The Necessity of Secular Governance

I disagree with you. So does most of the world. I can make these claims without knowing any of your actual beliefs because it is almost entirely certain that you and I disagree about at least one thing (probably many more than one). How comfortable are you with the idea of my creating laws that mandate behavior in accordance with my arbitrary whims? In terms of religion, how comfortable would you be with the suggestion that prayer in public should be made illegal?* I assume you feel some discomfort at this—at the very least, the idea should unnerve you. Intertwining religion and government is a universally bad idea. If government has the power to mandate prayer, it has the power to prohibit it. When a government takes a stance to promote one person’s religious practice, it is acting against the religious liberty of everyone else.

Many believers think this is a good thing. I do not because I have no interest in living in a theocracy. Theocracies are inherently discriminatory and oppressive, and anyone who attempts to introduce theocratic legislation into a secular government clearly has no interest in democratic principles. Case in point:

“I actually support funding for teaching the fundamentals of America’s Founding Fathers’ religion, which is Christianity, in public schools or private schools,” [Louisiana Representative Valarie Hodges] said Monday. “I liked the idea of giving parents the option of sending their children to a public school or a Christian school.”

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The War over Wages

Anyone who’s ever held a minimum wage job (which is a lot of people) knows that it’s impossible to support a family solely on $7.25 per hour. With an average monthly rent of somewhere around $700, you would have to devote nearly one hundred hours of work each month solely to keeping a roof over your head. Given that a number of these jobs are often available only part-time, the financial plausibility of it becomes ever more remote. In an economy that makes it so hard for individuals at the lower end of the economic scale to meet their basic needs, any argument like “take personal responsibility for your financial situation” or “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” rings woefully hollow.

Of course, it wasn’t always this way. The United States has not always had a minimum wage, so it’s important not to take it for granted. Furthermore, the minimum wage has not always been as high as $7.25 an hour (the amount that Congress only slated it to become in 2007). I trust that this fact is obvious enough to be self-evident, but what might be surprising is that the first minimum wage was a mere $0.25 per hour. Compared to today’s minimum wage, this seems laughably—perhaps even impossibly—low.

Except for one thing: it’s not. We don’t have to go back very far to see a similar rate. In today’s money, 25 cents in 1938 would have been equal to almost $4 an hour—not so drastically far away from what the minimum wage was before being raised in 2007.

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The Fetishization of Ignorance

What is the purpose of education? Why do we devote such significant portions of our lives to schooling?

Theoretically, the purpose of primary and secondary education is to prepare children with the basic skills necessary to function as adults in contemporary society (and hopefully not just to subsist but to succeed).

… Unless you’re a member of the Texas state GOP, in which case, the purpose of education seems to be to keep kids busy until they’re old enough to enter the workforce and to reinforce any preexisting beliefs they may have learned from their parents. Go get yourself some headache medicine, because you’re about to need it.

We oppose the teaching of Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) (values clarification), critical thinking skills and similar programs that are simply a relabeling of Outcome-Based Education (OBE) (mastery learning) which focus on behavior modification and have the purpose of challenging the student’s fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority.

So this is a “serious” political party arguing that critical thinking skills are bad. It specifically says that students’ fixed beliefs should not be challenged. Maintaining parental authority is apparently more important for education than teaching kids how to think.

I’m sorry, but what?

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Spirituality and the Politics of Language

In today’s language lesson, we’ll be looking at words—specifically the meaning of words. When most people want to find out what a word means, they turn to the dictionary. This is an excellent resource, and it should go without saying that you should turn to it any time you find a word you’re not familiar with, but the definitions you find in the dictionary don’t tell the full story. There is meaning to words beyond these entries.

There are two kinds of meanings to words: denotation and connotation. I suspect more people will have experienced the latter word far more frequently than the former, which is kind of ironic because they will have spent far more time thinking about the former than the latter. Dictionaries are lists of words with their denotational meanings. (See, they both start with d, so you can use that to help you remember the difference if necessary.) Connotation refers to the emotional impact of a word, and even when two people share a mutual denotational definition of a word (as is common when both of them own dictionaries), they may not share the same connotation. Here’s an example:

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“What I need is a politician who hates people like me!”

So, this happened:

GOProud, the gay Republican Tea Party group, today “enthusiastically” endorsed de-facto Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, claiming the 65-year old is “light years better” than Barack Obama.

Republican voters have a long record of voting against their own interests. It’s really mind-boggling to me. On an intellectual level, I sort of get it; they buy into an ideology that they think is compelling, even though it has no connection to reality. Viscerally? It makes no sense to me. The modern GOP is against having a government safety net for public welfare, but poor voters still vote for Republican candidates. The modern GOP is vehemently against “big government,” but they want to write legislation dictating what you’re allowed to do with your own body. The modern GOP is pro-religious-freedom, but only if you interpret that freedom to mean the freedom to obey your candidate’s wacky brand of conservative Christianity. The modern GOP is pro-American-exceptionalism, as long as you have the money to qualify as exceptional—if you’re broke, it’s your own fault, so you deserve to suffer for it. And now?

“GOProud is prepared to commit significant resources to help make Mitt Romney the next President of the United States.”

Now it’s pro gay people, but only as long as they don’t expect equality. And why the hell would a gay organization support the GOP?

We think that jobs, the economy, healthcare, retirement security and taxes are all ‘gay issues,’

Mind boggling.

Call me a cynic, but it sure looks to me like this GOPround group just exists to draw suspicion away from the GOP’s “completely heterosexual” members.