Saturday, December 11, 2010

The case for a non-personal god.

Let me come right out and say it... I don't believe in a personal god.  There is a simple logic behind this belief.  Logically, god cannot be omnipotent and omniscient.  The logic is that if god were all-knowing of past, present, and future events, then that god would have no need to intervene in events.  God would already know if you were going to pray or not, and thus the outcome of some event would already be known by god.  Where I feel where most god logic fails is when there is a claim that god is omniscient and omnipotent, and yet gives us free-will.  If god already knows the outcome of the future, then we don't have free-will and no amount of prayer can change the outcome.  If god does answer prayers, then god cannot be omnipotent since the need to intervene would indicate the lack of future knowledge.

I still explore my faith, my place in the world, and what it means to be human.  I right now have settled on pantheist.  The term is fairly knew from a language perspective and an exact meaning is still debated, but it generally means that the universe itself is the higher power.  Our existence is the spirit of the universe.  I have a right to this opinion.  So many people freely express their prayers for various causes and freely speak of a Christian god and Jesus.  My beliefs should be treated with the same respect.  I do not fault or insult your faith, unless you consider my own reflection on faith to be insulting.  Please respect my beliefs.  For those that say without religion we would have no sense of right and wrong, ask yourself how many religious figures, religious political figures, or any other public figure who professes a faith in a religion have done something wrong or "sinful."  I certainly haven't always made good decisions, but I think my friends and family would consider me mostly a good person.  I don't need faith in a Christian god to tell me a basic respect for my fellow humans is right.

Finally, I also want to express my strong dislike for those that portray the United States as a Christian nation.  We are not a Christian nation.  Although never directly expressed, we can ascertain from historical text that the brilliant minds that formed our country were mostly deists.  The words "under god" we not added to the pledge of allegiance until over 50 years after it was written (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pledge_of_Allegiance#Addition_of_the_words_.22under_God.22).  This is not to say that we don't share many common threads as Christian beliefs or that good things can come from a religion.  We simply don't need religion to be good.

What had me thinking about this was this article on Elizabeth Edwards.  Please read it.  It is an excellent insight into her faith and the changes in her life.  She talks about tragedy in her own life and how she had to question her faith.  Thinking about other world events, such as the recent Cholera outbreak in Haiti, always make me wonder how those who profess a strong faith in an intervening god could believe god would let those children suffer horrible, painful deaths from this disease.

If you are Christian, Buddhist, Muslim, Atheist, or anything else...just try to do good.  Do your best to be a good human.  We don't always succeed fighting our animal instincts, but we can overpower them with our intelligence.  The universe is a beautiful place, and I will continue to look at that beauty in amazement.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The end of unemployment benefits

As promised, I am going to try to start putting most of my political and social thoughts on a blog and allow people to come here from the various social networks optionally.

Forgive me in advance for not citing all of my sources or having my facts 100% correct.  I will try to find resources as I can, but sometimes writing at 11pm makes one a bit lazy on the research front.  Just know I do listen to various liberal and conservative media shows on my way to and from school, so hopefully I have retained some of what I have learned.

Now for the actual subject matter: I wanted to share some brief thoughts on the end of unemployment benefits for those called "99 weekers." These are people reaching the limit of the very extended benefits Congress has provided to allow more time for people to find jobs in this tough economy.  An initial extension was probably a good idea.  I don't know what the ideal amount of time is to extend these benefits considering the slow recovery of unemployment the last couple of years.  However, I really do feel that at 99 weeks, we have reached an upper limit to these benefits.

Unemployment as it is set up by most states is a program that is supposed to be an insurance of sorts.  Employers and employees pay into the system, and in certain circumstances people are allowed to collect benefits for up to 26 weeks until either they find another job or are rehired by their previous employer.  States are actually supposed to stop paying benefits when the money runs out, which in this economy has happened almost everywhere.  The federal government has provided some funds for these extensions, but the money is coming from the states' general funds as well.  This of course requires more deficit spending.  Unemployment benefits are also based on your income before your separation (with some cap).  This means if you make more money, your unemployment benefits are greater.  This makes sense because you paid more in and your lifestyle is based on your income, there has to be some sort of scale.

The issue with extended benefits is you are encouraging people to turn down lower paying jobs.  Several news organizations have provided anecdotal stories of people not looking for work outside their area or even turning down jobs because the money is better on unemployment.  This seems like a bad way to run this system.  This is also exacerbated by the fact that higher paying jobs are a much greater number of people on extended benefits.  Some states are paying people as much as $900/week for unemployment benefits.  I've been working for 18+ years and have never made that kind of money.

The real issue here is when do unemployment benefits become welfare payments.  If someone is laid off for an extended period of time, they need to start making lifestyle changes.  Maybe it is time to sell your house, downgrade your vehicle, or even consider more drastic measures like bankruptcy.  These are difficult decisions, and I wouldn't take them lightly.  Yet, how long can you expect the government to support your lifestyle?  I am not saying we should help these people, but we also need them to understand their lifestyle needs to change.  We don't want your or your kids to starve or be homeless, and I don't think we will.  But maybe it is time to sell your house, rent a small apartment.  We can provide you with basic welfare assistance - but we can no longer afford to maintain status quo.

In the late 1970's and early 1980's, there was an extended slow down on the Iron Range of northern Minnesota.  Many of my friends will probably remember or at least have heard about it.  It was a tough time for all - some people lost their homes, home values fell, and people were in need.  Yet, the Iron Range survived.  President Reagan didn't swoop in with extra benefits. Yet, Iron Rangers survived.

The same thing very well could happen in various pockets of the country if we start transitioning from lifestyle maintaining unemployment benefits to life sustaining welfare benefits.  What I would hope would happen is it would help flush out some more of the troubled mortgages.  Prices would fall.  Felling prices in housing can provide benefits too.  Housing becomes more affordable.  Property taxes go down for families.  Because those in homes are less likely to sell, they start treating their home more like a home and less like an investment.  These can be long-term good outcomes for communities.

There are some that say that there are no jobs.  I know things are slow.  But even in the worst month of the last few years where there was approximately 900,000 jobs lost - that number is a net number.  Roughly 4.8 million lost their jobs, but another 3.9 million were hired.  It may take longer to find a job when there is a net loss, but it shouldn't be impossible either.

It is time we start calling these extended benefits what they are - welfare.  We need to encourage people to work.  Is it fair for someone to make $15+/hour to sit at home on the government tab while someone goes to work everyday for a minimum wage @ $7.25/hour?  I don't want people to be on the street or starving, but we cannot afford to maintain everyone's lifestyle forever.  I think the right decision has been made, and will benefit the communities as a whole in the long term.