Agnosticism, Tolerance and Perceptions of Reality

August 29th, 2012

By Dan Miller

Many who visit my blog are Christians or Jews. Although I have occasionally mentioned that I am an Agnostic, it seems appropriate to explain why and what that means to me.

Nebraskaenergyobserver, one of my favorite bloggers who often reads my posts, has written much recently about his Lutheran religion and the need for Christians to focus on the doctrinal matters as to which they agree and to agree to disagree respectfully as to the rest. An Agnostic, this seems an appropriate time to for me to chime in. All who prefer freedom to tyranny have many areas of agreement and might do well to focus on those; I hope that this post may suggest some of those areas.  Perhaps Nebraskaenergyobserver, whose most recent post on the topic is here, along with some of his Christian colleagues, will respond. I look forward to learning what they have to say.

Raised as a young Methodist, I began reading and thinking about religion in my early teens and eventually decided that belief not objectively grounded in reality as I perceive it is not for me. Despite much reading and thinking on the subject over the years and some changes in my perceptions of reality I still, now in my early seventies, adhere to that view. I neither know nor am convinced nor believe that there is/are one or more Gods. Unlike Atheists, I neither know nor am convinced nor believe that there is/are no Gods. I am unaware of any facts, as I perceive them, to help me to find “the” answer.

obama_religionI may perceive reality differently than do many others. However, to hold beliefs not grounded in one’s perceptions of reality requires an earnest desire to believe. Many seem to have such desires. Why? I don’t have those desires and don’t know why others do. There may be many reasons. Perhaps belief in the doctrinal principles set forth in various versions of the Nicene, Apostles or other creeds provides comfort. If so, and if they don’t insist that others who don’t agree do the same, good for them. No one has insisted that I do so.

When I had finished tenth grade in public school, my parents and I agreed that a private school would likely provide a better foundation for attendance at a good college and for life thereafter.  We agreed on St. Stephens School for Boys, an Episcopalian day school. Interviewed by the headmaster, an Episcopalian priest — Father Hoy to the high church kids and Mr. Hoy to the others — I told him of my religious views. He seemed interested but not upset. He explained that daily chapel attendance was mandatory and that a weekly Sacred Studies class for seniors was as well. I had no problem with either. During chapel, I stood politely when the other kids stood and sat when they sat. I did not join in their prayers, responsive readings or hymns; I enjoyed the music but could not bring myself to sing praises of concepts in which I did not believe. During Sacred Studies class, Mr. Hoy and I had interesting dialogues; he was gentlemanly and I like to think I was as well.  I learned a bit about Christian doctrine and practice from Mr. Hoy but perhaps the most important bit of learning involved tolerance for the views of others. I respected him as well as others at St. Stephens for their tolerance of my views and have tried to reciprocate.

Some religions are intolerant and some religious as well as non-religious people are intolerant. Atheism and some Atheists come to mind but, although sometimes nuisances, they are hardly a problem compared to Islamism and Islamists, addressed below. Tolerance does not require agreement with or acceptance of seriously destructive actions and points of view.

The Mormon Religion and Governor Romney

Governor Romney has experienced political difficulties due to his Mormon religion and they persist. Are Mormons secretive? There are significant doctrinal differences between the Mormon religion and Christianity; I tried to address them as best I could as an Agnostic at the two preceding links and to suggest why they should not be politically significant to the governance of the United States under a President Romney, probably as decent a chap as many of his predecessors have been.

Is Governor Romney a human?

Of all the tasks for the Romney campaign at this week’s Republican convention, burnishing the personal image of the candidate should be the easiest. He is a man utterly committed to his family and his faith, whose life is studded with acts of devotion and generosity. …

The Real Romney is filled with stories of Romney’s quiet acts of kindness. When two sons of a Boston-area Mormon family were seriously injured in a car accident, Mitt and Ann personally delivered gifts to them on Christmas Eve, and Mitt offered to pay for their college. When a neighbor’s twelve-year-old son died, Romney organized the effort to build a playground in his name and then led the cleanup crew to maintain it. When a neighbor’s house caught on fire, he organized neighbors to run in and save his belongings.

Morally, many Mormons behave little differently than do many Christians (occasionally a little better than some), believe in the same God, in the same nation and have aspirations similar to those of most other United States citizens.

It’s a beautiful song, well sung by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. I get a bit misty-eyed listening to it.

Do these things mean that I want four years of a President Romney? In view of the alternative, “Yes!” After that? It depends on what happens, including what happens within the Republican Party, during those four years. It has behaved in a disappointing fashion of late and the future does not at the moment appear to be rosy.

Islamism is a dangerously political religion.

“You cannot defeat your enemies unless you understand them, and you cannot even begin to understand them if you are too craven to name them.”

Islamism has religious and political components and both are dangerous to our civilization. The need for intolerance toward others seems to be a major tenet of both components. It also has disturbing views of “sin” and the proper ways to express disapproval of it.

The victims were part of a large group that had gathered late Sunday in Helmand province’s Musa Qala district for a celebration involving music and dancing [in some cases women were dancing with men], said district government chief Neyamatullah Khan. He said the Taliban slaughtered them to show their disapproval of the event.

All of the bodies were decapitated but it was not clear if they had been shot first, said provincial government spokesman Daoud Ahmadi. [Insert added.]

The relative status of men and women in Islamist societies is generally viewed as unacceptable in the West. For example,

July 7, 2012 Afghanistan   (h/t to Jihad Watch)   A member of the Taliban shot dead a woman accused of adultery in front of a cheering crowd of men near Kabul.

July 24, 2012 Sudan  (h/t to Atlas Shrugs)  Earlier this month a Sudanese woman was found guilty of adultery and sentenced to death by stoning by a court in the capital Khartoum, a regional women’s rights group said Monday.

The list goes on and on. Here’s a neat video about “moderate” wife-beating.

Some additional information is presented in The War on Women Update, Women and Islam.

Although most Americans oppose deference to Sharia (Islamic) laws in American courts, a tendency toward the application of Sharia law seems to be accelerating. According to this article, our military is enabling Sharia law and its bases in Islamism in order to win hearts and minds. That won’t work.

Whatever we call such behavior – “politically correct,” “multicultural,” “diversity-minded” or simply “sensitive” – our enemies perceive it through the lens of their culture and, more importantly, the doctrine that governs it, namely shariah.  Specifically, they understand it for what it is: submission.  And, according to that doctrine, the appropriate response to an infidel enemy’s submission is more violence to make him, as the Quran puts it, “feel subdued.”

Accordingly, if we persist in this submissiveness, far from winning Afghan hearts and minds, we are likely to put not just our troops there at ever greater risk.  We will invite our foes to engage in more jihadist violence elsewhere, including here. (Emphasis in original.)

The Obama administration appears to support Islamism. Barry Rubin (a writer whom I admire) uses “Islamism” to mean

“a specific, conscious set of organized political movements. However theology is related to this issue the problem is political, not theological.”

I fail to understand completely the political – religious distinction he tries to draw. He does a workmanlike job here of identifying the (few) moderate Muslims and distinguishing them from Islamists.

The problem today is that we are caught between two lies. The mainstream Western lie is that Islam is a religion of peace full stop. There is nothing at all militant in its texts. A small fringe of extremists have misinterpreted it or are even heretics. So all Muslims are moderates pretty much, either moderate moderates or moderate Islamists. And anyone who says otherwise is an Islamophobic racist.

That is a lie.

But then there are those—far smaller in number and lacking power in the mainstream media or universities but present in other places—who say Islam is the problem full stop. It is inevitably militant, extremist, and violence. There is no such thing as political Islamism because all Muslims want Sharia dictatorships. So the radicals are proper representatives and there are few or no moderates at all. And anyone who says otherwise is a wimpy apologist sell-out.

And that’s a lie.

In any event, the Muslim Brotherhood is now at the forefront.

The Brotherhood wants a Sharia state. It would like a caliphate (run by itself of course). It wants Israel wiped off the map and America kicked out of the Middle East. It wants women put into second-class citizenship and gays put into their graves. It wants Christians subordinated or thrown out. It wants all of these things.

And it will pursue these goals with patience and strategic cleverness. One step forward, one step back; tell the Western reporters and politicians what they want to hear. Pretend to be moderate in English while screaming death curses in Arabic.

These are the people who are coming to power. They hate their Shia counterparts generally and will kill them also at times. They will drag down their countries’ economies. Ironically, they will succeed in making Israel relatively stronger as they beat and burn and tear down; as they set back their countries economic advancement; as they kick half the population (the female) down the stairs. (Emphasis added.)

I very much doubt that Governor Romney holds, or that President Romney’s administration would act upon, views of the Muslim Brotherhood similar to those expressed and acted upon by President Obama’s administration.

This administration favored Islamists over secularists and helped them overthrow Hosni Mubarak, the reliable U.S. ally who had outlawed the terrorist Brotherhood and honored the peace pact with Israel for three decades. The Brotherhood, in contrast, has backed Hamas and called for the destruction of Israel.

Now the administration is dealing with the consequences of its misguided king-making. Officials fear the new regime could invite al-Qaida, now run by an Egyptian exile, back into Egypt and open up a front with Israel along the Sinai. Result: more terrorists and higher gas prices.

In fact, it was Hillary’s own department that helped train Brotherhood leaders for the Egyptian elections. Behind the scenes, she and the White House made a calculated decision, and took step-by-step actions, to effectively sell out Israel and U.S. interests in the Mideast to the Islamists.

Unfortunately, have I not heard enough people speak of the horrid consequences of Islamism or the pernicious cult culture of political correctness which dare not criticize it. The article linked immediately above observes,

Now, you may not be a Christian, and so it might seem that there is nothing here for you.  But in reality we all have pulpits. Are we using the suffering of Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, women, gays, and intellectuals caused by Islam as a topic of conversation with those around us?  Who is comfortable with bringing up anything negative about Islam?  To tell those facts about Islam is a social crime, and you will be accused of being a hater/Islamophobe.  So most of us remain silent about the evils of political Islam, and we are just like the ministers — silent in our own pulpits. Christians and non-Christians share the fear of being insulted as bigots and Islamophobes.

How many Republicans, who should know better, are too intimidated by political correctness or something else to recognize the dangers of Islamism? This National Review article suggests that there are many.

Today’s GOP would rather engage our enemies and call them our friends — not understand them, call them what they are, and defeat them. Today’s Beltway Republicans save their wrath for the occasional conservative — the messengers who embarrass them by illustrating how small the big time has made them.

My notions of tolerance extend neither to Islamist views nor to actions noted in this post, as well as in others at my blog — here, here and here for recent examples. The barbaric Islamist world is in turmoil and there seems to be no likelihood that the United States can insulate herself from the resultant problems by trying to ignore them. We can, however, stop supporting Islamism; rather than try to ignore the problem we can and should oppose its proponents actively.

The Vile (but non-existent) Republican War on Women.

obama_hurricaneNotions of political correctness that make it difficult for some to see an Islamist War on Women do not seem to preclude claims that the Republicans are waging a “war on women.” Some on the left claim that Republicans intend to deprive women of various “rights.” Despite such claims, it now seems that Governor Romney leads President Obama 55%-40% among married women.

I do not think that conservative Christians or other Republicans seriously intended to do impossible things, such as prevent a hurricane from approaching Tampa, Florida during the Republican national convention. Instead, they dealt with it in the most effective and least harmful way then possible, by delaying Monday’s events until Tuesday. Nor can they seriously intend to “overturn” Roe v. Wade.

According to this article, replicated elsewhere,

(TAMPA, Fla.) — Republicans emphatically approved a toughly worded party platform at their national convention Tuesday that would ban all abortions….

Even according to the linked article, that’s not quite what the Republican platform says:

ABORTION:

The party states that “the unborn child has a fundamental individual right to life which cannot be infringed.” It opposes using public revenues to promote or perform abortion or to fund organizations that perform or advocate abortions. It says the party will not fund or subsidize health care that includes abortion coverage.

I see no intention to “ban all abortions” there, only opposition to public funding for them and perhaps the intention to try to have late term abortions prohibited by the States in many cases. Were it seriously intended to “ban all abortions,” there would be no need even to raise the issue of public funding for them. And, as I try to show below, banning of “all” abortions won’t happen.

Roe v. Wade held that during the first trimester, States can regulate abortion only to the extent appropriate to protect women from incompetent abortion providers and procedures, as they do to protect the public from other incompetent medical providers and procedures. To overturn Roe v. Wade, a Constitutional amendment would be needed. Under the Constitution, an amendment would require the concurrence of two thirds of both houses of the Congress to send it to the States for ratification and ratification would then require the concurrence of three fourths of the States. The President has nothing (beyond his power over members of his party) to do with either of those steps. According to a recent CNN poll, “Some 62 percent want abortions illegal in all cases or legal only in certain [unspecified] instances while just 35% want abortions legal for any reason.” (Insert added.) That’s not enough to get a meaningful anti-abortion constitutional amendment through the Congress, much less to get it ratified by the States — even in the unlikely event that an amendment satisfactory even to a majority could be written. Trying to do it might be comforting, but an almost certain failure would probably be less so.

I wrote here about Herman Cain’s positions on abortion and suggested that he should rethink them because they made little sense from a constitutional or legal perspective; as the President he could not implement them. I suggested that rather than try to rack up brownie points he should talk about what he would be able to do instead of what he could not do. Emphasizing and championing things that can’t realistically be accomplished is no less a distraction than the desired Democrat focus on Governor Romney’s wealth, his tax returns or his recent “birther” joke.  Such distractions detract from the necessary substantive focus on what can be done — about our moral dilemmas as well as about our wretched economy and foreign policies. There are useful things that conservatives and others of like mind may be able do about abortion.

The reduction or even elimination of Federal and State funding for abortion is possible. Many people consider abortion to be a good thing and claim a right to have abortions without charge, i.e., paid for by others. Food, clothing, many modern electronic marvels and lots of other things are good; some are even necessary. Under the Second Amendment, “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” Not even that explicit recognition as a right under the Constitution means that I have a right to be given free firearms by the Government or to take them from my neighbors or employer (through taxes or otherwise) so that I can have them at their expense. I do not consider abortion to be a good thing but, like chemotherapy or radiation therapy for cancer, it is sometimes necessary. It can be defunded and otherwise dealt with appropriately within the Constitution and the parameters established by Roe v. Wade and its progeny.

States, the citizens of which desire to do so, can limit and even prohibit late term abortions except when necessary for the life of the pregnant woman or to prevent serious harm to her health, as the Supreme Court suggested in Roe v. Wade and its progeny. I do not think the Federal Government has a legitimate role to play in such matters.

In Roe v. Wade, the Court drew a distinction between the last weeks of the second trimester and the first weeks of the third trimester, when the fetus was said to become viable outside the womb. The States could restrict abortion after the fetus becomes viable, subject only to the life and health constraints noted above. The distinctions between the second and third trimesters drawn by the Court were based on medical technology now four decades old. Surely, there have been substantial advances since 1973 (when Roe v. Wade was decided) in neonatology moving the period at which a fetus becomes viable into, and perhaps well into, the second trimester. Quite probably, prohibitions on late term abortions can properly be extended now at least into the last few weeks of the second trimester.

Arizona has attempted to do that, shifting the stage of pregnancy at which abortions are prohibited (again, subject to the life and health of the woman) to the beginning of the twentieth week following conception — based not on fetal viability but on the capacity of a fetus to feel pain as established by substantial studies. By Order released on July 30th, Federal District Court Judge Judge Teilborg observed that based on those studies,

the capacity to feel pain during an abortion [arises] by at least twenty weeks gestational age. Defendants presented uncontradicted and credible evidence to the Court that supports this determination. Namely, the Court finds that, by 7 weeks gestational age, pain sensors develop in the face of the unborn child and, by 20 weeks, sensory receptors develop all over the child’s body and the children have a full complement of pain receptors.

This post provides a more lengthy discussion of the trial judge’s decision as well as a graphic description of the procedures commonly used to perform late term abortions.  They are quite unpleasant, particularly for the fetus.

Here is a video of testimony by an obstetrician on late term abortions. ["Parental discretion advised."]

On August 2nd, the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit granted an emergency appeal and prohibited enforcement of the principal provisions of the statute pending resolution of the appeal. The court ordered all briefs to be filed by October 17th; oral argument is to be scheduled promptly thereafter.  The matter seems likely to remain in litigation for a long time, eventually reaching the Supreme Court. It would be good to have a more conservative balance there, more likely with a President Romney than a President Obama.

How about same-sex marriage?

The Log Cabin Republicans, a conservative group that supports gay rights offered language that included the words “respect and dignity” that were adopted by the subcommittee [for the Republican platform].

“We embrace the principle that all Americans have the right to be treated with dignity and respect,” the head of the Log Cabin Republicans, R. Clarke Cooper told a reporter. (Emphasis added.)

That statement seems overly broad. Americans who commit heinous crimes, such as murder, incest, rape and the like are not generally pleasant, decent and otherwise “normal” people; they are entitled to their rights but to little respect beyond that. Those involved in same-sex relations, of whom my wife and I have known more than a few over the years, have been generally pleasant, decent and otherwise “normal” people.

gays_christiansUnlike obnoxious “in your face” homosexuals who taunt Christians and many others with their homosexuality, they deserve no less respect on account of their sexual orientations. If you don’t like them, don’t socialize with them.

obama_gaysThere seems to be less opposition to civil unions than to same sex marriage. I do not object to them and would prefer that marriage ceremonies remain principally religious celebrations. I would also prefer that preachers who want to officiate at celebrations between people of the same sex resembling in some respects traditional marriage ceremonies not be prohibited by law — as distinguished from by the doctrines of their churches — from doing so; they are not now. Those who feel restrained by their religious or other convictions should not be required by law to do so; that could happen. Federal and State tax and other legal benefits and detriments incident to marriage and civil unions are intimately related and complex topics as to which I lack the qualifications to write usefully.

Racism? That’s baaaad!

thats_racistLots of things are labeled “racist” even when the “racism” is in the eye of the beholder. For Team Obama, racism appears to be a specialty.

[T]hose that complain so loudly about “racism” see everything in life as connected to race—exactly what they accuse others of doing. If you fly a Confederate flag you are a racist; if you want to preserve a statue or other piece of Confederate history you are a racist; if you won’t vote for Obama you are a racist and on and on their tired litany continues. What it all amounts to is that if you won’t do what they want you to do you are a racist. This is a favorite tactic of Marxists and other assorted leftists and unfortunately it seems to work on many people who end up doing all manner of mental gyrations so they won’t appear to be “offending” anyone. It’s time we all quit playing the guilt game for the satisfaction of those racists who accuse us of what they are guilty of. (Emphasis added.)

Similarly, if you oppose expansive Librul abortion policies you are conducting a war on women; if you oppose any “gay rights” you are homophobic; if you oppose Islamists for any reason you are Islamophobic; if you think our welfare state has gone too far and harms even the poor you hate poor people and if you are not a Librul you are stupid, racist and lots of other bad things.

Unfortunately, many “stupid” people are running America. There is lots of ignorance in our nation and Libruls have at least their “fair” share. [Disclosure: I like Herman Cain and earlier favored him for the Republican nomination.]

“You’ve got to stay informed and stay involved because stupid people are running America,” Cain said. “Here’s the good news: There are more informed people than there are stupid people; we just have to out-vote them.”

Let’s focus on the possible.

The United States has changed dramatically in recent years and much of that change has been for the worse. To the extent that we can reverse the downward trend before it becomes too late, we had better do so soon.

If, as some claim, the Republican party is not interested in doing that, there may be viable alternatives. Not voting, or voting for a third party candidate, won’t help this year and could make the future situation much worse.

No matter how much some may wish it were otherwise, it seems highly unlikely that all abortions and all homosexual relationships will become unlawful in the United States. In a nation where personal freedom is prized, I don’t think they should. However, abortions can be restricted legally and excessive demands of everyone, including but not by way of limitation homosexuals, “feminists” and race-baiters, can and must be rejected.

There are flaws in the notion that morality can’t be legislated, but there is also substantial merit; moral persuasion may work even more effectively than laws. While religion is an important factor in moral persuasion, there are others. Our educational systems leave much to be desired and tend to promote Librul objectives — even though (as of 2010) self-identified “conservatives” (42%) outnumbered “liberals” (20%) and even “moderates” (35%).  Much can be done to improve our educational systems and doing so seems likely to be a crucial key to removing the chains on our nation and therefore on her moral values. There is no quick fix, but over time it should be possible. It’s worth trying.

Conclusion

There are areas of substantial agreement on the path the United States must take if she is to recover from the egregious mistakes of the recent past and not only survive but “move forward” to a better future. It will happen slowly but can and should happen.  Should focusing on our differences or on striving for what we cannot accomplish divide us we have little chance of success.

(This article was also posted at Dan Miller’s Blog.)


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3 Responses to “Agnosticism, Tolerance and Perceptions of Reality”



  1. larry |

    Good article.
    I had some trouble following and understanding but the message was there.
    I was brought up to believe and trust in God. Today’s Christians are a far cry from my childhood mentors. Fear of ridicule has created an age of underground believers. Bad news is that open worship of God and his son has been sharply curtailed. Good news is that it hasn’t been stopped completely. If anything the adversity has made the believers more resolute.


  2. Tom Carter |

    Interesting article, Dan. I generally agree with you, with differences in terms of degree.

    I’m pro-choice on abortion, within what I think are reasonable limits. However, I’m very much against late-term abortions except under the most serious threats against the mother’s health, when a very hard choice has to be made. I don’t pretend to know when human life begins, but I’m pretty sure that a late-term baby is a living human being.

    I’m not sure I follow you on a constitutional amendment being necessary to overturn Roe v. Wade. It’s simply a Supreme Court case where the majority “discovered” a right to privacy fairly narrowly applied to abortion. Why couldn’t another Supreme Court decision simply overturn it? Both liberal and conservative legal scholars have agreed that Roe v. Wade is bad law, so that doesn’t seem like it would be hard to do.

    In any event, I think Roe v. Wade should be left alone. As shaky as it may be in constitutional terms, at least it sets some standards that we’ve generally been able to live with. What would be left if it were overturned … fifty-plus (the states, plus D.C., Native American tribes, and some territories) wildly different and confusing abortion laws? The Roe v. Wade regime is a lot better.

    As for the way charges of “racism” are thrown around and the nature of Islam and a very large number of Muslims, I’m with you.


  3. Dan Miller |

    Tom,

    You say, I’m not sure I follow you on a constitutional amendment being necessary to overturn Roe v. Wade.

    Clearly, the Supreme Court could do it instead. It has reconsidered prior decisions and overturned them; rarely. However, that seems quite unlikely as to Roe v. Wade, even were a new President to pick some new Justices and assuming that they were confirmed by the Senate. I consider it improper to ask a prospective Justice whether he would affirm or overturn Roe v. Wade or any other decision. I would consider any prospective Justice who honored such a question with either an affirmative or negative response unfit for the job.

    I would also be displeased were that decision, along with its progeny, overturned. I think they strike generally appropriate balances. I am hopeful that Arizona’s late term abortion statute will be upheld — as consistent with Roe v. Wade and its progeny — when the case gets to the Supreme Court.

    I was writing of political solutions and I do not consider the Supreme Court to be a political, ideological or religious entity or one to be looked to for political, ideological or religious solutions. Rather, I consider its function to be the interpretation of laws and the making of decisions whether, as written and interpreted consistently with legislative intent as the Court majority interpret it, they are compliant with the Constitution as it exists; judicial precedent plays a major and proper role in their interpretations. It is not the Court’s function to deal with the wisdom of our laws; that is a function of the Legislative and Executive Branches. Mr. Chief Justice Roberts correctly reiterated that precept in the recent ObamaCare decision, with which I disagree substantively because he went too far in disregarding clearly expressed legislative intent on the tax – Commerce Clause questions.

    For Governor Romney or other candidates to campaign on promises that enough “conservative” Justices will be appointed to the Supreme Court to ensure the overturning of Roe v. Wade would, to me, be a travesty. President Roosevelt, when some of his New Deal legislation was in peril, threatened to “pack” the Court. That was a perverse threat, it went well beyond the pale and it went over well with neither the Congress nor the public. Despite FDR’s threats, it did not happen.

    Turning the Supreme Court into a political, ideological or religions authority would be one of the most damaging things that could be done to our form of government. That may well be among the reasons the Constitution explicitly provides for amendments.


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