20 October 2010

Fall '10 Election: Cuomo and Fake Christians

Stephen Kershnar
Fake Christians against Paladino
Dunkirk-Fredonia Observer
October 17, 2010

The recent furor over Carl Paladino’s comments on gays involves the usual stench of leftist hypocrisy. According to the Huffingtonpost.com, New York gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino spoke before a group of orthodox Jewish leaders in Brooklyn. He promised to veto gay marriage legislation and noted that he didn’t march in this year’s gay pride parade. He denounced those who would hurt gays and said that he adopts a live-and-let-live approach. He then said the following, “I just think my children, and your children, will be much better off, and much more successful getting married and raising a family. And I don’t want them to be brainwashed into thinking that homosexuality is an equally valid or successful option. It isn’t.” The Jewish leaders then applauded. According to Newsday, Paladino had the following line in the prepared text, but left it out of his speech, “There is nothing to be proud of in being a dysfunctional homosexual. that is not how God created us.”

Paladino’s opponent, Andrew Cuomo, supports gay marriage as did the two previous governors, Eliot Spitzer and David Paterson. Patterson introduced legislation to legalize it. Given that Cuomo pledged to make gay marriage a priority, were he elected he would probably succeed in legalizing it.

Here is an argument for Carl Paladino’s position and probably one he would accept. (1) If Christianity is true, then what the Bible says is strong evidence of what is true. (2) The Bible says that homosexuality is wrong. (3) Hence, if Christianity is true, then there is strong evidence that homosexuality is wrong.

There is good reason to believe that Christianity is closely connected to the Bible. Christians generally hold that the Bible (Old and New Testaments) was written by humans who were divinely inspired and that it is either the word of God or good evidence for it. This can be seen both in Christian doctrine and practice. Different Christian groups (for example, Catholics and Protestants) and Jews differ as to which of the Biblical books are canonical. Also, the Bible provides evidence for many Christians concerning the divinity of Jesus, a doctrine that lies at the heart of Christianity.

The argument for the notion that the Bible says homosexuality rests on statements like the following.
• “Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination.” Leviticus 18:22.

The New Testament has similar sentiments.
• “And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet.” Romans 1:27.
• “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither the immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, … will inherit the kingdom of God.” Corinthians 1:9-10.
• “Now we know that the law is good, if any one uses it lawfully, understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just, but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers, immoral persons, sodomites, … and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine. Timothy 1:8-10.

Cuomo and Paladino are Roman Catholic. The Roman Catholic Church asserts that homosexual acts are contrary to natural law and sinful. It claims that this is in part because such acts are not related to the reproduction and in part because they do not proceed from genuine affection and do they complete the participants. The Church considers homosexual desires to be disordered, but not sinful. It also condemns premarital sex, marital sodomy, contraception, pornography, and masturbation. One can see why Bill Clinton never joined it.

The Catholic Church is not alone. Other Christian branches that hold that homosexual acts are sinful include the Orthodox/Eastern Christian, Pentecostal, Southern Baptist, and Mormon. Other popular branches, Anglicanism and Presbyterianism, are torn on the issue.

One objection is that the Bible is a poor guide to morality. Consider the following.
• Pig Eating: “[Swine] shall be even an abomination of you; ye shall not eat of their flesh, but ye shall have their carcasses in abomination.” Leviticus 11:7-8
• Money Lending: Anyone who engages in money-lending “he shall surely die; his blood shall be upon him.” Ezekiel 18:13.
• Slave Owning: “[Y]ou may acquire male and female slaves … You may keep them as a possession for your children after you, for them to inherit as property.” Leviticus 25:44-46.

The objector claims that the Bible is no substitute for moral reasoning. However, if the Biblical injunction is repeated in several places, if most of the major branches of Christianity interpret it the same way, and if the early version used plain language, and I don’t know whether this last condition is met, then the Biblical injunction on homosexuality can be distinguished from the above passages.

A second objection is that we should separate religion and politics. Notre Dame philosopher Robert Audi argues that politicians should present sufficient secular reasons for their position, even if they have religious reasons for holding it. This is incorrect. If someone knows what is wrong because God has told him so, whether directly or indirectly, then it is irrational for him to ignore this when deciding what the state should do or what to teach his children. He also shouldn’t hide his thinking from the public.

A third objection is that Christianity and, probably also, Judaism are false and thus should be ignored. My guess is that this is what Cuomo and many of his supporters believe. It is dishonest to pretend that you are a Roman Catholic and then treat Catholic doctrine as a big joke. Were the reporters not in the tank for Cuomo, one would ask him why he considers himself a Catholic when he rejects Catholic doctrine on homosexuality, abortion, birth control, and divorce. Perhaps he could start a group entitled, “Catholics against Catholicism.”

Paladino also claims that children shouldn’t be taught that homosexuality is an equally valid lifestyle. His argument rested on its not being in the children’s interest. It is implausible, and in any case not supported by any evidence that I’m aware of, that a gay lifestyle is bad for people who have a homosexual orientation. However, there is a different reason to accept Paladino’s conclusion. Given that public schools are paid for by coercively obtained taxes and given that many parents are in effect forced to send their children to them, the schools should hesitate to ram down the children’s throats messages that violently clash with their family’s religious beliefs. There is no burning reason to do so here and the schools should therefore avoid the pro-gay propaganda. Such propaganda is what drew Paladino’s ire.

If Andrew Cuomo and other fakers want to heap scorn on the Catholic position, they should explain how their view is consistent with the Bible or their faith.

06 October 2010

On Being Grateful to Veterans

Stephen Kershnar
Gratitude and Veterans: Breaking the Faith
Dunkirk-Fredonia Observer
October 4, 2010

In the United States, it is an article of faith that citizens should be very grateful to veterans. Presidents regularly reaffirm this faith. On Veterans Day in 1993, President Bill Clinton said, “Today we gather to honor those who have rendered the highest service any American can offer to this nation: Those who have fought for our freedom and stood sentry over our security. … [T]oday we join as one people to appreciate a debt we can never fully repay.” Other recent Presidents have all said similar things.

There are two federal holidays in the United States dedicated to veterans or a portion of them. Veterans Day, which occurs on November 11th of every year, honors military veterans. Memorial Day, which occurs on the last Monday of May, honors U.S. soldiers who died while in military service. Both are federal holidays. There are many federal, state, and local statues and memorials that honor veterans or some portion of them. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. is a high profile instance. In ordinary English, people work as farmers or garbage men, but serve in the military.

In contrast to U.S. citizens’ attitude toward veterans, they are not very grateful to farmers, sanitation workers, intellectuals, and so on. These groups get no holidays and there are far fewer public expressions of gratitude toward them. I assume this general lack of gratitude is correct.

Despite this disparate treatment, farmers did as much historically for Americans as did the military. Specifically, their food added as much to our well-being as did the military’s protection. To see this, consider the conditions Americans would be in if no one grew food and no one worked as a soldier. They would be in bad shape in both cases, but probably worse in the former. A similar thing is true of intellectuals. In forming the system that created and protected liberty in Great Britain and the United States, intellectuals played a vital role.

If we look at individual veterans rather than veterans as a group, leaving aside commanders such as General Patton, we can see that no one veteran contributed that much to a war effort and, in any case, many veterans were adequately paid for their work. Consider contribution. That no one veteran contributed that much to the war effort can be seen in that in most cases, one soldier’s presence did not turn the tide of a battle, let alone the war. In addition, had a particular man not joined the military, it is likely that someone else would have occupied his position. Next consider compensation. For example, consider the salaries of officers who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. According to military analyst Rod Powers, when a person comes into the military as a commissioned officer, an O-1, he makes an average starting salary of $45,969.67. A seasoned officer, for example, an O-4 with 10 years of experience, takes home an average of $94,313.54. This is not bad pay, even when we take into account the officers’ skills. Enlisted men also get paid moderately well, again controlling for skills.

One objection is that combat veterans took great risks in fighting overseas. As the recent flap in Dunkirk illustrates, not all veterans saw combat. Different jobs have different costs and benefits. A person is free to take a job or not take it. If he takes it, particularly if he does so because he likes the cost-benefit package, then so long as he is paid and faces predictable costs and risks, he has no business demanding gratitude. Nor does he merit it.

To see this point, compare the fatality rate of three jobs: member of the military, logger, and fisherman. At the height of the U.S. military insurgency in Iraq, which occurred in 2006, American Thinker writer Steve Gilbert reports that the fatality rate was .13%. Gilbert reports that this is roughly the same rate it has been for the last 25 years. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, here are the fatality rates/average salaries for other professions in 2008: fisherman (0.13%) and logger (0.12%). The salaries of fishermen and loggers are lower than that of the military and the fatality-risk roughly the same. Fishermen and loggers miss out on some hardships (for example, they might spend less time away from their families), but they also miss out on some benefits (for example, they might not form the same lasting friendships or take as much pride in what they do). The attractiveness of various cost-benefit packages varies from person to person. If someone chooses one package (for example, a military package) over others (for example, a logger package) knowing the costs and risks, it is hard to see why we should be grateful to him. It is also hard to see why he serves others rather than merely working for them.

A second objector might concede that perhaps we shouldn’t be grateful to veterans or combat veterans, but we should be grateful to veterans who were injured or killed. To see why this is mistaken, consider people who win a lottery. The lottery is fair if it was reasonable to both parties when the ticket was purchased. If it was reasonable to both, then neither party need be grateful to the other. Next consider a reverse lottery. Here players get a good sum of money in return for taking a small risk of death or severe injury (perhaps, they will have to donate an organ). Again, if reasonable, no gratitude is owed. Military service is like a reverse lottery. If the contract when members signed up was reasonable for them and the citizens who hired them, then neither need be grateful.

A third objector might claim that my discussion misses the issue because many young men were made to fight via the draft and hence we should be grateful to them. Let us assume that draftees were made to fight against their will. If this is correct, then we should not be grateful to them any more than we should be grateful to slaves. Neither was motivated by altruism. A former slave owner probably should be sorry for what she did to the slave and should compensate him, but given that the slave did not act out of concern for the owner’s well-being, she should not be grateful.

I think this essay contains a positive message for people considering joining the military or staying in it: It is important that your life go well. Hence, other things being equal, you should join the military or stay in it only if you like the job, people, or values that comprise it. Viewing your life in the military as a service or a sacrifice is not only a mistake, but also prevents you from focusing on what should guide your decisions.