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Sunday, May 27, 2007
It's Sunday, and the faithful hit the streets this morning as they headed out to the various places of worship. I, on the other hand, watched Casino on DVD.
I've never really been very interested in religion, even though I had certainly been exposed to it when I was younger. I was lucky, my parents were never fanatics about it, although presumably they believed in what they were taught. It was all fairly benign, never any of that fire and brimstone garbage that is so effective in warping young minds and enforcing uniformity of thought. I think I was pretty much over the notion of religion by the time I got to high school, although I don't recall putting it in so many words at that point.
College was pretty much ideology-free for me, not surprising given that I'm not much of a joiner. A lot of kids head off to college and start to question what their parents have foisted on them. I was always allowed to ask questions (as all children ought to when something strikes them as ridiculous), so I never had a great spiritual revelation or crisis of faith. College is a chance to experiment, I'm told, and I've seen some young people abandon the faith they showed up with as freshmen, and end up with something completely different. I attribute most of it to rebellion, but if the mind is engaged in questioning, I suppose there may be some merit to it, even if you're only trading in one dogma for another.
I spent time considering what I thought the universe might ultimately be about, learned a little about different philosophies, and tried to develop my own. I knew from the outset that I would probably never know anything for certain, and that the only thing I absolutely did know was that I really didn't know anything at all. For whatever reason, this lack of certainty did not trouble me. The universe holds infinite mysteries, and I think just considering them is worthwhile, even if answers cannot ever be known.
I am friends with a lot of people who have wandered away from organized religion, and many of them say some variant of the following:
"I'm not religious. I'm spiritual."
I liked the way that sounded, and I probably said it myself once or twice.
But you know what? I'm not spiritual. To say I am is a lie. I don't believe I have any deep connection to the cosmos except for the fact that I am an inhabitant. I suppose I am an atheist, although I can easily admit that I could be wrong. There may be a god, supreme being, Big Kahuna, or something. The universe exists (at least I think it does. There's a deep philosophical conversation all by itself), so it was created. But does that mean there is a creator? Must there be? And even supposing there is, why would anyone assume or want this creator to have predetermined the course of all of our lives?
I believe that things are random. People can change the course of history, but are they destined to do so? Does Hitler become Hitler without the harsh toll of WWI? Does Stalin become Stalin? Does JFK become the man he is if he's born in Michigan instead of Massachusetts? Some people take advantage of the opportunities they are given, and most don't.
I actually like the idea of the universe being a random place. I think it's cool that almost anything could happen. I don't like when something bad happens and people say that it's God's will. That is the biggest copout load of shit imaginable. Your baby drowned in the pool to serve God's plan? Africans are slaughtered in Darfur because God wills it? I can't think of any reason why God would want to push someone's car into a ditch during a storm. God may exist, but like the president of the United States or the CEO of Starbucks, I hope he has better things to do than meddle in the lives of mortals.
Sometimes I wander around and try to see the world as it is, and I'm pretty impressed. Things make sense. You let go of something, it drops. The sun moves from east to west over the course of the day. Rain falls, things grow. Water boils or freezes depending on the temperature, and light travels at 186000 miles per second. These are the laws of nature. If this is your divinity, then so be it. If God created the universe, then the universe must act according to these laws. In recorded history, God has never seen fit to have a sunrise in the west, let a man give birth, or allow one single thing that is born to live forever. The laws of nature are good enough for me, and common sense covers most of the rest.
Do I really need God to tell me not to steal from others, and not to kill my neighbor? And this omnipotent god actually cares if I call him by the wrong name? This omniscient being is so jealous? I'll tell you, hand me the keys to the universe, and I hope I won't waste time on such petty human smallness. If I was God, I think maybe I'd cure cancer. I might eliminate some other sicknesses as well, although I wouldn't eliminate death. People already think of life too frivolously. Death is the only thing that puts it all in perspective. And the promise of reward in some afterlife is just so much pie-in-the-sky to keep people from asking too many questions.
What other conclusion can one come to except that religion exists to protect the status quo? It is man made, and we know this because the rules change all the time. The Vatican swears for centuries that the Earth is flat because God told them so, and then suddenly it isn't? The Mormons don't allow blacks in the church for a century, and then suddenly they're ok? The Jews are are condemned for perpetuity of killing Christ, and suddenly, just twenty centuries later, the edict has changed? Religion serves the purposes of those that run it, and nothing more. It's the greatest pyramid scheme of all time, a supernatural Amway.
And keep your spiritual mumbo-jumbo away from me, too. Your crystals have no power, although they are pretty. Maybe that's really it, now that I think about it. Just keep all of your beliefs away from me. I am not interested. I do not have a need for them. I have no gaping chasm inside of me that requires a supernatural filling, although I have worshiped an eclair or two. Just live your life, believe what you want and please keep it to yourself. I won't say that you're wrong, because I honestly do not know, but when you proselytize, you are insisting that I am wrong, and you don't know anything, either. Belief and knowledge are entirely different, and I will take the latter over the former any day of the week, and twice on Sunday.
It's Sunday. How did you serve your god today? All I did was think about the nature of the universe, and I didn't need to go to a special building to do it. I feel pretty good about it. I feel free.
posted at 6:14 PM
I can't believe I'm saying this, but Paul Wolfowitz got screwed.
This guy, one of the main architects of the failed Iraq policy, later named head of the World Bank, is not the kind of person I feel sorry for, and I can't say that I'm quite to that point. He's got a lot of blood on his hands.
But he just got screwed with his pants on.
When Wolfowitz was being considered for the World Bank gig, he informed the board that he had a relationship with someone already in the bank's employ, and wanted to go on the record so that there were no issues with impropriety. The board told him, no problem, we just have to fire her.
I should say that "her" is Shaha Ali Riza. She had been there for ten years.
This seems patently unfair, and Wolfowitz asked if the board would find her another job that would avoid a conflict of interest within the bank. He was told that he would have to do that himself.
No conflict of interest there, eh World Bank board of directors?
So, Wolfowitz follows the board's instructions, gets her a job that, given her tenure, she'd have probably gotten anyway, and now she's gone, and he's gone. He seems to have been up front about everything from before he started there, tried to avoid being involved in anything that had to do directly with Ms. Riza's department, and even asked for her to be considered for other work by neutral third parties. I'm really not sure what else he could have done to avoid all of this except to have not taken the job.
And that seems to be the point of all of this. Wolfowitz is a bad man, let's ruin his life, and his partner's in the bargain.
Nothing good has been done here. There is nothing whatsoever to be proud of. No wrongs have been righted, and no one has been avenged. Paul Wolfowitz got screwed.
posted at 4:42 PM
A Thousand Dollars
I was at McDonalds earlier today, because I was in the mood for crap. I like crap sometimes, and with that being said, I ordered a Minty Mudd Bath shake. It was delicious, although the color more resembled phlegm than anything else.
As I was ordering, I heard two impressively loud belches from behind me in the seating area. Now, to no one's surprise, I am amused by bodily noises, although more so in the privacy of my home than where others are eating. So, I turn around to look at the guy, and I just wanted to cry.
I get my cup of sputum, and go sit down. The belching guy is still there, although now he is talking in an unnaturally loud voice to his dining companions, one of whom appeared to be a friend, and the other his classy lady. The few chunks of witticism that I understand are bellowed in full white trash-speak, and I am unable to tear my eyes from this man's face. I would guess he was between twenty and twenty-five. He was fully un-self aware. I did a quick estimate of his IQ at 85, tops.
Don't think that this is a simple case of intellectual snobbery on my part. The average IQ of human beings is 100, and by default, half of the people in the world have an IQ less of than that. One out of every two people you see every day is below average. It's not a judgment, only statistics.
After the party had finished its post-meal conversation, belching guy and his girlfriend displayed no uncertain affection for one another, and the urge to weep overcame me once again.
These two are going to reproduce.
I am not a wealthy man, let's be clear about that. But I was honestly very close to walking over to their table and making the following offer:
"I would like you to join me at an attorney's office on Monday. We will draw up a contract which all parties will sign, to the effect that if neither one of you has any children in the next five years, I will at the end of that period pay you one thousand dollars."
I could save a thousand dollars in five years, I'm pretty sure, and I think maybe other people might even contribute to my new cause. But a grand isn't that much money, really, so I thought maybe ten thousand might be better, not that I could afford it.
But what about the government?
We are tested all the time in schools, graded, evaluated, you name it. The government knows who the morons are out there. Why can't we offer people money to not breed, at least in the short term? This isn't sterilization, it's not permanent, and it's not eugenics. Can't we simply pay the least capable would-be-parents to at least hold off until they are a little more mature? Can't we put off the production of some stupid babies for a little while? At least in the woman's case, we narrow the window of fecundity a bit. She may still end up with eight kids, but she'll have a hard time making it to twelve if she waives five of her childbearing years.
The savings would become evident very quickly. I am not criticizing people without health insurance, as I frequently fall into this group. But it isn't people who work for Fortune 500 companies who get knocked up without insurance, an income or some means of support.
Ten grand, tax free at the end of five years, just for not having kids. This is a good deal, for the stupid, and for America.
If anyone has any idea how the hell you start up a government pilot program, please leave a comment. And if you have any idea of how to write up the proposal without using the word "morons," that will help, too. Many thanks.
posted at 7:28 PM
Sharpton v. Hitchens
A thoroughly enjoyable debate between two of the more eloquent speakers out there, Al Sharpton, and Christopher Hitchens. I listened to the audio of the debate when it broadcast recently, but you can enjoy it in all of it's public access-quality video by clicking this link to Slate. It's 90 minutes, but well worth the time.
posted at 5:49 PM
Hitchens on Falwell
This neatly dovetails everyone involved in my last few posts. Serendipity.
The first clip is from CNN, and the second from his appearance with the disgraced Ralph Reed on Fox News' Hannity & Colmes.
Admittedly, making Sean Hannity look dimwitted isn't hard, but Hitchens does it better than most.
posted at 1:14 PM
So, Jerry Falwell has died. I will say, without reservation, that the world is now a better place.
People will tell you that it is wrong to speak ill of the dead, but I am not prepared for any fuzzy, soft-handed retrospectives into the life of this man. He simply does not deserve them. Jerry Falwell was an awful human being, and his death came decades too late by my reckoning.
Falwell was, quite simply, wrong about everything.
It's an astounding record, if you want the truth. You can look at almost any issue where he was on the record, and he was on the wrong side of it. I'm not even talking about political stuff necessarily, or abortion. I'm talking choices that should have been (and were) glaringly obvious to most people.
In 1965, when Falwell was in his thirties, he gave a speech criticizing Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement, which he cleverly referred to as "the civil wrongs movement."
Regulars on his his TV show back then included well-known racists like Lester Maddox and George Wallace, and in 1958, in reference to the landmark desegregation Brown v. Board of Education decision, he declared, “If Chief Justice Warren and his associates had known God’s word and had desired to do the Lord’s will, I am quite confident that the 1954 decision would never have been made…. The facilities should be separate. When God has drawn a line of distinction, we should not attempt to cross that line.”
There is just nothing that warms the heart quite like divinely inspired bigotry. That may also explain his position on the Apartheid regime in South Africa. Where do you suppose he stood on this matter?
If you guessed "in favor of" give yourself a cookie.
During white minority rule, Falwell urged American Christians to buy Kruggerands in order to support the regime. Even fellow men of the cloth were not spared the loving hand of Falwell, as he called to Bishop Desmond Tutu a "phony." He later claimed to have misspoken, explaining he meant to call him a colored agitator who needs a-lynchin'.
All right, I made up just that last part.
Fine, he was a bigot, some people are raised that way. He was anti-gay, which again, in your personal life is your own business, but he used the bible to justify his fear. He was against public schools, trade unions, really believed the Clintons killed Vince Foster, was anti-free speech, was on the record with the assertion that when the Antichrist shows up, he will by necessity be a Jewish male. Let's not forget that he was terrified that one of the Teletubbies might be gay, and yet was close friends with disgraced minister Jim Bakker.
Wrong. About. EVERYTHING.
Let us go back a few years. It is only a couple of days after the events of September 11, 2001. The nation is still in shock, mourning the losses, and united like at no time since World War II. How would our great healers, our men of God help us make sense of these tragedies? Some tuned to Pat Robertson's 700 Club for guidance and understanding. Falwell was a guest, and offered this:
"I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People For the American Way, all of them who have tried to secularize America. I point the finger in their face and say 'you helped this happen.'"
He went on to add that he saw the attacks as God's judgment on America for "throwing God out of the public square, out of the schools. The abortionists have got to bear some burden for this because God will not be mocked."
All these years later, I read these words, and all I can think is what I thought back then: Fuck you, Falwell. Die.
Now he's gone, and I'm actually happy that he's dead. Someone else will take over his grotesque ministry, but hopefully it will lose some of its luster without the cult of personality surrounding Falwell. This was a terrible human being.
I don't believe in heaven or hell, but I almost hope Falwell was right, and I am wrong this time. I hope there is a place where awful, exploitative hatemongers are sent for an eternity of torture.
You've earned it, Jerry. You will not be missed.
posted at 11:48 AM
I bought it
I ran out and bought the Hitchens book, so I guess his next bottle of scotch is on me. I'm eleven pages in, and it's very interesting.
Must be fun to be that smart.
I suppose I should mention that it's called god is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. Let the fatwa begin.
posted at 4:49 PM
What can I say? I enjoy the hell out of Christopher Hitchens. I just saw him again the other night on the Charlie Rose Show, which is something I really need to remember to watch more often. And he was on after Bill Maher, so it was a total acerbic bonus.
Hitchens is an interesting fellow, at least from my perspective, because he's impossible to pin down politically or philosophically. He appears liberal in ways, especially in regard to civil liberties, yet supports the war in Iraq, while deriding Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld,Henry Kissinger, Ronald Reagan, and even Mother Teresa. He agrees with the Neo-Conservatives, severely criticizes Michael Moore, all the while declaring that Christian fundamentalists are a serious threat to America, who would prefer the Bible taught as literal truth in place of provable science.
He's a frequent guest on Maher's HBO show, Real Time with Bill Maher, and during his last appearance, as the closest thing to a conservative on the panel, was regularly booed, to which he responded by flipping off the audience and saying, "fuck you, fuck you."
That's a quality guest, if you ask me.
He's got a new book out called God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything and I'll probably go buy it. The title is either going to intrigue you or enrage you, which is fair to say about all of Hitchens' writing, be they essay or book. He's one of those people, like George Will, who I don't always agree with, but are intelligent enough that their reasoning merits consideration.
Speak a thought intelligently, and I'll consider it. Come at me with emotion or platitudes, and I become mentally absent.
You may not notice.
Labels: Christopher Hitchens
posted at 8:45 PM
Get on up.
posted at 9:03 AM
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