Posts tagged ‘hope’

If There Were a God, I Would Think He is Trying to Tell Us Something

Devastating hurricanes in Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, Houston, and now massively destructive fires in California.  So when’s the big quake? I don’t want to point this out, but the pain and suffering is spread around between both partisan sides of the political spectrum.  The only constant through all of this is the President of the United States, who a minority of the people elected and then shit happened.  Could this be a sign?

Of course all of this could look benign compared to what could happen if the Dotard In Charge (DIC) starts a war on the Korean Peninsula, withdraws from the Iran agreement, hastening their nuclear program, kills Obamacare so millions are once again left without healthcare (oh, they have access, they just can’t afford that access), while his EPA Chief allows the raping of the environment again, all, of course, in the name of reducing regulations and letting the market place work.  There is nature’s fury, and then there is man made damage caused by the DIC put in place by ignorant and ill informed voters, and enabled by power hungry Republicans. If I believed in God, maybe a sacrifice, say the DIC himself, would appease him.

Speaking of God, the other day I was sitting in my truck in the grocery store parking lot waiting for she who must not be mentioned here to get her coffee (we were on our way to the big city to get my Lupron shot for my prostate cancer, maybe another sign), when a nice young lady tapped on my window and asked my about my decal on my truck (a fish sign with legs and the words Darwin written across it).  She said in these troubled times (no shit) she was using her religion to try to comfort people.  She asked directly if I was an atheist, which I said yes, and she asked why.  You try to answer that in 10 words or less.  She asked if something had happened to me to reject God.  I thought about saying I think he has rejected us, but I did not.

I did try to explain to her that being an atheist does not mean, even in these times, that I do not have both spirituality and hope.  Isn’t life a gift enough without a fairy godfather?  But I also explained to her that I respected her faith and would never try to change that.  Atheism is not a religion, and I do not need converts, it is just my personal observation.  I know that faith and religion greatly helps some people and who the hell am I to try to take that away.  The nice thing about this encounter was that she was not trying to proselyze me, but to offer encouragement to someone who she thought may need it.  Her way was through her religious beliefs and some of the wisdoms she found in her Bible.

I bring all this up because when shit happens, people mostly seem to come together and try to help each other whether they are gay, transsexual, immigrant, conservative, liberal, black, white, atheist, Christian, Muslim, well, you get the gist.  God is not a player in that we want to help each other because it is innate in the human condition.  One person who was standing in the dust and ash of what was left of everything they owned, said, you can either stand here and grieve or help others.  What we should learn from these disasters is that either God doesn’t exist, or he doesn’t give a shit.  Either way we are left to our own devices and what I have seen is that those devices in most people are something to be proud of.

In this world we live in, a lot of us define ourselves by our possessions so when we have a devastating loss, well, we are devastated.  And then we seem to be able to rise above it.  And the lesson in a world created right now by the DIC and Republicans is, they have it wrong, we are all in this together and shit happens.  It has nothing to do with how hard we work, or what or who we believe in,  We live in a world where chaos is becoming more prevalent because of man’s selfish actions.  Time to maybe understand we really are our brother’s keeper.  And that my friends, from an atheist.

One other thing as I watch disaster, man-made in action.  A Republican was being interviewed by Andrea Mitchell about what is coming out about the DIC, the meeting where he wanted to know why we weren’t expanding our nuclear stockpile, the shock of those around him, the fucking moron comment by Rex Tillerson, and the tweet storm.  This guy tried to normalize it as well this happens in all administrations and needs to be kept behind closed doors.  No it doesn’t you Little Dotard (LD).  This is not normal.

In the same vein, on CNN they were discussing NBC’s reporting of the above and the DICs tweet this morning:

Some pundit when asked about the DIC’s threat to revoke the license on NBC because he does not like the story, said he was probably joking, to which the host, who had a clue, said president don’t joke about attacking the fundamental value to our democracy of the free press, and the pundit replied, well this is the new normal.  NO IT IS NOT YOU MORON! This is absolutely abnormal and it is how we lose democracy if you start defining it as normal.  We have to understand that our democracy is under attack from the Oval Office and we had better start coming together to fight it because the Republicans are normalizing it.

Best of Times, Worst of Times

I remember 2008 when we thought the nightmare of Republican stupidity was finally over.  We had a young President-Elect who told us about hope.  Yes We Can!  Now it is 2016 and the nightmare of Republican in 2008 looks benign compared to what we are seeing displayed before us with the election of Donald Trump and his selection of people to head up government.  People are not being put in charge of major parts of our government to make them run better, but to destroy them.  So what happened?  How did we come to this?

Well I have clearly pointed out the failure of Democrats to present a coherent way forward, Republican obstruction, the failure of our news media to cover real news and be consumed by infotainment.  But what really happened is that people gave up on government because it was not addressing any of their problems.  An establishment candidate running in 2016 was making the same old arguments we have heard forever, and nothing changed.  So again what happened?  In 2008 we had the House, the Senate, and the Presidency and nothing changed, that is really what happened.  Here is a chart from the Washington Post demonstrating the devastation of the Democratic Party over the last 8 years:


And now the Democrats re-elect the same leaders in Congress?  But they are fighting the good fight right?  Maybe not.  While as I noted above the Republicans have obstructed most things Democrats want to do, why don’t the people see that? The rubes as I like to call them, just put an idiot in charge of the government.  And he/they seem to be bent on destroying the very foundations of our government.  How did the people get so angry and disenchanted that they would do such a thing?

Well I think I got my answer. I was watching Fareed Zakaria (recorded) and he had a guest on, Thomas Frank, and he got my attention.  He describe  how the Democrats really changed nothing.  His basic thesis, and mine, is the underlying economic inequality that is built into our system of government and economy is the problem.  So I got really interested and picked up his book, Listen, Liberal: or Whatever Happened to the Party of the People?  I could not put it down.  Usually non-fiction holds my interest for about the first 50 pages or so then I wonder if they are beating a dead horse.  But this one held my interest.  I think he nailed it.  So I am going to give you some of his insights and hope you read it.

First the symptom of the problem:

In the summer of 2014, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average hitting all-time highs, a poll showed that nearly three-quarters of the American public thought the economy was still in recession—because for them, it was.  There was a time when average Americans knew whether we were going up or going down—because when the country prospered, its people prospered, too. But these days, things are different. From the middle of the Great Depression up to 1980, the lower 90 percent of the population, a group we might call “the American people,” took home some 70 percent of the growth in the country’s income. Look at the same numbers beginning in 1997—from the beginning of the New Economy boom to the present—and you find that this same group, the American people, pocketed none of America’s income growth at all. Their share of the good times was zero. The gains they harvested after all their hard work were nil. The upper 10 percent of the population—the country’s  financiers, managers, and professionals—ate the whole thing. The privileged are doing better than at any time since economic records began. 

…At the other end of the social ladder, meanwhile, it is all upside all the time. In 2012, corporate profits (measured as a share of gross domestic product) hit their highest level on record. In 2014, according to a much-discussed think tank report, the total of all the bonuses handed out on Wall Street was more than twice as much as the total earned by every person in the country who worked full-time for the minimum wage. 

…And that’s where we are, eight years post-hope (Obama). Growth that doesn’t grow; prosperity that doesn’t prosper. The country, we now understand, is simply no longer arranged in such a way as to make its citizens economically secure.

Next, the response of the Democratic Party.  While the Republicans certainly are responsible for the plutocracy we see that is accelerating this economic inequality, the Democrats really facilitated it:

But it is time we understood that our current situation represents a failure of the Democratic Party as well…When it comes to tackling the “defining challenge of our time,” however, many of our modern Democratic leaders falter. They acknowledge that inequality is rampant and awful, but they cannot find the conviction or imagination to do what is necessary to reverse it. Instead they offer the same high-minded demurrals and policy platitudes they’ve been offering since the 1980s. They remind us that there’s nothing anyone can do about globalization or technology. They promise charter schools, and job training, and student loans, but other than that—well, they’ve got nothing.

…This is not because they are incompetent or because sinister Republicans keep thwarting the righteous liberal will. It is Democratic failure, straight up and nothing else. The agent of change isn’t interested in the job at hand. Inequality just doesn’t spark their imagination. It is the point at which their famous compassion peters out.

What I am suggesting is that their inability to address the social question is not accidental. The current leaders of the Democratic Party know their form of liberalism is somehow related to the good fortune of the top 10 percent. Inequality, in other words, is a reflection of who they are. It goes to the very heart of their self-understanding.

In other words, the Democratic Party is part of the problem.  The system needs fundamental change and the Democrats are not offering it, just trying to smooth out the edges as the ship of inequality sails further into the inequality sea.  And here is where he really got me.  How was Obama, our hope, such a disappointment?  Oh, I know, he did x, y, and z, which is going to be all undone by the Republicans, and as Mr. Frank points out, it really did not change the system at all. So where did we go from hope to malaise? Mr. Frank is talking about when he knew nothing would change and he paralleled my experience:

I clung to the “hope” for a little while longer than that. I can remember the exact moment when I finally gave it up—it was the first time I heard the phrase “grand bargain,” Barack Obama’s pet term for his proposed deficit and tax deal with the Republicans. In a split second I understood the whole thing: that big compromises like this were real to the president, but “change” was not. I had known that Obama had a passion for centrist talk; everyone did. Bipartisan conciliation was the theme of Obama’s famous keynote speech at the 2004 Democratic convention. It was one of the themes of his 2008 stump speech, when he talked so inspiringly about “the politics of addition, not the politics of division.”

What was shocking about all this was to realize that Obama believed these clichés. Consensus, bipartisanship, the “center”: those were the things this admirable and intelligent man was serious about—the kind of stale, empty verbiage favored by Beltway charlatans on the Sunday talk shows…What I realized in the instant when I heard that phrase was that this man, in whom I and so many others had placed such faith, was in fact another ordinary consensus Democrat with ordinary consensus ideas. He believed the same tired partisanship-deploring platitudes as everyone else. 

Nothing could budge our leadership class from this illusion. Unemployment could hit 50 percent, foreclosures could sweep through entire states, there could be riots in every city in the land, and the TV hosts would still be moaning about how dreadful it is that Democrats and Republicans don’t agree on things. Which brings us face-to-face with our mystery: how is it that, in our moment of utmost need, a fake crisis like the problem of “extreme partisanship” was able to trump the real deal? These are not Obama’s shortcomings alone. They are failings of the party he leads. They are, in a word, ours. It’s time to own up.

And that is just from his introduction.  And he hit a nerve with me.  While the Press goes on and on talking about partisan fights, as though that somehow degrades them, they are really about the soul of our country.  The Republicans are leading us off a cliff, and Democrats and the Press think that the solution is somewhere in the middle (if they would just quit fighting and compromise!) when it is not.  Bernie got it and he was the only one on the Democratic stage that did.  He came from nowhere and got overrun by the Democratic establishment.  Well go look at the graph at the beginning of this blog.  They are killing us and Democrats have to represent the working class again.  This is not bringing back jobs that will not come back, but change the whole system so that the benefits are shared more justly.  Until the Democrats wake up to this, they are a dying party.

Some Ramblings

Many years ago I came across a book and I believe its title was, It Gave Everyone Something to Do. It was the true story of some rich young people who went on a ever escalading wave of crime, because, well they were bored.  Somehow that book, although not a great work of writing, stuck a cord with me.  We need a purpose.  We need to feel our life is meaningful.  I think we evolved that way.  Life in the early going was a struggle and every day was a challenge.  We evolved to be the ultimate challenge meeters.  

In today’s world, at least in the Western world, life is not such a struggle.  Having an 8 to 5 job until you die is not that fulfilling.  Not unless that job gives your life meaning.  So we find it in other ways.  Family is the big one.  It gives you purpose and meaning (it’s not just about you anymore) until they move away.  But even then, for most of us, they are our life.  Religion is another.  I happened to be one of those who believes we invented it to explain our chaotic world and to give our lives meaning.  Just have faith.

Even the wealthy get bored, so the pursuit of money ends up a dead end.  What is meaningful about a pile of money, unless of course you used it to help others, and then our life has meaning in helping others.  In other words we need to feel relevant, that we make a difference.  I look at ISIS as the ultimate expression of this.  I see its draw to young fools as an embodiment of the feeling that life is misplaced, that we don’t count.  The very work jihad is to be on a crusade.  And the best part of all is that it is a mission from god so you can do no wrong.  You are chosen. No more feeling like a loser.

There was another book I read many years ago called The Wretched of the Earth, about Algiers and the hopelessness they felt under French rule which made them suicidal.  They literally had nothing to lose. I think it is some of both.  So when we look to counter this, we have to be mindful that people need a purpose, and they have to have hope. It’s a tall order, and I am not sure how you give that to people.  I get up every morning excited to be alive.  But I have hope and a purpose and we have to be mindful of those who don’t.

So when we go after ISIS as I think we should, we have to remember that afterward we have to fill that void.  And that is the real challenge.

Choosing Hope Over War

Did you listen Sunday to all the whining about the Iran deal?  My God, it lets them have ballistic missiles (after 10 years).  They will get lots of money to carry on their terrorist activities (unless the political pressure at home that was the catalyst for this deal has much of the money spent internally).  In 10 or 15 years they could then build a bomb.  Yeah, but with no agreement, they can do it today.  What about all the other issues we have with Iran, like their holding of Americans and political prisoners?

This criticism is going on in a vacuum of what the talks really were, a UN sactioned treaty about nuclear weapons with five other nations playing, most importantly Russia and China.  The discussion in this country carries on a fantasy that we controlled all the cards and more importantly, we can just reject this thing and go back to sanctions.  Neither one is true.  Raising the political prisoners card opens the door to taking more political prisoners for political pawns.  Why encourage that?  Assuming Iran is going to completely capitulate is naive at best.  They have their own political problems*.

Let’s just examine the biggest fantasy, that we can just walk away.  The UN won’t.  What that means is that the U.S. sanctions will remain in place, but the rest of the world will start buying their oil and selling them weapons (read China and Russia).  And of course the Europeans will jump in there if they see money making opportunities.  So the Great Satan stands alone and tries to inflict pain on the only country in the Middle East that really does have a well educated population that yearns for things Western and are critical to solving Iraq and Syria.

And take a gander at who is against it.  All the smart people that got us into a war in Iraq.  And as I have opined before, every Republican on the planet because they hope to sully the President in 2016.  I really dispair watching Democrats pick this thing apart to sooth their Jewish constituency.  This is what is best for America and the world, not your right wing Jewish friends who fund your campaigns. And of course there are our good friends the Saudis whose human rights record is close to eclipsing Atilla the Hun’s.  Oh, and don’t forget the hardliners in Iran.  Think about it:  Our Neocons and the hardliners in Iran are on the same page.

I guess the part that is most frustrating about this “debate” is that it is a no-brainer.  Hope or war.  That’s it.  To turn this down, starts the country down the road to war with Iran, and this will be no minor war.  The whole Middle East will erupt in a free for all.  So do the cost benefit analysis.  What have you lost if you enter into this agreement.  Sure Iran can use some of the money to continue supporting terrorist and disruptive activities in the Middle East.  We can block that and deal with it directly. They can eventually build a weapon**, but they can now, so?

What we gain is real hope.  First, we prevent a weapon being built and reduce their capacity to do so later. Second, we open up other anvenues of dialogue with the only country in the Middle East capable of helping us in Syria and Iraq.  Third, as Iran modernizes, they too will have to deal with an educated population that wants to engage with the West.  So sure they could violate the agreement.  Sure they can eventually build a weapon** if they choose.  But if they do we are back to where we are now with the choice of military action.  But we gain a chance to change the world and especially the dynamics in the Middle East.  How could you not go for it?

*Note:  Americans are one egocentric bunch.  We like to image the bad guys as, well, the bad guys, but think about this from Iran’s perspective.  First, they know oil is a limited resource and the day will come when you have to move on. Second, nuclear eneregy is their best option and they have their own uranium.  Next consider the world around them.  BeBe wants to nuke them for spitting on the sidewalk.  The Sunnis hate the Shiites and we are arming the Sunni capital of the world, Saudi Arabia.  They understand the threat of ISIS and are the only (beside the Kurds) effective force in fighting them.  And of course you have the United States singing songs like, Bomb, Bomb, Iran.  Would you not be looking to secure your future with weapons?

**Note:  Do you remember MAD, Mutual Assured Destruction which was our strategy for keeping the Russians at bay?  If Iran built a weapon and used it, we would know in an instant and we have enough weapons to destroy Iran 10,000 times over.  If it gets to that, Iran builds a weapon, to use it would be suicide.  What we really ought to be worrying about is North Korea.

Wow!

The son of U.S. Senator and life long Dixiecrat and segregationist Strom Thurman, Republican State Senator Paul Thurmond spoke in his legislature with the following:

“I am aware of my heritage, I am not proud of this heritage. These practices were inhumane and wrong, wrong, wrong.  For the life of me, I will never understand how anyone could fight a civil war based in part on the desire to continue the practice of slavery.

Think about it for just a second. Our ancestors were literally fighting to continue to keep human beings as slaves, and continue the unimaginable acts that occur when someone is held against their will. I am not proud of that heritage.

I am proud to take a stand and no longer be silent. We must take down the Confederate flag and we must take it down now. But if we stop there, we have cheated ourselves out of an opportunity to start a different conversation about healing in our state.  I am ready.”

Maybe, just maybe, the South will rise again.  A new and improved one.  This man has my undying respect.

An Atheist’s Sunday

I recently had a knee replacement and then had a little setback with an old injury causing excessive scar tissue formation mandating a return trip to anesthesia land to break up that scar tissue. Then I had to start again rehabilitating my knee which was extemely angry with me  about a brand new knee trauma.  And for those of you who are believers, maybe God is punishing me for my blogs (and a few other things I might have done).  Now I don’t tell you all this because I want sympathy (well maybe a little sympathy),  but because I want you to understand that I have been channel surfing for weeks now, stuck inside watching TV. So needless to say I have watched the coverage of the Charleston murders closely.  I wrote one blog (Okay, I Can’t Take It Anymore) about some of irrational religious behavior I witnessed.  

But of course there is the other side of the coin, or maybe this is on the edge of the coin, how this irrational behavior is helping them heal and show show some of our best human qualities instead of our worst.  I love to point our how religion in the public square (meaning in government) can be use to perpetuate cruelty and unfairness, but in this case, at least so far, it is showing religion, at least their religion, as a life raft in a raging storm.  And maybe that is because it is religion practiced by black’s in the South.  They actually seem to try to live out the teaching of Jesus as narrated in the New Testament.  You know, forgiveness, kindness, and a belief in redemption for everyone.  

So, what have I seen so far?  Well for starters, a community coming together to share their grief instead of a lynch mob looking for revenge.  Now I would be the first to tell you (I did in Okay, I Can’t Take It Anymore) that their prayer and faith is irrational. But I would also tell you it seems to be working for them. It is bringing their community together to grieve and heal.  There is no violence.  The families (at least some of them) seem to have let hatred go and have forgiven the murderer.  It is an amazing (so far) display of their brand of faith and religion helping people get through an almost impossible time and do it through what they believe were Jesus’s teachings about forgiveness, kindness, and redemption. 

Now in my mind the Southern Black churches really are unique places.  They have been the center of community and refuge from an unjust society and power structure who hates and persecutes them.  In order to survive and get through what salvery and discrimination has wrought upon them, they really had to have faith that Jesus had a plan for them, that eventually whether in the future or in the after life, there would be salvation.  And in many ways those churches had to become the center of nonviolent support and community if they were going to survive. Without the belief in a nonviolent approach, they would have been crushed.  And that is what they are today (for the most part).  They developed a philosophy of hope and salvation through trying to live out their belief in their preceived Jesus and what he taught.

I doubt we would find the same kind of community and non-violence in white churches that faced similar challenges simply because in most cases these churches were centers of power, not a refuge from power and cruelty, and power could emanate out from them into the community.  We would see more Old Testament behavior I think (eye for an eye).  In the black South the community is totally organized around their churches and response to anything, whether civil rights abuses in the 1960s or this murder would be centered within these churches.

Now having said all that, here is my atheist’s take.  What you believe in is really fairly irrelevant, but how you conduct yourself is everything.  And these kind people, both black and white, are conducting themselves in a manner rarely seen, but could be inferred from the philososphy of real Chistianity.  The fact that the basis of their philosophy of how to act is in my mind totally bogus, does not detract from the beauty of their philosophy or the intrinsic truth to be found in that philosophy.  I have often argued that just take the supernatural out of many religious faiths, and you are still left with a truly beautiful way to live your life.  

Could the black church have survived without the belief in the supernatural?  Probably not.  But you don’t have to believe in a supernatural being or a magical world to see the benefits of living out the philosophy that they believe were given to them by that supernatural being.  It is one of the few times when even I, jaded atheist Steve, respect their faith and religion.  It is producing something badly needed, relief and healing.  It is bringing people together, and it gives them hope for a better tomorrow.  Sometimes rational thought cannot get them there especially when the rational world around them is failing them. It is the irrational that is holding them together right now and who am I to take that away from them.

In my world (the world without a belief in the supernatural), we can have the beauty of the their philosophy and live a rational life. We don’t have to segregate the two.  The Greek Cynics did it.  As long as our philosophy, whether we call it a religion or our faith, is informed by reason, we have overcome many of serious problems with unquestioning faith.  That problem would be that truth is only found in scripture or revelation and is not subject to reason.  It locks in our thinking and does not let us grow.  A belief in Jesus Christ and that he died for our sins, and faith in him and his religious philiosophy does no harm and could do much good if we actually lived by his philosophy*.  But when that religious philosophy comes up against contradictions in the reality around us, faith must not be literal.  It must be flexible so our philosophy can be adjusted to the new moral truths we find.  Sadly most religions do not allow for that.

Bottom line:  Faith and religion can be a very important part of our lives if the moral philosophy behind it is informed by reason.  Believing in a supernatural being does no harm until you take it to the next step and close your mind to reason and logic in a world around us that is constantly changing**.  It is my hope that the day will arrive when you don’t need the supernatural being to hold on to a moral philosophy that recognizes we are all human, in this together, and treats each other with kindness.  But the human animal, being what he is, will probably always invent a God to justify him being special and to use that belief (in unquestioning faith) to subjugate or control others for his selfish ends.  It is the story of our human history.

*There are, of course, parts of the Christian faith that are troubling.  But there is a moral philosophy which when you remove all the supernatural (and that would include resurrection) that is the essence of the religion.  Atheist and theist alike are looking for a moral philosophy to live out our lives and to give it meaning.  Religion packs it into rules backed by a supernatural foundation to enforce it.  Atheists look for it in reason and logic of the world around them.  It does not mean that the moral philosophy of the religious is flawed, but in some cases is the very basis for the moral philosophy of the atheist.  It means that once you remove the supernatural enforcer, along with literal inerpretations of scripture and revalation, we can apply logic and reason to  evaluate if our rules are living up to our basic philosophy, and if not, change them.

**Evangelicals are the best example where the nation is saying you have this thing about gays all wrong, but their scripture won’t allow them to adjust their moral philosophy to reality as we find it today.