Defining Parameters

by And the White Lion Roars!

And the white lion roars!

When I read up on how to make a blog successful, the advice givers almost always say to post something every week. I clearly do not do that, though I do try. Sometimes it is because there is just so much going on that I am overwhelmed with how to digest it all into this space. Sometimes it is because of a lifelong fear of what other people think of me. Sometimes it is because I make comments in other places that some people that I love seem to take as a personal attack, which makes me reticent to express opinions. In particular I am told that when I make comments about religion, I think everyone who believes is stupid, or my comments are too general and not all religious people are “like that.” But here’s the thing; I was brought up in a very fundamentalist environment, and while I was always a secret skeptic, I tried extremely hard to believe what I was taught. The consequences of not believing were just too egregious to me. I remember in the mid-eighties having dinner at my youngest sister’s apartment, crying. This was the beginning of the time that I started to lose my fear of vocalizing my doubts, at least in certain company. I said to her, “If anything we were ever taught is true, I’m going to hell now.” Who wants to go to hell for eternity? Who wants to spend eternity separated from light and love? And so, somewhere deep inside of me is a longing for it still to be true, and maybe some envy of those who do plainly have experiences that support the spiritual and mystical. I would love to see a ghost. I would love to have an experience of God in some form. But it has not happened for me. Some say I need to have faith first. But some part of my “self” can’t do that. As one of my scientific heroes has said, I don’t want to live by faith, I want evidence. I am fascinated by stories of paranormal experience, and the religious mystics, but again, I am envious and skeptical of their experiences. I do not believe that religious people are unintelligent or foolish. I know many religious people who are definitely neither. I simply do not share their belief or experience, and thus I am interested in what they have to say, I want to know what it is like to experience these things. I also get that life can never be completely rational. There are some things that can’t be explained by science. But the big thing here for me is that science is okay with admitting that it can be wrong when new evidence is presented. Religion is an exercise in certainty, which can be dangerous. If one clings to answers that have been disproven, they become angrier and angrier when evidence that refutes that belief is shown. That kind of anger can lead to intifadeh. Or crusades. Or terrorism against the places that dispute whatever belief is being questioned.

That said, I do have some ongoing problems with the Judeo/Christian/Muslim teachings, and some of the current violence going on in the name of God. These actions are mostly being conducted by Muslims and Hindus, but Christians and Jews have done their share of violence, and continue to do so, but not at the same scale. When I criticize religion it is often Christianity that gets the nod, because that is what I am most familiar with, and in the United States it is currently the majority religion. If there is a news story about any religion except Islam, it is most often about something within the Christian spectrum. One of these in recent months has been the County Clerk of Rowan County, Kentucky, Kim Davis. Since SCOTUS legalized gay marriage on June 26, 2015, fundamentalist Christians have been up in arms about how it violates their religious freedom to be expected to provide any kind of service to gay people. Ms. Davis has refused to issue marriage licenses from her county and has even been jailed on contempt charges for this, and has become a cause celebre with fundamentalist candidates for president in 2016. After she created a huge storm over her refusal, she started going on the morning talk shows to defend herself and her beliefs. The press had uncovered that she has been married four times, plainly against biblical rules, and that she even became pregnant out of wedlock, and cheated on her last husband with her current one. When confronted with how unbiblical her lifestyle has been she retorted that those earlier ‘sins’ were forgiven because she was not saved then, but now she is forgiven. She is not the first Christian I’ve heard to use this argument. “Once a person is saved, all their sins are forgiven, past, present and future.” How convenient for them. The trouble I have with it is that there were many people involved in her past life. The husbands she cheated on, her children, etc. The people who preach this particular gospel do not feel any amends are necessary, nor is it necessary for them to try to live by biblical principles. Whatever they do, they are forgiven. Adultery, theft, gossip, alcoholism and drug addiction-with all the pain and destruction it causes; all forgiven. I once knew someone who had this belief, who was basically a terrible human being, and he treated his widowed mother horribly! I asked him about that, and he said it doesn’t matter, he’s forgiven. But I’m pretty sure it mattered to his mother, and to Kim Davis’ ex-husbands, and on and on. And to the family of a murder victim whose murderer found Jesus in prison. Here’ my idea, as someone who is fairly familiar with Twelve Step Programs, I believe that before these people get to use the “I’m saved and forgiven now,” they must make amends to the people they’ve hurt.

I have been involved in some conversations recently with some people I know who are supporters of the so called “Gospel of Prosperity,” which is SO popular with many upper middle class white people these days. The notion is that if you are obscenely, ostentatiously rich, it is proof that you are ‘good with god.’ It is a disgusting perversion of the New Testament, but it just keeps being started up again by preachers who hammer this message to their congregations Sunday after Sunday. I will never defend these predators, who are really the only ones prospering from this defamation of the bible they claim to believe literally as having been written directly from the hand of god. The thing I discovered though, when researching for this post, some, if not most,  of these preachers grew up poor. So at least we can get enough into their psyches to understand why bling and money and houses, etc, drive them so hard. They are still a blight on society, adding to the owning stuff = success, therefore, if I own lots of flashy cars, flashy clothes, private planes, etc,it only proves what a good person I am. If you don’t have all this, then get right with god and you can have it too. The thing is, though, that in said bible, Jesus had much to say about being good to the poor, and the orphan and widow. And yet the people who attend these ‘mega-churches’ buy in to the political rhetoric that says the poor are lazy do nothings who just want handouts. The poor are demonized, the rich are lionized, and our society gets further and further away from the Declaration of Independence’s claim that “all men are created equal.” There is no longer equality in this country, and the lies about why are being reinforced by the religious side and the political side. But it isn’t working for everyone, and someone needs to figure out why and how to fix it, instead of becoming so entrenched in the notion that “I have mine, fuck you.” This whole notion enforces the reasons why I disdain religion. I’m not angry at God, I don’t believe he exists; how can I be angry with him? But I do have many troubles with religion and its excuses for not following what it claims to believe.

Enough heaviness. I usually start with some questions about cultural things that make me wonder about stuff. One thing that I’ve been meaning to ask for some time has to do with the financial crisis in Greece. I’m curious what can be done about it. I’ve never been to Greece, but I’ve never seen a photo of Greece that didn’t take my breath away. So I’m left to ask the European Union (EU) what they would like Greece to do to start making more money. Should they build factories? Would their rocky shores and ancient building even permit such endeavors, or would they prevent construction and crumble to pieces from it? Would we want those coastlines and historic sites destroyed by buildings, people moving in to take jobs in a new construction industry, and the attendant pollution? There are so few beautiful places left; what should Greece do about this conflict between creating more revenue for the state and maintaining it’s beauty and history? I don’t have an answer, but I wish there was one.

Finally, I remember in 2012, immediately after President Obama’s reelection, I emailed several news stations and opinion sites suggesting a moratorium on discussing the 2016 race until now, November 2015. They ignored me (Whaaaaaat!) But now we are a couple of months away from primary season. I will admit openly to being a Bernie Sanders supporter. I have had a few people say to me that they are surprised I’m not a Hillary Clinton supporter, and instead of arguing it out I just tell them that if she gets the nomination, I will vote for her. The republican side, however, appears to be one giant embarrassment after another. In particular Jeb Bush, brother of President George W. Bush, son of President George H.W. Bush. I’ve been saying for weeks that I get the impression Jeb doesn’t really want to be there. There may be a few reasons why, but my theory is that his “people” told him he was inevitable, and now, with so many republican candidates, he is actually having to work for the nomination. He seems to believe that he shouldn’t have to convince anyone that he is the one for whom they should vote. And so he is surly and inarticulate, and seems to dig ever deeper holes every time he speaks. The other is Dr. Ben Carson, alleged retired neurosurgeon. I say alleged because this man seems frighteningly uninformed about anything remotely resembling life and reality. I know doctors. I work with doctors, and I  have some doctors in my social orbit. While they all have their own individual personalities, some quite quirky, some nerdy, some fairly “normal” seeming. But each of them can demonstrate that they were at least remotely qualified to enter medical school and achieve the hard requirements to become a medical doctor or surgeon. Some are down to earth and open to all kinds of other people, some believe themselves to be gods, superior over anyone with less education and expertise. But all of them can hold a reasonable conversation, except Dr. Ben Carson. They all seem to be proud of their accomplishments as is; they don’t have to make up all kinds of stories, as Dr. Ben Carson has done. I’ve heard it said the he has embellished his childhood thugishness in order to make his autobiography, Gifted Hands more of a redemption story. It reminds me of a guy I used to know who was a competitive body builder who went to youth groups and churches to share his story and demonstrate his strength. I challenged him about it when I learned that he used steroids; he made no bones about his reasons, “If I go into a school to tell the kids that my relationship with God made me successful at weight lifting, and I’m not built up enough, they won’t believe me.” He truly didn’t get that he was committing a terrible fraud. And so is Ben Carson, when he lies about being offered a full scholarship to West Point, or having stabbed people as a youth, or got into fights as a young man in school. And when he then complains that the media is being unfair by researching his past he is being disingenuous because he asked for this. He chose to run for president-he wasn’t drafted by the party on the twelfth ballot of the convention. He claims that lots of people told him he should run for president because they so admire him. But during the months before he announced, he should have had ‘his people’ or his exploratory committee look into what it would be like so that they could be sure he was ready for this. Who remembers Laura Bush saying that one of the things she dreaded about her husband running for president was the awful things people would say about him? Hell, all Carson had to do is read some conservative papers and websites and talking heads to see how viscerally and viciously President Obama has been attacked. If he were an honest man, he would admit that President Obama has had it worse than anyone-EVER! And a close second is Hillary Clinton whose every breath and fart are investigated as a potential crime or scandal. Every word out of either of their mouths is disseminated to hell and back to check its veracity, or to find evidence of plans for a Black Panther take over of the government and execute all white people. My conclusion is, that after listening to Ben Carson all these months, he is a fraud. This man who is being pushed out front of the republican party’s so-called “clown car” is not the man who was the first to separate conjoined twin who were connected at the brain. This man is not educated, and certainly couldn’t have made it through medical school. And while I realize that he is the less offensive black man that the conservatives can use as proof that they are not racist, he is not anything else that they are saying he is. I want someone to investigate what happened to the real Doctor Ben Carson. What did this man with the violent and fabricated past do with the body. Someone should look into this.

Step Four in a Twelve Step Program, such as Alcoholics Anonymous, is to go to people the addict has harmed and make amends.

Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Astrophysicist, Director of the Hayden Planetarium, at the American Museum of Natural History