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Intelligent Stupidity

Mark Twain said Patriotism is supporting your country all the time and your government when it deserves it. I love America. America is a fantastically wonderful idea. America is a place where that idea is made tangible every time we speak freely and live securely. I love my country. I love America. But when my government tells me that bombing another country is how we make the world safe for democracy, I’ve cannot sit idly by.

No one disputes the fact that there are those who wish to do America harm. But is the best way to prevent America from that harm actually to humiliate an entire region and to pepper a country with bombs-bombs whose blasts destroy indiscriminately? I don’t think so.

Let us say for a moment that you’re a male Iraqi teenager living in Baghdad. You’re life has its ups and downs. Sometimes you get to play a game like soccer only you ride horses and score with a dead goat. You have some laughs-impress the ladies. You don’t really care about global politics. Then, all of a sudden, the place where you live gets bombed-your parents are killed and then written off by the aggressors as “collateral damage”. Your environment shifts pretty quickly. Now there are scores of people shouting from the rooftops that America did this to you-that they did this to you because they hate your god-because they hate everything you stand for.

That boy has no viable independent media or easy access to unbiased books. Who is there to tell him that America was just trying to “make the world safe for democracy”? and if anyone told him that, would it change the fact that America just wrecked his life? Can we really be surprised if that boy makes his new life with a welcoming community of extremists who tell him that the only good American is a dead one? Can we really be surprised if that boy straps dynamite to his chest for his parents-for his country-for all that he has known?

Now, I hope you’ll excuse the fact that this is a decidedly sensational tale that I’ve merely conjured up, but that does not mean that it is not a particularly poignant and realistic story. I tell it in an attempt to illustrate a point: Only a profoundly vehement hate can drive terrorists to commit atrocities. Terrorists aren’t born terrorists. They aren’t born wanting to hurt people. Even those who harbor a general animosity towards the United States won’t be driven to extremism unless somehow triggered. I don’t want it thought for a second that I’m justifying their actions-just trying to understand them-understand that there are reasons why terrorists do what they do.

So, how do we best deal with terrorism? How do we reconcile the fact that terrorists have proven themselves capable of committing massive atrocities with the fact that terrorists are individual people who don’t all act for the same irrational reasons? I’d like to say that I had a solution-that anyone had an acceptable solution-that any solution could ever be acceptable. I’d like to be able to say that we hade some way to eradicate every person who has committed or conspired to commit terrorist acts without harming the innocent. But I can’t say that. No one can say that.

I can say that the best way remains to minimize factors that lead to terrorism-to never validate-to keep a wary eye-to gather intelligence and to act on that intelligence covertly. I can say that launching massive preemptive wars for questionable reasons doesn’t minimize factors that lead to terrorism. I can say that the victims of collateral damage have mothers and fathers; sisters and brothers; sons and daughters; who will likely not excuse the country who did this to them for any reason. I can say that at best any justice we seek to impose will be imperfect and at worst it will only serve to exacerbate the problem.

Dr. King said, “Hate begets hate; violence begets violence; toughness begets a greater toughness.” It is a cycle that ends only when one party, in what would otherwise be a never ending conflagration, takes the high road and says “Not anymore.” The high road is seldom the easy one, but who, in a conflict between the United States and the forces of terror, will take that higher road? It has got to be us. We must once again stand as an example of civility and understanding to a world that constantly challenges those ideas. We must for goodness’s sake.



Questioning Flies

They say you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. If this is true, and I believe it to be so, then the contents of this essay will likely leave me with very few flies indeed. But quite frankly flies aren’t something I particularly desire.

My policy has generally been not to publicly breach the topic of religion unless it is first breached by another. Throughout my daily life religion has been a very present undertone. Therefore my mind is clear of any guilt from discussing the subject. So now I’m writing this.

I, as some might know, am an atheist, and a proud one at that. I’ve been an atheist since fourth grade. Growing up in an America that not only didn’t share my views but actively sought to change them as if they were some disease that needed to be remedied was challenging. I do not say this to evoke sympathy, but rather to help those, who might be inclined to get upset, understand where I’m coming from.

I have, since my earliest recollection, had some notion of a god. However, the idea of a god was not some inherent idea that I had held deep inside of me since my birth. It was an idea that society had introduced to me, for I held equal stock in the idea that I could control wind with my mind or cast spells. But then around fourth grade I realized I couldn’t cast spells or control the elements through my mental ability. So, I began questioning things including the existence of god. “Do you believe in god?” I asked my mother, who, with her encyclopedic knowledge of the world, I was sure would be able to answer me as she had always done. But to my surprise she responded “I don’t know.”

So, I figured that there was no more reason to believe in god than in witchcraft and decided to become an atheist or at least not to care about seeking answers that couldn’t be, or haven’t yet been, scientifically found. Whenever one of me classmates would talk about church, or something of the nature, and ask me in his or her youthful ignorance what type of Christian I was, I would respond, “None actually. I don’t believe in god.” They would react in shocked outrage berating my beliefs. “What?! How do you think all this was created?” and so on. So, to those who share their outrage and questions, I would have you allow me to briefly explain in a logical manner why it is I have come to the conclusions I have.

The question I most often get when people discover that my views are not in congruency with theirs and the one I first asked myself is: How do you think everything was created? I don’t know. I couldn’t really say. I’ve got some ideas but none of them are definitive. But I find the idea of a “creator”, some omnipotent all powerful being, a trifle irrational-in fact inherently illogical. Now, bare with me here: If a creator created all of existence, who created the creator? Some may say “Just accept that there was a creator who created himself or that the creator has always been there.” If we can accept that, why then can we not accept that existence created itself or that existence has always been there? Why is necessary to have “god” as a middle man? Are we so attached to the idea that a humanlike being is responsible for existence? I simply reject the idea that some sentient, humanlike being begat all that there is.

The more concerning question I intend to address is this: How can there be a clear good and evil if not for god? One of the reasons people find it necessary to conceive of some godlike being, is that we like the idea that there is some sort of ultimate justice-that the good will be rewarded with eternal goodness and the bad with eternal badness-that god ordains what is good and evil. I don’t believe that good and evil are absolute things. For instance I don’t think working on Sundays or that gays practicing sodomy are evil things. I think historically the lines of good and evil have been forever shifting, and have been determined only in a general sense by the society of the time on how we as humans can best coexist. How can I best serve my own interests while respecting others? That’s how I try to live and feel that I have good values.

I don’t say these things just to ruffle feathers, though I do enjoy the occasional feather ruffling. I think it’s good to be religious-spiritual I should say. People’s spiritualities have been responsible for fantastically wonderful things. I just find the presumption that someone who doesn’t believe in god cannot have good values insulting and irrational. So don’t write a brother off, huh?


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