Monday, July 24, 2006

San Diego Comic-Con 2006

So I'm back from a long weekend that included a trip to the . I was very pleased with my visit, not in a small part due to the fact that I wasn't expecting to see much there that I really was looking forward to. Granted, the SDCC is just so darn large that you certainly won't get bored, it's just that I didn't know of too many artists that I was looking for there that I hadn't already met.

Well, it turned out once I started browsing around that I found quite a few good ones. Rather than rank the artists in terms of who I was most excited to see and therefore possibly slight somebody, I'll just tell you who I did see that excited me, and share a bit of the excitement.

Shortly after arriving, I overheard a couple walking past me having a discussion about a book the woman had just bought. "His name is 'Shannon'?" the man asked, looking at the signature on the cover. I spun towards them.

"Is Shannon Wheeler here?!" I asked. They verified that that was exactly who they were speaking of, and pointed me towards a stall overbrimming with merchandise, and Wheeler himself, natch. I picked up a signed copy of TMCM #10 and came back later for a T-shirt.

I then headed off to see one of the only artists that I was interested in that I was certain would be there, . I used to read her stuff all the time years ago, but had mainly lost track of her. I was glad to see her on the list of artists, and to find that she's still doing work despite being not nearly as well-known as she ought to be. I bought a comic for a friend and got it signed, and then bought a copy of "Real Cat Toons", which, as the site promises, came with an original drawing on the back. (I don't know if she always draws something like that; it may be because I mentioned my cat having just died.) She was a lovely, friendly person to talk to, and had a lot of cool freebies, including a parody comic about Christian intolerance towards homosexuals. (I'm hoping to share that with a few friends of mine; I'm hoping you know who you are, are reading this, and will e-mail me to tell me whether you'd like me to e-mail, snail mail, whatever the thing to you, if indeed you'd like it. Gregory said she not only doesn't mind it being copied, but hopes it does get copied regularly.)

Then I wandered off to find a few webcomics people I like, including Tycho and Gabe of and and Scott Kurtz of . I brought a copy of the strip that I'd linked to some time ago, and told him that as a Christian, I'd really liked it. He chuckled and began not only to sign, but to make a sketch. (Read the comic first before continuing this story; if offended, skip to the next paragraph.) I leaned over to see what he was drawing and groaned, "I'm going to regret this, aren't I?" His wife(?) exclaimed, "Oh, don't do that!" and he giggled gleefully and said, "But that's what it would be, wouldn't it?" I supposed so, but I told him I wouldn't frame it and put it up at the office.

Later, I ran into the creator of , Stephen Notley. The guy actually wears a flower costume, and seems to have a brain that's just as random and genius as his comic. Really a neat guy to meet, he seems like the sort of guy you'd have a blast just sitting and talking to for a couple hours.

Lastly, (I don't think I forgot anyone, that would be embarrassing), I managed to meet Jeff Keane, the current artist (and son of the original artist) of , who was kind enough to knock out a quick sketch for me.

Perhaps at a later date, I'll post some photos I took, who knows?

Thursday, July 13, 2006

One nation, (out from) under God, part IV

There are a handful of phrases that seem to really set me off, and there's one in particular that I'd like to include in this series. "You can't legislate morality." The phrase seems to be brought up most often in the context of debates on homosexuality and legal matters tied thereto, but it can crop up in regard to any issue that is perceived by non-Christians as a Christian issue. Generally, I think it's crap.

To be fair, I've been thinking about this post for a few days, and in the process of mulling it over, I've realized that there is another side to this issue that I don't often consider. Once again, if one takes context and tries to find out what is meant by the statement, it may be that people using the phrase are saying something I totally agree with, namely that making something illegal won't change most people's attitudes towards it. Most places in this country have laws against polygamy, usage of certain drugs, sex with underage partners, and sodomy, but that doesn't stop those things from being done. Pretty much everywhere in this country and even the world, murder and stealing are illegal, and those go on incessantly. While many people think those items in the first list are immoral, and just about everyone thinks the latter items are immoral, I feel safe in saying that any of these acts are committed on a daily basis by someone who feels no twinge of guilt over them. In the case of the former, it's not real clear that they should.

Yes, if we were to make same-gender sexual intimacy illegal across the nation (as I believe it already is in a number of states), while it may change the sexual behavior of some people, it won't change a single homosexual into a heterosexual, as the definition of homosexual is not one of behavior, but of inclination. As such, it may be very well to ask what the point is of making laws that restrict the rights of what consenting adults do in the privacy of their own homes. I know I don't want the government monitoring what goes on in my bedroom, and although I am involved in a monogamous heterosexual marriage, it's quite likely if not downright inevitable that there are things I do with my wife that some people would like to see laws against. (No doubt, there are even some people who would like to see any sex at all illegal, although I would assume such people are few and far between.)

It must also be noted as an aside that the "between consenting adults" defense, while seeming to carry much weight, is far from conclusive. Other than perhaps strict libertarians, most people probably would have some reason that they would agree that the government should step in to a situation in which consenting adults are doing something in private. Think of a crack house perhaps, in which consenting adults are behind closed doors selling, buying and using harmful illegal drugs. Maybe you don't think so, but I think law enforcement should step in in such a situation.

With all of that aside, though, I did have an original point that I'm taking far too long to arrive at. Can we legislate morality? I believe that on a purely behavioral level, the answer is not just "Yes" but "Well, what else is there to legislate?" I suggest that not only can we legislate morality, we do legislate it and ought to, because in the end, it's the only reason to legislate.

As I said above, almost everyone agrees that murder should be illegal, and it is. Does it stop murder from occurring? Not completely, that's for sure, but I don't think that the fact laws exist to punish murderers do not stop all people from murdering, and the fact that they stop nobody who wants to murder from thinking about it, is good enough reason to simply not bother. If you believe that a certain action is wrong, then it is not just your right, but I think on some level your obligation to push for laws to be created to avert that action from occurring.

This is where this whole discussion fits into a discussion of the separation of church and state: People complain that it's not right for a president or a representative to push their Christian morality on the rest of the country, but I say, if the president is a Christian, what other moral base does he have to work off of? All of that indeed should be tempered with thoughts of the golden rule, and any elected official needs to think of the ramifications of any legislation they wish to support. If the government is given the right to peek in your bedroom and make sure you're not up to the wrong sorts of stuff, how will you feel about that? Is it really worth the loss of your own right to privacy to catch a few homosexuals in an act that, if it is indeed harmful, is only harmful to themselves? Maybe we even ought to rethink the crack house. What if powers-that-be outlawed alcohol once again, and the police broke into your house, caught you sipping a glass of sherry with dinner and dragged you off to jail? When the FBI comes to the house of a retired president that signed a bill outlawing sodomy, and catches him enjoying oral sex with his wife, how is he going to think about a couple years in the penitentiary?

So, we have to consider the pros and cons of every legislation, no doubt, but in the end, we outlaw certain acts because we believe them to be immoral. We reward things we believe are good, probably through tax breaks. Legislating morality is just what we do, and whether or not it's fair to do so is another issue entirely.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

One nation, (out from) under God, part III

So, as you may have guessed from my previous posts, I'm pretty much in favor of the separation of church and state. So does that mean I think religion has no place in government at all? No.

I think something needs to be said about the whole controversy over public displays of nativity scenes and monuments to the Ten Commandments. While I think there was a much bigger outcry over the issue this last year from many people (I'm not sure who, as I heard about a lot of it more or less second-hand.) that may not have been warranted, I don't think it's unreasonable to be a little ticked off when you are told that having a nativity scene displayed in a public place during Christmastime is somehow against the law. What exactly is the problem? In a town near me, they have a very nice solution, I think. They have a major intersection in the town in which one corner has a nativity scene, one corner has a Chanukkah menorah, one corner has a Kwanzaa Kinara and the fourth has a big sign that says "Happy Holidays!" In such a context, how can the nativity be a problem?

Well, for some people it is, and we go back to the First Amendment again, where those who are a little more knowlegeable (as opposed to many who just vaguely feel that it must be illegal) point to the "establishment clause". For some people, apparently the mere presence of a religious symbol on government-owned property indicates the "establishment" of a state religion. That is to say, if the local courthouse has a large stone engraved with the Ten Commandments, the clear message is, "If you're not of a religion that regards these commandments as law personally, then don't expect to receive any justice here."

Now I myself would want to look at context. The fact is, such an assessment may be correct. The recent example of a nationally notorious judge who had installed such a monument in front of his courthouse and refused to move it, may have indeed been an infringement of First Amendment rights, since I seem to recall the judge was trying to make an affirmation of a belief that the American justice system must abide first and foremost by God's law rather than the law of the land. (Again, see my previous post if you missed it.) I think it's clear that this can't work in a true democracy, and I also think it's funny that I never heard conservative voices decrying "activist judges" during this particular controversy.

On the other hand, if a courtroom wanted to have a display that included the Ten Commandments alongside other documents that were historically important in the development of modern law--such as the Bill of Rights, Declaration of Independence, Magna Carta, Code of Hammurabi, etc., and whatnot--then why not? If all religions are represented, or if any religion that is represented is represented only insofar as it is important in a socio-historic context, then how is that "establishment" of a state religion? On the other hand, requiring that anything in the slightest bit religious be purged from the public eye seems to be setting up atheism as the state "religion". (Yes, I know atheism is not a religion, in case you were considering pointing that out to me; it is however often considered a religious classification.)

Back in February, I was on a business trip in Singapore. Once again, maybe this qualifies me as being a weird Christian, but I was delighted on some level to see such a wide variety of faiths openly on display in the city. It wouldn't be uncommon to walk down a street and pass an ostentatious Hindu Temple, witness a Buddhist festival, and spot a thriving church, all on the same block! I thought, why is it that we here in the United States can't just peacefully coexist side by side with people of other faiths, openly and warmly? Instead we have to do all we can to make sure that the religions of all others are suppressed.

Whatever happened to freedom of religion that caused it to be replaced by freedom from religion?

Thursday, July 06, 2006

One nation, (out from) under God, part II

Those who settled in America in the colonial years have a lesson to teach us. It's a lesson that I'm afraid some people have forgotten, and it's really too bad, because it's shown itself time and time again throughout history in one form or another. Religion and political power don't mix well.

As I've so often admitted elsewhere, and maybe a few times even here in this blog, history was not one of my better subjects, so I'm bound to get some details mixed up. Still, there was one story that I remember from a junior high class about American history. A bunch of guys in England got together and said, we're tired of being told how to worship by the King. We just don't have freedom here in England; let's see if we can find freedom in America. So they got a boat and crossed the Atlantic Ocean and founded Massachusetts, where people were flogged and burned as witches and heretics if they didn't worship the way the people in charge there wanted it to be done. So, a few of them figured they weren't any better off in Massachusetts than they were in England, and they went off to found Connecticut. What did they do there? Basically they set up yet still another little pseudo-theocracy, and the cycle started again. This led to the founding of Rhode Island.

I remember being about eleven or so and thinking, what a bunch of idiots! It's like saying you didn't like being abused by your parents, so you had kids in order to abuse them and somehow even the score or something. Well, not quite. Religion and political power don't mix so well because they share many characteristics. Neither one is inherently evil, but both can be and often are used in unscrupulous manners to control people for selfish ends. And most people wielding that power of control tell themselves that they are doing it for the greater good. All of these people, including the King of England, did what they did because they believed that God was on their side. This means to me that even though their deeds were questionable, they may have at some level had quite reasonable motives.

But are motives enough? Somebody's right (maybe), and somebody's wrong, but there is no guarantee that those who are in positions of power are the ones who are right. After all, the Bible itself is full of stories of powerful men who had control over Israel but were not considered righteous in the least. If there is no guarantee for a righteous King over God's chosen people, then who's to say that we as a nation that only *assume* we have God's blessing have any sort of guarantee of righteous leadership? God loves putting the wrong people in power to teach people a lesson through having to endure bad leadership.

All that aside, let me ask my fellow Christians: what sort of Christian country would we then live in? Both George W. Bush and Bill Clinton claim to be Christians, are there too many people out there that feel that both (or even either) of them was/is an ideal leader for our country? Do you think Baptists would be content with letting Catholics be in charge, or vice-versa? Look at the controversies over abortion, homosexuality, and gender roles that are tearing apart American denominations right now. Do you really believe we can hold the country together when we can't even hold our churches together?

Now does that mean that we can't allow our religious beliefs to play themselves out in the way we run our government? I don't think it does at all, but one thing we always need to remember is the "golden rule", and put ourselves in somebody else's shoes. Would we be okay with somebody else making these same decisions that we make? Somebody else running the country the way that we run it? If the theists tell the atheists that they won't be allowed to live as they see fit, then how do we know that tomorrow the monotheists won't take away the rights of the pagans and Hindus, and the next day the Christians take away from the Muslims and Jews, and the next day the Protestants take away from the Catholics and Mormons, and the next day the Baptists take away from the Methodists and Lutherans, etc. Maybe the "slippery slope" isn't considered a valid form of argument, but I just see a set of events lined up that, if we took away the religious rights of one person for an arbitrary reason, would lead to virtually nobody having freedom anymore.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

One nation, (out from) under God

What with this being the closest I am going to come to posting on American Independence Day, I was planning to cover the topic of separation of church and state. There's a lot to be said in that area, and if I manage to do well in discussing the topic, I should have enough material to offend everyone.

There is a prevailing bit of conventional wisdom among Christians that America is, was, and always will be a Christian nation. I think one can definitely say that the majority of the founding fathers were Christians, although a few of the more notable ones (Franklin and Jefferson come to mind) weren't, at least in the sense we modern evangelicals like to see ourselves defined. The founding fathers most likely had in mind, among other things, the fact that Britain was a country with a state religion, and they and their ancestors had largely come to the "New World" to be allowed to worship in peace as they saw fit.

From what I do remember of the earliest settlers, there wasn't a whole lot of real religious freedom; it was more like leaving England, where one was forced to be Anglican, so that one could found a new colony where we could force everyone to be Methodist, or whatever the local majority religious flavor was. The founders must have learned something from all of this recent history, or at least they were smarter than many who had come before them, and decided that forcing anyone to have any religion was just a bad idea.

So while the Bible, which we Christians like to claim we live by, gives us Ten Commandments, the Constitution gives us Ten Amendments, a.k.a. the Bill of Rights. And looking at these side by side, it's interesting to see some startling contrasts. If the founding fathers intended the United States to be a Christian nation, they sure did a bad job of expressing it.

U.S. Constitution, Amendment I
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

Exodus 20:2-3
I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me.

Fascinating. The First Commandment regards both "an establishment of religion" (you must worship God) and "prohibiting free exercise thereof" (you may not worship anything else). Actually, concerning "free exercise thereof," we can look at the second commandment as well:
Exodus 20:4-6
"You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand {generations} of those who love me and keep my commandments.
See, God's not so much into that "free exercise" thing. But the founding fathers were, it seems. Something else other than religion that comes up is the whole free speech thing. The founding fathers wanted people to be able to say whatever they wanted. How about God?
Exodus 20:7
You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.
Doesn't sound like it, does it?

The point here is that if you want to make Christianity the state religion, and you want to make the laws of the Bible into the laws of the land, you're going to have to toss out not just a lot of the laws that have recently been created, but many that form the bedrock of our society. While not all of the items found in the Ten Commandments (or even the rest of the Bible) conflict with existing law, many of the most fundamental precepts of both our religion and our government are at cross-purposes to each other, at least if you try to blur the distinction between one and the other.