Mike Kueber's Blog

August 1, 2012

Chick-fil-A, guns, and religion

Filed under: Culture,Issues,Law/justice,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 5:49 pm
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Today, as I was returning from my morning gym/yoga, I drove by a Chick-fil-A and noticed the drive-thru was backed up for blocks.  It appears that the people in San Antonio are clinging to their guns and religion while the people in Chicago, New York City, San Francisco, and Boston are ready to give up theirs.  That’s the great thing about federalism – as Rick Perry said in his book Fed Up, Americans can choose to live amongst kindred spirits in states and cities with laws they are comfortable with.

April 16, 2012

eHarmony asking whether you would be willing to convert to a new religion for your partner

Filed under: Culture,Religion — Mike Kueber @ 6:10 pm
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A few weeks ago, I subscribed to the dating website eHarmony.  eHarmony is reputedly unique in the dating-website business because, instead of allowing a subscriber to survey the entire field of prospects, it limits a subscriber’s interaction to prospects that eHarmony selects for them on the basis of compatibility.  Regarding eHarmony’s compatibility feature, Wikipedia says the following:

  • eHarmony advertises that compatibility is the core tenet at eHarmony.  “It’s not about matching people who like certain hobbies … it’s about compatibility. You go on to the site and tell us about you, rather than about what you want.”  eHarmony seeks to differentiate its matching service by what it calls a scientific approach to a deeply personal and emotional process.  Prospective eHarmony members complete a proprietary questionnaire that purports to determine characteristics, beliefs, values, emotional health and skills. Matching algorithms, the basis of the matching system that the company believes matches people’s core traits and values to replicate the traits of happy couples, use these answers to match members with compatible users.  A new, complex software technology not only evaluates the answers to the questionnaire but also each user’s behavioral data such as average time spent on the site.  The software analyzes 500 variables to further optimize the matches and, as a result, there has been a 34% increase in communication between users in the past year.  The compatibility system rests a lot on commonality, for their belief is that “Opposites attract, then they attack.”

   Of the hundreds of questions that eHarmony asks subscribers to answer, many are intriguing.  Just today I read one, “What is your relationship with alcohol?”  Instead of selecting one of their optional responses, I answered with, “Alcohol is an effective social lubricant.  I never drink alone.”

A few days ago, I was struck by the question, “Would you convert to a new religion for your partner?”  The question prompted me to recall my blog posting from a few weeks ago concerning whether a Baptist and an agnostic could co-exist as a couple.  In my blog, I concluded that such a relationship was problematic:

  • Thus, it seems that the agnostic and a Bell-like Baptist (new-wave, more tolerant) can certainly co-exist, but I question whether they can flourish.  How can someone who takes his religion seriously have as a soulmate someone who disagrees on something so fundamental to his life?

In asking whether a subscriber would convert for the sake of a partner, eHarmony takes an even more cynical approach to religion.  How can an individual convert to a new religion for the sake of a partner?  It seems that a person who would be willing to take on a new religion for the sake of a romantic relationship is almost by definition not an adherent to their current religion and thus “convert” is not really what we are talking about.  Such a person doesn’t really believe in any specific religion, and thus is able to move around relatively casually.  And if a casual move makes the partner happy, then the underlying difference may have been papered over.  But the fundamental truth remains – such a relationship is unlikely to flourish if either person actually believes in their religion.

March 29, 2012

Is there too much talk of religion in politics?

Filed under: Issues,Politics,Religion — Mike Kueber @ 1:25 am
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An article in the San Antonio Express-News last week reported on a nationwide poll that found a slight plurality – 38% – of Americans think that politicians talk about religion too much.  But 30% think politicians don’t talk about religion enough, and only 25% think the amount of talk is just right.    The article also noted that only two years ago the numbers were almost reversed with on 29% thinking there was too much talk of religion by politicians and 37% thinking there wasn’t enough talk.

Although the numbers reveal declining support for the religious right, I would be careful not to read too much into them.  In my opinion, poll results like this one are misleading because they don’t reveal the passion or lack of passion for a position.  I am reminded of that bumper sticker that said, “Pro-life candidate will always get my vote.”  Some voters care deeply about one or a few issues, and a candidate’s position on that issue controls the vote.  Other voters don’t feel deeply about any particular issues and no particular issue controls the vote.  Even more importantly, voters who care deeply about an issue are much more likely to vote than someone who doesn’t have that deep concern.  That is why the NRA and Pro-Life lobbies have so much clout.

Thus, even though the pro-religion voters appear to be outnumbered by the anti-religion voters in the latest polling,  I don’t expect them to be outnumbered at the pools in November later this year.

February 17, 2012

Wedge issues

Filed under: Issues,Politics,Religion — Mike Kueber @ 2:32 pm
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I’ve blogged occasionally about American exceptionalism, usually to defend the position and to suggest that President Obama is not a true believer.  Over the course of debating the issue with liberal readers of my blog, I have moved a bit to the left and have come to believe that the issue is just one on a long list of so-called wedge issues that hyper-partisans waste time and energy bloviating about.  (“Bloviating” is one of Bill O’Reilly’s catch phrases.) 

Yesterday, while enjoying a Happy Hour with my friend Robert in Austin, we compared the American exceptionalism argument with the arguments of some (Franklin Graham) that President Obama may or may not be a Christian.    Although Robert and I took the typical red-blue positions, I believe these positions are genuine, not knee-jerk.

My position that President Obama is not a genuine Christian is based on the premise a genuine Christian thinks that the only way to heaven is through Jesus.  And I believe a person with a worldly perspective like President Obama (he famously said that he believes in American exceptionalism, just as the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism) is not going to believe that the billions of human beings around the world who are not exposed to Christianity are doomed.  That is not in Obama’s essence. 

Robert’s position (I think) is that perhaps my premise is wrong – i.e., President Obama truly believes in Jesus, but doesn’t accept the “fire & brimstone” preaching.  (Cafeteria Catholic?  Also see my earlier posting regarding the nascent movement amongst Evangelicals asking, “What if there is no hell?”)     

Who says that friends should avoid discussions of religion and politics?  Robert and I had an enjoyable, enriching discussion, and left Icenhauer’s as good of friends as ever.

But my point is that arguing over American exceptionalism or whether Obama is a true Christian does not move us in a positive direction or help us find common ground.  All it does is divide us.  It reminds me of Bill Bennett’s classic response when asked to comment on the validity of studies that show IQ differences between blacks, whites, and Asians.  Bennett said that he doesn’t waste his time trying to evaluate those studies because the answer is irrelevant.  Public or personal policy does not need to know whether races have different IQs.  Similarly, President Obama should be judged on his public policies, not on whether he genuinely believes in the concept of American exceptionalism or strict Christian orthodoxy.

January 1, 2012

In with 2012

Filed under: Philosophy,Politics,Religion — Mike Kueber @ 11:46 am
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I started 2012 in grand fashion with a party at the home of my best friend, Mike Callen.  Food and drinks were consumed in abundance, with the youngsters (mostly under 25) congregating on the patio around a fire and the oldsters (mostly older than 50) sitting around the kitchen table.  Our conversation was wide-ranging, with a bit too much insurance talk for my taste, but later in the night we gravitated toward religion, either because it is one of my favorite topics or because Callen, who studied for almost four years to be a Jesuit priest, enjoys pointing out some of the finer points of Catholicism.  Among the questions discussed – is there a significant difference between Baptists and Catholics?  What about Catholics and Muslims?  Is Gandhi in hell?  Does God earthly perform day-to-day miracles?  Suffice to say that our discussion of religion has primed me to follow-up my “Out with 2011” posting with an “In with 2012” posting.    

Two of my three major concerns with 2011 were (a) my personal lack of productivity and (b) my diminished personal relationships.  I mention them together here because I think they can be solved together – through politics.  One of my principal interests in life is politics, and although I have concluded that I am not cut out to be a politician, I think I can serve in some sort of support capacity.  So in 2012, I intend to find a political job, probably as a volunteer for a politician or a cause/movement.  That sort of work will enable me not only to be productive, but also to connect on a personal level with other people.

My third major concern with 2011 had to do with finding a special person that “I can’t live without.”  As I noted in my posting, “I do think that woman is out there.”  Sometimes, however, the world doesn’t beat a path to your doorstep, and you need to go looking.  I once read a book titled, “Emotional Availability,” and I need to heed some of the lessons it taught me.  Soulmates anyone?  

2012 – let’s get started.

October 4, 2011

Christopher Hitchens takes on Rick Perry’s religiosity

Filed under: Issues,People,Politics,Religion — Mike Kueber @ 5:17 am
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A few weeks ago, Christopher Hitchens wrote a provocative column in Slate magazine about Rick Perry and his religiosity.  The column was titled, “Rick Perry’s God – Does the Texas governor believe his idiotic religious rhetoric, or is he just pandering for votes?”

Hitchens is famously atheistic (he calls himself anti-theistic), so it is not surprising that he sarcastically attacks Perry’s religiosity.  Hitchens ridicules Perry’s call for prayers for rain as well as his Day of Prayer and Fasting in Houston, and he questions whether Perry and his ilk actually believe what they are saying.

According to Hitchens, religious, conservative voters don’t seem to care whether Perry is as religious as he sounds – “The risks of hypocrisy seem forever
invisible to the politicized Christians, for whom sufficient proof of faith consists of loud and unambiguous declarations
.”

Hitchens also posits that, “religion in politics is more like an insurance policy than a true act of faith. Professing allegiance to it seldom does you any harm, at least in Republican primary season, and can do you some good.”

Hitchens’ essential point is that America cannot afford to have a president who relies on biblical inerrancy over reason and logic.  It needs a president who realizes that God is always on the side of the big battalions.

September 19, 2011

Innovation

Filed under: Business — Mike Kueber @ 4:53 pm
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Yesterday, the business section of the NY Times included an interview that I considered one of the best articles on innovation that I have read in a long time.   The interview was with a Silicon Valley CEO, Andrew Thompson of Proteus.  Among his insights:

  • An innovative company must reward innovative things in ways that are obvious and visible, but, just as important, don’t punish failure; have a strong bias to action over analytics.
  • Create legends around your successful risk-takers.
  • Recognize those who demonstrate the core company values (Proteus’s core values are quality, teamwork, and leadership).
  • Strong horizontal relationships are more important the vertical relationships.
  • “Over the net” comments are not helpful because they are based on your subjective conjecture of what other people are thinking instead of objectively describing what you are perceiving.

The article got me thinking about innovation, or the lack thereof, in two of the most dominant areas of American life – education and religion.  Education in America has been stuck in the doldrums for decades, benefiting from very little innovation.  In fact, the most significant change in my lifetime to education has been the unionization of teachers, and, although this has improved the working conditions for teachers, its stifling rules have inhibited innovation.

By contrast, religion in American has been rife with innovation, with the most significant being the development of mega-churches.  But there are other examples.  This past Sunday morning, as I was returning from my gym, I noticed a large, up-scale restaurant with numerous signs indicating that Sunday morning services were being conducted inside.  And a few months ago, I attended my grandchildren’s christening in a movie theatre.  That’s an innovative, highly efficient use of existing facilities.

Why is innovation absent from education and ubiquitous in religion?  An important difference that immediately comes to mind is that education is suffused with government whereas government is constitutionally prohibited from intermingling with religion.  That is why conservatives like me want the government to get involved in American life only where necessary.