Thomas Paine:

“Reason obeys itself; and ignorance submits to whatever is dictated to it.”

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

OBAMA: Wrong on Wright

But he's right for his time and place in history

        A funny thing happened to me as I meandered through this week of news and conflagration: For a brief moment, I lost faith, and I lost hope. I lost the faith I had been nurturing in Barack Obama, a faith based in part on the denial of my skeptical side, and the desire to be part of a progressive movement, to see the positives and give him the benefit of the doubt; but, I also lost hope that the Democrats can win the Presidency in 2008.
        Pretty scary.
        So, please forgive me, O Gods of Positivity, Faith, and Hope— and those still-hopeful and faithful within my progressive, liberal sphere. I could not help myself. I could not deny my very eyes and ears, to pretend Obama did not respond exactly consistent with his role, as Rev. Wright had described it—as the politician he is.
        Reverend Wright should hold a news conference and say, “I rest my case.”
        What was it my eyes saw and my ears heard? Well, on Monday morning I turned on C-Span and caught Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s entire speech before the National Press Club. What I saw were standing ovations, an energetic, wry and humorous exercise of free speech; and what I heard was a great deal of truth, spoken with the lack of shame, timidity and doublespeak we’re used to hearing out of the mouths of politicians and pundits. What I heard was opinion and a point of view. What I did not hear was an attack on Barack Obama.
        But the truth is often treated as an attack by the entity it exposes. This is human nature and the nature of human organizations, governments, corporations, clubs, political parties, families, the media, and the rest of it. It would be nice to remember that simply because one is offended does not mean the offending event was false!
        It would be nice to remember the First Amendment of the Constitution too. It would be nice if we ask ourselves about truth. But instead we kill the messenger of truth.
        It would have inspired me better and restored my faith in Barack Obama, if he had stood up and defended Rev. Wright’s right to an opinion and educated the American people and the media about the First Amendment to the Constitution, rather than being defensive in a near-pathological extreme, by smearing him and rejecting him personally, completely, and for all time.
        Of course, the mainstream media welcomed this denunciation, for it calmed the Beast of American Empire, where the rule of silence, the taboo against knowing what we are, reigns supreme. Obama could in no way sanction the truth expressed, for example, in Rev. Wright’s comments about 9-11 being a matter of the reaping of seeds sown, of retaliation for the State terrorism the United States has heaped upon foreign others, of “blowback,” as Chalmers Johnson so prophetically wrote about before 9-11 in his book Blowback, the Costs and Consequences of American Empire. Obama simply did the prudent, polite —to the powers that be— thing, the politic thing, the only thing to do, where the cultural de rigueuer requires a certain honoring of lies, in particular the lie of the innocence of the United States government where 9-11 is concerned.
        I sent an email soon after I heard Rev. Wright’s speech, saying, “I LOVE HIM!” This is remarkable, given that I am a non-theist and not known for my attraction to religious leaders. (to put it mildly) Imagine my bafflement, however, when I tuned in to watch Countdown and heard Keith Olbermann say that Rev. Wright had “thrown Obama under the bus.” I mean, had we watched the same speech? But this take on Wright’s speech was everywhere in the mainstream media; no hide nor hair was to be found of what I had seen and heard—not here, nor there, nor anywhere—except on DemocracyNow! DemocracyNow!’s coverage, in keeping with the alternative news program’s way of giving a more in-depth picture of events, showed lengthy portions of Rev. Wright’s speech, Obama’s response, and then had a debate on the subject between one Obama supporter and one Obama detractor. Not that they had a Rev. Wright supporter on the show, which would have been even better. But it was on DemocracyNow! that I finally heard somebody say something positive about Rev. Wright’s speech. It was Adolph Reed Jr., Professor of Political Science at the University of Pennsylvania, who said, “...what is clearly a dog pile-on campaign at the national level against Wright...,” and, “I also agree with much, if not the vast majority, of what he had to say, frankly. And I think he’s also correct—Wright, that is—I think he’s also correct that Obama couldn’t embrace him, couldn’t do anything except distance himself from that largely astute analysis of American power and other contradictions of the governing regime of both parties, because of the warrants of trying to win an election in which the discursive center of gravity is much farther to the right.”
        There it is: Obama is a politician and speaks as politicians do, just as Rev. Wright said. It happens to be the truth.
        Deal with it.
        And what made me think neither Democrat could win the Presidency now, beyond the fact they have soiled the Democratic Party’s nest better than any Republican ever dreamed of doing? Here’s the thing: these two, in their eagerness to win every heart and mind of every persuasion, no matter how wrong-headed that persuasion may be, by moving to the right, trying to out-do each other on religion and feisty threats against Iran, have given the right exactly what the right will capitalize on—”hey, McCain is the true Republican!” Rather than being a contrast to the right, being true progressives and liberals, they try to identify with the right. Rather than respecting the notion that religion has no place in politics, that no politician should ever have to pass a religious litmus test, they pander to conservative Christians. Rather than giving us truth, they perpetuate lies. It’s the same ol’ same ol’ politics.
        Am I sick of it? You bet. Do I need to take a bath and relax? You bet. (Thanks, Donald, for that rhetorical thingy.)

        So, I’m back from my bath. And what a difference a bath can make! All I had to do was to get a different perspective, a wider view—the big picture, as they say. This came with my reading in my bath (bubble) of an article in the beautiful Orion magazine, entitled, “Revolutions Per Minute, Radical transformation is all around us,” by Rebecca Solnit. There, she points out that positive radical changes have happened incrementally over time, so that we hardly notice how far we’ve come: “Sex before marriage. Bob and his boyfriend. Madame Speaker. Do those words make your hair stand on end or your eyes widen? Their flatness is the register of successful revolution.” And she makes a case for patience: “This is why we need training in slowness, and the long attention span that makes it possible to see the remarkable changes of our time.”
        It was then, while reading the article, that I thought, “A woman and a black man are running for President! Wow. Where did that come from? Whatever, I’m glad I lived long enough to see that one!” I also realized Rev. Wright was correct in another way. Rather than condemning or criticizing Obama for saying things politicians tend to say, for being a politician, he was forgiving him instead. He was saying, “That’s okay—it’s how you are right now. It’s your role speaking, not you.”

        America is adjusting to seeing new faces in old roles, and we are having growing pains. Therefore, I can afford to forgive Obama too, as Rev. Wright has, for not being perfect. Anyway, sometimes politicians change in accordance with the will of the people, once they get into office. It hasn’t happened in a long time—gr-r-r-r—but, given that we don’t have much time left to fix our gravest problems, it must happen this time. Long attention span for social change is fine; long attention span on global warming just ain’t gonna work.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Is Anyone "Pro-Abortion?"

A few days ago, after his conservative guest referred to the pro-choice community as “pro-abortion, Thom Hartmann said, “nobody is ‘pro-abortion.’”

This was in keeping with the way liberals frame the issue of abortion by insisting we want to keep it “safe and rare,” a frame that gives credence to the opinion that abortion, as the word implies in its essential ugliness, is an evil, though a necessary one sometimes. This is the key to liberal framing of the issue itself; I’m guessing Thom Hartmann corrected his conservative guest in this way to support the more palatable and politically correct frame, “pro-choice.”

Still, I wish he had expanded on the subject. I wish he had defined what he meant by “nobody is pro-abortion.” Did he mean to imply, “nobody loves ‘killing babies?’” And if so, didn’t he confirm, by implication, right-wing Christianity’s belief about abortion as being evil, by his squeamishness toward the idea of being “pro-abortion?” Can we safely assume he too defines abortion as “killing babies?” Otherwise, if he had a more positive, ethically based, and reasonable definition of abortion, would he be able to make the comment, “nobody is ‘pro-abortion?’”

While I realize Thom Hartmann’s thinking on the subject is probably nuanced and more complex than that, on its face I have to say I disagree with the statement, “nobody is pro-abortion.” In fact, many of us count ourselves as being pro-abortion. That’s because we do not define abortion as “killing babies,” especially since abortion is illegal after viability, except to save the life and health of the mother.* Instead, the meaning of the word, for us, is as a surgical procedure deemed necessary by a woman and her surgeon for the life, health —mental or physical— and well-being of an adult person, a woman, where a non-viable embryo is removed from the woman’s uterus, her body. In fact, the connotations of legal abortion abound with positives —self-determination, responsibility for our lives and choices, freedom, liberty, opportunity, equality, relief, joy, expansion, and the possibility of having wanted children when it makes sense to have them, when they can be loved and supported as they deserve to be— thus, the frame, “Pro-choice.”

To this writer, not to be “pro-abortion” is not instead to be “pro-life,” but it is to be anti-life in all the ways that the absence of choice, freedom, liberty, opportunity, and equality would mean; not to be “pro-abortion” would mean being pro-oppression, pro-inequality, pro-tyranny, pro-forced-maternity and all the suppressions of the human spirit that bring depression, implosion of life’s possibilities, trauma, poverty, child abuse, and a whole world of ugly realities. Sure, for the woman who carries a pregnancy to term and has a happy experience, such ugly realities may never come true—her child is a beautiful reality, and nobody can deny it. But for many, many others, those who are coerced into completing an unwanted, unplanned pregnancy by guilt or by wrong-headed authority figures, by poverty or non-access to health services, the result can be ruinous to their lives and tragic for the lives of their unfortunate children. (Especially since conservatives thwart legislation that would be pro-the actual-lives of these children in any practical sense.) Furthermore, where a woman has no power to control her reproductive destiny, it cannot be said she has equal status in society with men, or she has equal opportunity. As it has been said, to underscore the absolute undesirability of being a slave to one’s biology, if men could get pregnant, abortion would be a holy sacrament.

If we are not willing to own abortion, ugly as the word may be, don’t we corroborate the right-wing connotation of abortion as “baby-killing?” If we are unable to testify, give witness, as to the positive values derived from abortion, we avoid the discussion and avoid spreading the good word.

Finally, not all women suffer from guilt over their abortions, either before, during, or after the abortion. And the women who do not suffer mental distress are not uncaring, low-class people with messy, irresponsible lives.

I remember the day I accompanied a professional woman I know to her abortion appointment. I remember how she emerged from the surgical room into the waiting room with a big smile on her face, how she proudly strode through the clinic doors to the car, happy and free as all women have a right to be. She never cried. She never had a moment’s regret over her decision. And the children she eventually had were wanted; they were chosen.** If you believe in God, and you believe God is in charge of everything, that God works in mysterious ways, perhaps abortion is one of those mysterious ways. Who is to say what and who God wants? Without abortion, this woman’s chosen children would never have been born. Can anyone say it was wrong for them to be born?


* from Wikipedia: “The Court ruled that the state cannot restrict a woman's right to an abortion during the first trimester, the state can regulate the abortion procedure during the second trimester ‘in ways that are reasonably related to maternal health,’ and the state can choose to restrict or proscribe abortion as it sees fit during the third trimester when the fetus is viable (‘except where it is necessary, in appropriate medical judgment, for the preservation of the life or health of the mother.’”) Dictionary definition: Termination of pregnancy and expulsion of an embryo or of a fetus that is incapable of survival.” The etymology of the word has it as “disappear, miscarry.”

** This in no way means I think the children who result from unplanned pregnancies are necessarily unwanted, nor are they any less precious than the children who result from planned pregnancies. This is a paradox the anti-choicers have difficulty comprehending. To them, the issue is a simple, black and white one, without paradox, without complicated nuance, without layers and shades of gray.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Conversations Between Two Christians and One Godless Infidel, Me

Recently Barack Obama, a Christian, said, “We are not just a Christian nation—we are a Jewish nation; we are a Buddhist nation; we are a Muslim nation, Hindu nation, and we are a nation of atheists and non-believers.” (CNN, Compassion Forum) He made the statement by way of explaining how candidates of religious faith must use a “universal language” that translates for universal consumption, for all Americans.

It’s about time a candidate said it out loud, at least by implication—we are not a Christian nation. And the inference I gleaned from Mr. Obama’s remarks was about the wisdom of the separation of church and state. I think we can trust him to honor this notion and to take every opportunity to explain it to those who just don’t get it.

I hope more of the “faithful” will take his edification to heart. However, I have no illusions, no expectations they will cease insisting —illogically, meanly, ignorantly— the Founders of this democratic republic were Christians, and this is a Christian nation.

I have to admit the faithful have a way of driving me, the godless infidel, nuts. Well, maybe it’s more than one way; it’s more like many ways, but the one way I’m thinking of is the one where they say, “I’ll pray for you.”

I realize these are well-meaning people. But, when I heard this condescending remark one late night last summer during the admissions process to the ER at UCSD Medical Center, I had to muster all my compassionate restraint to keep my head from exploding, a head which was already suffering a high fever—that is, contain my contempt for the belief system that allowed the pleasant young admissions clerk to say such a thing to me.

You see, she hadn’t said “I’ll pray for you” because she was concerned about my health. Instead, she was concerned for my soul, since I had chosen “none” as my religious preference. To be fair, I had started it. I had said, after she asked about my religious preference and I had responded, “I trust that doesn’t offend?” It had given her the opening to say, “No, I’ll pray for you.” So, rather than ignoring the opportunity, I decided to get more information from her. I was the only patient being admitted, and my symptoms weren’t urgent, so we had time. And she was willing.

I asked her about her religion. She was a Christian of generic denomination. I said, “I’m curious. When you say you’ll pray for me, do you mean you think God needs your plea on my behalf, because without your plea he will send me to burn in agony for all time, since otherwise he would have no reason to spare me?” To that question, she talked about God’s willingness to give me a chance to choose heaven or hell, without answering how her praying for me would assist in providing me a chance to choose. I asked, “With all due respect, have you ever considered the possibility your God is an insecure, self-centered, petty and cruel tyrant to insist we worship Him or suffer in hell for all eternity?”

I’ve forgotten her answer to that. Anyway, it was a rhetorical question. But I do remember her answer to to this question: “Can you tell me where you were before you were conceived?” She seemed to sincerely search herself for the answer to this question. Then she answered, “Perhaps I was a thought in God’s mind.” This begged another question from me: “But were you in heaven or hell?” After further searching, she said, “I was not in heaven or hell; I was nothing; I was nowhere.”

Ding, ding, ding!!! Good answer. I felt encouraged.

I continued, “since you have been nowhere already, neither in heaven nor hell, as nothing but a loop in God’s mind, why do you deny the possibility of being such again? Why do we have to be afraid of nothingness after death?” For one small moment I had the feeling this young person was experiencing a true quandary, caught between the security of the Biblical debris in her head and a new possibility.

Then she said, “I don’t know. I never thought of that.”

With this, I am reminded of a conversation I had with another Christian, a conversation carried out over a period of months. This other Christian was a fundamentalist Lutheran, a woman I knew at work. From time to time I would ask her a question about her beliefs, both religious and political, and she would answer with sincere enthusiasm, confidence and enjoyment, presumably in hopes of revealing “truth” to this doomed person and saving me from eternal hellfire. She never asked questions about my beliefs, perhaps because early on I had told her I didn’t believe in the Devil, or hell, or in any of the threats offered by Christianity for my failure to conform, and that was all she needed to know. I, for my part, hoped eventually to know her well enough to make well-founded judgments about where she was coming from. I didn’t want to assume. When I finally wrote the following long letter to her, I knew who I was writing to and felt it was time to respond to the assertions she had made, which I had previously heard but not answered. Perhaps it was an imposition; but I long ago decided these conversations have to happen, otherwise, those who listen to James Dobson (who is as a lesser god than God Himself to her, but still a god) and Rush Limbaugh (whom she likes a great deal) will think theirs are the only ideas out there. I considered my letter to be push back, for the sake of balance in this world.

Open Letter to a Christian Fundamentalist:

“Dear A_______.
The way we coexist in peace, despite our differences and disagreements, is a good thing. For me, it satisfies the notion of peace.

You disagree. You have a “higher” notion of peace, as you have professed it to me, where you abandon anger and animosity to “love and forgive” others, by surrendering selfish will to “God’s will,” which is pure, spiritual love, I presume.

My definition of peace is more practical. It only requires that we —all of us, all peoples— coexist without violence; that is, we know —perceive, understand— our differences, know our anger, our possible dislike of certain others, our humanity, our imperfections, and yet remain non-violent. Our commitment is to ethics, to civil behavior, where physical fighting and abusive, unlawful retaliation —war— is unacceptable. Your definition of peace, for example, would have my worst enemy love and forgive me, and I him in return; my definition of peace would not wait for such perfection but would be happy that each of us is prevented from bashing the other over the head with a baseball bat. That we can live and work in peaceful coexistence is all, it seems to me, we can reasonably expect, as adults.

I do admit yours is a notion of peace I wish were possible. I too long for “love between my brothers and my sisters...all over this world,” but alas, I’ve come to accept reality: the human spirit is such a complex thing and wonderful in its way, that to expect people to renounce their personal values to love and forgive each other as a condition essential to peace, would be —knowing human nature and the dynamics of human psychology— simply impossible. Rather it is more likely, if an edict were to come down from on high to enforce such a peace, we would only be repressing our animosities in a phony pretense of love and forgiveness to avoid punishment. This would not be peace; it would be a lie. We human beings should never be expected to to deny our true hearts, but we can be prohibited from acting out physically. Love and forgiveness is a wonderful thing; but to require it is unrealistic, if not plainly childish.

Perhaps you will think it childish of me that this morning when I woke up, an old joke came to mind. I'm sure you've heard it before——you know, the one where a man is tending his garden, when a Clergyman comes by and exclaims, "My oh my what a beautiful garden you and God have created!" And with that the gardener responds, "Yes, but you should have seen it when God had it all to himself!"

I want to present this joke to transition to other things, to use it metaphorically, not as an exact analogy, but in a loose poetic sense, as imperfect as it may be.

You believe God is in charge of everything. You believe God put George Bush in power. You believe all’s well and moving along according to God’s plan. You do not feel obligated to inform yourself about current political events, nor are you alarmed by what you do know about them. I, in contrast, see myself as a citizen gardener of our constitutional democracy. I take the words “government of, by, and for THE PEOPLE” seriously; I say, if it is government BY the people, then I had better do my part to govern, to be an informed citizen and to work this garden of humanity, of life and civilization, tend it and make sure it satisfies the promise of its Constitution to uphold the general welfare, and the liberties and core American values we hold dear. For me, not to try, not to take responsibility, is to abandon the whole notion of civilization and the values I hold dear— social justice, ethical norms, health, happiness, fairness, security, respect, tolerance, peaceful coexistence, the Constitution and Bill of Rights, the democratic republic itself, human rights, prohibitions against cruelty of all kinds, and on and on. And so I ask, when we leave our public life up to “God,” how can we expect anything to result but the very chaos, corruption, and lawlessness that is represented symbolically by a neglected garden?

To extend the metaphor, and to make a case for the importance of our dialogue, I would say that this airing and discussing of our differences is the symbolic equivalent of companion gardening, that is, planting the marigolds among the broccoli, or the garlic among the roses, which makes for a stronger garden, one less subject to infestations of pesky varieties which can weaken and destroy the garden. It’s about balance, essentially.

Somebody once said —who?— that if you want a healthy world, don’t talk only to your friends about your concerns, talk to your enemies. Well, I wouldn’t say we were enemies, but we are different; and this difference is the same difference that is manifesting world wide in historic ways—I would say, with dire consequences; but I see you are quite content with the way those in power are tending things.

So here’s my garlic for your rose, or my rose for your garlic, however you like it to be:

You believe "God is in charge of everything that is going on." You have put it just that way, so I have to ask if you mean to say to say God is responsible for everything that is going on. I ask because that just wouldn’t work, would it? It wouldn’t work, since you also claim, for example, God was not responsible for slavery, that slavery was just a practice at the time. You couldn’t have it both ways, right? You couldn’t say God is responsible (that notion of “in charge”) for everything that is going on, and then say God was not responsible for slavery and/or other bad practices and events in history and the present time. It wouldn’t be logically consistent. I’m sure you agree on that, at least.

You have said, "Too bad people can't see the good but only the slight pain inflicted for a short time to get their attention and eventually give them complete peace and good." I understand, but I have a problem. I’m not good at denial. I can’t pretend I don’t notice something. I hear “slight pain,” and I can’t push it away; I can’t keep real images out of my mind or curtail my imagination. I could not say "slight pain," where the penalty for working on the Sabbath was to be stoned to death. I couldn't call it "slight pain," where in Numbers 15:32-36, a man who picked up sticks on the sabbath was stoned, "and he died; as the Lord commanded Moses." I wouldn't be able to dismiss his suffering as "slight;" I would not be able to turn off my empathy, nor turn off my distaste for a “God” who could be so petty, cruel, unloving, and unreasoning. Plus, it certainly begs the question: If that is slight pain, what would be cruelty?

I would not be able to think about Armageddon as “slight pain.” I would feel it not as "slight pain," but as severe pain; even just the notion of destroying the planet, the environment, all the sublime creatures of the world, nature’s gifts and bounty—well, such destruction would be a sickeningly immoral act, one wholly avoidable and unnecessary. To call it “slight pain,” disrespects truth and rationality; clearly it is a minimization in the service of denial. But, you disagree.

You have said that Jesus did not condone slavery, that he was using a parable. (in fact, nowhere in the Bible is slavery condemned by God or Jesus, right?) However, my source, a Biblical scholar, said this: "the entire context (Luke 12:41-48) shows that this is not part of a parable--it is the explanation of a parable, after Peter asked a question. But even if it were a parable, it would carry the same weight as a teaching of Jesus. The word 'servant' above is 'doulos,' which means 'slave' in Greek, and is correctly rendered 'slave' by the NRSV, NAS, Scholar's Version, and others. 'Shall' meant 'should.'"

Again, I would be in trouble with myself if I were to read the 32 virgins story as being about girls being employees, for example, as you have claimed. If I interpret "32 virgins" to mean girls who would cook and clean, as you say, I would get a jolt from my built-in crap detector; I'd know I was ignoring reality. I should know it as a rationalization, shouldn’t I? If nothing else, I'd recognize that those human persons had been turned into SLAVES (they were taken to serve involuntarily, right?), and, again, it would defy reality to say otherwise. (slavery offends the value of love, of freedom and liberty, right?)

I could never see how a child raped by a father, or a pastor, has endured "slight pain." I could never believe God decided to allow this to happen because, as you have written, "He will allow only what is ultimately good for that person to happen to them." (A statement which implies you do in fact think God is RESPONSIBLE for everything!) This is unthinkable, for me. Sure, nature allows terrible things to happen, IN THE WILD, in the jungle, in the forest, but we don’t have to allow such “slight pain” to happen in our realm, our garden, whatever the supposed “Godly” benefit (mostly to the perpetrator!). Surely you do not think God would allow such a thing as being “ultimately good for” that child? This is inconsistent with all sorts of values, but especially truth —obviously, no reasonable person would claim rape to be good for anybody, let alone a child— and moral compassion. I’m sure you can see my point on that?

Accordingly, I cannot see how the suffering your President has brought to the world, supported by his consultations with your God in "prayer," or how the torture, sexual humiliation at Abu Ghraib (homo-erotic abuses and torture ordered by Rumsfeld and condoned by Bush and Cheney), and the unnecessary suffering of the Iraqi people, which he and his Administration are responsible for, or the thousands of political disappearances and renditions to torture states this Administration has conducted since 9-11, how that is "slight pain." How many values—morality, ethical treatment of human beings, liberty, love and compassion— are offended there?

I am unable to dismiss the war in Iraq as "slight pain." We're talking about hundreds of thousands of innocent people mutilated, blinded, ripped apart, losing body parts, fetuses, losing life, losing mothers, children, brothers, sisters, fathers, whole families, and good American soldiers killed, wounded, coming home with PTSD——such suffering and barrels & barrels of blood, and for NO GOOD OR VALID REASON. I see those barrels of blood, and I cannot deny them. (offenses against the value of life, moral ethics, reason, love, peace, coexistence, compassion, etc.)

I surely could not love a god who does not love all humanity, including Muslims. I could not love a god who cannot love all the flowers of human religious belief, but instead wishes us to destroy all flowers but one. “We will have roses, but not daisies, not tulips, and certainly not birds of paradise!” I’m sorry. The mind of such a god is apparently smaller than the most petty child. I could never love such a hateful and sadistic god. (as such a god offends the value of tolerance, compassion, peace, and reason.)

I would not be able to close my eyes and trivialize the suffering of others, then vote for the man who created such suffering, just because he claims to pray to God and claims to want the government to be in control of women’s reproductive lives; that he prays and makes Biblical noises would not be enough to erase from my mind the suffering he has inflicted through his policy decisions. I couldn't keep from my imagination the reality of, say, an American missile, sent through an Iraqi home, where it rips through a pregnant woman's belly, to drag her fetus across the room to be shredded against the wall (this has happened in this illegal war, as I have read a real account of the scene). I could not call it "slight pain" inflicted by God, or decide I couldn't judge the policy-makers responsible for it because God might have done it through them. It might help me pretend all’s well, but I’m not good at denial. Instead, I would call it murder. I would call it war crimes.

That’s because I value truth and the rule of law. That is because to my mind the degree of suffering resulting from actions is what determines the relative morality of those actions, not whether such actions are written in the Bible as being sinful.

Yes, the crime of terrorism is a threat; but it is certainly not the worst threat we have ever encountered, and it is a creature that grows more heads each time we try to chop off its head with stupid policy decisions, especially military force and occupation, which is generally the cause of “terrorism” in the first place: in fact, what the majority of suicide bombers, for example, have in common is not Islamic extremism; it is nationalism and the spirit of resistance to foreign armies occupying their lands. Yes, the majority of “terrorists” are not Muslims at all. They are nationalists. Anyway, with regard to Hussein, we know he was no friend to Islam or al qaeda; he was not a Muslim. Iraq before the war was a secular state. And now, most of the terrorists in Iraq are not extremists from outside Iraq; they are Iraqis who want us to leave their country. What we need to figure out is that people hate us because we continue to invade their lands to force “democracy” on them—code for invade and occupy their lands to exploit their natural resources, and so a few people can make a profit. (I’m sorry. You have been sold a view of the world that is false because your leaders want you to be terrified, so that the war profiteering can continue. Your fear is just plain “good fer bidness,” as Bush might say.)

I cannot ignore the crimes of the Bush Administration. The corruption scandals, the violations of U.S. and international law, the war profiteering and fraud, the unending lies told to a gullible and misinformed American public, secret detentions, the outlawing of habeas corpus protections and several amendments to the Bill of Rights, the felonious disregard for F.I.S.A. law, the lust for torture and imperial power—if such does not qualify as impeachable crimes, what does? Sure, politicians are human too. But it is our duty to complain, to protest, to force them to stop. We cannot sit by and say, “Who am I to criticize? I am not perfect!” No. As imperfect as I am, I have never done anything so heinous. We the People are the government, and we must govern. We must demand the rule of law be upheld. Our constitutional democracy has rendered it reasonable to do so.

Somewhere in the Bible, it says that “rebellion” is tantamount to witchery, correct? If we believed such words to be a prohibition against resistance or opposition to authority, we wouldn’t have achieved any of the great advancements we enjoy today (or used to enjoy, before the Bush administration): civil liberties, the vote for women and minorities, the democratic republic itself, the eight-hour day, week-ends, etc. Rebellion against oppressive, or irresponsible, or unaccountable, authority is essential, if we are to be happy and breathe free.

You have said you continue to read the Bible and some of it is a “mystery." Here again, I would be unable to give such benefit to my doubts. You value faith, mystery, and submission to authority. I value critical thinking, autonomy, self-governance, fairness, and reason. (not that you don’t value these things, but less than you value faith and the values you take from the Bible, correct?)

We have talked about a Molly Ivins article, one where she observed that policies do matter, using the Katrina disaster as an example. Your response was to say, happily, "but she's assuming death is a bad thing." Since, yes, I'm sure Molly Ivins thinks of suffering and dying a terrible death IS a bad thing, especially death that could have been prevented had the Bush Administration not cut funding to shore up the levees, I'm also sure she never considered the upside, as you did. If she did, perhaps she might further develop such an attitude, where death is a value, and she could apply it elsewhere, say, to the notion of fire prevention, or forest management, or laws that protect us from pollution, or labor standards and laws—hey, if death is not a bad thing, why bother passing environmental laws to keep corporate polluters from killing us all, while they enrich themselves?! (talk about terrorists!) My dear A______, is this how the conservative mind works? Let the strongest kill the weakest: death is a value—keeps the government programs to a minimum and fewer poor people on the dole? Is that a ‘family value?’—Death? (Only if you are a sadist. Are you a sadist?)

Then, onward and downward toward Armageddon? So what if the planet dies; Jesus is coming? I can't go there. It's not in my nature. I experience that kind of thinking as hopelessness, as a violation of my conscience and ethical spirit, my highest spiritual leanings. To buy into the notion of heaven & hell and the benefits of death and destruction, for me, is to deny life, love, and the Jesus of social-justice and peace. Instead, I would have to hate this precious earth and the blessing and promise it is to buy into your beliefs. Truly, it seems you would give up on the progress we have made toward enlightenment and allow the greedy to destroy life on earth; I want to stop them and rescue the planet from our excesses. We have a choice: choose life and hope and possibility, or death and destruction.

If I were to support politicians who talked about “life,” and “freedom,” and “democracy,” but all the while DID death, torture, war profiteering, illegal spying on Americans, lied, cheated, stole elections, and failed to protect the Constitution as well as promote the general welfare of the citizenry, as the Constitution demands of them, I don’t see how I could be comfortable with myself.

No, the Bible is not for me, if it would lead me to abandon my vision for, and my responsibility to, our garden here on earth, in hopes of fulfilling a fantasy of perfection somewhere in the distant future. You don't see any problems with the Bible and find it satisfying somehow. As I see it, I am the gardener who wants to pull up weeds from the root (corrupt politicians and political processes, a President who wants absolute power, who thinks he is above the law, etc.,), who wants to have a diverse garden, where any plant that wants to dominate the scene and choke out others is not allowed to flourish (corporate dominance of government, monopolies, fundamentalism of all kinds, etc.), who wants to make the garden inhospitable to blossom-destroying pestilence (violence against and disrespect for women and children, war, sexism, racism, authoritarianism, classism, laissez faire capitalism, etc.), and so forth. You would leave the garden to the biggest and strongest (the wealthy, neo-con ideologues, greedy, huge corporate America, religious authority, patriarchy, etc.), the pestilences of this world. "Let 'God' do it," it seems. And we end up with no clean air to breathe, no clean water to drink, no diversity, no wealth of abundance, no equality, no freedom, no jobs, recession, no security, no peace—just massive debt, war, death and destruction.

You think a theocracy would be a nice way to tend our societal garden. I would have a hard time pretending, if it came to that, that we would then have freedom of religion, or speech, or that someday I wouldn’t find myself before Congress, being asked if I knew any witches. I mean, theocracy has been tried already, and that's why America was born, in part: to free humanity from the intolerance of the “faithful” and their domination.

It’s not religion I object to, however. It’s fundamentalist religion. Fundamentalists of all religions have many things in common, but the most important is a mind-set that insists its religion is the One True Faith, that all people who do not conform to that faith will suffer in hell, or whatever equivalent, a mind-set that will kill, or allow killing, for the fulfillment of its goal of domination. It’s not the religion that is the problem; it’s the mind-set, whether it is Christian, Jewish, or Muslim. It is authoritarianism that is the problem, not faith. It is the love of power that is the problem, not faith.

None of this means I consider myself to be superior or perfect, not by a long shot. I struggle with myself all the time. My anger is sometimes irrational, and sometimes it is founded in intelligence. If I am rageful toward a child or a pet and punish them violently, that is irrational; if I am angry over unfairness and express it verbally, that is rational. It requires courage too, since most people side with status and power, and I may stand alone. But that’s okay—if, to be true to my values, I tell the truth and I am labeled “nasty,” or whatever other “loving” characterization comes to mind, so be it.

I think about the good souls that by your Biblical training are burning in hell this very moment for thinking outside the box, with, in this case, the box being the Bible: Abraham Lincoln, Albert Einstein, Andrew Carnegie, Aldous Huxley, John Adams, Thomas Edison, Benjamin Franklin, Voltaire, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Galileo, Tolstoy, Thomas Paine, Christopher Reeves, Frank Lloyd Wright, Ernest Hemingway, Mark Twain, Robert Frost, and on and on. But of course, we can be confident they are not burning in hell; that is, unless the universe is ruled by a psychopathic sadist gone wild with irrationality, and I’m sure it is not.

You believe your religion is of the “love and forgiveness kind.” I know you believe this, and it comforts you to think it. However, I say respectfully, I can’t help considering that belief and juxtaposing it next to your political choices and mind set, and I do not see consistency. I could be wrong, but there seems to be a serious contradiction between your personal, private behavior and your real political choices, between what how you act publicly and what you do privately: it seems, with all due respect, you have sided with the violent, unloving side of politics and with hypocrites, rather than with those who actively work for peace, tolerance, and compassion. But has not your Bible (your individual emphasis, interpretation) conditioned you to accept war, death, destruction, and the lies & corruption of the politicians you support, rather than to require your politicians to promote coexistence in peace, to say nothing of love and forgiveness of our enemies? In short, how is peace, that “higher” version, served by your political choices? That is, I am sorry to have to ask you, as the bumper sticker does, “Who would Jesus bomb?”

I am only asking, if rhetorically.

What worries me, in listening to your own words, is that the Christian right-wing of the political sphere is unfriendly to diversity and to accepting a co-equal place in America’s cultural landscape, that is, to coexisting peacefully within a context of freedom, where the religious and non-religions share equal protection under the law as Americans. You have said you want your religion to be the national, state religion; you would allow other religions, but those others would be subject to the laws of your religion. That is, you want the power to force your religion, and what ultimately comes with it I am sorry to say —the cruelty, bigotry, ignorance, superstition, immorality, and puritanism— on the rest of us, and I do not think you will stop until our constitutional democracy is destroyed.

If I judge this movement unfairly, I am sorry. But it’s clear this movement is more dangerous to America and to core American values, as distinguished from authoritarian values, than Muslim extremists (which have authoritarian values too), by far. What are authoritarian values? Authoritarian values: patriarchy, dogma, conformity, supremacy over “inferiors,” and “outsiders,” jingoism (citizen fanatics, like sports fans, as different from patriots who are educated citizens who know, love and support the constitution), militarism, power in the hands of a few elites, power worship, corporate power in government, labor suppression and oppression, secrecy (as opposed to freedom of the press) anti-intellectualism, anti-art, anti-science, police-state government (as opposed to the rule of constitutional law), indoctrination over education, etc.

Authoritarians love to say liberals have no “values,” as if their authoritarian values are the only values they can imagine. So, if nothing else, I hope you begin to question the validity of such prejudice against us: we have wonderful values; some coincide with yours, and some are different from yours. But they are values—equality (all people are equally worthy of dignity and respect by virtue of their basic humanity.), fairness, constitutional democracy, co-equal family arrangements and government institutions, progress toward enlightened social reform and social justice.

I would hope your religion brings you comfort and joy, privately at work, at home, and at church. I only wish you would understand how it cannot be the truth for everyone. Other citizens should never be expected to adopt it or any other religious dogma. It’s called the First Amendment to the Constitution. It’s called freedom. It’s called liberty. Beautiful, beautiful words, words to live by. Sacred words. Words that will never die.: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;”
(end of letter)

A______ never responded to this letter. No surprise there. But, will you?

p.s.: echoes from history: Hermann Goering, fascist, April 18, 1946, "Why of course the people don't want war. Why should some poor slob on a farm want to risk his life in a war when the best he can get out of it is to come back to his farm in one piece? Naturally the common people don't want war neither in Russia, nor in England, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the peacemakers for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country."