Sunday, July 18, 2010

An Irony

Many, many times I have thought how sad I am that my father did not live long enough to meet his grandson, Severin. My dad loved, loved kids - especially babies. As a Baptist pastor in different churches in Texas and Oklahoma, he loved to grab babies and absolutely devour their cheeks. When he "dedicated" babies in front of the church, he would only very reluctantly hand the baby back to the young parents - and only after turning around and showing the choir the little rosy-cheeked lump to an enormous round of "AAAAAHHH!"

Incidentally, he also really loved older people. I think he enjoyed the good-humored company of the "Prime Timers" at our church more than any other group of people. Our family took a two week vacation to Yellowstone on the church bus with the Prime Timers when I was 12, and I can tell you that it is still a highlight of my life.

But back to young ones. Luckily my step-sister Amy and my cousin Gwen (my Dad's niece) had babies, so I am glad he got a taste of being a grandpa.

And now back to Severin. I know that Dad would have adored him. I wish, wish, wish he could have met Seve - sometimes I wish it so strongly I can hardly stand it.

But there is an irony here. If Dad had survived his heart surgery in 2005, there would be no Severin. The complex causal chain of events that led to Severin's existence would have been different. We would probably still have a wonderful child, though not certainly, but that child would not be the same Severin. A different set of reproductive cells would have met up at a different time to create a different personality.

Severin could only have been created in this particular reality, this particular arrow of time. So even my father's death is part of the web of interactions that led to Severin's existence. And more broadly speaking, every single event that has ever happened in the entire universe has been required to make this present exist, Severin included. If a star on the other side of the galaxy, or a galaxy on the other side of the universe, had formed with one less droplet of matter, everything would have been different today.

So my father, Cecil Eugene "Gene" Stark, and Severin Eugene Stark exist together in an entirely connected, star-crossed relationship that somehow, sadly, requires them to never have met.

It's really sad. It's really beautiful. Perhaps there are possibilities that I cannot know about. And that's about as far as I can go with that.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Good for Vermont and Iowa

In honor of Argentina's legalization of gay marriage, I am reposting this essay, originally written on April 8, 2009:

Good for Vermont and Iowa. The Vermont legislature voted with comfortable margins to override the governor’s veto and legalize same-sex marriage. In Iowa, the supreme court voted unanimously that not allowing same sex marriage is unconstitutional.

These are great steps that promote two fundamental American principles - support for the family unit and fair governance.

In Iowa, the court consulted studies on children raised by same-sex couples, including findings by the American Academy of Pediatrics showing that children raised in same-sex families do just as well as children raised by different-sex families. This is based on empirical evidence rather than myth, circumstantial evidence or ancient morality codes. Surely even our common sense tells us that two loving parents can do a great job at parenting. We should support that as a society.

Even if the court had found evidence that showed a slight disparity in the ability to raise children between same sex and different sex couples, we should consider how the state should be involved with families. We live in a society of day care, divorce, single parent households, and severe income inequality - all of which present challenges to raising children. One could argue that these situations are different, because they are not officially endorsed by the state, and the status of marriage is an endorsement by the state. Fair enough. But a lack of that endorsement can also have adverse effects on the family. Despite not being the ideal situation, no one would suggest doing anything to a single parent to make raising his/her child more difficult. No one would suggest taking away a child from a mother, simply because there is no father. No one would suggest applying some sort of government approved label to that home, such as “not an ideal family.” That stigma would be another difficulty on top of difficulty. But an additional difficulty is exactly what denying same-sex parents the status of marriage accomplishes. By denying them that status, the government is making an official judgement call on the household’s legitimacy, having tax implications as well as emotional implications for the family within society. (Obviously suggesting that a single parent being denied the status of “marriage” is similar to a gay couple being denied that status is not relevant, as no one denies that marriage requires more than one person).

There will always be a fine line between child welfare and the freedom of individual families. Basically, same-sex couples will have children. That is certain, as it is a fundamental aspect of existence for many people. Is it in those children’s best interest for their parents to be denied the status of marriage?

But this is all COMPLETELY hypothetical, as the objective evidence supports the conclusion that same-sex couples can effectively raise children, just as different-sex couples can.

We might also consider that homosexual couples did not necessarily choose their orientation. Shall they be denied access to marriage based on that one difference? If so, then what is the alternative? Separate but equal (civil unions)? A life in the shadows? A life without partnership and/or children?

I certainly do not regard myth or religion as an enemy. I regard it as an essential element in trying to understand our existence and spirituality today. But ancient writers had an ancient understanding of the world, so basing our laws today on the prevailing moral code of their day, at the expense of observation and reason, is surely not advisable.

Even to those good folks who have a hard time processing “gay marriage” because of prejudice, religious or otherwise, we might ask what our society should base its laws on. Ancient authority? That uncomfortable feeling that you get around gay people (most likely because they’re different)? Or empirical evidence, based on the best scientific data available, coupled with values that no American disputes - support for families and equality of governance.

Check out this link for many endorsements of same-sex marriage by medical organizations.

Here’s one example from the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP)

"The basis on which all decisions relating to custody and parental rights should rest [is] on the best interest of the child. Lesbian, gay, and bisexual individuals historically have faced more rigorous scrutiny than heterosexuals regarding their rights to be or become parents. There is no evidence to suggest or support that parents with a gay, lesbian, or bisexual orientation are per se different from or deficient in parenting skills, child-centered concerns and parent-child attachments, when compared with parents with a heterosexual orientation. It has long been established that a homosexual orientation is not related to psychopathology, and there is no basis on which to assume that a parental homosexual orientation will increase likelihood of or induce a homosexual orientation in the child. Outcome studies of children raised by parents with a homosexual or bisexual orientation, when compared with heterosexual parents, show no greater degree of instability in the parental relationship or developmental dysfunction in children. The AACAP opposes any discrimination based on sexual orientation against individuals in regard to their rights as custodial or adoptive parents."

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Guest Post from Kris Maloy

My friend Kris Maloy read the exchange between myself and Wade Burleson here. He offered this comment which I asked if I could post. I will paste a little more back and forth we had in the comments section.

I've enjoyed reading your blog posts. I thought I might add my 2 cents to it, but then I thought I'd just send it here, and you can post it if you like, or not:

It is just these considerations that you and Wade have discussed--of the reality of and nature of Sin, of Salvation, the Problem of Evil, the Foreknowledge of God, the problem of Penal Substitution, the confluence of the issues of religious diversity, religious evangelism, and positive conduct (i.e. your question about a single mom doing her best and living well and rightly, but as a Hindu)--that have led me to become a practitioner of Zen. (Just to be clear, I am not a Buddhist and one need not be Buddhist to become Zen).

Zen, at least my particular brand of it, would answer those questions in the following ways (grossly oversimplified for brevity):

"God" is really a concept of being. God is not a creator being, or a being at all, but the very force of creation, the ground of all being in the universe. One should meditate, pray, or whatever, to try their best to see the universe from this vantage point.

Thus, appeals to a God who can act for or against us are futile. (There is no problem of evil if "God" is not a being who chooses whether to act.)

The concept of "sin" is really a concept of the health of the soul, both individually and collectively (for a Zen person seeks to realize that all is really one and we are all connected to each other and all things). To "sin" is not to defy any set of "rules" or doctrine or the "will of God"--a false construction--but to act in such a way that one's spirit is diminished rather than enriched. Acting in such a negative way diminishes the collective spirit of all things and increases disharmony in all things, but centrally in one's own existence. There is no problem of sin, or of evangelism and religious diversity, if the measure of our conduct and beliefs is simply whether they are enriching or diminishing given the situations in which we find ourselves.

the Problems of Evil, the Foreknowledge of God, and Penal Substitution are also "solved" inherently if one does not believe in a God who chooses and acts: There is no choice on the judgment of all based on the sacrifice of one, there is no discussion of whether God answers prayers or allows children to die of starvation and brain cancer if God is simply not a being who makes such decisions, and there is no need to believe in foreknowledge, since such a thing is impossible. This only comes into conflict with the doctrine of omniscience if one chooses to believe in a master and creator God.

Instead, "evil" is really the manifestation of the fact that we are all connected, and some act in ways that are diminishing and/or misguided. We all make choices that effect all of us collectively and all of us together determine the path the world takes (at least in so far as we have an effect--in the great cosmic scheme of all things, we don't have much of one[!], other than our effect upon one another).

It is my belief that the Christian solutions to the aforementioned issues are much like the argument for the Geocentric model in the 15th century--the equations worked, but only with quite a lot of complicated contingencies, whereas the Heliocentric model was elegant, and simple...but very uncomfortable for many. Similarly, I have found Zen to be simple and beautiful, and enriching...but lacking the god concepts to which many are accustomed and feel that they need, whatever intellectual tap-dancing may be needed for them to avoid calling into question their cherished beliefs and traditions.

Interested to hear your response, should you like to make one.