Transience and Intransigence

I remember a conversation I had with a friend of mine when we were in high school, about the Beatles’ song, The Inner Light.

Now I can forgive anyone who doesn’t know this particular song. It’s not exactly the Fab Four’s best known song. Indeed, I was probably the exception and not the rule of people who were teenagers in the mid-to-late ’80s — upwards of two decades removed from the height of Beatlemania — with regard to this particular song.

In that conversation, I remember citing the refrain: “The farther one travels, the less one knows, the less one really knows.” Dave didn’t appreciate that line very much, and I don’t think I defended it very well.

When he wrote the song, I believe George Harrison tried to instill the message of how the less of the world you see, the easier it is to think you know everything. It takes an active attempt to break out of your small, private bubble, to even realize how much is out there that we don’t know.

If you’ve seen the movie The Matrix, you need to take the red pill to realize the scope of what’s out there, not the blue pill.

But there are ways to take the red pill without traveling great distances. On one hand, you can go to the other places both within and outside of your own country. On the other hand, they can come to you.

It takes a liberal immigration policy to allow other countries to come to you. I live in the suburbs of Philadelphia. Depending on how I choose to go and my specific destination within the city, I can be there in, at most, an hour. But even without leaving the suburbs, I look at the huge variety of restaurants selling international cuisine and am in awe: the usual suspects of Chinese, Italian, and Mexican, but also Thai, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, Russian, Indian, Moroccan, and probably a few others I’m forgetting.

While there certainly is a reality that, depending on where I choose to go, it may or may not be authentic cuisine from those different places, it also bears mentioning that, were it not for immigrants from all of those countries, we wouldn’t be exposed to these foodstuffs. And there are many more in the city proper.

Now I’ve never been the world’s most adventurous eater. Indeed, years ago I wrote about how much of a fussy eater I am. But I am occasionally willing to step outside of my own bubble and try some things from around the world. And anyone could or should be.

All it takes is the ability and desire to put in the effort.

This is why it strikes me as, at best, an act of laziness to restrict immigration. Stay in your house, in your little bubble, and it’s true, you won’t be exposed to different people, different foods, different ideas. You won’t be challenged or made to think or rethink anything you might have previously believed.

A country as rich and diverse as America deserves better. I’m not sure how I got on Donald Trump’s mailing list but in the past couple of weeks, I’ve gotten near daily emails ostensibly from him or from some member of his family. And they often hammer home the same point about how we need to restrict immigration and/or build a completely useless wall on the US-Mexico border, often painting all foreigners as being a danger or a menace to the American way of life.

I wish I could tell him that he’s a greater danger and menace to the American way of life than just about anyone who wants to come here and build a better life for themselves.

Who knows what country’s cuisine — to which I haven’t yet been exposed — might be my next favorite food? If we don’t let people from that country into the US, I might not know…

Now it is a scary prospect, I admit, to take that red pill. Uncertainty can be and often is a frightening thing, a challenge to the things that make you comfortable. But being willing to get a little uncomfortable can lead to great changes.

There are things about our overall lives and personalities that we can’t change, and that can be a good thing or it can be a bad thing. Think about any time you said the wrong thing at the wrong time. However much you might not appreciate the consequences, it was still something in the core of who you are that led you to say it in the first place.

That’s why it’s so important to change what you can. And expanding your horizons is an easy one. For however far you travel, you’ll still be you.

If we switch to a different song, I think that’s what Harry Chapin meant in the song W*O*L*D, when he said “But you can travel on ten thousand miles and still stay where you are.”


There are no words

The pictures and videos from around the world showing the scenes and speeches from yesterday’s March For Our Lives are truly inspiring. I’m not sure exactly what it says that the DC crowd was visible from space.

So naturally I was wondering how conservative media would try to spin things.

As I write these words, I’ve only been to four sites and I don’t think I need to go to any more.

Rapture Ready is completely silent. The thread entitled Gun confiscation for us; gun protection for them hasn’t had any new comments added since March 14. The Gun Toter’s Thread was last updated on January 8.

Fox News has a poll about how people favor gun control and two articles on the march, but all three articles are overshadowed by a larger article reporting that the “blue wave” that most political commentators expect with this year’s election will not be as big as some people currently believe.

Breitbart’s big article is about the trash leftover after the march.

But the truly appalling item is the one in Conservapedia. In their “In the news (what the MSM isn’t fully covering)” has this tantalizing headline:

Free transportation and food brought hundreds of thousands to D.C. for a march for gun control. [1] Was it the most subsidized protest in history?

They’ve got an external link. It’s gotta be something good, right?

Um, no. It’s a USA Today article about how New England Patriots owner helped the Parkland victims’ families, and the Parkland survivors get to DC for the parade. If that’s as many as a couple hundred, I’d be surprised. Certainly not “hundreds of thousands.” And the article says nothing about food.

Conservapedia is run by Andy Schlafly, the son of Phyllis Schlafly, and she apparently taught her son not to let the truth get in the way of a good story.

I’m done. I’m not the first and won’t be the last to express optimism at what I’m seeing these kids accomplish. It can only get better from here.

I believe “sociopath” is the correct term…

I’ve written before about the people who post to the Rapture Ready bulletin board, most recently after Billy Graham died.

But there’s a new thread over at Rapture Ready, talking about the recent death of Stephen Hawking, that can’t go without my commenting.

One of the most annoying things about evangelicals — and it does seem quite pervasive if not universal — is an arrogance masquerading as humility. It is humble to express doubt and uncertainty about things we might not fully understand. It is not humility to claim to know better than experts in a given field. And yet, we see in this thread things like this:

This feels a lot like the death of Chris Hitchens. Another guy who spent his entire life saying God was dead…and then God said Hawking was dead and that’s it. We always live with that little hope of “the 11th-hour conversion”, but I don’t see it here. Stephen Hawking spent his entire life studying the very Heavens that declare the glory of the God who made them, and he denied it all the way through.

EDIT: And to think he spent most of his life struggling through a terribly crippling disease, only to come to the end of his life and receive a body fitted for immortality…in Hell.

(User: jjmundt)

Or this:

I don’t think it was the truth he was searching for…his life’s work was to disprove the truth

(User: Momma D)

Or, similarly, this:

The unsaved world certainly has a radically different view than we believers, of the words “smart, genius, successful,” etc.

Then, one day, each one of their hearts stop beating and they are introduced to The Truth immediately.

And, by then, it is too late for them to accept it. They all had their chances during their lifetimes to recognize the existence of the true God and His Son………many times over……… but, they would not see nor bend their knee. It’s very sad, indeed.

It must be hard to be perceived in such a positive light over one’s lifetime, to then face the truth that they blew it big time for all eternity, and they have to admit they had it all wrong. And, they led so many astray of the Truth…………

(User: kathymendel)

One last comment:

I know what you mean. I wish I could say I have respect for him but I do not. I don’t care how smart you are, if you deny God exists, or act the way he did, you are making a mockery of Him. I feel bad that he’s suffering more than ever, but he brought this on himself.

(User: sing4theLord)

So the general consensus of opinion on this board is that Hawking spent his life looking for a lie while denying the obvious “truths” about god, so now he’s in hell. Given his disability, we can all stand in awe at how long he was able to stay alive. I can forgive anyone who might call the fact that he survived as long as he did, a “miracle” but we must acknowledge that this miracle was entirely due to medicine and technology. Had he lived a mere twenty years earlier, he almost definitely would not have made it to 76. It wasn’t a god that sustained him.

There is a trope about how astronomers quickly learn humility in the face of the vastness and wonder of the universe and all of our most famous astronomers — from Galileo, Newton, and Kepler to the more recent examples of Sagan, Tyson, and, yes, Hawking. Our species and our planet are ridiculously insignificant in the face not of god but of the cosmos.

Hawking sought the truth. He found small pieces of it and left more for his successors to find. There was no quote-unquote truth (as Momma D put it) for him to disprove.

I do think these are people who want to do good and to do right by others. But they’ve been so thoroughly entrenched in their theology, that they do far more harm than good. User and moderator Tall Timbers doesn’t “think he’ll be meeting Billy Graham”. The other comments in this thread make Tall Timbers seem downright quaint.

They’re sociopaths. And many of them own guns, too. One wonders when they’ll truly break.

Definition of a church

The Johnson Amendment — which does little more than prevent churches from explicitly endorsing or condemning political candidates — has been in the crosshairs (no pun intended but now that I’ve said it, I think it’s appropriate) of some misguided politicians for a while now because they feel it’s an unfair restriction on freedom of speech.

I think it doesn’t go far enough. There was an analysis of available records a few years ago that effectively confirmed George Carlin’s joke about how the Catholic Church alone could wipe out the federal budget deficit if all you did was tax them on their real estate holdings. It’s not surprising, then, that there’s a movement afoot to tax churches.

Couple this with arguments that churchgoers are more charitable than non-churchgoers, which generally fall apart when you factor out donations to the church itself, and how the lack of transparency on how an entity that calls itself a “church” actually spends its money raises some questions about what church donations actually spend their money on.

But there is a truth that many churches do operate legitimate charities, especially when it comes to helping the homeless, the infirm, or the hungry. (And not all of them consider women to be second class citizens whose only purpose is to bear children…)

So I’m thinking there needs to be a provision in the tax law that more explicitly defines what a church is, and any entity that fails to meet this definition simply isn’t a church.

Here’s my first thought on it. We can refine it as necessary but I think this is a good start. A church can only be defined as any entity that is affiliated with a religious organization with more than some number (is 100 a good number?) of adherents. Furthermore, it must spend at least some percentage (50?) of its total income on community services. Community services can be defined as expenses unrelated to any of the following:

  • Staff salaries
  • Construction, maintenance, or upkeep of facilities, including mortgages or rents on said facilities
  • Utilities required to keep facilities operational. This includes, but is not limited to, electricity, plumbing/sewer, telecommunications, and internet connectivity
  • Attempts to recruit additional members

When you look at the palace-like buildings owned and maintained by, say, the Mormons, it’s not unfair to question what they actually spend their money on, especially in comparison to secular charities like, say, Habitat for Humanity.

This would have the double affect of getting more transparency in church income and expenses, while also boosting the government’s coffers without raising taxes on the average taxpayer.

Then we can start debating the proper numbers to be filled in to my suggestions above.

Two more thoughts on the death of Billy Graham

Yesterday, I dusted off an essay I had written nearly four years ago, updated the first few words, checked the hyperlinks, and added a link, to remember Billy Graham for the hypocrite he was.

I have a couple more thoughts on his death, both of which stem from an article in the Washington Post, which had the headline Divorce, drugs, drinking: Billy Graham’s children and their absent father.

The first is a comment made by a user of the Rapture Ready bulletin board named “Prodigal Son”. In their thread memorializing Rev. Graham, this user said, and I quote:

Very sad. I didn’t find out until late last night, I had a long work shift. But I woke up to a hit piece from the Washington Post on him; entitled “Divorce, drugs, and drinking: Billy Graham’s children and their absent father.”

Wow this really made me angry. They didn’t waste any time going after him.

Okay. I’m not going to deny that the headline is definitely eye-catching, but the article doesn’t exactly qualify as a hit piece, as Prodigal Son described it. It’s public knowledge that Billy Graham himself never got divorced from his wife, Ruth. They were true to the whole “til death do we part” part of their marriage vows.

It’s also public knowledge that three of Billy Graham’s children did get divorced.

Likewise, it’s public knowledge that Franklin Graham “experimented” with drugs and alcohol in his younger days. Hell, the younger Graham talks freely about it quite often.

So the only thing that’s not inherently public knowledge — just from the headline — is the question of his children’s absent father.

Or is it?

It’s certainly public knowledge that he traveled around the world a fair bit on his so-called “crusades” (a term that, if nothing else, should be used with great caution because of its violent history; I sincerely question whether Billy Graham knew that his use of this word would inflame tensions and chose it anyway). Even if it wasn’t common knowledge, it shouldn’t be a surprise.

So what, about this article is a “hit piece”? It actually treated the man with more reverence than I did yesterday.

What Prodigal Son has really admitted to, is that he didn’t read the article he was disgusted by. Ironic for a person whose user name comes from a parable where someone actually gave careful thought to his actions.

Which brings me to the other thing I thought of with regard to that Washington Post article. I make no secret of my admiration for and appreciation of the work of Harry Chapin.

His most famous song, “Cat’s in the Cradle” came from a poem written by his wife, Sandy (which she kept in a poetry book that she had entitled “Fuck You Harry”).

Let’s face it: it’s very easy for one parent (usually the father) to be somewhat unavailable to their children while that parent pursues his/her career. It was certainly true for Harry Chapin who spent a lot of time on the road performing and then, later, undertaking humanitarian causes as well.

And it was true for Billy Graham. When confronted with this dilemma, the oft-traveling parent can do what Harry did (which is to say make constant phone calls home and try to be home as much as possible) or the oft-traveling parent can do what Billy did (which is to say, barely know or recognize his own children).

I’m not trying to say that either is a preferable way over the other, but I have a lot more respect for Jen and Josh Chapin (both of whom have continued their father’s good works) than I do for Franklin Graham (who is the only one of Billy’s children to go into ministry, and may be an even greater hypocrite than his father).

Farewell to the father of modern hypocrites

Nearly four years ago, when Fred Phelps died, most people, myself included, felt that his legacy was one of negativity and acrimony. His long-term sphere of influence, thankfully, was limited to his immediate family and a Supreme Court decision on the boundaries of free speech few people should even consider approaching. Personal invectives aside, he was just a sad little man who will probably be little more than an amusing footnote in future history books, if that much.

But there was another aging religious evangelist whose legacy is far more wide-reaching, and, consequently, more pernicious, than that of Fred Phelps. As the world now mourns the passing of Billy Graham, I do not want him remembered as the hero many other pundits are making him out to be.

Just about every constitutionally questionable intrusion of religion into US state affairs from the 1950’s is because Billy Graham had the ear of our elected officials who sought other ways of distancing themselves of the “godless commies” in the Soviet Union. Whether we talk about the phrase “under god” being added to the pledge of allegiance, “in god we trust” appearing on our money, or the congressional laws about a national day of prayer, Billy Graham’s signature is everywhere.

Just as pastors who preach that homosexuality is a sin might distance themselves from Fred Phelps and his family, Billy Graham’s words and deeds still echo in the intolerance and bigotry of the Religious Right, even as he might have distanced himself from them. Let us not forget that this is a man who first rose to prominence as the leader of a deeply segregated church. Yes, he let blacks in after segregation was declared unconstitutional, but he did it not out of conscience but instead because that was the direction in which the political winds were blowing.

Billy Graham may have tried to preach a message of love, but when it came to letting people who love each other marry, his message was that of hatred, as the full-page newspaper ads he and his church bought on the eve of the gay marriage referendum in North Carolina in 2012.

Religious incursion on matters of state is nothing new, as Thomas Jefferson’s letter to the Danbury Baptists will attest. But American history is mostly from the state pushing back on the religions who sought undue influence. Until Billy Graham came into the picture.

With Billy Graham gone, it’s not too late for the state to push back and undo his influence. It’s the least we can do if we want the republic to thrive.

Here we go again…

After the shooting the other day in Parkland, Florida, I went back and reread the twoposts I wrote following the Pulse nightclub shooting nearly two years ago.

Nothing has changed. The Republican Party still refuses to do anything to actually address the problem. As a result, nothing is even being tried.

There is one thing about this particular shooting that is different from most of the other ones: the shooter is still alive. I hope that a competent investigation can provide details into his motives and motivations.

Donald Trump’s tweet about the shooting makes a good point:

So many signs that the Florida shooter was mentally disturbed, even expelled from school for bad and erratic behavior. Neighbors and classmates knew he was a big problem. Must always report such instances to authorities, again and again!

7:12 AM – Feb 15, 2018

Countless people warned us about how dangerous he was and is. Reporters. Politicians. Trained psychologists. And yet, all those millions of people voted for him and now he’s in the White House….