Sunday, October 21, 2012

My Voting Guide for November 2012: The Cheat Sheet

Last time I did one of these voting guides, I had some friends say, "Thanks, but we need one page we can just print off and take to the ballot box!" Well, here you go! Here's the quick list (along with links to get back to my reasoning, just in case you want to check my work).

Thursday, October 4, 2012

My Voting Guide for November 2012: Part 3

Part three of this November's voting guide, now we tackle the ballot questions! Two Constitutional Amendments, one Tax! Unless I decide to wade into the Presidential race at some point later on, this will be the last of it. Please read on....

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

My Voting Guide for November 2012: Part 2

Now for the next race on my November ballot: Fayette County Board of Education:

My Voting Guide for November 2012: Part 1

Hey, we're almost down to a month before Election Day! The voting guide I did for the primary was such a huge help, especially for the local races, I'm going to do it again!

I'm going to skip over the Presidential election for now. We can come back to that later, if we have time. I want to focus for a bit on those easily-missed races, the state and local offices and the ballot questions. Those offices are much closer to home than the Presidency, and all too often we just don't give them the attention they deserve.

Let's start with the Georgia Public Service Commission. We have two seats up on the ballot for this race. For the primary, I voted for one incumbent, and against another. I'm going to do so again this time around. Here's why:

Tuesday, July 31, 2012


I voted today! Have you voted yet?

Here's just a quick one-page cheat-sheet version of my voting guide, I printed this out and brought it to the ballot box this morning:

Public Service Commissioner 1: Chuck Eaton
Public Service Commissioner 2: Pam Davidson
House of Representatives: Kent Kingsley

Sheriff: Barry Babb
Tax Commissioner: George Wingo

County Commissioner 1: Charles W. Oddo
County Commissioner 2: David Barlow
County Commissioner 3: Randy C. Ognio

Board of Education 1: Barry Marchman
Board of Education 2: Mary Kay Bacallo

State Court: Carla McMillian
Magistrate Court: Jason B. Thompson

Gambling: No
Ending unlimited gifts: Yes
Gun licenses for young military: Yes
Closing primaries: No
Personhood: No

Package sales: Yes

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

My July 31st Voting Guide, Part 3 - Issues Questions

Last part of my voting guide. In this one, I tackle the issues questions. As a bonus, I've looked at both the Republican and Democratic party ballots. Then there are a couple of really important Special Election Referendum items that are going to be on both ballots.

My July 31st Voting Guide, Part 2: County and judicial races

The county and local races can get very contentious. Just a standard disclaimer here, I don't know any of the candidates personally, and I don't have any connection to any campaigns. All that I have to say is based on wading through news accounts, campaign web sites, and other easily available information. I'm judging the candidates based on what they have to say about themselves, and what others have to say about them.

My July 31st Voting Guide, Part 1

Consider this my little "civic duty" of the week. In the interest of trying to feel like I'm a "semi-informed voter", I've been doing some research into the various races for the upcoming July 31st ballot. I'm focusing on the Republican ballot, because that's the one I'll be using. I'll italicize my personal choices in the list below. For the first round, here are the Republican nominees for Public Service Commissioner and the House of Representatives.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Continuing the conversation on rights

In reply to my last post, I've been asked:
So where do these inalienable rights you mention come from? And at what point die they emerge? And do animals have them? Are there any circumstances when these rights could be denied?
We are getting into deep philosophical waters here. You asked, and I'll answer. I don't necessarily expect you to agree with me, but we can disagree respectfully.

As I said, the idea of a "right" is as I understand it is tied up with the idea of what it means to be human, to be capable of ethical and moral judgement, with a sense of right and wrong. It has to do with living in right relationships with each other as human beings. Who can have the authority to impose such hefty definitions on humanity? That is, I think, a truly God-like power.

I happen to believe in the existence of a Creator who exists ouside of time and the universe. As the Declaration of Independence says, I believe that all humans are "endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." No guarantee of happiness, only the ability to pursue it, and to enjoy it if you actually manage to find it. Also, I believe that the most important purpose of government is to protect these fundamental rights.

I happen to be a Christian, but this is not an exclusively Christian concept. Ben Franklin was never a Christian, but he did believe in a "Divine Providence". Also, I don't believe that my belief in God in any way gives me any special rights that all human beings don't already have. My beliefs have an impact on how I behave, but that's my burden, not yours.

For those who don't believe in the existance of a divine Creator, then I can imagine that the role of defining humanity may fall on whatever entity is next on the "powerful and eternal" scale. This may be a government, or a society. But governments and societies are still made up of individual people, all prone to their individual failings.

At what point did rights emerge? They have been with us for as long as we have been human, and capable of treating each other as such. We haven't always been good at recognizing them throughout history. As I said, we are capable of moral judgement; That means that we are also capable of moral failing, just as much now as at any other time in history.

Do animals have rights? Not human rights, because they aren't human. I think that we have a responsibility to treat animals in a humane manner, because otherwise we reduce ourselves as humans. But the relationship between a human and an animal is never going to be the same as the relationship between two humans. And, I have yet to meet an animal that is capable of philisophical and moral wrangling. When we humans choose to live like animals, we are at our worst. When an animal lives like a human, that's because humans have taught the animal a few cute tricks.

Are there any circumstances when rights could be denied? They have been, often, throughout history. That, I think, is the very definition of a "crime against humanity". The real question is whether there are any circumstances where a person's rights -should- be denied. There may be times when denying a person's rights may seem to be the most pragmatic or necessary thing do do, in the moment. But I think that it is very rarely the -right- thing to do. It comes down again to that moral and ethical thing. Sometimes the right thing to do is the thing we want to do the least. The only circumstance I can readily believe that taking a person's right to life or liberty may be acceptable may be if that person is already guilty of choosing to take the life or liberty of another by force or fraud. Even then, if at all possible, I want to have a due process of law to hold that power in check. 

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Health care "rights", voting "rights", and human rights

A Facebook poster made this comment on a discussion about "health care as a human right":
Rights are something that emerge over time, but only after a fight of one kind or another. Consider the right to vote, for example. We have expanded that right over time, at least in modern industrialized countries. With regard to healthcare, the argument is whether we as a society are ready to acknowledge (or grant if you prefer) that right for every person. We can certainly afford it. It is only a matter of priorities.
I was inspired to give this reply:
Judith: You and I have different concepts of what rights are and where they come from. I'm not saying this to pass judgement, just to point out that we are going to come to different conclusions from our different starting points. I understand that you believe rights are something created or granted by society, or government. From my perspective, rights are something transcendent, something intrinsic to what it means to be a human being. When I think of rights, I think of words like "fundamental" and "inalienable". I believe that government and society cannot add to or take away the rights I have as a human being, it can only protect the rights that every human has, or violate them. The government or society which can create or grant rights, can take those rights away... or, simply decide not to grant them in the first place.

With regard to voting, I know that we commonly talk of "voting rights", but I'm not sure it's the best terminology. You see, when I vote, I have power over the life and liberty of my neighbor. I consider that to be a privilege and a power, not to be exercised lightly. It is a power which my neighbor has given to me, in exchange for giving up the same power over my own life. I cannot claim an intrinsic, fundamental, inalienable right to power over my neighbor's life.

Bringing it back to healthcare, if what you want is to make people healthier and happier, even those who cannot afford it for themselves, I agree with that goal. I think it's a goal that elevates us as a society. But a coercive approach can spoil even the noblest of purposes. If I can persuade my neighbor to donate to healthcare for those who can't afford it, I lift up my neighbor, I lift up the sick, and I lift up myself. But if I force my neighbor to serve my cause, it doesn't matter whether my cause can be considered just or not. Every tyrant in history thought he had a just cause. And, no matter how you spin it, every government means is going to be a coercive means in the end.

I actively support healthcare supplied at minimal or no cost to the patient by charitable organizations with my voice and my wallet. I cannot support it with my neighbor's wallet, or my vote. I hope you understand what I mean.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Attraction, Love, Marriage

This post is in response to a Facebook discussion. A poster asked me a question, and the answer got to be... well, a little long. So I decided to blog my reply.

First, the question posed:
I will ask one question: did you pick who you would be attracted to or is the gender choice of your partner part of who you are? Your answer responds to your assertion that who you love is different from who you are. And I do not understand how a god who preaches love and acceptance of all can conclude that people who love one another are damned to be eternally different.
Chris: I don't remember asserting that specifically, but I will try to answer your question. Your question is phrased in a way which makes me think that what you think I believe is not quite what I believe. In order to be clear in my answer, I am going to have to share something of what God has done in my life. This does not mean I want to impose my religion on you. I am simply telling my story from my perspective. Take from it what you will.

My wife was, quite literally, an answer to a prayer. I remember one night very specifically when I was feeling my bachelorhood like a burden. I placed my future in God's hands and asked Him to make sure I didn't miss my chance with a woman who would have the right qualities to put up with me. I specifically remember asking Him to "drop her in my lap", so that I wouldn't miss the chance never knowing it had even come my way. He came through, sooner than I expected, and a little bit more literally than I expected!

So, I did not choose the person to whom I would be attracted. I didn't choose her gender, and I didn't choose her race. We have an ongoing joke between us: Early in our dating, she asked me if I knew I liked "black women". My reply: I love a woman, and she is black. I guess it was the right answer!

I did not choose the initial attraction. But I did choose how to respond to that attraction. I chose to love her. I chose to make her the most important person on this earth in my life. I chose to give her myself and my future. I chose to accept the gift from God which was her entrance into my life.

Attraction is not a decision. But love is an act of will. If you've had a child who has ever tried your patience to the very end, you know that love takes willpower. My wife and I have made a commitment to choose to love each other, even when one of us does something very unlovable. In five years of marriage, I must confess to having done a few very unlovable things, and yet, my wife has chosen to love me anyway.

Is same-sex attraction a choice? That's a question about human nature, and like any question about human nature I think the only honest answer is, "it's complicated". It's not something I've had to personally wrestle with, and I pass no judgement on those who have. But I do believe that how each of us responds to any attraction is ultimately a matter of choice.

There have been other attractions in my life which I have had to choose to turn away from. Attractions which could have spoiled the best thing ever to come my way. I'm not out to judge the attractions that anyone else has to face in their life, that may be healthy for them or unhealthy. All I can say is, I know they exist, and I know we all have them. If a neighbor asks me for help and advice in navigating their challenges, I can only share what I know. One thing that I know is that, as a man, there are things that my wife shares with other women, even complete strangers, that I will never ever be able to understand. Even if I had my "plumbing" surgically changed, this fact would never change. Saying this does not make me love her any less. It does not make me hateful, or a sexist, or a misogynist. But the moment I try to get philosophical on this idea, you can bet your bottom dollar that someone will say I'm waging a war of religious oppression on women.

(I can't wage a religious war on women. I've got three women in my house: wife, daughter, mother-in-law. I'm outnumbered. I'd lose, hands down.)

I find your last statement puzzling, and I am certain that it says a lot about the difference between your understanding of love and mine. Or maybe between your understanding of what I believe, and what I actually believe.
And I do not understand how a god who preaches love and acceptance of all can conclude that people who love one another are damned to be eternally different.
Is it really a damnation to be different? My wife is different than I am, and I absolutely love that about her. I don't want her to be the same as I am, that would be boring. I don't want my daughter to be the same as I am, I want her to grow up healthier, wiser, and more sensible. I don't want my friends to be the same as I am. I love cultural variety, and linguistic diversity. If I only love those who aren't different from me, that's very close to self-love. Self-love is easy. Loving someone you don't know, and can't possibly understand? That is incredibly difficult, and incredibly rewarding. It's also "practice" for loving a God who is very different from us, and often very difficult to understand.

But, while my faith does teach that we should love all people, it does not teach that we should accept all choices and behaviors. We are called to come to God just as we are... but in order to come to Him, we have to be willing to let Him transform us. It's up to you to decide whether that's something you want.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Judgement and consequences

Something caught my attention last night while watching Cold Case. In one of the flashbacks, a young teacher/would-be minister was counselling a club of teens. He told one girl, "God doesn't judge you." What? Where is this in the bible?

I understand, there are a lot of bad representations of Christianity out there. Not all of them are the fault of "the media". Sometimes we as Christians take what we hope and believe personally, and hold it out for the world to see as "what Christians believe", when said beliefs may have no real theological basis. In this story, the character turned out to be not the kind of person you'd want as either a teacher or a minister to begin with.

My name means "God is my judge". What kind of universe would we live in if He didn't? Many "atheists" and anti-Christians accuse God of being unjust, unfair, cruel, and heartless. But, if God is not just, then where did we humans get this idea of justice to begin with? It's certainly not a scientific idea, you can't empirically or experimentally arrive at justice. But we are convinced that it is a real idea.

The gospel message is not that God doesn't judge us. The Good News is this: Even having judged us, He loves us so much that He has taken the punishment that we rightly deserve (and can't bear) onto His own self. That is what our hope of salvation means. The judgement is not gone, it is not "waived". It is paid on our behalf, and that is the gift for which we should be thankful.

I can hear what you're thinking. "If God is so just, why do innocent people suffer? If God is merciful, why is there a Hell?" Those are important questions. Please remember, there is a difference between judgement and consequences. Judgement is what we are due for the consequences of our own choices. We suffer many consequences for things we did not choose. That's a necessary condition for free will.

Let's take an example. One man murders another. Both men have families. The judgement is that the murderer goes to jail, perhaps even gets the death penalty. Two families are broken as a consequence. The children in both families suffer, both the murder's family and the victims. But does the guilt of the suffering belong to the judge handing down the sentence? No, it belongs to the man who did the murder. Even if the murderer repents and reforms in prison, the deed is done, and though the families may heal in time, the consequence remains.

But what if God could erase consequences? Then we would never learn. We would never grow. "Free will" would mean nothing. One of my favorite sayings, from the wall of a local diner: Good judgement comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgement.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Location, location, location

From an article at The Blaze:
Polling places often include schools, churches and some other public buildings. A growing body of research states that the location of where you cast you vote could be influencing those decisions to an extent, a factor called “priming.”
A new study from Baylor University found that of those in England and the Netherlands who stopped to take a survey near a Christian church were likely to report themselves as more politically conservative and had a more negative attitude toward non-Christians, compared to those answering survey questions near a government building.
I see just a few flaws in the assumptions here:

Correlation, causation. They have demonstrated that a set of people who answer a survey in one location tend to be "conservative", and a different set of people answering the same survey tend to be more "liberal", using their own definitions of conservative and liberal. 

"Church-going" does not always mean "more conservative". Just take a look at TEC, or a number of other "main-line" denominations, which have gone to the far, far left on the political spectrum. Or, take a look at black churches, which tend to heavily support the Democratic Party even when they lean culturally conservative.

They say that visual and verbal cues in the environment influenced the results. (Funny, every time I've been to a church to cast my vote, the polls were set up in a gym-like or cafeteria-like space, not the worship space.) But as far as I see, they haven't demonstrated evidence to back their conclusion. Did they try introducing these so-called "religious visual cues" into a non-religious environment where they don't normally exist to see whether the results were affected? Or, did they try holding the survey in a church vicinity where the cues had been removed or hidden? Did they try administering a survey to people in two different environments to see whether their answers changed?
The article mentions that "The researchers conducting the surveys were careful to make sure those interviewed near churches were not expressly in the area to attend church." However, I think it's not a stretch to guess that most people stopping by a church on a random non-Sunday day of the week are probably church-goers, even if they aren't worshipping that day. Similarly, it's not a stretch to imagine that people who happen to be working in the vicinity of a government building might have some business to do with government. So, the survey by its nature has its own sort of bias. 

Now, take a look at the knee-jerk "anti-church, anti-conservative" reaction to this study demonstrated in the excerpt from the same article:
With this evidence in mind, the Boston University researchers consider the constitutionality of hosting voting booths in churches due to the “unconscious nature [...] on citizen’s decision making” and the First Amendment.
You haven't conclusively demonstrated to me that where I vote does have an influence on my decision, but you've decided that you want to influence my decision by changing where I vote. I note that there isn't any question as to the constitutionality of hosting voting booths at government facilities, which according to this same line of study, may influence voters in a pro-government way. Wouldn't that be government stacking the deck in favor of itself? It seems to me that the researchers have brought a pro-government, anti-church bias to their conclusions in this study. What would the founding fathers* say about that?

It seems to me that the wisest course is what we have now. Let the law be blind to whether or not people use a place to perform worship activities. Let polling places be determined by simple, neutral facts: Accessibility, availability, building capacity, and relatively even population distribution. (That is, more populated areas should have more polling stations, etc.)

*"Government is not reason; it is not eloquent; it is force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master." -- George Washington