Humanity should move beyond religion?

Porkopolis makes some overly broad generalizations about religion in general:

Considering that

  • Religion is a man-made institution [Before arguing this point, first take on in your mind a belief in a ‘God’ you currently don’t believe in – like Amun, Akua, Centeotl, Zeus or The Flying Spaghetti Monster and make your best argument against that entity. Then use that same argument against any belief in ‘God’ you may have];
  • Logic leads us to the Golden Rule without having to resort to religious doctrine;
  • Religion is used to justify acts of inhumanity;

Humanity should move beyond religion.

Let’s not be so quick to sing the praises of cold-eyed, godless evolutionary worldviews.
Some religious zealots have killed lots of people, and Islamic fascists certainly max out the crapulence meter in that department. However, religious murderers are mere pikers compared to the paragons of atheistic society: the communists and secular socialists. Militant atheists Mao Tse-Tung, Josef Stalin, Pol Pot, Ho Chi Minh, Kim Il-Sung, Kim Jong-Il, and Adolf Hitler all hated believers (especially Christians). In the Twentieth Century alone, they and their governments racked up a body count somewhere in the range of 100 million to 120 million people.
And what about the claim that morality can be explained as an evolutionary survival strategy? Sorry, that doesn’t explain morality at all, as Greg Koukl illustrates:

There is one question that can never be answered by any evolutionary assessment of ethics. The question is this: Why ought I be moral tomorrow?

The evolutionary answer might be that when we’re selfish, we hurt the group. That answer, though, presumes another moral value: We ought to be concerned about the welfare of the group. Why should that concern us? Answer: If the group doesn’t survive, then the species doesn’t survive. But why should I care about the survival of the species?
Here’s the problem. All of these responses meant to explain morality ultimately depend on some prior moral notion to hold them together. It’s going to be hard to explain, on an evolutionary view of things why I should not be selfish, or steal, or rape, or even kill tomorrow without smuggling morality into the answer.

Evolution may be an explanation for the existence of conduct we choose to call moral, but it gives no explanation why I should obey any moral rules in the future. If one countered that we have a moral obligation to evolve, then the game would be up, because if we have moral obligations prior to evolution, then evolution itself can’t be their source.

There’s no way anybody can tell me “you ought to _________” … that is, if there’s no such thing as objective moral standards imposed by a transcendent moral Lawgiver.
P.S. — Before my pork-busting colleague cries “foul!” at the mention of God, I would encourage him to consider the Kalam Cosmological Argument.

Contracting around Kelo

Here we are in Day Two of life without property rights, thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling yesterday in Kelo v. New London. Five unelected lawyers have decided that contrary to any rational reading of the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment, a local government can use its eminent domain power to take your land, pay you a pittance “just compensation”, then turn around and sell the land to someone who makes fat campaign donations to another private party that the government thinks will engage in a nice “public use” of your land … in other words, in some way that’s hyped as creating jobs, generating more property tax revenue, or helping economic development.
Since we can’t rely on the plain language of the Constitution anymore to keep the government’s grubby paws away from our property, what can we do? As a temporary measure, maybe we can contract around the Kelo problem.
Let’s say that you own some attractive real estate that your local government wants to take from you through eminent domain. To foil their plans you enter into a contract with the state government, where in exchange for a fee, the state automatically takes title to your property if your municipal or county government ever attempts to condemn it, and you get to live on the land. Perhaps it could be set up as a trust with the state as trustee.
Anyway, since a local government doesn’t have the authority to condemn state property, they lose all incentive to condemn your property once you tell them about your new arrangement. If the condemnation would be for a true public use (as we used to understand it) like building a highway or a bridge, you can always put a clause in the contract that exempts such true public uses from triggering the passage of title to the state.
Now since the local government gains nothing by using eminent domain for shifty purposes, they won’t condemn your property … and the state never takes title. But the state does get a valuable interest in your land, and it gets political brownie points by being perceived as “defending the little guy” from corrupt local politicians and fatcat developers. To top it all off, you get a fee from the state in exchange for its interest in your land.
This strikes me as a quick way to inoculate property against greedy local governments. What do you think?

UPDATE: Will Collier rounds up other possible solutions.
UPDATE 2: This post has merged at high speed into today’s Beltway Traffic Jam.

Scalia’s verbal stiletto

Jeremy at Parableman watched a debate on C-SPAN yesterday, where Supreme Court Justices Antonin Scalia and Stephen Breyer discussed the proper weight to assign to foreign law when deciding controversies in U.S. constitutional law. Jeremy spotted a wonderful example of Scalia’s rhetorical skill:

One thing really struck me in his explanation of one small point related to his view, and it displayed his keen rhetorical skill (in the good sense of the term ‘rhetoric’ and not the sense in which something might be mere rhetoric). It’s the sort of thing I would hold up as a model for speaking with those who might disagree. He was explaining why people who disagree with him on this should hesitate to see other countries’ moral views as a guide to our own. If you want to avoid being arbitrary and circular, you can’t pick and choose which countries to guide you to find ones that agree with you. Then he gives an example. Since very few countries allow abortion-on-demand in the first trimester, the American allowance of exactly that is a minority position. If we were going to allow world opinion to shape our interpretations of rights and laws, we’d have to restrict abortion far more than we do. Most left-thinking types don’t want that.

What a great technique for adding extra oomph to an argument. I’ll file that one away for future reference. Thanks for catching it, Jeremy.

Did Jones violate campaign finance law?

Federal election law requires every Congressional candidate to fully disclose the name, address, occupation and employer of every donor who gives more than $200 to their campaign. I just browsed through the campaign finance reports for Congresswoman Stephanie Tubbs Jones, as tallied by the Center for Responsive Politics. As of January 4th, guess which Ohio member of Congress is the most secretive about her donors’ identities?

  Degree of disclosure:
Full Incomplete None
Stephanie Tubbs Jones (D) $118,517 $550 $84,851
58% 0% 42%
Michael R. Turner (R) $394,100 $3,250 $128,001
75% 1% 24%
Steve Chabot (R) $262,337 $2,800 $29,150
89% 1% 10%
Paul E. Gillmor (R) $74,969 $500 $11,200
87% 1% 13%
Dennis J. Kucinich (D) $2,329,363 $11,100 $216,918
91% 0% 8%
Tim Ryan (D) $114,982 $4,500 $9,100
89% 3% 7%
Patrick J. Tiberi (R) $633,495 $0 $40,961
94% 0% 6%
Steven C. LaTourette (R) $998,177 $0 $48,250
95% 0% 5%
Rob Portman (R) $1,250,997 $3,400 $48,430
96% 0% 4%
Dave Hobson (R) $942,224 $0 $17,180
98% 0% 2%
Sherrod Brown (D) $425,218 $2,000 $8,450
98% 0% 2%
Ted Strickland (D) $59,632 $0 $950
98% 0% 2%
Bob Ney (R) $493,365 $6,000 $7,500
97% 1% 1%
Ralph Regula (R) $294,136 $4,000 $2,150
98% 1% 1%
John Boehner (R) $599,981 $1,600 $2,500
99% 0% 0%
Michael G. Oxley (R) $604,830 $0 $2,500
100% 0% 0%
Deborah Pryce (R) $352,085 $3,769 $800
99% 1% 0%
Marcy Kaptur (D) $135,575 $500 $0
100% 0% 0%

Stephanie Tubbs Jones ran unopposed this year, which might explain her apparent belief that nobody’s going to look into her finances. Either she’s hiding something or she’s just unusually lax in complying with disclosure laws. Which is it?
And please, Miss Jones, don’t insult our intelligence by blaming your staff for this.

Army sneaking women into combat?

Mack Owens reports on the Army’s possible backdoor attempt to sneak women into combat, as unearthed by Elaine Donnelly’s Center for Military Readiness:

The U.S. Army is quietly making a radical change in its personnel policy that may well see the 3rd Infantry Division redeploy to Iraq early next year with mixed-sex support companies collocated with combat units. The move violates not only Defense Department regulations, but also the requirement to notify Congress when such a change goes into effect.

The Army’s defense of its actions has been disingenuous. On one hand, the Army claimed in May that there were “insufficient male soldiers in the Army to fill forward support companies,” and therefore it “cannot support elimination of female soldiers from all units designated to be UA elements.” But if the Army knew about this back in May, why didn’t it ask Congress for more recruits at the time? One cannot escape the conclusion that the Army’s position appears to be that we don’t have enough young men to fight our wars, so women must be integrated into fighting units by subterfuge and sleight-of-hand.
But then, on the other hand, an Army spokesman recently told Rowan Scarborough of the Washington Times that the policy of prohibiting women from serving in units supporting ground-combat formations is outdated. Today, said the spokesman, the threat is “asymmetrical… There is no front-line threat right now” since all soldiers, support or combat, face rocket, mortar, and roadside-bomb attacks, as well as ambushes.

First and foremost of my objections: if these allegations are true then the Army is breaking the law. Even if I agreed with the Army’s goal (which I don’t), I’d oppose their methods here. The senior officials responsible for this sleight-of-hand need a public and permanent reminder about civilian control of the American military.