The Courage and Honesty to Change Your Mind

The Big World of Free Choices
The Big World of Free Choices

This extraordinary statement by Representative Tim Ryan (D-Ohio), could be a great model and lesson for others to take the same steps toward experience and education that he did.  And his personal process of evolving on this one issue is helpful in Faith Issues as well.

Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio), a longtime opponent of abortion, announced in an op-ed on Tuesday that he now supports abortion rights after having talked to women in difficult circumstances throughout his home state.

“I have sat with women from Ohio and across the nation and heard them talk about their varying experiences: abusive relationships, financial hardship, health scares, rape and incest,” wrote Ryan. “These women gave me a better understanding of how complex and difficult certain situations can become. And while there are people of good conscience on both sides of this argument, one thing has become abundantly clear to me: the heavy hand of government must not make this decision for women and families.”

“Today, I am a 41-year-old father and husband whose feelings on this issue have changed,” he wrote. “I have come a long way since being a single, 26-year-old state senator, and I am not afraid to say that my position has evolved as my experiences have broadened, deepened and become more personal. And while I have deep respect for people on both sides of this conversation, I would be abandoning my own conscience and judgment if I held a position that I no longer believed appropriate. I have come to believe that we must trust women and families—not politicians—to make the best decision for their lives.”

There is power in really listening, finding out what real people go through, and to Make a Choice to be a freethinking human being, even though you may suffer for it.

{and, yes, he’s a politician, so I take it all with a chunk of salt. . .yet, it’s still admirable}


Answering a Child’s Question

In Manila
In Manila

Former Street Child Asks the Pope Why God Lets Children Suffer

I admire much of what the Catholic Papa tells his faithful.  I think his best response to this girl’s question was to hug her.  A very pastoral (and basically human) thing to do.  He also  responded, quite honestly I think, :

“She is the only one who has put a question for which there is no answer and she wasn’t even able to express it in words but in tears,”

Respectfully, I would offer another response to this girl’s honest and heartfelt question:

After a hug, of course. . .

1)  Children suffer because communities do not work together with commitment to end the suffering

2)  Children suffer because governments expend so much more money on power, wealth and the military that there is little left for helping poorer citizens

3)  Children suffer because religious institutions (especially the Pope’s Church in your country) spend most of their time praying, reading the bible, building churches and debating theology rather than putting resources and energy into ending the suffering

4)  Children suffer because there are, unfortunately, many parents who don’t know how to parent and, sad to say, there are too many children being born in places where they cannot be cared for properly

5)  Finally. . .and gently. . . there is no Parent in the Sky, no God to “allow” or not allow the suffering.  It is up to your community, your country, and the rest of us to work together to build homes and schools and healthy environments for children and adults..  Please keep asking questions, and lead the way forward for a world with less suffering.

Little girl, we need you!

The Sharp Edges of Secularism


I find this a powerful statement on what it really means to live in a Secular society.  Thank GOOD for free countries with free expression.

Charlie Hebdo Editorial (warning:  something in this may offend you!)

And Happy Religious Freedom Day!  Yes, Seculars celebrate that.

From the Secular Coalition for America:

Today we celebrate Religious Freedom Day, which commemorates the adoption of Thomas Jefferson’s Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, passed on January 16, 1786.

The statute led to the formation of the establishment clause of the First Amendment to the Constitution, which guarantees freedom of religion to all Americans.

Welcome to the Chaplain’s Office

Last Year's Climb
Last Year’s Lower Climb (oak)
This Year's Climber
This Year’s Higher Climb (Fir)
Welcome to the Chaplain's Office. . .Come on Up!
Welcome to the Chaplain’s Office. . .Come on Up!

As you can read on Christmas Baby, I was born on December 25th and have a long standing (long climbing) tradition of climbing a tree on or near my Solstice-time birthday.

It’s good for the body and mind, risky and exhilarating, enlivening.

And it simply feels great to begin each year with a “higher perspective,” another viewpoint, and a sense of being at Home–a participant in the Green Season, and a part of the Great Teacher, Nature.

Le Blaspheme

Charlie Hebdo new cover

“Blasphemy”: the act or offense of speaking sacrilegiously about God or sacred things; profane talk

“Sacrilege”:  from a “stealer of sacred things.”

I’ve worked for interfaith understanding for many years.  I respect people of various faiths and can work beside them usually without any problem.  If someone said to me, “It hurts me when you show a picture like that,” or “It really bothers me when you say that about my holy scriptures,” or “You need to cover your head and take off your shoes in our holy place,” I would hear that, respect that, and make my decision based on a relationship as well as how much I was being respected by the other person.

Respect for Religion is no greater than Respect for Human Freedom.

Faith Speech is no more protected than Free Speech.

If the Charlie cartoon really bothers you, I’d like to know why.

IS that Muhammad?  Just because someone says it’s Muhammad, that doesn’t mean it’s your prophet.  Who knows what he looked like?

I could draw an elephant or a camel and say:  “Look, the prophet Muhammad!”

People draw cartoons of many gods, including Jesus, all the time.

Bothers some people.  They may feel disrespected.  But why?

Do you truly believe your god or prophet feels dishonored or angry or offended by someone’s drawing (or words or headcovering, etc)?  Do you need to defend your god or prophet?  They can’t defend themselves?  Their Great Ego is offended?  Seems a small god to me.

My feeling is that we cannot live in a secular free society and make all decisions based on Who will be Offended.

It’s good to be sensitive to the feelings of others.  I’ll do that as much as I personally can.  But when it comes to changing what I think, say or do because someone else doesn’t like that. . .it is my choice. . .I need to stand by my own principles of free conscience and free expression.

What offends me most sometimes is when religious people want all the rest of us to conform to their feelings, beliefs and wishes.

I don’t want to “steal your sacred things” (sacrilege).  CAN they be stolen?  Really?  But I sure don’t have to believe they ARE sacred or treat them with the same respect, honor or reverence that you do.


Secular Support for Muslims

Matt, Telegraph
Matt, Telegraph

With the brutal murders (why call it “terrorism”?) of the cartoonists in Paris, there is the expected backlash against the whole Muslim community (beginning with attacks on mosques).  As a secular person, I denounce this and stand with the interfaith community in support of freedom of religion, right alongside freedom of speech and thought.

I have referred to the Cartoon of Faith, but this is no laughing matter.

I have strong criticism of Islam (and all supernatural faith), but violence against any group of people cannot be allowed.  It is ignorant, foolish and accomplishes nothing but further division.

My sense is that we need to listen to these statements and respect this response (NYT):

In a statement, the Muslim Council of Britain reiterated its condemnation of the killing of journalists at the French newspaper Charlie Hebdo.

“Nothing justifies the taking of life,” Shuja Shafi, the secretary general of the council, the most prominent representative body for Britain’s Muslims, said in the statement. “Those who have killed in the name of our religion claim to be avenging the insults made against” the Prophet Muhammad, he said, “but nothing is more immoral, offensive and insulting against our beloved prophet than such a callous act of murder.”

“In the coming weeks, Muslims will face the test of having to justify themselves and their place in Western society,” Mr. Shafi continued. “While Muslims must engage with fellow citizens in a spirit of dialogue and friendship, we must all come together to seek unity and defy the terrorists whose only aim is to divide us. The best defense against closed minds is for a truly open society, welcoming of all.”

Even a non-theist freethinker. . .and maybe especially a freethinker. . .can say AMEN to that.

Murdering Free Speech

"I Am Charlie"
“I Am Charlie”

The killings today at the Charlie Hebdo office in Paris are one more reason to keep the Internet, the Press, Blogging, Democracy and the MIND itself Free.

Another murder for God.  Cartoons (Free Speech and Free Minds) are a great threat to the Fearfully Faithful.

Their most “shocking” cartoons can be (freely) seen here.

Were some of their images Offensive?  Of course.

And we should defend their right to offend.

“He who dares not offend cannot be honest.”

~Thomas Paine, Forester Letters, 1776

Interfaith, Innerfaith and Outafaith Questions. . .

education and faith

After devoting most of my life to Interfaith work, I’m usually pleased to see more people of faith working together or at least doing something without fighting.  I’m even more pleased to see an intentional inclusion of seculars.

That said, it looks like the University of Nevada-Reno is trying some interesting things.

Hindu Baccalaureate Services

The seventh annual ceremony, known as Dikshant Utsav, was held at the University Sunday, April 27, and included a keynote address by a distinguished Hindu monk from California and blessing prayers by various denominations of Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Jewish, Baha’i and Native American religious leaders.

Each graduate received a traditional mark on the forehead.  My feeling is that if someone knows what they’re doing this isn’t so bad (but what if it was a cross in ashes during Lent?).

Well, then U of N is building a new center where an “Interfaith Space” will open to students.

[Officials say the center] would be open to all campus student groups belonging to various religions/denominations and non-believers for reflection and meditation.

That seems reasonable and welcome.

What I find questionable is how will this center, and the “spiritual” dimension at a public university, really be handled?  Serious questions should be raised when Rajan Zed, President of the Universal Society of Hinduism, commends the University for accepting :

the longstanding need of students of interfaith space for reflection, meditation, etc., and thus recognizing the intersection of spirituality and education. It is a step in the right direction, Zed adds.

The Hindu leader believes that,

with the presence of Interfaith Space, UNR students will have a spiritually meaningful life in addition to material success after they graduate from here. Interfaith Space will be another feather in UNR’s cap in making it a world class educational institution, Zed points out.

I would be raising a huge objection if this was a Christian leader advocating more spirituality in public education, but it is at least refreshing to hear this from a non-Christian.  Yet, I still think the university should proceed with caution and with some strong academic voices watching this closely.

And maybe it’s best for these “spaces” to be OFF campus?

The very first thing I always do, and did in this case, is check the background of these organizations, what their mission, their true intent is.  On their facebook page the Universal Society of Hinduism says,

Universal Society of Hinduism seeks to Motivate, educate and empower people through Hinduism to make positive social, personal and environmental changes.

It’s not a good sign that their main Hindu org link is broken. . .

I would want to know, especially before allowing them all over the campus of a public university, who is behind this and what is their goal.  I’m guessing, with a little searching, these people are doing a good thing, while aiming at exposing more students to Hindu beliefs and philosophy.  I don’t have a big problem with this, IF. . . IF, this is explicit and out in the open.

I would be surprised if some conservative Christians are not a little uncomfortable with this because it’s exactly what THEY do in their incessant attempts to get their “message” (exclusive gospel) into public schools.

Overall, from what I can see right now, I think this innovative program at U of N is commendable and a very interesting experiment in inclusive diversity.  We’ll wait to see how the Wall of Separation between Religion and State is honored in this university.