Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Church and state

   The Israeli/Palestinian conflict is bad enough.
   “It’s an opportunity to find other normal people here.”
   I suppose it’s nice to think that Mazya, quoted in the Los Angeles Times while at a folk concert, might consider a guy like me, out shirtless in bib overalls and wearing mismatched high-tops with rainbow laces, to be “normal.” But it isn’t so nice that she is implying some of her fellow Jewish citizens in Israel aren’t “normal” because of their beliefs.
   As the article explains, Mazya is one of many secular Jewish Israelis who are not happy with ultra-Orthodox laws and regulations. These laws strictly regulate what, if any, theaters, shops and other public places can be open on the Sabbath, the Jewish day of rest. They are enforced especially in such places as Jerusalem, where there are more religious people.
   Mazya was speaking in Tel Aviv, where there are far fewer religious people and more bars and clubs. But many people are tired of having to drive there for some fun on Friday evening. At a protest on a recent Friday evening at a shuttered Jerusalem cinema, people chanted, “Wake up, Jerusalem! Nonreligious people are equal too!”
   On the other hand, there are people like Daniel Katzenstein, an ultra-Orthodox father of nine who moved to Jerusalem from Brooklyn and who says, “When I see a Jewish person in a car on the Sabbath, it hurts me. Any threat to my lifestyle I am going to protest.”
   No doubt Mazya would say he isn’t “normal.” And as the Times continues, “In recent years, crowds of ultra-Orthodox men have burned down bus shelters featuring images of scantily clad women and have sought to stop construction of a mixed-gender swimming pool. When the owners of CafĂ© Bezalel, famous for its mimosas, decided to open for Saturday brunch this year, diners were confronted by ultra-Orthodoxy protesters chanting, ‘Shabbat’ - ‘Sabbath.’”
   What a mess! It is sad and alarming that Daniel is “hurt” and feels threatened by his fellow Jewish citizens going out drinking and dancing on Friday nights. I feel bad that, if I was a Jewish Israeli, he would probably be seriously offended by my clothing or lack thereof. But it is all the worse when laws not only encourages but enforces his beliefs.
   This is the great wisdom of the system of government we have in this country, separating church and state. It always surprises me to hear that America is one of the most religious countries, with many more people attending services than in, say, Europe, where there are magnificent churches everywhere you look. And we do have our spats - sometimes quite bitter ones - over abortion, same-sex marriage and the like, with people being offended, hurt and sometimes worse. But because of the First Amendment, government can’t get involved in religion, and no one belief can be favored or enforced.
   Yes, there are people who would love and are trying hard to see this changed, but, God willing, it won’t be.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

God save us from the NRA - if it isn't too late

   Guns in churches are “dangerous, and it’s bad theology.”
   This isn’t a line from Mamet or Voltaire or Sartre. It isn’t from Dr. Seuss. This isn’t from a sharp satire of the nature of organized religion or absurdist tale warning of the proliferation of guns.
   If only it was.
   This is a statement from a spokesman from for Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta, quoted in the Los Angeles Times last week, in reaction to a bill passed by the Georgia legislator that would, among other things, allow licensed gun owners to take weapons into houses of worship if the church allows it, into bars unless the owner objects, into airports up to screening areas and into government buildings except past security checkpoints, as wall as permit schools to arm staff members.
   Critics call the bill, officially named the Safe Carry Protection Act, the “guns everywhere bill,” and the National Rifle Association is just fine with that, crowing that its passage is a “historic victory for the Second Amendment.” Governor Nathan Deal, who has an A rating from the NRA and is up for reelection, is expected to sign it, making it go into effect July 1. The bill was also supported by his Democratic opponent, state Senator Jason Carter, who is, of all things, former President Carter’s grandson.
   Never mind that police are concerned, with Garden City Police Chief David Lyons saying, “We’re going to go to Hooters now expecting that everybody in there has a gun.” Never mind that “opponents say they shudder at the thought of armed citizens attending city council meetings, at which emotions run high.” (Not to mention bars.)
   Chris W. Cox, executive director of the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action, points out that this bill would make Georgia the 27th state to allow licensed gun owners to take bring weapons into bars. Moreover, after the Connecticut school massacre and other high profile shootings, many states, instead of clamping down on guns, are taking the NRA’s advice and expanding their gun laws. Public support for stricter gun laws dropped to 31% from 38% a year earlier, shortly after the Connecticut school shooting, and Adam Winkler, a UCLA law professor who has written extensively about the politics surrounding guns, points out that the Georgia legislation “shows how strong the NRA is in some parts of the country. They’ve defeated so many gun laws that ending bans on guns in bars and churches is all that left.”
   (It is interesting to note that, while Catholic and Episcopalian bishops appear to be against allowing guns in their churches, “Georgia Baptists,” according to Georgia Baptist Convention public affairs representative Mike Griffin, “are not saying they’re for or against weapons being in churches. What they’re saying is churches should have the right to determine if they choose to have weapons.”)
   Meanwhile, there was an article in the Times late last year about how the Columbine High School shootings still cast a shadow 15 years later, with many schools having drills, like those for earthquakes and nuclear attacks, to prepare for gunfire. One mother, Kay Cates, was quoted as saying, “It struck me that this is now just a part of him life. I think about how my children are going to grow up and think this is a normal part of school.” She said this after her 10-year-old son answered her question about what he had done at school one day by answering with a shrug, “We did math. We did reading. We did a lock-down.”
   God help us. That is, if God hasn’t been taken in - bought out - by the NRA.