Science, Civic Life and Religion

A nice article in the New Yorker by Lawrence Krauss, motivated by the Kim Davis refusal to grant marriage licenses because her religious faith forbids it.

I see a direct link, in short, between the ethics that guide science and those that guide civic life. Cosmology, my specialty, may appear to be far removed from Kim Davis’s refusal to grant marriage licenses to gay couples, but in fact the same values apply in both realms. Whenever scientific claims are presented as unquestionable, they undermine science. Similarly, when religious actions or claims about sanctity can be made with impunity in our society, we undermine the very basis of modern secular democracy. We owe it to ourselves and to our children not to give a free pass to governments—totalitarian, theocratic, or democratic—that endorse, encourage, enforce, or otherwise legitimize the suppression of open questioning in order to protect ideas that are considered “sacred.” Five hundred years of science have liberated humanity from the shackles of enforced ignorance. We should celebrate this openly and enthusiastically, regardless of whom it may offend.

More on Krauss

And as to the First Amendment, which Davis and her team of lawyers is basing her claim on, seems they know neither how to read, nor to accept decisions over several centuries which speak directly to her argument.

“Freedom of religion means freedom to hold an opinion or belief, but not to take action in violation of social duties or subversive to good order,” In Reynolds v. United States (1878), the Supreme Court found that while laws cannot interfere with religious belief and opinions, laws can be made to regulate some religious practices (e.g., human sacrifices, and the Hindu practice of suttee). The Court stated that to rule otherwise, “would be to make the professed doctrines of religious belief superior to the law of the land, and in effect permit every citizen to become a law unto himself. Government would exist only in name under such circumstances.”[27] In Cantwell v. Connecticut (1940), the Court held that the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment applied the Free Exercise Clause to the states. While the right to have religious beliefs is absolute, the freedom to act on such beliefs is not absolute.[28]  See more Right  Here.

Muslim War On Terror

Contrary to commentators on both sides of the Atlantic, there has been significant Muslim push-back against the crimes being carried out in its name.  Here is Juan Cole, a close observer.

When American commentators like Carl Bernstein complain that Muslim authorities have not sufficiently denounced the terrorist attack on the Charlie Hebdo staff in Paris, they show a profound ignorance of the current situation in the Middle East.

The fact is that both governments of Muslim-majority countries and the chief religious institutions have been engaged in a vigorous war on religious extremism for some time.  See ALL

As he also says, one of the purported assassins, now dead himself, is said to have attributed his motivation to turn to weapons to what he saw in the world:

… Benyettou took them on the internet, and showed them images from Bush’s invasion and occupation of Iraq. Sharif said, “It was everything I saw on the television, the torture at Abu Ghraib prison, all that, which motivated me.”

Which of course does not excuse his actions but is surely a way to begin what every theorist of war, indeed of human behavior, says is of vital importance — knowing the other.

Non Muslims could surely help Muslims in reversing the surge of terror by understanding such motives and taking steps to make them lose force.

War Itself is an Act of Terror

IN THIS war, both sides have the same aim: to put an end to the situation that existed before it started.Once And For All!

To put an end to the launching of rockets into Israel from the Gaza Strip, Once And For All!

To put an end to the blockade of the Gaza Strip by Israel and Egypt, Once And For All!

So why don’t the two sides come together without foreign interference and agree on tit for tat?

They can’t because they don’t speak to each other. They can kill each other, but they cannot speak with each other. God forbid.

THIS IS NOT a war on terror. The war itself is an act of terror.

Uri Avnery

The Toll, day by day

West Bank Protest of Gaza Shelling

West Bank Protest of Gaza Shelling

Now, the West Bank joins in. As Avnery says, “History has shown time and again that terrorizing a population causes it to unite behind its leaders and hate the enemy even more,” and is so showing now.

What would a self-defense  look like that had as a strategic objective diminishing the motivation to attack? It wouldn’t start out with round ups, lock ups, shooting back regardless of the consequences.  If Gary Cooper in High Noon had gotten into the show-down while towns people stood in the path of fire, let’s say a tow-headed little boy got his face blown away, he would have been run out of town, not hailed a hero.

In this year of a terrible war starting, 100 years ago, we can see the slow drift again, of bad intelligence, wrong predictions, miscalculation,  contempt for them, blinding pride in us, though it’s worse now.  Then the Austrians didn’t like the Serbs nor the Serbs their Imperial occupiers; now Israelis loath the Palestinians and vice-versa.  Exterminist rhetoric is coming from both sides and any, small, good ideas are lost in the din.

I wonder sometimes, in my cynicism, if pictures of dead pets were shown instead of people, if the will to cease-fire would be found?

Women Religious x 2

The Church of England voted to allow women bishops in its ranks:

The House of Bishops recorded 37 votes in favor, two against, and one abstention; the House of Clergy had 162 in favor, 25 against, and four abstentions; and in the House of Laity there were 152 in favor, 45 against, and five abstentions.

This came 18 months after a similar vote was defeated.

Quiet rejoicing in many quarters, though not among those who believe the Bible commands male leadership.

Many women interpret the Bible as Fletcher once did. According to a BBC report, more than 2,000 women within the Church of England signed a petition against the change.

Explaining why she would be voting against the legislation, lay member Sarah Finch said during Monday’s debate, “The pattern for church life that we find in scripture points to a God-given male leadership.”

 What will happen when a Bibletist refuses to serve under a female, as was made possible in the compromise ruling, will be interesting to watch.


And similar tides are rising among Mormon women.  Here Cadence Woodland, a lifelong Mormon, whose faith was punctured by revelations of Mormon contributing to a California anti-gay-marriage ballot proposition, lays out the latest:

LAST month, Kate Kelly, a feminist Mormon lawyer who had called on the Mormon Church to open the priesthood to women, was excommunicated on the charge of apostasy. John P. Dehlin, who runs a popular podcast on hot-button church issues and has loudly advocated for the church to welcome gay men and lesbians, also was threatened with expulsion. Other Mormons have faced sanctions for participating in online forums questioning the church’s positions on these and other matters.

My faith, not just in the good will of church leadership but in the central message of Mormonism, has crumbled. In December, I stopped attending services. I have no plans to return.

The church will continue to lose members like me until it realizes that messages about diversity and inclusion are hollow when excommunication and censorship are the responses to dissent. While the church invests in missionary work, especially overseas, an unwelcoming posture is likely to hinder its growth.  NY Times: Woodland

Maybe there are similar pushes out there in other mainstream faiths… Jews, Catholics, Russian Orthodox, Sunni Muslim, Shite Muslim, Buddhist, Therevada and Mahayan… goodness the future seems a long way….

Burma Burns

The Buddhist led attacks on Myanmar Muslims has expanded beyond the initial targets of Royhinga, coastal people with imputed and real connections to Bangladesh.  Last week, mobs went after Chinese Muslims in the 2nd largest city, Mandalay.

Two men died.  Died ugly.

 The body of the Muslim man was identifiable by his wife only by a distinctive blemish on one of his toes.

More deaths were prevented by the intervention of a Buddhist monk, urging the club-wielding young men to go home.

A Buddhist monk, Galonni Sayadaw, approached the roving bands of young Buddhist men and urged them to return to their homes. The monk also publicly exhorted the chief of police, who as in previous bouts of religious unrest did not immediately intervene, to disperse the crowds.

In an interesting insight, a few are claiming, this is not simply spontaneous violence, or even something directed by the hate mongering  monk, Wirathu and his 969 movement.

Tin Tin Kyaw (centre) cries near the body of her husband Soe Min, a 51-year-old man who was killed in the riot, at a mosque in Mandalay. Photo: Reuters

Tin Tin Kyaw (centre) cries near the body of her husband Soe Min, a 51-year-old man who was killed in the riot, at a mosque in Mandalay. Photo: Reuters

David Scott Mathieson, an analyst with Human Rights Watch in Myanmar, wrote after the Mandalay riots that it appeared that the “violence was not just an organic eruption of communal resentment” and noted that it may have been linked to a planned visit to Mandalay on Sunday by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the opposition leader. Burmese analysts have speculated that the violence might be associated with efforts to slow her ascension in politics and ultimately derail her attempts to become president.

NY Times: Fuller

Mandalay Quiet but Far From Normal

Myanmar continues to wrestle with the new shape it will take as it comes out of the decades long military governance.  While moving forward with integration plans into the world economy, including massive development plans in Yangon, armed clashes continue between the army and several non Burmese ethnic groups, even as talks take place; fear of broken promises is great. High ranking world leaders have come calling, from President Obama in 2012 to Australia’s foreign minister in early July, carrying a message of concern.

The most worrisome problem is the rise of Buddhist firebrands. now morphing into armed militias such as the Arkan Army, and the spread of anti-Muslim violence from the Rakhine state, where thousands have fled into displaced persons camps  into other parts of Myanmar. A curfew was put in place earlier this week in Mandalay, the second largest city.

“MANDALAY —After four days of unrest between Buddhist and Muslim communities, calm had returned to Mandalay and surrounding areas on Saturday,where the streets were quiet and largely deserted. Residents said, however,that they lived in fear of another outbreak of inter-communal violence.

In Mandalay’s Muslim neighborhoods, located southeast of the old moat, shops were shuttered and armed security forces were deployed at access routes to the areas and at religious buildings. Hundreds of police officers in riot gear stood guard at Joon Mosque, one of the city’s biggest mosques.

Police at Joon Mosque in Mandalay on Saturday evening. (Photo: The Irrawaddy)

Police at Joon Mosque in Mandalay on Saturday evening. (Photo: The Irrawaddy)

…Violence first broke out on Tuesday night after allegations circulated on Facebook that a Muslim tea shop owner had raped a Buddhist maid. Mandalay-based nationalist Buddhist monk Wirathu quickly fanned the tensions by spreading the accusations and calling for action against the shop owner.

During clashes between communities, a 36-year-old Buddhist man was killed and a 50-year-old Muslim man was beaten to death. Fourteen people were injured.

Unrest continued to simmer in subsequent days and on Thursday night authorities imposed a 9 pm to 5 am curfew for all six of Mandalay’s townships.

… On Friday, the curfew was extended to Pathein Gyi Township, a rural area north of Mandalay, where hundreds of villagers, angered after attending the funeral of a Buddhist victim,vandalized the Muslim section of a cemetery and burned down several small buildings.

Thomas Fuller continues reporting from the country:

Both critics and supporters of the government agree that changes over the past three years have made Myanmar profoundly more open and free than the cloistered, brutally repressive country that it was under military rule.

But whereas two years ago the government was tightly focused on writing a foreign investment law, releasing political prisoners and abolishing strict censorship, critics say religious politicking is both distracting leaders from reforms and poisoning some of the good will that President Thein Sein, a former general, had when he began the liberalization effort in 2011.

One of the highest-profile proposals of his administration this year is a series of divisive measures to “protect” Buddhism that have drawn outrage from interfaith groups. The proposed laws — pushed by a radical Buddhist movement blamed by many for instigating violence against Muslims — would restrict religious conversions and require women to obtain permission before marrying outside their religion [to counter what is labeled a “love-jihad,” a term previously used by right-wing Hindus in India]

Myanmar: Limping On

Interesting post about Myanmar in the China Law Blog:

As months go by we become more and more convinced that the biggest harm the military did to the society, the offense that will take the longest to remedy, was the wholesale destruction of the secondary education system that began in earnest in the mid-1990′s. Foreign companies coming into Myanmar are exasperated by the aggregately low levels of skill found in recent college graduates. The short term solution is to work with who you can get, and train the hell out of them, and hope to retain them.

As the writer says, the on-going Buddhist on Muslim violence in the west, and the Kachin rebellion in the North East, aren’t doing much to attract business either.

Intense fighting between the Burmese military and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) has reportedly killed at least four government soldiers this week, Kachin rebel sources say, with hostilities flaring on Tuesday and Wednesday. The Irawaddy

Across the country in the west, in the remote Chin state, the Burmese army has been accused of using rape as a weapon by a brave group of women.

Myanmar Stop Rape

The Myanmar government since 2009 has been accused of abusing human rights and using forced labor in the area.

To keep the pot stirred, the Government recently promulgated a proposed Religious Conversion bill, for public comment — which comment is strongly orchestrated by a group of Buddhist monks called the Organization for Protection of National Race and Religion. According to Human Rights Watch

it meant “any Burmese citizen who plans to change religion must seek a series of permissions from local representatives of government departments, including the Ministries of Religion, Education, Immigration and Population, and Women’s Affairs, and wait 90 days for permission to be granted.”

India apparently is unphased by the troubles, however.  The new government under Prime Minister Narendra Modi is ramping up relations with Myanmar, with which it shares 1,643 km border.

I particularly liked the mention of a “Buddhist circuit”

The Buddhist circuit could also become an important link in the air connectivity, with services from Yangon to New Delhi and then on to Bodh Gaya in Bihar, Buddhism’s holiest site where Gautam Buddha is said to have attained enlightenment more than 2,500 years ago.


Perhaps with more visits to the Gautama’s birthplace the nationalist monks would find their way back into the heart of his teachings.

Beyond that

India is involved in important connectivity projects with Myanmar, including the Kaladan Multimodal Transit Transport Project, building and upgrading 71 bridges on the Tamu-Kalewa-Kalemyo road and construction of Kalewa-Yargyi section of the Trilateral Highway which envisages a seamless link between India, Myanmar and Thailand by 2016.

The India-Myanmar border trade is also picking up. Two border trade points are operational at present — at Moreh in Manipur and Tamu in Sagaing region in northwest Myanmar, and Zowkhatar (Mizoram) and Rhi in Chin state in Myanmar. A third border trade point is proposed to be opened at Avakhung in Phek district of Nagaland with Pansat/Somra in Myanmar.

The border trade between India and Myanmar touched $36.2 million in 2012-13. Bilateral trade stands at $1.9 billion.

Read more: 


Christians 5 – the Rest of Us 4

The long term damage from a Supreme Court largely appointed by Republican Presidents over the past several decades  can scarcely be summarized. Though the recent decisions on Corporate personhood and unlimited political purchasing power are undoubtedly more immediately dangerous to a healthy democracy, yesterday’s ruling that sectarian prayer before governmental business meetings was not unconstitutional adds to the toxic waters rising in the country.

Two [Greece, NY] town residents sued, saying the prayers ran afoul of the First Amendment’s prohibition of government establishment of religion. They said the prayers offended them and, in Justice Kennedy’s words, “made them feel excluded and disrespected.”

But Justice Kennedy said the relevant constitutional question was not whether they were offended. “Adults often encounter speech they find disagreeable,” he wrote. “Legislative bodies do not engage in impermissible coercion merely by exposing constituents to prayer they would rather not hear and in which they need not participate.”  NY Times

So, I wonder, Justice Kennedy, if those who find the invocation of a deity, before talking about pot-hole fixing, to be mindboggling, and were to cover the ears with their hands, or put on ear-muffs during the prayer — would that be OK, too?  Protected?  Or say, a volunteer were to praise the forests and the rivers for three minutes, or perhaps the gnomes that live there — will that be protected?  Do the upstate Buddhists have the same right to offer public prayer before the assemblage as the Christians? Do the Hare Krishnas?

When they see an opening, they drive a wedge into it. Perhaps!  Maybe!  We can have an eastern Ukraine situation right here in the US of A….

Ethics for Wars to Come

[This posting more properly belongs in my All In One Boat blog, where ”today’s news” is not a feature as it is here. However, since the origins are in a NY Times weekly column I’ll put it here as well.]

Samuel G Freedman in his always interesting once-a-week column On Region in the New York Times, features Robert H Latiff, known to his old friends as a Major General (that’s two stars), now co-teaching an ethics class at Notre Dame. And good for him.

But before appreciating what he is now doing I had to chew on and spit out unhappily his inability to act on his own ethical beliefs as Bush invaded Iraq in 2003.

Three years after Robert H. Latiff received his star as a brigadier general in the Air Force, the United States prepared to invade Iraq. A military man since 1974 … he harbored enough doubts about the wisdom and logic of assaulting Iraq that he considered retiring in protest. His mentor, a four-star general, told him not to bother. Nobody would notice the act of conscience of a mere brigadier.

So General Latiff stayed in the active military until 2006, earning the rank of major general and the Distinguished Service Medal. Meanwhile, he winced at the photographs of atrocities at Abu Ghraib and reluctantly signed stop-loss orders extending soldiers’ deployments. “I didn’t act on my deeply held disgust,” he recalled recently. “And that still claws at me.”

At least he recognizes in hind-sight that another course of action was open to him. I wish he had once read In Solitary Witness, Gordon Zahn‘s slim biography of Franz Jagerstatter who was guillotined by the German army for his refusal to be inducted in 1943. Priests, neighbors and even military men tried to convince Jaggerstatter that no one would notice his protest. It did not matter to him, as the only ones to whom he had to answer were himself and his God. The war went on, of course. But Jaggerstatter’s name, in Zahn’s telling, came to be a touchstone for many war resisters as the United States sent 500,000 to fight in Vietnam, giving them the sense that they were not alone, that other brave men had risked much more than several years in prison.

Latiff’s resignation in protest, by contrast, would have raised storms of attention and perhaps led others to act on their beliefs which, like him, they kept under cover until after retirement. A welcome addition to his course, or indeed a complete course on its own, would be to inquire why so many answer the call to war and so few answer their consciences warning them away.


Back to the course he is offering. It is not about the ethics of war in general, or even war in the 20th century. His main concern is what about the wars to come:

Contemporary warfare is often far removed from the clash of large, standing armies on the open battlefield. In the United States’ use of targeted killings via un-manned drone in Pakistan and Yemen (which are not, otherwise, theaters of war) to the deployment of the Stuxnet computer virus (most likely by Israeland the United States) designed to target the computers that operate industrialequipment in Iran’s nuclear weapons program, we already see examples of this new kind of warfare. The future promises that ever more remote possibilities will become reality  entirely autonomous robotic weapon systems are already under deployment in Iraq and Korea, non-lethal electromagnetic- and sound-based weapons are under development, and research continues actively on automated, armed vehicles and biologically or robotically enhanced soldiers.

Fair enough, I suppose. We have to start somewhere. Perhaps by getting planners, military leaders, weapons designers to think about weapons before they are designed or used some restraints can be put in place — instead of, for example, waiting to see what mustard gas does to the the human respiratory system before thinking, ‘not such a good idea.’ [Among other things, the gas the British released in WW I to impair the Germans often blew back from whence it had come, and vice-versa.]

I’m glad at least a few are thinking about such things. I hope many go on to policy positions of power — without forgetting what they believed as undergraduates. I do think, however, that the weapons and decisions about their use, are only the latest embedding of today’s war-doll into yesterday’s and that real progress is not likely to come until the making and stacking of war-dolls as a human project is understood and tapered off.

I’m glad to see that early in the reading list are writings of Gandhi and Dorothy Day as well as the expected readings of Aquinas and Kenneth Walzer. For the root question of war and human savagery I could suggest many others. The rest of the reading material is directly related to his concerns: technology and human distancing from the facts on the battlefield. I don’t know if he goes into it during the course, but several recent writers on war and warrior health post war, have wondered about the nature, if any, of PTSD on those who pilot drones, kill a dozen, and drive home to pick up the kids from nursery school. Human evolution has not even caught up to the great militarized charnel houses of WW I. I’m afraid we’ll be falling further behind as this century wears on.

Anyhow, here is Freeman’s overview of Latiff, the man, and his course and here a WSJ article he wrote. Here, some excerpts from the WSJ article.

Another writer offers this:

I would go farther than the authors of the [Latiff – McCloskey] op-ed do. I would contend that developing robotic weapons with “full lethal autonomy” is inherently a war crime.

There is a Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, which you can find here.

I’d like to know if you follow the course on-line, or have done something similar. Are not only the ethical questions sharpened , and answers come to, but is the will-to-act strengthened, and will it endure?

More Deaths of Muslims in Myanmar

RANGOON— Arakanese Buddhist villagers in the company of government security forces attacked a Rohingya Muslim village in southern Maungdaw Township in strife-torn Arakan State on Tuesday morning, leading to the deaths of possibly dozens of Rohingya women and children, a human rights group reports.