1 Fundamentalism (of any kind) troubles me. The world is too big and too intricate to conform to our ideas of what it should be like. In my experience I've found that most fundamentalists aren't so much attached to their professed ideologies as they are to the way in which these ideologies try to make sense of a confusing world. But the world is confusing, and just because we invent myths and theories to explain away the chaos we're still going to live in a world that's older and more complicated than we'll ever understand. So many religious and political and scientific and social systems fail in that they try to impose a rigid structure onto what is an inherently ambiguous world. I'm not suggesting that we stop trying to understand things. Trying to understand the world can be fun and, at times, helpful. But if we base our belief systems on the humble assumption that the complexities of the world are ontologically beyond our understanding, then maybe our belief systems will make more sense and end up causing less suffering.
2 It horrifies me that we allow prisoners to be treated so poorly. If someone is found guilty of committing a crime then we as a society have given ourselves the right to punish them by locking them up. But we also acknowledge that even someone convicted of committing a crime retains some basic civil rights. Unfortunately our prisons (especially here in the U.S.) are places where people's basic rights are trampled on pretty much as matter of course. Prisoners shouldn't have to fear rape, abuse & murder while they're incarcerated. A civilized nation should concern itself with protecting and maintaining the rights of all of its citizens, be they prisoners or not. A prisoner should be able to pay their debt to society with ample, constitutionally guaranteed, protection from harm. And while I'm getting worked up about the rights of prisoners, let me take a minute to point out the utter absurdity of consensual crimes in a supposedly free society. How can we justify locking people up for committing actions that have no demonstrable repercussions to anyone else? If someone's actions compromise the rights or will of another individual, then fine, punish them. But if someone's actions don't affect anyone other than the person committing the actions, then what business is it of the state's? I'm specifically referring to drug use. I don't use drugs, and I think that drugs can be terribly destructive and dangerous, but I don't see how the state can arrest an adult for doing something to their own body. An enlightened state should warn its citizens about dangerous activities, but it shouldn't be allowed to lock people up for doing things to themselves. I do not want any government making decisons regarding what I can put in to or do to my body. An individual's own body is not the jurisdiction of the state. Although we may find suicide, drug use, abortion, self-mutilation, etc, abhorrent, we cannot as an enlightened society make criminals of people that want to do these things to themselves, so long as their actions don't compromise our rights. Because we find something distasteful is not justification enough for us to deem it criminal.
3 Oftentimes when I meet someone they ask me why I'm a vegan (a vegan is someone who neither eats, wears, or uses animal products). Before I list the reasons why I've chosen to be a vegan let me say that I don't judge people who choose to eat meat. People make different choices for different reasons, and it is not my place to judge the choices that other people make. Just being alive is inevitably going to cause suffering. But anyway, here's why I'm a vegan. 1) I love animals, and I believe that a vegan diet causes less suffering than a diet centered around animal products. 2) Animals are sentient creatures with their own wills, and it seems wrong to force our will onto another creature just because we're able to. 3) A great deal of medical evidence points to the fact that a diet centered around animal products is terrible for you. Animal product based diets have been repeatedly proven to cause and exacerbate cancer, heart disease, obesity, impotence, diabetes, etc. 4) A vegan diet is materially more efficient than an animal product based diet. By that I mean that you can feed lots more people with grain directly than by feeding that grain to a cow and then killing the cow. In a world where people are starving it seems criminal to fatten up cows with grain that could be keeping people alive. 5) The raising of farm animals is environmentally disastrous. All of the waste from animal farming gets washed into our water supply, poisoning our drinking water and fouling our lakes, streams, and oceans. 6) Vegan food is nice to look at. Compare a plate with grains and fruits and vegetables to a plate with pigs' intestines, chicken legs, and chopped up cows' muscles. So that's pretty much why I'm a vegan. If for some reason you ever decide to become a vegetarian or a vegan, please do so carefully. Most of our conventional diets are so meat and animal product based that when we give up meat we don't know what to replace it with. Although a vegetarian or vegan diet is a million times healthier than a carniverous diet, making the transition away from eating animals needs to be done wisely. Most health food stores and bookstores have good books that can help you to make the transition from an animal product based diet to a vegetarian or vegan diet.
4 I just went to the Museum of Jewish Heritage and the Holocaust in Manhattan and it was driven home to me that almost all of the state sponsored atrocities of the 20th century occurred with either the complicity and/or awareness of the world's governments. Before and during World War II the Allied governments tightened quotas on Jewish immigration, thus leaving most of the Jews in western and eastern Europe with nowhere to go. Whenever we're aware of a despotic regime victimizing a segment of its population, we are all to some extent responsible. We've known about atrocities as they were being carried out and done little or nothing to intervene. As compassionate citizens we need to be adamantly intolerant of regimes that openly and intentionally victimize segments of their populations. Institutional racism, prejudice, homophobia, antisemitism, and hate of any kind, are, at the risk of sounding absolutist, always intolerable. And we need to make sure that our elected representatives do their utmost to make the world an unsafe place for despots, demagogues, and all those officials who preach and carry out hate and violence.
5 Speaking of those who preach hate and violence, I need to say how absolutely horrified and sickened I am by supposed Christians who promote the use of violence against abortion clinics, doctors, the federal government, and anyone else who rubs them the wrong way. As citizens of democratic nations we are bound to revere and respect the democractic process. This leaves no room for people who violently take the law into their own hands. The very idea of Christians of all people promoting violence towards anyone is mindboggling. Some of the central tenets of the teachings of Christ are nonjudgementalism, non-violence, and humility. How can these people call themselves Christians and at the same time call for and celebrate brutal acts of violence? I love Christ, but I'm utterly dismayed at the teachings and actions of a lot of these supposed 'Christians.'