Man’s malevolence

Mankind is a misnomer. 

For as long we’ve existed, man’s kindness has been matched by his cruelty. 

We’re a volatile and combustible mix of the easily misguided. Too often (under the influence of others), we drift towards our darker nature, nestle up to fear, hand reason over to blind faith, or swear a misguided allegiance to political tribes. In the past, this has led humankind down dark paths where we deny our fellow man freedom and dignity on a mass scale. 

That’s been our history.

We’ve seen how the fluidity by which we move from our better selves to our darker nature is influenced by the world around us. We’re not immune to the momentum of tumultuous events. And, because we’re more connected (technologically speaking) than ever before, we’re more susceptible to being collectively influenced, manipulated, and pushed towards our darker nature.

This is nothing new. We’ve teetered on the edge of darkness before. Manipulated by political and religious movements that feed on fear, hate, and irrationality. Unfortunately, I believe we’re teetering one of those precipices now, as world events push mankind towards our darker nature.

I still believe America can be a force for positive change. I’m not talking about nationalistic flag-waving “USA, USA, USA!!” patriotism, but rather all of us living by and promoting the ideals and ideas of Western Democracy. 

To make mankind kind again, we must consciously engage in acts of kindness, resist being influenced by fear and fear mongers, put reason above religion, and ditch political tribalism for critical and idea-based thinking. 

The uptick in political, social media posts about what’s going on in Afghanistan reveals just how shallow and vulnerable we’ve become. Sadly, the willingness to parlay human tragedy for political hay (I’ve done it myself) represents troubling fault lines for our country. 

Joe Biden did not blow up Americans and Afghanis at the Airport in Kabul – religious extremists did. Instead of focusing on the enemies of reason and rationality, many Americans devolve into sectarianism, focusing their contempt on the American President. 

I’m not suggesting Biden not be held accountable for missteps and intelligence failures that occur on his watch – he should be. But, instead, I’m suggesting that we remember Biden is not the enemy. Biden is not a religious extremist. He believes in American ideals. Our fight is not with him; it’s with ISIS, the Taliban, and any of the other man-made entities that are hellbent on pushing us to a darker existence.

I’m also suggesting that we differentiate malevolence from incompetence when critiquing our leaders. But, unfortunately, that requires nuanced and critical thinking – lost skills in America today.

Every President has moments of incompetence. Kennedy had his Bay of Pigs; Obama had his healthcare rollout. Bush fucked up majorly with his weapons of mass destruction debacle. Reagan screwed the pooch with Iran Contra, and Jimmy Carter botched a hostage rescue. 

Humans are at the helm of intelligence. They push the pen and ink onto intelligence reports, and leaders act on the assessments. And sometimes, they make mistakes. And when this happens, citizens should speak up and demand accountability. 

But Malevolence is a different kettle of fish. 

Malevolence is knowing a pandemic is deadly but telling others just the opposite for personal political gain.

Malevolence is proposing our military shoot protesters in the legs or that leakers of information be executed.

Malevolence is spreading lies about election security and promoting insurrectionist movements against America. 

Malevolence is courting and praising dictators for the control they have over their citizens.

That’s Malevolence. 

Let’s not confuse Incompetence with Malevolence. 

And malevolent leaders and wanna-be dictators thrive in periods of uncertainty. And sometimes, in a storm of uncertainty, citizens become blind to malevolent leaders. 

Let’s stay vigilant.

When it comes to our transience, honesty is the best policy

If we’re lucky, our postmortem shelf-life lasts about 2 generations. After that, the story of us fades from existence entirely.  When the collective memory others have of us disappears, we move from mostly dead to truly dead.  

We might live a few extra minutes a year in the side glances of strangers who pass by our gravestones (on their way to visit a soon-to-be-permanently-forgotten loved one).

A clever quip on a headstone, and the laughter it generates, can raise us from the dead for a few moments. But honestly, that seems like a desperate attempt by the departed to prolong their existence.

YouTube is a heaven on Earth. A digital preservation of the self that survives after we pass. I believe our subconscious desire for everlasting life is at the core of YouTube’s popularity. We’re the modern-day version of the sculptor in Percy Shelley’s Ozymandias, posting digital carvings of ourselves in a futile attempt to stem the tide of our own transience.

As the final memory of us fades to black, we transition from the warmth of humanity to the cold breathless inanimate. In the end, our blood, bone, and guts give way to the flat and dimensionless world of dusty photos, handwritten notes, password-protected social media sites, and, possibly, a couple of YouTube or Tik Tok videos.

Such is our fate.

The thought of man’s impermanence was so bothersome, we invented the concept of an afterlife as as counterbalance. Entire religions have baked the notion of everlasting life into their concocted fairy tales. Most of us were probably raised in a religion that fostered such beliefs.

All of us were probably told by our parents that grandma and grandpa were in heaven, and one day “you’ll see them again!” I’m not sure our parents actually believed this. It’s more likely they were simply repeating what their parents told them, or perhaps they thought this lie would somehow protect us or make us less fearful. Maybe they were just too damn lazy to level with us. Probably a combination of all of these.

I think this world would be a better place if we were just honest with ourselves about our impermanence, and more importantly, honest with our kids about it, from early-on.

Embracing the truth that life is temporary, would make us value and appreciate it more.

Instead of telling our kids that by obeying a set of rules, they’ll get to live forever, we should teach them to live a life that leaves this world in better shape than they found it — so their children and everyone else who comes after them have an opportunity to live comfortably, without undue suffering.  

Instead of lying to our kids about heaven, preach to them about human rights and the importance of equity and for preserving our planet.

A philosophy that embraces our temporary nature and stresses a responsibility to preserve the planet for future generations would go a long way towards improving the here-and-now.

All this nonsense about an afterlife has had a negative effect on our culture and our planet. It’s a good example of how well-intentioned dishonesty can be just as destructive as malevolent dishonesty.

A man of no importance

A man of no importance

leans against the city’s sounds

telling every passerby

to lay their worry down

Every day at one o’clock

appears this weary warner

a bible in his bony hand

on the same street corner

A cautionary caller,

Throwing words into the wind

He warns us of our avarice

our decadence and sin

“A double-dose of Jesus Christ”

That’s what he says we need

“The grace of god the glory

Will free us from our greed!”

Most don’t even look up

Or glance in his direction

Ignoring his crusade against

The devil’s insurrection

Steadfastly undeterred

“There are souls in need of saving!”

Raining grace upon us

with his ranting and his raving

And every day at 5 o’clock

Amidst the non-compliance

He bows his head quite suddenly

Retreating into silence

And in this act of piety

Is when he’s noticed most of all

The man of no importance

Becomes important after all

“Sending Prayers”

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If God is all knowing and all powerful, I suspect a single prayer is all he or she needs (or wants for that matter). Anything more than one is probably just noise to the almighty.

If there’s a God (there isn’t), I don’t imagine him or her saying “99 prayers… Damn! Just one short. Unfortunately, Aunt Bertha has to go”.

I understand the formulaic and informal nature of human dialog:

Person A: “My aunt is going in for surgery today”

Person B: “I’ll say a prayer”

I get that.

But I’m dumbfounded by people who think whispering upward actually makes a difference, or that there’s a correlation between the number of prayers posted on Facebook and Aunt Bertha’s chance of surviving an illness or medical procedure. To me, that’s delusional thinking.

I get annoyed by people asking for prayers on Facebook. I get agitated at the thought of “prayer posses”. Does that make me a dick? I kind of think it does. Why does it bother me so much when people solicit prayers?

I assume that anyone over a certain age and of minimal life-experience knows that prayers or “positive vibes” don’t do jack. Logically, if prayer worked, no one would get cancer, mass shootings would be a thing of the past, and Donald Trump would not exist.

After the first 100 prayers with no results, don’t all sane people come to a common-sense conclusion — that sometimes Aunt Bertha makes it  — sometimes she doesn’t, and the outcome has nothing to do with praying.

When a friend or relative is in need, instead of offering prayers, maybe ask what you can “do”.

“If you want, I can bring in the mail and help pay the bills.”

“I can get your kids get off to school every morning and can pick them up from soccer practice”

“I’m preparing some meals for the family, just pop them in the microwave.”

“Don’t worry about house cleaning –I can come over on Tuesdays and get all that taken care of, just focus on getting better.”

“I can walk the dog on Thursdays and Saturdays and my kids can help walk her on the other days.”

These offers are infinitely more valuable than whispering upward.

P.S

You can still pray if you want (no help / no harm I suppose), but follow that prayer up with acts of kindness that help the person in need directly and in a concrete way.

The Malleable Beliefs of Evangelicals

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What happens when your political idol’s actions and words are opposed to what your religion promotes?

Do you stand firm by your faith, or do you follow your idol?

Do you risk being ostracized by your church or shunned by your political, social group?

Oh, the pain and discomfort of sacrifice!

But wait, there’s another way!

With the birth of Republican Jesus, you can stand by your religion AND swear allegiance to a demagogue who espouses the opposite views of your lord and savior!

Isn’t America Great!

Republican Jesus is no less genuine than Original Jesus (or Extra Crispy Jesus, for that matter).

People have been bending religion to fit their worldview from the beginning of time. Man created God, not the other way around. When you start with that fact, everything you see in today’s Evangelical community makes perfect sense. And let’s face it, it becomes easier to bend and contort one’s religious views in a world where God is less visible than ever before.

Fuck being uncomfortable with contradiction; let’s be Christ-like and Un-Christ-like in the same breath! Once you start, it’s easy to continue! It’s a brand-new all-encompassing carpet-bomb-the-caravan-and-fuck-the-disenfranchised religious freedom!

Step 1. Cherry-pick your favorite bits and pieces from that book written in iron-age ignorance.

Step 2. Infuse it with a political ideology that suits your worldview.

Step 3. Well, you get the gist.

Before the first charlatan saw religion as a money maker and a kingmaker, religion’s primary purpose was personal and somewhat benign (at least initially). Religion eased our fear of death and explained the unexplainable. In the hardware store of life, you could find religion in the aisle for caulking and other “gap fillers.”

Now that politicians know just how fluid the beliefs are for many Evangelicals, they take full advantage. And the President is leading the way.

To politicians, malleable faith has become the low-hanging fruit of our electorate. Evangelicals’ susceptibility to authoritarianism and an innate fear of different people represents political opportunity, money, and votes at the ballot box.

Today’s Evangelicals are evolving (how ironic!) before our very eyes. In a twisting tsunami of hypocrisy and verbal gymnastics, Evangelical leaders dismiss adultery, kidnapping, and murder, so long as political bed-mates deliver favors unto them or to their America. And the Evangelical flock follows blindly. Their relationship with the President is like a loveless marriage – purely transactional. They give him support; he packs the court. As a result, all the contradictions of the President’s behavior to their faith get dismissed or obfuscated.

I suspect, like the rest of us, Evangelicals understand if Donald Trump (or either of his sons) knocked up the help, there’d be an abortion doctor on the doorstep faster than you can say “fetus.” But Evangelicals have struck a Faustian bargain with the Orange Devil, simultaneously turning their heads and supporting them.

Anyone with an ounce of intellect knows Trump is less Christian than a salamander or a turd. Yet, he uses his relationship with Evangelicals in a quest for power and money.

To the skeptic and realist, all of this is as clear as day.

Our best hope for turning this shit show around are young people, who are generally less religious than their parents, and who see the marriage of politics and religion for what it is, a marriage of convenience that benefits the few and endangers the rest.

Let’s hope they get out and vote because the longer this goes on, the harder it is to stop.

DOMA, Dogma minus the G

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As the date for opening arguments on the constitutionality of the defense of marriage act (DOMA) approaches, we are seeing a flurry of newspaper articles and talk show discussions related to the case.

The defense of marriage act (DOMA) defines marriage as the legal union of one man and one woman for federal and inter-state recognition purposes in the United States.

Predictably, those affiliated with the Catholic church and religious-right believe DOMA is constitutional, but argue their case mainly on the basis of morality.

On the state level, RI lawmakers have introduced bills to legalize Gay marriage. This week Bishop Tobin, called on Rhode Island’s General Assembly to reject same-sex marriage in the state, stating that same-sex marriage is “immoral and unnecessary” .

Now, in my opinion, the catholic church preaching about morality is akin to the Chinese government espousing the virtues of freedom and democracy – that boat don’t float.

Many hundreds of years ago, the religious powers-that-be saw homosexual behavior as out of the norm and, without the benefit of science or understanding, labeled it as sinful, immoral, and abhorrent.

Now, fast forward to today, where, with the benefit of science (and a slightly more tolerant society) we know and understand that sexual orientation is an innate trait. Homosexuality is not a disease to be cured any more than eye color or hair color is. But still the Catholic church and religious-right refuse to acknowledge science, reason, and basic fairness and instead remain blindfully obedient to dogma.

If we woke up in “bizarro world” tomorrow, where heterosexuals were the minority, would we not fight for our right in the same manner that gays and lesbians are fighting today? I believe we would. Would we naturally continue to prefer the opposite sex? Yes, we would. Would we just accept being labeled as perverted, sinful, and immoral? God, I hope not.

I’ll end with a message and some advice to the catholic church:

You are on the wrong side of this argument. More and more people, especially young people (you know, the ones you should be trying to bring into the church!) understand that homosexuality is not a learned behavior or character flaw. They see hardworking, caring, and intelligent people who “happen to be gay”. Be open to the idea that many hundreds of years ago, when mankind did not have the benefit of science, the church mistakenly characterized homosexuality as a sin. Don’t continue to mischaracterize it, instead, embrace the science, reverse your position (no pun intended) and stick to what you’re good at, providing spiritual guidance and helping the needy and the poor.

When imagining is not enough

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“Imagine there’s no heaven

It’s easy if you try

No hell below us

Above us only sky

Imagine all the people living for today” – John Lennon

I love the song. I love the sentiment. But we need to take it to the next level, because imagining it just isn’t enough.

If we want things to improve on this little planet of ours, the first step is to get people to understand, that this little planet of ours is not a stepping stone.

If we truly want the world to be as one, let’s begin by swinging the wrecking ball of reality at all organized religions and knock down the walls that divide us. In fact, let’s demolish the myth of heaven and hell altogether, not just because it’s bullshit – but because embracing the concept of one life, one planet puts the focus on the here and now.

More in a little bit. . .

“And it’s not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy toward people who aren’t like them”

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I remember how those words, spoken by then candidate Barack Obama, caused such and an up-roar in America.

Yesterday, as violent uprisings spread throughout the Arab world, I thought to myself these same exact words, used to describe attitudes of Americans in small midwestern towns, could also be used to describe the  Islamists storming our embassy in Egypt and Libya.

What does it mean to “cling” to one’s religion? Well obviously it’s not a flattering comment (that’s why so many people got pissed). It’s kind of the opposite of saying people are getting strength from their religion. It conjured up images of angry, white (only because a black man said it); uneducated families huddled around their own prejudiced thoughts while holding a bible in one hand and shotgun in the other.

What Barack Obama was saying was that when times are tough, especially economically, people grab onto these two things (religion and guns), not as a means to get them through difficult times, but as a way of nullifying what they believe to be socio-economic injustice. I may not have all that you have, but I have Jesus Christ and a semi-automatic hand gun – and that trumps everything!

Those extremists storming our embassy have been on jelly-side down side of the socioeconomic sandwich for generations – for many of them, the only thing they have is their God and their religion.

Insult that, or demean it in any way, and they see it as an attempt to take away the one thing they believe they have that is superior to all things material, their God.