Tag Archives: social justice

How Mixing Politics And Religion Ruins Both

Some things just aren’t meant to go together. Whether it involves putting pickles on a peanut butter sandwich or wearing a bra with a tube top, certain combinations are just inherently incongruent. At best, it’s messy, unattractive, or unappetizing. At worst, it does legitimate damage to everything that went into it.

In terms of volatile mixtures, religion and politics is probably the worst. There’s a reason why it’s a general rule of etiquette to avoid discussing either in a civil scenario. Both have a tendency to bring out that sense of blind tribalism that’s still hardwired into us and both have inherent flaws that keep even the most reasonable people from having a productive discussion.

That’s not to say religion and politics can never be discussed in a civil, respectful manner. It’s just exceedingly difficult, especially in these very polarized times. However, I am confident in stating that it’s practically impossible to mix religion and politics in a way that fosters greater civility. If anything, it derails any related issue beyond the point of absurdity.

I say this as someone who tries to be reasonable whenever discussing religion and politics. That’s not easy because I’ve made my criticisms of organized religion and certain political leanings quite clear. I don’t deny that I have my biases, but I make a concerted effort to see things from the other side.

When politics and religion mingle, however, I can’t justify that effort. From my perspective, there’s just no way to mix either without them becoming hopelessly corrupt.

It’s not difficult to understand why they become intermingled. Both are powerful institutions with immense influence over large swaths of people. They’re either going to coordinate or conflict with one another and coordination is almost always more productive, regardless of goals.

On paper, it almost makes sense. If you’re looking to strengthen your political position, adding religious elements that resonate with a significant segment of the populace can only help your effort. Even if those same people are skeptical of your rhetoric, they’ll give you the benefit of the doubt if you subscribe to the same theology.

When put into practice, however, it’s the logistical equivalent to mixing nitro and glycerin. It doesn’t take much to trigger a volatile reaction. More often than not, that one reaction triggers many more like it. Before long, the corruption isn’t just extensive. It becomes entrenched, so much so that it’s seen as entirely normal.

The best and most relevant example of this is how the religious right effectively entwined itself with conservative politics, especially in the United States. In recent years, even as religious affiliation has declined considerably, the link between religious conservatives and conservative politics has only gotten stronger, much to the detriment of both.

The history of the religious right in the 20th century is well-documented. While there had been previous efforts to effectively codify Christian dominance in the United States, it had always been a fringe position. In fact, there was a time when churches discouraged mixing religion with politics because politics was seen as a dirty business wholly concerned with worldly affairs.

Then, after a combination of major social upheavals and significant scientific advancements, organized religion became more reactionary. The rise of fundamentalism, which was not exclusive to Christianity, prompted certain religious organizations to do more than preach a more rigid form of theology.

To some extent, those organizations had no choice. There’s only so much you can do to convince ordinary people that they should be more devout, denying themselves comfort, novelty, and fun. In order to have greater influence, they need political power. However, gaining that kind of power almost always requires some level of corruption and at that level, corruption is a two-way street with many potholes and blind spots.

That’s not just an opinion held by cynics and casual observers, either. There is plenty of historical precedent that demonstrates what happens when religion and politics cooperate too closely. A cursory glance at the history of the Middle Ages offers plenty of documented evidence alongside absurd, yet historically accurate anecdotes.

It may be difficult to imagine for those who have grown up in secular societies, but there was a time when the Catholic Church was the only game in town and every political entity had to acknowledge that. They were basically a secondary government that could levy additional taxes, except they called them tithes. As an organization, their wealth was beyond measure.

On top of that wealth, the Pope could essentially make or break kingdoms by approving or denying marriages. If you said or did anything that offended, undermined, or in any way inconvenienced the church, they could do more than just condemn you. They could legally kill you and call it holy.

Regardless of the theology involved, this kind of power made the Catholic Church prone to all sorts of corruption. In some cases, it manifested in the election of Popes with decidedly unholy behavior. At one point, the papacy was actually sold between Popes like a high-stakes auction for gold and land.

While stories of organizational corruption can be comically absurd, other types of corruption did real harm. Like any powerful organization, the church dedicates a considerable amount of time and effort to preserving that power and isn’t always reasonable about it. That led to church-supported atrocities that included witch burnings, war crimes, and even animal abuse.

Again, little of these activities can be justified on a theological basis. There was nothing in the bible or the teachings of Jesus that promoted an all-encompassing organization that blurred the line between religion and politics. Most of that occurred through a convergence of various unholy forces that range from political ploys to theological debates. Conveniently, God was always on the side of whoever won out.

After centuries of corruption, other forces more powerful than any prayer or Pope eroded the influence of the Catholic Church. Some would argue that losing the power to make war and influence kings helped get the church in touch with the core teachings of Christianity. I think that’s a tenuous argument, given how dogmatic it is on certain outdated traditions, but I do see some merit in it.

Even with this historical precedent, the religious right keeps making a concerted effort to wield the kind of power that the Catholic Church once did. You need only compare the Republican Party’s platform in 1912, which contained no reference to any deity, to the overtly anti-demographic policies espoused in contemporary Republican talking points.

It’s in that blending of policy and theology in which both ultimately undermine one another. From the religious side, there’s nothing in the bible that demands tax cuts for the rich or bans in stem cell research. However, thanks to being entertained with conservative politics, this somehow becomes entwined with their theology, even if it means ignoring actual teachings of Jesus Christ.

From the political side of things, it means policies don’t even have to have a logical, pragmatic element to them anymore. They can only be viewed in the context of whether or not said policies get or maintain the support of religious adherents. Even when those policies are objectively bad for the environment and the poor, they support them. They’ll even support policies that require a big, bloated government by default.

In a sense, for religion and politics to function alongside one another, both require significant levels of hypocrisy. A religion will have to support policies that run counter to its theology and a political organization will have to support measures that run counter to its principles. The only way to make that work is to make excuses, which only invites corruption.

These aren’t minor complications. These are flawed processes that ensure neither religion nor politics can benefit without undermining themselves along the way. Anything they accomplish must come at the expense of principle or ideology. For conservative politics and religious dogma to pursue their goals, it must in turn use the same draconian tactics of Big Brother, even when it directly contradicts their highest values.

From that perspective, should we really be surprised when politicians with the backing of the religious right turn out to be utter hypocrites?

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Doing The Right Thing: Results Vs. Motivations

Recall, for a moment, an instance where you were faced with a difficult choice. You had a pretty good idea of what choices were right and what choices were wrong, but could not be completely certain. What choice did you make and why did you make it? What motivated you to do what you did? What were the results?

We’ve all been in situations like that at some point in our lives. Most of the time, it’s mundane. It effects only us and those in our immediate surroundings. In those instances, motivations tends to be basic. You make a decision you feel works best and you deal with whatever consequences that occur. However, when it comes to larger decisions by people in powerful positions, it tends to get more complicated.

Those complications have become a lot more visible in recent years, due to the internet and social media. Now, if you’re a rich celebrity or in a position of power, your choices are always scrutinized. Doing the right thing is not just a matter of morality anymore. It’s an added complication for public relations and advertising.

People will do the right thing because it’s good for their image.

People will do the right thing because it’s for a cause they believe in.

People will do the right thing because they’re being pressured, criticized, or condemned.

Whatever the case, the decision is usually the same. Even the moral components of the decision are the same. It’s just the motivation that’s different.

With that in mind, and given the dynamics I just described, I have one more question to add to this issue.

When it comes to doing the right thing, how much or how little do motivations actually matter?

It’s a relevant question in a connected world where it’s painfully easy to overreact. Recently, I speculated on the reactions to the recent news that the Washington Redskins were changing their controversial nickname. It didn’t take long for those speculations to become real.

Less than a day after this announcement was made, people were already saying that it was too late. Even if it was the right thing to do and was the desired result that advocates had fought for, it’s somehow not enough. They’ll point out that the only reason the name was changed was because major sponsors pressured it.

That point is probably valid. If the franchise stood to lose a great deal of money over clinging to its old nickname, even if they sincerely believed it wasn’t offensive, the economic pressures were just too great. When it comes to impassioned pleas versus financial pressure, money usually wins out.

It’s unfortunate, but that’s the world we live in. Money talks louder than outrage. It always has. It always will. No matter how much we resent that, that’s not something we can change right now. Regardless of how you might feel about that system, the question remains.

Does it truly matter? Advocates got their wish. The name of the team is changing. It might not be changing for the reasons they want, but it is changing. Isn’t that enough?

Do the results matter more than the motivations? We can never see, touch, feel, or measure someone’s motivations. We can only ever experience the results. One is tangible. The other is not. Which matters more to you?

I think it’s a relevant question because those continue to complain, protest, and whine about the team are only doing a disservice to their cause and future causes like it. They’re setting it up so that, no matter what their opponents do, there’s no way they can ever appease them.

If they don’t change the name, they inspire more outrage and criticism.

If they do change the name, they’re still subject to outrage and criticism because they didn’t do it soon enough or for the right reasons.

How is that fair? How is that even logical? If anything, that kind of approach only gives everyone a good excuse to never engage with opponents. They know there’s nothing they can do to placate them, so what’s the point? Short of getting in a time machine and undoing history, there’s literally nothing they can do.

Either results matter or they don’t. It’s as simple as that. If you’re not happy with the results, then you’ll never be happy with anything.

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What Exactly Does “Canceling” Someone Solve?

In general, I try not to comment on “cancel culture.” It’s not because I don’t have an opinion. I just think it’s a waste of time, for the most part. I’ve never seen it lead to a productive conversation on anything. Most of the time, it just amounts to people publicly whining about something they find offensive to a point where others cave, if only to stop the whining.

I am not a fan of this, to put it mildly.

Every time I see it trend, I want to bash my head on my computer screen while telling some of these people to grow thicker skin.

The world is a chaotic, ugly, offensive place. We can only do so much to change it. No matter how much change we manage to implement, it won’t change the past or the context in which it transpired. That’s especially true if the people others are trying to cancel are long dead.

Now, as much as I despite the term and what it represents, I also understand that it’s not as simple as its critics make it out to be. At times, I find the people who whine about cancel culture to be just as insufferable. Their whining can basically be boiled down to, “Other people want to cancel the stuff I like and it hurts my feelings!” That’s just as pathetic as wanting to blackball a celebrity for old tweets from 2009.

Both efforts are equally absurd.

Both efforts do nothing to make the world a safer, more tolerant, more inclusive place.

Most of the time, I find the effects of “cancel culture” to be inconsistent, at best. People will complain about the lack of diversity in media, politics, business, and certain industries, but those same people can’t be bothered to vote or support the things that reflect those preferences. They always revert to whining.

People on both sides of the political spectrum will do this. The same people who laugh at those who complain about a video game character being too sexy while whine just as much because Brie Larson said something that hurt their feelings. They’ll claim their efforts are not contributing to cancel culture, but it’s the same damn concept.

Unfortunately, despite the best efforts of decent human beings with thick skin and a good sense of humor, cancel culture is still a thing. People are going to condemn celebrities and public figures for things they said or did years ago. We saw it with Kevin Hart, which cost him a chance to host the Oscars. We’re seeing that now with celebrities like Jimmy Kimmel and Sarah Silverman, who once did skits involving blackface.

All this is happening as statues of historical figures who did deplorable things are coming down. Never mind the context or bigger picture of why they’re historical in the first place. They did something awful. Any image that exists that may glorify them in any way is just too much for our tender sensibilities.

In addition to people, the urge to cancel all things offensive has extended to art. Movies like “Gone With The Wind,” which definitely had some offensive imagery, was removed from streaming recently. Shows like “Paw Patrol,” which is geared towards children, was seen as too offensive at a time when police brutality is a hot topic.

Now, I’m not going to justify old tweets or outrage about movies from a different era. I know there’s nothing I can say to change the minds of those who are so offended by statutes, celebrities, or the names of football teams that they want them all canceled. There’s also nothing I can say to change the minds who think it’s part of some elaborate censorship effort meant to destroy freedom.

Instead, I’d like to ask a few simple questions for both sides to consider.

What exactly does canceling something achieve in the long run?

At what point does canceling something amount to censorship?

Why is canceling something more viable than simply growing thicker skin?

At what point does context stop mattering for something that’s offensive?

How does condemning the ugly history of the past make the present or future any better?

What right do you have to be offended by the feelings and preferences of someone else?

I won’t claim these are easy questions to answer, but to those who are behind or protesting certain cancel-this hashtags, I hope they offer perspective. Like it or not, cancel culture isn’t going away anytime soon. People are always going to be offended by something or someone.

In years past, it was uptight religious zealots who were aghast at anything that didn’t reflect or promote the values of a 1950s sitcom. Now, it’s uptight activists who are aghast at anything that doesn’t reflect their utopian fever dream that just happens to align with their politics. The passion is real, but the motivations are misguided.

You can tear down every monument.

You can censor every byte of media.

You can rewrite every textbook or novel that ever reflected outdated attitudes.

It won’t change what happened in the past. It won’t prevent people from being assholes in the future. If anything, it sends the message that people are too weak, stupid, or traumatized to handle certain ideas. That, in my opinion, is the most offensive thing of all.

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Filed under Celebrities and Celebrity Culture, Current Events, media issues, outrage culture, political correctness, politics, rants, television

How Much Agency Do We Really Have?

How much agency do we actually have in our day-to-day lives?

How much freedom do we actually enjoy on a pragmatic basis?

I ask these questions as part of another thought experiment, albeit one that requires more introspection than the others I’ve posed. I think it’s relevant at a time when we’re dealing with a global pandemic that has severely restricted everyone’s agency to significant degrees. It’s also relevant because it’s something we rarely scrutinize.

There’s another reason I’m discussing matters of agency. It has less to do with current events and more to do with frequent criticisms of certain stories. As an aspiring writer and an avid consumer, especially of superhero media, the agency of certain characters is an integral part of that process. You can’t tell a meaningful story without characters exercising some level of agency.

What has become a major issue in recent years is the source, degree, and structure surrounding that agency. I’ve noticed critics and consumers alike scrutinizing who makes the major choices in a story, as well as what role they play, how they look, and why they’re doing what they do. While these are relevant details, that scrutiny can be misguided.

I see it whenever a female character is perceived as having no agency or having too much.

I see it whenever a male character is perceived as being the only source of agency for every major detail.

I see it whenever a character of a different race, ethnicity, or sexual orientation play a role that isn’t just restricted to tokenism.

It has derailed many meaningful conversations about some genuinely great stories. It has also established this standard for some people that if any character with agency happens to be of a certain gender or ethnicity, they roll their eyes and discount the story as pushing some sort of agenda. I find that to be incredibly shallow and short-sighted.

That’s why I think it helps to analyze how much agency we think we have in the real world. It’s easy to quantify that agency within the rigid structure of a story, but the real world is larger, more complicated, and a lot less predictable. How can we determine how much agency we actually have in the grand scheme of things?

How much agency did you have in being born into a particular time, place, or socioeconomic level?

How much agency did you have in falling in love with the person you married?

How much agency did you have in getting the job you have or the career you pursued?

How much agency did you have in finding the friends and social circles you’re part of?

On the surface, it may seem like you’re exercising your ability to choose in these circumstance. I ask that you take a step back and think a bit harder about it.

When it comes to our lot in life, did we really have much say in the economic and social system that we’re part of? Sure, we can choose to not participate, but in doing so, we either starve to death because we don’t have money for food or we become completely isolated from the world and any semblance of social support.

We think we have choices when we go to the supermarket or a restaurant, but how many of those choices are already chosen for us? We don’t always by the cheapest brand of cereal because we want to. We buy it because we have to. In that same sense, we don’t always buy the car we want. We buy what we can afford.

To a large extent, our agency is incredibly limited by our economic resources. It’s limited even more by our social structure, as well. We can’t always do what we want, no matter how depraved. We can’t just walk outside naked, rub our genitals against the nearest person, and yell racial slurs at the top of our lungs. We’d get arrested, imprisoned, or ostracized, at the very least.

Even if what we do isn’t illegal, we still limit our choices because of peer pressure and social stigma. It’s not illegal to watch porn on a public bus, but it will get you odd looks and plenty of scorn. To some extent, we sacrifice some of our agency to maintain an orderly, functioning society. It’s just a question of how much we sacrifice and how much we’re willing cling to.

With all that in mind, see if you can take stock in the amount of agency you exercise in your day-to-day life. You may be surprised by how little or how much you actually have. It may not be the most interesting thought experiment you can do for yourself, but the implications it offers are profound.

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Filed under human nature, outrage culture, philosophy, psychology, Thought Experiment, writing

Loneliness, Bitterness, And Perspectives From Pandemics

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The crisis surrounding the Coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic affected our world and our lives in ways too numerous to list. I hate talking about it and lamenting on all the things we’ve lost because of it, from March Madness to movies to new comics. Unfortunately, it’s unavoidable. Unlike misguided outrage or clickbait, I can’t just step away from my computer and escape. The world around me is still quarantined.

It’s a rare, unprecedented level of awful that will likely resonate for decades to come. It’s awful on so many levels, but it’s often through awful experiences that new perspectives emerge. I’d like to offer one today, if only to divert attention from how bad the news keeps getting.

Let’s face it. If you’re a very social person who enjoys going out, meeting new people, and forging new connections, this experience has been hell. It’s not just that bars, clubs, malls, and movie theaters are closed. You can’t even get close to people to connect with them anymore. Social distancing has made everyone less inclined to get close. For people who value that closeness, it’s nothing short of devastating.

At the same time, the less social crowd has probably noticed just how little their lives have changed. If you enjoyed sitting on your ass all day, watching TV and playing video games, then chances are you’re not feeling the impact that much. You might even take a perverse satisfaction out of the fact that your hobbies and passions have already equipped you to weather this crisis.

Between those extremes, however, lies the insights that are worth noting. Before this crisis took hold, it wasn’t uncommon to cite lonely, anti-social people, most of which were men, as damaged and dangerous. They’re behind many of the insults thrown at the “incel” community or those who debate feminism and social justice on message boards.

I know because I’ve been called that on more than one occasions. It’s often some variation of “basement-dwelling neckbeard” or something of the sort. I honestly don’t pay much attention to those insults. I’ve been on the internet long enough to grow fairly thick skin. At the same time, I think this crisis can offer a new perspective on loneliness to those who aren’t used to it.

Being trapped at home for days on end, unable to go out and socialize, means a sizable chunk of people who haven’t experienced loneliness to this extent can now know what it’s like. While I genuinely hope it ends soon and doesn’t leave any lasting scars on people, I hope it makes the necessary impression.

If you’re lucky enough to have a family, then you’ve got some support. If you’re lucky enough to have a lover, then you’ve got a source of intimate contact that feels like a precious luxury to many. That assumes that nobody you care about is sick, which adds a new level of dread to the loneliness. It’s not a pleasant feeling. It’s also a feeling worth scrutinizing.

To get that point across, I’d like to pose some questions to those who have ever labeled someone an incel, toxic, problematic, or any other insult that makes them unworthy of compassion.

How does it feel to have the desire to connect with others, but not the means?

How does it feel to be cut off from intimate human contact through no fault of your own?

How does it feel to have hours on end to yourself with nothing more than your hobbies to occupy yourself?

How does it feel to feel so utterly alone through no fault of your own?

How does it feel to be completely powerless to change your current situation?

I apologize if any of these questions come off as harsh. I hope they still convey the necessary message. Some of it may be personal for me. I’ve had people insult me whenever I’ve admitted to feeling lonely. Being a man, I feel like I don’t get much sympathy. People just assume I’m not doing something right and it’s up to me to fix it.

While part of that might be true, there are also parts that are simply beyond my control. A global pandemic is one of those things that’s beyond everyone’s control, from young men who play video games to world leaders who wield real power. For once, we’re all at the mercy of the same overwhelming force. We can’t hide from it or its effects.

There’s no patriarchal conspiracy, radical feminist plot, or secret cabal of lizard people working against us. This is just something that emerged from nature and hit us where it hurt at the worst possible time. For once, we’re all on the same page in terms of how vulnerable and concerned we are.

It’s a rare, but bittersweet opportunity. In recent years, there has been this narrative about lonely, bitter men, as well as lonely bitter women. They’re lonely and bitter because the world didn’t give them everything they wanted on a silver platter, so they take it out on everyone else.

They want the world to cater to their sensibilities.

They claim their preferences are right and anything to the contrary is flawed, political, or in some ways invalid.

They cling to their opinions, citing only the facts that justifies them while attacking those that oppose them.

Everyone is guilty of doing this. I certainly am. It’s tempting to write them off as products of a bitter, lonely existence for which they are wholly responsible. If nothing else, this pandemic shows that everyone is at the mercy of their circumstances.

Whatever someone’s attitude may be, even if it is misguided and flawed, it doesn’t make their loneliness any less real. It’s easy to insult those kinds of people when your situation is entirely different and arguably better. Now, this disease has put every one of us in the same boat, relatively speaking.

I hope we all remember this feeling and how much it sucks. I genuinely hope it inspires and educates others to understand how crippling loneliness can be for some people. Not everyone deals with it in a healthy way. Many will continue to cope in unhealthy ways long after this crisis is over.

At least now we know what drives those feelings. Whether you’re a lonely man, a lonely woman, or just lonely in general, we’ve all experienced the struggle it brings. Keep that in mind the next time you judge someone who seems bitter and angry at the world. They may just be lonely and no matter what your politics or ideology may be, it can make us feel as sick as any pandemic.

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Filed under gender issues, health, human nature, men's issues, outrage culture, political correctness, psychology, sex in society, sexuality, women's issues

A Simple Comment On The Criticism/Whining On “Birds Of Prey”

Sometimes, a movie just fails to find an audience.

It’s not because of some larger social agenda that backfired horribly.

It’s not because of some huge backlash caused by misguided marketing strategies, either.

Most of the time, the world isn’t that fanciful. It’s just chaotic, unpredictable, and messy. No matter how much a movie, TV show, or product attempts to appeal to a broad audience, it can just fail. That’s all there is to it.

Trying to fit an agenda into that failure is like trying to build a conspiracy around why you’re stuck in traffic. The world isn’t out to get you or people like you. Most of the time, shit just happens and you’re just caught up in it. That’s not to say that agendas never squeeze themselves into the media. It happens, but it’s effect is often exaggerated. Most of the time, the final product just doesn’t work.

That brings me to “Birds of Prey.” Now, in the interest of full disclosure, I completely forgot about this movie. I had no excitement for it and not just because I was underwhelmed by “Suicide Squad.” I like Margot Robbie. I like Harley Quinn. She’s a great actress who plays a great character. The movie just did not grab my attention.

I saw the trailer. It was fine, but forgettable. I didn’t feel compelled to watch it 10 times in a row, as I did with “Wonder Woman 1984.” I didn’t feel compelled to see the movie, either. Even though it got good reviews, it just didn’t appeal to me. I planned to watch it when it came out on cable. Based on the early box office haul, I’m not alone in that sentiment.

I’d be perfectly fine to leave it at that. In previous years, I wouldn’t even bring it up. However, due to the growing inclination to make everything political, the under-performance of “Birds of Prey” is already getting the wrong people talking about it for all the wrong reasons.

Some are already lumping this movie in the same category as 2016’s “Ghostbusters” or the horrendously bad “Charlie Angels” reboot. Now, I don’t want to get into the politics behind it, mostly because I value the integrity of my brain cells. I’ll just say this. Whether you’re liberal, conservative, feminist, traditionalist, anarchist, or Marxist, there’s one thing to remember.

It’s a goddamn movie. Sometimes, movies just fail to find an audience. That’s it. That’s all there is to it.

Maybe it eventually becomes a cult classic, like “Blade.” Maybe it rebounds with good word of mouth. Either way, it has nothing to do with an agenda. The public, as a whole, just didn’t respond to it. Any criticism/whining beyond that is just asinine.

That’s all I have to say about “Birds of Prey.” Harley Quinn is still a great character and Margot Robbie is still a great actress. Your agenda, whatever it may be, has no bearing on that. It never has. It never will. Get over yourself and just watch the movies you enjoy.

 

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Filed under gender issues, media issues, movies, outrage culture, political correctness, politics, sex in media, sex in society, superhero comics, superhero movies

Martin Luther King Jr. Day: Pursuing A Dream

Today is a day in which we remember a dream. In a world that’s full of hard truths, fake news, and gross injustices, we need that dream more than ever. It’s a dream I like to think that humanity has always had on some level, but it took a remarkable man named Martin Luther King Jr. to put it into words that will resonate for generations to come.

In general, I don’t like talking about politics. I’ve written about sensitive issues before, but I honestly think it’s a waste of time. I don’t think it’s possible to change someone’s mind by just debating the issues. I also don’t think it’s possible to convince someone that they’re wrong through discourse alone. It’s not impossible, but it’s exceedingly difficult.

Dr. King did something remarkable during his tireless pursuit of justice and civil rights. He confronted hatred, but he didn’t fight back with it. He dared to inspire, appealing to ideals greater than politics or tradition. He presented a dream of a better world. He preached a message of hope and love. It might not have changed the minds of his opponents at the time, but it inspired generations of others to pursue that dream.

It’s a dream that’s still worth pursuing. Some may argue that we’ve regressed. I respectfully disagree. While we haven’t made as much progress as most would prefer, signs of progress are there. There’s still room for improvement, but the dream is relevant as ever. As Dr. King himself once said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”

If you need another reminder as to why that dream is still important, you need only listen to Dr. King’s most famous speech. It’s a speech that made the dream feel real and it’s a dream worth pursuing now and for generations to come.

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Why Organized Religion Opposes Assisted Suicide (For The Wrong Reasons)

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Most people under the age of 40 are too young to remember the controversy surrounding Dr. Jack Kevorkian, also known as “Dr. Death.” For a time, he was one of the most polarizing figures in the world because he made assisted suicide a major socio-political issue. From 1989 to 1998, he took part in approximately 130 assisted suicides. It’s because of him that every state has a law regarding the practice.

Before I go any further into this very sensitive, exceedingly emotional issue, I want to make one thing clear. I don’t have a strong position on assisted suicide. I’ve had a hard time arguing in either direction. On one hand, I can understand someone in chronic pain wanting to end their life. On the other, I also worry that making such a practice mundane could undermine efforts to treat debilitating conditions.

I have people in my family who have fought debilitating illnesses. Some have lost those fights. Others won out and are stronger because of it. I believe that if you had talked to them on a particularly bad day, they might have seriously considered assisted suicide as an option. It’s a heart-wrenching issue that I’m not qualified to debate.

Despite those qualifications, I believe I’m still capable of scrutinizing certain aspects of the debate. Reasonable people can make reasonable arguments for and against assisted suicide. I’ll leave that part of the debate to people smarter and more informed than me. For the bad arguments made by unreasonable people, however, I think I’m as qualified as anyone.

One of the most vocal opponents of assisted suicide come from organized religion, especially the Catholic Church. Their position is fairly clear. Suicide is an egregious sin and a crime against human dignity. Even if you’re in debilitating pain, it’s not your place to take your own life. Only the all-powerful, all-knowing deity of their faith can do that. Some go so far as to claim that suicide automatically condemns a soul to Hell.

Setting aside, for a moment, the kind of theology that would condemn suffering people to more suffering in the afterlife, it’s worth taking a step back to ask why assisted suicide is an issue for organized religion in the first place. What interest could any religion have for getting involved in such an immensely personal issue?

To answer that question, it’s also necessary to distinguish between organized religion and the personal faith that people have. Your personal faith is personal. It’s between you and your loved ones. When religions get organized, they become impersonal and subject to different influences. As demonstrated by corporations or governments, those influences aren’t always holy, to say the least.

An organized religion, be it a huge institution like the Catholic Church or just a small denomination of churches, temples, and mosques, are driven by the same incentives. They need money, adherents, labor, and support from as many followers as possible. How they go about obtaining those resources varies from faith to faith. When it comes to maintaining those assets, however, things get less varied.

I’ve noted before how religious institutions have used dogma to maintain and reinforce social inequality. Any institution, religious or not, has a strong incentive to keep its followers in a state of ignorance, poverty, and dependence. It also can’t have too many people questioning the dogma, nor can it have people with enough resources or comforts to function without its help.

With religion, those incentives are easier to codify because it can claim that their doctrine doesn’t come from law, money, or brute force. It’s ordained by a powerful deity that is on their side. People can argue against politicians, protest greedy businesses, and question long-standing traditions. They can only do so much against a powerful, invisible deity.

It’s within this context that organized religion clashes with assisted suicide. Like with inequality, assisted suicide directly undermines the manpower and resources of religious institutions. It doesn’t just take from them an adherent or a potential convert. It strikes at the foundation on which organized religion builds its influence on people.

In the same way that a business needs customers with money to spend on their goods, organized religion needs people who feel deficient, impoverished, or desperate. It’s a well-documented phenomenon. Those who are poor, hungry, and suffering tend to gravitate towards organized religion.

Sometimes, this is a good thing because there are religious organizations out there who provide food, comfort, and care. Even if doing so acts as an indirect way to recruit adherents, it still provides tangible help to people who need it. That’s an aspect of organized religion that deserves respect. When it comes to suffering and dying, however, the practices aren’t nearly as commendable.

When people are dealing with a suffering loved one, it’s incredible difficult. It takes an emotional toll on both the individual and their family. It’s heart-breaking on so many levels. It’s also an unscrupulous opportunity for organized religion.

While they won’t outright prey on someone else’s suffering, they’ll often act as a source of relief and comfort. They’ll try to act as a shoulder to cry on, telling both the person suffering and their families everything they want to hear. It earns them points from both them and the larger community. They can claim they’re helping a suffering family, but without actually helping them.

They stop short of paying for an expensive, life-saving procedure. They’ll also stop short of paying medical bills that might have piled up. They’ll sometimes promise to promote scientific research to treat whatever is causing so much pain, but in terms of over-arching incentives, that makes sense in the context that any organization wants to keep its adherents alive.

When assisted suicide enters the equation, the religious organizations miss out on that opportunity. Instead of comfort from a priest, mullah, rabbi, or monk, those suffering can get relief from a simple medical procedure. Their family can also enjoy a sense of closure in that their loved one isn’t suffering anymore. No religious influence is necessary here.

For some, that’s not just a problem. That’s a threat. Anything that subverts the need for the religious organization undermines its ability to maintain and grow its influence. Assisted suicide does all that and then some. However, it goes beyond simply not having the chance to endear themselves to sick people and their families.

From their perspective, assisted suicide sets a dangerous precedent. If too many poor, desperate, suffering people start killing themselves to escape, then they lose one of their best sources of new adherents. It’s the same reason why they discourage abortion and contraception, hoping that adherents produce more adherents for the organization. It all comes back to maintaining and growing the institution.

That usually isn’t the stated purpose. Almost every major religion that discourages assisted suicide will argue from a moral perspective. However, the indirect effect is certainly there. That’s not to say that the heads of these religious organizations secretly meet in dark rooms and craft their dogma with these factors in mind. It’s simply a byproduct of large groups of people responding to incentives.

Even if the implications of opposing assisted suicide are indirect, it’s still not a good reason to oppose the practice. It requires that people overlook the suffering and pain of others while convincing them that they don’t have the right to make important choices in their lives. That effort only leads to more suffering and that can never be justified, no matter how much dogma is applied.

As always, I want to make clear that I’m not calling all religious organizations malicious for opposing assisted suicide. I don’t believe that those within these organizations are out to cause more suffering. Most believe, in their heart of hearts, that they’re doing the right thing. The problem is that dogma, doctrine, and powerful incentives can overshadow those efforts.

There are good, legitimate reasons to oppose assisted suicide. Unfortunately, organized religion rarely relies on those reasons. On top of that, they have one too many incentives not to focus on those reasons.

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