Friday, November 12, 2010

Things I Never Thought I'd Hear a Quaker Say

OK, this is not a long list because, well, this is not a category I've ever given a lot of thought to until this morning when I heard a J.E. McNeil, a Quaker attorney who has served for more than a decade as director of the Center on Conscience and War, was speaking about the legal strategy for creating selective conscientious objection in the U.S. Military, and she said,
"The Second Amendment is my favorite amendment to the Constitution."
That's just not something I ever thought I'd hear a Quaker say.
She went on to explain that the thing about Constitutionally protected rights is that just as we are given a positive right to engage in the protected activity we are given the right not to, as well. Therefore, just as I have a right to bear arms, I also have a Constitutionally protected right not to bear arms.
Indeed, as McNeil explained, Madison's original draft of the Bill of Rights explicitly contained that provision in the Second Amendment, but the Congress rejected it because they feared it would interfere with the well-regulated militia. (Incidentally, this small bit of history gives the lie to the contemporary position that the Framers intended the right to bear arms as an individual one, but that's a story for another day ... and another Supreme Court, alas.)
Madison was willing to make the compromise because he believed that the right of conscientious objection would be subsequently enshrined in the law, but more than 200 years later U.S. law still contains no such provisions.
Our troops are called upon to protect our freedoms, we are told so often, including the freedom of conscience, but they have no such freedom of conscience themselves once they sign up. It really shouldn't take a Quaker to point out the irony, and to do so by way of the Second Amendment, well that deserves an irony medal.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Two Americas, at Least

In the speech that famously launched him on his way to the White House, then Sen. Barack Obama proclaimed to the 2004 Democratic National Convention that "there is not a liberal America and a conservative America -- there is the United States of America. There is not a Black America and a White America and Latino America and Asian America -- there’s the United States of America."
Oh that it were so, or, at least, so clear and simple. But it seems like there are more Americas than most of us can count, and maybe that's why our political life is overly simplistic and our religious life so often bombastic. We all want God to bless our America, but there is always already another America out there wanting to claim that blessing exclusively for itself.
This is not new, of course, but I was reminded of it this morning by some old remarks from Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.) that are being replayed now that he would like the job of chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Rep. Shimkus, whose committee has oversight on such things, argued that we don't need to worry about global climate change because God promised Noah never to destroy the earth again.
Shimkus made his case about 18 months ago when he quoted Genesis 8 and concluded, "I believe that is the infallible word of god, and that's the way it is going to be for his creation... The earth will end only when God declares its time to be over. Man will not destroy this earth. This earth will not be destroyed by a flood."
To no one's surprise, secular progressives are once again mocking Shimkus. (See especially the comments to Juan Cole's posting about Shimkus.)
Meanwhile, from reading Politico this week it seems that conservatives would be quite happy with Shimkus chairing the committee.
So on climate change there is a God-fearing America that denies climate change entirely and another America that enjoys mocking the God-fearing part. But while all this goes on as political theater, the green jobs are going to China and the economy is going to hell in a hand basket -- if you believe in hell or hand baskets.
Somehow I get the feeling that the Chinese are laughing all the way to the bank as our own deep cultural divisions keep us from finding common ground on which to solve real problems. Of course, if the global economy slips from recession to depression no one will be laughing.
I just wish that Mr. Shimkus had done some serious Bible study somewhere along the line. A little Breuggemann could go a long way.