The Hexacoto

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Tag: religion

So much bad reporting about the Obamacare-Little Sisters brouhaha

Little Sisters of the Poor. Courtesy of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.

Image credit Becket Fund for Religious Liberty

One of the news stories that came out around the turn of 2013/14 was the story of a religious group of nuns, the Little Sisters of the Poor, who aid the elderly. The story reported by many publications basically says this:

Obamacare is forcing a religious group of nuns to provide contraception to their employees! Shame on Obamacare!

Related arguments include: The Obama administration doesn’t think the Little Sisters are religious enough to qualify for church exemptions; the government shouldn’t force religious entities to do anything that goes against their moral beliefs.

Currently, the majority of news sites that tout this stance are mostly Op-Eds, as well as, of course, Fox News, and some others infamous for being less credible news sources, such as the NY Post.

However, given some of the facts of the case that were made available from the beginning of the case that really undermines the Little Sister’s standing, it’s unbelievable that writers are still deliberately ignoring those points and writing pieces with only side of the story — much bad journalism indeed. Well, I suppose sensationalising stories is nothing new, especially with some news sites whose purpose are not so much to enlighten but to build narratives.

However, some sites, such as the Huffington Post and the Denver Post, have also been guilty of reporting only one the side of the story where the Obama administration is being the overpowering encroacher. For them, it shouldn’t have been hard to do a quick search to find out what the facts are, should it?

I’ll summarise the facts and developments of the story:

  • On January 1st, 2014, a mandate from the Affordable Care Act (ACA), popularly known as “Obamacare,” would require employers providing insurance to is employees to include contraception coverage, or face fines.
  • Religious organisations, such as churches and synagogues, are exempt.
  • The Little Sisters of the Poor is a religious-affiliated non-profit, not a religious organisation, so they are still required to provide contraception coverage.
  • However, a provision in the ACA states that religious-affiliated groups, such as the Little Sisters, can opt out by filling out a conscientious objection form.
  • The objection form will then pass the burden of providing contraception coverage onto a third-party insurer.
  • Little Sisters says that even signing the form goes against their religious beliefs, because it makes them complicit in providing of contraception.
  • However, their arguments have a flaw: their employees are using a “church plan” insurance, which pre-dates the ACA, and under the church plan, the Little Sisters doesn’t have to provide contraception coverage anyway.
  • Little Sisters appeals for an injunction of the ACA mandate on them, appeal was rejected. On December 31, one day before the ACA mandate takes effect, Justice Sotomayer grants a stay on the rejection of the appeal, until a decision is reached.
  • The U.S. government has asked the Supreme Courts not to extend the exemption

There is a law, the Employment Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA), that sets the standards for benefits provided to employees, should employers choose to provide them, and those under the church plan provision of ERISA don’t have to provide contraception coverage. Since it pre-dates the ACA, it limits the federal government’s authority over the health plan that the Little Sisters has, the Obama administration argues, and under ERISA the Feds couldn’t intervene or penalize it.

“There is no statutory authority to regulate the third-party administrator of a self-insured church plan and no legal compulsion for that administrator to provide contraceptive coverage where an eligible organization with a self-insured church plan invokes the accommodation, ” the government lawyers argued in an earlier Circuit Court brief.

So the Little Sisters is essentially just against the signing of the form, where if they do sign it, nothing changes from status quo — no contraception coverage will be provided, not even by third-party insurers. Yet if the Denver group doesn’t invoke that “accommodation” by self-certifying, it is still subject to hefty fines under the Affordable Care Act, at $6,700 a day, or $4.5 million a year, which comprises a third of their budget. Are they then petitioning against potential spiritual complicity, not even actual spiritual complicity, where signing the form equates to providing for the possibility of complicity, where if I sign, were I not under a church plan, I’d possibly have to provide contraception coverage, and that is against my moral beliefs? Can people actually petition against a counterfactual situation? The Becket Fund for Religious Freedom, which is also defending a similar case for Hobby Lobby, a private company that refused to provide contraception coverage because of their religious values, has taken up the Little Sisters’ case.

There is no deadline for court action, and Sotomayor can make the decision herself or refer it to the whole court, in which case all nine justices will decide.

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Experiencing Darshan?

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I went to the exhibition “Darshan” at the Clampart gallery. The word “Darshan” means “sight” in Sanskrit, but it is used in the context of receiving “spiritual vision,” or the moment of theophany. It is a way of being able to see the divine directly through a medium, be it art, sculptures, landscapes, or great people. Some call it “divine inspiration,” but I like to think of it as the moment of being in awe  in sublimity in the presence of great spirituality.

It can be akin to being taken by the Holy Spirit in Catholicism, a sort of event that happens in the consciousness.

I went to the exhibit hoping to receive that experience, where it claims to recreate that connection one gets in a Hindu temple through the images, incense and invocations, but sad to say I was sorely disappointed.

The pictures on the wall were highly masterful, that’s for sure. All but one of the pictures was not photoshopped or digitally touched, and every element in the frame was the result of real people posing and the arranging of props. That was highly impressive, and the attention paid to detail was delightful.

However, it failed on delivering anything close to any experience I’ve had physically stepping into a Hindu temple.

There were incense urns but not incense lit, and the gallery room was sterile and too white. There was not even anything of the sounds one encounters in a temple, and the gallery felt claustrophobic. Temples are usually designed to impress by vastness of scale, with high ceilings elaborately decorated and such.

Image credit to Wikipedia

Very often, it is the gopuram of a temple, or its monumental tower at the entrance gate, that begins the process of darshan for me rather than just the idols itself.

To think that the darshan of a Hindu temple is received solely through religious images is highly lacking — it involves the sights of the images and colours, the smell of incense and the age of the temple, the sounds of other devotees and occasionally prayer but also the sound of tranquillity, and especially, the touch of cold stone against the bare feet, the grind of dust against one’s foot.

Also, I think that using that faux-devanagari (Hindi) script was a let-down. It’s like using faux-Asian scripts in Chinese restaurants or something.

An eternal soul or eternal ego?

I am not a religious person. I am not atheistic either — I do not vehemently believe in the non-existence of a god.

Last night, hanging out with a friend brought about an interesting discussion about religion. We were talking about how in the medieval periods, churches used stories of hell, fire and brimstone to scare people into believing in Christianity. My friend said people eventually started going to church to be intentionally frightened because it was on some level, entertaining. I said how I learnt that because most people were illiterate, religious art in that period were dramatic, flamboyant and scary, to achieve the same effect of scaring people into belief.

That reminded me of a conversation I had with another friend a week before about the eternal soul. That friend is Catholic and believes in a higher power. I asked him, “What do you think happens to us when we die? Do you believe that we have an eternal soul that endures beyond our physical bodies?” He said he believed that there must be something beyond just the finality of death, and he believed in an eternal soul. I then asked him, why must we have an eternal soul; is it that bad if whatever we know and think ends when we die? He said, wouldn’t that be depressing if all we ever are just stops there, and that he feels that we exist to achieve a higher purpose.

That, to me, sounds a little like the fear of letting oneself simply end; to die. The ego prizes itself so much that it creates an afterlife to exist in the minds of those still living, so that fears of its finality may be placated. In a way, that is the premise of the Christian hell, isn’t it? Just as good souls go to heaven, for bad souls to go to hell, the soul must be eternal first, before it can go anywhere after a person’s death.

The fear of hell isn’t a fear of hell itself, but a fear of what might happen to one’s eternal soul.

If you told a person he could be condemned into hell, but be untouched by hell’s eternal damnation, the “fear” of hell dramatically decreases. Likewise, if you told a person his or her soul would ascend to heaven, but the soul lies in a perpetual possibility of a fall to hell, heaven becomes less desirable. It is a person’s conception of their own soul that creates the existence and purpose of a heaven and hell, and not vice versa.

The key to religious faith is not in external entities; not in a god/God, not in a heaven or hell, but in that one does not simply die after one dies. That is all it takes.

We console ourselves that our dearly departed are better in the afterlife, because we believe they have continued existence after death. When we think about the ghosts and souls of others, in essence we are reminded of our own because we believe that we will one day be like them, enduring in the minds of others.