Religious Issues

Thanksgiving is at its core a religious holiday. Since I grew up in Plymouth County, Massachusetts, it is also a deeply held tradition in my family, even for family members whose beliefs differ greatly from my own. This has led me to ruminate heavily on the nature of religious differences in general, and Massachusetts religion in particular.
pilgrim-soxComputer geeks have a somewhat different perspective on “religion” than other people, I suspect.  For me, a topic is “religious” if involves a deeply held belief on which rational, well-meaning people may disagree.  This doesn’t imply that everyone is “correct” in their beliefs (which would be a logical contradiction), but instead a difference of emotional responses cause us to disagree.

Consider, for example, the choice of a UNIX line editor.  I use vi (actually vim, since I’m on Linux most of the time these days).  Many people, especially those who went to MIT, favor Emacs or one of its many variants.  I could give any number of reasons why I fell vi is the better choice:

  • Emacs has an embedded LISP interpreter in it.  I despise LISP.
  • Emacs is big, and uses more resources than vi.  I like my software lean.
  • Emacs tries to do everything, but vi is an editor and nothing more.  I prefer single-purpose apps.
  • Older Unix systems had vi built-in, so I didn’t have to load additional programs before I could use it.

The truth of the matter, though, is that I learned vi in an age when Sun and IBM were still battling over where to put the Control key on their keyboards, but the Escape key was reliably located in the top-left corner on all computer systems.[1] Working in Emacs was uncomfortable to me, so I never got past the fundamentals (and have forgotten most of those).  I have friends who are dedicated emacs users, and I think they’re wrong, but I don’t tell them they can’t use it.

As a resident of upstate New York, I also list “major league baseball” as a religious issues.  I have many friends who are Yankee fans.  Unlike far too many fans in Boston or New York City proper, none of us has verbally (or physically) abused a member of the other fandom.   Regarding all things Sox and Yankees, I hold the same line as I do for the captain himself, Derek Jeter.

Jeter will someday join the Hall of Fame, and deservedly so, but not for his prowess at shortstop.  His many Golden Glove awards are a function of his presence in the biggest media market in the world, and the affection millions of New York fans hold for him.  If you call Jeter a great defensive ballplayer, I will say that you are wrong.  I will also uphold your right to hold that opinion, if you think that “good hands” is more important than “gets to the ball”.

The vast majority of the Turner clan are Unitarian, and do not believe that Jesus Christ is God.  This has caused some conflict at Thanksgiving dinners past, when I chose to pray the way I do, in Jesus’ name. My earthly father, though himself a Unitarian, supports my right to pray the way I do, because it’s what I believe.  He understands that I can state my case, and he can his, and neither one of us can browbeat the other to conform.

He understands that it’s a religious issue.

[1] Digital Equipment Corp didn’t put an Escape key on their VT terminals, but there was a configuration setting that allowed you to make the backquote key transmit that character.  Since I touch type, that was sufficient.

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Ashamed to be Republican

Please excuse this post, which has nothing to do with writing. While doing research for my novel, I occasionally run into something that moves me emotionally, and need to speak out. This is one of those times.

True Confession:  I am a Massachusetts Republican who has lived in upstate New York for more than twenty years. Politically, this would probably make me a Democrat in the other forty-eight states. Still, it’s a label with which I identify, and I take matters personally when Republicans screw up.

This week, college reporter Heba Said reported in the UT Shorthorn about her experiences at the 2014 Republican convention.  By all accounts, it was insulting, and as a Republican, I am ashamed. Okay, I can see where some people might not realize that the term “Islamist” is offensive to other people, but Said also had to deal with overt mistrust from the police and humiliation from people who couldn’t believe anyone who looked “different” could possibly be American.

Asian Americans, have you ever been asked where you are from, and when you say “California”, hear them ask where you’re really from?  Said’s story is your story.

African Americans, have you ever been pulled over for a DWB (driving while black)?  Said’s story is your story.

Evangelical Christians, have you ever had to battle against the public schools to let your children express their constitutionally-guaranteed religious liberties?  Said’s story is your story.

There was a time when the Republican Party of the United States was on the cutting edge of human rights.  Though it began over multiple issues, the US Civil War was soon transformed into a war over slavery, with the North taking the stand that it was morally wrong for some people to be treated as less than fully human because they didn’t look the same. This wasn’t a universally popular stand, and the party suffered politically for taking it.

In the hundred years between the Civil War and the Civil Rights Movement, the GOP let this one slip away, and now we stand as the place where bigots, racists, and vulgar paskudnyaks of all flavors go to find solace. I still think of myself as a social conservative, and I despise big government, so it pains me to even consider voting for a Democrat most of the time — but all too often, the Republican Party leaves me no place else to go.

It’s embarrassing.