I’ve been pondering

Author: Barrett Rainey

When you live in the forest surrounding a small, rural town in a somewhat isolated area – in a semi-retired status – you don’t feel the push and rush of everyday urban living. Absent the daily interruptions most people take for granted – and often ignore – you ponder a lot. About all kinds of things.

Here’s one. Reading new instructions from the hierarchy of the Catholic Church to advocate – from the pulpit – for immigration reform, I flash back on previous religious tampering with issues political. Things like abortion and gay rights and voting for specific church-chosen candidates. I found it wrong then and, while agreeing we urgently need a well-thought-out overhaul of our immigration laws and policies, I take strong issue with the mixing of religion and politics even on a subject I support.

True separation of church and state is an ethereal matter that sounds good but will never be realized. Just as issues of politics sometimes influence our choice of a religious affiliation, our church affiliations often slop over into our political thinking. We’re not a compartmentalized society in either area. But to allow religion to influence national policy – or national policy to affect our religious choices – is unacceptable. And wrong.

Because Hispanics are our largest immigration segment at the moment – and because many Hispanics are Catholics – such instructions from Catholic leadership are not unexpected. But would immigration policy advocated by – and acceptable to Catholics – serve Jews, Asians, Europeans, Africans, Muslims and other groups as well? Maybe. Maybe not. Each group is distinct. Each is motivated to seek citizenship for different reasons – often for distinctly different religious reasons. Whatever policy is ultimately created, it’ll have to be impartially authored and evenhandedly enforced.

Then there’s what to do with Edward Snowden and Bradley Manning. How do we deal with their kind? Despite unfounded political charges that both men have committed treason, it appears – at least legally – they have not. Treason is usually defined as attempting to overthrow a government or administration. Neither man did. What can be proven is each violated an oath of secrecy they swore to when accepting clearances to handle classified information. Makes no difference why. They did.

The point I ponder in this matter is, how does a government that must conduct some of its affairs in secret, guarantee its ability to do so? Literally millions of Americans have security clearances at some level, handling information classified from confidential to top secret. Some – for matters of conscience or money or fame – will violate the oaths they swore to when given classified access. You can bet the farm on that.

A sub-issue here is the proliferation of civilian – rather than military or government – employees handling the nation’s top secrets. That’s troubling. In the military, I had a top secret clearance . If I violated that responsibility – willfully or accidentally – it was dead certain the rest if my life would have been lived behind bars. Such direct – not to mention swift – reaction to some contractor’s nephew spilling the beans at a local bar likely can’t be guaranteed under the new civilian arrangements. It just can’t. The numbers are too large. There are other young, troubled Snowdens and Mannings out there. Whether for supposed conscious-clearing, patriotic or monetary reasons, we’ll see this violation of our national security again. And again. What do we do about it?

A third “ponder-ment” here in the deep woods: neither of the above concerns are on the radar of a lot of folks. A lot! And not just these two matters. From time to time, as I converse with people, I drop in a subject of current national discussion. Most of the time – far too much of the time – the other person either has no knowledge of it or says something like “Politics turn me off so I just ignore the whole thing.” It’s just that kind of willful ignorance that gave us the Bachman’s, Walsh’s, Gohmert’s, Broun’s, Rohrabacher’s, et al. And look what they’ve given us.

Lest you think I’m overstating, ask some of your friends questions like these: how many justices on the U.S. Supreme Court – how many rights in the Bill of Rights – what’s the current U.S. population to the nearest 10 million – the population of your state – who’s third in line to the presidency – how many members in Congress – which political party controls the House and/or Senate. Things any ninth grader should know. The answers will be both humorous and wrong in way too many instances.

What ties all these things together is a fast-changing society and far too many of us not keeping up. There are many more topics than these not being understood. How about our technology that can keep people alive long after they have no productive life but we haven’t dealt with the ethics of what to do when faced with life-ending decisions? We can create life in a petri dish but should we? Using a 3-D printer, we can “print” weapons that can kill us so how do we control that? If people can “print” objects on demand – including body replacement parts – how do we deal with copyrights and patents? We can “print” new body parts but should we? If we’re a nation under constant surveillance, who’s doing it and what’re the rules? And whose rules – if any – are they?

The speed at which these and other issues hit our society these days is mind-blowing. Just look at the last 15 years and gay rights and gay marriage. Has any other fundamental social change ever been dispatched so quickly? In the long history of social issues affecting an entire nation – if not the entire world – this one was settled almost “instantly” when compared to race and other challenges. And there are many, many more such life-changing and society-changing examples out there.

These are things for pondering by old men living in the forest. But they’re also part of the fabric of this nation we love. In your view, what shape is our fabric in these days? Ponder on that.

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