Tuesday, July 01, 2014


The Supreme Court is supposed to represent the highest thought among the people of the nation and stand against the corruption of the founding ideals.  This is, of course, impossible in a pluralistic society -- which the USA was from the beginning when the country was patched together from a collection of colonies.  Now things are even more pluralistic so it’s probably fair that the Supremes vary among themselves from Slacker Thomas to Diligent Ginsberg.  But they don’t vary in some assumptions, one of which is that “religion” is something moral and worthy of government exemptions.  They have not grasped that “religions” are competing corporations, just as they haven’t quite gotten a grip on the international corporations.  Probably can’t.
Themes for scrapbooks from Hobby Lobby

This recent HobbyLobby decision shows that blind spot.  Exempting people from compliance from laws about birth is parallel to exempting people from laws about death -- namely “conscientious objection” in war time.  It is always interesting to put our moralities of birth and death alongside each other.  We insist on saving every baby, no matter how damaged, and yet we are willing to kill adults whose damage is evidently an inability to resist violence.  We will commit our young men to death in a foreign country but also commit our women to producing infants they don’t want and can’t manage.  We will insist on keeping brain-dead people alive but refuse to provide food and shelter to the homeless whose brains are just fine.  

When at first I was an active UU minister, there was still a draft and young men had to deal with the conscientious objector issue by going before a board to be exempted.  There were a few religious denominations who were explicitly against war.  If the young man could prove he was a sincere member of that group (Jehovah’s Witness, Mennonite), he was automatically exempt from military service, but might be required to serve in a non-combat position.  Many were heroic as battlefield medics.

But the UU kid, even a birthright member of a functioning congregation, had to prove case-by-case that he was a pacifist because the denomination as a whole supported individual thought and decision.  As a minister, one function was to interview a boy and make a judgement about his moral position, then write a letter testifying that he was truly and thoroughly a conscientious objector.  The idea was to get this done just before the boy’s age made him vulnerable to the draft so that it didn’t look like a strategy to keep him out of danger.  Of course, that’s exactly what it was.  And that was a moral position.

My cohort was draftable and several guys my age described how they pretended to be gay so they would be exempted.  Lisping, kissing other guys in plain sight, declaring admiration for notorious gays, etc.  Pretty lame and obvious but it worked for some of them.  Or so they thought.  Of course, now that nonsense won’t work.  Anyway, gays also make fine warriors. Always have.

What I’m getting at is that moral convictions (being gay is not a moral conviction -- it’s an innate characteristic) have become conflated with belonging to a religious corporation, which claims for its members some kind of unique characteristic ("straight"), which is accepted by the larger society as legitimate BECAUSE it is “religious.”  

So a professor of religion in Bozeman and his friend formed a denomination of two which had only one requirement: that a person be buried vertically instead of horizontally.  If that were done, the person was supposed to be "saved."  But it was out of his hands since he was dead when the deed was done, thus eliminating guilt.  It was a joke, and meant to be, but many jokes are consciousness raising.

When an ancient skeleton was found near the Tri-cities in the Columbia River, the Native American tribes claimed it and insisted on requiring that their tribal rules of burial be observed.  (Tribes are deliberately defined as corporations by the federal government.)  Of course, no one knows what the “rules” were at the time the fellow died at least ten thousand years earlier.  A group of ranchers not far away got the idea and formed a religion of “water worship.”  They were fighting irrigation issues and claimed that their religious position required water to be treated as they wished.  Water as religious and spiritual symbol is universal.  But this kind of joking is possible because religion in general is sometimes considered unreal, frivolous, just made up.  As my mother-in-law used to say, "Hokey pokey."  Catholics defied the law against birth control, got divorced -- still took Communion.  Were not excommunicated.  So what did it mean?

Courts and laws are meant to figure out a way to keep the peace in some kind of logical, precedented, and fair insight or compromise.  The relationship to justice is always problematic, but it is meant to keep the peace, both in neighborhoods and between nations or among factions in nations.  When crime rates go up, terrorists abound, and swords rattle around the world, it’s because there’s no consensus or confidence in laws or the means of bringing them to bear.  Sometimes laws have to be enforced with violence, which is also a failure.
Pope Frances deals with the secular big shots.

In this pluralistic world where the ecologies of the regions and nations have merged into one planetary ecology of swirling sea and atmosphere, the United Nations, the Pope and the Dalai Lama all try to find a consensus that makes enough sense that people will see it is in their best interests and the best interest of the whole to agree with practical principles -- but also deeply moral since survival is the ultimate measure of morality.

The survival of sub-groups seems to those in that smaller world to be attached to their morality, a defensive self-righteousness.  This includes the sub-group that is the USA, which refuses to subscribe to the agreements reached by the United Nations, often on grounds that are economic.  ALWAYS on political grounds.  Sub-groups inside the USA will insist that the UN is a predatory corporation bent on domination, while neatly overlooking the mineral extraction, capital management, drug, and quasi-military international corporations who serve the 1%.  Their moral principle is only profit.  They do not want to provide health care involving the ending or prevention of pregnancy because it will cost them money to provide that care.  

So now we will be looking at the profitability of abortion which is not just a matter of clinics and meds (though that, too), but must be compared to the costs of not having abortion available to people struggling to support families, to impose personal wellness burdens and interruption to careers, to keep from requiring public assistance, to avoid death due to forced childbirth.  We’ve forgotten how dangerous childbirth can be because of fantasies about motherhood, very parallel to fantasies about combat.

Where is the moral virtue in refusing abortion?  Why do we not raise up a contingent, organically connected, virtue in supporting (economically or otherwise) the raising of an unwanted or damaged child?  Or even a wanted and healthy one?  But the same profit-seekers resent even public schools.

Religion in such circumstances becomes a veil drawn over the can of worms that is economic, political, and emotional.  The idea of excluding religion from commerce by calling it “secular” has now run headlong into science, which has become a kind of religion, just as science has smashed into corporations who pay their bills, everything captive to profit and domination.  The survival of the conscientious individual puts him or her in conflict with the larger dominating group, whatever its nature.  In resistant solidarity, an under-culture will once again form to support the cooperating individuals, whether or not they are within the law, just like the anti-abortion forces who shoot doctors and set fire to clinics.  They are an UNDER-culture.  Under-cultures form when there is domination, felt or actual.

The conscientious individual must search for personal spirituality that will support what they must do.  They will probably not find it in corporate religion, if that organization would feel it threatening to their survival as a group.  The UUA has immediately announced that they are "standing on the side of love" by supporting the right to abortion which they call "reproductive justice" and put their declaration on the website next to a "Donate Now" exhortation.  It is always dangerous to define anything only in contrast to something else.  It gives the opposition control of you.
Michael Servetus, UU exemplar, immolated by John Calvin for the greater good.

What if the birth-worshippers get into control and start requiring women to get pregnant and give birth?  Wait -- didn't someone write a novel about that?  Isn't it already a feature of war? Isn't refusal to carry a pregnancy to term a form of conscientious objection?  And isn't insistence on carrying one's own wanted pregnancy to term also conscientious and deserving of support?

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