Digital Dharma

The Middle Path, One Day At A Time


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The Value and Harm of Religion

People who believe that I am an Atheist sometimes seem nonplussed that I’m tolerant of religion in general.  There appears to be an idea amongst some non-believers that they must either be completely disinterested in religious ideas, or vehemently opposed and outspoken about it.  In either case, it seems, they must be prepared to pooh-pooh “superstition” and point out at the drop of a hat all the evils perpetrated in the names of various gods throughout history, and all of the ways that the shamans take advantage of the folks they’ve hoodwinked.  While I find the former positions distastefully closed-minded, I am indeed inclined to agree with the latter — at least when it involves the religious hierarchy.

My feeling is that those who are obtrusively dogmatic, pro or con, are just as bound up by the chains of their beliefs as any fanatic building bombs in the mountains of Pakistan.  To paraphrase John Bradshaw, a 180 degree turn leaves us in the same rut, only now we’re moving against the flow and annoying the other travelers.  If we want to change things, we need to get off the treadmill for a different perspective.

For the record, I am neither an Atheist nor an Agnostic. The latter claim that they are not convinced of the existence of a god or gods, the former that they are convinced that there are no such entities.  I am Ignostic, one who believes that no discussion about the question of gods’ existence can even be held, because it is not possible to come up with a coherent definition of a god.  To put it another way, I believe that when it comes to gods, no one really knows what they’re talking about, and no one ever will.

But I am not anti-religious.  I try to practice Buddhism which is, by most definitions, a religion.  While I accept that definition, I do not practice for religious reasons, but because Buddhist teachings give me a structure, based on pure logic, around which I can try to live my life and discipline my thinking.

That gets around to my position on religion in general.  I believe it is inevitable, for most people in most circumstances, and that generally-speaking it does far more good than harm.  It provides structure, guidance, community, hope — in short, a framework for living.  It matters not a whit to me whether the underlying beliefs are pure superstition or divine revelation, except when religious teachings are used for ill rather than good; to separate, rather than to draw people together.

The folks who administer religion are usually the problem in that regard.  They are the ones who teach, by their example, inflexibility, lack of compassion (although many of them give great lip service), and who perpetuate the tribal concepts of “us” and “other,” with their implied conclusions that “we are right” and “they are wrong.”  They are the ones who foster self-serving and self-congratulatory, complacent followers who seem unwilling or unable to think for themselves.

This tribal thinking is, perhaps, hard-wired into some people’s brains.  We are beginning to learn that the brains of liberals literally function  somewhat differently than those of conservatives.  There is every reason to believe that such dichotomies are necessary in primitive societies.  They are not, however, appropriate to situations such as those that exist on the Earth at present, with many people in need, and many who are unwilling to share.  This seems often to involve use of force on both sides, and in many circles it seems that two wrongs are presumed to make a right…or, at least, a lot of money for the people who profit from wars and strife in general.

Those are character defects that are engendered and supported by some shamans in the guise of the “will of God/Allah,” and in that respect religion is not a good thing at all.

The troubles in the world today cannot, it seems to me, be resolved by black and white thinking.  The True Believer in the hut is evidence of that, and those who attempt to hunt him down, without regard to the number of innocents killed in the process, are yet another.  People who seem to feel that they must contradict the beliefs of others, and put down the intelligence of those who believe other than they, are a third.  That ain’t how you build togetherness, folks.

Ben Franklin wrote at another critical point in history, “If we do not hang together, we shall certainly hang separately.”  As long as we continue to blame our problems on the other guy, we continue our trek to the gallows. To the extent that religion (or non-religion) supports that journey, it is most certainly at fault.


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Israeli document: Gaza blockade isn’t about security

McClatchey, via Al-Jazeera English, reports that documents obtained as the result of a lawsuit on behalf of the people living in Gaza contain an Isreali admission that the embargo is about economics, not weapons smuggling.

“A country has the right to decide that it chooses not to engage in economic relations or to give economic assistance to the other party to the conflict, or that it wishes to operate using ‘economic warfare,'” the government said.

McClatchy obtained the government’s written statement from Gisha, the Legal Center for Freedom of Movement, which sued the government for information about the blockade. The Israeli high court upheld the suit, and the government delivered its statement earlier this year

Al-Jaz also makes an excellent argument for Israel being in violation of the Geneva Convention (not that anyone pays much attention to them any more, including US).

Israeli document: Gaza blockade isn’t about security | McClatchy


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Southern Baptist leader Richard Land backs citizenship for illegal immigrants

Baptist leader Richard Land backs citizenship for illegal immigrants | tennessean.com | The Tennessean

Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, admits it’s a message that will test some of the church’s mainstream membership, but it’s one that needs to be said.


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Chipotle: time to back up ‘food with integrity’

Chipotle Challenge: time to back up ‘food with integrity’ | Grist

In Florida, the human rights crisis engulfing farm labor is perhaps most starkly visible. Tomato pickers have received virtually the same harvesting piece rate since 1980: 40-50 cents for every 32-pound bucket they fill. At this rate, workers must pick and haul a staggering 2.5 tons of tomatoes in order to earn minimum wage for a typical 10-hour day. Decades of class-action lawsuits have exposed a pattern of systematic minimum wage violations, and supervisor violence in the fields is not unheard of.

In November 2007, three farmworkers in Immokalee – the heart of Florida’s winter tomato production – escaped from more than a year of bondage after punching through the ventilation hatch in a box truck where they were held captive by their employers. In total, a dozen workers were forced to pick tomatoes by day and then chained, beaten, and robbed of their pay at night in one of southwest Florida’s “biggest, ugliest slavery cases ever,” according to U.S. Attorney Doug Molloy.

The enslaved crew harvested for farms owned by two of Florida’s largest tomato growers. It was the seventh farm labor slavery case prosecuted by federal civil rights officials since 1997, now involving well over 1,000 workers. All of which brings us to a question posed by Eric Schlosser at last year’s Slow Food Nation conference: “Does it matter whether an heirloom tomato is local and organic if it was harvested with slave labor?” 
‘food
with integrity


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Wonking Class Hero — The Exonerator

Advocates for innocent people in prison are few, partly because lawyers are trained to honor the sanctity of the finality of court decisions. Advocates courageous and idealistic enough to proceed on behalf of an imprisoned innocent count themselves successful if they help achieve one exoneration during a lifetime of trying.

That McCloskey — who is not a lawyer — has directed investigations resulting in dozens of exonerations is, by any measure, astounding. Those prone to biblical language use a stronger word: miraculous.  Wonking Class Hero — The Exonerator


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Help Stop Glenn Beck’s Unskillful and Divisive Remarks

Namasté,

As you may know, right-wing talk show hosts have been bringing race-based fear mongering into the mainstream, but FOX’s Glenn Beck just took it to another level. On Tuesday, Beck said:

This president has exposed himself as a guy over and over and over again who has a deep-seated hatred for white people… this guy is, I believe, a racist.

It’s part of a larger argument Beck has been making: that President Obama wants to serve the needs of Black communities at White people’s expense. This kind of talk stirs up fear, hate, and it can lead to violence.

I’ve joined ColorOfChange.org’s effort to stop Glenn Beck. ColorOfChange is already putting calls into Beck’s advertisers, asking them if they want to be associated with this kind of racist hate and fear-mongering. When the advertisers see that tens of thousands of us are behind that question, I believe they’ll move their advertising dollars elsewhere, and his show and platform will be history.

Will you take a stand and be counted, and invite your friends and family to do the same? It takes just a moment:

http://www.colorofchange.org/beck/?id=2008-1033479

Glenn Beck is appealing to the worst in America. Of course, some Americans refuse to accept the fact that our president is Black or the idea that he could truly serve all Americans. But the only way these views fade away is if they’re not reinforced by mainstream society. Instead, folks like Glenn Beck, Lou Dobbs, and Rush Limbaugh are exploiting racism and race-based fear to bump their ratings, stirring up racial discord in the process.

The dangers of these tactics are real. We saw the same dynamic during the presidential race: By the end, the McCain/Palin campaign was unable to control the violent energy whipped up by their race-baiting. It resulted in an unprecedented number of threats on Obama’s life, a rise in the number of hate groups, and an increase in the number of threats and crimes against immigrants and Black people.

FOX has a horrible track record on pushing racist propaganda, but Glenn Beck appears to be taking the network to an even lower standard. He’s trying to divide and distract America when we should be coming together and talking about issues that really matter–like health care and the economy.

The good news is that we have the power to stop this. All major media is funded by advertising. And advertisers care more than anything what consumers think. If we want to change what’s happening and put an end to folks like Glenn Beck having a platform, we can do it.

It’s up to us, and it can start now. Please join me:

http://www.colorofchange.org/beck/?id=2008-1033479

Thanks.

Here are some links to more info:

“Beck: Obama has ‘exposed himself as a guy’ with ‘a deep seated hatred for white people'”
http://mediamatters.org/mmtv/200907280008

“Glenn Beck: Obama agenda driven by ‘reparations’ and desire to ‘settle old racial scores'”
http://mediamatters.org/mmtv/200907230040

“MSNBC’s Deutsch encourages viewers to demand advertisers on Beck’s show spend money elsewhere”
http://mediamatters.org/mmtv/200907290037

“On Television and Radio, Talk of Obama’s Citizenship”
mediadecoder.blogs.nyt…


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Nepal’s ex-Gurkhas cheer British settlement rights

AFP: Nepal’s ex-Gurkhas cheer British settlement rights

KATHMANDU (AFP) — Retired British Gurkha soldiers in Nepal on Friday hailed as “historic” a British announcement that the veterans can settle in Britain.

The British government said on Thursday all of the Nepalese fighters who retired before 1997 and had served at least four years with the British army could now apply for residency.

“This is a historic achievement for all Gurkhas,” Jit Bahadur Rai, treasurer of the Gurkha Army Ex-Servicemen?s Organisation, told AFP.

Gurkhas who retired after 1997 — when their base was moved from Hong Kong following the territory’s return to China — already had the right to settle in Britain and more than 6,000 have done so….


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Black immigrants see personal triumphs in Obama — And More

Black immigrants see personal triumphs in Obama | Gainesville.com | The Gainesville Sun | Gainesville, FL

“He is in a better position than anybody else to speak with the leadership on the African continent, eyeball to eyeball, that it is time for change,” said Ezekwenna, chief executive of Africans in America, which focuses on human trafficking issues. “As leader of the free world, if he tells them the game is up in his motherland, his ancestral home, they will get a clue that the game is up.”


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Helen Suzman, Anti-Apartheid Leader, Dies at 91

Helen Suzman, the internationally known anti-apartheid campaigner who befriended the imprisoned Nelson Mandela and offered an often lonely voice for change among South Africa’s white minority, died on Thursday, a family member said.. She was 91.

Helen Suzman, Anti-Apartheid Leader, Dies at 91 – Obituary (Obit) – NYTimes.com


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Interracial Churches | Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly

LUCKY SEVERSON: If something seems odd or unusual about these worshippers, maybe it’s the diversity, all the different colors and nationalities of their faces. This is the Wilcrest Baptist Church in Houston, and Pastor Rodney Woo couldn’t be more proud of the cultural and racial mix of his congregation.

Pastor RODNEY WOO (Wilcrest Baptist Church, Houston, TX): I think my main passion is to get people ready for heaven. I think a lot of our people are going to go into culture shock when they get to heaven, and they get to sit next to somebody that they didn’t maybe sit with while they were here on earth. So we’re trying to get them acclimated a little bit.

via December 19, 2008 ~ Interracial Churches | Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly.


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Dogma and Doubt — NPR Interview

NPR’s Renee Montagne interviews the author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning play Doubt, A Parable, now adapted for film.  The film follows the story of Sister Aloysius (Meryl Streep) — an old-school, hard-as-nails, no-nonsense nun — who suspects Father Flynn (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) is sexually abusing the school’s first and only black student.

John Patrick Shanley On Dogma And ‘Doubt’ : NPR

Ella Taylor, on the other hand, is unimpressed, and has some excellent points.

Doubt Wags the Finger of Moral Relativism – Village Voice


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5:07 On Line, And I’d Do It Again In A Minute

This morning Michele and I hied it down to the local library for the last day of early voting.  We arrived at precisely 10:00 AM (the moment voting started) to find a line about 100 yards long.  Someone told us that the guy at the front got there at 4:30.  They’re taking this election seriously in our neighborhood.

It rapidly became clear that this was a Barackin’ Love-In.  If there were any Republicans in the crowd, they were either lying about it or laying low.  Shel said the whole thing reminded her of one of the gatherings back in the ’60’s.  Everyone was in a great mood.  Younger folks were loaning older ones folding chairs.  Although it was a lovely, breezy day in the high 70’s it was warm in the sun, so folks with umbrellas were gathering those around them into their portable shade. 

By the time we’d been there for a couple of hours, everyone knew their neighbors.  Obama volunteers were delivering water, candy bars and pretzels up and down the line, and about an hour before we got inside a young guy left the line, went to KFC and brought back several buckets of chicken, distributing legs and thighs to all comers until they ran out.

When we finally got inside, it was almost anticlimactic.  The workers were so organized, after doing this for a couple of weeks, that you almost felt as though there ought to be more to it.  There seemed to be a feeling of regret amongst those of us who became acquainted on line — a feeling that we were tired, dehydrated, hungry, but didn’t want it to be over.

I’m sure the lines at our regular precinct, made up mostly of old people who have all day to vote, will be short on Tuesday evening when we get out of work.  I’d be surprised if there is a wait at all — certainly no more than ten minutes or so.  It will be so convenient for those who waited.  But I wouldn’t have wanted to miss today’s experience for anything.  For five hours we were one people — black, white, beige or whatever — one heart, one mind and one purpose: to be part of a bit of history that is far too many years overdue.

It was glorious!


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How We Fuelled the Deadliest War in the World — and It’s Starting Again

There are two stories about how this war began — the official story, and the true story. The official story is that after the Rwandan genocide, the Hutu mass murderers fled across the border into Congo. The Rwandan government chased after them. But it’s a lie. How do we know? The Rwandan government didn’t go to where the Hutu genocidaires were; not at first. They went to where Congo’s natural resources were — and began to pillage them. They even told their troops to work with any Hutus they came across. Congo is the richest country in the world for gold, diamonds, coltan, cassiterite, and more. Everybody wanted a slice – so six other countries invaded.

These resources were not being stolen to be used in Africa. They were being seized so they could be sold on to us. The more we bought, the more the invaders stole — and slaughtered. The rise of mobile phones caused a surge in deaths, because the coltan they contain is found primarily in Congo. The UN named the international corporations it believed were involved: Anglo-America, Standard Chartered Bank, De Beers and more than 100 others (they all deny the charges). But instead of stopping these corporations, our governments demanded the UN stop criticising them. …

How We Fuelled the Deadliest War in the World — and It’s Starting Again – Yahoo! News