I was born this way

It’s Christmas Eve and I’m home alone. There is no Christmas tree—or any other Noel decoration, for that matter—in my home. I’m rocking out right now, not listening to Christmas carols. And I don’t even feel bad that I won’t be celebrating Christmas tomorrow.

Some people think that I’m making a choice to not celebrate Christmas every year. But I know I was born this way. It’s nature that leads someone to not celebrate Christmas, not nurture.

I never celebrated Christmas when I was a kid. I was raised on the Jewish holidays, so there never was a Christmas tree in my family’s home. My family never exchanged Christmas gifts.

As an adult, I gave up the Jewish holidays. But I never took on the Christian ones to replace them. It turns out that, if your parents don’t teach and otherwise enculturate you to celebrate Christmas when you’re young, the Yuletide remains unimportant to you as an adult.

So please don’t accuse me of choosing to be a Scrooge. I can’t help it. I was born not celebrating Christmas.

Jihadis are Muslim

Over the years, I’ve taken the position that Jihadis are not representative of Islam because they comprise such a small percentage of all Muslims. While I know little about Islam, I believe that most Muslims are peace-loving and condemn the militant actions of Jihad. It seemed unfair to me that 1.6-billion Muslims who are predominantly moderate should be painted with the brush of the few extremists.

But I had a recent epiphany that has me rethinking that position. Ironically, it came out of conversations I’ve had correcting people who claim that Barack Obama is Muslim. When I mention to a Christian woman I know that he is Christian, she counters that, no, Obama is not Christian. This woman does not believe that Obama is Muslim (as 29% of Americans do) and she knows that he proclaims himself to be Christian. She bases her assertion that he is not Christian on the fact that the Christian doctrine he believes in differs significantly from the doctrine in which her Christian sect believes (she is a Messianic Jew).

The problem with establishing someone’s faith this way is that there could never be universal agreement about a person’s faith. I explained to the woman—who considers herself to be a devout Christian—that Obama might claim that she is not a “true” Christian because she does not celebrate Christmas or Easter (and if Obama wouldn’t contest it, there are millions of other professed Christians who would). Since there is such great potential for disagreement among purported authorities in a faith that a given person is a true believer in the faith, it’s not possible to effectively communicate about a person’s faith based on some “authority’s” determination. The only way you can unambiguously communicate about someone’s faith is by conceding—at least for the sake of that conversation—that the person’s faith is the one he (or she) himself proclaims it to be.

Getting back to Jihadis, I realized that I was doing the same thing that this woman was doing. Even though most Jihadis strongly believe that they are practicing true Islam when making a terrorist attack, I was countering that, no, Jihadis are not “true” Muslims. Well, I can no longer have my cake and eat it too. If a Jihadi professes to be Muslim, I have to concede that they are Muslim. I must accept that the Jihadi is Muslim to fully understand the motivations behind their actions, even if it is to discuss whether or not Jihad is permitted by Islam.

The right way for USA to deal with ISIS aggression

The Islamic State of Iraq & Syria, more commonly known by its acronym ISIS, has recently begun attacking western targets. It bombed a Russian passenger airliner flying over Egypt last month, killing everyone on board, then staged a multi-point attack in Paris, killing well over a hundred civilians last week. How should the USA respond now that ISIS is expanding its attacks outside the territory it currently occupies? It should end all military activity against ISIS in Iraq and Syria.

That is neither a retreat nor a defeat. It’s the smart move to stop throwing good money after bad. The USA has been leading a costly aerial bombing campaign against ISIS for over a year but has not significantly impacted the situation on the ground. There’s no evidence that a continued or even a stepped-up air campaign would substantially degrade ISIS’s power but every indication that it would result in the deaths of non-ISIS residents in the region via collateral damage.

ISIS does not pose an impending threat in America, so the USA should definitely not deploy any American troops on the ground in Iraq or Syria. If we learned anything from the Vietnam War, it should be that putting small numbers of special forces on the ground in another country’s civil war is likely to escalate to a large presence. In that case, ISIS could simply blend into the community, requiring the USA to occupy the territory indefinitely to maintain security, just as occurred during the Iraq War. It’s often said that insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.

ISIS will only be defeated when people on the ground rise up against them. The people under occupation by ISIS are more likely to rise up if they believe that the USA will not get involved in the conflict. The USA should even leave the air campaign because there are already Muslim nations in the region with sufficient air strike capability to support a ground campaign. The neighboring Muslim countries should also put boots on the ground fighting ISIS.

I’m not confident that ISIS would be more effectively defeated without the USA involved but I don’t think the situation would get substantially worse, either, without the USA in the war. And there’s no indication that ISIS would be defeated if the USA were to continue its air campaign as it has been the past year. Pulling out of the war on ISIS would be neither a victory by nor a defeat of the USA but sometimes a victory is not the best alternative. A victory of the USA over ISIS is well within the capacity of the American military but it would result in substantial negative and costly consequences, including the loss of many American lives and another protracted occupation in the Middle East.

The conflict with ISIS is not the USA’s fight. The USA does not always have to be the world’s police. To be the caliph, Sunni law requires Abu Musa’b al Zarqawi (ISIS’s leader) to have ’amr, or authority. This requires that the caliph have territory in which he can enforce sharia. However, the first amendment of the constitution prevents the USA from qualifying as a territory of the caliphate. That’s why ISIS is attempting to establish the caliphate among Muslim population and that’s why Muslim people need to be the ones to put a stop to ISIS. If Muslims resist al Zarqawi’s authority, he would not think it would be easier to establish his authority in secular lands.

ISIS explicitly stated that the reason for bombing the airliner and attacking Paris is because Russia and France are currently bombing them in the Middle East. If the USA left the fight, ISIS would not have any more justification or motivation to attack it on American soil, thereby making Americans safer from ISIS.

Ha ha Hajj

More than 700 pilgrims were killed near Mecca in a stampede during Hajj today. As tragic as this was, it was the seventh (but far from the most deadly) such catastrophe at the annual pilgrimage in a quarter century. According to the Saudi Arabian health minister Khalid al Falih, “this is God’s will.” It makes me wonder, is Hajj—a mandatory religious duty for Muslims—God’s idea of a cruel joke?

An actual Muslim president

Today on Meet the Press, Dr. Ben Carson said “I would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation. I absolutely would not agree with that.”

I would have liked Chuck Todd to follow-up with the question, “what attributes common to all Muslims make them unfit to occupy the Oval Office?” What is there about Islam that is inconsistent with the U.S. Constitution, Dr. Carson? Do you think a Muslim president would be a Manchurian candidate?

I would also have been curious to know how Carson would feel about an atheist president. If the Constitution requires the separation of church and state, why would a president’s religion (or lack of one) matter?

Congress passes law establishing the Christian religion

The Establishment Clause is one reason why the USA has remained one nation, indivisible for so long. Now the House of Representatives is trying to tear Americans apart by religion. They have passed the House Resolution 847, Recognizing the importance of Christmas and the Christian faith.

How is it possible that congress did not recognize something even more important? HR 847 is unquestionably a direct violation of the Constitution. The very first amendment of the Bill of Rights says unequivocally that, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.? Yet HR 847 does just that, establishing the “Christian faith.”

And where does this leave Muslim and Jewish Americans or, for that matter, any American of any faith other than Christianity? Congress is implying that they’re unimportant.

Then there are atheist Americans: since atheism is the absence of any faith, including Christianity, should they infer that they, too, are unimportant to congress? Ironically, many atheists ‘celebrate’ Christmas, albeit secularly. Since HR 847 also establishes the importance of Christmas, does that mean congress considers atheists who observe Christmas halfway important?

One nation, indivisible

I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. One of the reasons I am allegiant to it is because of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. It says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.”

Likewise, Judge Karlton in a California US District Court today found that it is unconstitutional to recite the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools with the words “under God” in it. Call me a strict constitutionalist, but I believe that it does not matter what Thomas Jefferson wrote in his letter to the Danbury Baptists regarding the wall of separation between church and state. All that matters is what it says in our Constitution. Therefore, Judge Karlton was bound to uphold the Federal appeals court’s 2002 finding that reciting the Pledge in a public school is an unconstitutional “endorsement of religion.” Agreeing with them, I too omit the religious endorsement whenever I pledge allegiance to this republic.

Furthermore, the words “under God” were not part of the Pledge for most of its history anyway. It wasn’t until 1954, when Congress made a law adding the words to the Pledge (and again in 2002 when Congress made another law ratifying it) that they became part of the pledge. The key here is that Congress had to make a law for the religious establishment to come into effect. It seems there could be no more clear-cut violation of the Establishment Clause.

Thus, it was disappointing that the Supreme Court, in effect, punted when a decision on this matter was brought before them. Rather than settling the matter last year, the Court sent it back to the lower courts on a technicality. Five justices said that the father who brought the case on behalf of his daughter could not do so simply because the mother (not the father) had custody of the girl. Could it be that the real reason they shied away from the decision was because the only one they could reasonably reach would be so wildly unpopular with their conservative counterparts?

The case is sure to return to the Supreme Court, but the next time without the technicality to get out of making a decision. However, it’s unclear which way the Court will find because two of the three justices who previously stated their opinions on the merits of the case will not be sitting on the bench. The confirmation hearings also going on today made it no less clear how Judge Roberts will find (and few would argue that he will not be part of that decision). This is one nation that will have to wait a while longer to find out what the Pledge of Allegiance will sound like in your child’s class next school year.