Tuesday, September 19, 2006

ON GOD, RELIGION, AND THE LAW

No matter how much things have changed through the ages, much remains quite the same. We still live in a time when Christian conservatives would like to legislate their religious beliefs on the rest of us, though we might not necessarily share their views. These people claim to know God's will -- it's in the Bible, they say. Of course, Muslims think that God's will is found in their holy Koran. And yet, Buddhists and Hindus have their own texts and views.

But some of us believe that God is infinitely unknowable to our limited, and comparatively meager, human minds. God is vast; we are small and meek. Who are we to speak for God, and determine His or Her divine will?

None of this deters those who claim to have divine wisdom, or a window into God's heart and mind. They seem to know God's position on matters such as Terri Shiavo, and other unfortunate souls like her. They also know what God thinks about contraception and gay marriage. But to claim knowledge of God's will certainly isn't a humble position. It is bold and brash, perhaps even insolent.

In fact, some Christian conservatives are so assertive in their views, and so convinced of their own righteousness, that they'd like to force the rest of us to adopt their views -- to think like they do. And if we can't -- or won't -- they'd still like to impose their will, in the form of laws, on all of us. After all, in their view, those are God's laws. So their religion, by this logic, should dictate the laws for everyone.

Well, not in my view. I prefer a more Libertarian perspective. You live your life, and I'll live mine -- as long as we don't hurt each other.

Here's a fine definition of Libertarianism:

"Libertarianism is a political philosophy advocating that individuals should be free to do whatever they wish with their person or property, as long as they do not infringe on the same liberty of others. Libertarians hold as a fundamental maxim that all human interaction should be voluntary and consensual. They maintain that the initiation (or threat) of physical force against another person or his property, or the commission of fraud, is a violation of that principle."

Laws don't exist naturally. They have to be written and enacted by people. They are not written to allow things, but to disallow them. In the natural state, all things are allowed. But then people agree on a consensus of what is not allowed and subsequently make laws proclaiming certain behaviors illegal.

For example, people of the same sex marrying wasn't illegal until people decided to make it illegal. That required action.

Those who oppose gay marriage, for instance, might say that its legalization would force them to accept it. But allowing people to exercise their free will is not the same as imposing your will upon them. That's the difference between a Libertarian view, and the views of others who are comfortable telling the rest of us what to do. Now I'm not gay, or even a strong supporter of gay marriage, but Libertarians oppose any laws restricting personal or consensual behavior.

I wouldn't force two people, of any persuasion, to get married. And I wouldn't keep two people, of any persuasion, from getting married -- assuming they're both legal adults (it's worth noting that age of consent laws are set by each state and vary from 14-18 years). But there are people who want to prevent others from getting married. There is a huge difference between those two positions.

Freedom shouldn't be measured in how little we're constrained by authority, or how much we're allowed to do, but rather by how much we're able to do.

Throughout the ages, philosophers and have contended that the paramount natural rights are the rights to life and liberty, which have long been considered the two highest priorities.

The following definition of Natural Law is useful:

"Natural rights are universal rights that are seen as inherent in the nature of the world, and not contingent on human actions or beliefs. The theory of natural rights was developed from the theory of natural law during the Enlightenment in opposition to the divine right of kings, and provided a moral justification for liberalism.

The concept of a natural right can be contrasted with the concept of a legal right : A natural right is one that is claimed to exist even when it is not enforced by the government or society as a whole, while a legal right is a right specifically created by the government or society, for the benefit of its members."

As a society, we must join together in deciding which laws should be adopted. But we must remain free from constraints that have evolved, or resulted, from religious beliefs, sacred myths, patriarchal teachings, or any dogmatic concepts that remain open to interpretation. If a law is proposed that doesn't suit you, make a rational argument about why it is impractical, or harms somebody, or is in opposition to another useful law; but don't tell me it offends God.

Copyright © 2006 Sean M. Kennedy. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author's consent.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

NEW PENTAGON REPORT RAISES CONCERNS OF CIVIL WAR

The latest Pentagon report on the Iraq war, issued Friday, says that the Sunni Arab insurgency has now been overshadowed by the battle between Shiite and Sunni militias.

That struggle, referred to as the “core conflict”, has the Pentagon quite concerned.

“Conditions that could lead to civil war exist in Iraq, specifically in and around Baghdad, and concern about civil war within the Iraqi civilian population has increased in recent months,” the report stated.

Attacks have increased by 15 percent in the past three months and casualties among Iraqis surged 51 percent. According to the report, the increasing sectarian violence is being fed in part by interference from neighboring Iran and Syria.

Of particular concern is that the militias have become entrenched in various neighborhoods, especially in Baghdad, where they are seen as providers of security as well as basic social services.

The report said the U.S. is currently facing its greatest challenge since the war began in March 2003. “The security situation is currently at its most complex state since the initiation of Operation Iraq Freedom,” it read.

Though notably gloomy in its acknowledgment of the potential for civil war, the report said the current violence does not amount to that just yet and asserted that the momentum toward such a war can be stopped.

But just last week, a statement purportedly from al-Qaida’s Iraqi umbrella group urged Sunnis, who form the majority among the world’s Muslims but a minority in Iraq, to launch a holy war against Shiites.

Many Iraqis fear a divided capital, separated by the Tigris River in the middle as the sectarian boundary, resulting in a Sunni west and a Shiite east. Trying govern under those conditions would be nearly impossible for the fledgling government.