Saturday, November 28, 2009

CC2009: Here There Be Dragons

Note: A week ago today we completed our last deliberations concerning the Articles of Freedom, a title only agreed upon late Saturday afternoon, November 22, 2009, and held our closing ceremonies, including a signing ceremony for the Preamble, the Civic Action Statement, and the Pledge of Commitment. A week is not enough time to fully digest what we did there and what was accomplished, so this is only a beginning. The documents refered to below are yet to be published.

  • Participating in the Continental Congress 2009 as a delegate was in equal measure intense and frustrating, powerful and ultimately affirming. The intensity was so great that during the Congress the outside world receded, and the everyday news took a backseat to our deliberations concerning more fundamental Constitutional issues. And since New Mexico first delegate Michael Lunnon and I drove there and back again, that bubble of intensity continued to a lesser extent until I arrived home on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. Thus I have spent the past five days not only preparing and celebrating Thanksgiving, but also in an uneven and still incomplete struggle to re-engage with my previous everyday life. It has only just begun to dawn on me that the maps of my previous everyday life will have to be redrawn; that the terms of the re-engagement must expand to become a new normal. On the map of my life as I understand it, I have pushed the boundaries out into an unknown labeled "Here there be Dragons."

    Going into the Continental Congress I understood my role as delegate differently, perhaps, than some of the other delegates. I went knowing that the elections we held drew very few voters, and those chiefly from the New Mexico patriot community, those already awakened to the de facto demise of the Constitution of the United States over the past hundred years. Therefore, I understood that as a delegate I was not going to CC2009 to represent my state in a legislative sense, but rather to represent those who had voted for and/or financially supported our delegation, as well as to try to the best of my ability to bring to the Congress an understanding of Constitutional violations as they affect New Mexico, which like any state, has unique interests and concerns vis-a-vis the federal government. Therefore, I understood that at this juncture, my importance and the importance of the Congress was (and is) modest.

    This sense was of great benefit to me when the fear factor of taking on the system became real to the body of the Continental Congress. I understood that unless and until we build a mass movement, we will not be considered a real threat to anyone. Therefore, as the rumor mills got going among some of the more volatile delegates and their coalitions, I held firmly to the meaning of R3volution: we do this out of our love for liberty, not out of fear or anger.

    Secondly, I did not go to the Congress with any personal agenda that I intended to push. Rather, I went with the rationale and purpose for which this Continental Congress was called: to document to a candid world that petitions for redress of grievances had been made and gone unanswered; to document the ongoing violation of the Constitution in the instances that the petitions addressed; and to develop peaceful but firm civic responses to be taken upon the gathering of a mass movement in order to bring a rebellious servant government to heel. As I understood it, the first two items were the primary work of the Congress convened, whereas gathering a mass movement would be our job and the job of the various patriot alliances once the Articles of Freedom were written and signed.

    Even before the 2009 Continental Congress convened, however, it became apparent that there were individuals and factions who did not intend to come to achieve the agenda laid out by the
    We the People Foundation and We the People Congress, but that had their own agenda. Some were coming with the view that the Constitution was already null and void, and thus that the Petitions for Redress were futile and that the Congress should take an entirely different approach. Others were coming with the intention of getting the Congress to agree that the United States does in fact have an established religion, a certain form of Fundamentalist Christianity, and thus were pushing a Dominionist agenda. However, as a pre-Congress survey made clear, the vast majority of the delegates agreed with the agenda of the organizing body, We the People Foundation.

    As it became clear when the Congress actually convened, even though the majority of the delegates agreed on the purposes of the Congress, and upon the agenda adopted without change on the first day, there was plenty of difference about the outcomes and the civic actions that ought to be undertaken. Although many of us agreed with the groundwork already completed by We the People Foundation regarding the
    Petitions for Redress, there was a general sense apparent in the first deliberations on Thursday November 12 that the timeline and actions laid out by We the People were too conservative given the rapidity with which our constitutional republican form of government is now being dismantled.

    During the first week of the Congress, from Nov. 12 - Nov. 18, the body settled into an exacting routine in which we would hear expert testimony on one Petition for Redress first thing in the morning and another first thing in the afternoon. After each presentation, we would retire to the New Orleans Ballroom in order to deliberate upon the testimony and--at least according to the agenda--determine the answers to the following general questions:

  • was the particular petition addressing a real violation of the Constitution?
  • if so, what are particular Articles and/or amendments violated?
  • was the petition unanswered?
  • if so, what instructions should the people send to the federal government (Congress and Executive) to make them accountable? What instructions to the states for them to assert their sovereignty in the matter? What civic actions should be suggested to the the people for them to assert their power and sovereignty?

The first few days of deliberations were more difficult than I expected at the time. It became quickly apparent that the majority of delegates had very little experience with parliamentary process. It was also clear that a sizable minority of delegates had not received a thorough education in matters constitutional, and that many were hearing some of these petitions and their background for the first time. Even with these impediments, I thought that the body of the Congress would "gel" in a few days, and that we would see actual documents emerging, as everyone gained experience and understanding. And to a limited extent this did begin to happen, especially after sub-committees were established to write reports based upon the above general questions, which were made more specific to each Petition in the actual CC2009 Agenda .

But even with rules changes and an increased ability to use Robert's Rules of Order on the part of the delegations, I noticed that certain people tended to "camp out" at the microphone, and that there seemed to be determined core group(s) that used procedure to actually subvert the will of the body. Some of them seemed to be pushing specific agendas that were not that of the group, some seemed to be loose coalitions, but by far the most worrisome were a few individuals who seemed to foment division by espousing different sides of issues at different times, inconsistent to any personal or group agenda. This was different from what I observed of other groups and factions, which were consistent over time.

I believe that this one small group of infiltrators had the intention of discrediting CC2009 and used the passions of some of the other factions to try and make it happen. Additionally, and more unforgivably, this small faction appeared to use some delegates who had unstable personalities to achieve this purpose. In my opinion, this was the cause of much of the drama that occurred during the Congress.

That drama, along with the intensity of our days, and the immensity of what we were learning about the destruction of our liberty, created an edge to our deliberations. It heightened our passion to have the perfect solutions mapped out with respect to instructions to our servant government and to the States, and later when we began to write the Articles themselves, our recommendations for civic action for the people. The problem was that among 113 strong-minded individuals, there was nearly the same number of "perfect" solutions.

In order to deal with this, most of us tended toward finding like-minded individuals for discussion and support. I found Libertarians and libertarian-minded people whose understanding of the problem and whose principled solutions resonated with me, and from whom I could learn when my own analysis failed me. Thus my mind was engaged by the ideas of our President, Michael Badnarik, the anarcho-capitalist John Bush, and the scholar Jon Roland. I also had invigorating conversations with some of the young people who were just discovering libertarian ideas and the philosophy of Ayn Rand.

I did speak up at the Congress, but not being one to camp out on the microphone queue, I spent far more time listening, thinking and in private discussion. I also worked on several committees, and as the secretary for the General Welfare Clause committee, I made my proudest contribution word-smithing both the primary and the ancillary reports. I also got to the microphone a few times during open discussion, and once I helped stop a change of language amendment that would have made us look foolish by changing the name of the Department of Homeland Security. I was also among those of an impromptu coalition that got the Non-Initiation of Force Principle (NIP) into the final document.

I saw that among my fellow delegates there were many moments in which personal prejudices and individual agendas led to public or private statements inconsistent with their own avowed principles. Some of these were religious in nature, as were certain efforts to impose the dogmas of specific religions upon the Congress and the people of the United States in what I call the "Christian nation" claim. Others involved prejudices against certain groups of American citizens, such as the denial of private property rights to Native Americans on the reservation, in what I call the paternalistic "white man's burden" claim. There were others, and for my part, I know I did not think deeply enough about the Mann Amendment that was passed without debate at the end of the Congress when many delegates were out of the room. I concurred with Ron Mann that the language was suitably non-sectarian, but I did not enter into a dialogue about the vote with my delegation.

Despite the drama, the inconsistencies in principle, and the personal and factional agendas--that is, despite the very human nature of those of us assembled--the Congress did accomplish the intended goals: to develop a series of instructions to Congress, to the States, and recommendations to the people, with respect to Petitions for Redress of Grievances. They included those dealing with the First Amendment right to petition, the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms, the War Powers clause, the misuse of the "General Welfare" clause and the right to private property. Even those reports and recommendations that seemed "obvious" to some of us met with strongly passionate debate that served to increase the understanding of many of us, and also heightened our commitment to liberty.

And at the last our trust and reliance upon the honor and the integrity of those who will be charged with the style and formatting of all of the documents made it possible for many of us to sign the Preamble and Pledge sections of the document. And since those who signed were present as each tiny pearl of agreement was wrested from contention, we all understand both the frailty and magnitude of what we accomplished.

I stood in the line to sign after the closing ceremony, laughing from the relief of finishing the document together, even though it was imperfect. I felt light, and thought: "This is what freedom feels like." And then, as I stood with the pen in my hand in front of the Zia Flag, I felt the gravity of the moment. Putting my hand to that Preamble and that Pledge, I suddenly knew, meant that my personal maps of reality would change. Here there be Dragons!

In the end, the magnitude of our accomplishment will depend upon our ability to persuade our fellow patriots--those who already passionately uphold the principles of liberty and who espouse the idea of unalienable rights derived from the Eternal Source of Liberty (however we conceive that Source. It will depend upon our engendering a mass movement of liberty among those who are ready to sign on to holding our servant government accountable to the founding principles of the United States as declared in our Declaration of Independence and as prescribed for government in the Constitution.

In the end, the frailty of what we have accomplished can only be obviated on the uncertain road ahead, the journey upon which will require us to expand our own personal maps across the parted seas where there be dragons, and which will lead us from the security of the fleshpots of Mitzrayim—the Hebrew word for Egypt that means the Narrow Places--and into the vast unknown lands that can, if we let them, develop in us principles that will lead us to trust a mixed multitude of ways for all of us to live liberty.

At this moment, as I stand on the edge of my known world, straining to see beyond the Dragons, I believe that those who endured the labors of the Continental Congress to the end have developed a strong and enduring bond. And this bond has the strength to be shared with all who love liberty and which will withstand the storms and squalls of the voyage yet to come.

Edited Once for Grammar and Content. EHL

Friday, November 27, 2009

Umbre Joins the Pack

I know, I know, I should be writing a summary of a largely successful Continental Congress 2009 for you all, but . . .

. . . when someone walks into the house for Thanksgiving Dinner and hands you a little black ball of canine that promptly snuggles up on your chest and falls asleep, well . . . thoughts about even something as important as the restoration of the Constitution go to the back of the mind.

Umbre explores the sitting room.

Umbre makes the rug his own.

Shayna tries to figure out who this little interloper is and why he fits on the Engineering Geek's lap.

Tired out from his adventures, Umbre naps under the polishing bench.

Now we have three dogs just in time for a mountain winter when we will experience those three dog nights.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

A Trifle Late, But Nearly Wordless Indeed . . .


It is the eve of Thanksgiving, the most American of holidays. One upon which a productive people stops to give thanks for the fruit of its labor. And so, in the midst of baking pies, roasting the turkey, and getting the cranberry sauce to jell in the saucepan, I bring you a very nearly wordless Wednesday.

The Tower at Pheasant Run: the place many delegates called home during the 12 days of the Continental Congress 2009.

Heated discussion at the lectern. All the usual suspects present: L-R: Badnarik (TX) and Tebedo (CO)standing next to the Parlimentarian on the platform. Standing below, L-R: Mann (ID), Dodd (CO) and Cox (AK). The standing delegate with the dark curly hair is Kostrick (NH), famous for being armed at an Obama rally.

Deliberating. We see quite a few of the delegates seated with their state delegations. The tables were arranged according to the order of the States entry into the Union. New Mexico, 47th, was seated in the last row.

Caucusing under the American Revolution II flag. Our patriots are every bit as individualistic, strong-minded and stubborn as were those of the first American Revolution, but we stand upon their shoulders in so many ways nonetheless.

I carry the Zia Flag of the Sovereign State of New Mexico out of the room during the closing ceremonies. Arizona (48), to the left ,is ready to follow.

Follow the red car with the Ron Paul bumper sticker in the window! On to the End the Fed Rally! We're at the end of the Dan Ryan Expressway, about to enter Congress Parkway in Chicago. Congress Parkway begins as we drive under the Chicago Stock Exchange building.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

CC2009: What I Wish I Had Said

The religious zealots are at it once again. They are a very loud minority and are quickly becoming odious to many here. They have a peculiar theology in service of which they wish to claim everything in the name of their peculiar and narrow bibilical idolatry, currently dubbed Dominionism. (The link is to Wickipedia but the article is well cited and more information can be found from those cites). Sociologist Sara Diamond writes that the Dominionists in essence believe that "Christians alone are bibilically mandated to occupy all secular institutions until [their messiah] returns."

Thus the land of the free would become a land of Christian masters and the rest of us would be dhimmis.

Thus on Saturday afternoon we were treated to a half-an-hour of Dominionist propaganda from the pulpit, er, the lectern. One particular piece of incorrect propaganda read to us was this comment on the First Amendment:

"This meant that congress would not impose any Christian denomination as a state religion, such as Baptist, Presbyterian, etc. And that everyone would have the freedom to worship God and Jesus as they saw fit. It was not intended to include religions with other gods. Almost everyone of the founding fathers had a personal relationship through faith in Christ with God. We too have the freedom to worship the God of the Bible in our own way, but no member of that first congress would have allowed for the worship of any other God than the God of the Bible. To them that would have invited failure."

Essentially, this person (who shall remain nameless) is saying that the first amendment does not protect the first amendment rights of non- Christians, and was written only to prevent religious warfare among the Christian sects. And it appears that they need that prevention, although that is NOT what the First Amendment says in plain English. Rather it says:

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

Today, as the Continental Congress was presented with a Compact to work on, the zealots made a motion to replace the reference to "the Creator" (language from the Declaration of Independence) with what they called "more specific language." They once more sought to divide the delegations and dominate the group with their restrictive belief system.

I have been sitting in silence all week. There was so much religious yelling and arm-waving at the Saturday session that I hesitated to speak. And felt like a coward at that. So today I rose to speak my mind.

These late nights and early mornings, these five days without once seeing the sunrise or sunset, had taken their toll, and I was not eloquent.

I began by quoting Danny Perl, z"l: "I am a Jew and the son of a Jew." To the everlasting shame of the Continental Congress, when I pointed out that Jews do not use the Eternal Name, intending to continue that religion is a private matter, I was subjected to catcalls.
In shutting them down, I lost my train of thought and merely said that if the restrictive language was used, I would be unable to sign the document that I and others had worked so hard to produce thus far. And that not being able to sign would break my heart. And then I said that I have had enough of their religious bully pulpit, thanked the President of Continental Congress, yielded the floor and left the room.

I was tired, tired, tired. And thus I was not eloquent.
And you know how you always think of the right words later?
Here, if I had the chance at that mike again is what I would say:

"I am a Jew and the son of a Jew." These are the words of Danny Perl, z"l, uttered just before he was ritually slaughtered by Islamic religious zealots in 2002. Danny is one of millions of Jews who have died al-kiddush ha-Shem--for the sanctification of the Name at the hands of religious bigots who desire to claim the Eternal for themselves.

In the United States, our government is charged with protecting the religious Liberty of all Americans. The United States is not a Christian country. There is, thank Providence, no established religion in the United States. On these shores all of us have, by right, freedom of conscience, and may choose to express any religion or none at all.

I say to the small minority of the delegates who have been mounting the evangelical bully pulpit that you are unfriendly to the cause of Liberty in this respect. Your god is too small. And in insisting that all of us here and in our respective States bow to your narrow views, you are paving the way for tyranny. There is no such thing as having a little bit of freedom. One is either completely free or one is not free at all.

I cannot take a document back to New Mexico and ask friends and neighbors to sign it, when it excludes those who do not subscribe to these narrow views. If this Body wants to gain the support of 8 to 10 million people, then we must be able to appeal to Americans of all religious persuasions and walks of life.

Further I cannot sign any document that contains such restrictive religious language. If this motion carries, I will not sign. And that would break my heart.

I do not want to die al-kiddush ha-Shem at the hands of any religious zealots. Nor will I remain silent any more to the thousands of little martyrdoms inflicted by Christian religious zealots. You see, I, too, have the freedom of expression granted to ALL by nature and nature's G-d. Thus I say: "I am a Jew and a daughter of Israel."

There. I said it here even if I could not say it there.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

CC2009: Like a Pinhead Pearl Prized from a Dragon Oyster

I love my country.
And in my heart, I think I would die for the principle of a republican form of government.
But, oy vey ist mir!
Must we argue every word and comma?
And must we bring up issues calculated to divide the body beyond reconciliation?

I guess we must.

But I am reminded once more Marge Piercy's Poem, Report from the Fourteenth Subcommittee on the Formation of a Discussion Group. As you read, note that "when the Pliocene gathers momentum and fades" is not even about the deliberations of the discussion group, but rather about the motion to form one.

Piercy writes in part:

This is how things begin to tilt into change,
how coalitions are knit from strands of hair,
of barbed wire, twine, knitting wool and gut,
how people ease into action arguing each inch,
but the tedium of it is watching granite erode.

Right now we are arguing about reconsidering a change of a word: government to governance. I know that words are important and that law is built on words, and I believe that we should be concerned about them. And yet, and yet . . .
"the tedium of it is watching granite erode."

Our founders were wise. They understood that their own version of Robert's Rules would make the deliberations of our governing bodies inefficient. And they wanted it that way.

But, oh, it is so hard on those of us who grow weary of the grandstanding of would-be orators, those who do not read before they amend, and even (G-d forgive me) the careful reasoning of scholars.

The Body becomes restive and the groaning and gnashing of teeth increases. We shift our bodies, flex our knuckles, mutter under our breaths. Cups are slammed and foreheads are rubbed. Another ice age will come and go and we will sigh in frustration.

"We are evolving into molluscs, barnacles
clinging to wood and plastic, metal and smoke
while the stale and flotsam-laden tide of rhetoric
inches up the shingles and dawdles back.
This is true virtue: to sit here and stay awake,

to listen, to argue, to wade on through the muck
wrestling to some momentary small agreement
like a pinhead pearl prized from a dragon-oyster.
I believe in this democracy as I believethere is blood in my veins, but oh, oh, in me

lurks a tyrant with a double-bladed ax who longs
to swing it wide and shining, who longs to stand
and shriek, You Shall Do as I Say, pig-bastards!
No more committees but only picnics and orgies
and dances. I have spoken. So be it forevermore."
From Mars and Her Children by Marge Piercy

My inner tyrant is pushing against the chains. But I will keep her firmly in hand.

Our founders wanted it this way.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Going to Continental Congress: Sedillo to St. Charles

On Monday, New Mexico Delegate Michael Lunnon and I began the drive from Gallup (in Michael's case) to St. Charles. Michael stopped to get me on a warm and sunny Sedillo fall morning, the kind with the New Mexico blue sky that breaks the heart. We drove 14 hours on Monday, finally stopping in Springfield, Missouri just past midnight Tuesday morning. Yesterday, we drive about eight hours from Springfield, MO to St. Charles, Illinois.
But I still had time to take a few pictures . . .

Looking north just east of Milagro, NM.

Pinyon-juniper woodlands and shortgrass prairie, near the ecotone where, as we descend east, the trees will give way to the grasslands.

At the rest stop west of Santa Rosa, NM, a red-rock canyon composed of brilliant shales, as we descend into the Pecos River Valley.

Rio Grande Valley. Pecos Valley. Later the Canadian. As we go eastward, each river valley will be lower by thousands of feet than the last, as we drive down the incline of the alluvium from the Rockies and Basin and Range.

Grain elevator east of Amarillo on the Texas Panhandle.
We had driven into a frontal system, clouds and fog.

Texas Panhandle, just west of Oklahoma. It seems as flat and level as a table top, and it is indeed one massive mesa. But the slight incline away from the mountains to the west is not perceptible, although it is there. It is the alluvium and wind-blown detritis of the Rockies, fingers of which reach all the way to the Mississippi River.

We drove into the night in Oklahoma, talking and talking, learning to understand each other with respect to all of the issues that will be argued at the Continental Congress. We found ourselves to be sympatico.

In the morning, a water tower in Rolla, Missouri, on the east slopes of the Ozark Dome. Hardwood forests in these low, very old mountains: Maple, Walnut, Oak.

Bare tree on a hilltop west of St. Louis, where the Ozarks are interrupted by the Mississippi River.

They continue into Southern Illinois more weathered still at the edge of the dome; and in Kentucky and Tennessee, meeting the the Appalachians.

Across the 'Father of Waters' (not pictured--we could not pull over), in the coal and oil country of Southern Illinios, we stopped.

The flag is at half-staff to honor the fallen soldiers murdered in Texas. Tomorrow, on Veterans Day, we will renew our oaths to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.

Woods and pond at a rest stop south of Springfield, Illinois. The clouds were closing in, and we drove through intermittent, heavy rain until it cleared from the west near Joliet, Illinois.

Every time I make this drive, I think about the vastness and diversity of the United States and the uniqueness of the North American Continent.

Stretching from Atlantic to Pacific, the geographic and geological diversity is stunning, as is the regional diversity of the people. An amazing place.

And a fitting way to enter into the frame of mind needed to do our part to restore the Constitution that creates out of that diversity fifty sovereign states, which together create these United States.

E Pluribus Unum. Out of many, one.

Friday, November 6, 2009

My Comments on the Religion Issue

The other day I posted a diatribe about how the issue of a common prayer or moment of silence at the daily convening of the Continental Congress has been hijacked by a few Fundamentalist Christians for whom, it has become clear, the agenda of the Congress itself has begun to play second-fiddle to their need to have a camp meeting every day. Toward the beginning of the discussion, I was naive enough to post the comment below. To be strictly fair, only one person made any insulting comment to the Fundamentalists, and that was a matter of perspective, since to my eye, the reference to the Flying Spaghetti Monster was tongue-in-cheek. But it set them off, so I included both. Here is the comment:

"The insults written above, hurled equally at believers and non-believers alike, are painful to read, and must be more so for those at whom they are aimed. I do not believe that they reflect the G-d of the believers nor the reason of the non-believers. It appears as if strong emotions rather than reason have too quickly held sway when some of us find that others of us do not agree with one another in every particular.

I, too, was told that CC2009 was not the province of one or a few Christian denominations, and yet I understand the need for those who are believers in the Christian understanding of the Eternal to find a way to secure the blessing of their religion upon their work. (I share the same need but not the same theology). I believe that this can be done with all the due denominational requirements at morning chapel, and then a more general blessing for the peace and prosperity of the United States and a restoration of the Constitution be done in full assembly.

In Hebrew, the word "Amen" comes from the verb root "agree" or "stand with." It would be very respectful of the assembly as a whole towards the differing faith traditions and lack thereof, to allow for a prayer or blessing or meditation that everyone assembled can say "Amen" to, without feeling that he or she is betraying the foundations of his or her faith or lack thereof.

If such is agreed upon, this does not stifle the speech of those with more specific beliefs, as they have the opportunity for it in their own remarks from the floor (within the strictures of the agenda) and in debate and discussion with others. But in a situation in which a prayer or blessing is offered upon the whole assembly, it is reasonable to expect it to reflect the whole assembly, and our respect, as those who love Liberty, for the individual differences among its members.

Certainly, those of us who follow religious traditions have habitual expressions that may be uttered with no intent at offense to others. Therefore, if we all agree to respect one another and to refrain from forcing our specific theologies upon the assembly, then we must also all agree to assign only the kindest motives to those who use those religious expressions in their daily language.

If the world is indeed watching us, I believe we should do our best to honor G-d and/or Reason by our love for one another and our ability to Live Liberty through the understanding and forbearance we show to one another.

Rabbi Hillel said:
"What is painful to you, do not do to your neighbor."
(A positive expression of the same idea is familiar to many Christians as "The Golden Rule.")

To have a certain religious expression with which I cannot agree, and which makes me betray the ancient tenants of my faith, imposed upon me without option to leave is painful to me. Therefore, I do not wish to impose the same upon my neighbors at CC2009.

Certainly, if the fact that I am not a Christian, and therefore (along with others who are Christian) do not profess a certain narrow part of the range of Christian beliefs means that I do not belong at CC2009, as claimed by a certain Christian above, then I respectfully suggest that obtaining a mass movement of American citizens from all walks of life to agree to the actions proposed by this Congress will fail.

This is something for the delegates to consider as well . . .

Most of what I said above was predictably ignored by the Camp Meeting crowd, because, well it was about the larger picture and really did not give them a chance to grandstand the superiority of their rather narrow version of Christianity among themselves. Then a number of comments were made in which those of us who would rather not see the entire convened assembly subjected to a sectarian prayer are "progressives", "communists", and "rebelling against [the Fundy C's] god. At this point, I was still trying to reason with people who I now know are incapable of reason. I said:

"I am feeling some consternation at the lecture delivered to those who have responded to this thread. It looks as if responses are being made to misunderstanding or misreading of what has been said. Only one person here who has not already withdrawn has threatened to withdraw should he not get his way in this matter of prayer, and that is Mr. _______. I may be mistaken, as I have other responsibilities that have interfered with keeping up with the discussion, but I have not seen one person threaten to withdraw from the delegation if a prayer IS offered.

As for me, what I said is that I would find a way to quietly and unobtrusively leave the room if the prayer is denominational; that is, a prayer that excludes me or others from being able to give agreement because of a specific expression of theology. My personal beliefs would allow me to say “amen” to a prayer to a Creator, but certainly not to the Christian trinity or any messiah or saint. Others may have difficulty with even a general prayer to a Creator. At first, thinking only of my own beliefs, I thought that such a general prayer would be good, but now, having read the concerns of others, I have changed my mind and advocate a moment of silence so that no one will be excluded.

What is the social purpose of public prayer and ceremony? It is to unite the group involved in common and solemn purpose. When such “civic religion” takes place, if some members are excluded because a majority insists on an overly specific statement of belief, then the purpose of the action becomes divisive and the overall purpose is not fulfilled. The ritual becomes meaningless at best, and at worst may project a false sense of conformity. The ethics that some people hold will not permit them to participate in it, and that is why even some who do hold various religious beliefs are made uncomfortable by it.

The United States today is far less homogeneous with respect to religion than it was in 1774. And even then, the founders demonstrate certain prejudices towards certain Christian sects (such as Roman Catholicism) as well as towards agnostics and atheists, that must have been divisive even in that day, given that Maryland was a Roman Catholic settlement and that other individuals may have been deists, agnostics, and atheists.

I believe that accusing anyone who disagrees with a particular viewpoint of “being childish”, weak or overly sensitive is an insult intended to enforce conformity. It is a bully tactic, and whether conscious or not, projects an air of superiority towards those who have real and principled concerns not shared by the speaker (or in this case, the writer).

Finally, with respect to the accusation of censorship: governments are able to censor and private individual are not. Censorship is an official action. And it is specific to a context. For example, it is not censorship for a presiding officer to remind a speaker on the floor to stick to an agreed upon agenda. It is not censorship for an organization to refuse to provide a platform for speech that does not meet with its purpose. It is not censorship for an individual to choose not to publish something with which he does not agree in a privately owned newspaper or blog. And it is not censorship for members of an elected body to request that the proceedings of that body include all members and are in concert with its overall purpose. Finally, it is not censorship for such a person to exercise his prerogative to politely leave a public prayer service that is being offered as a part of the official proceedings but excludes some members.

It was after this response that a new voice, a pastor, entered the fray. At first glance his words sounded reasonable, until upon closer reading, I realized that he was actively defining anyone who would disagree with an overtly Christian prayer upon the convened assembly as "non-believers" and therefore, in his mind, second-class citizens. However, it was a post he wrote a few days later that really revealed his mindset--one that, as we shall see tomorrow, is very close to that of the Christian Dominionists. In my next blog entry, I will discuss the issue it brought up and my final response of any length to that so-called discussion.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Continental Congress: "I Am Going to Congress"

During my preparations for going to the Continental Congress, the issue of prayer at the Congress has raised its ugly head. I say "ugly head" because there is a certain segment of what I would loosely call b . . . um, Fundamentalist Christians--probably in the minority--who wish to impose upon the full assembly a prayer ending in the name of their messiah, thus excluding anyone who is unable to assent to such a prayer. This is so even though the organizers of the Congress have very reasonably arranged to allow for Chapel time prior to the Congress convening each day, and have even taken a poll to see which religions would be present and are considering how to divide that chapel time. All of this so that a non-sectarian prayer or moment of silence may be done upon the full assembly.

Of course, I am in the extreme minority, as one of only a few (or one) Jews present, so I shall simply pray the morning service privately each day, and find a synagogue for Shabbat.

However, on the planning discussion boards quite a ruckus has been stirred over this issue. What is particularly ugly is that the Fundy C's (as my kid's dad calls them) have threatened to boycott the Congress altogether, disrupt the prayer to make it as they wish it, and many have taken to name-calling, questioning patriotism, and personal attacks on those of us who have been reasonable in presenting a different point of view.

Early in the discussion, a few young and brash libertarian atheists made some comments about the Flying Spaghetti Monster as well, and the Fundy C's took it seriously, not knowing about this a parody that pokes fun at the divisions and religious animosity among Christians of various sects. This added fuel to their apparent distress.

Foolishly, I entered the fray. I believe that there is something written somewhere that Jews don't read that warns against the casting of pearls before swine. Naturally, lured to the prospect of a debate, I ignored the warning.I wrote several well reasoned essays about the issue arguing (in the academic sense) for a moment of silence. Perhaps I'll publish one of them later, edited of course to protect the identity of the religious fanatics. Here, at least, my pearls would not be wasted.

Personally, I could deal with a non-sectarian prayer to a "Creator", but the Fundy C's will allow nothing but that a proper hot-farting preacher should lay it on thick in the name of the Christian trinity. Particularly the number two spot. Never mind that even many Christians would be uncomfortable with that. It would be an exercise in allowing them to fantasize that the Founders were all Fundy C's. ( They weren't. Fundamentalism did not come onto the American scene until 1900.)

In any case, as I watched in dismay, all reasoned arguments were ignored or sidestepped, but the personal attacks and outright libels were directed at anyone who had the temerity to disagree with these few people. (And I do mean few. Maybe five?). It was ugly.

Last night as I was wondering about what I had gotten myself into --picture Elisheva in the Fundamentalists' Den--I got an e-mail from another wounded warrior of what we are now calling "the good fight." I had stopped posting my pearls, but some of the<> Christians were still making sure I got theirs by e-mail. As I read a post that was attempting to blame me and a few others for delegates choices to boycott, I realized these people are a very small fringe among all the delegates. They are unable to make a short, reasoned argument, but fall immediately into ad hominem attacks and other logical errors.

And then I thought about Abraham Lincoln. There's this great story about his first Congressional

run against a rather hot-farting revivalist preacher in 1846. It was in Sandburg's Lincoln. I could even see the page in my mind. So I looked it up and here it is:

“Cartwright in due time said, “All those who desire to give their hearts to God and go to heaven will stand.” A sprinkling of men, women and children stood up. The preacher exhorted, “All who do not wish to go to hell will stand.” All stood up—except Lincoln. Then Cartwright in his gravest voice: I observe that at my first invitation many stood up who desire to give their hearts to God and go to heaven. And I further observe that all of you save one indicated that you did not desire to go to hell. The sole exception is Mr. Lincoln who did not respond to either invitation. May I enquire of you, Mr. Lincoln, where you are going?”

“Lincoln slowly rose. “I came here as a respectful listener. I did not know that I was to be singled out by Brother Cartwright. I believe in treating religious matters with due solemnity. I admit that the questions propounded by Brother Cartwright are of great importance. I did not feel called upon to answer as the rest did. Brother Cartwright asks me directly where I am going. I desire to reply with equal directness: I am going to Congress.” So it was told.” (Sandberg, C. (1939)Lincoln: The Prairie Years. Harcourt, Inc.:Orlando, FL (p. 82).

I, like Lincoln, am going to Congress. This time the Continental Congress.

I am not going there to participate in a religious revival, but I am going to do some speaking.

Speaking in favor of the Constitution. That document of which the First Amendment says this:

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

I am going there to be part of a Congress called to deal with the last ten words; our charge is to outline the next steps for a Free People because the Federal Government has been engaged for the past 100 years in massive violations of its Constitutional powers.

And like Lincoln, I do not feel called upon to answer.

I don't feel called upon the make a statement of faith, or to help a small group of people fake reality by pretending that the United States has the established religion-Christianity; or even that everyone there is in agreement with their narrow view of theology and history.

I am going to Congress. I am not going to Heaven. I am not going to Hell and I'll be damned if I am paying to go to Chicago to go to Church.

Those grade school years of being a Lincoln fanatic have paid off. I read Sandburg's Lincoln and never forgot it.

So I'm going to Congress.