Monday, August 29, 2011

Seeing Signs

A Christian televangelist suggested that the stone in the Washington Monument cracked, not just because of an earthquake, but as a sign of the decline of the U.S. and the imminent coming of Jesus. A right-wing rabbi said that the earthquake happened because God is upset that New York state legalized gay marriage. He didn't explain why the quake was centered in Virginia and was felt in many states. There are always people who observe natural phenomenon and proclaim them to have supernatural origins. They could be right. How can we be sure, except that there is no evidence for their claims and perfectly adequate scientific explanations that don't depend upon magical powers?

I once walked into a casino in Las Vegas and put a nickel into a slot machine. The machine was broken, and my nickel came back to me. I took it as a sign that I should not gamble. I figured I was being given one last chance to not lose the rest of my money.

I once rode as a passenger on a motorcycle. The driver lost control at a very low speed, and we tumbled to the ground. No one was hurt, but I had been carrying a handful of dowel rods that I had purchased and every single one of them broke. I took it as a sign that I should not ride motorcycles. I was being given one last chance to not break my bones.

There was no evidence that any superior power was sending me signs to protect me. But it didn't matter. I derived my own lessons from these occurrences and acted the way I thought I should.

We are surrounded by things that could be interpreted as signs to guide us through life. Sometimes we heed them. Sometimes we don't. Just yesterday I saw a red light at an intersection. I took it as a sign that I was supposed to stop my car, so I did, but the guy next to me blew right through the light, and very nearly collided with another car. I'm pretty sure the light was meant for both of us. I'm also pretty sure it wasn't a sign from God, but just a sign from the local municipality.

It turns out that even a stop light, with no moral authority and no religious significance, is worth obeying. So why is it that the Libertarians and Tea Partiers are so adamant that government shouldn't make rules about anything that the Constitution doesn't specifically say government should regulate? Red lights aren't in the Constitution. Should we tear all the stoplights down?

Libertarians and Tea Partiers say they are tired of having so many rules telling them what they can and should do. They don't want to be told which foods are healthy. They don't want to be told they can't destroy the environment. They want to be able to do whatever they want to do, and to heck with all the rules and rule makers. To heck with everybody else; let them look out for themselves.

I don't know if the guy who ran the stoplight was a Libertarian or Tea Partier. He may just have been a selfish jerk. I'm not even sure how to tell the difference.

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