On being open-minded

Whether they’re liberals or conservatives, insecure people can’t tolerate profound differences, so their friends must do one of two things: agree with them or hide their disagreement. Such is the result of being members of a species that has evolved to find safety in tribalism.

I value no readers more than those who disagree with me while continuing to read my blog. The ones who go away mad sometimes complain that I’m judgmental. They list my failings (things about which they disagree), clueless  that every item on the list constitutes their own judgment. For instance, I’ve said that I hate nose-rings (I could give many such examples, but this is an easy one), which I grew up seeing on pigs. If I went to a new doctor, and he walked in with a nose ring, it would bother me. I would even hesitate to hire a roofer with a nose-ring, but I would hire him if he came well-recommended. Even so, I despise nose-rings, the moreso because they
’re so prominent that I can’t not see them

Some people would say that this makes me closed-minded, and that they don’t want to read the blog of such a bigot. I would say two things: I would never outlaw nose-rings even if I could, and if a doctor or a roofer who had one showed himself competent, I would still use his services. I would never make a nose-ring the sine qua non of anything, yet those who object to my hatred of nose-rings nonetheless dismiss my entire being as unworthy of their august friendship.

As for those who stop reading my blog because I hate nose-rings (again, this is just as example), I would simply ask: who’s being close-minded here? I hate nose-rings, but you hate people who hate nose-rings. So what’s the difference? Isn’t it ironic for a person to pride himself on being open-minded, only to close himself off to anyone he regards as close-minded? I think he should have a bumper sticker that reads, “I’m Closed-Minded Against the Closed-Minded.” What good does it do to boast of your open-mindedness only to reject those who disagree with you? It makes your open-mindedness into a feel-good position that is devoid of substance. It enables you to go to your ACLU meeting, your atheist organization, or your Unitarian Church, trash all manner of people, and come home reinforced in your opinion that you and your buddies are the crème de la crème, and that out there lie the ignorant, the stupid, the benighted, the accursed, the close-minded, the hoi polloi, and, worst of all, the Republicans. If you even believe in God, which you probably don’t, you can pray, “Thank you, Lord, for that thou hast made me open-minded, for my superiority over those who are close-minded is like noonday to the darkness of a cave.”

Here in liberal Eugene, it’s perfectly acceptable to heap scorn upon racists, loggers, ranchers, Catholics, conservatives, white Southerners, evangelicals, the poorly educated, and the grossly obese. While gloating over the hypocrisy of others, liberals are blind to their own hypocrisy. One wrote in response to my last post that he expected better of an atheist (that would be moi). Better of an atheist?! Does he see us as members of some rarefied elite? Fuck that! Atheists are no better than other people. Not one of us is pure. Not one of us has reason to boast of our goodness while rejecting others for their lack of goodness. I’ll tell you who is good, it’s the person who stops to help me when my car breaks down or I become sick on the sidewalk, and I don’t give a damn how he votes or what he thinks about the existence of God. Goodness exists in honesty, in helpfulness, and in being there for people and other animals. Aside from that, neither religion or politics makes the least difference. They’re side issues that have no more relevance than a whether one prefers candy or cookies.

On honoring diversity

“Honor Diversity” is a commonly seen bumper sticker here in liberal Eugene. It implies that diversity per se is good and that the world contains two kinds of people, those who honor it and those who don’t. In practice, this means that the latter are seen as Cretans who should be shunned (no people are more intolerant than the tolerant). I think it’s an absurd position because not all thoughts, customs, and values are equally valid, and some are grievously wrong.
A reader who went away mad earlier this year informed me that she had a right to her opinion. I wrote that there is vast difference between a legal right and a rational right. Few of our values are built upon rational rights. “Honor Diversity” portrays a world that has little to do with reality, but the bromides that represent false inclusivity are so often repeated that we facilely accept them, although, in practice, we might do just the opposite.

Because of this blog, people often become angry with me because I don’t respect some opinion that they hold dear. Of course, they don
’t respect my opinion that their opinion is wrong (honoring diversity doesn’t go that far). I think that what they really want from me is that I express only such controversial values as they agree with. I say this because I have never once been criticized for anything I wrote, no matter how controversial, unless my critic held an opposing opinion. I’m absolutely, totally, completely, and unalterably, unwilling to aim for agreement; I make no apology for this; and I don’t take the fact that I’m criticized for it to suggest that I should do anything differently. In fact, the more I’m attacked for a well-considered opinion, the more I am obliged to defend it, and the firmer my belief becomes. Nobody cows me. I respect no authority. I yield to no pressure, and I can but thank my lucky stars that I don’t live in some hellhole like Saudi Arabia where I would have to choose between keeping my mouth shut and being stoned to death in a soccer stadium.

I don’t mean to portray myself as a person who, in the name of honesty, goes about blurting out the first thing that pops into his head no matter how offensive, because I try to be just the opposite, by which I mean someone who puts a great deal of thought into what he says, who tries to avoid shooting-off his mouth, and who expresses himself as tactfully as he knows how. Some might say that, if these are my goals, I certainly fail miserably at them. Very well, I fail miserably, but these are my goals.

I put nearly all of my emphasis on acting in good faith. What I mean by this is speaking the truth—as I see it—as honestly and constructively as I can. For instance, when I told the woman that there is a difference between a legal right and a rational right, I knew she would leave my blog, but I couldn’t find a better way to say it, and I thought it needed to be said because she had demanded respect for her opinion simply because it is was her opinion (that I “honor diversity,” as it were), and I considered it an irrational demand. Yet, it’s very difficult to attack someone’s opinion without making them feel that I am attacking them, although I try to draw a distinction. After all, I can look back at my life (such things only being clear in hindsight), and see that I sometimes did and believed appalling things, and this does give me more humility than might be apparent.

The question then becomes, does doing bad things make us bad people? Two thoughts. One is that even when we act within the best light we have, our light is often very dim. The second is that we don’t always act within the best light we have, that is, we knowingly do hurtful things. We steal, we leer, we scheme, we lash-out, we gossip, and so on. Because I lean toward determinism, I seriously doubt that we could behave differently. You might object that even determinists talk as if they have free choice and become angry with those whose choices displease them. This is true, but it doesn
’t negate their position that whatever is must be, including their own feeling of having choice, there sometimes being a difference between a philosophical position and a feeling.

It’s also true that most people are simply not deep thinkers. This doesn’t make them stupid or inferior, but it does mean that they’re limited in a way that I hold dear. It also means that I usually avoid talking to them in depth. I know other people who are deep thinkers, yet I still regard them as appallingly wrong about some things. My sister and I have argued religion for decades, but I persist in thinking she’s wrong, and she persists in thinking that I’m missing the point. No matter how smart, deep, open, knowledgeable, and persuasive two people are, they will nonetheless disagree about many things.

The fact that most people aren’t deep thinkers is especially obvious in regard to the subject of my last post, which concerned our treatment of other animals. I don’t mean to say that meat-eaters are shallow by definition, but rather than most people eat meat for no better reason than that they’re acculturated to regard other animals as property that exist for human benefit. This enables otherwise kindly people to behave callously and even brutally (you can hardly shoot a cow in the head with kindness), and I don’t respect that, but I do understand that a person of depth and goodwill might disagree. I will think he’s grievously wrong, and I won’t respect what he does, but then I don’t respect much of what I do, and, for all I know, he’s acting in greater congruity with his light than I am with mine.

Because I criticize someone
’s religion, values, philosophy, or behavior, he might charge that I’m a horrible person, a complete hypocrite. Okay, fine, but even if I’m as bad as Hitler, Stalin, and Pol Pot combined, this doesn’t of itself falsify a single one of my beliefs. We all fail. We all lack light, and we don’t always live even by the little light we have. Some atheists wear t-shirts that say “Good Without God,” and it seems an ironic statement indeed coming from people who accuse Christians of self-righteousness. The one part of the Bible with which I completely agree is that we’re all fallen, we’re all desperately wicked. Not one of us can get through a day, and maybe not an hour, without knowing that we did or thought something of which we were ashamed, something which we wouldn’t want anyone to know about. Maybe you disagree; maybe you think you’re a genuinely good person whose shit don’t stink. I think you’re either lying or clueless, but I’ve been wrong before.

The bottom-line is that “honor diversity” is bullshit when it’s expressed as an either/or proposition, and, sad to say, the greater the differences between two people, the harder it will be for them to get along. All things being equal, if you isolate five black guys and one white guy on an island, the white guy will be the odd man out. Likewise, with five Christians and an atheist, five conservatives and a liberal, and so on. Whoever is the odd man out will be blamed for creating disharmony simply by the virtue of the fact that he is the odd man out. He will be attacked as stubborn, judgmental, and arrogant. So it is in society. If you don’t fit-in, you’re seen as the problem, and the only way to avoid being seen as the problem is to keep your mouth shut, and I think it’s a ridiculous expectation.

Someone wrote after my last post that she is seen as judgmental because she’s a vegan. Well, she is judgmental inasmuch as she thinks it’s morally wrong to cause other animals unnecessary suffering. The idea that we should go through life not passing judgments on other people’s values—the “Honor Diversity” approach to morality—is a crock. As it with vegans, so it is with me as an atheist. I’m seen as arrogant simply because I am an atheist, the word alone being the equivalent of waving a red cape in front of a bull (you should see how cold many people’s eyes become at the mere mention of the word). But what is a vegan and an atheist to do? We can think as well of other people as we are able, but it’s too much to ask that we respect beliefs that we think are in such grievous error that they’re harmful to the entire world. After all, the difference in being a vegan versus a meat-eater or an atheist versus a religious person isn’t like the difference between  a Sealy and a Posturepedic; rather each comes from our best thoughts about the universe and our species’ place in it, and this makes it impossible for us to regard the thoughts of others as different but equal. Some things really are an either/or, and sometimes respect for diversity really is too much to ask. Take abortion.

People who are pro-choice often view those who are anti-abortion as the enemies of freedom, and they demand that such people respect their right to choose. I’m pro-abortion, yet even I consider it an outrageous demand given that those who oppose abortion regard it as murder. I think they’re wrong, but given their perspective, I fully accept that they’re going to regard their views as infinitely superior to mine. If they see me as a person of good faith, they will understand that I disagree with them about abortion being murder, yet I can hardly ask that they respect my opinion in the interest of some silliness about honoring diversity. This same respect is what I offer those with whom I disagree about important issues. If they really need me to respect their opinions as equal to my own, they’re not going to get it, but if they want me to respect them as people of goodwill, I might be able to oblige. It is the most that I can do, and if they possess a strong internal sense of security, they won’t feel threatened by our differences. Otherwise, I don’t see that I have much to offer them.

On our treatment of other lives

Torch-bearer of Ahimsa
“The notion that human life is sacred just because it is human life is medieval.”  —Peter Singer

Last night, Peggy and I visited some friends who usually lock their dogs in a kennel when they have guests because they view the dogs as disruptive. I am pained by this because I view an animal’s participation in social events as a right unless the animal is out of control.

The premise behind our treatment of animals is that they are property, and while they have a vague right to humane treatment, they are still animals while we humans occupy a higher estate. Religion tends to support this idea, but my friends are atheists, and upon what grounds could an atheist assign a lower estate to a dog except by the assumption of human superiority, by which I mean the arbitrary valuing of such assets as are common to humans over those that are common to dogs simply because they are common to humans?

My thought is this. If a person and a dog were drowning, and I could only save one, my efforts would go to the dog if I knew and liked the dog but didn’t know the person. If the person was a child, or I knew and liked both, I might choose differently, but any choice I made would be based upon subjective preference rather than a belief that human life is more valuable than non-human life. Certainly, accommodations have to made with non-human animals just as they do with human children, but these accommodations can only be justified inasmuch as they are necessary.

To view creatures as I do makes some difference in how I relate to them, yet I continue to drive a car although I know I will kill countless bugs and some larger creatures. I also kill spiders that get inside my house; own leather shoes and belts; step on slugs that threaten my flowers; spray herbicides on my lawn every year or two; and eat food that requires the destruction of animal habitat and the mass killing of plants. I also consume fish, eggs, and milk, all of which necessitate slaughter. I do these things because I want to, not because I can justify them. I have no reason but personal preference to think that, except in self-defense, my life is worth more than the life of anything else. I could at the very least reduce the amount of suffering and death that I bring into the world, but I don’t even do that except for the avoidance of eating meat and fowl and the occasional rescue of earthworms that are driven into the street by winter rains. If, upon reading this, you were to point out that, although a meat eater, you live in consistence with your ethical standards while I fail miserably by mine, I could but agree. I would question, however, whether your ethical standards were well-founded because I can
’t imagine how you might defend them aside from making the rather odd assumption that human life is worth more than other life.

Even vegans live by killing, their thought being that, since they have to kill, they should at least avoid the destruction of beating hearts. If I were a deeply moral person, I would have no choice but to be a vegan, but as it is, I pay others to kill bulls, roosters, and fish for me for no better reason than that I prefer the taste of foods cooked with milk and eggs and imagine myself to feel better when I eat fish.

As for those who do eat beef, sheep, swine, and fowls, I will readily admit that many of them are better people than I in all sorts of ways, yet when I observe kindly people eating a steak, I can
’t avoid the thought that they are less kindly than I had imagined based upon their willingness to cause misery and death for no nobler reason than that they enjoy the taste of meat. The best I can say for them is that they might not have thought the matter through. They probably grew up eating meat; almost everyone they know eats meat; and they’re so accustomed to cooking meat that they wouldn’t know what else to cook. Even so, they’re about animals like slave owners were about slaves in that if they try to justify their behavior at all, their rationale is self-serving.

Such is my species, and the most obvious difference between most people and myself is that I probably think more deeply. This might make me slightly more ethical, but it also puts me in the position of knowingly doing more evil. While most meat-eaters have at least some excuse, I have none, so I
’m on shaky ground when I congratulate myself upon my superiority. I would even go so far as to say that one small reason I’m not a vegan is that it would make me even more judgmental. The ultimate would be to live like Jains who go to such extremes to avoid harming other creatures that they breathe through masks; examine seats before they sit; avoid all means of travel other than walking; and look at the ground before every step. Their ethic is defined by the word ahimsa, and while I don’t accept their pacifism, I respect them.
It’s fair to say that I’m a misanthropist. Although I like and enjoy most people, I have no respect for my species, largely because of our double standard regarding other creatures. A predator must eat meat, and, so far as we know, lacks the capacity to feel empathy for his prey or the ability to examine his behavior ethically. We most certainly can feel empathy, and we most certainly do possess a moral sense, so we could easily make different choices without threatening our health (we would be more likely to improve it) but we nonetheless kill other creatures by the billions for no nobler reason than that their corpses please our taste buds. We might claim that they are less important than we, and therefore less deserving of life, but what is the rationale for such a belief?

While petting my friends’ dogs last night, I reflected upon the fact that joy, fear, need, and affection, exists in dogs as much as in me. It is said that Descartes considered animals to be living machines, so as some of his followers performed scientific investigations upon a dog (i.e. torture), they effused over how well God had endowed the animal with the ability to feign emotion. Surely, the better we are able to dismiss the feelings and deprecate the value of other creatures, the better we can rationalize mistreating them. But how do we make the leap from observing that an
animal’s ablilities are less than our own, at least in the ways we value, to concluding that the animal’s life is of less value than our own? But having done this, why don’t we go to the logical extreme and conclude that the same applies within our own species? For example, I have come to doubt that I possess any remarkable skills or intelligence, and since I’m getting up in years, I’m losing whatever skills and intelligence I once possessed. Surely, if my life is worth more than a dog’s life because of my skills and intelligence, then it is worth less than the life of another human who is more skilled and intelligent than myself.

This is not a popular way to think. While it’s easy for us to compare the worth of our species to that of other species without anyone but a few “nutcases” (moi) demurring, even atheists tend to maintain that, unlike the worth of nonhuman life, the intrinsic worth of every single human life is incalculable. Alas, it is but a feel-good statement that has little bearing upon how we actually behave. For instance, if by spending $100-billion dollars on airplane safety, or by lowering the highway speed limit to 40-mph, we could save one human life, would we? Given that we Americans, at least, allow our neighbors to die everyday because they can’t afford medical care, and send our young men and women to be killed and maimed in foreign wars without so much as bothering to vote on whether those wars are necessary, I would consider the answer obvious. We only
regard human life as more valuable than money or convenience when the expenditure of money or convenience is minimal.

We even speak of money as indicative of human worth as when we say that Warren Buffet is “worth” $72.3-billion while Donald Trump comes in at a mere $4-billion. Upon what basis can we claim that these are mere figures of speech? After the fine sentiments are out of the way, no exorbitantly expensive safety changes will ever be made, and the speed limit will never be lowered in order to save a single human life or even a great many human lives. That which we don’t value can often be discovered by reversing that which we say we do value.

I am better at learning vocabulary than my cat (for whom I buy kibbles made with meat), but he is my superior in dexterity and night-vision. If he and I were to argue over which of our lives is worth more, the most that either of us could accomplish would be to tally our abilities in the hope of outnumbering the other, but it would be a vain endeavor because even if one of us had twice as many abilities, the other could argue that his were of greater importance. Even if one of us possessed a thousand important abilities, and the other no abilities, the former could not prove that his life was of greater inherent worth as opposed to worth for given purposes. As I suggested earlier, to do so would be to imply that a gifted person’s life was worth more than a less gifted person’s life, and we would all be on shaky ground if this were the case. 

Feeling as I do about other animals is reminiscent of how I feel about religion in that almost everyone I know feels differently, and that in the interest of getting along, it is better that I keep my mouth shut. Because I hate going through life keeping my mouth shut, I rarely succeed in pulling it off very well, and have consequently lost more friends than I can count. It’s hard being the perpetual outsider, the one who is different, the one who either can’t or won’t (I’m not sure which) at least pretend to go along with what other people believe is right

I think that, for most people, ethics is a function of: (1) imitating our neighbors, and (2) being true to ourselves when we think we can get away with. If you live in America’s Deep South, you will probably say you believe in God, but if you live in Scandinavia, you will probably say you don’t, partly because our tendency to mimic our neighbors makes us more likely to be atheistic in a dominantly atheist society, and partly because those who would be atheists no matter where they lived know they won’t be penalized for saying what they really think. So it is with our treatment of animals. To continue the slavery analogy, most white American Southerners once believed that slavery was ethical and even charitable (it exposed slaves to Christianity); they now say it’s horrible and regret that their ancestors ever owned slaves. Does this mean that white Southerners of today are generally more moral, sensitive, and empathetic, than those of 150 years ago? I doubt it when I consider their behavior in general but especially in regard to other animals. We’re not creatures who think for ourselves; we’re creatures who mimic our fellows. Sometimes, this is for the good, and other times it’s for the bad, but in either case, our convictions lack depth. That which is easy to think and do is what we think and do, and this makes any claim to moral advancement a bit of a joke. 

Image credit: "Lord Mahavir Gold" by Sidparakh - Own work. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Lord_Mahavir_Gold.jpg#/media/File:Lord_Mahavir_Gold.jpg

Who would Jesus tow?

We expect our killers to be reverent.*
“I believe the fact that I've accepted Jesus as my savior will be my salvation. But in that backroom or whatever it is when God confronts me with my sins, I do not believe any of the kills I had during the war will be among them. Everyone I shot was evil. I had good cause on every shot. They all deserved to die.” —from American Sniper, Chris Kyle's autobiography

I know that religion can be used for personal betterment as opposed to personal gain, so my complaint here isn’t so much with Christianity (although I have plenty to say about that too) as with the way it is used to justify whatever America wants it to justify. It
’s sad but true that if you take the Bible’s actual words on any number of topics and offset them against Jesus’ command to “love your neighbor as yourself,” you can justify rape; slavery; racism; classicism; theocracy; imperialism; xenophobia; the inequality of women; the murder of Moslems, homosexuals, atheists, and disobedient children; and pretty much anything else you want to justify. However, there is a theological problem with this. Namely, Jesus put love for neighbor second only to love for God and acted accordingly even if it meant disobeying a commandment. The impetus of the New Testament is clearly away from authoritarian obedience and toward assertive love, but few people are able to rise to such a standard.

Here in America, we subscribe to a doctrine that amounts to patriotism on steroids. It’s called “American Exceptionalism,” and if you don’t believe in it, don’t bother running for president. What it means is that we are God’s favored nation, that he wants us to lead the world morally and militarily, and that he supports our endless wars. I can find no evidence that Jesus supported patriotism, and as for killing people, his following words seem clear enough:

“Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them who despitefully use you, and persecute you…” “Do not resist the one who is evil…if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.” 

What’s more, he said,

“If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also. Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two.…”

How, then, can a Christian justify resisting evil through the courts, the military, or the police? Churches have signs threatening to tow anyone who parks on their property, but I ask you, who would Jesus tow?

So it is that American Christianity rests upon various myths and contradictions, American Exceptionalism being but one of them (Manifest Destiny was its lying, thieving, and slaughtering forebearer). A second is that a man who lived 2,000 years ago was really God in a bag of skin; and a third is that the way Jesus wants us to behave is the opposite of what he said. America wanted a deity, and Jesus was simply the one it inherited, so just as the early church appropriated pagan holidays, so has America appropriated Christianity itself. It was easy. For example we wanted a deity that was nationalistic and warlike, but since Jesus was neither, we rewrote him in the image of a Viking war god. The rewrite doesn’t stop there. We also claim that Jesus supported something that we fondly call “family values,” although if a living guru said the things that Jesus said, it would scare the daylights out of families. Take the following exchange:

“Someone told Jesus, ‘Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you.’ He replied to him, ‘Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?’ Pointing to his disciples, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers.’”

Just as all cult leaders seek to separate their followers from their families, so did Jesus:

“No one can be my disciple without hating his father, mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters…” “I have come to set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.” “Another of the disciples said to Him, ‘Lord, permit me first to go and bury my father.’ But Jesus said to him, ‘Follow me, and allow the dead to bury their own dead.’”

He said these things, but since America’s Jesus is unrelated to the Biblical Jesus, parents can safely encourage their children to follow him, that is unless their children join some group like the Jehovah’s Witnesses that are silly enough to actually do the things that Jesus commanded.

Then there’s the swearing of oaths. Jesus objected to oaths, but except for the Jehovah’s Witnesses and a few other “nut groups,” America’s Christians love oaths; they just want to be sure that jurors and politicians say them while holding their hands upon the very book that forbids oaths. Here’s what Jesus said in that book:

“Above all, my brothers and sisters, do not swear—not by heaven or by earth or by anything else. All you need to say is a simple yes or no. Otherwise you will be condemned.”

So how do Christians get from that to not only taking oaths but insisting on oaths? By ignoring what Jesus said, and rewriting him as they want him to be. When Obama was sworn-in, the rumor was that he did so on a Koran, the problem not being that he violated Christ’s commandment but rather that he did it on the wrong book.

One of the stranger things that Jesus said was: “And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven.” Maybe it’s just as well in this instance that
America’s religion doesn’t give a rip about what Jesus said because what would we call our fathers? I guess I would have called mine Tom, but what would I answer if someone asked who Tom was? I imagine the following:

“Tom was the guy who impregnated my mother.” “Uh, you mean he was your father?” “No, Jesus doesn’t want me to use that word, and it wouldn’t be right to substitute a word that means the same thing, so I just say that he impregnated my mother. When I fill out a form, and it has a space for father, I cross out the word father, and write ‘guy who impregnated my mother.’ People look at me funny, but at least I know I’m pleasing Jesus.”

Jesus also said, “Don’t store up treasures here on earth,” but who ever heard of an American Christian begging God’s forgiveness for investing in an IRA and a 403b? Indeed, Americans love money, and millions of us think that by giving more of it to the rich through tax breaks and economic incentives
while denying the same breaks to everyone else (along with basic health services), we too can get rich through a bit of magic called Trickle Down Economics.

Speaking of money, Jesus never asked for a donation, but it isn’t an example that America’s preachers are likely to follow. And while they don’t consider it politic to criticize such sins as their flocks are actually likely to commit—divorce, gluttony, and consumerism, to name a few—Jesus railed against the people he was preaching to, calling them snakes, children of snakes, hypocrites, white-washed sepulchers, and  fools (this despite his own warning: “And whosoever shall say, Thou Fool, shall be in danger of hell fire”).

Likewise, Jesus opposed superfluous spending: “Labour not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life…” but it would be the death-knell of American capitalism if America’s Christians obeyed him. I find it supremely ironic that America not only rewrites Jesus as a superpatriot but also as a capitalist, making his birthday the biggest spending event of the year and his resurrection an occasion for buying new clothes.

Why the pretense? For example, why go to the wall to force public prayers on everyone who attends a government sponsored meeting, this despite Jesus
’ commandment to the contrary:

And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men... But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father in secret...
And in regard to religion, why this resolve to: put the Ten Commandments in every government park and building; name the Bible America’s national book; fight like banshees against abortion, evolution, gay marriage, global warming, stem-cell research, and universal health care; be content to live in a state of eternal war against Moslems; ignore laws of habeas corpus; support the torturing of prisoners for information (i.e. enhanced interrogation); claim that God’s true followers vote Republican; openly violate laws against political campaigning on the part of churches; and demand respect for Christianity while penalizing those who practice other religions. Not only do America’s Christians refuse to do almost anything that the New Testament actually commands, they do the opposite. Such verses as: 

“Whoever does not love does not know God,” “…if I have not love, I am nothing,” and, “ let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth,” 

...are ignored in our national dialogue, while hatred, oppression, and the denial of medical care are promoted as Gods will. For example, for years now, I’ve heard Republican politicians disparage Obama—and people like myself—but never once have I heard them say they loved us.
The Bush administration explained the 9/11 attack by saying that terrorists hate Americans because we’re good. Likewise, America’s dominant Christian community imagines that non-Christians and liberal Christians oppose them because they’re good. Well, no, it’s because they substitute hatred for love and claim that Christ wants it that way
. As long as they have their luxuries, their flag to wave, and their “American Way of Life,” the rest of us could fall in a lake and drown, and they would praise God for “smiting the wicked.” When I reflect upon what Christ means to such people, I recall H.L. Mencken’s warning, 

“When fascism comes to America, it will come wrapped in the flag and waving a cross.”

I’m far from saying that American Christianity doesn’t make sense in its own perverse way, because if it takes an enormous amount of “faith” to imagine that someone who lived 2,000 years ago was God wrapped in skin and that he wants you to do certain things, how much more faith does it take to do the opposite of what he said while claiming that he commands it? I had a family member who believed that Jesus wanted her to own a gold bracelet with the letters WWJD on it. She also believed that Jesus wanted her to have a new Cadillac every three years. Then, God be praised, her preacher realized that Jesus wanted him to buy one of her old Cadillacs. God truly does work in mysterious ways because I can’t find any place in the Bible suggesting that Jesus valued a life of luxury (although I can find several verses in which he trashed rich people), but maybe Jesus only reveals his will to those who believe in him, and that doesn’t include me and, sad to say, Peggy, although we were both “brought up right.”

Just yesterday, we were listening to Vivaldi when the “Gloria in Excelsis” was played. I asked Peggy if she knew the words, and she said she did not, so I recited them. She first thought I was making them up, but when she realized that I really did know them, she put her fingers in her throat and made barfing sounds (now that the Catholic Church is into exorcisms again, maybe I should take her to a priest). Some of you have probably wondered what it is that we atheists do with the time we save by not praying, and this is but one example. I’ve been told that I don’t know a damn thing about religion, so I should keep my mouth shut. My thought is that I have important things to say to Christians because I
feel no need to rewrite Jesus’ words to reflect my own opinions. The Bible says the following about the religious establishment of Christ’s era, and I believe that such people remain the dominant face of religion in America today.

“You say, ‘I am rich and have many things. I need nothing.’ You do not know that you are in trouble and need help. You are poor. You are blind. And you have no clothes to wear.” And again, “You cross land and sea to make one convert, and when you get one, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves!” Indeed, America endlessly crosses land and sea in an attempt to force people to imitate us, yet what are we but earth-devouring parasites?

Unfortunately, when it comes to national politics, people who oppose the status quo have no electable options. Our Nobel Peace Prize winning president kills the innocent everyday, yet he is supposed to be a liberal. Meanwhile, his conservative opponents would like nothing better than to pass religious defamation laws so that people like myself could be imprisoned for attacking their perverted version of Jesus. They insist that they alone are God’s chosen, and that those who disagree put America at risk of God's wrath in the form a terrorist attack, this because they think we say “fuck you” to the deity that they created in order to justify their greed. They are right. The dominant religious face of Christianity today is the same as in Jesus
time, and he warned his followers against it in these words:

Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits.

What are the fruits of American Christianity? Love? No, there is no room for love in the hearts of people whom, in the name of the Prince of Peace, devote their lives to war, wealth, oppression, nationalism, and every form of frivolous indulgence, and so it is that I ask you: what does America's prosperity gospel have to do with the words of an itinerant preacher who emphasized love at the expense of all else and who described his life as follows:  

...Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man hath nowhere to lay his head.”

Jesus, I can respect as being a man who was flawed but sincere and well-meaning. What, though, am I to respect about America's rewrite of his religion?

*Movie poster from American Sniper

I accept a challenge to criticize liberalism

My choice for president 

Readers have often mistaken me for a liberal because of my criticisms of conservatives, but I am neither the one nor the other, although I lean more toward the left. Recently, a reader who was offended by my criticism of conservatism challenged me to criticize liberalism. This is my response.

“When knowledge becomes rigid, it stops living.” --Anselm Kiefer

Liberals are of the same mindset in encouraging
open-mindedness, that they are in “honoring diversity,” i.e. the more the better. The danger of diversity is societal fragmentation and, in the worst case scenario, civil war; the danger of open-mindedness is the elimination of absolutes. I’ll give some examples from the fields of morality, history, science, and philosophy. In regard to morality, the denial of absolutes puts the basis for our values upon personal preference and social custom. For example, who are we in the West to say that the Moslem practice of mutilating the genitals of young females is wrong for all peoples in all places and at all times? Likewise, if we carry this view to its logical conclusion in the field of history, we must remain open to the possibility that the holocaust didn’t really happen, and, come to think of it, maybe the moon-landing didn’t either. In the realm of science, surely we wouldn’t be so rigid as to deny the possibility that the universe was created in six days, 6,000 years ago, by a male humanoid deity named Jehovah who was afterwards all tuckered-out and had to sleep-in on Saturday. Philosophically, we are forced to remain open to the possibility that Hume was right when he doubted the existence of cause and effect. Sure, this would mean that if someone gets hit by a bus, we can never know for sure that he wouldn’t lie splatted on the asphalt even if nothing had hit him, but isn’t keeping an open mind preferable to allowing our thoughts to become “rigid” and no longer “living”? 

The best I can say about the value that liberals place upon openness is that it’s a crock. No liberals are open-minded in regard to the examples given, and I would even go so far as to say that all human beings are closed-minded; liberals are just more hypocritical in this regard, and their minds are closed about different things.*

Liberalism is the parent of political correctness, a doctrine whereby anyone who has different values and opinions from yourself can be persecuted as a bigot. How can a person know beforehand that she’s about to fail the political correctness test? She can’t because political correctness is like religious gnosticism in that it requires esoteric knowledge known only to the initiated, and woe be to  anyone who is being given such a test by her employer because she might well be fired. This sometimes happened at the hospital where Peggy was worked. A nurse could expect to be put on probation for drug abuse, but there was no forgiveness for political incorrectness. Peggy
’s job was never at risk for the following, but I’ll give it as an example of how petty and unkind the politically correct often become. During a slow night in labor and delivery, Peggy tried telling her fellow nurses (all of whom were liberals) a few jokes:

“Has anyone here heard of the math teacher who was detained at the airport because she had a slide rule in her purse? She was thought to be a member of Al-Gebra.”

When a fellow nurse complained that the joke was ethnically insensitive, Peggy told another:

“What kind of flightless bird is completely gray? A melted penguin.”

Alas, when a second co-worker said that her friend of mixed race would be hurt by the joke, Peggy gave up trying to amuse her co-workers.

Some stores here have signs by the door proclaiming them a “Hate Free Zone.” When I asked myself how such stores might differ from less enlightened establishments,  all I could come up with was that shoppers would have to change out of their Klan robes before entering. I think the result of such signs is simply to announce the store owner’s imagined superiority over those who don’t tow the liberal line, their real message being: “Only the politically correct need enter here.”

Before leaving Mississippi for Oregon’s liberal Willamette Valley in 1986, I had never, to my knowledge, known an across-the-board liberal, and their frequent reaction to my Southern accent left me disabused of my delusion that they valued compassion, fairness, and intelligence. Many such people didn’t ask where I was from with friendly interest but with an inflection better suited to someone who smelled dog shit: “Where ARE you from!?” When informed, they would typically do two things. One was to ask “Where in Missouri?” (suggesting that they had never even been to the South), and the other was to tell me me how ignorant, vicious, provincial, and bigoted, white Southerners were, a characterization which apparently included me although we had only met minutes earlier. Given how dangerous such people thought I was, it struck me as a wonder that they had the audacity to speak so openly, but perhaps they were more courageous than I imagined.

After months of hearing my home state—and by implication myself—being trashed, I would sometimes ask such people if they had considered the possibility that they might be bigoted. They would assure me through clinched teeth that they weren’t bigoted, they were right. They could then in good conscience drive away with their “Honor Diversity” bumper stickers unblemished and their pride in their openness undiminished, while I reflected that, regardless of their stated values, people at either end of the political spectrum tend toward asininity. I seriously doubt that it is possible to agree with everything a given group believes without surrendering the willingness to think for oneself.

Many conservatives seem proud of their prejudices, whereas liberals had rather be skinned alive than admit to theirs. This is because they exist in opposition to what liberals claim to hold most dear, namely that all people are equal and deserving of respect. While it’s true that white loggers, white ranchers, white fat people, white Republicans, white evangelicals, white Southerners, white blue-collar workers, white people who live in trailer parks, and white people who are under-educated, are all fair game to the un-prejudiced, they would not regard their hatred as bigotry but as fact-based analysis. As with the people who thought they knew everything they needed to know about me based upon my accent, such liberals would argue that you’re only prejudiced if you’re wrong, and they aren’t wrong.

A few months ago—and upon learning where I was from—a Canadian reader wrote: “From Mississippi, are you? I have enough bigots in my life. Please don’t come near my blog again.” Another liberal reader was so incensed that I didn’t consider it obvious that the cop in the 2014 Ferguson, Missouri, shooting was motivated by racism, that she said she was too upset to talk about it. Like all good liberals, both of these readers prided themselves on their openness to other people’s views, but drew the line at views in opposition to their own even when, as with the Canadian reader, he didn
’t know what my views were.
Several years ago, residents of a rundown part of Eugene called The Whiteaker Neighborhood risked vandalism if they painted their houses, replaced a fence, or did some other home improvement project. This was because even the most humble efforts to make one’s abode attractive were said to discriminate against the poor by raising housing costs. It was a case of anti-gentrification taken to its logical conclusion. Just as some liberal heterosexual couples refuse to marry until all gays can marry, some liberal property owners refuse to repair their houses until all people have houses. Of course, this implies that they want to marry and repair their houses.

In the year 2000, two Wiccans who worked for the Eugene city government complained that Christmas trees were symbols of Christian oppression and violence, and they asked that such trees be prohibited on city property. Although the U.S. Supreme Court had declared in 1989 that Christmas trees are not symbols of Christianity (most atheists have them), Jim Johnson, Eugene’s city manager at the time, banned them from city offices in the interest of what he called “practicing diversity” (liberals often find it necessary to abolish diversity in order to encourage it). When firemen bitterly complained that their fire stations were their homes away from home, Johnson finally allowed them to have one small tree per station on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day only—if no one complained.

One of the most appalling incidents of academic liberal intolerance occurred in 2005 when Harvard president Lawrence Summers suggested during a speech that research be done in order to determine whether innate differences between men and women might partly explain why fewer women choose careers in science, engineering, and math. Nancy Hopkins, a biologist at M.I.T., walked out on Summers’ talk, saying that, had she stayed, “I would’ve either blacked-out or thrown-up.” When the Harvard faculty passed a “no confidence” vote against him, Summers resigned.

Fanatics are usually able to set the tenor for a given group because people had rather let them do it than to be attacked as traitors for speaking out. Partially for this reason, I have come to distrust all cause-oriented groups and to hate a great many of them. For example, when Bush Jr. invaded Iraq, I joined the local war protests, but when they became more pro-anarchistic than anti-war, I could no longer in good conscience support them. I have also lost liberal friends as I did recently over the Ferguson, Missouri, incident. It wasn’t enough that I agreed that blacks are getting a raw deal, my friend considered me a racist because I couldn’t agree with her that racism was responsible for that particular shooting. Nothing breeds fanaticism like religion, patriotism, partisanism, and political correctness. 

*Atheism is something about which both liberals and conservatives are closed-minded (liberals less so because they are less religious). Much of my antipathy toward my species comes from my knowledge that I am widely hated, not for what I do but for what I don't believe. I read recently of an atheist who, upon coming out to his family, was told by his sister that she had rather leave her children alone with a pedophile than with him because a pedophile could only harm their bodies; he could destroy their souls.