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Willful Ignorance

Every once in a while, inspiration arrives unexpectedly.

Recently I’d had a rather humorous exchange of ideologies with some very nice, albeit imaginatively compromised theists on the internet. Although we had extremely different views about life, death, the afterlife, science and theology… for the most part we were all able to discuss our varying perspectives without too much Christian inspired animus. As only the invisible, all-knowing, all powerful, sex hating, intergalactic ruler of the cosmos knows, I was uncharacteristically well behaved.

Sure, there were those who took exception to my very existence, and who typed in all capital letters (to let me know that they were shouting in anger) that I was undoubtedly going to hell, and that –as one synaptic impaired dullard asserted– “GOD IS AN AWESOME GOD! I HAVE 2 AWESOME PRAISE REPORTS THIS WEEK! HE IS WORTHY 2 B PRAISED! I GIVE HIM ALL THE PRAISE AND GLORY!” (actual quote)… but for the most part the discussion revolved around me trying to explain basic science to people who refused to acknowledge it. To them, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, the earth is 6000 years old, humans and dinosaurs coexisted, and their appalling consensus was that any science that contradicts the bible is a tool of Satan.

But my resolve is such that I cannot sit in good conscience and allow blatant lies which negatively affect so many lives to be accepted without speaking out against them. My idealism won’t allow what I felt was a flippant, cavalier disregard for human suffering from “Christians” sitting comfortably in their heated, carpeted homes to go unanswered… especially when they engage in trite religious platitudes such as “Jesus loves us”, or the comment that began our interaction:

“GOD is with you, He is on your side, He has your best interest at heart and He is working to bring restoration and peace to every area of your life”.

But clearly, God doesn’t love all of us, and if he does, he has a funny way of showing it. Sure he loves the wealthy, or the plain ole’ lucky… but try telling a victim of the Rwandan holocaust who’s had her arm hacked off with a machete, or someone who lost their family in the Japanese tsunami, or a 4 year old dying painfully from leukemia that God has a special plan for them. Faith in god not only allows theists to dismiss the man made pain and suffering occurring around the globe and chalk it up to “god’s will”…. it allows them to remove themselves from any sense of empathy and pretend that (especially brown) people somehow had it coming for not believing as good, Anglo mid-western Christians do.

The sanctimonious indifference exhibited routinely by American Christians is the height of condescension, and serves the less than noble purpose of narcissistic self-centeredness. “God loves me, more than the Serbian child who became paralyzed when a bullet ripped through his spine while he was doing his homework. I can tell because he rewards me with cable television. In fact, I don’t have to concern myself with the poor little cripple, God is on the job.” Religion appeals to the darkest parts of human nature, and allows us to rationalize some otherwise very antisocial, bigoted, and overtly ignorant perspectives. It’s as if theists are complicit in a post-life ponzi scheme, design to sign as many gullible people on as they can. And like any other multi-level-marketing pyramid, only those at the top are rewarded.

Which is why I believe that even a little religion is a very bad thing. For theist –many of whom I have little doubt are very well intentioned– the belief in god deprives them of the ability to think critically, or to fundamentally reason. It allows them to ignore facts and evidence in favor of what they’d like to believe. It can cause people who are obviously not insane, to make some very irrational statements of faith. Once one convinces themselves that a talking snake persuading a woman to eat an apple is the reason for war and disease, believing that god was punishing the hedonistic city of New Orleans with a hurricane is not such a stretch.

When adults practice the art of self-deception in any other aspect of their lives, we call it denial. We offer therapy, support or perhaps even an intervention whereby all of one’s friends get together and explain what an irrational, self-destructive imbecile they are behaving like. However when they do so in regard to the genetic, or astronomical evidence supporting the actual age of our universe or the origin of our species, we call it “faith”. However “god” is the abusive relationship theists can’t get out of, and they keep telling themselves that “He loves them”, despite the random, abject cruelty he routinely exhibits. They need an intervention.

But it gets worse. When people allow themselves to become corporeal servants to an ethereal dictator… and when we sacrifice our intellect and ability to employ logic here on earth in the hopes of gaining post-life admittance to what Christopher Hitchens so eloquently described as a “Celestial North Korea”… When we convince ourselves that we’ll find happiness in a heavenly hive where one must appeal to an almighty creator’s sense of vanity by constantly heaping praise on him, while simultaneously serving as “bottoms” in a sadomasochistic, mentally abusive patriarchy which only allows one to only be rewarded for blind obedience, and the ability to endure boredom… it is epitome of lazy thinking in the face of real world issues that require our serious attention.

As such, religion hurts everyone. To which I say to those whom demand “respect” for a fundamentalist, inherently bigoted worldview that eliminates any metaphoric interpretation of scripture, and which denies science in favor of fairy tales…. You’ll get none from *this* Atheist.

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The Premise of Faith

There is a disturbing trend occurring in the United States regarding how we fail to recognize the difference between illumination, and propaganda.

Certainty is a luxury which can only be acquired through accurate, proven information. While many have strong feelings about why things happen as they do, before one can reasonably claim assuredness, their facts must support their assertions. However, today’s media dynamics are such that a lack of valid data is hardly enough to discourage those whose brands offer assessments as certainty. No longer concerned with journalistic integrity, professional socio/political commentators often make assertions — not based on confirmations — but in accordance with how they might affect their financial bottom line. As cable news pundits, Op-Ed Bloggers, and Facebook prognosticators confound suppositions with hard evidence, and offer opinions as facts, the sensibly susceptible will invariably fall prey. The results are that much of America is having their world view shaped by editorialists with little, or no credibility.

It is human nature to gravitate towards those who espouse the things we want to hear. This is how many of us choose our media, churches, and often our friends. But where it concerns the premise from which many of us operate, absolute affirmations are being accepted as fact by a population all too willing to believe things that will provide a level of comfort –without those offering these same assertions having to provide any sources, or proof. A presumption of credibility is often being accorded to those who base their platforms on purposely deceptive information, and who draw conclusions based on demographics.

Such is the case with religious faith, and how theists are interpreting disasters, both natural and manmade, around the world. When sectarian pontiffs assert the will of an almighty creator in such instances, they not only do so without regard for all of the facts, they do so despite having any facts. Faith is often presented, not as a belief which is not based on proof (as the dictionary defines) but as a positive assurance. So those whose predispositions are in accordance with certain fundamentalisms will acquiesce to the message, regardless of its legitimacy. The recent Tsunami, and subsequent nuclear crisis in Japan was fertile soil for those hoping to nurture fear driven, religious fervor. Whether it was a preacher, a politician, or a “news” entertainer, there was no shortage of those who profit from feigning righteousness –or who claim absolute clairvoyance pertaining to God’s will– speaking their minds about why such a tragedy took place.

For instance, Fox News pundit Glenn Beck’s suggestion that God was “sending a message” to the people of Earth by killing thousands of Japanese folks with an earthquake, tidal wave, and subsequent nuclear meltdown would be laughable — if not for the amount of simple minded people who accept whatever someone with a dynamic personality like his says where it concerns such matters.

“God …what God does is God’s business, I have no idea.” Said Beck on his radio show, “But I’ll tell you this: whether you call it Gaia or whether you call it Jesus — there’s a message being sent. And that is, Hey, you know that stuff we’re doing? Not really working out real well. Maybe we should stop doing some of it.”

Apparently, the character Mr. Beck plays in the media has some sort of divine intuition whereby he is able to determine whether a geological phenomenon is simply a matter of happenstance, or if it is a cosmic post-it note written by the hand of the almighty. What is the stuff we should stop doing then? Was the tsunami God’s way of letting us know that we shouldn’t watch liberal news broadcasts? Does God want us to listen more to Glenn Beck? Tune in to find out. God, it seems, works in mysterious, if not ineffectual ways.

The not-so-subtle message here is that Glen Beck, and his viewers/listeners are in good standing with the almighty creator of the cosmos, and that those who have befallen disaster somehow “had it coming”. The psychological payoff for one’s inclusion into any pietistic, theological “cool-kids club”… is that they are then afforded the latitude to enact sanctimony, indignation, and mask their bigotry with religion. But bigots rarely recognize themselves as such… and the pious either never see it that way, or they lack the capacity for honest introspection. “Hey, I don’t have a problem with anyone… it’s God …I’m just relaying the message.”

However Beck is not alone when it comes to rallying people through religious fear by appealing to their sense of self righteousness. There have been a countless number of opportunistic televangelists who have also engaged in similar self-serving indulgences when their fellow human beings have fallen into hardship. Marion Gordon “Pat” Robertson, host of “The 700 Club” and self described “statesman” has concluded why God would have punished Haiti with such a devastating earthquake. It was retribution for a deal they allegedly made with the devil years ago. So too, according to Robertson, did God apparently punish the people of Louisiana with Hurricane Katrina for their sinful ways. Did Robertson not notice that Bourbon street, the cultural center of New Orleans’ libidinous proclivities went, for the most part, unaffected by Katrina? Has God never noticed the cities of Amsterdam, or Las Vegas? Is the architect of the galaxy simply not paying attention, or does he just have bad aim?

But there were few heralds of divine truth whose bigotry could compare with the late Rev. Jerry Falwell, who went so far as to blame the Sept 11th attacks on “abortionists, feminists, and gays”… none of whom are in accordance with Falwell’s (nor God’s apparently) moralistic world view. “I point the finger in their face” said the Liberty University founder, “You helped this happen.” Did I miss something, or did only pro-choice feminists, and homosexuals die in the Trade Center attacks? Considering that the United States financial industry was so negatively affected, couldn’t one just as reasonably conclude that God hates capitalism? Could our almighty creator be that obtuse? But Christian America’s hypocrisy is staggering when one considers how most in the United States will denounce the ignorance and bigotry consistently exhibited Westboro Baptist Church, and how someone like Falwell — who was no less insular — was a accorded the luxury of credibility to the point where he had access to the White House.

The moral and theological contradictions in the statements that evangelical, and politically motivated pontiffs make are clear… provided one’s acumen is not distorted by fear based religion. If one concedes that the God which these, and other theistic profiteers speak of is indeed the omnipotent, loving, merciful, all powerful being they claim –then how can one rationally assert that a loving God would punish people with natural disasters? What “message” could a “loving” God be sending to us mortals by decimating so many people’s lives? Would any of us send our children to play on a beach we knew would be devastated by a tsunami? How could anyone who is reasonable conclude that the same God who hates abortion would also allow pregnant women and children to be killed in these very same disasters? Is God also punishing bible belt Christians when he obliterates a town with a tornado? How can anyone with the ability to discern reason intellectually reconcile the concepts of love and mercy from a being who is also the catalyst for so much pain and suffering?

However when religious editorialists make such unconditional allegations about God’s intentions, the contradictions about love, mercy and petty wrath are incidental regarding the their true motivations. They have — whether they want to admit it or not– arrogantly replaced their messiah with themselves. The psychological dynamics of this type of narcissism are both frightening, and sad.

It is ego-driven self indulgence that will allow anyone to make any absolute assertions as to what God’s will is…as opposed to what they feel it might, or could be. In what amounts to a theological version of White Night Syndrome, those who claim to have inside apostolic information about God’s objectives, are in fact, portraying themselves as the incarnated prophets for their fundamentalism, or more likely, brand name. It’s like having a surrogate Jesus on our televisions telling us who to vote for, and why God is angry at us this week. It is they who offer divine providence here on earth by playing the role of savior, and rationalizing bigotry with scripture. But with the advent of social networking, masking hate speech with religion has gotten significantly worse.

With the safety and anonymity of the internet, those inclined towards being part of a “God Squad” have found a safe venue to impose their narcissistic self importance. All they have to do is simply regurgitate articles written by whatever “credible” 3rd party affirms their dogmatic predispositions, and inject themselves into the socio/political/theological equation by becoming “junior” saviors themselves. Now we can all, to some extent, be like Glenn Beck.

Condescendingly, many offer prayers when a cataclysmic disaster occurs, as if the almighty was momentarily distracted and was unaware of what actually happened, or if he could perhaps have his mind changed about those whose lives still hang in the balance. With every disaster, lives are destroyed, and with a cavalier disregard for human suffering, those very same people offering prayers will chalk it up to “God’s will”. Nothing short of hubris would allow one to conclude from the warmth and comfort of a middle class suburban home here in the United States why God would allow people to languish in disease and poverty elsewhere. Only through arrogant indignation could one determine that “God Loves Us” while chowing down on a cheeseburger during American Idol, while there is so much needless suffering occurring around the globe.

At least those on television who provide vainglorious proclamations about God’s plan can rationalize them with a significant income. For those posting inane religious platitudes on the Internet and blathering out of context scripture to their friends and co-workers, their payoff rarely amounts to more than satisfying a petty sense of ego. But for the small minded, or those simply looking to impose their will on others, the reconciliations about God’s alleged ethics, and the harsh reality of global suffering need not be made. Logic and reason are afterthoughts when the motivation is self indulgent.

The truth is, there are only three conclusions one can rationally draw where it concerns the concept of God, and what “his” motivations might be. One might take the classic Deist position, and determine that if there is a God, he is indifferent to what transpires here on Earth. Perhaps God created the universe, and like a giant Petri dish, things just started growing. A microbe on the other side of the galaxy, bacteria on a distant moon, and humans here on earth… he does not prefer one to the other.

Or perhaps, God is a sadist. After all, various holy writs are replete with stories about how God punishes people for not pacifying his ego, and banishes them to an eternity of torture for not worshipping correctly. That would not only explain all of the needless pain and suffering around the world, but how Glenn Beck and Jerry Falwell were created in his image.

Lastly, one could determine that there is, in fact, no such thing as God. If employed, logic and reason would most likely lead to that conclusion.

However one cannot invent the god they want. Recently I was engaged in an Internet discussion about the Japanese Tsunami, and afterwards I received an angry letter from a woman who took obvious exception to my stance regarding the uselessness of offering prayers, and the pretentiousness of those in a warm, dry place suggesting that survivors turn to God. It was my contention that if they believed in God, then this was obviously his will as he is all knowing, and all powerful… right?

Among other barely coherent ramblings, she wrote, “The God you think I pray to is not the one u(sic) speak of!!! My God didn’t create that disaster and if u(sic) think he did just to prove a point your(sic) wrong!! My God is a loving God and I am not imposing him on you but there will come a time in your life that you will call his name!”

Herein lies the problem with most Theists. It is their inability to recognize their own inconsistencies. First of all, she sent me the E-mail… so she was imposing her beliefs on me. Beyond that –spelling and grammar notwithstanding– there is a gap in this woman’s logic wider than the nuclear fallout that she claims God had nothing to do with. Can this person not understand that an all powerful God would have had to be responsible for this disaster, as he is in control of everything? But by the same token, how a loving God wouldn’t have caused any devastation in the first place? Is such a rudimentary inference too difficult to arrive at when one accepts without question that “God loves us” because it “comforts” them?

We cannot pick and choose random acts of nature, and conveniently interpret them so as to qualify God as “loving and merciful” when the facts bear our differently. One cannot rationally determine that if God is indeed omnipotent, all powerful, and loving… that he is unaccountable for the tragedies that occur on such a massive scale. We cannot remove God from the global suffering equation when it does not suit our astigmatic presumptions. Moreover, we cannot be certain about any of God’s intentions, when we cannot be certain about his nature, or whether he exists in the first place.

But like much of America’s personal indulgences, the luxury of certainty is being paid for with credit, and without any collateral. We’re overextended, and looking for an emotional handout. We accord credibility to those who simply do not deserve it because they say things we want to hear. It is how Americans formulate their premise of faith, and it is unfortunately devoid of any rationality. Certainly, if there is such a thing as “God”, we humans are incapable of understanding him, or his intentions about us… and those who affirm otherwise, are either self serving, egomaniacal, or simply predatory.

The Public Discourse… A case against censorship, and a call for integrity.

It is human nature to gravitate towards venues which advocate our predispositions.

As Americans cultivate their views about morality, religion, politics and the social sciences, it becomes incumbent on the intellectually ill-equipped to seek out media that will support their uninformed suppositions. All but few Americans have relegated themselves to reciting inane platitudes, and regurgitating other people’s insipid blather so as to affirm an intellect they do not possess. As the sensibly susceptible align themselves with one political party or the other — not to mention the accompanying cable news networks — they’ll eventually learn “a few things about a few things”. And in their severely limited scopes they’ll feel as if they now have the solutions to the Nation’s problems locked away in their tragically under-developed frontal lobes. The payoff for this, is a simple rationalization that their collective bias’ is actually socially discerning politics, and feigned relevancy.

So we Americans venture forth into the intellectual abyss, clinging to misrepresentations which comfort us. We’ll adhere to the social dogma that our political affiliations mandate, while disregarding other — sometimes valid — interpretations which might refute their affirmations. We’ll wrap ourselves in the security blanket of denial… insulating ourselves from the cold, hard truth that most of us are simply too emotionally immature to be candidly introspective, let alone honest with ourselves. All too often, we’ll pick and choose our “truths” based –not on facts — but on what we *want* to be true.

The real truth is that we believe the lies we want to hear.

However, selective fact gathering can neither provide truth, nor wisdom. As John Adams so astutely affirmed, “Facts are stubborn things”… When seeking truth one cannot begin with a conclusion, and gather facts to support it. That is not how valid resolutions are made. We must go where facts lead us, and make our determinations thusly. Even if they are uncomfortable, or contradictory to what we’ve always been led to believe. We simply cannot choose what is true, and what is not. The only thing we can choose, is which side of the political aisle we want to affiliate ourselves with based on whether the Left, or the Right’s version of the truth best suits our own astigmatic — if not bigoted– presumptions.

Which brings us to the recent shootings in Tucson, and how they have sparked passionate dialogue, and finger pointing around the country. It seems that anyone with a platform, and an opinion about any socio/political issues peripheral to these shootings has taken this opportunity to prattle on about “who” they believe is responsible for “what”. The vitriol between the Liberal Left, and the Conservative Right has been brought into the spotlight and portrayed as particularly villainous, even if not specifically about this particular set of circumstances. Still, the brainwashed constituents of both parties continue to laughably place blame on one another as being the source of this toxicity, and the reason that the political landscape now resembles “reality” television rather than the beacon of democracy that we’ve always been able to boast… The practice of the irresponsible, self serving leveling of accusations has become an American political institution, as has an utter lack of accountability… or tether to reason.

Similar to how America handles every other crisis, where is concerns the Tucson shootings, we are reactionary. As we did with the “underwear bomber”, we wait for something to happen, and then respond irrationally. In this instance, rather than fondling citizen’s genitals to ensure their safety, there are those both in politics and in the media who have capitalized on the National heartbreak over these senseless shootings… and who are actually suggesting that we legislate censoring symbols, metaphors, and the way we talk about one another.

They are responding to the problem of acerbic rhetoric, with politically correct rhetoric. While it might seem admirable to ask those in the national spotlight to choose their words more carefully, “dial back” the acrimony, or to avoid needlessly antagonistic contention, that is something that must occur organically if it ever hopes to last into the next news cycle. Even if they were to ban certain words from the National dialogue, that won’t change anyone’s true feelings, or the intent behind the words they *are* permitted to use. If history teaches us anything, it’s that it is impossible –not to mention prolifically stupid– to even try to legislate how people feel.

It would be like putting a coat of paint on a rusty car.

When we seek politically correct solutions — especially when it comes to language — it inherently motivated by political grandstanding, and it always comes at the expense of the truth. If there is legitimate animus between political rivals it needs to be expressed, and in their own chosen verbiage. If an emotional response is honest, and one feels it, they should be able to say it. That is how we can determine who we vote for, or even watch on television. But the operatives here are “legitimate, and “honest”… not “animus”.

Whenever I see high profile Liberals and Conservatives debate one another, it has always been my contention that as long as they critique the other, their arguments will remain substantially convincing. Indeed, there is so much perfidy within both Left and Right politics that there is a virtual bottomless pit of ideological assault points. But it is when the political apologists try to defend their own parties abhorrent disregard for both civility, and reason that the perfidiousness of their agendas become clear.

So the problem has become, “How do we manage ideological differences of opinion which will contribute to the Democratic process rather than hinder it, while not infringing on anyone’s First Amendment rights, let alone their honest expression?”

It is not altering language or symbols that we need… nor do we need to re-examine the First Amendment. It is not censorship we require, but rather journalistic, and political INTEGRITY. When the Founders wrote the First Amendment, they did so with an understanding of the necessity of having independent press in a free society. They recognized that even setting up three branches of government wasn’t enough to ensure that corruption wouldn’t find a way to creep back into men’s souls, and that we required a system whereby the citizenry would have credible advocates working on their behalf, and reporting on the activities of the politicians whom we elect.

That sacred trust has since been betrayed. Journalism is all but vanished from the American landscape, and what we have left are editorialists shilling for politicians, and their respective lobbies. This is what now passes for news… and the cerebrally bankrupt — albeit frightened — proletariat rush to choose sides, ignorant of the fact that the people they have put their trust in have no credibility.

The malicious bombast which has grinded our legislative process to a virtual halt exists because Left and the Right continue to police one another’s language, and speculate on how they perceive each other’s intentions. That can’t work, because of the source of the criticism. All that will accomplish is to further the divide between otherwise (potentially) conciliatory differences of opinion. In order to create a more civil public discourse, we need to require more from those who steer public opinion.

We must require that both Democrats and Republicans demonstrate integrity, and chastise the fringe elements of their own respective parties, not the others. Rather than placating incendiary, irrational, and purposely deceptive hyperbole when it comes from someone with whom they allegedly align, both pundits and politicians need to behave like the adults in the room, and not excuse the failings of *anyone’s* illogical ravings, regardless of party affiliation. This problem is much less about what we say of one another, but what we fail to admit about ourselves. The lunatic fringe would be far less powerful if their own parties called them out when they are behaving irrationally.

The more reasonable method of addressing the toxic political environment is not to seek censorship over what we say about one another, but rather to cease censoring ourselves when it comes to what we say about the extremists within our own respective parties. Perhaps then, we can go back to being Democrats and Republicans — and moreover, Americans — instead nation of the bitter, warring Liberals and Conservatives that we have become.

This article is dedicated to those who have the capacity to think critically… especially congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. Please get better soon, Ms. Giffords.