Everywhere But Home

News and musings from wherever my crazy life takes me. My body may be back in Illinois, but at least for now, my mind is still in Mongolia.


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Миний Захирал (My Director)

I meant to update last Friday when I got home from school but was prevented from doing so by an unexpectedly long and flustered day. Fridays are already my busiest day of this week, and this one was even more so because of an event that could have long-lasting implications for ХАА-н МСУТ: the labor minister came to call.

From what I understand, the situation is as follows: the most recent election brought a different political party to power, and with that came a change in the prominent government positions. The new labor minister is reviewing all the institutions of “higher education,” a term I’m using generously, and a number of directors have been replaced. My director is not a member of the newly-powerful Democratic Party, and as a result, she’ll be particularly subject to scrutiny.

I had a very small part to play in the inspection process: I hung out in the director’s room while we waited for the labor minister so that I could greet him with her when he arrived. As a foreigner, I was definitely a status symbol, and she wanted to make sure he knew I was there. After that, all I had to do was rejoin the other teachers and wait for them to make speeches I couldn’t understand.

I can’t imagine that they would replace Tsooj. She’s the most motivated and enthusiastic Mongolian I’ve ever met, and one of the most Western-thinking as well. When she gets an idea, she follows through with it; when she schedules a meeting, she expects you to show up on time – a truly novel concept in this country, as I’ve discussed previously. Obviously, the fact that she’s acted as my benefactor biases me in her favor, but I don’t just like her for her generosity. She’s caring and conscientious and committed to her job – she’s usually there from 8 or 9 am to 6 pm, and I’ve never seen her wasting time on Facebook and the like.

If the labor minister does choose to replace her, it will make my decisions about next year much easier. While I haven’t discussed it here previously, I’ve been contemplating extending my stay in Mongolia to a second year, and which way I’m leaning changes on a daily basis. But if they replace Tsooj, there’s no question about it: I’m gone. I want no part of an education system that would fire someone so good at her job out of politics, and I wouldn’t want to live in Mongolia without her friendship and support. It’s thanks to her that my apartment has, through the additions of a hot plate, a mattress, a toaster oven, and a vacuum cleaner, become more livable. She’s the one who has taken over my linguistic and cultural education: adopting me for Tsagaan Sar, giving me lessons in Mongolian, teaching me to make buuztsuivan, and huushuur, and now arranging music lessons for me. And while she credits me with the remarkable improvement in her English, all I’ve done is give her the motivation to study (and all that required was being here). She’s done all the hard work herself.

So best of luck to you, Tsooj. If they’ve any sense at all, the board will decide in your favor.

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The Obligatory Post-Election Political Musings That Ramble Far from the Election

If America suffers from low voter turnout, that fact was certainly not reflected in my Facebook feed. I don’t think I’ve ever seen as many posts on the same topic; on election day, I think I saw at most five posts that didn’t urge people to go out and vote – and that includes posts by friends overseas. Great job making your voices heard.

I’m especially proud of the country for the steps that it has made towards equality in states like Maine and Maryland. Equality is something we promised to everyone, not just the straight people.

I also believe that you don’t have to approve of gay marriage to allow it. You can respect an opinion, a lifestyle, an identity without agreeing with it. I certainly don’t believe that the world was created in seven days or that Adam rode dinosaurs, but if that’s what you think, I won’t argue with you. All we would do is get angry at and frustrated with each other; I doubt either of us would change our minds.

About a month ago, a friend made the following post on Facebook:

I believe God made two genders, man and woman, to be partners in this life. Don’t tell me I’m naive or uninformed when I respect the difference between them. I will not judge you, but I expect not to be judged either.

I don’t agree with her that there are only two valid genders, or that one of each is the only valid form of partnership. But I respect her right to that belief, and her right not to be made less of because of it. To me, a promise not to judge someone means more than grudging tolerance or an I-won’t-condemn-you-outright-but-I-don’t-have-to-be-nice-to-you attitude. It means treating that person as you would any other, allowing them the right to make their own choices and live their own lives, even if you consider them to be mistakes. If her promise not to judge others is that sincere, then I respect her highly for that.

I have always taken offense to the notion that America is, or should be, a Christian nation. America is a nation full of Christians; that is certainly true. But it is also a nation full of Muslims, and Hindus, and Jews, and Buddhists, and atheists. That there are more Christians does not it itself make their beliefs any more intrinsically valid. Yes, our laws are based on many of the principles that Christianity espouses, but the fact is that most major religions teach those same principles: Treating others as you’d like to be treated. Not killing other people just because you can. Respect for your fellow man. Love. Religion doesn’t make you a good person, or a good citizen. I know plenty of atheists who live more strongly by their own moral codes than lots of Christians. Thus, the idea that religiosity qualifies a person to be present holds no weight with me. You can be a born-again Christian and a hypocrite; you can run for office with the intent to impose your interpretation of an ancient book on millions, even though you have no idea how the legal system works.

As author K.A. Thompson pointed out on her blog, freedom of religion means there is also freedom from religion. It means that you are free to practice as you choose, but not that you are free to impose those practices or beliefs upon others. So if you believe that abortions are a sin, don’t get one. Don’t tell some poor young woman who can’t afford another mouth to feed, and whose circumstances you don’t know, that she can’t get one. And especially don’t deny her access to contraception, either. If you believe that her choices violate God’s laws, I’m pretty sure you also believe that He will punish her for it. Let that be His prerogative, not yours.

I should point out that you can be religious without believing that all people should be bound by the laws of your religion. I know plenty of people who do – this girl from my high school, for instance:

I’ve heard Christian stress over the future of our country because of the passing of laws that go against Christianity. What kind of message does that send to other when we freak about these things? It perpetuates the impression that people have to fit a certain mold in order to fall in love with Jesus. Christ was about love, not restriction. What good is a follower if they only follow because they have no other choice?

Her point differs slightly from mine, but they’re two sides of the same coin, really. Banning abortions, gay marriage, and contraception doesn’t reduce the practice of abortion, homosexuality, or sex that you consider unKosher. It doesn’t win your religion any converts, either. All it does is spread discrimination.

Way to go, Maine and Maryland. Good for you.

This is, without a doubt, the most controversial post I’ve written on here, but it was something I thought needed to be said. If you want to voice your own opinion, please do so, but play nice. You’ve the right to your own opinion, remember, but not to abuse others for theirs.


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Opinion (Not News)

Today I attended a lecture by S.E. Cupp entitled “The Liberal Media’s Attack on Christianity.” At the end of the lecture, I was surprised to discover one of my professors sitting behind me. He asked me what I thought of the lecture; I told him that I would have found her more convincing if she wasn’t just as general and dogmatic as the liberal media she was attacking.

One professor walked out before she had spoken for five minutes, and I understood why. I stayed until the end of the Q&A session, though the rest of the audience probably wished I hadn’t by the time I had asked three or four questions.

I will grant her, she had some valid points – and she made them much more effectively during the Q&A session, when she was no longer reading from her prepared speech. Some thought-provoking points, and my responses:

  • We trust the media to be fair and balanced, but they’re taking sides, and our mainstream news is presented from liberal, secular viewpoint.

I’ll give her that one. She had plenty of examples of the the condescending, derogatory way Christianity is often portrayed in the media. The religious columnist for Newsweek probably has much more worthwhile things to write about than compiling a list of the hottest rabbis. Religion should be handled seriously and respectfully, at least by the news. Flippancy belongs to the talk-show hosts, not the reporters.

However, while I can see the objection in a the news being presented in a liberal slant, I see no inherent issue with the news being presented from a secular point of view. If you’re going to take a religious point of view, you’re going to have to pick a religion, and you will essentially be preaching its values to those who might not share them. The secular viewpoint seems to be the only fair one, provided it is not pro-secular.

  • America is 80% Christian, and a secular “mainstream” media no longer represents the mainstream.

This figure, she admitted, was taken from the CIA world factbook, which is great for overviews but less so for specifics. Most of the people I know who identify as “Christian” are so in that they espouse Judeo-Christian values and maybe go to church now and then. Now, that may have a lot to do with being from Deerfield, where the most religious people I knew were Jewish. But I think it’s something worth considering when you start throwing around big numbers like that.

If the mainstream media is indeed to represent the mainstream, does this mean that they are obligated to present a pro-Christian viewpoint? Because I find that idea profoundly distasteful. Is not being pro-Christian the same thing as anti-Christian, at least in the eyes of the Christian public? How should the media, and everyone, for that matter, ride that balance?

If that much of the country truly is religious, then they deserve to be represented. How does one represent religion without implicitly preaching it?

  • The separation of church and state is widely misinterpreted; forcing Americans to keep their religion private is exactly the opposite of the Founding Fathers’ intent.

Yes, America was founded by people who wanted to be able to be able to publicly and openly practice their religions. By this token, I think students and teachers should be allowed to pray in public schools. But once you ask students to pray, or set aside time for them to do so, you’re showing a preference for religion, and I don’t think that’s acceptable.

I guess the trickiest part of this is that evangelism is an inherent part of Christianity, and of many major religions. But once you begin to proselytize, you’re infringing on the religious rights of others – especially when you do so in an official or governmental capacity. I guess I don’t know how this balance can or should be struck.

  • Even those of us who are not Christian (she’s an atheist) share most Judeo-Christian values. Attacking Christianity is unnecessarily divisive and prevents us from recognizing what we have in common.

This is where I started to get a little fuzzy about what she was actually arguing. I agree with the statement above. However, earlier in the lecture, she mentioned how we had gone from a time when the New York Times urged Americans to pray for the astronauts of Apollo 13 to one where the government use of “In God We Trust” was under attack. So I asked her if she thought that retaining those same values while removing any explicit link to Christianity constituted an attack on Christianity.

I did not get a straight answer to this question. Her response was essentially that getting offended that your money says “God” or at being wished a Merry Christmas seems like a waste of time. I’ll agree to the second point, though I do espouse the public use of “Happy Holidays.” If you know that someone is Christian, then by all means wish them a Merry Christmas. But if you don’t, you’re making assumptions. Having grown up in a largely Jewish community means that I don’t assume that people are Christian. 

Christmas wasn’t really the point of my question, however. It was more about the explicit reference to Christianity in a more official capacity – in the pledge of allegiance, on our currency. It was about finding a middle ground. If atheists are offended if we mention God, and Christians are offended if we don’t, how can we ever find a middle ground? Does God have to be acknowledge as the giver of those values in order for it to be acceptable to Christians – can they be “American values” rather than “Judeo-Christian?”

I don’t think that removing phrases like “In God We Trust” and “under God” from government use encroaches on people’s personal faith. Americans can trust in God whether America does or not.