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Hobby Lobby update

July 5, 2014 8 comments

Well, this was faster than I thought.  I wrote yesterday that the line at the Supreme Court’s door would wrap around the block.  It’s already forming.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/plum-line/wp/2014/07/04/the-supreme-court-opens-the-floodgates/?tid=recommended_strip_1

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Hobby Lobby: Corporate Personhood with a Prophet as CEO

July 5, 2014 3 comments

For-Profit Corporations that believe in god.

Humans are the only organisms capable of pure imagination – pure invention – the ability to create a separate reality from whole cloth and then act upon it. Elephants do not pray and whales do not dream of an afterlife. Only humans do this. Only humans create religious beliefs. Until now. The Hobby Lobby decision bestows upon corporations the human characteristic of supernatural belief.

By claiming that certain elements of the ACA’s contraception coverage mandate violated their company’s deeply held religious beliefs, Hobby Lobby convinced the US Supreme Court that corporations are capable of having religious beliefs. Their argument was that in regard to these religious beliefs, there is no difference between The Corporation and The Human Owners. And the acceptance of this argument by the Supreme Court represents an astounding shift in legal thinking. Corporations, effectively, now have more rights and privileges than do actual flesh-and-blood human beings because unlike corporations, humans cannot insulate themselves from liability for their actions, which is the essential reason for the existence of the legal status of incorporation.

By incorporating, a person or group of persons insulate themselves from personal liability regarding claims that may arise as a result of their business enterprises. The corporation may be sued, but the founders and stockholders are not held personally liable. The corporation is a wholly synthetic construct, like a marionette, providing a legal separation between it and its human operators. This is rather insidious when you think about it. It is the illusion of the ventriloquist made real. “I’m sorry your husband died in one of our cars, Mrs. Henderson, but it’s not my fault. The dummy did it.”

Yet this is the essential privilege of incorporation: personal immunity from litigation. Corporations are not encumbered by the vicissitudes of ordinary existence: they do not have a limited lifespan, they cannot go to prison for their actions, and they never get called for jury duty. And therein lies the danger of the concept of corporate personhood. It allows corporations to have it both ways. They get to hide behind their artificial facade of existence when they want to shield their human operators from recrimination but don the garb of humanity when it will advance their interests. No other organism on earth, natural or synthetic, gets to do this.

David Green, the CEO of Hobby Lobby successfully convinced the court that there is no difference between himself and his company – that they are both one and the same. The court granted him this concession. But rest assured, should the day come when a shelving unit falls over on a customer and kills them, he will not stand behind this claim. He will say, “I’m sorry about your husband, Mrs. Henderson, but you can’t blame me. The dummy did it.”

 

Religious Offence as Legal Standing.

The ridiculousness of the Hobby Lobby decision is breathtaking. In one ruling, the Supreme Court extended the already ludicrous concept of corporate personhood by granting it the human capacity of religious belief and, at the same time, elevated the intellectually bankrupt notion of religious offence to the level of legal standing.

The concept of legal standing is the requirement that you have skin in the game. A litigant must show that a ruling by the court will either create an injury or redress an existing one. This is a tangible and demonstrative requirement. Lack of legal standing is precisely why the proponents of California’s Proposition 8 lost their case in the Supreme Court. They could not show legal standing. But they did not dare make the argument of religious offence even though, clearly, that was their primary complaint – that gay marriage violated their personal religious beliefs. Perhaps, in hindsight, they’re wishing they had. Hobby Lobby’s argument was religious offence and, it worked.

Proving legal standing, as with all arguments made in a secular court of law, demands exhaustively researched case law, statistics, hard-won data – in short, demonstrative evidence. But this is not the case with religious offence. With religious offence, no evidence is required. One only need to claim belief and it is accepted with the same weight and gravitas as any other empirical data ordinarily demanded by a court of law. Anyone else attempting to present a case before the US Supreme Court would be required to dump mountains of painstakingly acquired research on the bench. But with religious offence, one only need stand and claim belief. The argument from religious offence is nothing more than a semantically elaborate version of “I don’t like it.”

Let’s be clear: religious offence is precisely the same logic used by Muslims to justify going bat shit crazy over a cartoon.

Hobby Lobby’s owners didn’t have to prove that the legal, vetted, tested, FDA approved, and widely used contraception methods that they objected to were an affront to humanity. They only needed to stand before the Supreme Court and, state for the record that, they think they are. By stating that he “considers” these particular forms of contraceptives to be abortion, and that he “considers abortion to be murder,” David Green is playing prophet. Only by claiming to speak for god can anyone stand in open court and make such baseless claims and still be taken seriously. This is the poverty of the argument from religious offence. In no other arena of human discourse or endeavor are the standards of evidence so blatantly ignored. Religious offence becomes, then, the perfect defense – no evidence, logic, research, or comparative analysis is required. The statements made by the believer are accepted without question and, more importantly, assigned the same value of evidence demanded of others.

Religious beliefs are man made and exist outside objective reality. Religions that reject broad sectors of modern medicine (Scientology: Psychotherapy) or medical practice entirely (Christian Scientist) already abound. This decision sets a dangerous precedent. Anyone can now claim standing for whatever unsubstantiated fantasy they can cook up provided they can successfully couch them in the guise of religious belief. So, next up: the anti-vaccine crowd.

 

Corporations and the ownership society.

David Green’s argument was that he shouldn’t have to pay for medical processes he believed were sinful (and yes, sinful is exactly the right word). But is that really true? Corporations have a host of people who come to work everyday and labor in order to generate revenue for the company, which includes the workers themselves. Workers work for themselves. David Green’s workers don’t labor everyday to ensure that he is able to buy a new Mercedes Benz. They do it to pay their rent. The revenue they generate on a daily basis goes into a general fund from which all company overhead is paid. This overhead includes the pay and benefits that the workers receive. Workers work to generate their own pay and benefits. None of that money belongs to any particular person until it’s portioned out, including Green himself, who presumably receives a salary. Until then, it belongs to the collective for the benefit of the collective: the workers who earned it, the individual stores for the light bill, the company for future growth and finally, Green himself. This is his reward for founding the company. The ACA never called for Green to come out of his own, personal pocket to pay for worker benefits. It only called for his company to set aside a certain portion of the gross revenues the workers generate on a daily basis for the security of their future employment. Green’s contention that his pocket was being picked is specious and a modern leftover from the Antebellum South.

In the days of slavery, slave owners claimed that the fruits of the worker’s labor were theirs from the moment of creation and forever. When workers themselves were considered property, this argument might have made sense, but no longer. After slavery, this attitude persisted throughout the gilded age and the rise of the robber barons and it was precisely this attitude and its accompanying behavior on the part of the ownership class that resulted in the establishment of worker’s unions. Today, worker’s unions are on the decline and this idea that whatever the worker creates is automatically and instantaneously the property of the owner still persists.

This proprietary attitude that workers are beholden to the company for their every breath ignores the reality that the owners would have nothing without them. Certainly, Green never consulted his workers on this issue because he never considered their contribution to the general fund from which these monies would be distributed for their benefit. He only thought of himself.

Thus, Green becomes a prophet to his employees. This is the hubris of religious mentality – a mentality that declares, “I know what is best and it’s my responsibility to protect you from yourself.” Green successfully argued before the Supreme Court that the dollars generated by his thousands of workers was his, and his alone, from the very moment it was collected from the customer and that only he knows best how to spend it. Forget about allowing each worker to decide, along with their doctor, which procedures are best for them according to their medical needs and, if they feel, their religious views. No, David Green has made that decision for them without regard to their input, even though they’re raising the money to pay for it.

Going into the future I foresee more and more corporations, each one larger than the previous, lining up at the door to the Supreme Court to demand their own exemptions. For-profit corporations have a well-documented history of looking for ways to socialize their overhead and weasel out of government mandates. Now they have a whole, new tactic.

Beware: Mormons Masquerading as Christians

September 4, 2012 1 comment

My family now has pictures of Jesus on their walls.  Every few years he changes, though, moving from a scarlet-robed Charleton Heston type to a cuddlier man clothed in fluffy homespun, his kind face turned toward his sheep.

When I look at their Jesus, I remember my childhood in this same house where a portrait of Christ on the wall was considered bizarre.  Only converts to the Mormon faith would tolerate Jesus icons, or people who were not tightly wound.  My family was fifth-generation Mormon and we knew how to behave.

At Seminary school, I remember a lecture on why it was against our religion to wear a crucifix.  My handsome instructor, Brother Dolan, pointed out that a Mormon girl wouldn’t sport a cross anymore than she would string a tiny guillotine around her neck.  He called it “execution jewelry” and, being 15, I agreed.

The prophet-saint Joseph Smith was everywhere in homes and churches then along with prints depicting the pioneers’ struggle to reach the Salt Lake Valley.  Joseph, reconstructed to mirror the current strong-jawed movie star image,  appeared with a glow around his head.

For many of us ex-Mormons, this Presidential Election time of spotlight on our church of origin is uniquely uncomfortable.  The Mormon face-lift rankles even more than usual.

When I was a little girl, my grandmother told me about her “other mother.”  Her name was Fanny and she was a convert from England.  Fanny came to help out in my great-grandmother’s house and stayed on as my great-grandfather’s second wife.  This would have been standard procedure in the community, but unfortunately, great-grandpa Edwin favored Fanny and built her a beautiful new house of her own where he spent more of his time.  When the federal government began arresting polygamists, he took Fanny and their offspring to hide in Mexico, abandoning my great-grandmother to fend for herself in a harsh desert land with 11 children.  That’s a face of Mormonism that isn’t depicted in missionary literature.

I can accept the Mormons’ colorful history, but not the pretending that it never existed.

African-Americans are now admitted to the church with full privilege.  I have clear recall of being taught that black people were genetically inferior and not suitable hosts for the restored Gospel.  Gays, by the way, did not exist.

The civil rights movement cured the church of their misconception regarding blacks, but women have not fared so well.  Still clearly inferior, women in the church are taught that since they have been “given the privilege of bearing children” they forfeit the priesthood authority.  I probably believed this was a good trade until, on a sweltering August afternoon, I experienced the privilege of birthing twins.  I’ll take the Priesthood.

The schools of my girlhood in Idaho were so influenced by Mormons that pants were forbidden to females.  The church still teaches that a woman of any age must always wear a skirt to enter into the door of the chapel.

By the way, Bibles were not very evident in the Mormon homes of my childhood, either.  After all, the Holy Bible is only true until it contradicts the Book of Mormon, a higher wisdom.

The Mormon church has changed so subtly and with such skillful art that my family, who still believe, seem unaware of it.  When I comment on the new Jesus focus they look at me with bewilderment.   However, any Christian or other faith beliefs I have acquired since my liberation from Mormonism are regarded with suspicion or outright disdain.  If I am not Mormon, no matter how devout or solid in my faith, I am deluded, deceived, or otherwise influenced by Satan.   Certainly, I am not accepted or respected.

Neither, my  friends, are you.

The Trek

August 11, 2012 2 comments

The Trek

    On the morning of August 7, I began my yearly trek to the holy place where I meet my maker. Having overloaded my Ford Taurus with the necessary equipment and supplies, I hit the road, breathing a sigh of relief as I passed the sign indicating I was leaving city limits and the trappings of civilization. I was on my way at last, headed for “God’s Country” (or Goddess), and my eagerly awaited communion with the Creator.

    Proceeding east along highway 126, I began the process of de-stressing. By the time I reached the tiny community of Vida, I found that I could actually breathe through my nose again, which rarely happens for me in town. I knew I was on the right track and better things were in store during the coming week. This might not seem like much to some, but for the person who feels like he tries to breathe with cotton balls shoved up his nose most of the time, it is huge.

    As I turned from 126 on to Aufderheid Forest Drive, my sense of exhilaration grew stronger. Dead ahead and just a mere twenty miles up the road was my destination, Frissell Crossing Campground. I have driven this stretch of road so many times over the years that I think I could probably do it while I sleep. But for the sake of expediency, I chose to keep my eyes open and take in some of its beauty as I drove. As an aside, it seems that the place got its name from the fact that over a century ago an old sheep herder by the name of Frissell, forded the South Fork of the McKenzie at this very spot.

    I soon struck camp. All was in order and it was time to let my hair down and my beard grow. I sat with my back to an enormous fir tree, letting the rushing whitewater stream take with it all the worries and cares and stress of my everyday existence, feeling them wash away with the flow of the pristine waters. I pictured these burdens flowing downstream, eventually to end up where the river meets the sea. The purification process had begun, and with it the much needed healing of body, mind and spirit.

    By late evening the other members of the expedition had all arrived and made camp. So here I was, in the midst of such natural beauty, among family and friends. By this time some of the “curmudgeon’ I have been blessed with had gone downstream as well and I was ready to welcome all with open arms. No man is an island, not even Mr. Curmudgeon with a capital K. Part of the magic of this wonderful place lies in the fact that I have around me those that I care for the most; my 82 year old father, my grown children and their children.

    The time had come to undertake a ritual that needed to be done without the distractions of others. I began my yearly solo hike on the Ollallie Trail into the Three Sisters Wilderness to a small stream known as Bull Creek. Here I sat on a moss covered boulder and opened my spirit to those of the trees, the water, the sky and the rocks. I heard their voices and let them hear mine. I felt my connection to the Earth Mother and my responsibility to live in harmony with the spirits of all things. I don’t know how long I sat there in silence, absorbing the truths of my own lifestyle and its impact on Mother Earth. I was one the universe..

    I spent a wonderful four days in paradise, but all good things must end. Begrudgingly, I made the return trip to reality, or the Twilight Zone, as I prefer to call it. Even now, the experience is just a memory; one among many such memories accumulated over the years. And true to form, some of the curmudgeon wafted out of the river somewhere around Leaburg, attaching itself firmly to my psyche. I shall endeavor to keep it under control. But even now I look forward to another visit to my favorite haunt before summers end and a refresher course from the earth. Unless I completely miss my guess, those around me will be thankful for a second retreat, even if they are unable to accompany me.


The Republican’s dilemma is everyone’s problem

May 7, 2012 2 comments

The Republicans have a dilemma.  Mitt Romney is their man.  But he’s the wrong religion.  He’s not Christian enough.  And while they fret and fuss over the rightness or wrongness of Mormon theology (completely oblivious, of course, to the sad irony) those of us who live in the rational world must face reality: the United States has a two party system and one of them is engaged in a civil war over imaginary beings.

This country has very real problems.  Our problems are of our own creation.  They will not be solved through intervention by gods or magical thinking.  They will only be solved by rational analysis of hard facts and honest compromise.  This will never happen so long as half of the participants can’t even agree on an imaginary friend.  It’s frightening.

This is not a defense of the Democratic Party, by any means.  On the contrary, the Democrats have devolved into a party which prostates itself to its corporate masters while feigning allegiance to the underclass.  Their problem (and ours) is equally as debilitating to democracy.  But it’s a very real human problem of greed and hubris.  Those are problems that can be discussed rationally and addressed openly.  And they must.

But the Republicans have morphed into a party that openly caters to the top ten percent while pandering to the delusional.  The Republican voter is not looking for a statesman; they’re looking for a savior.  They don’t want a President.  They want a Prophet.

And it’s not like no one saw this coming.  Before the rise of Ronald Reagan, the Republicans began earnestly courting the Southern Dixiecrats and Barry Goldwater read the writing on the wall.  His words are worth quoting at length:

On religious issues there can be little or no compromise.  There is no position on which people are so immovable as their religious beliefs.  There is no more powerful ally one can claim in a debate than Jesus Christ, or God, or Allah, or whatever one calls this supreme being.  But like any powerful weapon, the use of God’s name on one’s behalf should be used sparingly.

The religious factions that are growing throughout our land are not using their religious clout with wisdom.  They are trying to force government leaders into following their position 100 percent.  It you disagree with these religious groups on a particular issue, they complain, they threaten you with a loss of money or votes or both.

I’m frankly sick and tired of the political preachers across this country telling me as a citizen that if I want to be a moral person, I must believe in “A,” “B,” “C” and “D.” Just who do they think they are?  And from where do they presume to claim the right to dictate their moral beliefs to me?

And I am even more angry as a legislator who must endure the threats of every religious group who thinks it has some God-granted right to control my vote on every roll call in the Senate.  I am warning them today: I will fight them every step of the way if they try to dictate their moral convictions to all Americans in the name of “conservatism.”

Goldwater was long considered the father of modern conservatism until the religious takeover of the Republican Party was complete.  Then, he was cast out.  Before his death, his open opposition to the ban on gays in the military completely stripped him of his title of Elder Statesman and cemented his position as persona non grata within the Republican power structure.  In fact, his comments on the matter resulted in vicious retribution and character assassination.  In a world ruled by religion, honest dissent is blasphemy and blasphemy is a sin punishable by death.

He is never mentioned today.

The Republican’s obsession with religiosity has created an immovable stone wall of intractable stubbornness.  Compromise is impossible.  Dissent is a sin.  Progress isn’t in the vocabulary.  We can’t even have a rational discussion about real issues because half of the players don’t live in this reality.  The Republican’s search for a savior who will rescue them from modernity and take them back to the imaginary world of 1950s television is a delusion that will lead us all off a cliff.

Jesus and Bigfoot sing a duet

A very good friend of mine made a startling confession to me a couple of weeks ago – the implications of which I’m still wrestling with.  I know this man well.  I know him to be highly intelligent, well read, insightful, very skeptical, analytical, educated and articulate.  He graduated from a respected university, makes his living as a researcher, has an insatiable appetite for knowledge, and is a master of logic and reason.  He is a true polymath.  I love this man, and maybe more to the point, I respect him.

Every now and then we get together to share good beer and conversation.  Our meetings over food and drink are much more than just Saturnalian beer swilling.  We dissect history, religion, culture, politics, evolutionary theory and everything else we can think of in a Socratic format of questions and answers, each of us testing our mettle against each other.  It’s an instant feedback loop of ideas and criticism.

We pass no judgments but pardon no folly.  These engagements and my greater friendship with him are one of the true joys of my life.  And so I was gob smacked when he looked me square in the eye and told me he had once come face to face with Bigfoot.

I was stunned not because of what he had just said to me or because it was specifically him who had said it – but because of my reaction to it.  Let me be very clear on this: this isn’t about him this is about me.

My immediate and reflexive response was, “Oh, I believe you.”

And I’m still wrestling with that.

I’d like to think my reaction was a combination of the beer and a desire to not offend.  And while those two things certainly colored my response, I know deep in my heart they don’t tell the entire story.  The truth is, I want to believe in Bigfoot.  I really do.  I want to believe there is something yet to discover in nature, something really, really big; something scientifically earth shattering and paradigm shifting.

Do I really believe in Bigfoot?  Do I really believe that my friend actually saw one?  These are two different questions.  He saw something.  Of that, I am certain.  I will leave it to him to decide what it was.  But I have to decide what his story means to me and about the nature of belief itself.

The difference between knowledge and belief is the difference between having facts and having faith.  I want to believe in Bigfoot just as I would like very much to believe that there is a loving god who watches over me.  But my constitution won’t allow me to surrender to either notion without a consensus of evidence.  I remain skeptical.  And yet, I understand how and why believers believe.  When you really, really want to, it’s easy.  When you really want to, it’s easy to reflexively say, “Oh, I believe you.”  But before I dive in with both feet and start living as if these things really existed, I must stop and examine my motives.  Is this thing really out there or do I just wish it were?

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