Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Obama Contraception Mandate

There is a fascinating debate going on in the US over religious freedom. The issue is the Obamacare Contraception Mandate.  

Obamacare of course is the system of increased public health brought in in the first phase of Obama’s term of office. It is strongly resisted by many right wing Americans as anti-capitalism, anti-freedom and unconstitutional. The US Supreme Court is considering this question and will rule on this in June—the decision may have a big effect on the forthcoming US election.
One of the most controversial aspects is the Contraception Mandate whereby the US government requires every employer in the US including church based organisations that employ many non-religious people, by Aug 1 2013, to fund birth control through health insurance including methods that cause abortions (abortifacients).

As you can imagine, this has led to outrage among evangelicals who oppose abortion on grounds of conscience. Of course Catholic officialdom not only opposes abortion but all forms of birth control. So this is a major issue which is turning into an election issue and with 47m Catholic votes up for grabs, Obama has a real fight on his hands. Catholic leaders many of whom supported Obama are rallying against this, and one Catholic Senator whose vote helped get Obamacare through has come out publically in strong opposition.
Due to the firestorm of response, Obama has backed down to a degree. He has now said that church based groups would not be forced to fund contraception, but insurance companies will be expected to provide it free of charge. This is receiving condemnation from evangelicals and Catholics who rightly ask, ‘insurance companies providing something free of charge? Yeah right!’ When did insurance companies pay for something for nothing? For many this does not resolve the dilemma. It suggests the issue is about money and is seen as insulting.

There are a number of issues here. First, we have the ongoing question of abortion and the clash of women’s rights and the rights of the baby—a fight that goes on and we who hold firm to the sanctity of life must continue relentlessly. It is ridiculous for a state government to insist that Catholics and others who oppose abortion fiercely must provide it, whether directly or with abortifacients.
Secondly, there is the issue of religious freedom; specifically, should the government intrude into the rights of religious groups to exercise their freedom to act on conscience? Opponents rightly see this as the government intruding into private life, a threat to the US constitution. Why should Christian groups fund something that violates their belief system? Chuck Colson has said on this, "We do not exaggerate when we say that this is the greatest threat to religious freedom in our lifetime." There is a strong sense in the US that the government is attacking religion—this sort of thing suggests that they are. 

Thirdly, there is the question of whether contraceptions and abortion is really a health issue—why on earth should health insurance cover contraception? A birth is a natural thing, not a disease. Why on earth should private health insurance cover condoms, the pill, and abortion? I say all power to the Catholics and evangelicals in the US—stand up for what you believe! If people want contraception, they should go and get it.
Of course, all this is due to western civilisation being ever-increasingly in a sexual mess. I watched TV3 news two nights gao and there were two news items in the first bracket of news that caught my attention. First, there was a report on taxi drivers being offered sexual favours in exchange for taking young women home. This is appalling. I know this to be true, a family member (not myself), who is not a taxi driver, was recently offered a sexual favour to give a girl a lift—they were shocked an rand for their life. Secondly, there was a report on the NZ political leaders lining up to be at the Big Gay Out yesterday with John Key mobbed and named NZ’s sexist male politician. We are increasingly like the licentious Roman Empire in which Christianity started.

As I write this, I have just seen a debate on TV over whether brothels should be in residential suburbs or not. The very fact that we are having this discussion says it all.
The answer of course is not government forcing contraceptives to be provided for even by religious organisations, but the good old-fashioned Judeo-Christian ethic where sex is for marriage between a man and a woman, and people should otherwise abstain—but I suppose I am an old-fashioned prude.

Whitney Houston: Money Can't Buy You Love, Fame Can't Buy You Happiness

What a tragedy! Following on from the deaths of Michael Jackson, Amy Winehouse and not to forget Elvis Presley, the death of Whitney Houston is very very sad. She like the others, was an immensely talented performer. Who can forget that line, ‘And I, will always love you.’ I was struck by the news report that the night before she gave an impromptu performance of ‘Jesus loves me.’ Does this suggest that deep down there was faith?—I hope so, for today she may be with Jesus and set free from her pain.

What we have here is another tortured soul, corrupted by the fame and adulation that comes with being famous.
The whole situation reflects the brokenness of our decaying western civilisation. People with great gifts like hers are thrust into the public arena and then venerated to a ridiculous degree. The popular media pursues them wanting to know everything about their lives, and making up the rest. TV shows, magazines etc, delve into their lives. We the public feed on them, like maggots on a carcass. They need the adulation, it keeps them in business. Yet, it has its price. They can’t go out in public because of the ridiculous idolatry of people who pursue them. They become prisoners in their fame, with nowhere to turn. They live in a bubble with other celebrities, all suffering in the same way, what a dismal life it must be! They can’t go out on the street and do the ‘normal’ things of life. They are worshiped and pursued. We see this when such people die, with people from all over the world travelling to visit them, create shrines, and express their grief. Yet none of them knew them at all! It is weird.

The initial ‘fun’ of their careers and their popularity must initially sustain them, but as with all things, as they are eclipsed by the next round of stars, their star recede. What do they do when the wave starts to go down? They seemingly can’t do the usual things we do and live relatively anonymously. They live in a bubble with other celebrities also imprisoned in their fame. There world is defined by their experience of marginalisation. They have money in many cases, but it can’t buy you happieness and the freedom to be ‘normal.’ Some look for ways to hide the pain, and they turn to self-medication or perhaps paying someone to give them things to dull the pain. What a mess our world is.
So we have an ongoing string of gifted celebrities who resort to medication, legal or otherwise, and often take their lives through suicide, or unintentionally killing themselves through their addictions. It is ironical, their music, movies or sport is a source of escapism for us the viewers—they turn to medication for their escape! And many times it brings the escape—as in the case of Whitney Houston.

As Christians we need to become more and more culturally aware and think about this stuff. As we sit and watch our TVs, movies, download music, watch You Tube etc, we need to consider how we are perpetuating this system. When we read the glossy mags with their stories of the lives of the rich and famous, we are  playing our part in a system that often destroys them—a system which is on the one hand entertaining, but is in reality more about idolatry, false adulation and it is twisting lives. We are like everyone else, voyeurs.
Whitney Houston will now be venerated. People who know nothing of her will mourn to an outrageous degree. It is all tragic—as Paul puts it, we live in a twisted and depraved generation. This should not lead us to opting out of it, but of live within it differently. We do not need to play the game. For example, should we read the glossy mags, follow the Hollywood gossips etc? We are not to be caught up in its self-perpetuating games but shine like lights, loving all, and not falling prey to idolatry and consumerism. We need to remember, money can’t buy love, and fame does not buy happiness. 

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The Treaty, the Maori Party, the National Party, and Asset Sales

The development in the relationship between the Maori Party and National in relation to the part-sale of state assets is intriguing. I can’t really blame the Maori Party for their strong stand. It is one thing to part-sell state assets, but to remove the clause protecting the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi is questionable.
Over the years, I have moved in my view of the Treaty. There was once a time when I had little time for Maori desire for favouritism toward Maori. I thought, “hey, I am a sixth generation NZer, why should they get favoured?” I felt this in places like Auckland Teachers College where there were people studying on Maori grants, which I felt was unfair. The truth was, I was a lazy so-and-so and had no right to say anything!
Over time, I have shifted my position. As I have studied history more, I have wondered more and more what it would be like to have “possession” of a piece of land, and for someone to come in and effectively flog it off you, with intrigue and use of force. This happens again and again in history, and it seems a violation of what humanity is and should be, made in the image of God as we are. This is especially so when the colonisers did it in many cases, in the name of their religion, their God. I believe passionately in that faith and God, and the more I study the Scriptures and learn of the heart of the Jesus we follow, the less I can see any justification for what happened. It was a disgrace. I repent on behalf of all my whanau.

I have also shifted in my view of the Treaty. I once saw the Treaty more as a limiting thing, a negative, an annoyance holding us back. Things like clauses in the State Owned Enterprises Acts stating that the crown would not act in a manner inconsistent with the Treaty principles, seemed a little much. Hearing of developments stalled over iwi claims seemed unjust. One friend I know is sitting on a glorious piece of beach property and can’t develop it for these reasons—they pay a mortgage on a piece of land paralysed by iwi interests. Such things really used to annoy me.
However, I have now shifted on this. Now I think it is a good thing. I think the Waitangi Tribunal is a great idea, one way of doing something to right the wrongs of the past. Not that they can ever really be made right, we Pakeha rely on the grace of the Maori for what was done in the past.

Not only is the Treaty etc one way of giving something back for the “robbery” of the past, but there are several other things I like about such clauses and keeping the Treaty as a foundational document in our nation. First, Maori interests coincide in many cases with those of the gospel. The gospel calls for care for the poor and marginalised and for those of privilege, power, and prosperity doing their best to raise the lot of the poor and oppressed. While I think that we need a broader commitment to the poor of all races than assistance just to Maori (something most Maori I am sure agree with anyway), the Treaty gives us a base to ensure that the voice of the poor is always heard. Further, the Treaty does not just protect Maori, it protects Pakeha and ensures a peaceful NZ! Imagine a NZ where Maori decided to resort to terrorism to achieve their goals! Imagine and NZ Teleban or Al Qaeda! The Treaty I believe helps to ensure that Maori work within the system and do not resort to violence to seek to achieve their goals. I thank God for that.  

The Treaty was in large part inspired by Christians who did not want to see the destruction of Maori as in the case of other indigenous peoples. While it wasn’t perfect, I think it has limited the carnage that might have ensued, and continues to serve us well. We have to be patient as land-claims are worked through. Sure, the time will come in our future where we move on as one and such claims come to an end. But we are far from there, and we just have to allow the process to play out to see justice done, as best we can.
I really can’t see why National would not uphold the clause for these State Owned Assets. I cannot understand why they did not get this sorted as part of the process of establishing the processes for sales earlier. Allowing this to happen in the week leading up to Waitangi Day is dumb politics. It might get messy up there in Waitangi—have a blast John Key!

While these assets are no longer going to be owned completely by the State, the State as major share-holder and controller of the asset, should want to be in partnership with people who will respect our heritage, tradition and values. So, I am with the Maori Party on this one. Go hard. Don’t back down. Kia Kaha! John Key et al, you should listen well, and ensure that a compromise is reached that ensures that the principles of the Treaty are upheld. It is part of your commitment to partnership with Maori that you include a clause that satisfies Maori and protects us all.
The truth is, that National are making a meal of the assets thing, whether it is the Crafer Farms, the James Cameron thing that broke today, and this part-sales. After Rogernomics, there is a fair degree of wariness around about selling anything. This won’t help. Wouldn’t be surprised to see Labour back on the rise. What do you think?