Friday, June 28, 2002

One Nation Under God

According to today's Asahi Shimbun, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals based in San Francisco ruled the Pledge of Allegiance, recited by school students throughout the United States, is unconstitutional because the words, "one nation under God" violates the separation of church and state. The Court ruled that schools cannot force children to recite the Pledge because, "A profession that we are a nation 'under God' is identical, for Establishment Clause purposes, to a profession that we are a nation 'under Jesus,' a nation 'under Vishnu,' a nation 'under Zeus,' or a nation 'under no god,' because none of these professions can be neutral with respect to religion."

In response to this, the U.S. Senate unanimously approved a resolution in support of the Pledge of Allegiance, and a group of House members recited it and sang "God Bless America" on the steps of the U.S. Capitol. And, in a statement to reporters, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said that President Bush had called the decision "ridiculous."

On the same day, International Herald Tribune ran a New York Times article on this subject. According to this, if this ruling is upheld, students in schools in the nine states (Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington) over which the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has jurisdiction, would be barred from reciting the pledge. Legal scholars, however, expect the ruling to be overturned.

This case was brought by Michael Newdow on behalf of his daughter who attends an elementary school in the suburbs outside the California state capitol, Sacramento. After a 1943 ruling by the Supreme Court, students have not been compelled to salute the flag, but Mr. Newdow claims that his daughter's rights were violated when she was compelled to "watch and listen as her state-employed teacher in her state-run school leads her classmates in a ritual proclaiming that there is a God, and that ours is 'one nation under God.'"

The article continues on saying that the words "under God" were approved by Congress in 1954, at the height of the Cold War, when Americans deluged Congress with mail supporting the change saying that the United States' pledge should be different from that of atheistic communist countries. The ruling touches upon this with the appellate court stating that the phrase can "reasonably be seen by atheists or believers in certain non-Judeo-Christian religions as an attempt 'to enforce a religious orthodoxy of monotheism", thereby violating the First Amendment.

The question arises, then, about "In God We Trust" which is on U.S. currency. To this, the Supreme Court stated in 1984 that "through years of repeated use, it has lost any religious context." Although it's been almost 50 years since the words "one nation under God" has been used in the pledge, it seems that the religious context has not been lost even after half a century. This is reasoning that's difficult to understand.

What concerns me more than anything else, however, is the fact that the word "God" is being used as a proper noun. It seems that the reason for opposing the use of the expression "one nation under God" in public schools is that, just as it is inappropriate to say a nation "under Jesus," or a nation "under Zeus," the country should not protect or enforce one particular religion. Which means then that they are equating "God" with "Jesus" or "Vishnu." Coming from jurists, this may be acceptable, but it would have been nice if they could have found a deeper, more sensitive reason.

In his book The Greatest Spiritual Secret of the Century, Thom Hartmann, writes, "Any attempt to envision a sentient god will create an anthropomorphic projection, a man-like god." He continues, "The Creator of the Universe is greater than any human can imagine or describe." When you think about it in those terms, since Jesus, Vishnu, and Zeus are all anthropomorphic projections of God born from each culture, one can say that they are equals as "manifestations." But since the "original" "God" of which they are a manifestation is the one and only absolute existence, all that exists is "under God." So, "one nation under God" means "God's nation." Pledging allegiance to this means, after all, pledging allegiance to "one nation under Jesus," and "one nation under Vishnu," and "one nation under Zeus." I'd like to explain it in these terms, but I wonder just how many people there are who would understand?

The majority of people think that this decision will be overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court, but it will be interesting to see what reasons they give for their ruling.

- MT

Sunday, June 16, 2002

Children Who Don't Look Like Their Parents

My wife and I went to Haneda Airport to catch a plane to Nagasaki in order to attend the 17th Year Memorial Service for my grandfather. Since it was around lunchtime, there was a line to get into the soba restaurant. We waited for a while until a table opened up at which time we went inside. We were shown to a small table for two, and, after ordering, we waited for our meal to come. The tables on each side of us were for four, and they were both occupied by families. On the right side, there was a young couple, and their son, whom I think was about 3 years old, and the husband's father. On our left, there was a couple with their two sons who were in junior high school and high school. You could tell at a glance that they were each a "family." It was more than the fact that seemed or acted like a family; it was that they looked like each other.

The eyes of those sitting at the table on our right looked exactly like their "grandfather" and "father", and the little three year old was a nice mix of both his "father" and "mother." The bridge of his nose in particular was identical to his mother. Meanwhile, the middle-aged male that seemed to be the "father" of the family of four on our left, had thick eyebrows, and his eyes in the hollow cavity right beneath them were very unique. The junior high and high school sons had the exact same characteristic. The "father" had a slightly squashed roundish face, and the "mother's" face, narrowed at the chin, something like an inverted triangle, was longish. The boys each had a nice blend of these two shapes. Making sure that the two families wouldn't hear, I used my eyes to indicate who I was talking about and whispered to my wife, "Both families do look alike, don't they?"

Actually, before we left the house, my wife, 12th grade daughter and I had a similar conversation as we were in the living room having some tea and nibbling at some fruit cake. I looked closely at my daughter's face from the side and wondered aloud, "Which exactly do you look like?" My daughter answered, "My friends say that the kids in our family look a lot alike." We have two sons who are older than our daughter. What I was referring to, however, was the fact that the "base" of her nose is a little thick, and neither my wife nor I have that particular feature. My daughter admitted that her nose wasn't like ours, but insisted that she shared this characteristic with her two brothers, and that is very true. The base of the nose on both is very thick and solid, and, from the side, looks like a "hooked nose." But neither my wife nor I have "hooked" noses" That's when the conversation turned to my mother and father-in-law's noses. The base of both their noses is very solid, so we guessed that this characteristic might have skipped a generation, and our three children inherited that trait from their grandparents.

This type of conversation probably happens in any average family. How children and parents "look alike" or "don't look alike" is discussed casually, with no intent of malice. This can be done on the premise that "the facial features of children and parents are basically alike." It may be, however, that "this doesn't look the same" or "that has an even stronger resemblance", but, there is an essential difference if there is a child in the family that doesn't look like the parents, grandparents or siblings. In other words, wouldn't a conversation on how they "look alike" or "don't look alike" become off-limits?

The reason for these strange thoughts is because of an article in today's paper about the Ethical Inquiry Committee of the Japan Obstetric Gynecological Association having introduced its findings to the Board of Directors of the Association stating that they "would not approve the donating of fertilized eggs to a third party." The article emphasized the fact that this was going in a different direction than the Subcomittee for Assisted Reproductive Medicine of the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Labor had been examining from the perspective of legal enactment. In other words, it is possible that a conflict of opinions between doctors in charge of treating infertility, and government policy may arise. The reason the doctors say that oppose donating fertilized eggs to a third party is their concern that, in so doing, the child would then have "biological parents" as well as the "parents who raised him", and this would cause emotional problems when the child, having reached adolescence, found this out. On the other hand, at a meeting of the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Labor, it was announced that infertility treatments using these methods were acceptable, stating that cases in which fertilized eggs were received from another couple through invitro fertilization "would not newly harm the donor."

I wrote in a previous entry about how a child, born from a sperm received from a male other than the father, would feel when, in adulthood, he/she finds this out. He/She would undoubtedly be quite troubled at not having genes from one parent, so a child who doesn't have genes from either parent would definitely be extremely upset. Even if the child wasn't aware of the details, since he/she would during childhood always be confronted with the reality that he/she doesn't look at all like the parents or siblings, it's difficult to imagine what types of psychological problems they would have. Although the essence of man does not have to do with genetics, the fact that "children look like their parents" goes beyond mankind and is the norm and an important part of the order in life. I cannot help but feel that people who would go beyond this because they "want a child" are overlooking something very important.

- MT