The American Dilemma and How We Can Fix It

Archive for the ‘religion’ Category

THE SINS OF THE FATHER

“Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me.”

Exodus 20:5 (KJV)

There are some conservative American Christians who believe that the government is conducting a systematic attack on their beliefs.  They point to an increasing volume of anecdotal evidence to support this claim.  But in light of recent events, perhaps they will have to re-examine their view.

It would appear that at least one governmental agency has taken the admonition in the above Scriptural verse to heart and has decided to act as God’s instrument to fulfill it.  It may come as a surprise to most of us but that agency is the IRS.  Perhaps IRS has misread the verse from Exodus and believes that it is the Supreme Being – or at least the Supreme Enforcer of Righteousness.

Most people when they hear from the IRS are, like Queen Victoria, “Not amused.”  There is nothing very funny about anything that agency does – or threatens to have the ability to do.  That sentiment has long preceded the obvious politically motivated refusal to give conservative organizations a tax exempt determination.

But even the IRS has reached a new low – leading one to believe that somewhere there really is a bottomless pit.  Thanks to an act of Congress, the former time limit of ten years that the agency had to collect taxpayer debts has been lifted.  And the IRS has wasted no time taking advantage of its newly extended abilities to reach into the taxpayers’ pockets.

The problem isn’t that the agency is collecting monies that a specific taxpayer has failed to fork over to them.  The agency feels that it is perfectly correct to collect those funds from the descendants of the taxpayers who originally incurred them.

Now this may astound you but there are apparently some “errors” which occur in the course of governing this great country.  In fact, there are quite a few of them which occur regularly.  In previous posts I made reference to how the IRS annually sends refunds to people who fraudulently claim that the government owes them money.

From sending millions in over 200 separate refunds to a single address in Florida or similarly sending half a million bucks claimed on 100 returns to one address in Bulgaria, the agency has shown its abilities in mastering the fine art of ineptitude.  But the current rampage against the taxpayer comes not from the IRS’ own inadequate procedures but rather from another federal entity.

If you’ve been amazed at how inept the roll out of Obamacare has been, it should be no surprise that the same agency which was responsible for that debacle, HHS is also the source for other mistakes which the IRS is trying to set right.  And the particular division of HHS which apparently screwed up is none other than the Social Security Administration.

SSA not only administers retirement benefits into which all Americans are forced to pay through payroll deductions or, in the alternate, on their tax returns.  But it also administers disability payments to workers who are (purportedly) unable to work due to physical impairment or mental issues.  The second of these two programs has been fraught with fraud.  Even SSA acknowledges that.

But while the erstwhile crooks who con the taxpayers out of their hard earned dollars by making false disability claims has increased substantially in recent years, there have always been some who made false claims or received benefits after they no longer qualified.  It is these people who are currently being targeted by IRS.  Or more correctly, it is their children who are being forced to make restitution for these “overpayments.”

Let’s think about this for a moment.  Purportedly, a person received payments to which he or she was not entitled – let’s say 40 years ago.  Then, for lack of anything better to do, someone in SSA noticed that their agency had made a $350 mistake.  And they decide that going after this will help relieve the national debt.  So they inform IRS that there is a balance due them for the mistake which they originally made.

But there’s a problem.  The individual who received this overpayment died ten years earlier.  Not to be deterred by this, the IRS has figured out that their child, who was four when this problem started, is still alive and has a refund due on her return.  So the IRS flags her return and deducts the overpayment to her parents from her return and sends her a notice, explaining why her refund is $350 short of what she was expecting.

I’m not sure this program will prove to be anything near the windfall either for IRS or SSA that pursuing and shutting down fraudsters who collect around $50 MM per year in bogus refunds receive would prove to be.  Frankly, I doubt it.

As this will do little to contribute to federal revenues, I can only assume that the IRS is adhering to the principles espoused in our quote from Exodus.  It will be interesting to see if some religious group decides to file suit to block this program, citing the once venerable precept of “Separation of church and state.”  Meanwhile, it appears that the sins of the father will indeed be heaped upon the children.  We’ll have to stay tuned to see for how many generations that will last.

TOMORROW IS ANOTHER DAY

A little over a year ago I wrote a piece that was part of my “comedy” posts.  It was entitled, “On Thinking You’re Important” and I’ve provided the link below as the introduction to this post.

https://juwannadoright.wordpress.com/2012/01/26/on-thinking-youre-important/

I hope you enjoyed that little vignette into our perception of ourselves.

Most of my readers, I hope will agree that when examining various issues, I try to take a balanced and a fair approach.  Perhaps I don’t always achieve that standard and I would be the first to admit that each of us has certain predispositions which influence our thinking.  But I believe that an intelligent person owes it to her or himself to try to arrive at a logical answer to every question based only on the evidence, not on pre-formed personal opinion.  It is for that reason that I consider myself a libertarian conservative.  I was not always so.

Frankly, whether the label we apply to either a movement or an individual is Republican or Democrat, conservative or liberal probably is inadequate to completely define a person or a group.  Some of my conservative friends and I disagree on the way to address a specific problem and I agree with others of my liberal friends on certain issues.  But it would be fair to say that it is far easier, if I had to describe myself, to identify with one camp rather than the other – even if that means that we disagree on the fringes.  Conservatism offers me the right to form my own opinions – something I see lacking in the liberal camp.  Furthermore, while my views might evolve over time, they don’t juxtapose themselves from one side to its diametric opposite overnight with no rational reason to explain this change.

A liberal reader might find it easy to disagree with his conservative counterpart.  I understand that.  But the reason for the disagreement stems from the fact that most conservatives have a clear and stated position to which they adhere.  They have a world view which might be incompatible with the view of others.  And that is exactly the point.  You know where most conservatives stand on any given issue and it doesn’t change on a daily basis or because it is politically expedient to alter the view to garner votes in the next election.

That is perhaps my biggest difficulty with taking liberalism seriously.  What is today in liberalism is just as likely to be what it isn’t tomorrow.  How can a reasonable person take any ideology seriously if it is subject to change without notice?

I believe most of us would agree that President Obama has a “liberal agenda.”  So as I look at him as the current titular head of the liberal movement in America and review his positions, I wonder how anyone can play follow the leader with him at the head of the Conga line.

Gay marriage – opposed as a candidate – now embraced as the Holy Grail; opposition to increasing the deficit as a U. S. senator – now nearly doubled during his administration; stating that we should close Gitmo during his first campaign – that facility is still open; anger and outrage at the IRS scandal and the promise to get to the bottom of it – now over a year later his administration setting up barriers to those who would investigate it; and, of course, there is Obamacare, touted as the best thing to happen to America since the invention of sliced bread – now in its 35th changed iteration.  This list is far from complete.  Which brings me to the current rage in liberal talking points – “The war on women.”

Ayaan Hirsi Ali is a Somali woman who is an author and filmmaker.  In her homeland she was subjected to genital mutilation and left the country when she refused to become a wife in a marriage her family had arranged.  She has written extensively on the way in which Islam treats women and has made a documentary detailing behavior that, if it occurred in America, would subject the perpetrator to  a long jail term.

Most Americans would consider public beatings, execution as a result of “honor killings,” even something as simple as the refusal to allow women to drive cars or be seen in the company of male non-relatives to be far more serious than issues of whether women earn the exact same rate of pay as their male counterparts.  But apparently, that is not the view that the liberal cause has currently chosen as a basis for their most recent crusade.

A fatwa has been issued against Ms. Ali for her writings and the documentary on Islam that she produced.  This gives any faithful Muslim the right to assassinate her should the opportunity present itself.  That in itself ought to give any person, liberal, conservative or independent a reason to speak out about this barbaric culture and its proponents.  But do we hear that from our liberal friends?  Quite the contrary.

Brandeis University, one of the most self-identified “liberal” schools was going to offer Ms. Ali an honorary degree – until a significant portion of its faculty signed a petition opposing the award.  That in itself is somewhat confounding since Brandeis has a long history as a school with a large preponderance of both Jewish professors and students.  Perhaps they’re unaware that Islam speaks of the Jews in the most derogatory terms and has vowed that it will bring about the end of Israel.

When it comes to the “war on women” there are real issues.  And while there may be some inequity in this country, compared to a significant portion of the rest of the world, I fail to understand why there is no outcry from our liberal friends about the sort of medieval behavior to which Ms. Ali and other women in the Muslim world are the victims.  Frankly, their focus is similar to that of a doctor who is treating a patient with terminal cancer and is focusing his attention on the fact that the patient has an ingrown toe nail.

That is why, although they speak with fiery rhetoric and great passion, I find it hard to take liberal views seriously.    Methinks they do propound too much.  But in fairness, I might change my opinion.  After all, in liberalism, what is today may not be tomorrow.  And tomorrow is another day.

LIVING THE GOOD LIE

The patient has been ailing for quite awhile and despite the best efforts of medical practitioners, there seems to be little that can be done to facilitate a recovery.  The best they have to offer is to keep him on life support, hoping against hope that his condition may improve.  That patient is truth.

We have evidence that the patient first started to succumb to his condition as long back as Adam and Eve.  When God asked Adam why he had eaten of the forbidden fruit, Adam started truth on its death spiral by blaming the woman whom the Lord had given him as being responsible for his transgression.  And the woman, Eve took no responsibility for her actions but blamed her failing on the serpent in the garden.  It’s all been downhill since then.

Long before the popular song was written, mankind knew that, “It’s a Sin to Tell a Lie.”  That hasn’t prevented us from crafting some whoppers.  But there used to be some guilt  and squeamishness associated with dishonesty, even on the part of the prevaricator as he or she committed the offense.  Perhaps the reason for that was that at one time most of us used to subscribe to an evanescent  principle which we called, “The fear of God.”  The word “fear” in this context is interchangeable with another word – respect.

The critics of religion are plentiful and vocal.  They argue that science has debunked faith and that the only reality is what we can touch, see or hypothesize based on the eternal principles for which scientists are the shamans.  The purpose of this post is not to argue the virtues or flaws either of religion or science.  Rather, it is to consider the practical ramifications of how, having relegated God to the back pew and having put science in the pulpit, we have altered our society.

.Fundamental to any ordered society is the rule of law.  The basis of any lawful society is that its citizens agree to be governed by laws and that the laws be faithfully and universally enforced, punishment being meted out to those who disregard or violate those laws.

How do we determine if a person has infracted a particular statute?  In the United States and throughout most of the western world, the facts are adjudicated in a trial in which the evidence is examined and witnesses offer testimony.  Either a panel of jurors or a judge weigh the facts as they are presented and then render a verdict.

As with science, it is fundamental to the judicial process that the data which is reviewed is pure and uncorrupted.  That is why those who tamper with evidence in an attempt to influence the court’s verdict are subject to severe penalties.  Similarly, we require that those who testify do so honestly.  They are sworn in and must take an oath before the court will consider their testimony.  But an oath to whom?

Our judicial system is predicated on tenets that are fundamental to the Judaeo-Christian experience and teachings.  And underlying that is the belief that  there is a God and the person who offers testimony falsely will be punished for violating his oath to Him.  While it is true that we provide civil penalties for perjury, it is equally true that, other than in the most high profile cases, those charges are seldom pursued or imposed.  Thus the prevaricator who has no belief in God, has little reason not to pursue his own agenda without the expectation of any consequences, thus potentially corrupting the entire judicial process.

If those who hold offices of public trust, presidents, celebrities, and sports figures, all of whom are the focus of our attention, behave deceitfully and are not called to account, it sets an example which others then feel empowered to follow. Our tabloids are filled with example after example of this sort of behavior. Scarcely a day goes by before yet another of those who are privileged is featured on the front page as the subject of the most lurid or disheartening stories.

Telling lies might not seem to be a big issue to the majority of our citizens. We’ve all told a white lie at one time or another. The question is not whether we have transgressed, but whether we recognize the difference between having done what we did and what we should have done and try to improve our behavior in the future. In other words, do we have a conscience.

In truth, religion has not succeeded in converting mankind to live a moral life.  We have not yet heard from science if they can develop an implantable “honesty” gene.  But without the fear of earthly punishment for “bearing false witness” and no concern for a final judgment, it is safe to say that there will be many of us who will remain committed to Living The Good Lie.

KISSING FROGS

About thirty years ago in Texas, the oil boom that had powered the state’s economy since the turn of the last century came to an unexpected end.  The decline in the price of oil through over-production made drilling for new wells uneconomical and many of the old wells were produced in only limited capacity.  This naturally affected those who had jobs on the drilling rigs and those who provided services to them.  Mary Jane and Bobbie Jo were two such women, holding down jobs as waitresses in one of the many diners that catered to those in the oil industry.

The two were out walking one Sunday after church when suddenly they heard a tiny voice cry out, “Ladies, please help me.”

The women looked around but didn’t see anyone and were about to continue on their way when again the voice cried, “Ladies, please help me.”

Mary Jane looked down and on the ground was a bullfrog.  The two friends walked over to him to see if he could be the one who had asked for their help.

As the two neared the frog, he opened his mouth and said, “Ladies, I’m not really a bullfrog but a west Texas oilman.  An evil witch cast a spell on me that can only be broken if a beautiful woman kisses me.  Won’t one of you help me?”

Without hesitation, Bobbie Jo swooped down, grabbed the frog and put him in her purse, zipping the bag shut.  Her friend was astonished.

“Bobbie Jo.  Why didn’t you kiss that frog, break the evil witch’s spell and turn him back into a west Texas oilman?”

Bobbie Jo replied, “Honey, at the price of oil these days, a talking frog is worth a helluva lot more than a west Texas oilman.”

Westboro Baptist Church founder, Fred Phelps died last week at the age of 84.  God rest his soul.  His church of about thirty congregants, mostly family members, was well known for taking the Gospel of Jesus Christ and transforming it into a litany of hatred and intolerance.  Well known for his protests of gay marriages and military funerals, Phelps directed his followers to picket, disrupt and shout the most vile epithets at those who attended these rites.  There will be few who miss him or his dogma of alienation and self-righteousness.

That last sentence speaks to a common failing for those of us who call ourselves Christians.  It is easy to love and care for those who are loveable but quite difficult to hold those who offend us through their words or actions in the same way.  Yet we are called upon to do just that.

If the world were composed of people all of whom were saint-like, we would most likely all become saints, living out our life in charity, assisting those who were in need and being in the best sense of the Christian gospel, godly in our manner as we dealt with our fellow men and women.  In a deep sense, this is the argument against living a monastic life, only exposing ourselves to other like minded people and living out our lives without being exposed to the real challenges of a real world.  It has been argued that cloistered virtue is no virtue at all.

Most of us have not chosen that path and we must deal with the realities of the base, the vulgar and the depraved acts of many of our fellows.  While those who fit within those categories may not represent the majority of the world’s populace, they are certainly sufficient in number that they call themselves to our attention in our nightly newscasts.

Their actions, which we find shocking and reprehensible, command far more of our attention than the acts of kindness which are bestowed by members of the world’s human community.  Perhaps it is our attraction to the deviant and the lurid that fascinates us in the same way that we are absorbed by stories of werewolves, vampires and the occult.

There may be those who consider themselves Christians who rejoice in the death of Fred Phelps.  His manipulation of the Gospel was as far from the Christianity in which I was raised as I can imagine.  But if we rejoice in anyone’s demise, no matter how offensive his speech or actions, have we not adopted the exact same mindset as the late Mr. Phelps?  Are we any better in making our judgments than the judgment he and his followers heaped on those whom they defined as sinful?

We would all like to believe that somehow we can influence people, either in word, deed or both to be better people.  Very often despite our best efforts we see that our advice, counsel or example seem to have little effect.  Perhaps the most we can do is continue to do the right thing realizing that it is the right thing – whether or not it provides guidance or change for those with whom we come into contact.

A friend invited me to join him for a two day outing to an area in California where there are lakes and fresh water.  Perhaps there will be some frogs there.  I haven’t seen any since I moved from the Midwest.  If so, I’m going to try to capture one briefly and kiss it – and we’ll see what happens.

MY BROTHER’S KEEPER

He was sitting on a backpack outside the 7-eleven last Thursday about 7:30 in the morning.  I had stopped by to pick up a cup of coffee.  As I came out with my warm cup of Joe in my hand, he asked me in a soft voice if I could spare any change.

Before I answered, I took a moment to size him up.  He was in his late teens, perhaps his early 20’s, freshly washed and very deferential.  He actually said, “Please” when he made his request – a word that is seldom used by most in society today.  That disposed me to wanting to help him.

I asked the young man, “Why do you need the change?”

He answered that he was trying to get bus fare together.  So I gave him the change I had in my pocket, wished him a good day and drove home.

The following day I stopped by the convenience store again at about the same time.  The young man I met the day before was there once again.  Again he asked me for some change as I exited the store and showed no apparent recognition that he had met me the day before.  Perhaps I’m just one of those highly forgettable people.

As I had done previously, I asked him why he needed the money and got the same response – that it was for bus fare.  It occurred to me that if he had to go to school or a job he would have been certain to make sure he had enough money to get to his destination.  This suggested that he wasn’t looking for bus fare but that he had developed this ploy as part of a panhandling routine.

I felt sorry for this kid, so I asked him where he needed to go by bus.  He gave me his destination which was about eight miles away.  I was curious whether he was just scamming the people who patronized the store or really wanted to go where he said, so I responded, “You know, I have some free time on my hands and if you’d like I’d be happy to drive you there.”

“No, that’s okay,” he said.

That response confirmed what I suspected.

I thought for a moment about starting a conversation as to why a young guy in good health should have descended to panhandling as a way of life.  What a tragedy.  But then I thought better of it.  After all, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

Well, in a sense the Federal government has made all of us into our brothers’ keepers by taxing us to subsidize those whom the politicians have determined to be in need.  That number has increased significantly in the last five years.

I have never refused anyone a small handout.  Nor have I generally given much thought to whether the story the panhandler gave as a reason for needing my donation was true or a complete fabrication.  In all honesty, a quarter or a dollar isn’t going to change my life – but it might help out the person who is in sincere need.

What bothers me about my recent encounter is that our culture has changed so much that youngsters like the kid I met find it easier to beg for a living than to go out and try to get a job – even a job doing odd jobs.  I know there’s something that he could do – if only offering to help customers carry their packages to their cars at the large supermarket which shares the parking lot with the convenience store.

Years ago there was an expression that was in common use.  That phrase was “workaholic.”  I think the term has been deleted from the dictionary.  Today those who have worked hard, built businesses and provided employment for millions of people whom they have hired for their ventures are vilified.  Success is denigrated.  Achievement is minimized.  So what is the message that our government is offering the nation?  “There’s no need to work – and you should feel good about that because the government is here to take care of you.”

And the government is indeed “taking care” of more and more of us.  In fact, if you look at the economics of it, maybe my young friend at the convenience store has got it right in refusing to find a job and become self-sufficient.

According to a study that Sen. Jeff Sessions’ (R – AL) staff compiled based on data from the U. S. Census Bureau, the average hourly rate for being on welfare which includes food subsidies, housing subsidies, medical assistance and cash assistance is $30.60.  The median household income per working American is $25.03  before adjusting downward for income taxes.  After adjustment that number declines to as little as $21.50 per hour, depending on filing status and deductions.  And then there is a further reduction from that amount in jurisdictions in which the worker is subject to state or local income tax.  (The study was conducted using 2012 data and published in 2013).

Whether the present administration likes it or not, the United States was founded based on Judaeo-Christian ethics.  In both those religious traditions there is a strong admonition for believers to offer a helping hand and charity to those who are less fortunate than they.

Should people help their brother when he cries out in need?  I believe that each of us should – but that is a matter of choice and personal conscience.  When the government says, “We are our brother’s keeper” there is neither true charity rendered to the recipients nor is there dignity conferred by the action.  And if the government purposefully attempts to make idleness a life goal and more profitable than contributing to society through personal work and effort, that is nothing short of complete venality.

NATIVITY

A Merry and Blessed Christmas to all!

CHRISTMAS CONTROVERSY

Perhaps you’ve heard about various communities which have determined that Christmas displays in public places are not acceptable.  Some of the impetus for these decisions has come from atheist groups who are offended and cite the fact that the Constitution does not allow for government to establish any religion.  They equate the displays as equivalent to violating this provision of our governing document.

Personally, I’ve never felt offended when I’ve seen public displays of Menorahs.  I do have a lot of Jewish friends and I think that their Holiday is a wonderful one, signifying the indomitable nature of the human spirit.  And my Jewish friends have never told me that they object to seeing Nativity scenes.  If they were offended they certainly never aired that opinion.  Nor would I be offended if I were to see a display advocating atheism, such as the recent display that was put up in Times Square.

It shouldn’t surprise us that there have been local protests aimed at individual homeowners who have put up extensive Christmas lighting displays and portray other aspects of the Holy Day.  Some of those are, in my opinion, a bit over the top and garish.  And if I lived next door I might have thought that a little less might have been more artistic.  But knowing myself, I would have lived with it and kept my tongue.

The Christmas season will soon be over for another year, the decorations will be stored away and we can put this conversation back in the closet.  No – wait, I misspoke.  You see Christmas is not a seasonal event – it’s a Forever event – at least according to the United States Postal Service.

This year the USPS printed a new forever stamp – a Christmas stamp.

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Following is the USPS’ description of this philatelic issue, taken directly from its website:

The Holy Family stamp, first issued in 2012, celebrates Christmas with a scene from the Nativity story that reminds us of the joys of the season: family, togetherness, and the birth of the baby Jesus. It continues the U.S. Postal Service’s tradition of issuing beautiful and timeless Christmas stamps and will be a treasured addition to cards and letters sent during this season of goodwill and sharing.
Working together, art director William J. Gicker, designer Greg Breeding, and artist Nancy Stahl created an evocative image of the Holy Family. The stamp illustration shows Joseph leading a donkey that carries Mary and Jesus, guided by a star shining in the twilight of a desert sky.
The Holy Family stamp is being issued as a Forever® stamp. Forever stamps are always equal in value to the current First-Class Mail® one-ounce rate.

While it is hardly part of my agenda to offer suggestions which further undermine the religious celebration of Christmas, it seems to me that if these people are so offended at viewing Christmas that way, they ought to be in front of Post Offices all over the country protesting the issuance of stamps such as these.  And when they finish their morning activities, they can march to our Public Libraries, demanding that they remove all copies of the Bible on hand and throw them into the fire that they’ve built outside the front door.

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