If Thy Job Offends Thee…

I have got to stop listening to NPR on the way to work. Sometimes it makes me swerve. If you ever hear of me dying in a ball of fire on the freeway, please sue them on my behalf.

Yesterday, they spoke of the latest bit of brilliance from the Trump Administration. According to NPR, “The Department of HHS is adding a ‘Division of Conscience and Religious Freedom’ to protect doctors, nurses, and other health care workers who refuse to take part in some kinds of care because of moral or religious objections.”

I’m all for religious freedom. And that’s how Trump will spin this. As a way to prevent people from being discriminated against due to their faith.

Here’s the thing, though. (Yes, there’s always a thing.) I didn’t become a drug dealer, despite the financial benefits thereof, because it was against my morals. If my religion prevented me from opening a drawbridge, I’d have never become a bridgetender. Everyone in this country has always, always had the right NOT to take a job, except in times of slavery.

What you should not have a right to do, in my opinion, is take a job, expect to be compensated, and then refuse to do parts of it. If you’re against abortion, don’t work in an abortion clinic. If you can’t work on Sundays, then only take jobs that give you Sundays off. If you don’t want to do business with homosexuals, then, I don’t know, go off and live in a cave somewhere and live off berries and beetles.

Make no mistake. This draconian policy has nothing to do with religious freedom. First of all, the “Division of Conscience and Religious Freedom” is doublespeak that sounds like it came straight out of George Orwell’s 1984. It gives me the chills. But the intent behind it is even worse. It is a way to allow people to discriminate. It’s a way to make it harder for women to get birth control and choose what to do and not do with their bodies. It’s a way to refuse to treat homosexuals and their families. It’s a way to prevent people who are suffering needlessly and without hope from seeking succor in states where assisted suicide is legal.

I want every human being on this planet to have religious freedom. But I also want them to be proactive with their faith or lack thereof. If there’s a job that crosses the line for you, then DON’T TAKE IT. Simple.

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Faith Ain’t Reality

I admire people who have faith. Religious faith in particular is a quality that seems to have eluded me most of my life. I would truly love to be able to let go and let God, as the saying goes.

It has to be comforting to think that there’s a higher power who has ultimate control. It must be liberating to not have to think you are the primary decision-maker in your own life, that the buck doesn’t stop here after all, that some cosmic being is on your side, and therefore a large amount of the responsibility belongs to someone or something else. It would be so nice to guess that your fate has already been mapped out for you. That there’s a plan. What a weight would be lifted from my shoulders! I’d also love to think that prayer could solve my problems.

I just can’t do it. I like facts. I want evidence. Proof. Otherwise, how is it different from believing in unicorns?

I wish there were unicorns. I’d love to see a unicorn. I’d love to live in a world where unicorns wandered the streets. But I live in the real world.

Here’s what gives me comfort: we’ve learned so much about the universe and how it works that it becomes increasingly easy to not rely on the great unknown to answer the decreasing number of unanswerable questions. We know what causes eclipses these days. Nothing is devouring the sun.

Now, the trick is to maintain a moral compass when you technically don’t answer to anyone other than yourself. Perhaps that’s the kind of faith I need to nurture: the concept that humans have the maturity to be capable of morality without oversight.

Wish me luck.

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Congressional Boot Camp

In theory, members of congress represent the will of their constituents, but in practice that hasn’t been the case for quite some time, with few exceptions. They know it. We know it. Their decisions are based entirely upon their personal ideologies, and that of their financial backers. To hell with the people. We, the people, mean absolutely nothing to them.

It always astounds me that politicians are elected and paid to pass legislation on issues that they know absolutely nothing about. How is it possible for someone to sit in judgment on topics that are completely outside of their realm of experience?

Here’s a thought. If we dismantle the fundraising mechanism for congress, if we cap the amount of money one can spend to run for office, level the playing field, as it were, prohibit contributions by corporations, and make all funds go through a general pool so that no politician can determine the source of the proceeds and therefore is beholden to no one, then the public will be running the country once again.

This would also free up a lot of time. Congressmen spend the bulk of their time in fundraising activities. If this were no longer an issue, there would be greater opportunities to do the things that they should have been doing all along: familiarizing themselves with the issues they are weighing in on.

For example, how can people vote about whether or not to go to war when the vast majority of them have never set foot in a war zone? Before they can vote on such an important issue, they should either have to live in a war zone for two months, or send their children to fight on the front line.

Don’t think waterboarding is torture? Before you can say that, you should have to experience it yourself, and also subject someone else to it.

Against abortion? I’ll take you seriously once you’ve adopted a crack baby with fetal alcohol syndrome.

Making policies that impact the homeless? Sleep on the street for a month. Preferably in winter.

Weighing in on immigration? Let’s take everything away from you, surround you with people who want you dead, and kick you out of your homeland. Then we’ll talk.

All this could be avoided if everyone in congress possessed one quality: empathy. The ability to imagine what life is like for others, particularly the less fortunate. The concept that just because something isn’t a problem for you, that doesn’t mean it’s not a problem. Until you have some moral authority, as far as I’m concerned, you have no authority at all.

End of rant.

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The Life Penalty

As sick as I am right now with the head cold from hell, death sounds very appealing to me. Please put me out of my misery. Please. Sure, I know that in a few days (God willing) I’ll be feeling better and my attitude will change. But right now, I’d dearly love to shuffle off this mortal coil, wrapped in flannel and wearing bunny slippers.

That’s also how people who are suicidal feel. At a time when every single aspect of their lives feels totally out of their control, their mortality, or lack thereof, may seem like the only choice they have left. That’s a short-sighted view and one I disagree with, but there you have it.

Call me crazy if you like (and a lot of people do) but I am completely opposed to the death penalty. Not for moral reasons, although there are many of those. Not for financial reasons, although there are tons of stats out there that show that it costs more to put a human being down than it does to lock them up and throw away the key.

No. The reason I oppose the death penalty is that dying is easy. Life is what’s hard. Especially a life behind bars without the possibility of parole. That’s why people refer to death as being taken out of their misery in the first place.

Most murderers and serial rapists and the like are all about dominance and control. Putting them in a situation for the rest of their lives in which they don’t have control over anything would be hell on earth for them. They are also usually under the impression that they are the smartest people in the room, and now they’ll be surrounded by fellow idiots. Torture. Imagine being condemned to a life with no future, full of boredom, frustration, hostility, violence, ignorance and helplessness. I can think of no more apt punishment for a psychopath.

I know that the families of victims often think that the death of the perpetrator will bring closure to them. I can’t even pretend to understand what they are going through. But I will say that I used to long for the death of my abusive stepfather, and when he finally obliged me, I felt… nothing. Nothing at all. The damage still had been done. Death will not negate the atrocity that was visited upon you. Death cannot bring your loved one back. Nothing can do that.

I could talk about the racial disparities that are related to the death penalty. I could discuss how it has been proven not to be any type of deterrent. I could blather on about how people have been put to death and then have been found to be wrongly accused, which makes murderers of us all. You can get plenty of information about these things on other web pages. But what I will tell you is that if revenge is your thing, then death isn’t the worst punishment. Life with no freedom and no potential for joy is.

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Fred Rogers Was My Father

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On the last day of 2012, I have a confession to make. I watched Mr. Rogers Neighborhood to an embarrassingly old age. It was my dirty little secret. I told no one. It was something for just the two of us. Every day I’d tune in to the only father figure I had. He would speak calmly to me when others would shout. He would encourage me when others were too tired to try. He would make me feel like I was okay when others made me feel like an outcast. Most importantly, he would make me feel secure at a time when my life was not the least bit safe. When he said that everyone had something different about them, something you could learn from, or that you could grow ideas in the garden of your mind, I believed him. To this day, I can say without reservation that Fred Rogers always had my best interests at heart. There are not too many people in this world who you can say that about.

If the man had run for president, he would have won. It says a lot about his wisdom that he never did so. But if he had held the highest office in the land, things would have been quite different. He’d have strode calmly and politely into congress and shamed them into stepping away from that fiscal cliff. He’d have given Washington a moral compass that is sorely lacking in this day and age. Maybe he would not have gotten the right and left to agree, but he certainly would have had them communicating respectfully and acting like the adults that they are supposed to be. He would have put a stop to the politics by fear that seems to be the rule of the day. And when tragedy strikes, as it sometimes will, he would be able to comfort the entire nation with his sincerity. One thing is for certain: If Fred Rogers were president, sweaters would come back in style.

Rest in peace, Mr. Rogers. When you passed away, millions of us lost the only father we ever knew.