God is Deaf

The motivation behind the latest terror bombing in England remains to be seen, but I cannot help but be struck by the pleas for an intervention by some Supreme being as a salve to the pain and anger.

One segment offers prayers to the healing power of a god while another offers prayers rejoicing in the blessings of the same god bestowing success in their efforts.

It underscores the dilemma of a god who either can do something to prevent these tragedies but chooses not to or is powerless to stop it. Thus prayers or petitions for intercession are a waste of time.

If it turns out the underlying motivation is some twisted interpretation of another monotheistic text compelling such acts in pursuit of pleasing this same god, all the more tragic is our continuation of similar pleas to our version of the same being.

Until such time as humans learn that our actions affect this time and place in the universe.

Until such time as we understand that our differences need be resolved with words and rational thought, not offerings to an invisible deity.

Until such time as we all realize that each of our lives is intertwined on this planet.

Until such time as humans learn to live with our differences, not seek to impose one way by force of arms, acts of cowardly terrorism, or exploitation of our fellow humans, I fear such acts will continue.

The short-term answer here is to hunt down those responsible and prosecute them within the law. The long-term solution is much more complex.

As long as human beings see these acts through the spectrum of us versus them, of our interpretation of god opposing theirs, of our way as the only way, all the prayers in the world will be lost in a black hole of futility.

My Mom and Her Determination

Here’s a reposting of a piece I wrote some time ago. It’s the time of the year…

It has been almost 8 years since my mother died. Thoughts, sights, and sounds remind me of her almost daily.

Words she often turned into her own askew versions. Her penchant for reading EVERY street sign whenever she was in the car. Twinkies she hid in the freezer in violation of her diet. The one constant reminder is my white hair, undeniable genetic evidence that part of her remains with me.

These are memories of a special woman.

Each year, on a particular date, there is a poignant reminder of something she did for me.

I suspect she had similar traditions with my brother and sisters; she was that kind of a mom.

She had a way to make you feel special.

Nevertheless, this one was between us.

As many of you know from my writings, I do not share the faith that my mother did. She had absolute confidence in her beliefs. Despite all the things she experienced, the joys and the sorrows, she never once doubted them.

She made a valiant effort to share her faith. If there is any blame to go around for her failed attempt to instill that in me, the fault is mine.

What is the annual event that triggers such a memory?

St. Joseph’s day.

Every year, I would get a card from my mother. It came in the mail. It was not a text, an email, or a phone call. It would arrive in the days just before the 19th, more evidence of her careful consideration and purpose.

She took the time to select, address, and mail a card. Through a simple gesture, she preserved the dying art of thoughtfulness.

The card celebrated the Saint’s day of my (sort of) namesake. Her thoughtful gesture had a dual purpose, serving as a subtle reminder of her faith. I used to chuckle whenever I opened the card. Amused by my mother’s determination, yet touched by such a simple, caring act.

She never gave up.

Since her passing, I miss the card every year and her every day.

Mom, while you may not have succeeded in making me a Saint there is a good chance you made me less of a sinner.

Happy Saint Joseph’s Day.

Our Father, who art in heaven, what the hell are you thinking?

The establishment clause of the church-and-stateConstitution is clear,

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

The interpretations provide the government, and the governed, a clear path to follow. The Government has no place in supporting or subverting religious practices. Nor acting against those who chose to hold no religious faith.

I, as many of you know, am of the latter category. My progression from Catholicism to Doubt (or cynic in the tradition of Diogenes and Epicurus) makes me particularly sensitive to governmental line crossing.

When I watched the Trump rally in Florida, I was taken aback by the First Lady’s recitation of a Christian prayer. One may argue that being a political rally, President Trump can conduct this in any manner he chooses.

I disagree.

There is no such thing as a “time-out” from being President. Wherever, whenever Mr. Trump is, he is the President. He need conduct himself as such.

What’s the big deal, you may ask?

Imagine the reaction if Melania read a Sura from the Koran? The Christian conservatives would lose their minds. It would illustrate the double standard in evidence here.

A “Christian” prayer is a harmless invocation recognizing the importance of religion to most Americans. A recitation of a Sura, I dare say, would be taken as an insult.

Make no mistake about it. The recent ban on entry to the United States is a direct attack on a specific religion. Something clearly prohibited by the constitution.

Many are quick to wrap their guns in the Second Amendment as being inviolate and clear in its intent. Yet find it convenient to parse the language of the Establishment clause.

This is not a debate on the validity of any religion. I’ll save that for another time. My point is to illustrate the disingenuous nature of this administration. Trump plays to the lowest common denominator of emotion. He sees most Americans are Christians as a justification for ignoring the constitution. He plays to their fears and lack of understanding of those of different faiths.

That many Americans applaud and support such tactics is frightening. We cannot let this stand.

The President must be the calm and sober one, containing the raw emotions of nationalism and fear not feeding them. They must play the part of the adult in the room. I fear this one never will.

Echoing History: The Trump Way

“…Whoever disturbs this mission is the enemy of the people, whether he pursues his aim as a Bolshevist democrat, a revolutionary terrorist, or a reactionary dreamer. In such a time of necessity those who act in the name of God are not those who, citing Bible quotations, wander idly about the country and spend the day partly doing nothing and partly criticizing the work of others; but those whose prayers take the highest form of uniting man with his God, that is, the form of work…”

“The value of every wage and salary corresponds to the volume of goods produced as a result of the work performed. This is a very unpopular doctrine in a time resounding with cries such as “higher wages and less work…”

It would seem Donald Trump has the facts of history on his side. These words reflect his philosophy and policies he embraces. The tenor is similar, the ideas consistent, the intent clear. Trump, like the original speaker of these words, promises to make his country great again.

The only question remaining is, like Germany when Adolf Hitler spoke these words, will we blindly plunge this country down the same path in pursuit of a false dream.

 

Something to Look Forward to!

 

As you should all be aware by now (if not pay attention here), Kent Harrop and I co-write a weekly blog called “TheHereticandtheHolyman.” If you have not read it yet, please do.

There will be a quiz.

(As a sideline, occasionally I see an intriguing question on-line. This was on some sort of a sign, “If Quizzes are Quizzical, what are Tests?”)

Excuse the mind detour, back to the subject at hand. Hey, ice cream…

We explore various topics about “Life, the Universe, and Everything” from our different perspectives. Since Kent IS a Red Sox fan, I do try to use small words but the message does get across.

One of us usually writes on a topic and sends it to the other for his response. We then post it on Friday.

This week we are going to do something a little different. This week will be a blind response to the other’s position.

Kent proposed a great topic. Here is how he so well expressed the idea.

How about we write about Heaven and Hell (do they exist) and is Joe going to a warm place (and I don’t mean Aruba)?!”

The sentiment alone brought warmth to the cold winter day as I read it.

So check back this Friday, see if there is a Heaven and a Hell. See if one of them looms in my future. I am sure some of you think I deserve it just for being a Yankees fan!

Put it on your calendar, set a reminder, tell all your friends to join in, express your thoughts about where I am going and if I deserve it. This might prove interesting.

A Conversation of Differences

It is not often that I stimulate a spark of deep thought and inspiring words in others (and truth be told I must share credit with Philosopher Bertrand Russell for the original thought.) Yet a good friend of mine, Kent Harrop, recently penned a post on his blog I believe was inspired by a Russell quote I sometimes append to my email.

Russell (1872-1970) said, “Religion is something left over from the infancy of our intelligence, it will fade away as we adopt reason and science as our guidelines.” This caught Kent’s eye and he decided to put down some thoughts.

Kent wrote (https://greenpreacher.wordpress.com/2016/01/25/is-religion-irrational ),

There’s much that Mr. Russell and I agree upon. But where we part company, is his belief that ‘religion is something left over from the infancy of intelligence’. For me reason and critical thinking need not be contrary to religious life. Even Russell for all his strong views towards religion considered himself an agnostic, ‘in that I cannot disprove the Christian concept of a divine being, just as I cannot disprove the reality of the mythical gods on Mount Olympus.’ Perhaps Mr. Russell has cracked open the door for a conversation.

In this, the fact that it opens a door for a conversation, Kent and I agree.

I consider myself an atheist. I define my atheism as finding no basis for a belief in an anthropomorphic God, or gods, that show an interest in how we behave, what we do with our lives, what we choose to wear or eat, or how we prostrate or otherwise demonstrate our devotion to such a being.

Russell’s quote illustrates the fact that, over the time of our human existence, we have attributed almost all natural phenomena to a divine being at one time or another. Until science and reason took hold.

I think Russell’s quote is more in line with progressive thinkers like Kent than even Kent might realize. The difficult questions we all have beg for answers.

How did we come to be?

What is the meaning of life? (42 is a good start for you Douglas Adams fans)

How did this whole thing get started?

I agree with Russell in that almost all religion is a simplistic attempt to answer an infinitely complex question. I think it fails in this and causes more harm than good.

I think Viktor Frankl (1905-1997), a MD and psychiatrist who survived Auschwitz, found a better answer in his book, “Man’s Search for Ultimate Meaning.” Frankl’s research and life experiences showed him there is an innate essence within man for the religious. However, Frankl did not define religiousness as being in anyway associated with the common concept of religion.

Instead. Frankly believed, from his many years of research, that there was an unconscious religiosity within man. One that compels him to seek meaning in life. The many iterations of religion, from the many gods of early man to the monotheistic dominant sects today, are just stepping-stones to finding the true religiousness within us all.

It is not that we will someday become god. It is that we will someday no longer need a symbol, or a template of acceptable practices, or a script to follow to please god and lead an exemplary life. We will find that our innate, unconscious religiosity points us to a full, responsible, and meaningful life.

Let the conversation begin.

I encourage you all to read and follow Kent’s blog, The Green Preacher, (https://greenpreacher.wordpress.com/2016/01/25/is-religion-irrational. His writing is thoughtful, articulate, and compelling. I find his intelligent and persuasive pieces to be wonderful, if inexplicable, reading considering he is a Red Sox fan. Nevertheless, I suppose no one is perfect.

Christmas Traditions: Variations on a Theme

There is a commonality shared among many families around Christmas or other special holidays. They have traditions. Long held, choreographed, well-established traditions passed down generation-to-generation, by which they celebrate holidays.

We do not. I like to think of our traditions as non-traditional. Think of it as a Jazz improvisation of Christmas instead of the Handel’s Messiah version.

We like to wing it.

Each year a little different from the year before, much of this determined by the latest cast of characters.

When our daughter Kelsey first joined our non-traditional traditions, it added to the wonder and magic. Christmas consisted of mountains of presents, requiring hours of wrapping, followed by the unforgettable wide-eyed expression as she first saw the gifts.

That was just her first Christmas; it got bigger and more magical after that.

Over the years Kelsey has gone from the small, little, squirming, bundle of wonder into a remarkable young woman.

She stands on the cusp of a new period of her life; she is engaged to an equally remarkable young man. Soon, if they are as fortunate as my wife and I, they will create their own Christmas traditions. Whatever they turn out to be.

This year’s celebration of Christmas Eve consisted of much good food, small gathering of family, and watching Charlie Brown’s Christmas and The Muppets Christmas Carole.

The Muppets have the best lines.

…light the candle, not the rat! Light the candle, not the rat!

 I told you, storytellers are omniscient; I know everything!

 Hoity-toity, Mr. Godlike Smarty-Pants.

And our personal favorite, which I suppose comes as close to an annual tradition as anything else,

…and Tiny Tim, who did NOT die…

Therefore, our Christmas tradition will continue to vary year to year. Over the next few years we hope to add a few new cast members (subtle hint), and create some new variations on the theme. (No pressure there Kelsey and Charles, take your time, we can wait for a bit)

Our non-traditional tradition always includes wishes to all for a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. Enjoy whatever it is you do to celebrate this time of year.

….Peace on Earth, Goodwill to Men…as Linus would say.

 

Killing Christmas

We are, all of us, killing Christmas.

We are engaged in the destruction of fellowship, good will, and a wish for happiness for all by abandoning rationality, tolerance, and understanding.

This once uplifting time of the year fallen victim to our insistence on highlighting differences, rather than embracing them.

It is us versus them.

We are on the side of good; they are on the side of evil.

If you are not with us, you are against us.

Does it really matter if one says Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays?

Of course not.

Yet some would have us believe respecting differences is in some way an abandonement of our own beliefs.

Or that making an effort to understand differences is a sign of weakness or surrender.

Nothing could be further from the truth or less in keeping with the spirit of Christmas.

The term Christmas may have originated in a particular religious philosophy, but the spirit it represents crosses all faiths and philosophies.

This world is at a crisis stage. Not because the threat facing us is any worse than others but because we face a choice of how we respond.

We can either move ahead as a race of intelligent, rational, and understanding beings or fall back into the violence of our past.

Differences make us better. Seeking to eliminate those differences diminishes us.

The Spirit of Christmas is universal. We do it a great disservice by ignoring that fact.

We are killing the true spirit of Christmas. We need to stop before it is too late for all of us.

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, Fröhliche Weihnachten, Giáng sinh vui vẻ, or Live Long and Prosper, does not really matter how you say it as long as you live it.

Dilemma

This is from a series of short stories I am working on. Posted here for your reading pleasure and review.  All comments welcome.

My cell rang. I didn’t recognize the number. Thought about ignoring it, then decided to give the telemarketer some shit.

“Hello.”

“Tommy, AJ.”

“AJ? What’s this a new phone?”

“I need your help.” AJ’s tone imparted a more serious patina to the four simple words.

“You always need my help,” I answered. “What is it this time, you get thrown out again?”

“Come outside, I’m parked in the lot across the street.

“Why are you parked across the street?” I asked. Silence. After a moment, I realized he’d ended the call.

Grabbing my jacket, I walked to the door. “Where are you off to?” my wife asked.

“I don’t know. That was AJ, said he needs help with something.”

My wife put her hands on her hips, “Tommy, I don’t care what he’s done this time, no money. Promise me.”

I smiled, “No money, I learned my lesson with his last scam,” I opened the door, the cool fall air rushing in. “I’ll be right back.”

Walking down the driveway, I looked across the street. AJ was leaning against the hood of his car, arms folded around himself, staring at the ground. As I got closer, he heard my footsteps and stood.

I’ve read that ninety percent of communication is non-verbal. AJ’s body was telling me this was not one of his ordinary, self-created problems.

“Hey man, what’s up?”

“Tom, Tommy,” AJ stuttered, glancing around. “I need help buddy. Big time. Can you take a ride with me?”

I saw something in his eyes I’d never seen before, genuine fear. This was a man who once took on three bikers in a bar and got his ass kicked. He returned two days later looking for the three bikers. The same thing happened. He went back several more times, but the bikers never showed up again.

They must have recognized crazy.

AJ wasn’t afraid of anything.

“A ride, where?”

“Please man, just come with me.” His body language now in full alarm mode.

“Ah, okay. Let me call Karen. Tell her I’ll be gone for a bit. Where we going anyway?”

“No,” AJ shouted, then glanced around. “No calls.”

“No calls?” I replied. “If you want me to go with you I will after I call my wife. A philosophy you should have adopted years ago. Saved yourself a ton of trouble.”

I could see AJ’s mind racing as he paced back and forth. “Okay, tell her I need help moving something, that’s all.”

I stood there a moment, holding my phone, studying my now frantic friend. Shaking my head, I pushed the call button. “Hey, it’s me. AJ needs me to help him move something. What? I don’t know, hang on,” holding the phone away from my ear I said. “She wants to know what you need moved. How long will it take?”

AJ threw his arm up, slapping them back to his side. “I don’t know, something heavy. You’ll be back in, ah, a couple of hours.”

“There’s a bunch of stuff, I guess. Won’t take long,” listening to her response I smiled at AJ. “Yeah I know; I don’t have any money anyway. I’ll call on the way back.” I walked to the passenger side. “Okay AJ, tell me the story. What’d you do?”

“First, turn off your cell.”

“I’m not turning off my cell, asshole. What is this about?”

“Look, trust me on this. You’ll understand shortly,” pointing with his hand at my phone. “Turn it off and pull the battery. Then I’ll tell you what this is about.”

*****

“You what?” I said, shaking my head and looking out the window. “I don’t believe this. You’re kidding,” trying to gauge the look on his face.

“I’ll show you,” he said as we pulled into a dirt road used by off-road vehicles.

“You can’t drive this thing down here,” I said, my hand on the dash as AJ dodged the ruts and dips in the dirt track.

“Yes I can, I checked this out before.”

“You checked this out… I don’t believe this.”

Checking the rearview mirror, AJ drove several hundred yards. Making sure we were far beyond the houses bordering the property.

“Ready?”

“AJ, please tell me this is all bullshit.”

“Look,” he said, opening the door.

I watched as he walked around to the back of the car, motioning for me to join him

I opened the door, put one foot on the ground, glanced over my right shoulder at AJ as he looked all around the area.

I got out and stood next to him.

“Ready?”

I laughed. “Okay, you got me. What’s the joke?”

I heard the click of the trunk release, watching as it popped up. AJ reached over, opening the trunk.

As I looked in, my mind went into denial.

I looked from the trunk to AJ and back. Voices in my head screamed, ‘Run, you idiot, run.” But my legs remained paralyzed in place. I tried to speak, but my throat was sand. I tasted the adrenaline rushing through my body. The fight or flight response to my brain’s recognizing a problem.

A big problem.

“I had to do it, Tommy. He beat her, put her in the hospital, he molested my granddaughter.”

Words eluded me. I backed away, trying to absorb the reality.

“Tommy, I need you to help me here. I need help getting rid of it.”

For fifty years, AJ had been my best friend. We had grown from GI Joes and baseball to girls and beer to married with kids, together. We’d spent twenty years together as cops, righting wrongs, trying to make a difference.

He’d been there when my first wife died of cancer. He held me in his arms, covered in my blood from the bullet wound in my arm, when they drove me to the hospital.

Never leaving my side.

But this? This was beyond it all. This was too much. I knew the stories. The hospital visits to his daughter. The on again off again boyfriend sliding through the system.

But this? They say friends will be there when you most need them. But this?

As my heart rate slowed, the rationale me resumed control. The panic passed and the realization of the choice I faced came clear.

I knew what I had to do.

I looked at my friend. The tears welled up, the emotions uncontrollable. I took a deep breath and walked back to the car.

“AJ, I’m sorry.” I reached into my pocket and pulled out my phone, walking to the side of the car, away from my best friend.

His eyes showed regret as the enormity of what he asked, what he’d done, set in.

I tossed the phone on the seat. Reaching into the back seat, I grabbed the two shovels and the bag of lime.  I’d spotted them when I got in the car. Hoping I was wrong.

Walking to AJ, I handed him a shovel.

“That’s what friends are for.”

 

 

For (which?) God and (whose?) Country

I just read the New Yorker report on the raid that killed bin Laden.

(http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2011/08/08/110808fa_fact_schmidle)

I took a few things away from it.

1st. There is no military organization in the world that can even come close to matching the courage, determination, ability, and competence of the armed forces of the United States.

This is compounded by the willingness of the American people to pursue Justice.

You can hate President Barrack Obama’s policies and politics, but you cannot doubt his courage, his willingness to make difficult decisions, his admiration of, concern for, and confidence in the military.

He risked his Presidency on doing the right thing.

2nd (and this is more troubling)

The article reports the following transmission was sent to confirm contact with bin Laden (known as “Crankshaft” by JSOC group and referred to as “Geronimo” in the broadcast”).

Inside the compound the Seal team radioed;

“For God and Country, Geronimo, Geronimo, Geronimo”

This was immediately followed by the words “Geronimo, E.K.I.A.” (Enemy Killed in Action) to confirm he was dead.

The article goes on to describe the tension in the White House situation room.

At one point the article points out “as they awaited word, VP Biden nervously fingered his Rosary”

I was struck by the incongruity of these statements.

It was blind, nonsensical, religious belief that triggered the situation in the first place.

What was the difference? Our praying to a different invisible “God”?

One God sent planes into buildings.

One God guided forces to a house in Pakistan.

Taken in the best light, I guess the “Christian” God is more “surgical” in his vengence.

To borrow a line from a t-shirt I once saw;

“Science flies you to the moon, Religion flies you into buildings”

I do not begrudge people their religious beliefs. I do not doubt their sincerity. As long as it is personal and private.

I am troubled by any of our governmental actions, our elected officials, our powerful military being guided by any religious tenets.

Morality, honesty, and integrity do not exist because of religion, they exist in spite of it.

Studies show humans are evolutionarily “designed” (now that’s Intelligent!) to be moral, empathetic, and ethical.

Religion compels a certain behavior out of fear of eternal damnation or reward of a blissful, eternal life (especially with Seventy-two Virgins).

Humans have an innate sense of right and wrong and most follow that path. Religiosity, a by-product of our evolutionary development, is unnecessary.

If those Seals want to pray to thank God, if the Vice President wants to recite the ‘Holy Rosary’ and go to Mass, if the President wants to acknowledge God’s help in making the decision, I fully support their right to do it, privately.

But not as Officials of the US Government and not using any resources of that government.

I believe the decision to send bin Laden’s remains into the ocean, with appropriate Islamic burial protocols, was a brilliant tactical decision. Equally so, the offer of the remains to the Saudi Government (who wisely declined). But I don’t think they are an endorsement of the efficacy or effectiveness of the religious procedures. Nor should they be.

In the interest of full disclosure and if, in the unlikely event I am wrong and God does exist, Osama bin Laden’s passage into the eternal was dependent our exact adherence to Islamic protocols, I pray we fucked it up!

This will be a better world when the world adopts the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” approach to Religion.