proof is in their actions.   The God they connect to, as they have been taught he exists, is a God who views with skepticism if not contempt those, including other Christians, who do not accept his truths as stated in the Bible, which they view as His word and inerrant.  They thus have a holier-than-thou, a self-righteous attitude towards both other Christians and other religions.   They are prideful.   

And on moral/cultural issues, anyone who argues against their view of God's truth is viewed with prejudice and hatred for they are not just against God, but they are trying to influence others in their belief, which is a threat to the Evangelical's duty to spread the word.  This threatens the salvation of those who as a result, in their view, walk in error.

Thus the reborn Evangelical will typically express emotions that are not reflective of divine essence.   It is quite astounding to a non-Christian, and I'm sure disconcerting to many Christians, to see people who claim to be fervent followers of Jesus Christ act and think in ways that are massively contrary to "what Jesus would do" as evidenced by his teachings and actions as related in the New Testament. 

On one level, you could say, "So what."  To each his own.   But Evangelicals feel it is their duty to spread the word, which has come to mean forcing others to follow their belief in God's truth through the force of law.   

For example, in the abortion debate, from their perspective, any threat to the mother's health by not having an abortion is irrelevant; saving the unborn fetus, not murdering it, predominates in importance.   Thus right-wing pro-life legislation of late does not provide for an exception if the mother's life is endangered.   

To be convinced that you have a lock on the truth, and that those who disagree are not only wrong but therefore against God, anti-Christ, is a dangerous state of mind.   Certainly if one is a leader with enormous power, such as President George W. Bush.   

His religious conversion, being reborn, was a major influence in his life; he thought that God wanted him to run for President, and he thought in the Presidency that he was doing God's work.   There was thus no ambivalence; there was a moral certainty to his actions that was scary.   And he brooked no disagreement .   As he famously said, "You're either with us or against us."

This feeling of moral certainty among the religious Right is one reason why the current political divide in our country is so deep.

Saturday, August 28, 2021

Last Month in Afghanistan - The Month that Could Have Been

This post is not about the last 20 years in Afghanistan and all the wrong policies that have been implemented.   Nor is it about the fact that the Taliban wanted to surrender after several months of American bombing in 2001, but the Bush administration said that the U.S. does not negotiate surrender.  That is, the Taliban would have to surrender; no terms.  Nor is it about Trump's terrible decision to negotiate our withdrawal with the Taliban.

This is about what could/should have happened in the last month or two leading up to the departure of U.S. troops.  Everyone, including The New York Times, says that regardless what Biden would have done, the pullout would have been a mess.   I respectfully disagree. 

While our forces did not have the advantage in the wilds of Afghanistan - it never has the advantage in a guerrilla war - it still had the advantage in the plains around Kabul.   What the President should have done, before the collapse of Kabul security, was announce that he has ordered the military to redeploy in order to:

  1. secure the airport,
  2. secure the road to the airport
  3. secure Kabul until all Americans and Afghans [situated in Kabul] who helped our effort and wanted to leave were evacuated. 

Only then, would U.S forces withdraw and leave.  

This last phase should not have been left to the Afghan security forces.   Yes, American intelligence thought they would hold on for a few months, but that wasn't a chance they should have taken

This would have been a conditioned withdrawal, rather than time-certain, which Biden has rejected.   But it would have been a pullout in which the U.S. would have been in control and it would have been orderly.   No repeat of Saigon. 

Instead, it appears to the world as if the Taliban is in control, which they are, and the greatest military force in the world is running around like a chicken with its head cut off, depending on the Taliban to protect them from ISIS.   Not pretty. 

Saturday, August 14, 2021

Trump and the Vaccine Conundrum

Where is Trump when you need him?  Did I really say that?

Unfortunately, yes.  There is only one person who could convince most of the rest of the country to get vaccinated – Trump.  If he came out with a strong PSA, stressing his role in getting the vaccines developed and approved ASAP to stop the virus from crippling our country, and urging his supporters to do their patriotic duty and get vaccinated, that probably would make a major difference. 

Between his personalizing the issue and making it an act of patriotism, his supporters would probably march lock-step to the vaccination clinics. 

This is really our only hope.  There is no chance that the federal government, or most state governments, will follow the example of New York City and San Francisco and impose vaccination passport mandates.  That and a renewed mask mandate would have sufficed to get the virus under control again.  But that's not going to happen. 

So someone must appeal to Trump.  This is no time for politics or self-righteousness.  Right now, we need Trump.   

President Biden can't make that appeal because Trump doesn't recognize him.  And it can't be one of his allies.  It must be someone from the other side who comes to him asking for his help. And who better to make the appeal probably than Dr. Fauci?  Someone Trump respects despite past disagreements.

Sunday, August 8, 2021

We Must Stop the Virus NOW

Most of the country – both governments and people – has diddled over the course of the last 17 months while the virus has taken its toll, surged again, taken its toll, and surged again.  With the availability of effective vaccines last January (I hate to say it, but thanks to Trump's urgency), we all breathed a sigh of relief, knowing that if the vast majority of people get vaccinated, the virus would be stopped, even if not eliminated. 

But there was a major problem with this scenario:  almost half the people did not want to get vaccinated for one reason or another.   Whether the reason was political, misinformation, or fear, the result is the same.   And despite the best efforts of government and NGOs to turn this around, nothing to date has been effective. 

The only solution, short of declaring a national health emergency and forcing everyone to get vaccinated, is to separate the vaccinated from the unvaccinated to the extent possible.   Requiring a vaccine passport to enter any indoor establishment that is not essential, including airplanes.   For essential indoor venues, like grocery stores, it means mandating masks for everyone..

Airplanes must be included because if you look at the New York Times hot spot map, what is clearly happening in the coastal south is that unvaccinated tourists are bringing the virus to resort areas and from there it is spreading.    To control unvaccinated people driving to resort areas, hotels must be told to require proof of vaccination (that was done in New England earlier in the pandemic).

This must be done nationally, not left to the states.  And it must be done now.   States like Texas and Florida are actually prohibiting both vaccine mandates and mask mandates by local governments.   There  can be no hesitation.   We know what hesitation brings.  Actually, we have already hesitated again and the horse is out of the barn, but the virus can still be corralled. 

If people continue to choose not to get vaccinated, then they cannot be allowed to infect others.  This is not about their freedom not to get vaccinated to protect themselves; it's about their not having the freedom to infect others.    They must pay the price for their socially irresponsible behavior by being segregated. 

Sunday, August 1, 2021

The Present Holding Pattern

I haven't written a post in a month.   The reason is that there is really nothing new to post about.   

1.   Republicans are being true to their conversion to Trumpism, whether at the national or state level (although it is more rabid at the state  level).   In Congress, they are either just interested in blocking Biden's agenda, regardless of the interests of their constituents, whose interests they are supposed to represent.   Or they continue to further the falsehood that Biden won the election fraudulently and the January 6 storming of the capitol had nothing to do with Trump and the people in the riot were just patriots. 

I would love to see a video that juxtaposed Speaker McCarthy's statements on January 6 and immediately thereafter, and his statements now.   You can't even call it a shift.   It's a total reversal from truth to lies.  The man and his party have no shame, no ethics.

2.   The virus is doing its thing, and the millions of unvaccinated people in the US are enabling it to have another surge with the Delta variant which is causing, in areas with low vaccination rates, numbers of cases to rival the worst part of the pandemic.   And when these unvaccinated people get infected and travel to areas with high vaccination rates and partake in crowded indoor activities (restaurants, bars, dance clubs), even those vaccinated (who aren't wearing masks anymore) get infected. 

There is no indication that anything much will change on this front.   Many people who choose not to be vaccinated are adamant.   Some are undecided still, and so perhaps they will get the shots, but the majority are in the first group. 

Bottom line, while we were never going to be free of the virus, it looks like our return to normal in most areas of the country is a thing of the past.   Even the vaccinated will have to wear a mask indoors, certainly in a reasonably crowded venue.   

Some places, like Broadway theaters, are requiring people to be fully vaccinated and wear masks in order to attend.  Some employers are requiring works to be vaccinated,  All indoor venues, except those that are essential, should have this requirement.   This includes airlines.   And if they aren't essential, all visitors must be required to wear a mask. 

3.   No news on the climate change front.   We continue to experience increased numbers of and severity of natural disasters, whether it's heat, rain, flooding, drought, wildfires, etc.   As with the virus, too many people take no responsibility for their actions and efforts by the government will have minimal impact, and too late.   We are it seems past the tipping point and the only question is how bad will it get.   That's the only thing we/government can impact now. 

So we as a country and as a government are in a stalemated, holding, pattern.   It is in all regards a sad state of affairs.   Whatever euphoria and hope there was after Trump lost the election are long since gone.   For the foreseeable future,  posts will come when matters warrant or there is some important observation to make.

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Trump as Pandora - The Unleashing of Evil

None of the hate and bigotry, the meanness and self-centeredness, that has become a prominent aspect of our society, our body politic since Trump ascended to the presidency  was created by Trump.  These feelings and tendencies have always existed across a broader section of our society than we would care to admit. 

But until Trump, these feelings were held down by the vast majority of people because such feelings were not approved by society, or better put, by society's leaders - neither those on the left or on the right.  Even before the term "politically correct" was coined, voicing such feelings was not done, except among friends.  Only those on the fringes of society voiced such feelings openly and freely. 

Thus our society with its laws and public presence had the facade of a body politic, of people who agreed to disagree, of a social contract.  Even an underlying racism was held down in most parts of the country.  And that facade was strong enough to withstand the pressures of events, even riots. 

But that has all changed.  Trump has opened the proverbial Pandora's box.  And all the venomous feelings that had been held down were given fresh air to breathe and permission to let themselves be heard.   

Trump as President, as this country's leader elected by basically half of the people, saw that his route to power and control was to give voice to these long-denied feelings.  It doesn't matter where Trump stood on these issues as a person.  He knew that by harnessing the energy of these pent-up feelings that he would have the undying loyalty of his base and thus the support to be the autocrat that he was. 

Trump was defeated in the 2020 Presidential election by a good, decent man, who good, decent people rallied behind.  But the fact that half of the people again voted for Trump is not just a consistent sign of our divided politic (the popular vote in most presidential elections in recent times has been very close), but it shows that half the people were more attracted to than repelled by his venom. 

And the actions of Republican elected officials in both state legislatures and Congress show the power that he still wields due to the continuing undying loyalty of not just his base but the majority of the Republican Party.  A just released, well-respected, Monmouth University poll found that 65% of Republicans believe that Biden won because of voter fraud. 

I wrote more than 15 years ago that the new radical Republicans have become masters of the Big Lie, and like Joe McCarthy they had no shame.  That perspective within the Party has morphed into a monster that is out of control, that knows no bounds. 

Last December I wrote a post, "Where Do We Go from Here?" and stated, "Even if Trump ends up in jail, convicted of tax fraud or whatever, it won't make a difference to his minions.  Indeed, they will just think he was unjustly convicted; a victim of the very establishment that he fought against."  There is nothing one can do in the short term to disabuse people of their faith in Trump.  

In world history, leaders who held such sway over their people, such as Hitler or Mussolini, only fell from power because they lost a war.  Even after that, many people continued to revere them as leaders. 

I fear that once Pandora's box is opened there is nothing that anyone can do, beyond hopefully the passage of time, that will return us to a civil society, where we believe that we are all true Americans, where we all agree to disagree, where we support the integrity of our democratic institutions, and where we let the majority rule.  Until such time, it's going to be a bumpy ride. 

Saturday, June 5, 2021

The Delusional COVID Honor Code and Its Risk

We are at a critical point in our fight against COVID.   We have finally reached the point in the pandemic when, as a result of mass vaccinations and new case numbers coming down drastically, most states have fully reopened, several are scheduled for June.   Only two have set no date. 

But there's a catch.   Roughly half of the population has not been vaccinated.   And what is government's response to this catch?   Regarding mask mandates, it ignores the problem.   

The general guidance is that if you are fully vaccinated you don't have to wear a mask except in the limited situations defined by the CDC - airplanes, public transportation, etc. By deduction, that means that if you aren't fully vaccinated you should still wear a mask in all situations.   But I have not seen a sign anywhere that says, "If you are not fully vaccinated you must wear a mask to enter."

Everyone is operating on an honor system.   That is, if someone is not fully vaccinated they will wear a mask.   

Clearly in many situations, like stores, it would be impossible to police mask wearing, so one has no choice but to follow the honor system.   But at least the sign at the entrance should clearly state that if you are not vaccinated you must wear a mask to enter.   Or one could say, recognizing the risk, that everyone still must wear a mask, whether vaccinated or not. 

But even at the gym I go to, they are using the honor system.   Here it would be very easy to require people to present proof that they are vaccinated when entering the gym.

So what is the problem with an honor system?   It sounds very American.   

The problem is that many of those who have decided not to be vaccinated, for political or anti-government reasons, are the very people who were against mask mandates to begin with.   They will not now voluntarily don a mask because they haven't been vaccinated. 

And so you have half of the population that is still highly susceptible to infection by COVID most likely not wearing masks and thereby putting both themselves and those around them at risk.   For those who are vaccinated the risk may be relatively low, at least for the infection to be serious, but the risk is still there. 

We are thus risking another COVID surge.   Granted it may be limited to half the population, but that would still be bad for the economy, schools, our return to normalcy. 

At one point, there was discussion about having vaccine passports for entrance to all sorts of venues that put people in close indoor quarters - such as planes, theaters, restaurants.  That idea has been discarded because it was felt that it would impinge on people's right of freedom of movement.   But does one have a right to risk infecting another individual?  No.

Masks mandates should still be mandatory for those who are not fully vaccinated.   And in all situations where it is practical, proof of vaccination should be required before being allowed to enter without a mask.  Where it is not practical, until we reach herd immunity, everyone should still have to wear a mask. 

From a public policy perspective, perhaps such a policy would even encourage some people who weren't going to get vaccinated to get it.   That would be helpful. 

Bottom line, the government must do what it can to protect us from more damage from this pandemic.