Tuesday, December 25, 2007

An Atheist at Christmas

There seems to be a loud push from the two extreme camps of fundamentalism and atheism. Both decry the current celebrations of Christmas. The fundamentalists want to strip Christmas of Santa, Frosty and the reindeer while the atheists see the recognition of Christmas as a tacit approval that we are a Christian country.

The problem with standing in the middle of the road is that you get hit by traffic from both directions but I will take that risk.

Our December 25 observance of Christmas has evolved from the centuries old solstice celebrations. As Christianity grew, it usurped the pagan holidays and converted them to Christian celebrations. Christmas has never been static, it has been an ever-evolving event. The historical St Nicholas lived somewhere between the 3rd to 4th century in what is now Turkey. He gradually merged with British Father Christmas and other symbols from the 17th century until the present to create the image of Santa Claus we all know. It is hard to imagine Christmas without Rudolph the Red nosed Reindeer. Rudolph had his start in 1939, created by Robert May as a promotion for Montgomery Ward.

If Christmas is an ever evolving event, we need to evolve with it. There is so much history, culture and faith mixed with the observance, Christmas means something different to each of us. This morning, I read the Christmas story and enjoyed it as I always have. I can marvel that greatest things in life are easy missed because they appear mundane. I can relate the Christ story, the giving of a child as a gift to mankind, when I see police officers lined up in formation. They also have chosen to give their lives to service with much risk and little reward. I can look at the secular Christmas stories and take equally valuable lessons. Rudolph teaches us about valuing those who are different than us. Isn’t Frosty a child’s first encounter with death? And finally Santa, who teaches us about the wonder of the giving and the way to happiness is to bring joy to others.

So, I will be at my piano soon, playing all my favorite Christmas carols. In all honesty, I can play, sing and take in all that is good about this holiday. It is OK that the lessons I will take with me may be different than those of my neighbor.

So on this Christmas morning, the ever-evolving atheist proclaims, “Peace on Earth and good will towards men.”

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

6th Amendment

In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district where in the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defense.

Like many of the other amendments, the 6th Amendment specifies rights we now take for granted as basic human rights when it comes to criminal proceedings. It is difficult for me to imagine a time when these rights denied to criminal defendants. The thought of no time requirements only to end in a trial, closed to the public with no jury, no defense witnesses or legal defense is terrifying.

In many of my other essays, I think my search for and value of the truth echo those of the constitutional writers. The purpose of the investigative and judicial portions of the criminal justice system is to find the truth. If the wrong person is found guilty, two sins have been committed. First, the guilty is going free and second, an innocent person is deprived of his liberty, reputation and possibly his life.

I have been involved in hundreds of homicide, sex assault, robbery, burglary and assault investigations. I have spent thousands of hours with the victim’s and survivors. They talk about wanting justice but it doesn’t take long to hear that they are talking about revenge. They want someone to pay for the pain they have had to endure.

Anyone who is attached with the trauma of the crime is very susceptible to falling into the same trap. Investigators, prosecutors, judges and juries are not immune. The 5th and 6th Amendments are acts of sanity which try to pull back on the reigns of the momentum of the victim’s and community’s lust for revenge.

I frequently hear “It’s not fair, the suspect’s have all the rights and the victim’s have none.” In one sense, they are absolutely right, this is the “Criminal justice System.” In recent years that cry has been heard by the legislature. Most states, including Colorado, have a Victim Rights Amendment.
But that is another topic for next week…..

Friday, December 7, 2007

A Matter of Faith???

This posting is going to deal with the topic of Faith. Some my find my opinions offensive but remember that’s all they are, my opinions. None of this is an attack against a specific person or their beliefs. While I will be using references from the Christian Bible and discussing the subject of faith in terms of Christianity, this topic can be applied to faith in anything, religion, science or other unquestioned beliefs.

The question of faith has come up repeatedly in my conversations with Christians. Most conversations start fairly civilly with we both are using good evidence and reasons for our beliefs. When things start getting rocky for believers or they run out of arguments, they have an easy out, “you just need to have faith.” As Romans 1:17 says, “The righteous will live by faith.”

What is faith? The biblical definition given in Hebrews 11:1 says that “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. Dictionary.com gives the definition of faith as “belief that is not based on proof.”

To put it simply, I do not have faith in anything. None. Zip, Zero and Nada.

I have trust in many things but I do not have faith. What is the difference? Back to Dictionary.com, Trust is reliance on the integrity, strength, ability, etc., of a person or thing. Each of these requires a prior demonstration. I love my wife more than anything but I do not have blind faith in her. In the years I have known her I have come to trust her because of her demonstrated integrity, strength and ability. The day I find her putting arsenic in my food, my trust will need to be re-evaluated.

Back to religion. A perfect example of biblical trust is described in Exodus 14:30-31 (New International Version)
30 That day the LORD saved Israel from the hands of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians lying dead on the shore. 31 And when the Israelites saw the great power the LORD displayed against the Egyptians, the people feared the LORD and put their trust in him and in Moses his servant.
The people did not have blind faith in God, according to the story, they saw a demonstration and put there trust in what they had seen.

Jesus discussed trust as he closed a parable in Luke 16:10 (New International Version) "Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much.”

When I looked back on my Christian life, it was faith that kept me from asking hard questions and when I did, it allowed me to accept insufficient answers. I remember lessons about the “armor of God as discussed in Ephesians. In Ephesians 6:16 (New International Version) we read, “In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.” How does one use a shield, you hide behind it. That is exactly how faith is used as a place to hide from anything, even the truth, which may challenge a belief.
This is how the Church is able to ignore Biblical scholarship which shows with considerable evidence that the scriptures, have been changed hundreds if not thousands of times since they were first written from the oral traditions. By faith, many churches still preach that the Bibles in their pews are the inspirered and infallible word of God.

Faith is not a virtue. Faith is a sin against the intellect. If our minds were created by a designing God, then faith is an insult to the gift. Faith takes you nowhere. It is a journey with no beginning or end, it is the train that never leaves the station. Faith is the ultimate enemy of truth because when a question that challenges your beliefs, faith will allow you to ignore all evidence to the contrary.

Here is the example of faith vs trust. Did Jesus exist? Most of my Christian readers have probably stopped reading at this simple question. I agree with my Christian readers that he probably really did exist in roughly the approximate time and place as reported by the Gospel accounts. However the way I came to this conclusion is completely different. It was a matter of reviewing the available evidence for his existence and the evidence against then coming to a tentative decision. This conclusions is open to new or better evidence. This has nothing to do with faith.

Not all Christians hide their heads in the sand when facing the hard questions and I do not wish for it to be seen that I am painting all Christians with the same brush. Many of the greatest intellects I have known are people of faith. Some are Christians, some are Muslims, some have faith in new-thought.

For believers of great faith, what I say here will have no impact on you because you have faith in your beliefs is higher than the value of the truth. For those of you who put truth above everything, let go of your faith, learn what you can trust and seek the truth.

So what do I trust. I trust that the people I love will continue to love me despite my heresies. I trust that letting go of our emotional need to believe will get us closer to the truth in any subject.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

I'll take the 5th

The 5th Amendment

No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

You will note that although the amendments to the constitution are loaded with the rights of the people, the Supreme Court has ruled that these are the only rights the government must advise you.

Any fan of prime time crime dramas knows the Miranda advisement by heart but few people know the story behind the famous warning.

Ernesto Miranda was arrested in Phoenix Arizona for Sexual Assault. He confessed to robbery and attempted rape. At trial the prosecution used the confession as the foundation of their case. The case was appealed and the conviction was overturned on a 5-4 decision. He was tried again, this time the prosecution used physical evidence and witness testimony and secured another conviction. He served 11 years in prison. He was killed in a bar fight in 1976. Ironically the man arrested for the murder, exercised his Miranda rights.

Chief justice Earl Warren made two critical statements in the majority decision.

“The person in custody must, prior to interrogation, be clearly informed that he has the right to remain silent, and that anything he says will be used against him in court; he must be clearly informed that he has the right to consult with a lawyer and to have the lawyer with him during interrogation, and that, if he is indigent, a lawyer will be appointed to represent him.”


“If the individual indicates in any manner, at any time prior to or during questioning, that he wishes to remain silent, the interrogation must cease ... If the individual states that he wants an attorney, the interrogation must cease until an attorney is present. At that time, the individual must have an opportunity to confer with the attorney and to have him present during any subsequent questioning.”

This was a 5-4 decision with some heavy words from the dissenting justices regarding judicial legislation. In dissent, Justice Harlan stated "nothing in the letter or the spirit of the Constitution or in the precedents squares with the heavy-handed and one-sided action that is so precipitously taken by the Court in the name of fulfilling its constitutional responsibilities." Harlan also quoted former Justice Robert H Jackson This is Court is forever adding new stories to the temples of constitutional law, and the temples have a way of collapsing when one story too many is added."

In my 11 years of law enforcement, I am always amazed that more often then not, people wave their rights and talk themselves in to a trip to jail. There have been some interesting ways creative officers have tried to avoid the Miranda warning. My favorite is the “Good Christian Burial.”

Officers had arrested a suspect in the kidnapping and probable murder of a young girl. They were careful not to ask the suspect any questions. As they were driving the suspect to jail, they began talking between themselves loud enough for the suspect to hear them. They commented how it was too bad the parents of the girl couldn’t give her a good Christian burial. After laying this guilt trip on the suspect, he told them where the girl’s body could be located. This “confession” was used and he was convicted. Of course, the conviction was overturned which forced the family to endure another trial before they could be assured the man who killed their child would go to prison.

What do I think? I vote every election for my congressional representatives. It is their job to write the law. When one branch of government overreaches it authority, the delicate balance of powers established in the Constitution is skewed and we make the distinctive rolls of the government moot.