Thoughts At Large

Passionate thoughts on random topics

Tag: God

Dear God

Creation of Adam“Take your anger and put it into an imaginary being. That way you can yell at the entity and throw it out when you don’t want to feel the pain of the anger anymore or if you don’t have the time to deal with the anger.”

These are the words of the grief counselor, to whom we (the kids and I) have been going since mid-December. I told her that I am angry about the fact that cancer first took my father, then my wife, and now will take my dog. First she said, “Why do you have to do anything with the anger? Aren’t you allowed to be angry? Aren’t you justified?” My response was that there is no outlet for the anger, no target. I cannot remain so angry for so long that I shut down emotionally and socially. I have enough problems being social as it is!

So I, as my homework for this week, am to create an entity, an imaginary being, to whom I can ascribe the evil characteristics necessary to house my anger. I could create a virtual punching bag and anthropomorphize it to the point where it has horns and a tail upon which I can stomp and to whom I can scream. However, that form does not appeal to me and seems shallow and unfulfilling.

As an atheist, I have a better solution. God. How could a benevolent God inflict my wife with a terminal disease that would kill her? How could a caring God do that to my children? To me? How could a loving God condemn a dog to three separate forms of cancer within it’s short life? How could a generous God condemn my father to an incalculable amount of pain in the months before his death? And on a grander scale, how could an altruistic God kill thousands of children each year through malnutrition, starvation, disease, or war? Because I can conceive of no rational reason for such a dereliction of duty, I choose to believe there is no supreme being above. It is easier for me to believe that nature simply evolves in chaos than to believe a God could be so inept or uncaring.

So, if there is a God, I do not believe he/she is omnipotent and all powerful. That said, and as part of my grief counseling homework for this week, here is my creation of an imaginary being to whom I can bequeath my anger. God. And now my letter to God:

Dear God,

How could you? How could you either give my wife cancer or allow her to contract it? How could you do that to my children? How could you make her suffer through the barbaric treatments you have allowed medicine to create in an attempt to counter your unholy and defective DNA? How could you take her when she was still so young and we had a future planned together that now is reduced to ash? How could you? Why?

How could you put my father through so much pain that it killed him? How could you allow that much pain to transfer to my mother who now survives him but cannot live without him? How could you put my brother and sister through the act of watching him suffer with no ability to alleviate his pain? How could you? Why?

How could you give my simple, silly dog, whose sole purpose in life is to love us and make us happy, three different forms of cancer in his short life? How could you take his eyesight and force him to endure countless surgeries to save his back legs from your poor design? Why do you make him suffer so much and force us to euthanize our pets without allowing us to end the suffering of our human loved ones who endure so much pain? How could you? Why?

How could you allow the children of the world to endure unwarranted pain and suffering simply because of the circumstances under which they were born? How could you allow men to create war against one another for, ultimately, silly political, geographic, or religious reasons?  Why do we have to suffer so much on this earth? How could you allow all of these things to occur while remaining unseen and unresponsive? How could you? Why?

Are we simply to fall back on “faith?” A faith that you are really there and listening and that we will be rewarded in paradise for all of our suffering. Well, I don’t buy into it and find that if you do exist, you are either malevolent, uncaring, or incompetent. If you are malevolent, you are not worthy of our deference. If you are uncaring you are also not worthy of our blended knee. If you are incompetent you are to be pitied and not revered. Occam’s Razor demands that the most likely solution is that you simply do not exist. But for the purposes of grief mitigation, I will allow that you exist, but only for the purposes of my derision, my anger, and my pain.

Most sincerely,

Anger and Pain

When I held Lisa, I knew that two inches below my embrace, inside her lung, was a demon bent on her destruction. And now she’s gone. The demon won. Now all I have are pictures that can’t kiss back, photos of her long blond hair I cannot tussle; the dimples in her cheeks are now flat, photo paper and ink. I know this is the nature of all living things: we live, we die; but being three weeks out from that painful night, the shock is still palpable. God, I miss her.

I am still lost; second-guessing my every decision. “Zerrissenheit” still reigns. I have grown to hate nights and weekends. The structure of work provides comfort. But each night and weekend feels like the four walls of the house are closing in on me, and I can’t stand the silence. The television is always on or, and if not, music is filling the void once filled with her laugh. When will I be granted a good night’s sleep? 2:00 a.m. seems to have some subconscious awakening charm on my slumber. After that, the thoughts of the empty place in the bed next to me overwhelm me in the silence and the dark, and sleep eludes me.

Someone told me that I will come to appreciate all of the time we had together and no longer begrudge the time cancer stole. Speaking from experience, I trust this individual, but I’m not sure it won’t come down to my personality and not time to transform this anger. Is it the well-adjusted individual who ultimately finds peace? If so, my keel is not keeping the ship upright. And I do not think I have the personality (or capability for forgiveness) to right the ship.

Elizabeth I, to the Countess of Nottingham said, “God may forgive you, but I never can.” At this point, I cannot forgive God. Of course, we can hide behind the old analogy that we (humans) are not wise enough to see God’s grand blueprint, but right now I cannot help but to think that either there is no God (which is less painful) or there is one, but who is either capricious or lacks the omniscience attributed by humans. If I am wrong, then I will follow Maurice Maeterlinck’s advice when he said, “It is always a mistake not to close one’s eyes, whether to forgive or to look better into oneself.” I will forgive God as I look into myself. But right now the only thing inside me is anger and pain.

ConText

I have a confession. I was never exposed to most of the world’s best literature in high school.  Except for Mr. DeAngelis’s English class, where Shakespeare came alive, I have spent, much like disposable income, the personal time left over from life’s obligations, playing catch up with the rest of society by reading “the classics.”

Of course, no two lists of “Top 100 Books of All Time” are the same, but there is enough similarity between them all to create a market basket of tomes from which I feed. In fact, I was as condescending and derisive about Audible.com (“Nobody has read to me since I was a toddler. I can read by myself now!”) as I was about Toy Story‘s computer generated animation (“this is an abomination. Walt Disney must be rolling over in his grave!”). However, two things changed my mind. First, I loved Toy Story. Indeed, as always, it is the story that must first captivate us. The medium is secondary. (Also, Walt Disney was a pioneer in animation and, I think, would have embraced digital animation and become its greatest ambassador.) Second, my new job necessitates a one hour commute each way, five days a week. After several months, I found FM radio repetitive and AM radio repulsive. Enter Audible.com. For two hours a day I am able to immerse myself in another world, worlds created by the best authors humanity has ever known, allowing me to purge road rage and traffic jams from my thoughts as I move from one masterpiece to another. This “disposable time” is now my refuge.

I am also addicted to the internet and the instant access to information. As anyone who has read any article here knows, there are seldom entries made without various quotes or references from other sources. The smartest people know they are not smart and never stop learning. Who am I to think any different? I know I am not as smart as them!

So, it was with apprehension that I accepted the challenge posed to me by my son to write a post about a singular passage from the Bible “with this as your only inspiration. No quotes, research, other opinions. Just your reaction/thoughts.” Here, then, is my only source:

 “I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died needlessly.” – Galatians 2:21

 My first task is to understand the quote, excised from context. With my only clue being that it came from the Bible, I can make certain assumptions. The first being that the writer is religious and therefore considers God’s law above man’s. This spawns several thoughts.

First, although all civilizations are manmade, the majority of them are based on a morality based in some religious teaching, whether Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, or some other geographically concentrated religion. If this be so, then the quote is not altogether honest in its division of God’s law and man’s. Here in the United States, the religious right is always describing how this country was founded on Christian principles (Whether this has led to the systematic exclusion of “others” with different beliefs (here in the land of the free) is a discussion for another day). Therefore, if this country was founded on Christian beliefs, then the difference between God’s law and man’s is negligible and the argument moot.

Second, is this quote not a concatenation of two very different concepts? Whether righteousness comes from man’s law or God’s, that is not, as I understand it, the reason Christ died. Is not Christianity based on the concept that God sent his only son to earth with the expectation that he would be crucified for our sins? Again, as I understand it, repentance, even on one’s death bed after a life of debauchery and sin, grants one the proverbial “golden ticket” to everlasting paradise in heaven. If this be so, then neither God’s law nor man’s has any bearing on righteousness as long as one repents at the final hour. And if this be so, then why is there civilization at all? Why not selfish chaos all over the world? Is there a base level of kindness and compassion captured in no “law” other than our own desire to live, provide and thrive? Is compassion the “righteousness” referenced in the passage?

Finally, this quote, or the concept it attempts to convey, has been used (bastardized) countless times over the course of humanity’s time on this earth to disregard man’s law under the assumption one is doing “God’s will.” If one believes man’s law can be superseded by God’s, then the legal system of a civilization no longer carries any weight on the consciousness of the criminal. Think of the Crusades or the Nazis or any of the countless nitwits on Twitter calling for the execution of President Obama because he is some kind of  socialist usurper working to overthrow the republic in some Islamic globalization fantasy. Delusion (and a belief in a “higher law” as absolution) is the hallmark and calling card of the anarchist. But this does not make their actions righteous.

In summary, I think this quote is misguided and disingenuous. It attempts to assimilate the reason for Christ’s death with a link between God’s law and man’s that cannot be divided. Again, this is all taken out of context with no research or context, but too often, Bible quotes are taken out of context in order to “prove” a point. In what other book can one simply quote a chapter number and verse number in order to prove one’s superiority over another (less-read) human? I’ll keep reading.

Ideology

Ideology, like religion, demands one abandon critical reasoning and doubt. By another name, faith leads one to the comfortable conclusion that one’s position is unalterably correct, thus removing the prickly questioning normally associated with sentient thought. However, this relinquishment of critical analysis leads to ever more epistemic closure in a death spiral toward absolutism. In fact, absolutes invariably vanish the closer one gets to the issue. There is no “pure evil” just as there is no “pure good.” Humans comprise both ends and all intermediate places on the spectrum. To assume otherwise is to deny one’s own personality while subjecting others to an unnatural status. If the “devil is in the details,” then, by definition, any god is too far removed from the issue to offer alms.

Ideology, in its most rabid form, invariably leads to hatred, racism, subjugation or war. Consider the fundamentalists associated with White Pride or Black Power, xenophobia or nationalism, misogyny or homophobia. These “phobias” are, of course, mislabeled. They do not indicate a “fear of,” but rather a “hatred of” someone different than oneself. Simplistic by design, anyone with an opposing view is deemed ignorant or irrational and easily dismissed. Living in a black or white world (I mean this in terms of absolutism and not race) may be reassuring but it is most certainly delusional.

Current events supply two readily available examples of this: Ted Cruz’s 21-hour temper tantrum on the floor of the U.S. Senate on Tuesday and Wednesday of this week, and those exorcised individuals “defending” the Second Amendment over the past nine months since Newtown.

Senator Cruz’s marathon speech, performed for no discernible purpose but to garner personal attention, was presumably conducted in an effort to defund the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), although that possibility was only ever a Tea Party fantasy. Along party lines, the ACA was passed by both Houses of Congress in 2009 and signed by this Democratic president. Subsequent judicial challenges have validated the legality of the law. Whatever your thoughts are on our two party system, just like the odd sibling out in a family of three children, two against one will almost always prevail. Thus, for better or worse, a Republican controlled House will typically lose out to a Democratic controlled Senate and White House. This is not always the case, but in our ever increasingly polarized, and by extension, paralyzed Congress, petty party politics triumph where wisdom and governance is required. Ted Cruz personifies Tea Party doctrine and Washington grandstanding over negotiation and solutions.

In contrast to most gun control activists who feel obligated to include a blanket caveat of supporting the Second Amendment in every discussion, gun rights activists convey an ideology so absolute it crosses into militantism. Hatred and dogma preclude any discussion or negotiation. Their circular logic of I-need-my-gun-because-I’m-a-good-guy-and-the-guy-next-to-me-might-be-a-bad-guy (with no explanation of how we are to know he is a good guy other than faith) is the precursor to Hammurabi’s code, but in this case America is left with bullet riddled school children and paranoid gunslingers rather than someone simply losing an eye or a tooth.

It comes as no surprise, therefore, to learn that most gun rights activists are also members of the Tea Party. Nothing says “America” like an Austrian Glock and Chinese oolong.

Syriasly?

chemweapon

Protocol for the Prohibition of the Use in War of Asphyxiating, Poisonous or other Gases, and of Bacteriological Methods of Warfare.  Signed at Geneva, June 17, 1925.

French and English official texts communicated by the President of the Council, Minister for Foreign Affairs of the French Republic.  The registration of this Protocol took place September 7, 1929.

THE UNDERSIGNED PLENIPOTENTIARIES, in the name of their respective Governments :

Whereas the use in war of asphyxiating, poisonous or other gases, and of all analogous liquids, materials or devices, has been justly condemned by the general opinion of the civilised world; and

Whereas the prohibition of such use has been declared in Treaties to which the majority of Powers of the world are Parties; and

To the end that this prohibition shall be universally accepted as a part of International Law, binding alike the conscience and the practice of nations;

DECLARE:

That the High Contracting Parties, so far as they are not already Parties to Treaties prohibiting such use, accept this prohibition, agree to extend this prohibition to the use of bacteriological methods of warfare and agree to be bound as between themselves according to the terms of this declaration.

The High Contracting Parties will exert every effort to induce other States to accede to the present Protocol. Such accession will be notified to the Government of the French Republic, and by the latter to all signatory and acceding Powers, and will take effect on the date of the notification by the Government of the French Republic.

The present Protocol, of which the French and English texts are both authentic, shall be ratified as soon as possible. It shall bear today’s date.

The ratification of the present Protocol shall be addressed to the Government of the French Republic, which will at once notify the deposit of such ratification to each of the signatory and acceding Powers.

The instruments of ratification of and accession to the present Protocol will remain deposited in the archives of the Government of the French Republic.

The present Protocol will come into force for each signatory Power as from the date of deposit of its ratification, and, from that moment, each Power will be bound as regards other Powers which have already deposited their ratifications.

Signed by 138 countries. Signed by United States 6/17/1925. Signed by Syria 12/17/1968

Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons

Chemical Weapons Convention

Articles

Article I. General Obligations

1. Each State Party to this Convention undertakes never under any circumstances:

(a) To develop, produce, otherwise acquire, stockpile or retain chemical weapons, or transfer, directly or indirectly, chemical weapons to anyone;

(b) To use chemical weapons;

(c) To engage in any military preparations to use chemical weapons;

(d) To assist, encourage or induce, in any way, anyone to engage in any activity prohibited to a State Party under this Convention.

2. Each State Party undertakes to destroy chemical weapons it owns or possesses, or that are located in any place under its jurisdiction or control, in accordance with the provisions of this Convention.

3. Each State Party undertakes to destroy all chemical weapons it abandoned on the territory of another State Party, in accordance with the provisions of this Convention.

4. Each State Party undertakes to destroy any chemical weapons production facilities it owns or possesses, or that are located in any place under its jurisdiction or control, in accordance with the provisions of this Convention.

5. Each State Party undertakes not to use riot control agents as a method of warfare.

Signed by 189 countries. Signed by United States 1/13/1993 Syria has not signed.

As a critic of the sea of steel the United States finds itself drowning in, namely the 310,000,000 firearms flooding society, I find the current debate regarding the potential use of military force in Syria to be humorous if it weren’t, like the gun debate, so deadly serious.

One of the arguments I hear all too often by the gun-hugging, “patriot” crowd (other than the banal argument that toting an arsenal around to get a skinny latte at Starbucks is a “God given right”), is the equally numb “criminals don’t follow the law” line. Because “they” don’t, these “patriots” argue, there is no sense in having common sense gun legislation such as universal background checks. This simplistic argument, if taken to its logical conclusion would suggest that we abolish all laws because, by definition, criminals don’t follow the law. Indeed, the Tea Party would suggest that we abolish the IRS, the Department of Education and the… uh, um, what’s the third one there? Let’s see… Oops. Of course, it is always every other department, other than the one which constitutes 20% of the federal budget, defense. When you spend $718 billion a year on defense, it becomes reasonable to want to play with the toys that Santa War brought you.

Which brings me to Syria and the mirror-image response many Americans have to Syria versus the gun debate. The United States and its citizens have assumed the mantle of “the world’s policeman” bestowed upon itself through the confluence of being the “victor” of the Cold War and the permanent paralysis of the UN to act. Unfortunately, one cannot be the policeman of the world with its altruistic, justice-seeking mandate and be a world power with “national interests” flavoring every decision. “Rescuing” Kuwait from Saddam’s clutches followed by two Gulf wars to “free” Iraq and another war  to “stabilize” Afghanistan have done little to convince the rest of the world that we are not just another mammoth imperial entity trying to dictate our ethos (and capitalism couched as democracy) on a misguided world. Our blind eye to the people suffering in Sudan, Congo, Somalia, Kashmir, Darfur notwithstanding, we are on the side of right; God is on our side. And therein lays the problem.

President Obama said in Stockholm today, “I didn’t set a red line — the world set a red line.” If that is the case, then the UN should handle the investigation and response. Of course, it might be faster to watch the polar ice caps melt than wait for the UN to act. If the world set the red line, then where is the international outrage and rush to punishment some Americans are salivating for? The UK listened to David Cameron’s position and said, no thanks. Where is the coalition of forces massing on the border to overthrow Assad and bring him to The Hague for crimes against humanity? I’ll wait.

The suffering of the people in Syria is horrific. The videos leaked on social media of the chemical attack show unconscionable pain. But being a country that suffered through its own civil war (has there ever been a more oxymoronic phrase in the English language?), imagine the headlines had France or Russia bombed Washington, D.C. in 1863 because Union forces were using steel ships. Why didn’t England bomb Paris in 1789 because French troops were busy shooting Gavroche? Why didn’t the United States bomb Pretoria or Cape Town when apartheid kept 85% of the population under the control of the white 15%?

Why? Because there is law; because if we ignore the law we are the criminals. Laws without punishment are impotent. The answer is not to abolish the laws, but to enforce them. If they have no teeth, change them. This is neither earth-shaking nor “God given”, but merely common sense. If Syria has chemical weapons in violation of the 1925 Geneva Protocol, the UN should send in inspectors to confiscate them under the tip of a multilateral UN-backed coalition of forces. Again, law with consequences. If the “good guy” with a gun suddenly becomes the “bad guy” with a gun, he should have his gun taken away from him under the tip of US-backed law enforcement. Laws must have consequences when violated. Unfortunately, the Congress will likely authorize “surgical strikes” (another military oxymoron) on Syria and continue to ignore the blood stained streets of America under a hail of gunfire and simple-minded patriotism. God bless the USA.

Jesus Shrugged

Jesus Shrugged

Six months ago today a young man with a history of mental illness, knowing his mother owned a legally obtained arsenal, shot and killed her, took these weapons designed to obliterate human flesh and proceeded to an elementary school where he shot his way in, murdered six dedicated educators and blew the faces off of 20 terrified six year old children with between 3 and 11 bullets each.

The fact that words could ever be arranged in this order, in one run-on sentence, capable of painting a scene of horror beyond Hollywood’s imagination (or sense of propriety) should have shocked us. Neither Edgar Allan Poe nor Stephen King could (nor would) conjure up a story with this plot, so sick is the premise. And yet, this sentence describes America in the 21st century. Worse yet is the reaction we had. We did nothing. “Pray,” our politicians told us. Any other solution is a knee-jerk reaction, anti-American, unpatriotic and unconstitutional. We allowed the seeds to be planted years ago by the NRA (and others) which today have blossomed into the paralysis we see in Washington, the evisceration of existing law and the flooding of America with firepower and an absence of responsibility.

While neither Hank Reardon, Dagney Taggert, Jim Taggert nor any other characters in Ayn Rand’s myopic, self-centered, Gold-is-the-new-God, dystopian, It’s-all-about-Me, fantasy have children, the rest of society seeks a balance between personal and societal advancement. Personal responsibility, the overriding theme of Atlas Shrugged, is rewarded in personal wealth. This shallow, simplistic idea only works in the abstract world of fiction. In reality, we are all part of an ant colony whose success or failure depends not only on our own participation and success, but on the participation and success of the other ants.

And in spite of this, the Tea Party (the new Republican party of Ted Cruz, Rand Paul and Marco Rubio) seeks to add Atlas Shrugged as the new, New Testament. The King Ted version of the Bible. Jesus Shrugged. God, guns and screw everybody else. I’ve got mine, you get yours. You’re on your own. Come and take it. Molon Labe.

181 days have passed since the (still incomprehensible) horror took place at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Spineless Republicans and Democrats in the Senate, afraid for their NRA rating (and the cash that accompanies it) and catering to the dullest, most simplistic but vociferous, absolutist, “patriotic” constituents, snubbed every attempt to clutch rationality from the jaws of paranoia and closeted racism, lied about imaginary gun registries, drove up gun sales with inflammatory rhetoric, ignored tear-stained relatives, friends or victims of gun violence declared “victory” for the Second Amendment and chuckled as “King Obama” lost. It is if any battle is worth political annihilation of the republic as long as this president loses, topic (or victims) be damned. How very patriotic.

Gun ownership in this country is down to less than one-third of households and yet gun sales continue to climb. If fewer people own guns, but guns continue to sell, it can only be surmised that the same people are buying more guns, which begs the question, how many guns can one shoot at once? It seems to me that the NRA needs to team up with doctors to develop an accelerated evolutionary path for these “patriots” so they can grow additional index fingers with which to pull triggers. Anything less is unconstitutional and against their God-given right as guaranteed under the Second Amendment and conferred upon them in the new, new testament.

America’s best days are ahead of it, but only if we stop trying to live in the past.

Six months with no action. Shame on Congress, shame on us.

GUEST POST: Modernity, Maternity and God

aa graphicAllāhu Akbar!

The phrase literally means, “Allah is greater”, but can be generalized to mean “God is Greater”. As a call to action, it is a consistent part of daily Muslim prayers.

When talking to CNN, Zubeidat Tsarnaeva had this to say about her sons’ deaths: “My oldest one is killed, I don’t care. I don’t care if my youngest one is going to be killed today. I want the world to hear this. And I don’t care if I am to get killed too, okay? And I will say Allāhu Akbar!”

The public condemned this statement. How could a mother be so callous about her children’s lives? Is she even human? Is this not proof that Islam is a religion of pieces, rather than a religion of peace? (This stupid pun follows in the grand intellectual footsteps of “It’s Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve!”) My problem with these questions is not their sentiment, but the hypocrisy that their context reveals. The vaguely racist, forced connections from immigration to religion that underscore this discussion are violent, and ignorant. Religion is the ally of child sacrifice. The religious doctrines of Islam, Christianity, and Judaism all applaud child sacrifice.

Genesis, Chapter 22, beginning at Verse 1 (KJV): “And it came to pass after these things, that God did tempt Abraham, and said unto him, Abraham: and he said, Behold, here I am. And he said, Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah, and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of.” Aside from that fact that God is said to be tempting, and not testing, (which makes him something less than perfect or good), this incitement of murder is pointless and evil. God recognizes Abraham’s love for his son before demanding the child’s death. This immoral mockery is wholly undeserving of praise. Abraham asks no questions, and Isaac’s only concern seems to be that he can’t seem to find the animal of sacrifice. His father ties him to the altar. Isaac offers no protest. Abraham shows no reservation. The most chilling line of Genesis, save for the floods and violently wicked exultations and bursts of anger from a ‘perfectly just and merciful’ God, is verse ten of the same chapter. “And Abraham stretched forth his hand, and took the knife to slay his son.” God chooses this moment to put down the popcorn and intervene. After egotistically claiming that his only desire was to ensure the fear of his subjects, (I can feel Job wincing), God kindly releases Abraham from the devout act of killing his only child. Unrealistically, the son in question abstains from flipping the capricious deity the bird. The Quran takes the story even further, claiming that the boy’s hands, (almost definitely referring to Isaac), did not need to be bound and that he chose sacrifice willingly. This version of the story is more toxic. The idea of child sacrifice ought to be abhorrent to both parent and child, but the willing sacrifice of a child that goes undisputed by his parent is evil. To advocate this view is to champion inhuman cruelty and vilify familial loyalty.

Temptation, fear, and apathy define the God of Genesis. Orwell taught us the perverseness of being forced to love someone that you fear. Child sacrifice is evil. Those who condone it are immoral. The Christians who claim that Abraham’s faith in God was so great that he believed that his son would be brought back from death are being impossibly revisionist. I default to Christopher Hitchens for the final word on the subject.  Speaking about his children, he says: “If I was told to sacrifice them to prove my devotion to God, if I was told to do what all monotheists are told to do, and admire the man who said, ‘Yes, I’ll gut my kid to show my love of God’, I’d say, ‘No, fuck you.’”

The proud outrage of the religious at Zubeidat Tsarnaeva’s pitiless piety is hollow. Her insistence that her sons are innocent and not terrorists is made irrelevant by her defiant exultation of “Allāhu Akbar!” Her ideas are loyal to a vile principle present in all three major monotheisms. As a human being and an American, I’ve had enough of à la Carte religion and the baseless moral condescension of the faithful. Allāhu Akbar is an abdication of responsibility. The final reminders given to the 9/11 hijackers included “Shout ‘Allāhu Akbar’ because this strikes fear in the hearts of the non-believers”. The Iranian flag has the phrase “Allāhu Akbar” written on it twenty-two times. Maryam Mohammad Yousif Farhat screamed “Allāhu Akbar!” and handed out candy upon hearing that her son had killed five people as a suicide bomber. Nidal Malik Hasan screamed “Allāhu Akbar!” before opening fire at Fort Hood. This deadly idiocy is the battle cry of piety. Their love of God is just as dangerous as their fear of him. It empowers disembodied tyrants while cheapening the lives and intellects of human beings. No mother should value her faith above her sons. God is not greater than family. God is not greater than humanity.

Texas George (or Administering Medicine to the Dead)

4

Speaker John Woods, whose girlfriend was murdered at the Virginia Tech massacre listens to John MacLean perform his incredibly moving tribute to the children of Sandy Hook Elementary called Six. Photo credit: Austin Dowling

To argue with a man who has renounced the use and authority of reason, and whose philosophy consists in holding humanity in contempt, is like administering medicine to the dead, or endeavoring to convert an atheist by scripture. Enjoy, sir, your insensibility of feeling and reflecting. It is the prerogative of animals. And no man will envy you these honors, in which a savage only can be your rival and a bear your master.       

Thomas Paine, The American Crisis, March 21, 1778

There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one’s safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind. Orr was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions. Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn’t, but if he were sane he had to fly them. If he flew them he was crazy and didn’t have to; but if he didn’t want to he was sane and had to. Yossarian was moved very deeply by the absolute simplicity of this clause of Catch-22 and let out a respectful whistle.

                                                Joseph Heller, Catch-22, Chapter 3, 1961

The gun “debate” in the United States pits two sides against one another which could not be more different had they hailed from different edges of the ever expanding universe.  One side uses rationality, compassion and fact, believing that life is paramount and government’s supreme priority is the defense of its citizens. The other side uses paranoia, fear and hyperbole, gets exorcised at the words “tyranny,” “Obama,” and “confiscation,” and is armed to the teeth to defend themselves against the very republic which they claim to love. Logic would tell you that the fight is not fair. Logic would suggest that reason and compassion would reign over hysteria and fear. Logic would be wrong.

This country finds itself at a moral crossroad at a time when it also intersects with a political movement bent on a systemic abdication of empathy in favor of some financial utopia; an Ayn Randian egoism on steroids. Let us assume that the Tea Party faction of the Republican Party was formed with the intention of restoring the federal government’s financial ledger. Let’s also ignore that the ledger wasn’t upended in the first place by Republicans plunging us into two wars based on specious arguments and bloodlust following 9/11. Place into that caustic mixture a society where the internet has led to more granularization of beliefs and less debate and compassion, a youth with the responsibility memory of a fruit fly and the belief that there is a cosmic “reset” button on life, a proliferation of 300,000,000 guns with no oversight because of a lobbying group with rabid members who salivate at the concepts of “tyranny” or “confiscation” and cannot hide their racial/political hatred for our sitting president and would burn the country down to see him fail and you have a toxic environment where compassion and logic are trounced by hysteria and hyperbole.

Nowhere is this confluence of concepts more evident than in Texas, a state being torn from the safety of republican clutches and turning purple before our eyes. While the cities are democratic strongholds, the rural areas are staunchly red.  Unfortunately for Republicans, the urbanization of the country, combined with the influx of citizens relocating from democratic northern states and the burgeoning immigrant population arriving from the south clash in a cultural maelstrom which will result in a blue Texas. Once that happens (and assuming California and New York remain blue), there is no mathematical formula that wins Republicans the White House. The only question is when Texas turns blue, not if.

In the gun debate the lines are equally color coded. Red states love their guns. Blue states don’t.  Which leaves Texas in the unenviable position of being the stage from which we all get to watch Republicans pander to the NRA and their rabid, and predominantly white constituency, who ignore the impending tsunami in hopes of returning to the “glory” days of the wild west where guns were plenty and white men ruled the world. Everywhere there can be seen the angry clamoring for this return to Mitt Romney’s 1950’s America. “Secede” bumper stickers jockey for placement on pickup trucks already adorned with Browning logos, Keep Christ in Christmas clings, and that little imp peeing on the words “Gun Control” next to a picture of a cannon and the Greek words Molon Labe (Come and Take It).

Lawmakers, both on the local, state and national level from Texas enrobe themselves in the American flag in order to conceal the Texas flag they truly wear, as if one is not part of the other. They are increasingly suspicious of the United States Constitution and make legislative overtures ignorant of the Supremacy Clause in feel-good measures enabled to allow Texas to enjoy the fruits of the US Constitution a la carte while simultaneously ignoring the burden borne equally by the 50 states to uphold the union.

Beyond the Ted Nugent’s and Alex Jonses’ of the Loon Star State, it is also home to other less colorful, but potentially more damaging (and entertaining, were it not people’s lives hanging in the balance) due to their lawmaking potential. These include:

  • Governor Rick Perry whose solution to gun violence following the sickening murder of 20 first graders in Newtown Connecticut was to pray and who is wooing gun manufacturers to relocate to good-ole-boy Texas.
  • Attorney General Greg Abbott who has advertised in New York newspapers for New Yorkers upset at the impending sensible gun legislation to relocate to good-ole-boy Texas where EVERYBODY has at least one gun and “gun control is when you use both hands.”
  • US Rep Steve Stockman who invited twisted has-been rocker Ted Nugent to the State of the Union speech in violation of all common decency and decorum in front of the families of Newtown in attendance, and who is also pursuing the “persecuted” gun manufacturers to relocate to good-ole-boy Texas. As a member of the House, he has pledged to prevent any gun legislation from being voted on. A true patriot.
  • State Rep. Steve Toth, (a minister) and Tea Party sycophant who in the weeks following Newtown held a “Gun Appreciation Day” on the steps of the state capital in Austin and has introduced his version of cafeteria style US Constitution adherence legislation called the “Firearm Protection Act” prohibiting local law enforcement from implementing federal gun laws. He appreciates guns and protects firearms. Did I mention he’s a minister? To bastardize the murdered John Lennon’s quip “Guns are bigger than Jesus.” Welcome to the Church of Glock. This is also the same “representative of the people” who cancelled his appearance on a local PBS television show when he found out he had to debate me, a “far left wing radical!” You see, he wants to represent the people, just not talk with them.
  • US Senator Ted Cruz, another Tea Party twit who joined Senators Rand Paul and Mike Lee (and 11 other senators) in a ridiculous filibuster designed to prevent any gun legislation from being voted on by the senate. He claims he will do whatever is necessary to defend the Second Amendment, which is Tin Foil Hat language for “I’m going to do everything I can to prevent the “libtards” from starting down the path toward registration and confiscation.” Again, they defend the gun and every nutjob’s right to them with callous disregard to the carnage caused by these “good, honest, law abiding Americans.”

Here is a breakdown of the campaign funding various Texas legislators have received from the NRA since 1990:

Legislator

District

Party

Amount

NRA Grade

Ted Cruz

Junior

Republican

$      9,900

A+

John Cornyn

Senior

Republican

$    17,850

A

Louie Gohmert

1

Republican

$    11,450

A

Ted Poe

2

Republican

$      9,500

A+

Sam Johnson

3

Republican

$    23,450

A

Ralph Hall

4

Republican

$    25,450

A

Jeb Hensarling

5

Republican

$    20,900

A

Joe Barton

6

Republican

$    47,948

A

John Culberson

7

Republican

$    22,550

A

Kevin Brady

8

Republican

$    17,500

A

Al Green

9

Democrat

$             –

F

Michael McCaul

10

Republican

$    19,500

A

K. Michael Conaway

11

Republican

$    11,000

A

Kay Granger

12

Republican

$    13,950

A

Mac Thornberry

13

Republican

$    27,450

A

Randy Weber

14

Republican

$             –

A

Ruben Hinojosa

15

Democrat

$             –

D

Beto O’Rourke

16

Democrat

$             –

N/A

Bill Flores

17

Republican

$      7,000

A

Sheila Jackson Lee

18

Democrat

$             –

F

Randy Neugebauer

19

Republican

$    16,950

A

Joaquin Castro

20

Democrat

$             –

C

Lamar Smith

21

Republican

$    30,750

A+

Pete Olson

22

Republican

$    12,450

A

Pete Gallego

23

Democrat

$      1,000

A-

Kenny Marchant

24

Republican

$    10,750

A

Roger Williams

25

Republican

$      2,000

AQ

Michael Burgess

26

Republican

$    13,150

A

Blake Farenthold

27

Republican

$      4,500

A

Henry Cuellar

28

Democrat

$    18,350

A-

Gene Green

29

Democrat

$    12,950

A-

Eddie Johnson

30

Democrat

$             –

F

John Carter

31

Republican

$    22,450

A+

Pete Sessions

32

Republican

$    64,000

A+

Marc Veasey

33

Democrat

$             –

B

Filemon Vela

34

Democrat

$      1,000

AQ

Lloyd Doggett

35

Democrat

$             –

F

Steve Stockman

36

Republican

$      1,000

A

The total here is almost $500,000, and this counts only the contributions made to those currently holding office. It does not count the amounts contributed to unsuccessful candidates or those who previously held office. It does make me wonder why the NRA would spend so much money in a state so gun hungry as Texas.

6

Former Virginia Tech student and EMT Kathy Staats who responded to the shooting there on April 16, 2007. Photo credit: Austin Dowling

Which brings me to Texas George. You see, there was a Gun Sense rally sponsored by Moms Demand Action at the Texas capital in Austin last weekend. Hundreds of people attended to listen to the reasoned and compassionate speeches of victims, family member, first responders and legislators. While one young woman, a volunteer EMT at Virginia Tech who responded to the mass shooting on the morning of April 16, 2007, relayed to us her attempts to secure an oxygen mask to a student whose jaw had been blown off by a bullet and who later died, a local genius who called himself Texas George walked up to the front of the crowd holding a sign with the nonsensical message “Stop Gun Ban.” As other people in the crowd tried to get in front of him to block his asinine, attention seeking stunt, I noticed the sickest part of this display. While he held the nonsensical sign in his right hand, he held the hand of his no more than 6 year old grandson in his left. Two thoughts rang through my head. First, how insensitive and callous to bring your grandson to such an event where his grandfather was being berated and shouted down (by me in addition to others), but that his grandson was roughly the same age as the 20 children blown apart in Newtown, Connecticut. And while that juxtaposition played around inside my head, the most poignant image of that day would have to wait for me to see it the following day.

Texas George

Texas George and his inane sign. There are 300,000,000 guns in America. What gun ban?

The image below shows my child standing behind a woman holding a sign denouncing the murder of 8 children a day in America.  My initial (and eternal) pride in seeing my son stand up for something he believes in and which saves lives gave way to the sick feeling that slammed into my stomach when I linked the message about children to the sight of my child. Something I will never forget and something Texas George, Ted Cruz, Steve Stockman, Steve Toth, Rick Perry, Greg Abbott and any other defender of our “God given” right to blow away any of His creatures will never understand. Joseph Heller’s protagonist would question everybody’s sanity in this drama. Logical discourse with these people is like administering medicine to the victims of Newtown.

My son, Cameron (left) and his friend Austin listen to speeches while a woman holds a poignant sign.

My son, Cameron (left) and his friend Austin listen to speeches while a woman holds a poignant sign.

Cut!

Movie Board

Action!

“Captain,” said the Chief Engineer in the third bulkhead of Titanic, standing in eighteen inches of north Atlantic ice water, a mere ten minutes after her hull was shredded by the unseen iceberg, “we’re taking on water! What do you want us to do?”

“Take on more water!” replied Captain Smith.

CUT! Wait.  That’s not what happened. That would be stupid.

And…ACTION!

“Stand back you people,” said the Second Officer, pointing his revolver at the crowd surging toward the remaining life boats, “I will shoot the next man to rush forward.”

“No you won’t,” bellowed John Jacob Astor IV, pushing his way toward the front of the crowd. All at once, every member of the crowd cocked back the hammers of their pistols.  Suddenly, the ship righted itself, the gash in her side healed and she maintained her top speed through iceberg-pocked waters toward New York.

CUT! That’s even dumber than before.  That didn’t happen.

Take it from the top. And… ACTION!

“Iceberg, straight ahead!” the hypothermic lookout cried, perched in the crow’s nest high above the gleaming wooden deck below.

“Be calm, my son,” said Jesus, who was standing next to him. And with a wave of his hand, the iceberg melted away and no harm ever befell any of the passengers. They all lived happily ever after and God called them home after a long life and with no pain or suffering.

CUT!  What’s going on here? None of that happened! The ship hit the iceberg, panic ensued, the ship sank and 1,514 people died horrifically painful deaths.

Ah, but there’s the problem.  We’ve all become victims of subscribing to a Hollywood script.  We all believe that we’re at various stages on our own hero’s journey and that everything will end with a storybook ending amidst a symphonic crescendo playing in the background. We die, roll credits.

Reality knows no script.  Reality kicks you in the teeth, waits for you to shake it off, then kicks you in the nuts when your head clears, then hands you a bouquet of roses.  No rhyme, no reason. That’s life! And to presume that there is some cosmic game plan in which you feature in a starring role is both delusional and dangerous. My son’s philosophy professor, Galen Strawson wrote Against Narrativity in 2004. To read it is to appreciate the danger our civilization faces living in this miasma.

2012 in America has been ruled by the gun.  We’ve seen 13 mass shootings this year alone. If we were “stunned” on February 21st at the shooting in Norcross, GA, where four people were killed, plus the shooter, we looked away. If we were “aghast” on February 27th at the shooting in Chardon, OH where three were killed and another two injured, we barely stirred. If we were “upset” on March 8th at the shooting in Pittsburgh, PA where one was killed, plus the shooter and seven were injured, we looked down. If we were “angry” on April 2 at the shooting in Oakland, CA where seven were killed and three injured, we mumbled. If we were “disappointed” on April 6th at the shooting in Tulsa, OK where three were killed and two were injured, we barely noticed. If we were “caught off-guard” on May 30th at the shooting in Seattle, WA, where five were killed, plus the shooter and one more was injured, we changed the channel.  If we were “outraged” on July 20th at the shooting in Aurora, CO, where twelve were killed and fifty-eight were injured, we clicked “Like” on Facebook to send a prayer. If we were “distressed” on August 5th at the shooting in Oak Creek, WI, where six were killed, plus the shooter and three more were injured, we asked “why?” If we were “troubled” on August 13th at the shooting in College Station, TX, where two were killed, plus the shooter and four more were injured, we shook our heads.  If we were “disgusted” on September 27th at the shooting in Minneapolis, MN, where six were killed, plus the shooter and three more were injured, we turned the page. If we were “concerned” on October 21st at the shooting in Brookfield, WI, where three were killed, plus the shooter and four more were injured, we barely blinked. If we even noticed on December 11th the shooting in Happy Valley, OR, where two were killed, plus the shooter and another was injured, we kept quiet. But, if we were not apoplectically pissed-off and sick to our stomachs on December 14th at the shooting in Newtown, CT, where twenty-seven were killed, plus the shooter and an unknown number were injured, we deserve nothing better.

Ours is a society of instant gratification married to an inexplicable faith that when times get tough we can just throw our hands up in the air and assure ourselves that our future is in God’s hands. God will protect me.  This pursuit of gratification and surrendering to faith leads to a society that abdicates personal responsibility and any uncomfortable consequences of our actions.

The gun enthusiast espouses that if everybody had a gun, we would all be safe. If every moviegoer in Aurora had brought their popcorn butter glazed Glock with them, the shooter would have paid the price for threatening “civilized” society. In fact, almost every expert agrees that if there were more guns at the scene it would have erupted into a muzzle flash blinding shooting gallery of bullets exploding everywhere and more injuries and deaths. By this same logic, why don’t we pass out nuclear weapons to every country? Don’t I feel safe now!

Texas has proposed that allowing teachers to carry concealed guns will reduce the number of school shootings. Wrong! Also in Texas (surprise), a gun dealer is offering discounts for teachers! Our knee-jerk reaction to gun horror is always the same.  After Aurora, gun sales went up in Colorado.  Gun sales in Connecticut are up now, too.  “Take on more water,” said the Captain.

Our ship will not right itself, the gash in her side will not heal itself and God will not materialize and melt the iceberg.  We are responsible for our own actions and a required participant in the construction of society. To pass off responsibility to God or to a 200 year old, purposely vague document and its second amendment is to sail with our hands off the ship’s wheel and our eyes closed while we accelerate through the dangerous iceberg-laden waters of life. Who wants to sign up for that cruise? I’m tired of watching rational people rearrange the deckchairs while the ship goes down.

Now is the time to act. Now is the time for lucid voices to be heard. Damn the testosterone addled, myopically stunted gun zealots and the impotent, self-serving government representatives. Raise your voice, drown out the din of gunfire and demand civilization be civilized. If not us, who? If not now, when?

And… Action!

It’s a Girl!

In honor of Christmas, let’s play a holiday game.  Don’t worry, I won’t ask you to get up and go outside.  There will be no caroling.  In fact, this game is easier than Nintendo Wii.  You can just sit there.  This is a mental game.

As with all games, there are rules.  These are the assumptions of our game:

  1. God exists
  2. God is the god of Christian faiths.
  3. Jesus was the son of God

Now, here’s the wrinkle and basis of our game: Let’s pretend that the Virgin Mary gave birth to a girl instead of a boy.

It's a girl!

It’s a girl!

Aside from the jokes of the manger having been decorated or Joseph and Mary demanding that baby girl Jesus be taken inside to a Hilton rather than remain in the manger, what would have happened during this girl’s life and what would her legacy be 2,000 years later?

At first blush, this twist raises more questions than assurances.  For example, would a female Jesus have commanded the same respect that the male Jesus did?  Would the disciples have even followed a woman allowing that the same divine claims and actions took place? Would the Jews or the Romans have taken her protestations and actions seriously and seen her as a threat to the established paradigm? Would she have been crucified or would another punishment have been meted out, say stoning? And if so, what would everybody wear around their neck and pray to at church if not a tortured man nailed to a wooden cross and left to die? Would she have even been taken seriously or would she have been the first victim of a time and date removed Salem witch hunt?  Would the disciples have followed up her death with the establishment of the Christian faith?  Would it have spread throughout the world and been the basis for the Roman Catholic Church in Rome? Would Popes be women, would there have been female priests? Would her teachings of peace and deference prevented the Crusades? Would females have become the leaders of the world and males simply the brute tools to their vision? If so, would the world have seen the development of societies and civilizations as they have occurred or would some other world evolved? Might this have prevented all of the wars the world has seen? Might maternal guidance have eclipsed testosterone driven bravado and intransigence leading to cordial debate and discourse rather than gunfire and bombs?

Once you ponder the possibilities and changes the world may have known, then consider if Mohammad had been born a woman, that  Buddha was a woman (that all the deities revered in the world had been women) and that God was personified as a woman rather than a male. What might have happened?

Just something to think about.