Friday, January 27, 2012

Doh! State-Endorsed Religion Strikes Again.

What the hell?  Government-endorsed religion strikes again.
Image by Taliesin, used with permission.

An illegal turn.
Religion and government
Sharing the same lane.

You might be wondering what has been going on in Congress recently.  The US has recently seen a rash of bills that seem to defy constitutional law.  The Internet was outraged by SOPA and PIPA, probably because these laws were tough on illegally downloading,  but people seem far less outraged by other injustices.  Among a variety of potentially objectionable laws, the House passed two bills on Tuesday that would allow government-endorsed religion.

The first of these laws attempts to legitimize the current governmental practice of allowing religious symbols on government war memorials.  This bill was introduced by a Republican Representative after a court ruled last year that a cross placed on government-owned land at Mount Soledad was unconstitutional.  Not only does this type of law violate separation of church and state, as guaranteed by the First Amendment, this law is unlikely to be applied in a way that is not discriminatory.

What Republican Congressman would be in favor of an Islamic or a Buddhist or an atheist symbol on government land?  All such symbols would be equally illegal, but the far-right Republicans seem to ignore illegality when it comes to government-promoted Christianity.  Rick Perry, in his brief presidential bid, suggested that President Obama is engaging in a "war on religion" and that there is something wrong with the US if gay people can serve in the military but children can't openly pray in school.  Mr. Perry, when you agree to allow open Buddhist, Islamic, Hindu, and other prayers in school, the rest of us will believe that you are standing on some type of Constitutional principles, even if they are flimsy at best.  Until then, you are just promoting government-sponsored Christianity and for that matter, hate.  Very Christian, isn't it?  Also very Christian are the threats high school student Jessica Ahlquist has received since winning a lawsuit to remove a Christian prayer from her school's wall.  Yes, that is just what God and Jesus love, hate.

The second bill passed by the House would allow Franklin Roosevelt's non-denominational prayer to the nation on D-Day to be installed on the World War II Memorial.  The fact that the prayer is non-denominational perhaps makes the potential law less offensive than if the prayer were from a particular denomination, but "less offensive" is not the same as "constitutionally permissible".  Again, would anyone be in favor of such prayer if it endorsed a non-Christian religion or anti-religious sentiments?  Probably not.

The US has thrived on its tradition of religious diversity.  People in the US are free to practice any religion, or best of all, no religion.  Allowing the government to impose laws that sponsor only one religion's symbols and prayers is wrong, unconstitutional, and a slippery slope that quickly erodes Americans' freedom.  Is anyone else disturbed by recent conservative attempts to sneak religion in the back door of Congress?

Please support Jessica Ahlquist's blog.  More people need to be applauded for doing the right thing.

Posted as part of: Recuerda Mi Corazon, Weekend WanderWhat the Hell.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Guest Post: Dark Night of the Soul by Ann of Crafty Recycler

As many of you know, I hosted a blog guest post swap over on Swap-Bot.  I asked potential guest posters at Buddhatropolis to write about some aspect of spirituality.  Buddhatropolis is primarily a Buddhist blog, but participants were asked to write from their own perspectives and based on their own paths.  This first guest post by Ann of Crafty Recycler result was a beautiful and touching piece with some helpful advice for others going through a difficult time.  Please visit her blog and say hello.  I hope to invite similar guest posters to Buddhatropolis in the future.  If you are interested, please email me.

Ann sees herself flowing through her soul's lessons and tries to help many people along the way. She is extremely aware of life's turmoil, which makes her love humanity even more for all its struggles.  She feels that it is important to be aware of the footprints we leave behind - both good and bad - for the next generation.

Image by Kenn AKA Click, used with permission.

Ann writes:

I am nearly 40 and you could say that I have been quite stressed all my life – but looking back I can see my life like a fairy story.

My childhood was like the beginning of the fairy story, quite peaceful with storms not really affecting my soul too much.

Then the teenage years hit when I was struggling to put my independence down. I left home at one point due to the stress but was dragged back. Luckily, I found a job at 16 in London and this established my independence.

Then came my 20's was when I was trying to show that I can achieve.  In fairy stories this is the middle of the story when the characters are having struggles and they think life is hard. Unfortunately I kept falling down – my health did not help matters either. I also became a single parent, which caused me to struggle immensely.

It was not until my 30's that I had to face the massive dragon – the final big battle – the dark night of the soul. I got remarried, went through domestic violence, and went through safe houses. I lost all my friends due to my ex. I fell out with all my family. I had no one but my son. Throughout my 30's I went into a massive depression which lasted years.

Now I'm nearly 40 and life does seem calmer. Now the big battle is over everything does not seem the same.  Life seems easier.  I feel more content.

The "happily ever after" is more a state of mind because I have overcome so much.  Now stress and problems come and go, but they are not so influential in my life. As long as I have a roof, heating to keep warm, and food to eat, nothing seems to truly bother me.

I came across that saying “Dark night of the soul” a long time ago and believe everyone comes across their own dark night of the soul.  It is part of the soul journey in order to grow.

Helpful Tips to Overcome Life's Burdens

  • Life is about soul growth.
  • Remember that everyone is going through his or her own turmoil.  We each have our own lessons to be learned in our own unique ways.
  • Family can provide the biggest lessons of all.
  • Don't be too serious.  Find something to laugh at every day, even if that something is yourself.
  • Forgive yourself and others.  It will be healing to the mind and soul.
  • Set new goals, even small ones.
  • Look after your body and mind so that you can enjoy life.
  • Everyone you meet is connected to you.  Be nice.
  • Don't be stagnant.  Move on when necessary.
  • Be yourself, even if you have to lose yourself to find yourself.

Remember that we are all loved and that love starts within you.

Posted as part of: Best Posts of the Week.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Buddhist Beliefs About SOPA, PIPA, and Stealing

Oh how appealing the corporate (mis)information appears, but it's probably not vegan and surely not kosher.  I just have to say, "What the hell!?"  Looks  like the Internet's lost what little sense it had.  If you don't like your politics analyzed in the context of religion, just skip right over this post.  Many of you probably won't support what I'm about to say, but I probably won't support the hate mail that many of you will send.  ^_^   Image source.

I am really disappointed by the way the Internet public is reacting to SOPA and PIPA.  I am a lawyer, I used to be a Republican, now I'm a Democrat, and many people consider me to be a "bleeding heart liberal".  Nevertheless, I support SOPA and PIPA.  Let me be clear, I believe 100% in the First Amendment and the rights to freedom of speech and expression, however, I do NOT believe in STEALING.  I have recently felt even more disillusioned by the sangha and Buddhists' responses to these acts.  People who have embarked on a path that prohibits stealing should think seriously about where they stand when it comes to anti-theft measures.  This statement applies to Buddhists, Christians, Muslims, Hindus, and anyone else on a spiritual, ethical, moral, and/or religious path.

Opponents of SOPA and PIPA are suggesting that these acts will be the end of freedom on the Internet as we know it.  I guess since the Internet revolves around a culture of stealing and piracy, especially since the advent of Napster in 1999 and other services later, we should turn a blind eye to the Internet crimes that are happening every day and costing Americans millions of dollars in lost revenue.  I guess we should oppose SOPA and PIPA because we're trendy and we jump on all of the popular Internet bandwagons.  Worst of all, we should oppose SOPA and PIPA because we are uninformed, uneducated, or have all of our thoughts fed to us by corporate America.

Yesterday I saw that Craigslist has taken its SOPA/PIPA opposition public.  Today I noticed that Google and Wikipedia have also noted their opposition, and I am disappointed by these corporations' efforts to sway the (mostly) uninformed Internet public.  I think most people are opposed to SOPA and PIPA because they are blindly following whatever (mis)information corporate America is feeding them.  As Buddhists, we need to stay mindful of the Second Precept of Buddhism, which opposes stealing, and realize that SOPA and PIPA are efforts to stop Internet crime.  Maybe these acts aren't the most artful efforts and maybe they won't be the best efforts to stop Internet crime, but Buddhists should stand up against stealing. *Cough.* Buddhist Torrents. *Cough.*

Are SOPA and PIPA bad?  How do SOPA and PIPA work?

Let's first look at how SOPA and PIPA would work.  These acts would allow the US government to take action when individuals, websites, web hosts, or corporations post, host, sell, promote, or link to infringing materials on the Internet.  Most Internet users are vaguely familiar with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).  This law requires web hosts and service providers to monitor the content on their sites and remove infringing content if these hosts and Internet service providers want to avoid liability for copyright infringement.  Unfortunately, many Internet users have preyed upon this act to engage in a war of DMCA notices as a way to limit true marketplace competition.  Nevertheless, few people are out there screaming that the DMCA is bad.  In general, the DMCA aims to stop stealing, even if there have been some unwanted and unfortunate side effects.

SOPA and PIPA address issues that are not addressed by the DMCA.  The Stop Online Piracy Act and Protect Intellectual Property Act require hosts and service providers to be responsible for the content on their sites, but SOPA and PIPA extend the existing law of the DMCA.  These new acts would prohibit linking to infringing content and would allow the US government to take action if hosts and service providers don't.  Under these acts, the government would have the power to alter the DNS of infringing websites.  When Internet users type URLs in their browers, that web address points to the IP address of a server where that particular website is hosted.  If SOPA and PIPA become law, the government could redirect infringing URLs away from infringing IP addresses and to a generic page informing the Internet user that the site has been blocked because of infringement.  Nowhere do SOPA or PIPA allow for unchecked government censorship just because an idea is unpopular.  These laws provide for censorship of content that violates the law, not for uninhibited censorship.  For these reasons, I think that SOPA and PIPA are not so bad.

Of course companies like Google, Wikipedia, Craigslist, etc. are concerned.  If these acts become law, these corporations will have to stop piracy, stealing, and copyright infringement on their domains or risk being shut down by the government.  They will no longer just sit back and wait for someone to file a DMCA claim.  SOPA and PIPA shift the burden of policing the Internet from the individuals who are infringed to the corporations who are infringing.  These corporations would also be responsible for policing what their users post.  Just ask yourself how long you have to search before you find a link to an infringing website on Google.  I'd guess if you just search for "MP3", probably not very long.  Corporations don't want the burden of modifying their policies and complying with copyright law because it would take a lot more manpower and effort than they are currently expending.  Google cites jobs as a reason to oppose SOPA/PIPA.   I disagree.  Wouldn't more jobs be created if corporations started actively monitoring content on their domains and removing infringing content proactively?  Wouldn't we also gain millions of dollars in profit because less counterfeits were sold and less piracy happened?  Notice that Google, Wikipedia, Craigslist, etc. do not profit from the sale of goods.  These companies profit from content, and some of that content is no doubt infringing. These sites also contain a majority of content that is posted by users, rather than content posted by the companies themselves.  These companies could no longer allow their users to infringe under SOPA and PIPA.

The idea that the Internet is going to go dark some time after January 24, 2012 is simply unfounded.  Might infringing websites have a tougher time engaging in business?  Yes.  Should people who sell knock-offs, illegally upload and download music and movies, authors of spam blogs that copy the content of others, and anyone engaging in copyright infringement be concerned?  Absolutely.  In general, the American public does not need to be alarmed unless they are concerned that their free (stolen) music and movies might be cut off.  That probably will happen sooner rather than later, and will probably happen regardless of the PIPA/SOPA outcome.  As with most American laws, these laws will be subject to public scrutiny and will be challenged and interpreted through the courts.  There are likely to be some bumps in the road as everyone gets everything figured out, but SOPA and PIPA probably won't affect my Internet use at all.  Then again, I don't illegally download, upload, link to, or host infringing content.

SOPA and PIPA in Light of the Second Precept of Buddhism

The Second Precept of Buddhism prohibits stealing.  Notice that this precept is very high on the list of things not to do, preceded only by the prohibition against killing.  Buddhist beliefs oppose the Robin Hood idea of stealing from the rich and redistributing to the poor.  The Second Precept defines precise conditions that comprise stealing.

The Five Conditions of Adinnadana (Stealing):

  1. The property is possessed by another.
  2. There is knowledge that the property is possessed by another.
  3. There is an intent to steal.
  4. There is an act done with the purpose of stealing.
  5. By the act, the property is taken.

Most but not all people who link to infringing content are linking with the intent of stealing or helping others steal.  I would guess that the remaining people who link to infringing content without the intent to steal do so because they do not realize that the content is infringing.  Under Buddhist law and US law, lack of knowledge that the property belongs to another negates the act of stealing.  Notice that there is not a sixth condition in the Second Precept of Buddhism that says stealing is permissible in certain circumstances.  I think that's where Buddhist Torrents ran into trouble.

Maybe not everyone will agree with me, but I believe that we need to be responsible for what we are publishing, uploading, downloading, and linking to on the net.  With the right to freedom of speech comes responsibility.  I do not believe that poverty is an excuse to steal or violate the Second Precept.  I do not support uneducated bandwagoners blindly supporting corporate America or corporations who can't be bothered to do what's right.  I do not support people who irrationally believe that the US will become China after January 24th because the US government is trying to take a stand against copyright infringement.

I believe that people with Buddhist beliefs need to take a tough stance against Internet piracy.  Supporting or opposing PIPA and SOPA is a personal choice.  I respect anyone who has educated him or herself about these potential laws and reached an informed decision, no matter what that decision is.  I don't think PIPA and SOPA are great, and I don't think they're foolproof, but I do think the US and the Internet have been lax about addressing stealing and infringement.  I want to see tough laws passed that make it harder for people to infringe, and I want to see corporations held responsible for what they host.  As I said at the beginning of this article, I believe in free speech and I believe that stealing is wrong.

What do you think about SOPA and PIPA?  How has your spiritual, moral, religious, or ethical path affected your decision about these acts?  Please leave whatever comments you want here, but please don't write to Congress unless you have reached a fully informed decision.

Posted as part of  Orange TuesdayWhat the HellWhatever You WantRednesday.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Spiritual Renewal in the New Year

Image by SamHakes, used with permission.

Talk of us and them.
I'm an inside outsider,
Praying for meaning.

For a long time I've felt like an outsider when it comes to religion.  I remember going to church for the last time in 11 years.  I sat there crying and no one noticed; they were too busy gossiping and worrying about their fancy outfits.  When I was a child I asked my father how the Bible can be 100% correct if imperfect people wrote it.  My father said that God watched over the men and didn't let them make mistakes.  Why does God let bad things happen in church?  Why do corrupt churches that have lost sight of the important stuff still rake in the money?  Why doesn't God stop the atrocities that happen in the name of religion?  All of these are unanswerable questions.

I was recently called an atheist by a friend.  The label took me by surprise.  Although there are a lot of things I've been called over the years, atheist was never one of them.  I quickly corrected my friend that I'm not an atheist, but my lingering doubts about religion remain.  After all, I think that none of us really know what we're doing, and we're just trying to help each other along the path.  It truly is the blind leading the blind.

One thing that I find distasteful about religion is the "us" versus "them" mentality.  My friend Maria thinks she's a super Christian, but she hates gay people and people of other religions.  She has not talked to me in six months since I told her that I was taking care of my gay friend who had heart surgery.  I disagree with Maria's opinions, but the problem is that there are millions of people that believe the same exact things that she does.  These people are lost and using religion to justify hate.  I've even heard people with Buddhist beliefs saying things that definitely aren't so Buddhist.  We're all imperfect.  All we can do is to try to live the best life that we can.

I have never been one to make new year's resolutions, but this year I am going to make more of an effort to find a spiritual practice.  I am a bad Buddhist.  I rarely meditate, believe in the sangha but don't have one, and I don't know very much about Buddhist history.  I'm seriously thinking about taking a local Buddhist class or an online Buddhist class and I'm going to try to develop a regular meditation practice.  One way I plan to stay honest about my meditation practice is through my friends at Online Meditation Crew.  When you see @stereonoire using the #OMCru hashtag, you will know what I'm up to.  I also want to continue to work on my health and develop more of a connection with nature.  Tomorrow is my first pickup of fruits and veggies from the organic buying club!  I plan to write all about it on Et tu, Tofu, so check there in a day or two to see the results.  I am so excited about it and just know I'm going to love the great fruits and veggies.

Do you have any resolutions?  How do you define and deepen your spiritual practice(es)?  What are your favorite spiritual activities?

Saturday, January 7, 2012

My Vegan Blog

Things have been a bit quiet over here at  I've been working a lot and busy with family.  I've also been busy creating my vegan blog.

What's the blog about?  Well, I guess you'll have to read it.  I will tell you that I picked the name because tofu is supposed to be extremely healthy, but I found out that tofu can be bad for you, cause mucus, and there are even tofus that aren't vegan.  It's kinda like tofu stabbed you in the back.

Good for you it's not.
Gelatinous white monster,
Healthily disguised.

I haven't fogotten about Buddhatropolis.  I'll be doing more substantial updates here soon.  Also, be on the lookout for guest posts.  I'll be guest posting elsewhere too.  I hope you all have a happy and healthy new year.

Posted as part of: Recuerda Mi Corazon.