[SEB Guest Post] The abyss looking back.

Here’s something that’s been bothering me so much that I just have to write about it. But I can’t put it on my own blog; the subject might read it there.

Sound petty? Hypocritical? Might be. I could certainly avoid hurting this person’s feelings by not writing about it at all, but I need to get this said and hear what you think about it. You be the judge; I won’t use any real names.

An old family friend – someone our age – has an adult daughter with bone cancer, which has spread to her lungs. She’s been sending out emails updating all her friends on the progress of the cancer and the treatment, as she takes her daughter to the clinics and nurses put her through punishing radiation and chemotherapy.

Every message is laced with; “Yay God!!!” and “God is so good to us”. Nausea wasn’t too bad this time? “Yea God!” Have to take your beloved cat to the no-kill shelter because her daughter’s white count is down? A major sacrifice, but nary a word about that. Doctor is really on the ball? Sure was great of God to take them to him. The messages all end with Romans 8:28; “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.”

Please don’t misunderstand me here. I’m not offended by the narrative; it just make me sad. We only have a little time on Earth, we’re pursued by death the whole way, and I get the impression her daughter is not even allowed to feel bad about having cancer. You’d think the threat of death1 would give us a little vacation from pretense; at least a short while to own our feelings and just be human about it. But no, she has to pretend God is being “good to us”.

I suppose I could send her back a message saying; “There’s no god, and you’re wasting the chance to be human in the short time you have together.” Nope, can’t see myself doing that. In one scenario, she’d just get mad at me and there’s no point giving her any negative emotions at all right now. In the other scenario, supposing – it’s unlikely but just suppose – her faith finally crumbled and she had to deal with her daughter’s cancer and the loss of her faith2, both at once? No matter how you slice it, a bad situation is made worse.

If there’s a point to writing this post, it is that religion isn’t coming to terms with death: it’s denying death. And often, even denying suffering too. Stop being human! If you cry out, you are saying God is not merciful. God, after all, restored Job after promising that he would “come to death at a full age”. This empty promise – contradicted every day by the world around us – is somehow supposed to give comfort to us as we face the dark abyss.

I have faced death twice in the last 7 years, and didn’t turn to a phantom either time.  My attitude is;  “All right, this is bad, and I’ll do everything I can within reason not to die. And whatever the outcome, that will have to be enough.”

Fine, but why should I care if anyone else takes that approach? Just this: by denying death, we devalue it, and life, and give license to war and every destruction of the environment for human gain. We throw down moral responsibility, making death and oppression something that God will balance in the end.

That, and not just some comforting platitude, is what surrounds the hospital room, when we just can’t face the reality of death. But not having the stomach for afflicting the already afflicted, I’m damned if I know how to respond.

1: Of course, we’re all, always under the threat of death but sometimes it’s more obvious and immediate.

2: When you have a lot invested in faith, the loss of faith can be as real and traumatic as the loss of a loved one or a partner. You get over it eventually, but it’s a rough ride. /VoiceOfExperience

A Christian asks; “I’m the bad guy? How did that happen?”

Near the final scene of the 1993 Joel Schumacher film, Falling Down, Robert Duvall has cornered Michael Douglas, who plays a laid-off defense-contracting engineer who has gone on a murderous rampage.  Douglas looks at Duvall and asks incredulously, “I’m the bad guy?  How did that happen?”  And he really doesn’t know.

I’ve been corresponding with a Christian minister who asks a similar question.  He’s genuinely puzzled as to why humanists in general or gays in particular would associate Christianity with bigotry and prejudice.  A few excerpts:

Who should I hate? In the end, it seems that I must either hate them all or none of them. The word of God and the inward testimony of God both tell me that I must hate none of them – even when it is necessary for me to oppose them…

And I think you have correctly perceived that I do not hate you. And, I find that the ability – the necessity – to love my opponents and to wish always for their best good, is tied directly to having placed my ultimate hopes beyond the present reality. If I thought this was all there was or ever would be, I think I would be decidedly more capable of hate. If I thought it was all about evolution – which,it seems to me, hinges on the quest for momentary advantage – I believe I could hate – that being after all, only a chemical phenomenon that is either useful or not at the moment and virtually immune to concepts like virtue or morality…

In the meantime, I hear from folks on your side of some issues that I do hate. I am prolife and therefore, ipsofacto, I hate women. If what they mean is that if I had my complete way, I would restrict certain freedoms even though it places certain barriers and limitations before individuals and classes of people who would like to operate without that restriction, then we don’t have the same definition of hate. I could introduce you to several women who have had abortions, who either previously were or currently are pro-choice, who yet would sign any affidavit you cared to craft swearing that I love them. (Emphasis mine)

And,

Please believe, it is not a matter of hurt feelings. I don’t have any particular desire to be obnoxious to you or your compatriots. I am not afraid of spirited debate. But part of my agenda is both to understand and confront the (to me totally upsidedown seeming) notion that Christianity breeds hate, contempt, and ignorance. If I am not yet skilled enough to communicate across this great divide without fostering the impression of ignorance and hatred despite my own clear conviction that I hate none of you (whether or not I’m ignorant may be more in question), then it is probably best to keep my mouth shut a while longer. (Emphasis mine)

And,

I feel that homosexuality is a moral problem. I do not, for what it’s worth, feel the need to take that issue to law and regulation. I don’t think the moral problem of homosexuality is worse than my own moral problems. I am not – at heart – a legalist. And I’m not trying to start a new issue between us on either abortion or homosexuality. And I know that presenting a similar list of homosexual people who would sign the ‘He does not hate me’ affidavit wouldn’t make any real difference. The assertion seems to be that I hate a class of people regardless of my relationship to any particular individuals.

I suggested throwing his agenda open to the community at SEB for response and he replied:

I don’t mind if you post the paragraph. I would be interested to see what would happen. I don’t really think you misundestood this – only a product of a quick communication – but to clarify, I’m only partly worried about offending anyone. I’m more worried about the cultural divide. I have seen missionaries do harm because they were eager to impart the gospel before they understood the target culture. This is not what you would call a missionary venture, but the same principle applies.

Really, Christians are the bad guys?  How did that happen?  Aren’t Christians, by definition, the good guys? Can anyone explain?

He’s all yours, folks.  He wants to know.  Can you help him understand?

Sunday Morning Sermonette: Obama’s “bitterness” speech

When “egghead” Adlai Stevenson was running for president, one of his supporters gushed; “Sir, every thinking person in America will be voting for you!”  Stevenson replied; “Thank you, maam, but it won’t be enough.  We need a majority.”

There’s an urban legend that Dwight Eisenhower was shocked to learn that fully half of US school children are of below-average intelligence.  He wanted immediate action to correct the situation.

So it’s suddenly a big deal if Barack Obama says;

“You go into these small towns in Pennsylvania and, like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing’s replaced them,” he said.

“And it’s not surprising, then, they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations,” he added.

FOX News about had a giant spontaneous newsgasm over that one.  They spent the whole afternoon (and will probably spend the next several days) calling Obama an elitist.  John ‘flip-flopper’ McCain said that Obama was “out of touch with average Americans.”  (Excuse me, isn’t ‘average’ pretty much an analogue of ‘typical’ as in “typical American?”  Just asking.)

And surely the funniest comment of the day was made by Hillary Clinton, who said voters did not “need a president who looks down on them.” Sorry, I should have warned you to turn down the gain on your irony meter there.

Remember when Reagan described the Soviet Union as an “Evil Empire” and everybody freaked out, but Andy Rooney (no fan of Reagan’s) said; “Would anybody care to argue that the Soviet Union is NOT an evil empire?”

Well, would anybody care to argue that a lot of rural American voters are NOT bitter about the sustained loss of their good jobs?  Or that some of them aren’t clinging to their guns as if Armageddon were right around the corner?  Or that many voters aren’t trying to elect a right-wing mega-church version of Jesus Christ into the White House?  Anybody at all?  Bueller?

OK, so Obama was telling the truth.  No wonder FOX news is so upset.

We have had just about enough of of a president who’s an “average guy”, who’s “in touch with the average American” (whatever that is). I want someone who’s in touch with other cultures too.  Someone in touch with inner-city poverty.  Someone who’s in touch with race issues in a way no other president ever has been.  I want someone who knows something about Muslims. Someone with a clue about science. Someone who knows our frakking constitution forwards and backwards.  Someone with the guts to call stupidity by its real name.  I want someone with some pretty damn elite abilities for our next president.  If he doesn’t watch NASCAR, I can live with that.

I’ve heard Obama tell automakers to quit whining and get competitive.  He’s told school kids that it’s nice they graduated 8th grade and all, but tomorrow’s another school day and they better study even harder.  I’ve heard him keep a level head debating an absolute whackjob, Alan Keyes.  He told white Americans not to expect patriotic hymns from older blacks, but then he turned around and told the black community not to expect white Americans to be happy about affirmative action.  That’s a person with some serious knuckles.

Lots of people seem to vote on “Hey!  He didn’t suck up to me enough!” or “He didn’t promise me enough!” or “He said something that could be interpreted as not complimentary to my demographic group!”  Well too bad.  You know the biggest demographic group that needs to get a frakking clue?  Americans.  And the clue we need to get is, that we’re not the world’s savior; we’ve got a log in our own eye.  We’ve lost the moral high ground, the esteem of many of our allies, the value of the dollar, and any chance of a head start on climate change.  It’s time to stop whining and start fixing.

(Cross-posted from my blog)

Bush on the romance of danger

President Bush, speaking by video conference to military and civilian workers in Afghanistan:

“I must say, I’m a little envious,” Bush said. “If I were slightly younger and not employed here, I think it would be a fantastic experience to be on the front lines of helping this young democracy succeed.”

“It must be exciting for you … in some ways romantic, in some ways, you know, confronting danger. You’re really making history, and thanks,” Bush said.

Cross-posted from my blog but I just wanted to share it with my friends over here at SEB
– Tip ‘o the hat to Terry

Peanut Gallery for “A Reply To Consi” on national health coverage

Over on the thread, A Reply To Consi on national health care,  Les is responding to the following quote:

If you don’t have the talent or the willingness to move to where there is a job that provides health care, well then, that is a bed of one’s own making.

Consi is answering but…

In posting this up, the subject line seems to suggest a desire for a conversation between us.  I’m more than willing to engage in that conversation, but that is often times difficult to do here.  The reason being that there are multiple posts of varying value between the replies.  If you do want a conversation to take place, I’m asking you to so state.  If you so state, I’d like to ask your other members to show the courtesy and restraint necessary to allow the conversation to take place by not flooding the thread.

OK, fine.  We’ve been here before:  Consi wants silence in the theater while he dazzles the audience with his intellectual legerdemain.  (in the previous case, there was some justification as the subject was very technical)  So THIS thread is a peanut gallery where the rest of us can carry on with our simian chattering “of varying value” on the subject.

Homosexuality topic free-for-all

This thread is for everyone to talk about gay marriage, or how gays should have civil rights, or not have civil rights, or general theories of what causes homosexuality, or why that doesn’t matter, or WHATEVER.

… so we can let Consi and Shelly (and others with very specific contributions to make) explore the very specific topic of the genetic basis of homosexuality (if any) to be found in the twin studies.

Have at it!