What strange creatures we are.
I don’t know exactly why it struck me this way, but two items in the news seem to be related in some strange way.
First up is a decision out of the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit that declared, according to SCOTUSblog:
that a family-owned, profit-making business cannot challenge on religious grounds the new federal health care law’s mandate of birth control health insurance for its workers. The two-to-one decision by the Philadelphia-based court conflicts with a recent ruling by the Denver-based Tenth Circuit Court.
The blog provides a little background:
The case involves a Pennsylvania company that makes wooden cabinets. All of its stock is owned by members of the Hahn family, who practice the Mennonite faith. Their company has 950 employees, and it is company policy not to support “anything that terminates a fertilized embryo.” The objection is aimed at two drugs that must be provided in health coverage for employees under the contraception mandate — the so-called “morning-after pill,” such as Plan B, and the so-called “week-after pill,” known by the name ella […]
The Third Circuit majority concluded that the First Amendment right to exercise a religious belief — under the Free Exercise Clause — is a “personal right” that exists for the benefit of human beings, not artificial “persons” like corporations. Religious belief, it said, develops in the “minds and hearts of individuals.” In drawing this conclusion, he noted the contrary view announced by the Tenth Circuit Court, and said that “we respectfully disagree.”
The majority remarked: “We do not see how a for-profit, ‘artificial being, invisible, intangible, and existing only in contemplation of law,’ that was created to make money could exercise such an inherently ‘human’ right.” The opinion said that the judges could not find a single court opinion, before the lawsuits against the contraception mandate began, that had found that a profit-making corporation doing ordinary business had its own right of “free exercise” of religion.
It is one thing for a religious organization to be able to exercise the tenets of its faith, the court said, and another thing for a purely secular corporation to make the same claim.
So, this latest court decided that, unlike people, corporations cannot worship God and, presumably, can’t pray down the wrath of the Almighty on their competitors.
Now, it strikes me as beyond weird that we, here in the twenty-first century, are hung up on whether a non-human entity like a corporation can have a personal relationship with God. I mean, it’s one thing to define corporations as people, just so they can give lots of money to Republicans, but it is quite another to define them as people so they can, among other things, prove their fealty to God by denying women contraception coverage.
In any case, that leads me to my second item in the news, which is this stunning photograph produced by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft, while it was beyond Saturn, some 900 million miles—yes, 900 million miles—away:
That’s a picture of the earth and the moon. Somewhere in that picture are you and I on July 19, 2013. Somewhere in that picture are the judges about to issue their opinion on whether corporations can worship God by not having to provide access to birth control via insurance policies. Somewhere roams Steve King and his imaginary cantaloupe-calved friends. Somewhere Anthony Weiner and his text-friendly schnitzel are about to doom his—their?— political future.
Yes, what strange creatures we are.
But I won’t end it there, thanks to Phil Plait (“The Bad Astronomer”), who reminded us of one of my heroes, Carl Sagan, and his remarkable “Reflections on a Mote of Dust,” written shortly before his death in 1996. Sagan was commenting on a photograph taken by Voyager 1 in 1990, but what he said is even more amazing as you think about the Cassini picture above. It’s something to mull over this weekend, as we will, no doubt, hear the usual God-talk and more political commentary on Steve King and Anthony Weiner and the ongoing dysfunction that has paralyzed good government:
We succeeded in taking that picture [from deep space], and, if you look at it, you see a dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever lived, lived out their lives. The aggregate of all our joys and sufferings, thousands of confident religions, ideologies and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilizations, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every hopeful child, every mother and father, every inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every superstar, every supreme leader, every saint and sinner in the history of our species, lived there on a mote of dust, suspended in a sunbeam.
The earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that in glory and in triumph they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of the dot on scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner of the dot. How frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the universe, are challenged by this point of pale light.
Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity — in all this vastness — there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves. It is up to us. It’s been said that astronomy is a humbling, and I might add, a character-building experience. To my mind, there is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly and compassionately with one another and to preserve and cherish that pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.