Monday, May 17, 2010

For Yunis

I had it all planned out. I had the supplies: paper, sharpie, shoe, pig shit. I had my little speech. I had tested out the video camera. The script was set. I walk in, draw a rough image of an Arabic-loooking man, label him “Mohammed” and then use the bottom of my shoe to smear the pig shit on the image.

So were my plans for May 20th 2010.

Then cynicism then took over. How are the leaders of the Islamic nut-jobs likely to use videos like mine? DUH!!! They will use them as further proof that the west is the great Satan and must be attacked mercilessly. I imagined my video being stripped of its opening advisory and cut down to me smearing pig-shit over the name Mohammed. In delusions of grandeur, images from my little vid became as famous as the hooded figure with wires dangling from his wrists at Abu Ghraib. Nice Job, Homie.

Setting that fantasy aside, I mentally returned home and saw that Jim Jones, a high school classmate, had posted yet another ignorant, unfounded, incendiary, piece of conservative, Republican, drool. As I fight and argue politics with the right, I feel handicapped by the fact that, for the right, reality seems to pale in comparison to maintaining group cohesion, ratings, shock value, etc, etc, etc.

Persons like Jim and his political cronies are “dead-enders.” They’ll accept no accommodation short of resigning all of our duly elected power and letting them run things their way. Fortunately, Jim’s crew is not the whole world. There exists a continuum. The political battle is for the way-too-suggestible middle.

In this domestic political battle, talking reason against their noise is a very tiring exercise. Having someone feed their delusions would be very counterproductive.

Flashback: Brooks St., Boston, 1993. A Pakistani preacher’s kid, Yunis, is sharing the apartment with me, JD, and Bob Dondero.

I don’t know what became of Yunis over the years. For now, I’m imagining that he became a moderate / liberal Muslim leader of some kind. I then imagine Yunis trying to keep a liberal / moderate coalition unified against the fundamentalists. I then imagine the fundamentalists airing a one hour montage of our drawings, prominently featuring the one with the pig dung. I finally imagine him muttering in exasperation: “Fucking Westerners! I’ve got it tough enough without asses like them coming along and doing shit like this.”

Although I doubt that my Yunis is doing this kind of work, you can bet that somewhere in Persia, or Arabia, or the Middle East, or Southeast Asia, etc., there are many other Yunises who are struggling mightily to move the world forward. They know the culture; they know the politics; they know how things work there. They are our best hope against the extremists.

Let’s not make their lives difficult.

Please don’t participate in Draw Mohammed Day on the 20th.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

You are not alone

I've been to church maybe half a dozen times since the day before Katrina hit.

One of those times was a funeral mass for the preschool son of our secretary at work. At the end of that one, on my walk home, I announced to the world at large that some things were just too stupid for words. The death of a young child and the grief experienced by all those around is one such thing.

Even though I am an atheist now, I still have my long and fairly devout history in the church. So, I have a lot of god-based mental habits. It's very hard not to fall back on them.

One time when it's very easy to regress is when a friend, who herself is not a truly a deist, has re-admitted her kindergarten son into the ICU and in desperation has asked for prayers.

What are you gonna say? "No, I won't pray, I'm an Atheist." – c'mon now. O.K., let's try again, this time without the arrogance: "Sure, I'll sacrifice my intellectual integrity to farcically pretend to petition the Lord." A bit patronizing, no? There are any number of responses here; many of them are bad, especially if you're fixated on your non-god-ness.

My point is that your belief, or lack of belief, or non-belief, in a deity gets real unimportant, real quick, when someone you know and care about is faced with that kind of terror and sadness.

For now, I've chosen ritual. I've chosen to keep a vigil. I've told her that I've lit and candle and that I'm wishing grace, peace, and love to her and her son. (Given that she and I are separated by nearly 2000 miles, I don't see that I can do anything more substantive.)

Are these actions of any physically demonstrable value? Probably not, but who really knows?

Are they beneficial in other ways? How can they not be? How can it be bad to let someone who's scared shitless, and her young kid who's less than comfortable, know that they are not in this alone?

So, Nikki, since my first response was a bit awkward and stilted, here's what I actually meant: "I love you and I care about you. You are not alone, and I really hope that this storm passes without harm."

Friday, April 2, 2010

"Grow up, or die."

"The plain fact is religion must die for mankind to live.

"The hour is getting very late to be able to indulge in having key decisions made by religious people, by irrationalists, by those who would steer the ship of state not by a compass but by the equivalent of reading the entrails of a chicken. George Bush prayed a lot about Iraq, but he didn't learn a lot about it.

"'Faith' means making a virtue out of not thinking. It's nothing to brag about. And those who preach faith, and enable and elevate it, are our intellectual slave holders keeping mankind in a bondage to fantasy and nonsense that has spawned and justified so much lunacy and destruction.

"Religion is dangerous because it allows human beings, who don't have all the answers, to think that they do. Most people would think it's wonderful when someone says, 'I'm willing, Lord. I'll do whatever you want me to do,' except that, since there are no gods actually talking to us, that void is filled in by people with their own corruptions and limitations and agendas.

"And anyone who tells you they know, they just know, what happens when you die, I promise you, you don't. How can I be so sure? Because I don’t know and you do not possess mental powers that I do not. The only appropriate attitude for man to have about the big questions is not the arrogant certitude that is the hallmark of religion, but doubt. Doubt is humble and that's what man needs to be considering that human history is just a litany of getting shit dead wrong.

"This is why rational people, anti-religionists, must end their timidity and come out of the closet and assert themselves, and those who consider themselves only moderately religious, really need to look in the mirror and realize that the solace and comfort that religion brings you actually comes at a terrible price.

"If you belonged to a political party or a social club that was tied to as much bigotry, misogyny, homophobia, violence, and sheer ignorance as religion is, you'd resign in protest. To do otherwise is to be an enabler, a mafia wife, for the true devils of extremism that draw their legitimacy from the billions of their fellow travelers.

"If the world does come to an end here [Megiddo, Israel], or wherever, or if it limps into the future decimated by the effects of a religion-inspired nuclear terrorism, let's remember what the real problem was: that we learned how to precipitate mass death before we got past the neurological disorder of wishing for it.

"That's it. Grow up or die."

-Bill Maher, from the movie Religulous