Archive for the ‘Morality’ Category

What about Fossil Fuel?

Think about it.

There is considerable risk to the consumption of fossil fuels since it has been well established that burning fossil fuels contributes to global warming, a major threat to civilization on Earth. The fossil fuels in the ground that have not been extracted represent a asset on the books of major fossil fuel corporations. Even in a declining demand in the United States, there is a rush via fracking and other extraction methods to get as much as is possible right now. This poses a problem. What do you do with it?

The current effort is to send these fossil fuels over seas to support growing economies there. There is also considerable push back from citizens because of the real likely outcome that burning all these reserves can contribute to increased CO2 and exacerbate the climate problems we face.

One way to put a cap on the speed of this effort and reduce the climate impact is to prohibit the export of fossil fuels from the United States. If there were such a prohibition, then only the fossil fuels needed to meet demand in the United States would be extracted because there is no good way to store the vast amounts current efforts portend. This would have the additional benefit of extending into the indefinite future the benefits of fossil fuels which are used for purposes other than burning in generators and automobiles. If in addition, there was a growth in the use of alternative ways to generate electricity with wind and solar the US demand for fossil fuels would continue to decrease.

There are advantages to the United States. First, we could become totally independent of foreign sources. Second, it would extend the potential long term value of this source of primary wealth. It also postpones the impact of excessive CO2 in the world climate system.

So, I say: Prohibit the exportation of fossil fuels from the United States.

Story as Antidote to Dogma

The following story has been shared with numerous clergy.  The general reaction is “That was interesting, but …”.  Generally the “but” relates to the fact that it does not follow traditional dogma about the story.  Originally, this idea was spawned when I learned that the Hebrew that refers to Jacob’s opponent is best interpreted as “a man”, not as an angel or God as many translations use– I think because, once again, dogma from many generations of scholars simply accepted the standard interpretation of the meaning of this story.  So, I present the story, first faithful to the scriptural record and then with another alternative ending not in contradiction to the scriptures.  For what it is worth…

Another Interpretation of the Jacob and Esau Story – Esau’s Trick

By Cecil Denney

The story of Jacob and Esau recorded in Genesis is a story with intrigue and irony. Jacob, who received the undeserved blessing, who had to flee for his life, and who was himself tricked by his uncle Laben finally wins the bribe of his eye. Yet, there may be more to this story than has traditionally understood. We read that Esau was twice tricked by his brother. First Esau is tricked out of his birthright by Jacob, then Jacob steals Issac’s blessing of the first born intended for Esau. In rage Esau swears “…I will kill my brother Jacob” (Gen 27:41) and Jacob must flee for his life. Although Issac did not give his blessing to Esau, he did promise “but when you break loose, you shall break his yoke from your neck.” (Gen 27:40) I think he remembered this promise! So we find the “blessed” Jacob fleeing, in mortal fear to his uncle Laben. There he falls in love with Rachel, the younger of Laben’s two daughters. Laben exacts a price of seven years work for the hand of Rachel. But now it is Jacob’s turn to be tricked and he ends up with the elder Leah. Laben then exacts another seven years of work for Rachel’s hand. Jacob appears to prosper with many sons, and he aspires to return to his home country. When Laben objects, Jacob works his own trick with Laben’s flocks. His wives, Laben’s daughters steal their father’s gold and Jacob once again flees, but this time back to Caanen from whence he came. When Laben catches up with him, Rachel manages to hide the stolen gods (gold) and Jacob throws a “hissy fit” and shames Laben into making a peace pack. Now he had to face another possible problem, Esau. So, he sends a delegation ahead to Esau with cattle to assuage and soften Esau. But when the delegation returns, he learns that Esau is personally coming to meet Jacob with four hundred men. In fear of his life, Jacob splits up his band so that if one is destroyed, the other might survive. Having once believed that God had told him to return, he now questions his safety and becomes humble in the face of his impending disaster. He prays for safety reminding God of his promises. He devises a scheme to appease Esau sending successive waves of servants ahead with cattle as presents for Esau. Meanwhile, Jacob stays in the camp sending his wives, maids, and children away, leaving himself utterly alone to contemplate his fate. So far, what is written is reflected in this story. At this point, I will interject my own speculation of the meaning of the rest of the story. Esau, who many, many years earlier was willing to kill Jacob has himself prospered. His anger has diminished, but his sibling rivalry is still active as is reflected in coming with four hundred men. He will not be tricked again. But as the waves of servants and cattle meet him with presents, he realizes that Jacob still fears for his life and he decides Jacob deserves a little trick from his older brother. His spies learn that Jacob is alone, so in the cover of a moonless night, Esau, always the more rugged of the two sneaks into Jacobs camp and wrestles with him. Esau is at advantage since he knows Jacob, but Jacob has no idea that his brother as approached him, thinking he is with the four hundred men. To Esau’s surprise, Jacob has grown strong too, so they struggle through the night until finally, Esau manages to dislocate Jacob’s hip. He now has struck mortal fear and escapes before daylight and without identifying himself leaving Jacob to believe he has struggled with an Angel of God. He is injured, but he feels he won the battle. God has spared him. He has been humbled once again. The next day, Jacob approached Esau realizing it could be his last. He bows and scrapes before Esau and his four hundred men. Esau’s heart melts on seeing his long forgiven little brother humble himself and he is ashamed of his little trick and never tells Jacob. What is there to make of this new possible (not negated by scripture) story line? I think this is the old testament story of the prodigal son, but with a twist. While a father might accept his son without reservation, this is a story of a sibling who in all rights might have rejected his brother for his ill deeds. He did not seek revenge. He did not even accept Jacob’s offer of gifts. He only exacted a small harmless trick that turned out God used to strengthen Jacob’s faith. No doubt, Jacob had to explain his limp to his brother when they met and seeing Jacob’s faith in God, Esau chose not to destroy it with the truth.

There are social norms that while not necessarily good for society are never-the-less socially acceptable.  By socially acceptable I mean, these social norms are considered by many as being actions or behaviors that are not radical or out side the bounds of reasonableness.  These social norms are not necessarily ones that have always been acceptable — times change, society changes, people’s attitudes change.  One of the questions is the direction of the change?  Are things getting better or are they getting worse?  It is not surprising that this OPINION is not universally agreed upon even when such policy or standards are widely accepted.

Slavery is a good example.  In most of the world today, the idea that one person can own another person is outside the bounds of social norms. That is not to ignore the active trade in human trafficking. There are people who believe it is ok to buy and sell people.  But, this is not an acceptable standard in the societies of the world today.  It is an idea that used to be a social norm in the United States as recently as 160 years ago by a segment of religiously grounded citizens of this nation.  I would suggest that these people suffered from a kind of mental illness, one that held that their ability to exercise power over others used to force others to work as commanded, to punish by whipping and beating, to use as sex objects, even to execute others was “normal” behavior.  That’s insane!  What was at one time considered within the social norms is today considered way, way outside the bounds of acceptability.

What would happen today if you wanted to own property that someone else had a documented, historical right of ownership and you did this by physically driving them off their property.  What if they resisted and you just killed them, their family including their children.  And what if there were children who survived and you conspired to have them imprisoned in the desert?  Obviously, you would be hauled into court.  I bet you would be found criminally insane.  How is that different than what our forefathers did to the native Americans of this nation?  These Westerners were not judged to be insane because what they did, at the time it was done, it was considered socially acceptable by everyone except the indigenous people who were treated in this way.

I am confident I could come up with other examples if I had more time and allowed my comments to extend to thousands of words.  Hopefully these two examples are sufficient to illustrate that behaviors we consider out of bounds today, bordering on insane behavior, were at one time acceptable behaviors to many.  I bring up these examples to put in contrast conflict over social norms today, ones that in the future might well be considered insane.  I will start with capital punishment.  Much of the world has recognized that the old view “an eye for an eye” is no longer acceptable.  Revenge is never justified no matter how angry we become; it only leads to more violence.  Just because we have a law does not make it sane to kill a person because they have committed the heinous act of killing another person.  It may feel good.  It may make some economic sense.  It may appeal to some sense of justice.  But it is insane to kill a person in the name of justice.

What about the sanctity of life.  Today’s standard of acceptable behaviors are not generally agreed upon, to say the least.  Can one form of life own another form of life by virtue of cunning intelligence?  Is it acceptable for a person to end their own life?  Generally, society agrees that it is not acceptable.  Yet, there are exceptions and in some places, it is permissible for a person to end their life as a result of severe pain or infirmity that reduces life to nothing more than biological survival.  What about the life of an animal?  Do we all agree that intentionally killing an animal for food is OK?  What if the animal is a dog or a horse?  Obviously, the concept of intentional killing of animals is conditional in today’s society.  Are there not some who would extend the termination of life for an entire forest to be out of bounds, a threat to the survival of many animal species, a threat perhaps to human life on the planet?  Indigenous people have understood a relationship to earth that those of us children of “the enlightenment” have lost.  And, we have through our technology, most of which requires some rape of mother earth to exist; we have provided resources to over populate, to exceed the carrying capacity of the earth.  What happens when our systems collapse because we have exhausted the non-renewable resources.  Oh, the misery of it all.

Insanity contains an element of self-absorption, a preoccupation – occupation with one’s self, an ignoring of the way an action might have a negative impact one one or more others.  That is exactly the way people who ignore their impact on the environment act, ignoring the fact that their choices today may adversely affect their children or mine.  Life is about overcoming our collective insanity. It just may be the case that collectively, with exceptions, that we are insane in our actions about life itself for anyone but ourselves, now, during our short lifetime.

How can we find a balance between the government collection of all kinds of data on every person that seems to violate our sense of privacy and a perceived need to collect data for use to reduce the threat of terrorism?  I have an idea of how this could be more acceptable.

The perceived threat for the average Joe is that innocent coincident of data about us can be misinterpreted to point to illegal activity and used in court or a plea bargain to establish guilt for something for which we are not guilty.  Furthermore, because of a need for secrecy, we might be denied access to the full set of data or how it was obtained in order to defend ourselves.  Yet, it is reasonable that the ability to comb through data from many sources can be useful in discovering planning for illegal activities, even to prevent terrorist actions that could harm many people.

The fact is, we have demonstrated over and over that we do not have a problem with collection and mining of data about ourselves.  Most people willingly provide all sorts of data and information about themselves that corporate interests use to market to us.  We are happy enough to get a discount by using a store credit card or the convenience in general of using credit and debit cards.  On line commercial transactions would be nearly impossible without them.  Although we might complain about pop-up adds or Amazon’s analysis of our purchasing habits, for example, we still take advantage of modern technology.  So how could we strike a balance.

I would propose that restrictions on how collected data might be used would go a long way to alleviating our concerns about government being in the data collection business.  The restriction I would propose is to prohibit retrospective data to be presented in a court of law.  If the government wants to collect and use data to prosecute a “innocent until proven guilty” person, they would need to go to a judge or grand jury and get a warrant to prospectively collect court admissible data on  a justifiable basis.  They might use retrospectively collected data to get the warrant, but that retrospective data could not be used in prosecuting a case, only data collected after a warrant was issued.

What this would mean is that you and I need not be concerned about the widespread collection of data in that it could not be used by the government to retrospectively manipulate the information to determine our guilt.  They might use it in an interrogation, but could not use it as evidence in court.  They could not mine collected data to incriminate a person they had in custody as proof of guilt, only data that was collected specifically after an individual, not all of us, was suspected and for which a warrant was granted.

Lets assume for a moment that suspicion develops about one or more people.  Being able to go back and look at data that has been collected can be of great help in assessing a possible threat.  It is this “going back” that seems to me to be most dangerous.  That would mean that all historical data, data prior to a warrant, the data that led to going to a judge would not be admissible.  It would be useful in protecting us, but preserve our innocence until proven guilty.

What do you think?


There was a community that was very religious.  Someone, a long, long time ago wrote about God.  They all believed this writing was holy and to be believed to the word as long as they ignored certain words of warning.  It was a very comforting faith because no matter how difficult things were today, this book of writings about God promised that there was life after death and all you had to do to have that extended life was to utter certain words, with sincerity and passion.  And when you had done that, you could go your way, do your thing, ignore those who had not uttered the words, make serious purposeful mistakes, be forgiven, over and over, rape the land, pollute the sky, poison the oceans, and be forgiven, assured that there was an infinite future, a wonderful reward that would last forever.

Now if you did not utter the words with sincerity and passion, fully meaning what you said, it did not count.  You would be destined to live forever in a kind of hell along with all those who did not utter the magic words.  But, if you meant it, truly, you were safe and secure knowing that all the others who had done so would be with you in this great place of reward after you died.

One day, somebody who did not believe in magic said there was a problem in the world.  They had observed that by raping the earth, polluting the sky, poisoning the oceans, and oh yes, burning up some goo that the earth had been incubating for thousands, and thousands of years in a little more than a hundred years, the natural world was protesting.  But the faithful did not worry because their future was safe and secure, even after they died, forever.  They even believed that the earth would end but they would get their reward.  Their writings told them to multiply and subdue the earth, so they did.  They were inventive and used the goo to grow more food, build great engines, and populate the earth.  No problem if this was not sustainable.  They had a promise.   They would be going to the great reward and those who did not believe in magic would be left behind in their hell on earth.

Over the years, many of the believers died.  Nobody ever heard from them again.  Even so, those still alive believed they would see their deceased friends in the future in a great place of reward.  Meanwhile, the rape, pollution, and poisoning continued.  Then, one day, it did get warmer, the polar caps did melt, the oceans did rise, storms became severe and frequent, fires were common, water, oddly enough, became scarce.  The great experiment called homo sapiens was called to account.  God, as it turned out, was part of nature itself.  Judgement was administered.  The experiment ended.  This time, there was no boat to board to save a few for the future reclamation of the earth.  Believer and non-believer alike were gone.  Their friends, if they were enjoying their great reward, did not care.  They got theirs.  They just assumed the rest went to hell.

Belief like this is not enough, maybe not even the correct way to live!


Posted: August 31, 2012 in Economics, Morality, Philosophy, Politics

Attention has been drawn to the American sense of exceptionalism.  It has its roots in the very founding of the United States of America in the late 1700’s.  Of particular interest is the pedestal of extreme respect that is given to the founding fathers.  This sense of their unique and exceptional  contribution manifest itself in the way they are quoted to support divergent views of what is meant by various statements in the constitution of the US.

It is true that their creation of a nation based in law, respectful of science and independent from specific religious control was unique, a significant experiment in rule by and for the people.  We have, to date, tried to honor their intent to create a system where change takes place in an orderly process.  The process involves amendments to the imperfect original construction of the constitution thereby making it adaptive to future trends, aspirations, and knowledge.  In this sense, what they did was exceptional.

No other nation is likely to experience this same explosive development, certainly not in the same way.  One reason lies in the exceptional aspect of history, the discovery of a virgin land populated with natives ill suited to protect themselves against the diseases and tools of the “white” man.  They were unable to protect themselves, their social order, and the wealth of the nature that sustained them against overwhelming odds, pure greed and avarice.  Our founding fathers were complicit beneficiaries of their superior advantage and supposedly superior wisdom in “the ways of the world.”  In this regard, they were certainly not exceptional.

So, I see several problems in blindly accepting their exceptionalism.  First of all, they were risk takers who had abandoned their native lands to live in the possibilities and promises of this new virgin land.  They were exceptional in comparison to the known world of humans who were satisfied to live and die in their native homelands.  They were given exceptional opportunities to carve out of a comparative wilderness something new and original.  They were given a “tabula rosa“, a blank slate on which to design the relationships between humans.  From a modern perspective, they missed the boat in several areas, slavery and women’s rights.

Rather than take this to excruciating detail, I will simply note that they were regular, well read, some religious, some not, regular guys with an exceptional opportunity and some guts to put their lives and fortunes on the line to protect their special interests.  We do ourselves a disservice by seeing them as too exceptional for in doing so, we diminished ourselves, limit our own vision, do not see ourselves as capable of the intellectual work of critically thinking about not just what they were meaning, but what they started should mean today.  We may not realize that we too, given the exceptional environment might just have been their equal.  In this time of challenges on many fronts, we should see ourselves as capable of great things, of able to meet great challenges, of being equally exceptional human beings.  But, we should not see ourselves or our nation as justifying any act, moral or immoral, on the basis of Exceptionalism.  We do not deserve special treatment or special rights just because our history gave us exceptional opportunities and resources.  Rather, we ought to feel responsibility for exceptionally decent, and generous behavior, not through war, but through humble recognition of our unique good fortunate.