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Should We Increase the Birthrate?

Businesses need workers and consumers. Governments need taxpayers. Churches and other such organizations need a critical mass of members and contributors. And so, we get warnings from the Japan’s prime minister that they simply must increase the birth rate. Economists have made such warnings also for the United States and China. So, it is the duty of women to have more babies to support the economy?

What is the spiritual future of that? Children can’t be told the lie that they exist because of their parents’ love or that they exist because God loves them. No, they exist to serve the economy.

Of course, this is totally backwards. The economy should serve the people, not the people the economy. And no one should have more children than they really want. If the economy will suffer, and social institutions, then the economists must invent new forms of economy. Not only is it inhumane to call for more workers to be conceived, the future of ever-expanding economies will deplete what our host, the earth, can supply. And to simply allow more immigrants in because we need more workers and consumers, while that should be done, it is not the right reason. Motivation matters in how we treat people.

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Be sure to Thank Fortuna This Thanksgiving

Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash

Be sure to thank chance (Fortuna) for what you have to be grateful for this Thanksgiving. We tend to overlook the role that chance plays when things go well for us. The Greeks and Romans did not. Back in the days of polytheism, chance was separated out as a goddess in her own right. Fortuna was her name.

Chance has been secularized as Lady Luck, but this is in situations, like gambling, where we know that chance or luck are at play. Even though people superstitiously try to influence chance (cross my fingers, knock on wood) there is no way to do that.

Many people in a monotheistic belief system operate as if there were no meaningful chance. When good things drop in their lap, they thank God, when they should be thanking Fortuna. When misfortune happens, they get conflicted about God, when God has nothing to do with it. No, Professor Einstein, God does not roll dice, Fortuna rolls dice.

One might wonder why a creator God would have things operate by chance or probability rather than merit. For Christians, there is the Parable of the Sower. Jesus told about the farmer who cast his seeds randomly, so seeds fell on good soil and bad. We can see this as a parable about Fortuna, who does things blindly or randomly. Some statues of Fortuna show her blindfolded as riches spill out of her cornucopia. Consistent with that, Jesus said that rain falls on the just and the unjust. (Matthew 5:45) This is important to remember. Why? Chance may be as fair as it gets.

For people who operate outside monotheism, they can easily say that “shit happens,” and that’s that. It happens to good people and bad. Nothing to get hung up about.

So, we can look at ways we’ve been unlucky this year, like living in a place that had historically devastating weather or getting COVID despite being very cautious. But Thanksgiving is the time to identify how luck has come down in our favor, however that might be, big or small. This is important so we don’t think that we have somehow deserved the good fortune that has come our way. This makes us more considerate toward those whose luck has not been so good.

Some think chance is unfair, that what happens in life should be based on merit. Some believe that everything is based on merit, like karma would suggest, that we somehow deserve whatever we get in life, good or bad. But this ignores the huge role chance plays, even in the circumstances we were born into and the opportunities that follow from that. And it sets us up to treat others unjustly.

So, let’s not forget Fortuna and notice where good luck is operating.

We don’t want to be like the person Coach Barry Switzer described, the one who was born on third base and goes through life thinking they hit a triple.

Thank you, Fortuna, for whatever good luck has come my way!

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Speculation & Power: The Case of Paul Pelosi

Scientists make speculations to generate ideas to test empirically. Their speculations are within the bounds of what is already known. The rest of us, not so much. Our motives are generally not to seek the truth of anything.

Now there are people making public speculations on why Paul Pelosi was attacked in his own home. Why would they do that?

Speculation is a form of motivated reasoning.    

  1. Public speculation hurts people we want to hurt. We care more about that than about the truth. “I’m just saying….”
  2. One motive is to exert power. It sends the message that I can do the same thing to you, so don’t get out of line.
  3. Public speculation demonstrates how smart we are, that we don’t just accept the official word about something like the sheep do. So, if you want to know what is really going on, listen to me, not to them.
  4. We speculate to avoid feeling stupid, that we don’t know the answer to something. We can catch ourselves in this when we hear ourselves saying, “I don’t know, but….” The ethical alternative is to just say, “I don’t know,” and leave it at that. Better to feel stupid than to hurt someone.

We could identify others, but you get the idea.

So why would the likes of Elon Musk, Donald and Donald Jr. publicly speculate on why someone was attacked when they are in no position to actually know anything about it?

I won’t speculate.     

Is President Biden Too Old?

Is President Biden too old? Is quarterback Tom Brady too old?

Are we really inviting people to engage in age discrimination? I hope not, but then (full disclosure), I’m old. But so have been some really great baseball managers.

When an old person makes a blunder, we blame their age. When a person in their prime makes a similar one, we regard it as a mistake.

To not hire someone or not vote for them based on anything but their qualifications and performance is simply unfair. It is also kinda stupid as it categorically rules out a lot of great people. Age, gender, race, whatever.

If Tom Brady can no longer read defenses fast enough or throw the football hard enough or far enough, then those are the reasons to bench him. Not his age.

Similarly with politicians. Performance matters; age does not.

It is difficult to not engage in age discrimination. Really. My doctors seem too young to be competent. I’m wrong about that. Likewise, I can find myself thinking that a politician is too young or too old. That does not lead to good decisions to really important questions.

We need to watch our prejudices when they sway our judgment and not let them get the better of our decision making. The well-being of the nation depends on it. Voting is not the time or place to be exercising our prejudices.

Faith is Not Lost

Arden Mahlberg

“When did you lose your faith?”
I was asked.
As if faith can become lost.

Faith is not lost;
it is replaced, either with
something else or with nothing.

To ascribe lostness
to this state of leaving
a faith behind
is presumptuous.

One can turn away from
a faith or belief
and move on,

and what remains
becomes clearer
and brighter.

This was the case for me.
My old values
stand out even stronger now
with less competition
for my attention
and loyalty.

I did not lose my glasses either.
I just got a new pair
that work better for me and
a pair that I simply like better.

I have a shelf full
of old glasses too.

Trump is No Ethicist: Was Mike Pence a “Human Conveyor Belt?”

Trump is no ethicist.

After hearing testimony that Mike Pence and many other key Republicans took their oath of office more seriously than his wish to stay in office, now he attacks them as being rigid. He does enjoy labeling people and takes pride in coming up with the analogy of “human conveyor belt” to describe Pence’s supposed rigid behavior for following the Constitution. Curiously, this analogy does imply his agreement that he was asking, no, demanding, that Pence and others violate the Constitution. In charging them with rigidity, he once again reveals that he is no ethicist.

In Practical Wisdom: The Right Way to Do the Right Thing, Barry Schwartz and Kenneth Sharpe do argue that wisdom may require deviating from standard principles under certain circumstances. But one of those circumstances is not personal gain, following unsubstantiated claims, or trying to avoid the wrath of a bully. The testimony in the January 6 hearings reveals that Pence and other Republicans Trump tried to corrupt did deliberate about whether this situation justified breaking their oath of office to uphold the Constitution. They determined rightly that it did not. The evidence they asked for was not there. This is not rigidity; it is wisdom and integrity, just what we need from public officials.

But he isn’t trying to be. He seeks infamy.

But of course, Trump is not even trying to be an ethicist. His claim is that Pence “missed his opportunity for greatness,” to do something that has never been done before. No Vice President, as President of the Senate, had ever single-handedly decided the results of a Presidential election before. Presumably usurping a valid election would have been great because Trump is great. Even if these Republicans still believed Trump was great after seeing how out of touch with his oath of office his ego had got him, one of the features of doing the right thing is that you very often lose something in the process. Al Gore is an example of that. He could have become President of the United States by pulling the stunt Trump was demanding of Pence. Pence lost out on making history. Trump wasn’t willing to lose being the most powerful person in the world. Infamy is one type of greatness, I suppose.

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Memorial Day for our Enemies

“We never thought to include remembering our enemies who died in our Memorial Day service. We have crosses for us, but not for them. It just never occurred to us.” -Vietnam Vet

THIS IS MY SONG

(Jan Sibelius – 1899 / Words Lloyd Stone – 1934)

Finlandia

This is my song, O God of all the nations,

A song of peace for lands afar and mine.

This is my home, the country where my heart is,

Here are my hopes, my dreams, my holy shrine.

But other hearts in other lands are beating,

With hopes and dreams as true and high as mine.

My country’s skies are bluer than the ocean,

And sunlight beams on clover leaf and pine.

But other lands have sunlight too, and clover,

And skies are everywhere as blue as mine.

O hear my song, thou God of all the nations,

A song of peace for their land and for mine.

When we remember all those who have died in military actions and armed conflicts, perhaps our understanding of the cost of war will include the cost to other lands and peoples, not just ours.

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Kirill’s War of Religious Misinformation about Ukraine

(AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill is falsely claiming that the attack on Ukraine is needed to defend human salvation. (Daily Beast 03/22/2022) Further, in response to the head of the World Council of Churches request that he intervene to help bring peace, Kirill reminds the Council they are not to take issue with a member church, such as his. Krill refuses to be held theologically accountable for dangerous spiritual claims some hold to be toxically false. Separate from whether claims such as his are true or not is the test Jesus put: you will know them by their fruit. The fruit of Kirill’s theological assertion is death. He has no problem with that. We should.

Kirill has thus engaged his office in psychological/theological warfare with Ukraine, whose Orthodox clergy have been increasingly initiating separation from his flock. This is occurring elsewhere outside of Russia. So he is not an objective witness. To him, not only is this a just war, it is a morally necessary one. And he won’t engage in dialogue about it with religious colleagues. This suggests that the issue may really about power. But he is making it a war over human salvation.

“If we see [Ukraine] as a threat, we have the right to use force to ensure the threat is eradicated,” Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill recently preached to his church’s 90 million faithful followers. “We have entered into a conflict which has not only physical but also metaphysical significance. We are talking about human salvation, something much more important than politics….” As the patriarch sees it, Ukrainians are a threat to human salvation. (Daily Beast 03/22/2022)

A threat to human salvation? The fall is a myth. Its doctrinal offspring, original sin, is rightly contested. The other side of its coin, salvation, is likewise a contestable idea, though it rarely is. Regardless, in no way is it justification for invasion of another’s land and the slaughter of its inhabitants, not with Jericho, not with Kiev.

As Karen Armstrong points out, to love one’s enemy means to commit to protect them from harm. This goes for perceived religious enemies as well. If Krill really sees Ukraine as a spiritual threat, as a spiritual leader, he should extend his protection to Ukraine first and then go from there. Other voices need to be heard.

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When is Oz Doctor? Why Does it Matter?

Arden Mahlberg

I recall a Sunday when someone came up to me in church and asked, “Aren’t you Dr. Mahlberg?” I replied, “Not today,” and told them they could call me Arden. In situations like mine, some people politely ask how I would like them to refer to me. When I am in my role, it is Dr. Mahlberg. When not, it is Arden.

Mehmet Oz complains that some news sources are not referring to him as Dr. Oz as they report on his campaign for office. They have rules against using such titles outside their context. When they report on him engaged in the practice of medicine, they refer to him as Mehmet Oz, MD, or Dr. Oz. When not in that role, they refer to him as Mehmet Oz. In doing so, they are treating him as they do anyone else. He is protesting that, thinking he should always be Dr. Oz.

Whatever egalitarian motives we have as a society are well served by not allowing people to have their professional titles be used as their social identity. It is all about status, and status brings deference and power. That is why they want it. But outside professional practice, it is gratuitous and works against an egalitarian society. Some people with titles understand and agree with that. Others object and push for their way.

Identity is very important, and people should be allowed to claim and assert their identities. But not when they claim a social identity that puts them above others. Respect for the person does not obligate us to comply with such wishes. Respect for the role does not either when the person is not in their professional role. This is what belief in an egalitarian society requires of us.

It is also good for individuals. The healthiest identities are those that create the greatest resilience. I’ve spoken with many people who have moved after they retired and complain, “No one here knows who I am.” In their previous location, they had successful careers and were given social status because of it, which they embraced. This did not serve them well in the long run. We need not contribute to this unhealthy practice for ourselves, for others, and for the sake of an egalitarian society.

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“Armies of Certitude”

“Armies of certitude.” That is how columnist David Brooks describes what we will face when the Supreme Court’s makes its decision about abortion rights. (“Abortion: The Voice of the Ambivalent Majority,” New York Times, Dec. 2, 2021) Certainty. What is it? Is it a good guide to being right? Unfortunately, certainty is no indication we are right.

I remember the feeling. I was struggling to figure out how to structure my dissertation research so I could answer the questions I had. Late one afternoon in the library, it came to me. I was excited to have finally solved the problem. It was clear. I wrote down a sketch of how it would work so I could fill it in the next day.

Certainty. As you might have guessed, the next morning I discovered that the idea I had been so certain about wouldn’t work at all. I was befuddled as to why it felt like an “ah hah!”

One would hope that the feeling of certainty would be strongly correlated with being right. Right? Imagine my disappointment years later when I reviewed the research on certainty and found that it has no relationship with being right. Certainty cannot be trusted. Certainty is just a feeling. It is not a sign of being right. Drat!

Not enough people seem to realize that. In a time of vehement polarization over so many things, the problem is not that people disagree. The problem is that too many people feel highly certain they are right. Their minds are closed. Dialogue is not possible. New information is twisted to support their beliefs. People who think differently are idiots, sheep, paranoid, or whatever dismissive term works. Then we are simply engaged in a destructive power struggle.

The one thing I have found that can soften things up is a four-step process, when that is possible. Let’s take abortion as an example.

Step 1: What are your thoughts about abortion?

“Abortion is wrong.”

Step 2: Why do you think that?

“Because it is murder.”

Step 3: How strongly do you feel about that?

“Very Strongly.”

Step 4: Why do you feel so strongly?

“I was an only child. I always wanted a brother or sister. When I was older, I asked my mother about it, and she told me that she didn’t want another child but had an unwelcome pregnancy and had an abortion. She was so matter of fact about it. It really hurt.”

The last ‘why?’ is a different one from the first ‘why?’. It is not a reason; it is the personal experiences that shape the position. Reasons are impersonal. The last ‘why?’ can be highly personal and highly charged. It feels like if you don’t care about those experiences, then you don’t care about me. You only care to have your way prevail.

When people feel compassionately heard about the personal and emotional parts of their position, they relax. Then, they may be open to hearing that depth in another person’s position.

Certainty is no indication we are right. Get the word out. Certainty cannot be trusted, and should not be respected.