The Elephant

Americans marched last week. Across the country, millions expressed fear of a neo-Fascist in the White House, and solidarity in seeking change in our political system.

ct-womens-march-national-pg-20170121People marched for many reasons. They marched for equal rights for women, People of Color, immigrants, LGBTQIA individuals, and others. They marched for our planet, recognizing that human action harms our global climate. They marched for a fair and just society that truly offers complete access to the American Dream for all.

And many marched for reproductive freedom – the issue that represents the key lynch pin to every political discussion in this nation. People will vote against their own self-interest when it comes to taxes, jobs, immigration, schools, the environment, even national security. But the one issue on which most voters will not compromise is abortion. Any candidate claiming to be “pro-life” running against another candidate labeled as “pro-choice” can count on thousands of committed votes regardless of any other political stand they take.

The majority of white American women just voted for a President who believes women are property to be mauled, who mocks the disabled, who opposes living wages, and who casually banters about nuclear war. But, he claimed to be pro-life, and he now sits in the White House.

“Pro-Choice” is a myth

In my experience, women who support reproductive freedom do not simply support abortion on demand. In fact, many would like to see the need for elective abortions reduced to zero. However, our laws and social systems remain heavily anti-woman. Abuse of women remains at shockingly high levels. The objectification of women in the media trains girls and boys from an early age that striving toward an unachievable norm of beauty defines a woman’s worth. The continued acceptance of our rape culture leaves women living in constant, daily fear of discrimination, molestation, assault, and worse.

American men take little responsibility for sexual relations. We routinely expect women to control the use of contraception and yet men often overrule women to suit their desire for sexual gratification. Birth control is expensive, hard to access, and has many side effects. We label men who bed many women as virile and desirable role models. We label sexually active women as promiscuous sluts and whores unworthy of marriage and motherhood.

planned-parenthood-about-us-who-we-are-mission-1920x1080Even when women take every possible precaution, this pernicious double standard too often produces pregnancies where the men bail out and leave the woman alone to bear a life-long responsibility with little if any support. The legal system does little to hold men accountable as equal partners in procreation, but hurdles mountains to control a woman’s body and medical choices.

Pro-choice does not equate to pro-abortion. Many women – and I believe most women – see abortion as a tragic last step necessary only because our country lacks proper education and affordable access to birth control. Most women accept the necessity of abortion only because our commitment as a nation to the rights of men over the dignity and worth of women leaves women without viable alternatives.

In a perfect world, elective abortions would disappear because the circumstances that lead to unwanted pregnancies would not exist. What would this world look like?

  • No man would ever dream of forcing himself on a woman.
  • Women and men would be true equals from birth through school to the workplace and into retirement.
  • Beauty would be defined by one’s character, goodness, authenticity, and conviction – not body shape.
  • Every child would know the facts of human reproduction, and learn the complexities of loving relationships.
  • Government would play no role in determining what any person chooses to do with their body.
  • Individuals’ personal religious beliefs regarding personhood would be respected, but no one would be permitted to discriminate against others on the basis of those personal beliefs.

So, “pro-choice” does not mean pro-elective abortion at will. Pro-choice means supporting a society with reproductive justice – the human right to maintain personal bodily autonomy, have children, not have children, and parent the children we have in safe and sustainable communities.

“Pro-Life” is a myth

ireland17For years, Congressman John Moolenaar has staunchly defended what he calls the “sanctity of life.” This week, Harvard researchers revealed that the repeal of the Affordable Care Act without a replacement program will result in 44,000 unnecessary deaths each year. It is irrefutable fact that more than 20 million Americans will lose their health insurance if Republicans repeal and do not replace the ACA, an action Moolenaar voted to approve.

Can a person legitimately call themselves pro-life if they only apply their moral standards of sanctity of life to fetuses? No. In fact, voting to repeal the ACA without a replacement represents an “anti-life” action. Other anti-life attitudes include:

  • Sending men and women into combat, but fail to provide them world-class mental and physical medical treatment once they return from the trauma of war;
  • Using drones that indiscriminately kill innocent men, women, and children in search of a possible enemy target;
  • Murdering prisoners convicted of crimes, given the inordinate number of mistakes that have been made in capital punishment sentencing, its inherent racism and classism, and the cruel processes used to take those lives;
  • Cutting funds for food stamps, school lunch programs, early childhood education initiatives, and public education of equally high quality for all, when more than enough is available in our bloated federal military budget to easily meet these needs;
  • Passing into law the most intrusive and medically unnecessary invasion of a woman’s body, while offering young people little realistic education about sex and obstructing their access to birth control;
  • Denying victims of incest, rape, and medical complications threatening the life of the mother with means to terminate those pregnancies;
  • Failing to speak out in opposition to “slap on the wrist” punishments for rapists and those committing domestic violence and sexual assaults on women, and excusing the behavior of beasts for violating a woman by blaming her for the crime; and
  • Failing to be repulsed that this nation has done absolutely nothing to create mandatory background checks for all gun purchases, or to limit access to weapons whose sole purpose is the mass murder of humans — and not pressuring you legislators to do so.

If these apply to you, then stop calling yourself pro-life. You are not pro-life – you are pro-birth and anti-woman.

Reclaiming American citizenship

The seeds of America spread wide through the soil of injustice and tyranny. Our ancestors fought for a host of freedoms and civil rights. They proclaimed those rights publicly in documents central to our national core. For the Founders, being American meant supporting the full American agenda, a social system unmatched in history.

How long would America last if citizens based their vote solely on a single issue? That kind of thinking led to a bloody civil war that decimated our nation. That kind of thinking condoned the genocide of millions of indigenous peoples whose descendants still suffer our oppression. That kind of thinking normalized the incarceration of thousands of Americans of Japanese descent, along with the theft of their property and livelihoods. That kind of thinking supported segregation, lynching, Sundown Towns, and continues supporting a racist criminal justice system.

Make no mistake; Donald Trump is unfit to serve as President of the United States. If you voted for him because Hillary Clinton supports a woman’s right to choose, then you have contributed to the possible decline of our nation and our way of life. I understand your feelings about the unborn. Most people do. But electing a President already committed to destroying our environment, eliminating key safety net programs for the poor, taking health care away from millions, and dismantling industry regulations is an act of social suicide.

If you marched last Saturday, I implore you to reach out to those who oppose abortion. Engage in dialogue with them on the realities of conception, fertilization, fetal anomalies, and religious belief. Help those seeking to defend the rights of the unborn understand that you agree with their cause as part of a larger package of social programs that defend the right of all persons to life.

2013-02-08-perezIf you opposed the march last Saturday, I implore you to look at the broad picture of what it means to be an American citizen. Standing up for the rights of those who cannot defend themselves is courageous, noble work. But the defenseless include not only fetuses, but refugees, children of undocumented parents, innocent people dead due to excessive police violence, and victims of institutionalized racism, gender bias, homophobia, and other forms of bigotry.

Whether you consider yourself pro-choice or pro-life, you are an American. Our American principles demand of us a high standard of citizen participation. We are called to resist authoritarian rule and defend the civil rights of all. We are called to expose acts of foreign agents seeking to undermine our most precious liberties. We are called to hold our elected officials accountable when they lie, obstruct the search for truth, hide pertinent information, and behave in foolish and reckless ways.

Resist those who would divide and conquer us. Refute the false dichotomy of pro-life/pro-choice. Replace stereotypes and unfounded generalizations with facts and grounded beliefs acceptable to all. Let us unite as Americans, agreeing to disagree when needed, but in solidarity regarding the values of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Truth and Meaning: Calling Bull

When I was young, we played a card game named after the defecation of a male cow. The point of the game was to lie whenever needed and to call out others when you thought they were lying. I was reminded of this child’s game recently.

When John Moolenaar was in the Michigan Legislature, we exchanged a number of communications on abortion bills. His messages always touted his belief in the “sanctity of life” as his reason for wishing to make all abortions illegal.
How curious, then, when I get his response on gun control legislation before Congress, including the following. “I believe it is imperative to have an open dialogue about recent gun-related violence and how to further prevent it. It is also imperative that we strengthen the ties that bind the family, school and community. In my view, a commonsense approach can be found that helps keep firearms out of the hands of criminals and others posing serious danger, while protecting legal firearm ownership.”
Sorry, Representative, but I am calling bull. Why is it that your answer to whether or not a woman should have the right to choose is to completely ban the act resulting in the termination of the pregnancy, but when it comes to mass shootings, and tens of thousands of gun deaths each year, your answer is to have an “open dialogue?”
Those of us sick and tired of the American gun culture know how to translate your language and we see through the bull. You believe in making sure that no effort to control gun sales or the types of guns one can purchase should ever be seriously discussed. You believe that guns don’t kill people, only evil and deranged psychopaths kill people. And you believe that the unfettered right to own a gun matters more than anything … ANYTHING, including life.
You posted on your campaign website last year, “I’m proud to receive the endorsement of the National Rifle Association (NRA). I believe strongly in the rights guaranteed to every American under the Second Amendment and will do everything I can to ensure that it is not weakened by efforts of liberals. I continue to believe, as I have all my life, in the rights of law abiding Americans to possess firearms.” You know what, John, you can’t have it both ways.
How dare you intrude on a woman’s most intimate decisions, claiming a belief in the sanctity of life, when you lap up the crumbs thrown to you by the NRA to do their bidding. How dare you do nothing to help people get contraception or to teach our children about responsible sexuality, while doing everything to help those who don’t hold life sacred get all the weapons of mass killing they want through gun show loopholes and Internet sales. How dare you assert that “we are endowed by our Creator with the unalienable Right to Live,” while turning a blind eye to the cause of thousands of senseless and preventable murders each year.
I am an adult now, and this is no longer a card game. But I still know bull when I smell it, hear it or read it.

Truth and Meaning: A Top 10 List That Matters

Last week, I talked about our love of top 10 lists. So, this week I offer my list of the top 10 things Americans need to do to restore sanity to our nation.

10. Labor – Establish a minimum wage that is a living wage. The endless attacks on labor undermine our economy and our democracy. No one should suffer wage or job discrimination for any reason and anyone willing to work should be able to live above the poverty line.
9. Health Care – Provide a basic level of medical and mental health care to every American once and for all. We should demand that politicians stop using our health and well-being as a political football.
8. Corporate Responsibility – Demand that the private sector pay its fair share of taxes and be held accountable when it misbehaves. Congress should overturn the Citizens United decision. The idea that a corporation has the rights of a person is not only illogical, it is social suicide.
7. Election Reform – Guarantee the unencumbered right to vote for every citizen by removing all restrictions to voting rights and making Election Day a national holiday. Enact comprehensive campaign finance reform and abolish all partisan gerrymandering, replacing current redistricting tools with common sense and reason.
6. Environment – Stop making the irresponsible assumption that petrochemical resources are unlimited. We should plan for a future where all people have access to food and clean water, and where we live sustainably.
5. Racism – Judging people by their skin color, ethnicity, or culture is a concept that has overstayed its welcome. Our mass incarceration of people of color in increasingly profit-oriented prisons is obscene. Immigrants need a clear and affordable path to citizenship.
4. Stupidity – People are free to ignore the overwhelming scientific evidence on any given topic. But we should keep such people out of positions of authority and decision making. We have tolerated know-nothings and deniers in our public discourse for too long. The Earth is round and circles the sun. Climate change is real. Sexual orientation is largely determined at birth. Evolution occurs. The world is billions of years old.
3. Guns – End our insane worship of guns. We have allowed violence and killing to be our number one national priority for far too long. We should make universal background checks mandatory and impose strict limits on automatic and semi-automatic weapons. Open Carry and Stand Your Ground may have worked on the 19th century frontier — they do not work for 21st century America.
2. Life – We should become a truly life-sustaining nation. That means no more war, an end to capital punishment, zero tolerance for police brutality, and contraception and comprehensive sex education for all so that every child is wanted. More important, it means caring about the born — eliminate hunger, provide equal education opportunities, and provide jobs, housing and social safety nets for everyone.
1. Revolution – We cannot accomplish needed changes through incrementalism. We should seek nonviolent ways to catalyze large-scale changes quickly and effectively. That means grassroots movements for policy change, boycotts, dissent and other tools the people have at their disposal. And it especially means voting for the highest quality candidates and not just for anyone who happens to have a “D” or an “R” next to their names.

Truth and Meaning: We Won’t Get Fooled Again

Videos recently released by an organization called the Center for Medical Progress purport to reveal Planned Parenthood staff negotiating the illegal sale of fetal remains. Politicians opposed to reproductive justice (including Rep. Gary Glenn) could not jump on the band wagon fast enough. Glenn quickly posted to his public figure Facebook page, “Given the gruesome but unsurprising exposure of Planned Parenthood’s prenatal body parts trafficking, I am grimly all the more gratified to have been among lawmakers who insisted that the 2015-16 state budget not only not appropriate one dime of state taxpayers’ money directly to the nation’s largest abortion provider, but also include policy language expressly prohibiting any state agency from using our state tax dollars to indirectly subsidize its industrial termination of prenatal children’s lives and profiteering from the sale of their body parts.”

There is only one problem with Rep. Glenn’s courageous, righteous indignation — the videos are not true The heavily-edited videos eliminated the actual context of the discussions of fetal tissue donations, from which Planned Parenthood makes no profit, and which require the clear consent of the patient. Medical researchers use fetal tissue to study and develop treatments for life-threatening diseases and conditions like HIV, hepatitis, congenital heart defects, retinal degeneration and Parkinson’s. Last year, the National Institutes of Health gave $76 million in grants for fetal tissue research. And Planned Parenthood is joined by many clinics, such as those associated with public universities, that also supply tissue for research.

Anti-abortion groups have long pushed to defund Planned Parenthood, even though no taxpayer money is used to provide abortions. But that hasn’t stopped their efforts to shut down the clinics, which provide important women’s health services like contraception, cancer screening and other tests.

What, then, is the purpose of these misleading and inflammatory videos? The head of the Center for Medical Progress created a fake company called Biomax Procurement Services almost three years ago for the purpose of tricking Planned Parenthood employees, even setting up exhibits at Planned Parenthood’s national conferences. Biomax offered one Planned Parenthood affiliate $1,600 for a fetal liver and thymus, presumably to trap the affiliate in the act of accepting a high payment for fetal tissue. The affiliate declined.

The Center for Medical Progress — which managed to get tax-exempt status in 2013 as a biomedicine charity — appears to have done little beyond producing the undercover videos. And no one should be surprised that one of its three officers is the president of the anti-abortion group Operation Rescue.

Rep. Glenn, if you have any hope of truly representing the people of the 98th District, then you need to do a better job with your homework. Your endless crusade against women, the poor, gay and transgender people, unions and public school students do not represent the opinions of your constituents. Stop using your position as a bully pulpit to stump for the theocracy you seem determined to create. At the very least, stop making a fool of yourself every time someone who shares your agenda releases dishonest and fabricated “evidence.”

Elephants in the Room Interfaith Presentation

I led this presentation at the Mid-Michigan Interfaith Dialogue Symposium in Freeland on April 19, 2015.  The topic was how to make “church” more relevant, especially for Millennials, by rationally addressing difficult moral issues, such as abortion and homosexuality.  My contention is that many religions are declining because of dualistic thinking on these issues when, in fact, the sacred texts are ambiguous at best.

Truth and Meaning: Gender Confusion

Recently, our state representative here in Midland, Michigan was quoted in the press as saying that the policy of Planet Fitness regarding transgender individuals threatens the safety of women. He called their policy “anti-woman” and added that it “violates the privacy, comfort and peace of mind of women.”

Perhaps it is really Rep. Gary Glenn who is confused about the notion of gender and what it really means to be “anti-woman.”
Here are some real “anti-woman” policies:

  • Failing to close the ongoing pay equity gap between men and women;
  • Opposing efforts to raise the minimum wage or require that businesses provide paid sick leave, both of which disproportionately affect women;
  • Forcing women to pay additional insurance premiums for medical treatment to which they are legally entitled;
  • Proclaiming the unsuitability of two women to raise children without the presence of a man;
  • Denying loving and committed women the legal rights afforded heterosexual couples;
  • Basing political opinions on the malicious and groundless lie that gay and transgender people are pedophiles and rapists;
  • Opposing efforts to educate children about gender identity and categorizing anti-bullying legislation as an insidious tactic of the dreaded gay agenda;
  • Undermining efforts to provide affordable health care to women and girls living in poverty;
  • Attacking health care agencies providing important services to women, especially in the more remote areas of the state;
  • Fighting against hate crime legislation that would protect straight women of color, lesbians and transgender women from harassment, abuse and violence;
  • Helping men whose wives have taken out Personal Protection Orders against them for domestic violence buy guns;
  • Denying spousal benefits to the partners of unmarried employees;
  • And falsely laying claim to the mythical moral high ground of “traditional family values” that will only serve to deny women basic freedoms and dignity.

Perhaps most ironic in Rep. Glenn’s stance is the utter hypocrisy of his position relative to businesses. On the one hand, he wants to give companies free reign to discriminate against women on the basis of the religious beliefs of the owners. But, on the other hand, he condemns Planet Fitness for its enlightened and compassionate policy respecting the individual’s right to define their own gender identity. Do you support businesses taking moral stands, or not, Rep. Glenn? You cannot have it both ways.

The most dangerous threat to the privacy, comfort and peace of mind of women in Michigan is not gay or transgender people. It is not Planet Fitness and its policies regarding gender identity. The most dangerous and anti-woman threat in Michigan — the person most truly confused about gender — is you.
To support the fight against discrimination in Michigan, please sign and forward our petition calling for protection of our trans* community.

Truth and Meaning: Silence and Selma

The greatness of a quotation sometimes surpasses time and context. We often do not know for certain the origin of a great quote because so many people adapted the message over the years that its roots got lost in history.

“The only thing needed for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” We attribute this statement most frequently to the British statesman Edmund Burke. The basic concept, however, dates back many centuries further, at least to Talmudic writings. Another variation of the quote reads, “All tyranny needs to gain a foothold is for men of good conscience to remain silent.” While widely attributed to Thomas Jefferson, no such quote exists in his writings.

In the end, the source of the idea bears little relevance. The sentiment remains as true today as ever in the course of human history. Wrongdoing requires not only the will on the part of the perpetrator, but the blind eye and closed lips of the spectator. Evil and tyranny can only succeed with the consent of the masses, either through indifference, complacency or silence.

What is evil?

Few of us would deny the presence of evil in the world. But what exactly constitutes evil? Is evil the counterbalancing force of good? Is evil a malignant mutation of good? Is evil a concept relative to the society’s sense of immorality? Is evil anything that causes suffering, whether natural or human-made?

Since we can do little about floods and hurricanes, let us deal only with human acts of evil. I believe we can characterize an evil act as possessing three essential characteristics — the act is intentional, harmful and unrepentant. In order to commit an evil act, we must first intend to commit evil. The act must cause direct or indirect harm or suffering to others. And we must feel no remorse for the act or its consequences.

For example, accidentally harming another person is not evil because you had no intent. Wishing harm on someone is not evil if no harm comes to the person as a result. And harming someone intentionally is not evil if you truly regret your action and seek forgiveness.

Therefore, actions by those who don’t call god by the same name as you are not inherently evil. Acts by those of a different nation, skin color, sexual orientation or social class are not by definition evil. Evil comprises acts perpetrated counter to the universal themes of the religious teachings of humanity. Therefore, for instance, all murder is evil. Continuing failure to love your neighbors unconditionally is evil. Ongoing idol worshiping — be it money, guns, power or status — constitutes evil.

The magnitude of evil

Obviously, some evil acts exceed others in severity. Genocide, torture and institutionalized oppression are the acts of nations. Individual citizens can hardly be held completely accountable for the acts of nations. Generally speaking, the larger the act or authority of the perpetrator, the less personal responsibility we bear.

Some responsibility for national acts, however, does exist for individuals. Every white American of European ancestry carries a small portion of blame for the mass murder of indigenous peoples. Every male American can be held accountable for our shocking statistics of sexual assault and domestic violence against women and children. Every straight American shares culpability in hate crimes against gay and transgender individuals.

I doubt that any reader of this editorial ever killed an indigenous American. I hope none of you has ever raped a woman, or beat a child. And few of you have assaulted a gay person, or murdered a transgender man or woman. And, if you did commit one of these direct acts of evil, our criminal justice system has procedures for dealing with this evil. The system falls far short of perfection, but we make a strong social commitment to the attempt. Regardless, because we support our institutions, we all share in the imperfections of our social systems.

In addition, we are, and cannot be perfectly moral creatures, so we are all directly guilty of some acts of evil. These acts may be small, almost minuscule. We cheat on a test, take claim for another’s work, fudge some numbers to get a more favorable result. We all bear the burden of evil in some small way.

Eradicating evil

No amount of faith, prayer or good intentions will eradicate evil. To destroy evil, we must act. Following basic rules of morality is a good start. Whether you read the Torah, the Gospels, the Qur’an, or any other sacred text, you will find a common core of sound ethical rules — don’t kill, don’t steal, don’t lie, help people, love others as you love yourself.

But while those rules help eliminate evil acts from your personal life, they do not help with the larger evils. Those rules did not help America from enslaving millions of African Americans; from polluting every river; from keeping millions needlessly in poverty; from abandoning veterans, the homeless and those who suffer from mental illness; and from allowing advocacy groups and lobbyists to reduce our democracy to a commodity to be purchased.

In his novel “1984,” George Orwell envisioned a society where war means peace; hate means love; spying means freedom; and conformity means happiness. Those are the conditions of a dystopian society. Those are the conditions of hell.

Silence = Death

In 1987, six gay activists in New York began plastering posters around the city featuring a pink triangle on a black background stating simply “SILENCE = DEATH.” The symbol derived from Nazi Germany, when known homosexuals in concentration camps were forced to wear inverted pink triangle badges, just as Jews were forced to wear the yellow Star of David. The Silence = Death Project compared the Nazi period with the AIDS crisis, declaring that “silence about the oppression and annihilation of gay people, then and now, must be broken as a matter of our survival.” The slogan thus protested both taboos around discussing safer sex and society’s unwillingness to resist injustice and indifference.

Fifty years ago, events in Selma, Ala. created a similar moment of people coming together to combat evil. There, on the Edmund Pettus Bridge, armed officers attacked 600 peaceful civil rights demonstrators attempting to march to the state capital of Montgomery. That day, March 7, 1965, became known as Bloody Sunday. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. subsequently called upon clergy and citizens to come to Selma to stand united against the injustice of racism and the indifference of society to the plight of Negroes in the South.

Shocked by the televised images of savagery against unarmed and peaceful marchers, his call was answered. Two days later, a second march of 2,500 people crossed the bridge, prayed and then obeyed a court order to return to Selma. That night, Unitarian Universalist minister James Reeb was brutally murdered outside a KKK hangout in town by four white men. The subsequent shooting of Viola Liuzzo, a Unitarian Universalist homemaker from Detroit, prompted the federal government to act. The march from Selma to Montgomery was successfully completed a week later.

A new model

Many people died to secure the civil rights of African Americans. Tragically, more work remains. Quiet acceptance of institutionalized poverty, racial profiling, unjust incarceration and shooting of African American men, and recent assaults on voting rights have continued our legacy of oppression into the 21st century. Today, this work requires sankofa. Sankofa is a word from the Akan language of Ghana often associated with the proverb, “Se wo were fi na wosankofa a yenkyi,” which translates as: “It is not wrong to go back for that which you have forgotten.” Sankofa means that we sometimes must look backwards and learn from our past before we can move forward into the future.

We need to look back, to remember the events and people in Selma 50 years ago. We need to hear the voices raised up in song and prayer. And we need to channel those voices now through our own mouths. For we as individuals can only fight the evils of society by speaking out. We can remain silent no longer, because silence only means more evil, more tyranny, more death.

Buckminster Fuller once said, “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” We cannot change unjust laws and practices through our current model. At a time when we are electing representatives who are intellectually dogmatic, scientifically illiterate and religiously bigoted, we cannot look to government for change. We must be the change. With our voices, we can change society by saying that we will no longer accept our nation’s evils. We must stand united and shout as one that we will no longer accept needless suffering at the hands of special interests; we will longer accept the rule of violence and force; and we will no longer accept the dismantling of our inalienable freedoms by misers, bullies and zealots.

We must come together and reject the Newspeak saying that religious discrimination equals religious freedom; that right to fire equals right to work; that privatized profit equals free markets; that easy access to guns equals more safety; that homophobia equals family values; and that anti-woman equals pro-life.

Truth and Meaning: The Infallibility of Fallibility

Most of our problems today boil down to one root cause. Far too many people consider themselves, their ideas, their beliefs, their faith to be the one and only Truth. This fundamentalist way of thinking creates in our social discourse a false dualism – I am right and you are wrong. The middle ground gets obliterated and compromise means catastrophic failure.

Sadly, this disease is spreading. Some oppose anything a president does because he or she is from the wrong party. Any attempt to impose limits on access to guns is labeled by some as violating the core tenets of our Constitution. Some seek to ban all abortion, even when the fetus is brain dead and threatening the life of the mother.
American poet and artist Ezra Pound once said, “The technique of infamy is to invent two lies and get people arguing heatedly over which one of them is true.” Two of the largest infamous lies facing this nation today are White supremacy and religious infallibility.
White supremacy is insidious because it preys upon our passive acceptance of privilege granted merely because of skin color. White supremacy whispers in your ear that Black and Latino cultures are inferior; that Jews are Untermenschen (subhuman); that social engineers have orchestrated the demise of White people; and that the history of North America began when White Europeans arrived to clear the land of savages. Cloaked in the disguise of love of family, White supremacy today still wears the hood and sheet that made yesterday’s murderers anonymous. Embracing discredited science and social paranoia, White supremacy proclaims that those artificially forcing the different races together are the true enemy.
Religious infallibility is the doctrine that nothing you do in life matters unless you meet some precondition of faith. Salvation rests on accepting without question the literal words of some ancient document, regardless of its context or linguistic devices. Religious infallibility preaches from the rooftops that all Muslims are engaged in a holy war against you; Jews killed Jesus so they deserve any punishment God doles out to them; and Christians sit in judgment damning all others to eternal hell fire. Cloaked in the perceived purity of self-righteousness, religious infallibility brands gay people abominations unworthy of marriage equality or the ability to adopt children. Religious infallibility clings to political control like a bloated leech, seeking to turn every nation into a theocracy of injustice and intolerance.
Both of these lies are the product of small fanatical groups. Most people with light skin color do not hate those with darker skin. Most religious people are open to learning about other religions and participating in interfaith dialogue and works of charity. But the strength of these fanatics derives from an irrational conviction that they are incapable of error, and that anyone who views the world through a different lens is blinding themselves to their Truth.
That is why I am a Unitarian Universalist. We embrace fallibility. We acknowledge fallibility as a human trait. By affirming the infallibility of our fallibility, we are free to question, to search for truth and meaning wherever that search leads us. By believing that no one group has a monopoly on the Truth, we find value in all religions and philosophies. And by using our gifts of reason and compassion, we separate the freedom to believe from the freedom to oppress. By applying our gifts to the cause of justice and equality, we challenge those who would use their beliefs to discriminate, to cause harm to others.
Affirming the inherent worth and dignity of every person, and respecting the spiritual growth of others requires that we label White supremacy and religious infallibility as the lies they truly are. For the only infallible attribute of humankind is its fallibility – its susceptibility to the lies of the infamous.

Truth and Meaning: American Feudalism

Every day, we hear the mantra of the conservative extremists crying for less government, a plea that I share. We should have less government spending on the military industrial complex. We should have less government intrusion into our individual reproductive choices. Government should not be discriminating against people based on who they love. And our government should decriminalize nonviolent, victimless crimes and reduce our ridiculously high prison population.

Of course, these are not the freedoms that neo-conservatives want. They want illusory freedoms — impossible dreams born out of misguided delusion and just enough privilege to support the status quo. They want the freedom to buy any weapon unimpeded under the delusion that more guns means more security. They want so-called economic freedom under the delusion that every American has a equal and realistic shot at success. They want religious freedom, not out of any sense of loving one’s neighbor, but so they can sit in judgment of their neighbor.

Neo-conservatives want to return to the “good old days” — not the good old 1950’s, but the 1350’s. They advocate for a return of a monarchy of the wealthy elite, imagining that the entities like the Heritage Foundation, the NRA and the American Family Association actually care about them. By voting for intellectual midgets who mouth the right platitudes, they imagine that their precious little freedoms will be protected. By electing bigots and scientific illiterates, they imagine that the government will protect them from terrorists, Muslims, atheists and gay people.

But what we really get is government by those who can afford to buy it. We get endless war because Halliburton needs higher quarterly returns. We get exploding oil trains and leaking pipes because Exxon has no interest in pursuing alternatives to fossil fuels. We get genetically-modified foods because Monsanto wants every private farmer driven out of business. We get epidemics of addiction because Budweiser shows us how horses and dogs can love each other. We get colossal rates of domestic violence and sexual abuse because pharmaceutical companies make more money by telling women they are not beautiful and pumping men full of sexual enhancement drugs.

So while you work your entire life and enjoy your rare time away from work, American nobility profits from your fears and your endless quest to be better off than your neighbor. Even more ironic, the feudal lords of corporate America convince you that by helping them stay wealthy, you are helping yourself. They feed you the delusion that you work and consume products in a “free” market while shipping your job to China, busting your union and fixing prices on many commodities.

Your enemy is not your Middle Eastern neighbors, or your gay neighbors, neighbors who use food stamps or your neighbors that don’t go to your church. Your enemy is a small group of ultra wealthy people who did little or nothing to earn their riches and who have no intention of ever letting any of it trickle down to you. Your enemy is not the flesh and blood people who live where you live, but the corporate “persons” who are buying your government and shipping profits overseas. Your enemy is not the person who supports a woman’s right to determine when she will have a child, the man who loves another man or the person who uses a different name for god. Your real enemy is America’s feudal lords who swear allegiance to nothing but money, who love nothing but money and who worship nothing but money.

Truth and Meaning: Real Love

So, another Valentine’s Day is upon us. My message today is simple. You are loved.

Even if you get no cards in the mail, you are loved. If no one buys you chocolates or flowers, you are loved.

Whether you are Christian or Muslim, Atheist or Jew, you are loved. Whether you are conservative or liberal, rich or poor, you are loved. Whether you are gay or straight, you are loved.

I know this because I love you. As a Unitarian Universalist, I affirm and promote the inherent worth and dignity of every person, and compassion in human relations. Because I love you, I fight for your civil rights and for your freedom from discrimination. Because I love all of you, I advocate for a living wage, better public school funding, and clean air and water. Because I love every person, I dedicate my life to being my brother’s and my sister’s keeper, to justice for all, and for an end to violence and war.

And because you are loved, you do not need the roses or the heart-shaped boxes of sweets. You do not need to buy love at the store. And you do not need to buy the lies sold by the hate mongers and fear peddlers.

Despite the awful tragedies happening every day, the world is a pretty terrific place. In spite of our failures and heartaches, there is much to be said for living. But our lives are only as good as we make them, and we can all try harder to help those who are less fortunate to have a voice and a vote about things that affect them.

The best way to do this is to express your unconditional love proudly and publicly, without any expectation of any benefit in return. Love without judgment. Love with no strings attached. Love simply for the sake of loving.

Do I believe human nature causes us to be hurtful, distrustful and prejudiced? Not for a second. Am I a doe-eyed, naive Utopian? You bet. Love will do that for you. Love helps you see the innocent child in every person before life teaches them to be afraid and angry.

I am blessed to be married to a woman who reminds me every day of the power of love. And I am fortunate to be part of a religious community whose cornerstone is human beings caring for each other and welcoming all spiritual seekers regardless of their identities. May you feel that power within you on this Valentine’s Day, and every other day of the year.