Thursday, May 21, 2009

Show From: May 8, 2009

First: a happy belated National Day of Reason to everyone! It was yesterday, coinciding with the national day of prayer. So, happy reason everyone.

Today I don’t have a Godless Wisdom, per say, but I found an article in the New York Times that was kind of interesting, so I thought we’d give that a read instead.
Does God Want You to Be Bankrupt?
This week, yet another Washington debate over who deserves a break on their debts drew to a close. On Thursday, the Senate voted against allowing judges to adjust the terms of the mortgages of people filing for personal bankruptcy.
Scratch the surface of the opposition in these sorts of debates, and it tends to ooze moral righteousness. “People who get themselves in over their heads,” the upstanding declare, “need to bear some responsibility for their foolishness.”
Maybe so. But if we can’t pass legislation that gives us new tools to determine who should be eligible for debt forgiveness, we need to look elsewhere for written instruction. Given that large numbers of Americans take many of their moral cues from their spiritual beliefs, I decided to turn to the good books of some of the world’s great religions for guidance on the subject.
Just about every doctrinal expert I spoke with, no matter the background, began by mentioning slavery. In ancient times, when interest accrued and compounded, it was common for the indebted to simply work it off. Often, this took the rest of their lives. Many of the teachings that grew up around debt forgiveness aimed to avoid that sort of outcome.
Still, the notion of enslavement, albeit of the psychological sort, survived to modern times. N. Eldon Tanner, a leader of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, wrote: “Those who structure their standard of living to allow a little surplus control their circumstances. Those who spend a little more than they earn are controlled by their circumstances. They are in bondage.”
This will be a familiar idea to people who have considered the idea of paying only the minimum amount on a large credit card debt, only to realize that if they do that, the debt may actually outlive them.
“Binding oneself financially is not something that trumps every other need,” added the Rev. Brian Daley, a Jesuit priest and professor of theology at the University of Notre Dame. Scripture suggests that the redistribution of property is also a reasonable thing to do. “You just can’t mention it in public in the United States,” he said. “Our notion of capitalism is so absolutized that we give it a quasi-religious value.”
However strongly we believe in free markets (not, perhaps, as fervently as we did a year or two ago), the theme of forgiveness does run strongly through religious writings of all sorts. In the Old Testament, for instance, Chapter 15 of the book of Deuteronomy calls for the forgiveness of debts once every seven years.
Religious leaders were aware, however, of the chilling effect that could have on lending (particularly in the sixth year). “The Torah says don’t think that way, don’t be stingy” in that sixth year, said Rabbi Mark Washofsky, a professor of Jewish law at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati. He added that later on, the Talmud introduced the idea of a Prosbul. This was a sort of workaround court that was not covered by the religious law. The Prosbul could administer debts during or right before the seventh year.
When the court confiscated property outright, sometimes this worked to the benefit of the debtor and sometimes to the benefit of the creditor. “In other words, the ultimate power resides with the community,” Rabbi Washofsky said. “It can intervene in what was a private transaction, in a situation of great need. The power is there. The real question is, do you use it and when?”
The answer depends on who you are ultimately reporting to, your immediate supervisor, your shareholders or the Entity that will ultimately render judgment on you.
Father Daley, of Notre Dame, said that the New Testament talked about debts to God resulting from sin. Another idea popular with rabbis and early Christians, he said, was the notion that doing good deeds turned God into a debtor. “God is a kind of referee or bookkeeper, noticing things that people do,” he said. “And if they do good deeds without obligation, God will repay them in judgment. I think being able to dismiss debts or forgive them is something that is seen as a generous and gracious act.”
Bankers that cater to Muslims, who are not allowed to charge interest because of some of the tenets of Islamic law, claim to foreclose on homeowners less frequently than regular creditors, according to Mahmoud Amin El-Gamal, an expert on Islamic finance and an economics professor at Rice University. He added, however, that any leniency was probably priced into the financing in the first place, making it a bit more expensive.
The Koran, meanwhile, offers one of the more useful ideas on debt. “If the debtor is in a difficulty, grant him time till it is easy for him to repay,” the passage in the second chapter, verse 280, reads. “But if ye remit by way of charity, that is best for you if ye only knew.”
Charity is not required here, according to Mr. El-Gamal. But during that granting of time, he added, the creditor is not allowed to charge interest.
This offers a possible compromise. If lenders and senators are unwilling to allow judges to permanently alter the terms of a mortgage loan, perhaps they would agree to allow qualified borrowers who have lost their jobs or fallen ill to take a two- to six-month break from making payments.
During this time, the lenders would stop the interest clock from ticking, not levy any fees and not tack on missed payments to the end of the loan. Then, once the borrowers were back on their feet, they could start regular payments again. If they weren’t able to make them by then, then foreclosure proceedings could begin.
Or, if this proves unpalatable or too expensive, how about selling an insurance policy that would pay for a six-month period of payments? That could satisfy both God and the gods of capitalism.
Perhaps if the Democrats want to enact bankruptcy reform, they ought to bring an imam to address their opponents.
Obama Watch:
Further details of Obama’s 2010 budget were released yesterday. Good news—abstinence only education is out! The relevant part of the budget reads:


Next up on the Obama watch, we witness the president taking a much needed middle stance on the National Day of Prayer held yesterday. While past observances have included a service held in the White House, Obama chose to simply offer a proclamation acknowledging the day while holding no public events.



Next, I’d like to talk about my irony meter. It’s off the charts. Pope Benedict has arrived in Jordan for the first leg of his first trip to the Holy Land. This past Friday the Pope expressed “deep respect for Muslims.” First off, the Pope got in trouble back in 2006 after making a speech in which he said the Islam brings thing evil and inhuman. Second, the nature of Christianity rejects Muslims, who, by most accounts, will go to Hell if the Catholics are right. How much respect can you have for a people God sees fit to send to an eternity of hellfire? Not to mention that the Koran explicitly speaks out against the Catholics. Oh well, I guess it’s good to see the Vatican turning the other cheek for once, and this time it’s not a but cheek. The pope doesn’t say exactly why he respect the Muslims, but he does want to play a role in fostering peace in the Middle East. That’s fine. That’s great even. As long as he doesn’t come barreling through with any more of his anti-condom propaganda. Remember kids, always use a condom, no matter what some celibate old man tells you.

Ask the Atheists:

I want to ask you guys your opinions on some controversial items in the news. First we have the story of a school in San Leandro. Some parents want religiously themed music banned from school holiday programs. The compromise proposed is to adopt a policy of notifying parents of the holiday music program. What do you think? Is the compromise necessary? Should the music be banned?


Next, we have a story from the military. The Pentagon was involved in the production of a cable program that featured two so-called “extreme” missionaries embedded with a U.S. Army unit in Afghanistan trying to convert Muslims to Christianity.
The popular reality series, "Travel the Road," aired on the Trinity Broadcasting Network and featured Will Decker and Tim Scott, who travel the globe to “preach the Gospel to the ends of the earth and encourage the church to be active in the Great Commission.”
The other cable program green-lit by the Pentagon is “God’s Soldier,” which aired in September on the Military Channel, and was filmed at Forward Operating Base McHenry in Hawijah, Iraq. It features an Army chaplain openly promoting fundamentalist Christianity to active-duty U.S. soldiers in Iraq in violation of the U.S. Constitution.

The Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), a watchdog organization, amended a federal lawsuit it filed against the Department of Defense last year, currently in federal District Court in Kansas City, Kansas to “include these despicable unconstitutional promotions of fundamentalist Christianity in the combat zones of Iraq and Afghanistan,” said MRFF founder and president Mikey Weinstein.

What do you think? Is the military’s promotion of these television programs a problem? What about the evangelizing occurring in the fields?


Next, we have a school in Tennessee that less than a year ago was brought to court for illegally promoting religion. The courts ruled that the school’s actions were indeed illegal. Following in the fear of the judiciary system, the school prevented students from putting up posters that advertised the national day of prayer. The school was sued yet again in March for silencing the student led prayer event. A judge ruled last week that the schools could not prevent religious speech on posters. What do you think? Should student be allowed to promote religion on public school property?


Last, on Ask the Atheists, we have the story of a teacher who called creationism “nonsense” during class. A student brought a lawsuit against the pedagogue and a district judge ruled that the teacher had indeed violated the student’s rights. The student doesn’t want money. He just wants the teacher to be prohibited from saying similar things in the future. What do you think? Was the teacher right or wrong?

Show From: May 1, 2009

Show from May 1, 2009

Show From: April 24, 2009

Today’s Godless Wisdom comes to you from the mind of Alan Watts:
--What guarantee is there that the five senses, taken together, do cover the whole of possible experience? There are gaps between the fingers; there are gaps between the senses. In these gaps is the darkness which hides the connection between things . . . The darkness is the source of our vague fears and anxieties, but also the home of the Gods. --

On to news!

First up we’ve got the Institute for Creation Research which has had the brilliant idea to go ahead and sue the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board for not granting the creationist organization a state certificate authorizing them to offer master’s degrees in science education. The sixty-seven page complaint is apparently rife with such gems as, “discussions do not become empirical science simply because the discussions emit from the oral cavities of scientists,” and, “the big bang should not be confused with the great noise mentioned in 2nd Peter 3:10.” Oh, heavens no. Who would ever confuse those two? Oh Texas, you give us so much to laugh about.

Next we’ve got another lawsuit going on. The Riverside Church in Manhattan is suing to stop the hiring of a new minister at their church. The new preacher, Brad Braxton, would receive a total compensation of about $600,000 a year, approximately twice the previous pastor’s pay. The compensation is broken down into $250,000 as a base salary, a monthly housing allowance of $11,500, pension and life insurance, entertainment, travel, and professional development expenses, an equity allowance for the future purchase of a home, allowance for a full-time maid, and private school tuition for his 3 year old daughter. Damn, I knew I was in the wrong business. There are people studying their butts off to be doctors and lawyers when the real money’s in storytelling and fearmongering!

Continuing on, we’ve got a bunch of new converts from a revival church in the Congo jumped into a river to be baptized. 12 went under only a handful ever came back up. God sure does work in mysterious ways, doesn’t he?

In Singapore the Muslim leaders have begun to push for a balance of religious and secular education. Students begin the morning with prayers and move right into classes on chemistry, math, and English. And this goes for boys and girls alike. This move towards a Westernized education has helped Singaporean children, who come from the Islamic portion of the society, achieve a greater standing in society, some even going on to the national university.

Finally, we have a story from across the pond. The BBC will be accepting a prominent atheist onto its advising board to provide guidance on religious programming. Andrew Copson, of the British Humanist Association, will sit on the board and is expected to push for an increased participation from atheists on Radio 4’s religious slot, Thought for the Day. While a boon for secularists everywhere, Christians are getting their panties in a twist, complaining that this exacerbates the BBC’s abandonment of their Christian audience. Boo-hoo. You got the last 50 years of television, let the rest of us get a little air time.