Sunday, November 27, 2011



In Denver, we have Tim Tebow, quarter back for the Broncos. He is a very devout fellow and many of his fans make much of that fact. While he is the starter for the team, it is not clear that he is the genuine thing, but his religious fans are convinced he is the best. But, their enthusiasm leads them to complain that he has not had a fair chance until recently and that all criticism is because he is an openly Christian fellow. They complain that there is significant hostility toward Christianity and he bears the brunt because of his enthusiasm for that religion.

This is an idea I have heard, though somewhat vaguely and it leaves me a bit surprised and a bit saddened. And, I have not taken it seriously figuring it requires a sort of looney-tunes mentality to think that Christianity is oppressed.

But, in in the current issue of Freethought Today, the isubject came up again, this time, in connection with a shrine honoring Jesus that is on public land, Yes, for decades, in Montana’s Flathead National Forest that shrine has held sway, put there by The Knights of Columbus apparently in response to a request by Catholic veterans. I suppose some hackles are rising as you read this. What the hell is a religious shrine doing on public land? A good question, and there is no information about why the Forest Service provided the land to the Kinghts rent free, where the statue of Jesus still stands.

That was the status quo until the Forest Service decided not to renew the ten-year contract which had been repeated every decade since the mid-fifties. That meant that the statue had to come down and be placed on whatever non-public land the Knights thought suitable. But, before the deed could be accomplished, a Montana congressman fulminated against the change. He said, “Removal of this symbol of hope and faith is an insult to the sacrifices they so willingly gave our great country.” No mention of sacrifices is offered except military service. Well, hell, a lot of us did that: Catholics, the great variety of Protestant religions, Judaism, Muslims, Hindus, etc. all made similar sacrifices with maiming and death as consequence for some. What that has to do with sticking a shrine on public land I cannot fathom except, dare I say it, a certain amount of pushiness.

The constitution, specifically the First Amendment is clear, sticking a shrine on public land is a no-go yet there it is, it has been done. When the Forest Service received the congressman’s complaint, they immediately halted the ejection process and decided to have a public hearing on the topic. Do they not understand that the constitution is not up for grabs by any pressure group that can muster enough public support? The whole point of that worthy document is make sure that we follow rules designed for the general good. Whatever is decided as a result of public comment has no relevance.

Instead of acquiescing, the protestors made up absurd stories. They call it a WWII memorial even though the leasing agreement says it is for “a site for a religious shrine.” It clearly is there to promote religion. Another bit of nonsense is that the statue is too fragile to move.  But, the Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics commented that if we can put a man on the moon we should be able to move a statue without it collapsing. Crank mail has proliferated around the issue with much ugliness and little understanding. The kicker is that again comes the complaint that Christianity is embedded in a hostile environment. Humbug!

In Europe, religious interest has diminished significantly so much so that the European Union constitution makes no reference to religion. The Vatican complained bitterly but to no avail. In this country the number of people checking” none” on the religion box has increased and the number of those avowing agnosticism and atheism has increased.

Scholars of the American scene have pointed out that government, by keeping hands off religion, has helped it prosper. With no federal or state rules, religion has spread, though the above suggests that perhaps that wave of religious passion is coming to an end. Whatever the truth, it is vital to all of us that the constitution be honored.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

WRITING - Aargh!


Yes, I write all the time. I never quite thought about it that way, but I realize that almost every event has me thinking about how I might start a story or an essay. The way I fall asleep is to tell myself stories. Am I recreating a childhood in which my mother or father told me bedtime stories? I don't remember any such and I can't imagine either one of them engaging in warm, snuggly behavior with me. “Bert, go to sleep.” “Yes, Momma.” Truly, I don't remember any such dialogue, but that is how I fantasize about it. So, perhaps in telling myself stories I am creating that which I never had, sleepy time comfort. But, if I cannot find a bed time story it is sheer hell; my mind twirls flashing from one possibility to another trying to find a pleasant, self-aggrandizing story and if I don't I have to resort to counting, `1,2,3, up to 100 and eventually collapse into a fitful sleep.
Ordinarily, I will go into musings about how I would create a story. Once I was passed by a small delivery truck with “Frozen Food,” painted on its sides. It really zoomed by and disappeared almost in a cloud of dust. Why is he driving so fast? Is he escaping something or rushing to something? Is his cargo melting? Perhaps he overslept, why wouldn't he get up on time? Was there a body in his kitchen, but why not call the police? He was a runner for the mob boss. ETC.
I almost never follow through, never putting such imaginings on paper. In truth, I have not written a story since the Civil War piece a while back. For unknown reasons, I have focused on writing essays and because I have been reading Torah, I have done a few on biblical themes. When I get an idea going, I grasp on like a bulldog; however, I want to break away that part of me demands that I stick with it. I remember reading about how we slaves left Egypt, how we fought off the Amelekites, how we made a gold calf and couldn't get away from what seemed most likely: The story was filled with hyperbole. Slaves? But we left with herds and flocks and gold and silver “borrowed” from our Egyptian neighbors. There is more, but my point here is that when I get an idea I wrestle with it, write paragraphs in my mind and at times think of nothing else. With that piece, I tested each conjecture in my mind. It occurred to me that God was no different from the Pharaoh; they were in a battle over who was in charge. God, clearly in charge, killed dissenters, slaughtered is the better word. All whirled around and kept me awake at night.
I hoped to be selected by my local paper to write some essays for them, but no such luck. Of course, they urged me to reapply next March and I suppose I will. Headlines catch me up. The dream act failed, our state legislature shot down same sex union, why don't we raise taxes on the rich, should groceries sell full beer; all are fascinating and catch my brain but where shall I put them? What a curse.

There was an old fellow who wrote
Nothing of very great note
But he continued to strive
With ideas quite alive
But mostly what he wrote didn't float

Monday, November 14, 2011


Looking at the history of the world, in my somewhat dilettantish and rambling way it seems most obvious that we are a rather pugnacious animal. Look at all the damned wars around the globe. Except for, perhaps one, all societies had and have arms designed to bash, skewer, chop, dismember and incinerate other folk. It has been, and forever more shall be, what makes us human. Animals don't typically kill except for food or to protect their young; we do it for fun and games. Well, really not fun and games though there is some grisly pleasure in winning a life and death battle; there seem to be three reasons we get into the institutionalized killing game. One is for self protection. Clausewitz, that German general who understood war commented that wars are generally started when the invaded people decide to fight the invaders. If one did not mind having resources stolen or women raped, no violence would ensue. Empire building, a purely natural desire to improve ones standard of living required going after others goods resulting in wars.
Finally, after much bloody mayhem, we have decided there is a better way to sort out who gets to own what. Differences are now more likely decided through negotiation; i.e. the failed League of Nations followed by the UN. Attempts at international treaties such as the still simmering Law of the Sea (The US refuses to ratify it) are attempted with moral suasion the primary instrument.  Some presidential candidates argue we should attack Iran while the prevailing opinion seems to be to make their quality of life tougher. We even let the Arabs own their own oil. War for resources seems less likely.
A second source of war is civil war or revolution. A people fights against those in charge in order to change the system of government. Our revolution, the French revolution, the Russian revolution, the Arab spring, etc., are examples of how people can refuse to tolerate tyranny. Such wars are often blood baths with the victors slaughtering the losers.
But, the third cause of war and the most intractable is religious differences. This might be more true of western civilization but perhaps not. So many have been killed in the name of God that it is fair to wonder what God might be thinking. As far as I understand things, God is typically described as loving peace (except of course during war when he is described as the host of battle or given some other bellicose nickname.) except when the expectation is that God will smite the enemy. Is it not astonishing that Christians professing belief in the same God have committed the cruelist acts of murder piously proclaiming, as did the German army, “God is with us.” The Jewish Messiah was to lead the people in destroying the enemies of Israel. Wrong believers and non-believers alike are fair game to religionists who know the capital t, Truth, and it almost always includes destroy the other. In Israel, the orthodox throw stones at Jews of the wrong kind.
Well, all that sounds a bit like the other cases of war noted above, but there is a significant difference, one that ensures that religious wars will continue into the distant future. Why is this so? It is because religions have no way to negotiate their differences. It is argued that all religions worship the same God, but the devil is in the details. When Luther had had enough there was no way to sit down and discuss the matter to see if some mutual agreements might be worked out. Protestant objected to a number of the Vatican's ideas, well okay, that's part of the human condition, but absent any way to work out mutually agreeable solutions, the solution was to kill each other, to wipe the other completely out. Islam's goal is to take over the world; they go on jihads, essentially religious wars and they determine that Jews have no right to life. This goes back to Mohammed who got pissed because the Jews refused to join with him
What goes on here, why is killing preferable to negotiation? Because, negotiation is impossible when each side has capital t Truth. The Vatican and Greek Orthodox churches, indisputably Christian, struggle to find some way of finding a way to come together. There is the same effort with the Anglican church but big t Truth always gets in the way. Keep in mind that religion is a way of knowing how the universe is organized. Well, science comes along and challenges many of religions ideas and there is a slow erosion of religions belief in western civilization. (Of course, science is attacked as ungodly; to be an atheist in this country is sometimes dangerous.) It may very well be if that process continues Western religious wars will disappear, but then the problem will be how to live with Islam. Perhaps in 500 years or so, such things will have sorted themselves out.

If you want to get into deep trouble
Attempt to burst a religionists bubble
He/she will staunchly resist
Calling you atheist
As if that status is truly insufferable

Sunday, November 6, 2011



There is no such thing. Things happen without our control and we invent things about them. Asians call fate Kismet, meaning that when bad things happen the only thing to do is shrug and live your life. Fate implies that there is some mysterious force that operates in the universe that controls our destiny. It was Charlie's fate never to meet a decent woman is what people say about Charlie, meaning that it was somehow ordained by the universe.
Humans have huge egos. We easily develop the notion that the universe takes an interest in us or ignores us when it should not. So many things happen of which we do not approve and we bizarrely become upset, either bemoaning our fate (there's that word again) or becoming angry when things go wrong. We miss the obvious; there is no rational reason that the universe should pay attention to our desires. Or, as the late, great American psychologist, Albert Ellis said, “The universe doesn’t give a shit.” We do not exist as separate entities within the universe; we are part of it as much as the earth we walk on or the stars in the sky.
How did we get here? Religionists insist that there is a determining part of existence that created the universe, i.e. God that created us. The thought seems to make some people happy, but at the same time left many people uncertain. Instead of accepting received wisdom, they raised questions. That God created us did not and does not satisfy. Human beings just a few hundred years ago began to understand the process of how we became . . . us: Evolution. Paying attention to that process makes it evident our transformations over time were natural events, a function of the state of the universe's interaction with a part of it, protoplasm. No one knows how protoplasm got started. Something it was in primordial oceans hit by lightening that made things that lived. Others think that spores of life, floating through space, landed on earth and survived. Some think that aliens seeded earth with life for whatever purpose they had. Did God do it? The trouble with God explanations is that they stop inquiry and Godly institutions, jealous of their perquisites, sometimes killed people who wanted more knowledge.
Some religionists argue that everything in the universe is exquisitely balanced so as to make life possible. If the earth were too hot, or too cold, we could not survive. Too much or too little radiation, if Planck's constant was a fraction different it would have forestalled our existence. Thus, they argue, that the universe must have been created so we would have a place to live. Idiotic! They miss the point that however life started it would have gone no further if it could not adjust to its reality. There is no knowing how many times some form of life appeared but could not live in the environment as it was. Or, it could prosper until the environment changed; all sorts of changes happened to the protoplasm and most died out, but mammalia, ultimately us, survived. When the environment changed, we adapted. But, sometimes adaption was not possible and species died. The dinosaurs could not make it after the giant meteor hit the earth; our forebears did. Of course, they changed to meet the new conditions and over eons, we changed and changed and changed to meet new environments. Nothing about the universe was designed for us; adapt or disappear. The fossil record attests to that. So, we made it . . . at least until now.
We all face the problem of how to live an acceptable life in the face of an intractable universe. By far, the great bulk of humanity reacts with emotions that have no relation to the problem. A patient described how, once, he shook a fist at the sky in outrage for something or other that had gone wrong. What's the point? Yes, he said he felt better after doing so, but it had never occurred to him that he could feel better by accepting loss as part of life and continuing to strive to enjoy his life. “I can't be happy unless the universe does such and so,” is the lament. Humbug, sheer, unadulterated humbug. But prayers are made urging God to change the rules and most prefer not to notice when he, she or it doesn't pull it off. After all, at least there is somebody there listening and making decisions on a master plan that we cannot comprehend. Yeah, that’ll be the day.
As Omar Khayyam wrote:
The moving finger writes
And having writ, moves on
Nor all thy piety and wit can lure it back to cancel half a line
Nor all thy tears wash out a word of it.