Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Accidental Philanthropy

This weekend I was a guest golfer at the prestigious Menlo Country Club in Woodside. It was a glorious day, with no one else in sight on this magnificently tended course (though I suspect that's because word had gotten around that a Jew was on premises).

On the front nine I shot a characteristically miserable 56, prompting my host to propose a wager on the back (5 stroke handicap for me, $10 per hole!) to benefit the winner's favorite charity. Anyway, something came over me (must have been the Golf Nutrition Bar) and I shot a 46 on the back, forcing me to actually identify for him the organization I most often support:

Americans United for the Separation of Church and State. If the religious right has its way, the US will become more of a theocratic state than any Middle Eastern regime. Must I really trust in God (as U.S. coins instruct me to do), or swear to tell the truth so help me God (can't I tell the truth all by myself)? Much more importantly, are we going to let superstitious politicians trample on women's rights, gay marriage, stem cell research, and a proper science education in public schools?

After hearing my chosen charity, the country club member politely asked me "er, What else do you like?" So I shared with him another pet cause:

Sierra Club. When my son was 5, he prevailed upon me to join the Sierra Club. After hearing from a door-to-door fundraiser about the prospect of new oil drilling in Alaska, he pulled out his piggy bank and contributed his own money. His advocacy for wildlife was passionate, compelling, and contagious.

My golfing host cut his losses and agreed to fund Sierra Club. Good thing, too, because my next suggestion would have been PETA...


  1. Anonymous2:00 AM

    It's a shame that your host didn't support your first choice, David, although the second choice is equally great - sounds like you were using perceptual contrast? :-)

    Observing from far away - I'm a Brit in London who has lived in the US previously - I'm amazed that the marriage of church and state is still so strong even though we're now in the 21st century. Technology continues to evolve at a breathtaking pace (even for somebody in the industry) yet in some ways we still seem to be stuck in the Dark Age...

  2. After the “I suspect that's because word had gotten around that a Jew was on premises” prolog, I was kind of hoping your money would go to AIPAC (much better than the ADL).

    Americans United for the Separation of Church and State would have been a great choice as well (I’ll send them a check after my IPO :-) though you do fall in the trap Sharansky calls the west’s “lack of moral clarity” in his latest book The Case for Democracy: “It is why people living in free societies cannot distinguish between religious fundamentalists in democratic states and religious terrorists in fundamentalist states”.

    One should also not confound bullshit and convictions. Prof. Frankfurt in On Bullshit writes about a Fourth of July orator, who goes on bombastically about "our great and blessed country, whose Founding-Fathers under divine guidance created a new beginning for mankind." This is not about promoting religion, it’s simply bullshit. As Frankfurt writes: “The orator does not really care what his audience thinks about the Founding Fathers, or about the role of the deity in the US history, What he cares about is what people think of him. He wants them to think of him as a patriot, as someone who has deep thoughts and feelings about the origins and the mission of our country, who appreciates the importance of religion, who is sensitive to the greatness of our history, whose pride in that history is combined with humility before God, and so on.”

    And to end this too-long-already comment: I am amazed you, as a scientist, would support The Sierra Club, master users of junk science, brainwashers of innocent 5 year old kids…

  3. Anonymous10:58 AM

    PeTA - People Eating Tasty Animals??

    Peta are a bunch of wackos!

  4. Anonymous1:23 PM

    A couple of points:

    (1) People often think that "separation of church and state" appears in the Constitution. Just to point out, that's a myth. So, let's not give it this great constitutional weight. I'm not saying you think that, but people do.

    (2) As a concept though, "separation of church and state" is certainly well established. But, people in today's generation confuse it. Its intent wasn't to protect the state from the church, but quite the opposite - it was to protect the church from the state's intrusion. If the founding fathers of this country expected separation of church and state to mean no "God" on money (i.e. protect the state from the church), then why does the Constitution itself reference a divinity?

    It's fine if you want to support taking the name of God off of currency, and perhaps you want to rewrite the Constitution of the United States to remove all references to divinity. You're well within your right to desire that and by all means support the organizations that are lobbying for it. But, to lobby for it under the name of "separation of church and state" is misguided in my mind.

  5. Anonymous11:14 AM

    David: Congrats on the back 9 -- nice recovery. While your choice of charity is your own, I take issue only with this: "the US will become more of a theocratic state than any Middle Eastern regime." This is nonsense and I am willing to bet you know it. The US will issue fatwas? the US will support terrorism in the name of religion? the US will condemn authors to death who dare 'insult' their religion? Wrong on all counts. The US is represented by many religions, and unlike the repressive regimes in the middle east, we won't kill, or drive out of our country, non-believers (christian, jew, hindu, and the rest of non-muslims).

  6. Joe,

    Indeed, you are right--I was being somewhat provocative, but I think your examples are not as strong as you think. Do you think that a constitutional amendment that would actually lead to the imprisonment of flag burners is any better than (largely symbolic) fatwas on authors? Do you really think our nation is hospitable to all religions when our nation's news magazines (the ones with front seats in White House Press Conferences) devote their cover stories to "Mary Mother of God" (US News) and "Why did Jesus Have to Die?" (Time) and "How Jesus Became Christ" (Newsweek Mar 28) and "Secrets of the Nativity" (
    When world leaders spoke against the monstrous school massacre in Chechnya, guess who was the only one to invoke a religious platitude? ( Do you think that the "citizens' militias" that pepper our red states feel hospitable to Jews, Hindus and Muslims? Don't you think that even children in Muslim countries learn that evolution is as proven as any scientific theory can get? Not here.

  7. Anonymous5:21 AM

    Anonymous, God makes no appearance in the constitution. There goes your argument.

  8. Anonymous3:55 AM

    The US will issue fatwas?

    I'm sure that they won't CALL them fatwas.

  9. Anonymous11:51 AM

    Daryl, I didn't say the constitution refers to "God", but thanks for making the claim and refuting it. I said the constitution refers to divinity. In fact the signers of the constitution sign it:

    "The Ratification of the Conventions of nine States, shall be sufficient for the Establishment of this Constitution between the States so ratifying the Same.
    done in Convention by the Unanimous Consent of the States present the Seventeenth Day of September in the Year of our Lord"

    So, I guess my argument is back on the table in fact. Thanks for the comments though.

  10. Anonymous6:16 PM

    Anonymous, the use of "Year of our Lord" refers to the "Anno Domini" (AD) dating system. While it has its roots in Christianity, I think the Founding Fathers would agree with me that its use was one of convenience (it is difficult to make people accept a new calendar; look at the French Revolution, for example) and not meant as an endorsement of God.