Thursday, December 2, 2010

So, How Do You Feel About the Election Now, America?

Okay, now—let me see whether I have this down right.

Early last month, American voters voted the Republican Party into the majority in the House of Representatives, and increased the number of Republicans in the Senate. The Republicans had vowed to make the nation more ‘fiscally responsible,’ for the good of the majority of Americans.

Now, not quite a month later, according to a December 1 story by Mary Clare Jalonick of the Associated Press, Republicans in the House have at least temporarily blocked legislation that “would give more needy children the opportunity to eat free lunches at school and make those lunches healthier. ... Republicans say the nutrition bill is too costly and an example of government overreach.” This legislation would cost $4.5 billion.

This coincides with action by Republicans in the Senate, who have blocked the extension of unemployment benefits (as reported in a December 1 story in The Christian Science Monitor). The U.S. Department of Labor indicates that this “means the imminent loss of unemployment compensation for some 800,000 out-of-work Americans, with nearly 2 million long-term unemployed expected to be affected by Jan. 1. .... US Labor Secretary Hilda Solis ... said that by next spring, another 6 million unemployed workers will lose benefits if Congress does not act.” Labor Department statistics from October indicate that the national unemployment rate is currently a staggering 9.6%, which the author of this blog considers almost certainly an understatement. And why was this extension blocked? Senate Republicans mentioned the cost, which would be $56.4 billion.

However, this concern is clearly just a smokescreen. The Christian Science Monitor story reported that “Senate Republicans ... this week signed a letter pledging to block all legislation on the floor until Congress resolves how to fund government for the current fiscal year and extend the 2001 and 2003 Bush tax cuts, now set to expire on Dec. 31.” The Bush tax legislation currently gives the wealthiest Americans a $700 billion tax cut. (The Associated Press’s Julie Hirschfeld Davis also reported this story.)

Huh? The Republicans block a total of $61 billion worth of spending to feed hungry children and keep unemployed families off the street, and put the entire legislative branch of government in gridlock, so that they can give $700 billion to the rich? Can it really be that crazy? Has the Republican Party Congressional delegation really become this craven and greedy, as servants to the super-rich? Yes it can, and yes they have.

Davis’s story notes that the 42 Senate Republicans signed a letter stating that they want to prevent a “job-killing tax hike.” Let’s pass by the slick sleight-of-hand that makes cancelling the tax cuts a tax “hike.” Let’s also, for the moment, ignore the fact that what has killed millions of jobs in America has been the fallout of Republican policies, a point that I made in an earlier post on this blog. Instead, let’s follow the faulty logic of the Senate Republicans’ letter.

The assumption in that letter is that the Bush tax cuts created jobs. However, they did not. The old idea that tax cuts for the rich “trickled down” to the general public has long been shown to be a lie. This is why the years 2000 to 2008 saw an immense increase in wealth disparity in our nation, such that never before has so much of the wealth of the country been controlled by such a small fraction of the population.

The Republican Party leadership has shown its true colors here yet again. Rather than feed hungry children, rather than keep the families of unemployed parents off the streets, the Republican Party Congressional delegation is withdrawing from all legislative cooperation, purely to fund the continuation of a $700 billion tax cut for the rich. It is just that blunt and simple. Like the picture above, this is all a maneuver to take from the exhausted poor and unemployed of this country to give to the rich.

Query to all those folks who helped put the Republicans back in power in the House, and increased the number of Republicans in the Senate: How’s all that working out for you?

Because, for America as a whole, it’s working out pretty badly.

Folks, if you also think it's working out pretty badly, tell that to your Republican legislators. Tell them you want them not to keep the government in gridlock, that you want them to feed the hungry children, and that you want unemployment benefits extended, and that you don't want the tax cuts for the rich extended. And remember their responses, in 2012.

Feeding the hungry children, and helping their unemployed parents, are most definitely On The Mark.

(Incidentally, for a take on the right-wing’s view of Congressional cooperation, see Tom Tomorrow’s November 30 edition of his comic strip, “This Modern World.” The frightening thing is, in light of this week’s activities, Tomorrow’s grim world seems all too much like the one we live in.)

[The photo, titled “Concept pic #2,” was created by “Etr13,” who placed the image in the public domain worldwide. It was obtained through Wikimedia Commons.]

(Copyright 2010 Mark E. Koltko-Rivera. All Rights Reserved.)

Monday, November 22, 2010

Words to Live By (I)

"If you want to achieve greatness, stop asking for permission."

How many of us are waiting for someone to give us permission to at least try something truly great? To do something serious about any one of the urgent problems that we face, either as a person, a nation, or the world? To create some great of art? To go back to school?

Who can give us permission, anyway? Those who believe as I do think that God already gave us all the permission we need to do good things, whether it's taking care of our families, taking care of the planet (v. 15), or any other good thing that we see needs to be done. In fact, I know of no spiritual tradition that says otherwise.

Go for it. Do the wonderful thing that you know needs to be done. Invent the invention. Create the art. Solve the problem. Like the song goes, "Feed the babies who don't have enough to eat / Shoe the children with no shoes on their feet / House the people living in the street."

You've sure got my permission.

[The photograph is available on Picasa Web Albums here. I found it on the blog "N=1," by David Martin, who obtained it from Flickr here, where the artist, Thomas Hawk, gives further details. This artwork is the property of Thomas Hawk, who retains all rights to the image.]

Text Copyright 2010 Mark Koltko-Rivera. All Rights Reserved.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Hey, America: Grow Up!

At this election season, as the song goes from The Sound of Music, “The hills are alive ...”—but with the sound of whining. People complain, quite understandably, about unemployment, mortgage foreclosures, the federal deficit, the tanked economy, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the difficult days ahead. What is not so reasonable is that they lay the blame for these problems at the feet of President Obama and the Democrats in Congress. “It’s his/their fault! It’s time for a change!” and so the whine goes on.

If ever there was a time for America as a whole to pull up their big boy and big girl pants and just grow up, that time is now. Grown ups take a look at the whole picture, take responsibility to the extent that it is theirs to take, lay the blame where it belongs, and work to fix the problem at its root. The United States is truly in a mess these days, and only a grown-up perspective is going to get us out of it.

Let us consider a few important points.


The unemployment picture is truly grim, with real U.S. unemployment almost certainly reaching over 10%. Many people blame the Obama administration for this. Oh, really? Let’s look at the facts:
  • Everyone agrees that the recession is to blame for the rise in unemployment, and the recession, in turn, was largely produced by the meltdown of Wall Street and the banking crisis that began in 2008. But which political party is more to blame for that? The Republican administration of 2000-2008, whose policies encouraged poor borrowing and predatory lending practices, and whose lack of regulation allowed Wall Street to offer bad mortgages lumped together into esoteric investment instruments.

  • The Obama administration has spent national treasure to try to build American business in everything from the automobile industry to green energy.

  • The Democrats have been trying to make the plight of the unemployed a bit easier by extending unemployment benefits, while the Republicans have tried to block those very efforts, apparently believing that a nation driven to poverty by Republican policies is somehow a more fiscally responsible nation.
Mortgage Crisis

Figures for foreclosures are at unthinkable highs. As I mentioned above, this is a direct result of Republican policies that encouraged poor borrowing and predatory lending, and the creation of bad investment vehicles. The low tide of the national economy has brought all boats low, so even many folks who were responsible borrowers have been caught up short. However, again, that massive drop in the economy is largely the result of Republican policies over the course of many years.

It gets even better. This week we read that the mortgage foreclosure industry, abetted by the banks, is rife with bad practices that deprive people unfairly of their homes, something underscored in an article in today’s paper. The lack of regulatory oversight during the Bush administration is the gift that just keeps on giving—or taking, as the case may be.

Federal Deficit

The federal deficit is now of monumental proportions. But how did that happen? Let’s look at the facts.
  • In January 2000, the Clinton administration handed a budget surplus to the incoming Bush administration. All of our deficit has been accumulated since that time.

  • After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the Bush administration directed the U.S. military to invade Afghanistan. That was reasonable, and war is expensive.

  • However, with the job in Afghanistan only half done, the Bush administration proceeded to direct the military to invade Iraq. That was not reasonable, being based on intelligence that the administration itself “cooked” to make it look as if Saddam Hussein was involved in the 9/11 attacks and was hiding weapons of mass destruction. In fact, administration insiders knew then what we know now: Hussein had nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks, and had no weapons of mass destruction. The war and the rebuilding in Iraq have been a huge drag on the American economy for almost a decade, creating a massive and entirely unnecessary deficit that our children’s children may still be paying off—for no good reason, other than to enrich the oil and other business interests represented by the Bush administration.

  • For all the hue and cry about the Obama administration’s bailout of the banks and so forth, those expenditures pale next to the cost of the entirely unnecessary Iraqi War, a legacy of the Bush administration.
 A recent poll shows that “Republicans continue to be seen as the party better able to reduce the federal budget deficit.” That is a senseless perception, given that the Democrat Clinton administration handed over a budget surplus, which the Republican Bush administration proceeded to erase, creating instead a huge deficit.

Government Spending

A very great deal of whining surrounds the Obama administration’s policies about spending in medical care (“Obamacare”) and education. Let’s look at some harsh realities:
  • The United States, which has led the world in economic and military might for the last six decades, is beginning to lose its leadership position. Just one example: today I read that, for the first time ever, the Chinese have built a supercomputer that is 40% faster than anything the United States has. The Japanese surpassed the U.S. briefly on one occasion, but other than that, this is the first time that the U.S. has lost this important lead. Given the importance of supercomputers to military defense and technological development, the possession of a dominant position in supercomputer technology is an important benchmark of overall technological leadership. Of course, in the 21st century as in the 20th, technological leadership translates into economic leadership, as well as military might and national security.

  • It’s not just me that feels this way. As one supercomputing expert, a professor at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, put it in a recent interview about the Chinese supercomputer: “What is scary about this is that the U.S. dominance in high-performance computing is at risk .... One could argue that this hits the foundation of our economic future.”

  • This increasing slippage in technological leadership is largely due to poor educational standards in the United States. We simply are not producing enough home-grown scientists and engineers here. Why? Because so many of our schools are overcrowded, or have nonspecialist teachers teach math and science.

  • We are also a distinctly unhealthy nation. A startlingly large percentage of our citizens do not have medical insurance and so receive little or no medical care.

  • To regain and retain our leadership of the world in the 21st century, we have to be a healthy nation and a well-educated nation. That costs money. If you think that is expensive, go ahead and calculate the cost of failure. Second-rate nations get swept away on the tide of history. Let’s not do that to America.
Today’s Republican Party

Finally, let’s look at the side that wants to take over: today’s Republican Party. A recent poll found that “about 6 in 10 Republicans who are likely to vote think the views of most Republicans are consistent with those of the Tea Party movement.” One hopes not. Let’s look at the Tea Party briefly:

  • One of their leading candidates recently was completely surprised to find out that the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution mandates the separation of Church and State. This is the first paragraph of the Bill of Rights—and it was a complete surprise to this would-be Congressperson.

  • The supporters of another leading Tea Party candidate answered a protester at a recent function by bringing this person to the ground, with one putting a foot on her head, a tactic that brings to mind images of the forces of European fascism in the 1930s and 1940s. The best aspects of America have been built on the foundations of civil resolution of disagreement. Is the stomping of differing opinions the kind of America we want? For those who do, let me suggest a fine country that already has that kind of political life: Iran.

We read today that a careful analysis of President Obama’s speeches and writings reveals that he is a thoroughgoing pragmatist, in the best sense of that word. That is, he is focused on policies that promote the greatest good for the greatest number. If ever America needed an intelligent and principled pragmatist as President, it is now.

The Obama administration has made remarkable progress in addressing our national disaster over the course of only two years. It deserves to have a Congress that will work with it, not obstruct it. Remember that on Election Day.

Making a grown-up assessment of our situation and acting on that assessment is On The Mark.

Print References

Cohen, P. (2010, October 28). In writings of Obama, a philosophy is unearthed. The New York Times [late edition], pp. C1, C7.

Coy, P., Barrett, P. M., & Terhune, C. (2010, October 25-31). Shredding the dream. Bloomberg Businessweek, pp. 76-80, 82-84, 86.

Martin, A., & Rich, M. (2010, October 28). A housing (case) boom: Facing foreclosure, homeowners demand legal recourse. The New York Times [late edition], pp. B1, B4.

Rutenberg, J., & Thee-Brenan, M. (2010, October 28). Coalition that vaulted Democrats into power has frayed, poll finds. The New York Times [late edition], pp. A1, A22.

Vance, A. (2010, October 28). Chinese wrest title from U.S.: Fastest supercomputer, by far. The New York Times [late edition], pp. A1, B9.

[The photo is of a group of primary school children in Paris. It has been released into the public domain, and was obtained through Wikipedia.]

(Copyright 2010 Mark E. Koltko-Rivera. All Rights Reserved.)

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Is the Vicinity of Ground Zero
"Hallowed Ground"?

In a remarkable display of overstepping one's boundaries, the imam behind the so-called Ground Zero mosque in New York City stated that the site surrounding the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York should not be considered 'sacred ground.' As the Associated Press reported his remarks:
"It's absolutely disingenuous, as many have said, that that block is hallowed ground," Rauf said, noting the nearby exotic dance and betting businesses. "So let's clarify that misperception."
Certainly there are differences of opinion about what makes something hallowed ground. Certainly there has been no appearance of divine beings that declared Ground Zero to be hallowed ground, to the best of my knowledge. However, consecration by the Divine is only one way in which an area can be consecrated.

One of the most famous and most revered figures in all of American history is President Abraham Lincoln. In 1863, as he was dedicating a mass cemetery at a Pennsylvania battleground of the Civil War, President Lincoln made one of the shortest but most profound speeches in American history, something now known as the Gettysburg Address. In this brief speech, President Lincoln acknowledged that he and those in attendance had gathered to dedicate the final resting place of the combatants--and then he said this:

But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate…we cannot consecrate…we cannot hallow…this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract.
The blood of those who die in a struggle also consecrates an area, in President Lincoln's view, and there is much to be said in this regard regarding Ground Zero.
Hundreds of those who died at Ground Zero were law enforcement officers, fire fighters, emergency medical personnel, and other brave workers who struggled to save those who were injured or trapped in the burning Towers. Perhaps the greatest example of bravery I have heard of in my lifetime comes from the testimony of several of those who escaped down the emergency stairs at the Twin Towers, from those people who noted that, while great masses of people were struggling to get down and out of the Towers, the police, fire, and emergency workers were struggling to get in and up into them: these brave officers struggled to go into the very heart of darkness and peril, for the sake of others. Their noble and selfless ultimate sacrifice hallows Ground Zero.
Most of those who died at Ground Zero were not rescuers; they were innocent victims, going about their work, who happened to be in the worst possible place at the worst possible time. In essence, these innocent victims of mass murder were a blood sacrifice to Moloch, God of Terrorism. But America did not accept the purpose of that evil sacrifice. America took the blood of the innocent and reconsecrated it, pledging that never again would we be caught so far off our guard. The blood of the innocent hallows Ground Zero.

Yes, there are betting parlors and exotic dancers in the neighborhood. These are aspects, for better or worse, of American life in that part of town; they were there before 9/11, and it should be no surprise that they are there today. But none of that detracts in the slightest from the fact that Ground Zero was, is, and always shall be hallowed ground. The only point in question is how long America shall remember that, and how it shall choose to recognize and commemorate that.
Hallowing the site of the sacrifices of the heroes and the innocent victims of 9/11 is most certainly On the Mark.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

A 9/11 Meditation:
The Real Reasons for Religious Toleration

In an earlier post, I indicated that I would be reading the Koran between September 11, 2010, and September 11, 2011. (In another post, I invited people to join with me in the movement, “Christians Reading the Koran”; come visit us on Facebook.) I actually have a somewhat wider intent—I will not only be reading about the Koran, but about its context, and about Islam generally—so I began today with reading Stephen Prothero’s book, God is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions that Run the World—And Why Their Differences Matter; Dr. Prothero has a chapter on Islam that I will read to help provide context for my reading of the Koran itself.

I like reading Dr. Prothero’s work, in part because he has a clear understanding of some truths that are accurate and important, although they fly in the face of political correctness: There are real differences among religions, these differences have important consequences, and it would be good for people to understand these differences. Reading Dr. Prothero’s book today had me thinking about the real roots of religious toleration, and why it is important.

False Basis: ‘All religions say the same thing’

There are those who take the position that we should be tolerant of different religions because ‘all religions really say the same thing, at heart.’ This is a feel-good message that seems assuring in our difficult times. However, it is not true.

People of different religions believe radically different things about the nature of God, the nature of humanity, and the relationship between God and humanity. This is about as fundamental a set of differences in belief as anyone could hope to find. Different religions do have some areas of overlap, notably in the areas of basic ethics, although even in ethics different religions have basic differences. Overall, different religions say very different things about life and the universe, and these differences have very important consequences for many domains of human life. What constitutes a good education, a proper occupation, a good marriage partner, proper recreation, even a good day—all these can be radically different across different religions. So, the myth that ‘all religions say the same thing’ cannot be the basis of religious toleration.

False Basis: ‘We cannot prove one religion superior to another’

There are those who take the position that we should be tolerant of different religions because ‘we cannot really prove the superiority of one religion over another.’ It may be extremely uncomfortable to confront this issue, but this position is another myth.

People of different religions often think that they actually can prove the superiority of one religion over another. For some, the evidence is found in tradition; for others, in personal spiritual experience; for yet others, in the facts of science and history. I am not here taking a position on the adequacy of any of these positions (which is a question for another time and place). All I’m saying is that the notion that ‘we cannot make statements on the validity of one religion over another’ is itself rejected by many religious traditions. This myth as well, then, cannot serve as the basis of religious toleration.

To my mind, there are two basic arguments that really work as the basis of religious toleration. One is based on the sciences of human behavior (psychology, anthropology, and sociology); the other, interestingly enough, is based on religion.

A Solid Basis: Human Survival

Human beings have always lived in a multicultural world. Six centuries ago, in 1410, some of my ancestors were Polish Christians, living on farmland not far from today’s Warsaw; they may not have seen anyone but a Polish Christian their whole lives. Other ancestors were Russian Jews, living in shtetls where they may have only rarely saw anyone from another background. Still others were indigenous Native Americans living in the jungles of what is today Puerto Rico; they were a lifetime away from being “discovered” by Europeans.

But some of my ancestors were Spanish Christians, living under Muslim rule on the Iberian peninsula. (Indeed, for all I know, yet others of my ancestors can be found among those very Muslims.) And, in other places in the world, there were millions of Muslims in the Middle East; Buddhists, Taoists, and Confucianists in Eastern Asia; Hindus by the million in South Asia; practitioners of indigenous religions throughout sub-Saharan Africa and the Americas.

In this multicultural landscape of six centuries ago,where there was religious toleration, then there was peace; when there was not religious toleration, there was hideous war and death. (This message is brought home dramatically in Philip Jenkins’s book, The Lost History of Christianity: The Thousand-Year Golden Age of the Church in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia—and How It Died.)

Now fast forward six hundred years to 2010. It’s still a multicultural world, but now it is multicultural on a micro level, not just a macro one. Multiple cultures are evident almost everywhere you look in the United States. This is especially obvious in New York City, where I now live; about half the people who prepare my lunch sandwiches are African Muslims from one country or another, and the other half are from Central America, East Asia, and Oceania. But multiculturalism is not just a New York City or even an urban phenomenon. In a world where one can find a substantial Ethiopian community in Fargo, North Dakota, I’m on solid ground in saying that we have arrived at the Age of the Multicultural World. In this world, even moreso than six centuries ago, religious toleration leads to peace, and lack of religious toleration leads to strife and conflict. It’s just that now, that applies across the Earth, and conflict can be played out with suitcase nukes and basement lab-built pandemic organisms.

It comes down to simple human survival, the ultimate practical consideration. Religious toleration leads to survival; intolerance leads to war. To my mind, there is no more powerful rationale for religious toleration.

Except perhaps for one other.

A Solid Basis: Divine Approval

Although I am the first one to agree that there are major differences among the religions of the world, I find it interesting that the world’s various religions are agreed in placing a strong emphasis on the value of peace.

It would take a very long entry to demonstrate this across world religions, and this is already an epic-long post. But think about it: one of the points of the meditative disciplines taught by Hinduism and Buddhism is to find inner peace; one of the drawing points of the obedience to God preached by Judaism, Christianity, and Islam is to find peace; the point of the the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism is to end suffering and find peace; even the various manifestos of secular humanism are written in support of peace, both political and personal. Yeah, these various movements have only imperfectly practiced their search for peace. In this, all have sinned, and I do mean all. However, there is no denying that peace is a big deal for the religious and spiritual traditions of the world.

The inescapable conclusion is that, if there is any divine source or power expressed through any of these movements, that Source values peace. Implicitly, then, that Source values religious toleration, as that is a fundamental cornerstone of a peaceful world.


Religious toleration is a prerequisite for human survival. One of the relatively few things that all religious and spiritual traditions agree on is the value of peace, inner and outer. In search for that peace, religious toleration is crucial.

Promoting religious toleration for the sake of our common human survival, and to express our individual traditions’s best values: that is certainly On The Mark. (And, in my opinion, it is one of the best ways to honor those innocents who died in the terrorist attacks on America on that dark Tuesday, September 11, 2001.)

[The photo above is described by its author as follows: “A young patriot salutes heroes at the 2009 National Memorial Day Concert on the West Lawn of the United States Capitol.” The author is the U.S. Army. As a work of an agency of the U.S. federal government, the image is in the public domain. It was obtained from Wikipedia.]

(Copyright 2010 Mark E. Koltko-Rivera. All Rights Reserved.)

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

“Burn a Koran Day” Pastor’s Effort is Self-Defeating

Just about everyone with any place in American public life has condemned the plans of the pastor in Florida who wishes to hold “International Burn a Koran Day” on Saturday, September 11. This includes the Obama White House, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Attorney General Eric Holder, U.S. Army and NATO commander in Afghanistan General David Petraeus, Angelina Jolie, Pope Benedict XVI, Franklin Graham (son of Billy Graham), Glenn Beck, and Sarah Palin. It’s hard for me to imagine these people agreeing to have lunch together, let alone agreeing on anything of consequence. Yet they all agree on this.

Apparently, this effort has all come to nothing. As reported in this story on the website of The New York Times, the pastor in Florida, Terry Jones, says that his plans have not changed.

I have read a lot of arguments leveled against this pastor’s plans, on the grounds of American values and Christian values; I’ve taken that approach myself. Several writers have made appeals to cancel the event for the sake of the safety of American military personnel, Christians living in the Muslim world, and so forth. However, I have not read anything written from this pastor’s own point of view, which is unfortunate. As it happens, even from the perspective of this pastor’s own agenda, the planned “Burn a Koran Day” is not only guaranteed to be ineffective, but it is almost guaranteed to be counter-productive. (This is why I placed the logical sign for “contradiction” above. Please notice how it is the perfect abstraction of a truck hitting a brick wall.)

This is the Wrong Activity to Target Islamic Extremists

On CBS’s The Early Show, Rev. Jones stated that said that the Koran burning was a “warning” that was “geared toward radical Islam.” However, burning the Koran is precisely the wrong way to reach this group.

The fact of the matter is that radical Islamists, the folks who see America as the “Great Satan,” who hate America and American values, who want to impose Islamic law on the population of the world against its will—are only a minority among Muslims. The Koran, however, is revered by all Muslims. The burning of the Koran will be perceived as an attack on the entire Muslim community: the radicals, sure, but also the many millions of moderate and liberal Muslims.

By burning the Koran, Rev. Jones will alienate a large number of the world’s billion-plus Muslims. Ten seconds of video showing the Koran burning, broadcast on al-Jezeera, and large numbers of Muslims around the world will make the mistake of thinking that this is an act of attack on Islam as a whole, and that it is supported by Americans generally, and by Christians worldwide. These people will trip over themselves to enlarge the ranks of the radical Islamists, increasing the size of the radicals immensely.

Burning the Koran is not a statement against or a “warning” to radical Islamists. Rather, this act would greatly increase the number of radical Islamists, and encourage them to cause trouble for Christians everywhere.

Burning the Koran Will “Warn” No One

Another point involves the idea of burning the Koran as some kind of act of “warning.” On The Early Show, Rev. Jones said that “This particular act is actually an act of warning radical Islam.” As he explained, “We want them to know if they’re in America, they need to obey our law and constitution and not slowly push their agenda upon is.”

However, burning the Koran does not further this agenda at all. What is Pastor Jones saying by this act? Is he saying ‘We’ll burn you if you pursue an Islamist agenda here’? Of course, if this is the message, the pastor is encouraging an illegal activity: murder, which is a capital offense in Florida even for acts motivated by religion or patriotism.

There is nothing in the burning of the Koran that communicates the message that Rev. Jones wants to share. If he wants to put radical Islamists on notice that they must obey American law and the American Constitution, then he would be better off sponsoring a conference—“The American Constitution: Accept It or Leave” would be a catchy title—accepting contributions to hold it, and inviting speakers from around the U.S. on this important issue. He’d get a big week or more in the media, some financial contributions, a ton of material to propagate either on the Internet or through the sale of conference proceedings, and he could make a real impact, both on many American citizens, and on the global Islamic community in particular.

Burning the Koran Does Not Further the Christian Cause

The larger agenda that any sincere Christian pastor would have is to further the cause of Christianity. However, burning the Koran does not further this agenda in any way.

Burning the Koran will not lead one single Muslim to Christ. If anything, it would frighten away people who might otherwise be curious about Christianity.

Burning the Koran will not keep one single person from converting to Islam, either. Americans are aware that law enforcement will not tolerate actual interference with the conversion of a legal adult.

If anything, a book burning would raise the profile of the Koran within American society. Consider what happens in the case of an analogous situation: book bannings. The history of book bannings in the United States demonstrates that the publicity accompanying such an act results in a much greater public awareness, and often heightened sales nationwide, for this very book. Some readers of this blog may remember that, in an earlier day, book publicists looked forward to the day when the book they were promoting was “banned in Boston”; this often meant that the book would soon be flying off the shelves in New York, Chicago, and L.A.

As it is, Pastor Jones has done more to put the Koran in the news in the United States than anything else occuring at least over the last three years. None of this furthers the cause of Christianity.


The planned public burning of the Koran will not further Rev. Jones’s agenda in any way. Instead, it will accomplish exactly the opposite of what he wishes. Now would be a good time for this activity to be changed into something more productive.

Thinking things through to their likely consequences is truly On The Mark.

(Copyright 2010 Mark E. Koltko-Rivera. All Rights Reserved.)

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

“Christians Reading the Koran”: Movement and Facebook Group

In an earlier post I wrote about “Burn a Koran Day,” announced for September 11, 2010, in Florida (upcoming as I write this). I mentioned in that post that I would make it a point to read the Muslim holy book, the Koran, between September 11, 2010, and September 11, 2011. I has occurred to me that other Christians might wish to join me in this endeavor. Consequently, I hereby announce the “Christians Reading the Koran” movement.

This movement is for Christians who are interested in reading about the Koran, or reading the Koran itself. I do not mean to slight any Jewish, Muslim, Wiccan, Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh, Confucian, Taoist, Shinto, Agnostic, Atheist, or other people who might be interested in this project; however, since “Burn a Koran Day” is the project of a Christian minister, I thought it appropriate to start a Christian movement as a positive response.

This being the 21st century, this movement also comes with an affiliated Facebook group. The Facebook group, “Christians Reading the Koran,” may be found at this location. (Log into Facebook before hitting this link.) I would encourage you to join this group; it is a way to demonstrate the numerical strength of this movement. As I write this, news reports indicate that hundreds of Afghanis have protested “Burn a Koran Day,” and U.S. Army General Petraeus has said that the planned book burning could endanger U.S. troops in the region. (My personal feeling is that there is the potential here for an extraordinarily large problem.) It would be great to be able to demonstrate to the Muslim world that there are a large number of Christians who are trying to promote peace, respect for the Koran, and better understanding between Christians and Muslims.

Now for a few questions and answers.

Is this movement part of some plot to proselytize for Islam?

No. I am a committed Christian, specifically a Latter-day Saint.

Is this movement part of some plot to proselytize for Christianity?

No. This effort is meant to promote peace, and better understanding between two large religious groups.

Let’s be clear about something. I have nothing against missionary work. I have been a missionary myself, in Eastern Asia, and my son will soon be leaving for a two-year term of service as a missionary in Eastern Europe. I enjoy sharing my faith. However, I strongly believe that missionary work should be clearly labelled as such. The “Christians Reading the Koran” movement is not missionary work.

How could this movement promote peace and mutual understanding?

In the short term, I think it would be good to demonstrate to the Islamic world that there are Christians who show respect for the Muslims’s holy book by studying it, even as others are burning it.

In the long term, it would be great for Christians to learn more about Islam. One can hardly show respect for people whom one does not understand; to understand Islam, one should understand something about its scripture.

How might people involve themselves in learning about the Koran and reading the book itself?

There are books in both the Dummies and the Idiots series’s about Islam and the Koran, and these would be a good place for the absolute beginner to start. (Disclosure: I have published a book in the Dummies series, and in 2011 I will be publishing several books with Tarcher/Penguin, whose parent company publishes the Idiots series.)

Some people may find that they wish to start with a chapter or so on Islam, to give them the proper context for the Koran (or Qur'an). There are good chapters on Islam in the following books:
  • Stephen Prothero, God is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions that Run the World--and Why Their Differences Matter (New York: HarperCollins, 2010).
  • Huston Smith, The World's Religions (New York: HarperCollins, 50th anniversary edition, 2009).

I plan to read Michael Sells’s book, Approaching the Qur’án: The Early Revelations (Ashland, Oregon: White Cloud Press, 1999). Sells, formerly a professor of religion at Haverford College (my alma mater), now at the University of Chicago Divinity School, gives context for the emergence and meaning of the Koran, and translates some of the early sections of the Koran, with commentary.

When it comes to reading the Koran itself, the reader in English has several choices, ranging from a volume (the Dawood translation) in the Penguin Classics series to a 2004 translation by M. A. S. Abdel Haleem, published by Oxford University Press.

Shouldn't Christians be focusing their study on the Bible?

Last time I looked, there was nothing in the Bible to discourage other, non-biblical learning. This is why Christians do things like go to college, graduate school, professional school, art school, and so forth. We live in an intensely multicultural, pluralistic world. To be prepared to live in that world, and to further the cause of peace in that world, we all need to learn more about each other's faiths. (This point is elaborated on in an excellent book by the religious studies scholar Stephen Prothero, Religious Literacy.)

"But I've already got so much else to do!"

Remember the Eleventh Commandment: "Thou shalt not whine."

Hey, I'm not your time cop. Only you can decide whether you can fit this in. For most people, with some rearranging of priorities, study time can be found--but I recognize that this doesn't apply to everyone. (Yes, I was once a 50-to-60-hour-a-week intern working in a hospital myself.)


The “Christians Reading the Koran” movement is a good idea. The activity promotes peace and mutual understanding—two things that are most definitely On The Mark.

[The photo of the first few verses of the Koran is in the public domain, and was obtained from Wikipedia.]

(Copyright 2010 Mark E. Koltko-Rivera. All Rights Reserved.)

Thursday, August 26, 2010

American Values and
‘Burn a Koran’ Day

In an earlier post, I wrote on the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque” issue, about the placement of a new Islamic cultural center a mere 600 feet from the site of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York City. Essentially, I said that although I wished the center to be placed elsewhere, as an American I recognized that the Bill of Rights gives any religious organization the right to build wherever they have a legal right to do so. Now the shoe is on the other foot.

As reported in a story in today’s New York Times, a Christian pastor in Gainesville, Florida plans to commemorate the 9/11 attacks by holding “International Burn a Koran Day,” in which he plans to conduct a book burning to destroy copies of the holy book of Islam, the Koran.

Again, as an American, I recognize the constitutional right that this pastor has to say anything he wishes about Islam (which he clearly despises), and to conduct his bonfire. What I have to say below about this activity must not be construed as an attempt to limit this pastor’s rights, or to persecute his church.

Although I recognize this pastor’s rights to conduct his religious activities as he sees fit, I wish to express my unequivocal condemnation of the book burning that he has planned. The planned bonfire is an obscenity. I condemn the forthcoming bonfire on the grounds of both Christian values and American values.

I am a Christian (in particular, a Latter-day Saint).* Looking to Jesus as an example for the Christian faithful, I note that Jesus neither participated in nor condoned the burning of any literature at all. Even if one were to look at Muslims as enemies – a position that I find highly foolish – I would point out that Jesus said the following:

But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.

That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven ...

Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect. (The New Testament, The Gospel According to St. Matthew, chapter 5, verses 44-45, 48)

Book burning is an expression of hatred, not love or blessing or doing good. It is the sort of thing that the Nazis did. Book burning has a long and sordid history; it brings to mind images of the depths of the Inquisition, one of Christianity’s darkest hours. Is this what the pastor in Gainesville wishes to associate himself with?

In terms of American values, it is important to remember that the way we Americans best deal with differences is by debating them, not stifling one side of the debate. Book burning is unAmerican. We do have a history of religious discrimination; our history has seen riots against Catholics, discrimination against Jews and against Muslims, even the sending of troops against Mormons. However, these incidents showed America at its worst. We have become a strong country by respecting differences. As we seek to become a stronger country in the twenty-first century, we must do even more to respect differences and build a united America. Book burning is just the opposite of that.

As a Christian and as an American, I apologize to the Muslim world for the planned book burning in Gainesville. As an act of apology, between Sept. 11, 2010, and Sept. 11 2011, I shall read the entire Koran (in English translation). I shall be a faithful Christian—and I shall show my Christianity by seeking to better understand those who differ from me.

Mutual inter-religious respect is On The Mark.

- - - - -

*(Yes, I am aware that there are those who do not consider the Latter-day Saints to be Christians. At the risk of pointing out the obvious, the official name of the Saints' religious organization is "The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints." The Saints pray, bless the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, anoint the sick, ordain their ministers, and baptize, all in the name of Jesus Christ. One of the scriptures that the Saints revere in addition to the Bible is The Book of Mormon, which is subtitled, “Another Testament of Jesus Christ.” Those who wish to consider this question further may consult these this video interview and this website.)

[The image of the cover of the Koran, or Quran, was created on 29 April 2005 by ~crystalina~ and obtained through Wikipedia. It is used here under the terms of the Creative Commons Attibution 2.0 Generic License.]

(Copyright 2010 Mark E. Koltko-Rivera. All Rights Reserved.)

Friday, August 20, 2010

Thought for the Day:
"Be Careful What Books You Read ..."

I am hard at work trying to finish up the manuscript for my next book (more on that another time). However, I came upon the neatest quote for all the hard-reading crowd who looks at this blog. It is by John Trapp (1601-1699, pictured), an Anglican preacher whose commentary on the Bible is still read today:

"Be careful what books you read, for as water tastes of the soil it runs through, so does the soul taste of the authors that a man reads."
Words to live by. Peace to one and all.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

For H. P. Lovecraft’s Birthday,
Give the Old Man His Own Stamp

Howard Phillips Lovecraft
Aug. 20, 1890-Mar. 15, 1937

I agree with Stephen King that H. P. Lovecraft is “the twentieth-century horror story’s dark and baroque prince.” King, one of the best-selling authors of the twentieth century, said that “Lovecraft ... opened the way for me, as he had done for others before me.”* Of course, Lovecraft is best remembered today for what he called “cosmic horror,” inventing a history in which to place his stories that others have named the Cthulhu Mythos, probably the most developed back story this side of Middle Earth (although far, far darker). His grim and scary work has inspired countless writers and readers, and has been graced by attention from Joyce Carol Oates and the Library of America.

Now fans of Lovecraft have an opportunity to give a little something back.

The United States Postal Service has a program, the Citizens’ Stamp Advisory Committee (CSAC), to take suggestions from the public regarding new postage stamps. I invite all H.P. Lovecraft fans to write a letter to the CSAC, suggesting that the U.S. Postal Service issue a postage stamp featuring H. P. Lovecraft, on the 125th anniversary of his birth, which occurs on August 20, 2015. (Yes, this assumes that neither the Mayan apocalypse nor the Return of the Old Ones occurs before that time. I do, however, try to be optimistic. Me, a Lovecraft fan? Go figure.) The Postal Service requires at least three years advance notice before a significant anniversary, so we really do need to start this movement soon.

Instructions about proposing a stamp to the CSAC, including their stamp subject selection criteria, are available here. Basically, one writes a letter, which could be so simple as a one-line suggestion sent to

     Citizens' Stamp Advisory Committee
     c/o Stamp Development
     U.S. Postal Service
     475 L’Enfant Plaza SW, Room 3300
     Washington, DC 20260-3501

Or, if your circumstances permit, you could send a more elaborate letter. I strongly suggest that you at least mention the following:
  • You suggest that they issue a stamp honoring H. P. Lovecraft, an American writer born August 20, 1890 and died March 15, 1937, in time for the 125th anniversary of his birth on August 20, 2015.
  • Tell them why Lovecraft deserves a stamp, in your opinion.
If you have the opportunity, tell the Committee how Lovecraft has the “widespread national appeal and significance” that they look for in the subject of a stamp. Even if you only send a one-liner to the Committee, it will let them know that Lovecraft is important to you. If several thousand fans do the same, that will be a statement hard to ignore.

Let’s give the Old Man his own stamp for his birthday. Acknowledging Lovecraft in this way would be On The Mark.


*Stephen King, Danse Macabre (New York: Gallery Books/Simon & Schuster, 2010 edition, pp. 30, 101; originally published 1981).

[The photo above of H. P. Lovecraft is the property of Brown University. It was obtained from Wikipedia, and its use here is permitted under the fair use provisions of the United States copyright laws.]

(Text Copyright 2010 Mark E. Koltko-Rivera. All Rights Reserved.)

Monday, August 16, 2010

American Values and the Ground Zero Mosque

I am sorry to say that personal illness has kept me off this blog for far longer than I expected. (I actually do not plan to return to regular posting until around Labor Day.) However, an issue has arisen that I feel compelled to address immediately, shaky health notwithstanding.

One would have to have lived under a rock for the last couple of months to not know about the recent disputes regarding the proposed building of a Muslim house of worship about 600 feet from the site of the destruction of the World Trade Center by Islamic extremist terrorists in New York City on September 11, 2001. This is the Ground Zero of 9/11, the site of the murder of over 2,700 people by terrorists inspired by radical Islam.

My first reaction, when I heard of the proposed community center, was not exactly “no.” It was “HELL no! No bloody way! Not today, not tomorrow, not any day that ends in the letter ‘-y’!” As a boy living on the Lower East Side of Manhattan during the 1970s, I watched the Twin Towers go up, and one bright Tuesday morning, I watched on television as the Twin Towers were taken down, thousands of innocent human beings packed within them, mothers and fathers and brothers and sisters and sons and daughters condemned to a fiery crushing death because of some terrorists with razor blades.

This was a massive terrorist attack in my own home town, practically in my own childhood neighborhood; I was not myself for months afterward. All that has come afterwards—the dark transformation of American life and the America psyche, the economic disturbances—all stem from this incident, along with the planes crashing in Washington, DC, and Pennsylvania. Placing a mosque near Ground Zero is an insult to many of the dead and their survivors. Imagine placing a monument to the brilliant minds behind the atomic bomb (Einstein, Teller, and Oppenheimer) -- in Hiroshima: yeah, there's a point to the thing, but not there.

And then I understood one further thing.

As an American, I am morally obligated to support the right of Muslims to build their mosque wherever it is legal to do so.

The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in the Bill of Rights (pictured) states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” It has long been established that these aspects of the Bill of Rights—the establishment clause and the free exercise clause—are binding on all levels of government within the United States. Beyond that, the corresponding values that the First Amendment stands for—separation of church and state, and freedom of religion—are at the heart of what it means to be an American. If I can’t support the rights of Muslims, I can’t call myself a true American.

Look at it this way. Celebrating freedom of speech means nothing if I am just celebrating the freedom of speech that I like; freedom of speech only really means something if it means protecting the freedom of speech that I despise. Celebrating freedom of religion means nothing if I am just celebrating the freedoms of religions with which I agree; freedom of religion only really means something if it means protecting the freedom of religions with which I vigorously disagree.

Now, it is important to understand what I am saying, and what I am not saying. I am saying that the Muslims have a right to build their mosque wherever it is legal to do so, whether or not I like the idea. I am not saying that I want the Muslims to build there.

In fact, I don’t want them to build the mosque there. I think that it is astonishingly insensitive to many of those whose loved ones were killed by extremists.

The very name of the original project—the Cordoba Initiative—is intensely provocative. The name evokes the era of the Muslim rule of Spain, which lasted from the 8th to the 15th centuries, when Muslims had captured most of the Spanish peninsula and held it for centuries until they were repelled by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain around 1492; I am told that, even today, there are Muslim families in North Africa that still retain the keys to their ancestors’ homes in Andalus (Spain), and that they have every intention of returning in triumph some day. (The name of the Cordoba Initiative has since been changed.)

But life in a pluralistic democracy means that I have to find a way to live with people who do all sorts of things that are legal, even if I find them objectionable or even abhorrent. That's the price I pay for having my own freedoms.

I hope that the backers of the former Cordoba Initiative choose to exercise their rights in some other way. However, if they do not, I will have to accept that peacefully. I hope that the readers of this blog, and all Americans, do the same.

This is my position on the affair. It is also, I think, President Obama’s position, which is already being distorted by his political opponents.

In the middle of dealing with our anger over 9/11, let us not forget what it means to be American. This has been one of our major challenges as a nation over the last nine years; so far, I don’t think we have done such a great job. Maybe we can start doing a better job by moderating the national dialogue about the Ground Zero mosque.

[The photo of the Bill of Rights is in the public domain (as a representation of an official U.S. government document), and was obtained from Wikipedia.]

(Copyright 2010 Mark E. Koltko-Rivera. All Rights Reserved.)

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

End "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" by Presidential Executive Order -- Now

An Associated Press article reports that U.S. Secretary of Defense Gates has given lukewarm support for the repeal of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy for the American military. Secretary Gates wants to delay any legislation until after an internal Defense Department review of the policy, which involves, at least in part, surveying military personnel and families about their opinions regarding the matter of gays serving openly in the military.

With all due respect to the opinions of military personnel and their families, this is the wrong way to go about dealing with this issue. A great deal can be learned from the example of how racial segregation was ended in the American military.

In 1948, President Harry Truman used Executive Order 9981 to end racial segregation in the U.S. military, thus bypassing Congress, where the Congresspeople of the Southeast would likely have prevented legislation from passing. In retrospect, we might say that this was justified because racial segregation was and is wrong, and because desegregation should not be held hostage to old prejudices. This was not a popular move. Four years earlier, during World War II, General Eisenhower’s decision to enlist African American combat troops was unpopular even with his own Army chief of staff, as well as with many military personnel; nonetheless, it was imposed by fiat—because it was right, and because it was necessary to the war effort. (One can learn more about this chapter of our history here.)

The same logic applies to ending the ban against gays serving openly in the military. In a very real sense, it does not matter what the personnel opinions of current members of the military are. We certainly have a need for more military personnel. There have never been any data suggesting that gay military personnel are any less fit or proficient at their duty than heterosexual personnel, or that they personally cause disorder in the ranks. The only impediment to gays serving openly in the military is personal prejudice against gay men and women, which should have no bearing on national policy. The “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy can and should be ended by Presidential Executive Order—right now.

Perhaps some will feel offended by the thought of gays serving openly in the military. The fact is, we all have to learn that the United States of America is deliberately designed as a pluralistic society. Each of us has standards that he or she cherishes, but that are violated by others. Living in a pluralistic society means that we allow others the right to live as they wish, within the constraints of the law. This means that military personnel serve with others of different genders, races, ethnicities, cultures, and religions. Exactly the same logic applies to sexual orientation.

None of this need compromise in the slightest one’s personal or religious stance on the matter of homosexuality. For heaven’s sake: I say all this as a straight, believing and observant Mormon, married and with four children! If I can get behind ending “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” we all can.

Mr. Obama: Please use your Executive Order power to end discrimination by sexual orientation in the American military right now. This would definitely be On The Mark.

(This post expands on a comment of mine on a news item in The Huffington Post. The original news article is available here. An archive of all my comments on The Huffington Post is available here. Readers of this blog are welcome to become “fans” of mine on The Huffington Post.)

[The photo by Lance Corporal Kevin C. Quihuis, Jr. (USMC), shows U.S. Marines from the 1st Battlion, 7th Marines, Charlie Company preparing to enter one of Saddam Hussein’s palaces during Operation Iraqi Freedom. The photo is in the public domain, and was obtained from Wikipedia.]

(Copyright 2010 Mark E. Koltko-Rivera. All Rights Reserved.)

Monday, May 24, 2010

Glenn Beck, Environmentalism, Government, and Religion

Last March, the conservative broadcaster Glenn Beck declared that religious teachings about social justice were basically just coded communication in favor of Communism and Nazism. Many people condemned Beck for making this claim; as many pointed out, social justice has been at the heart of religious teachings for centuries. (And, as I said in a post on one of my other blogs, in making such a declaration, Beck appears to be completely unaware of the position of even his own religion, the faith of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints [more popularly known as ‘the Mormons’], which has taught what amounts to social justice for close to two centuries.)

Mr. Beck is at it again. He recently condemned the idea of having the U.S. government encourage faith-based organizations to spread a message of green approaches to environmentalism.

What Mr. Beck is objecting to specifically is the Obama administration’s Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships recommendations, which include the recommendation that the Environmental Protection Agency help churches and other not-for-profit organizations to have access to financing and loan programs to finance green building projects. Frankly, this seems like pretty tame stuff to me.

But not to Glenn Beck. For him, this means “merging the EPA with churches,” which is paranoid fear-mongering. He sees this as founding, “Yes, the religion of environmental and social justice.”

The fact of the matter is that we are, as a global civilization, and as an American nation, in the deepest of trouble when it comes to the environment of the Earth. Surely it is in the best interest of the American people, regardless of political stance, to ensure that we maintain a liveable environment on this, our home world, and the only planet on which the human race has a presence at this time. In that effort, it makes sense to enlist the help of a variety of not-for-profit organizations, religious organizations among them. This is a very far cry from either telling religious organizations what to teach, or telling people what religious teachings to believe—both of which the U.S. government has done in the past, and both of which would be deeply objectionable. However, the effort that the Obama administration is contemplating does not in any way breach the wall between church and state, a point that Glenn Beck misses completely.

Here—yet again—Mr. Beck is very far from being On The Mark.

(Oh, yeah: he seems to be unaware of his church's doctrine regarding the Earth, as well, a point that I make on another blog.)

[The photo of the Earth as seen from Apollo 17 is in the public domain, and was obtained through Wikipedia.]

(Copyright 2010 Mark E. Koltko-Rivera. All Rights Reserved.)

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Close the New Debtors’ Prison:
Credit Checks for Job Applicants

A March 1st news report from the Associated Press, presented on Yahoo! News, states that at least 16 U.S. state legislatures are considering measures to outlaw credit checks on job applicants. The report states that, in a recent survey, 60% of employers said that they run credit checks on at least some job applicants, although only 19% said they do so on all.

Here is a news flash to the employers of America: we are in a Recession/Depression, people. (That’s a Recession so bad that it is essentially a Depression, but we are all too scared to call it that.) Enormous numbers of people have bad credit today for reasons that have very little to do with anything they have done. By refusing these people jobs on the basis of credit checks, employers are dooming these people to a continuing spiral of unemployment or underemployment, and deepening poverty. Metaphorically, it is like a new form of debtors’ prison, where people in debt are incarcerated and unable to earn—a practice that impoverished entire families until the practice was mostly eliminated in the United States about 170 years ago.

The justification for credit checks for employment, as one employer quoted in the story put it, is that “if your credit is bad, then you’ll steal from me.” Frankly, speaking as a researcher, I would love to see the research that supports that statement. This strikes me as the sort of naïve pseudo-psychological reasoning that would never hold up in court. I wait for the day when some employer is forced to prove that notion in court; I shall be delighted to testify for the plaintiff. I know too many good, honest people forced into bankruptcy by extraordinary medical bills, business downturns, and so forth, to put any faith in this employer’s statement.

Regardless of whatever sense that sort of reasoning makes in normal times, it certainly makes no sense now, when the official (and highly understated) unemployment rate is about 10%. Sure, there are some jobs—I’m thinking Treasurer—where direct contact with large amounts of cash and corporate checking accounts does justify a credit check. However, outside of such positions, the practice of conducting a credit check for employment is not only unjustified, but downright cruel.

I urge the readers of this blog to do two things. (1) Send this post to others who you think ought to be informed about this issue; you can use the “envelope icon” below to send a link to a contact via e-mail. (2) Contact your state legislators. If your legislators are considering legislation to outlaw credit checks for job applicants, then tell them you support that legislation. If your legislators are not considering such legislation—then ask them why not!

Legislation to outlaw credit checks for the vast majority of job applicants is definitely On The Mark.

[The photo of the credit card has been placed in the public domain by its creator; the image was obtained through Wikipedia.]

(Copyright 2010 Mark E. Koltko-Rivera. All Rights Reserved.)