Tag Archives: religion

Secular Sainthood

10 Jun

If the words of the prophets are written on the subway walls, then our spiritual icons must appear in ad space. In an America where people are less spiritual, and more ignorant of their own history, something has to take its place–therefore we have secular saints.

This is nothing new–in fact, there’s a term for it–“civil religion.” In a young country such as ourselves (and 300 years is pretty young), America had to invent a whole mythology and founding fathers to lionize and exalt. Since the best example of a working republic was Rome’s, our national buildings emulate Roman design consciously. Without a state church, we had to take away most of the direct religious connections, and appealed to unifying concepts (such as the Ten Commandments).

The recent change in our civil religion has been who we choose to venerate. Since we learned that our founding fathers were just flawed white men whose beliefs do not match our modern sensibilities, there has been a push to eliminate the old gods in favor of the new. In this case, Valley Metro in Phoenix has pushed to have a local artist create these beautiful pictures of 19 historical women to honor Women’s History Month.

Okay, let me get off my soapbox briefly to say, “These pictures are really good.” We should celebrate the founding mothers as well as the fathers. It was a little harder to be a big splash as a woman two hundred years ago, so our examples are far more recent. Now I’m going to take my fairness hat back off and ask, “Don’t these pictures look a LOT like Orthodox Christian icons?”

There’s a flower around their head (cough, cough… halo), one of them is holding an paint wheel like a cross or a book, and they all stare down at you like they owe you something. Like saints, these women are to be venerated; their lives are examples of how we should behave. Rosa Parks, Sally Ride, Harriet Tubman… women who broke traditional standards and succeeded. We made sure to throw in as many ethnicities as possible, regardless of how much it makes sense. For example, Jumko Tabei, the first woman to reach the summit of Mount Everest. Seriously? Or take Mary Eliza Mahoney, the first African American to graduate from an American school of nursing. Who cares! You could have used Elizabeth Blackwell, first female American doctor, but we already hit our limit of pale skinned women.

What I wonder is how long these new secular saints will last before they are replaced. How long will Madam C. J. Walker last as “the first Black woman millionaire in America” before her belief in self-reliance and her relationship with the wealthy overwhelm her ethnic status? How long will Judy Garland’s role as a gay icon last when people stop watching The Wizard of Oz? The problem with creating new gods is that they don’t have a tradition to support them when the next generation comes along. But maybe that’s the point–new gods for a new generation, nothing stable, everything politically correct? Maybe I’m being hyper-critical about a bunch of urban art. Let me know in the comments below! Then if you want some more ephemeral art, check out one of my books. However, if $1.99 is too expensive to support the arts, go ahead and download one of my stories for free. You’ll be glad you did.

Not Today, Satan!

29 May

So I’m walking into work and I pass a guy with a t-shirt that loudly proclaimed, “Not Today Satan!” That got me thinking two things: 1) That sentence needs a comma and 2) isn’t blaming Satan for the evil in the world a bit of a cop out?

Satan as a concept seems almost sacrilegious. If I want to be pretentious, I’d say it’s Manichaean or dualist; it has a Zoroastrian flair to it. The idea of an equal and opposite power to God weakens the power of the Almighty. The Christian and Islamic traditions would say that Satan/Shaitain is far weaker. but why would God allow a force of evil to exist in the world?

Satan is named explicitly in the Gospels and the Letters of the New Testament, as well as the Quran, but when it’s mentioned in the Tanakh (Old Testament), Satan is “the snake” (Genesis 2) or “the adversary.” (Job 1) Job was the first written of the Biblical texts; the language is far more archaic than the Torah or certainly any of the Histories or Prophets. Anyway, in that book:

6 Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan came also among them. And the Lord said unto Satan, Whence comest thou? Then Satan answered the Lord, and said, From going to and fro in the earth, and from walking up and down in it.

And the Lord said unto Satan, Hast thou considered my servant Job, that there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and an upright man, one that feareth God, and escheweth evil?

Then Satan answered the Lord, and said, Doth Job fear God for nought 10 Hast not thou made an hedge about him, and about his house, and about all that he hath on every side? thou hast blessed the work of his hands, and his substance is increased in the land. 11 But put forth thine hand now, and touch all that he hath, and he will curse thee to thy face.

12 And the Lord said unto Satan, Behold, all that he hath is in thy power; only upon himself put not forth thine hand. So Satan went forth from the presence of the Lord.

Job 1: 6-12 (KJV)

Satan is simply one of the angels (although the text uses “sons of God”); not only is he welcomed at the heavenly court, he’s listened to. He sounds a lot like God’s “no man” in his entourage. God needs someone to point out the flaws in the plan. But this sets up the purpose of devils in scripture. Devils never attack you directly, they whisper in your ear. They suggest. Jesus is tempted by Satan in the desert, suggests a whole bunch of things, and as a good Jewish boy, he can quote scriptural reasons back at him… never directly touches him. Heck, even God “hardens the heart of Pharaoh” (Exodus 8:19) but God didn’t force the man to make that decision, just suggested it.

Kabbalah (Jewish mysticism) divides everything into the Sitra D’Kedushah (the side of holiness) or Sitra Achra (the side of impurity). I frequently hear the Sitra Achra defined as the “evil intention.” It’s easy to imagine your dark side as a “still small voice” whispering dark thoughts into your ear. But I think that’s too easy; the pure and the impure exist within all of us.

So the fault does not lie in Satan, but in ourselves; if it helps you to believe there is a devil on your shoulder, but it convinces you to do the right thing, is that so wrong? What do you think? Let me know in the comments below! Then check out one of my books. However, if $1.99 is too steep for your wallet, go ahead and download one of my stories for free. You’ll be glad you did.

Country Club Judaism

29 Apr

Yesterday, I was talking about what I call “transactional religion,” the pay-for-play deal that you make with your local priest so that you get your lifecycle event. If that’s important to you, then you’ll pay. Now let’s take it to the nth degree.

I mentioned that my wife’s home congregation wouldn’t let us have our wedding at the synagogue. At first blush, that sounds fine. I’m a member of a veteran’s organization that runs it’s own bar. If you’re not a member there, you can’t drink there. Perfectly understandable. However, you can rent out the meeting space, because they’re bringing in money.

In our case, our son should have been bar mitzvah’d last year, but a little disease came through… maybe you heard about it. Despite being members of our current congregation for six months, they refuse to let him have the ceremony unless our son goes through another year of Sunday school, do a project, and vow to be a member for the next three years. Just like everyone else.

Now in fairness, we understand this, because traditionally American Jews only show up for the High Holidays, bar mitzvahs, weddings, and funerals… the lifecycle events. So you want those people who come through to actually be willing to support the congregation and be good Jews. So there are tickets sold to attend the High Holidays, because people will actually buy them. They want to make sure the bar mitzvah has actually had the training before they get up in front of God and everyone.

But that’s not the case here. They didn’t take our attendance in consideration. They didn’t take the fact that he’s a year late in doing the ceremony due to COVID into play. They didn’t care that he’s been working with a cantor for TWICE the normal time. All they cared about was that “this is how we do things.” They didn’t trust us to attend after my son’s bar mitzvah, they wanted it in writing that we would. They didn’t think, “gee, they have a daughter who will need this same thing in three years.” Nope. Pay the money or leave us alone.

So… screw ’em. This is what is known (not just me) as Country Club Judaism–sign the membership fee and you get to play. We have never been rich; in our lives, we’ve hovered between paycheck to paycheck to comfortably middle class. We’ve gone down a little since I stopped travelling for consulting, but still not worrying how we’re going to pay the bills. We also live below our means. We can pay the money.

But at this point, it’s not the money–it’s that lack of trust. They don’t think enough of us to be flexible. They’ve been burned too many times to even give us consideration. Because all we are to them is faces on a Zoom meeting; we’re not real. And that’s the most damning thing of all. We’re not part of this congregation, and the truth is, unless we’re bringing in enough money, we never will.

That’s what hurts the most; they don’t want to know us. They want our numbers, they want our money, but they could care less what we want back from the congregation. And that’s an organization I don’t want to be part of. So we’ll find another spiritual home. I doubt we’ll find anywhere willing to let us perform the bar mitzvah, it’s less than three months now. But we’ve got plenty of time to prepare for Eliza’s bat mitzvah, but are we willing to go through their half-ass preparation? Go through the hoops for her somewhere else? I might… but I doubt my wife will.

We’ve been burned before, too, and unfortunately, we’re running out of options. Apart from simply doing the ceremony ourselves, I don’t think there’s anywhere we can go where we can get what we want. So we’ll probably attend somewhere… and then just never bother getting our daughter bat mitzvah’d in a shul. Or ever have a funeral or anything… just paying month-to-month to support things, but never voting, because this pay-for-play system is not what we believe. But what do you think? Are we too up our own butts? Are we absolutely right? Let me know in the comments below! Then, if you feel like this congregation is worth supporting, buy one of my books. However, if $1.99 is too expensive, go ahead and download one of my stories for free. We want you here, money or not… and if you read up to this point, I love you, reader. May we have many years together.

Transactional Religion

28 Apr

I believe in God. I’m also changing congregations for the second time in a year because my wife and I are not willing to pay the price their board has demanded. No negotiation, no understanding, just… this our policy. This is why believers stop going.

This is what we have decided to call “transactional religion.” I accept the fact that when you join a congregation, someone needs to pay for the building, someone needs to pay the priest, and all the little things that people don’t take on credit. That’s fine. However, that’s not what I’m talking about.

Congregations wants people to show up; after all, if two or three don’t appear in His name, why did I bother showing up? Services are free; you are donating your time and activity to better the congregation. (Now I’m using the generic term “congregation” to apply it to all American religions.) However, when you want something back from the congregation, they want you to pay.

Now most of the time, you can accept that transaction. You ask the priest to come out for a wedding or a funeral, they usually get a donation or an honorarium… which means money. You ask a group of Buddhist monks to come out and purify your house, you’re going to provide food, drink, and cigarettes. (The monks who came to our neighbor’s house smoked like chimneys.) You got to a temple, you leave a donation.

However, that’s an accepted transaction. It’s also based on the willingness and ability of the person to pay. If two poor people want to get married, but they can only offer $100 instead of $300 to the priest, the priest might show up anyway. But they won’t get married in a church, because they can’t afford the site fee. My wife and I wanted to get married in her “home” synagogue, the one she grew up in, before she left for Nebraska and India. So she hadn’t been members for a while. We were poor but we were willing to pay the site fee. But because we weren’t members, the board refused. So we got married in a park, the rabbi came to us, and we paid the honorarium.

That was 15 years ago. It’s not like there was a monster truck rally at the shul we were interrupting, or trying to bump off another wedding, or even interfering with a regular meeting. The shul was empty, they were open on a Thursday, but because we weren’t members… screw you. You don’t get to use our building.

I fear my kvetching is going to take longer than a single post, so I’ll finish this tomorrow, but have you run into this before? What do you think? Let me know in the comments below! Then since we’re talking transactions, the post is free, but the reason is not, so buy one of my books. 🙂 However, I want you to be a member of this congregation, so if $1.99 is too pricey, go ahead and download one of my stories for free.

We Are The Vandals

5 Apr

Where is the borderline between profound and pedantic? The answer: your mileage may vary. Some books hit you at the right time and change your life. A piece of music might bring one person to tears and leave another person dry. If you have to explain the joke, is it funny?

I keep thinking back to Type O Negative–I loved that band, bought most of their albums, and they had a very tongue-in-cheek approach to their heavy metal/goth music they produced. Anyway, on their third album cover (yes, kids, bands used to put out physical albums!), they wrote, “Functionless Art Is Simply Tolerated Vandalism. . .We Are The Vandals.” When someone asked the guitarist (Kenny Hickey) about that, he said,  “That’s the truth, that wasn’t a joke. Our art is completely functionless. There is no use for it except for listening pleasure or killing time. The rest of the album is a joke!”

A lot of literature is like that. I know the Tanakh (Old Testament) pretty well; I’ve read the New Testament, the Book of Mormon, and I’ve picked at a variety of religious texts. If you’re a believer, the lessons are profound. If you’re not… it’s hard to find meaning. Take the Bhavagad-Gita; the seminal work for everyday Hindus, which teaches the lesson of the Gods to men. There’s a lot more holy books in that religion, but that’s the one that gets studied. My grade school knowledge is limited, so all I know is when Robert Oppenheimer quoted it when he saw the atomic bomb test, “If the radiance of a thousand suns were to burst at once into the sky, that would be like the splendor of the mighty one… I have become death, destroyer of worlds.”

Wow. That’s pretty cool… but it’s out of context. It’s not what the god meant–in context, he was telling Arjuna, “You’re here to fight. It’s your dharma. You’ve become death at this moment, so do it.” Let’s take a random verse from the same text:

O son of Kuntī, the nonpermanent appearance of happiness and distress, and their disappearance in due course, are like the appearance and disappearance of winter and summer seasons. They arise from sense perception, O scion of Bharata, and one must learn to tolerate them without being disturbed.

Bhavagad-Gita, Chapter 2, Verse 14

If you can get past the rather stilted translation, you might get out of it, “Don’t get too upset if you’re not happy–it comes and goes–don’t let it get in the way.” Which is an important lesson to learn and pretty valuable. But you might get lost in the verbiage, and since I’m not a Hindu, I don’t find it terribly profound.

One of the books that literally changed my life was After the Ecstasy, the Laundry by Jack Kornfield. He’s an American Buddhist teacher who interviewed fellow clerics from different faiths to ask the question, “What does a spiritual person do when they get burned out?” There are moments in one’s life where you feel close to the infinite–what I call a “spiritual high.” The problem with any high is that you crash from it. So what do you do when you beat yourself up because you don’t feel enlightened when your delicates have to go through the dryer?

This book hit me at a time when I was spiritually burned out–where I fell far short of the Glory of God. This made me realize that I wasn’t alone and I could proceed on in my spiritual journey. For other people, who weren’t in that situation, they might think, “Oh, that’s nice,” and move on to the next book. For me, that was gospel; for others, good advice.

Timing is everything. Maybe you’ll find a moment of perfect clarity in one of my books. Or if $1.99 is too much to pay for revelation, you might find it in one of my free stories. Or maybe you’ll just enjoy them as good stories, either way, let me know in the comments below! Or any other thought about profound literature… I won’t judge. 🙂

Religious Existentialism

28 Mar

I am not a fundamentalist of any stripe, but I believe in God. At various points in my life, I wanted to serve God in an official capacity, but my life changed. So how do you believe strongly in something without gripping rock-hard principles?

I was mentioning existentialism in an earlier post, but I found myself getting away from my point about conspiracy theories, and realized that it had to be its own post. I like existentialism but I don’t completely buy it, partly because it starts with the initial concept that God doesn’t exist. So I have breakdown the philosophy to its fundamental components. But instead of me boring you with that, let’s have Joss Whedon (my “icon of existentialism,” but what others call, “the patron saint of mediocrity”) explain it:

Jubal Early : Where’s your sister?
Dr. Simon Tam : I don’t know. Who do you work for?
Jubal Early : This is her room.
Dr. Simon Tam : Yes.
Jubal Early : It’s empty.
Dr. Simon Tam : I know.
Jubal Early : So is it still a room when it’s empty? Does the room, the thing, have purpose? Or do we – what’s the word?
Dr. Simon Tam : I really can’t help you.
Jubal Early : The plan’s to take your sister; get the reward, which is substantial – “imbue”, that’s the word.
Dr. Simon Tam : So you’re a bounty hunter.
Jubal Early : No, that ain’t it at all.
Dr. Simon Tam : Then what are you?
Jubal Early : I’m a bounty hunter.

Firefly, Objects in Space (2002)

I love that episode, especially the philosophical bounty hunter, and Joss will bore you to death with the commentary to that episode explaining it. But let’s hit the fundamental question–does life have purpose or do we imbue it with purpose? If you’re atheist, your answer is “we imbue it with purpose.” If you’re a theist, the answer is “God gives life purpose.” To quote the Westminster Catechism of Faith, “The chief end of man is to love God and enjoy him forever.” Considering that’s all I know about that seminal work of Protestantism, it made quite an impression on a 12-year-old in confirmation class. The focus was always on the word “enjoy.” It’s not an error in translation, it’s the key. God wants us to be happy.

In existentialism, the point… is there is no point to life, and it’s up to us to make it have meaning for ourselves. Or to quote another great TV show:

Kryten : Monsieur Jean-Paul Sartre, sir.
Rimmer : Who?
Kryten : He’s a philosopher, sir. He’s an existentialist.
Rimmer : Well, Sartre! We don’t like existentialists around here. And we certainly don’t like French philosophers poncing around in their black polo-necks filling everyone’s heads with their theories about the bleakness of existence and the absurdity of the cosmos! Clear?

Red Dwarf, Meltdown (1991)

So here’s where I keep things simple. If God exists and he wants us to enjoy Him, then he intercedes in our lives, because we often find ourselves down the wrong path. That’s a pretty big jump, but my own experience is one of divine intercession. Now Seth McFarlane would say, “We’re just coincidence whores,” seeing intercession in everything. He speaks as someone who missed one of the flights that crashed into the World Trade Center on 9/11. You could say that God destined him for greatness, but he interpreted that as, “Shit happens, get over it.”

Or to put it nicer, “Life is chaos, be kind.” That was Michelle McNamara’s mantra; she was the writer of true crime novels and married to comedian Patton Oswald. “Was” as in one night she went to bed and never woke up again.

The problem with believing in intercession is that you have to ask, “Why does God intercede in my life, but not to save my mom?” This was a hard one for a while, and since I don’t believe in predestination anymore (God having a plan for our lives), then I’m left with the answer Van Halen put on their video, Right Now: “Right now, God is killing moms and dogs… because he has to.”

God created a universe governed by certain rules. My mom had a curable disease that she chose not to be cured by; so she died. Could God have cured her? Of course, but he didn’t… because that would violate free will. In order to give the choice to love Him, He has to give us the choice to do the opposite. This is why I believe that the Jewish tradition is the closest to how I believe God exists. It’s a contractual arrangement, not a contract between equals, but not a master-servant relationship either. It’s the deal is very simple: “You will be my people and I will be your God.” If you break the terms of the agreement, then there will be consequences. In my belief, God is not a vengeful father, he’s a disappointed landlord.

A subtle difference, but an important one. God wants us to be happy; the commandments are there to help us be happy, not as arbitrary rules (although no one can explain the red heifer). When we break those rules, we feel guilty (some call it “sin”), so we need to atone for our sin, but since we can’t sacrifice a goat anymore, we need to do acts of lovingkindness. And that’s the purpose of life: Love God, Love Your Fellow Man, Be Happy. Sounds easy, but in the end, the hardest thing to do.

Am I too up my own butt for this one? What massive philosophical step did I jump over? Let me know in the comments below! After that, why not pick up one of my books! It’s full of characters who have difficulty relating to the absurdity of the cosmos. Or if you’re not ready to read between the lines of a fun story, try a shorter story for free. You’ll be glad you did.

“We Just Thought You Knew!”

25 Mar

A teacher once explained a concept using an iceberg as an example, saying how you could only see part of it; the rest of it was hidden. After the end of his brilliant parable, one student raised their hand and asked, “What’s an iceberg?”

Sometimes you run into a problem where you really don’t know what the basic concept, but all the commentaries keep going as if you do. For example, today is the Fast of the Firstborn. What does that mean? Well, it’s more complicated this year, because Passover starts on a Saturday night. You can’t fast on Shabbat (Friday night to Saturday night), because that’s intended to be a happy time. Okay, move it to Friday. Nope, because you’re doing prep for Shabbat, and you don’t want sadness to get in the way of that. So it’s shifted back to Thursday. Sunrise to sunset, you’ll fast.

Great! What does “fast” mean?

This sounds like a “duh” question, but it’s kinda important. Does “fast” mean just “no food” or “no food and drink” or “nothing passes through the mouth” (i.e., smoking)? This is not a “minor fast day,” because there are four other days that qualify… not this one. So what does a “fast” mean? I checked online, with three respected sources, and the answer is… “it depends.” What is your particular tradition? What did your parents do? What does your rabbi say?

There’s a joke that says, “Two Jews, three opinions,” but it makes it very frustrating. You don’t wanna approach your rabbi with the question, because it makes you sound like an idiot. So in the end, you’ll just do what you want to do, basing it on whatever’s convenient. Some helpful rabbi wrote down “since it’s on a Thursday, if you are even “minorly inconvenienced,” you can get out of fasting. So I’m going to go with “no food until sundown” restriction today, but still drink water… because that’s what I’ve done before for minor fast days, even though other authorities go through the “no food and drink from sunrise to sunset” rule.

“Is this the sort of fast I want, a day when a person mortifies himself?

Isaiah 58:5a (CJB)

So I have to ask myself, “why am I going through all this legal hoops if I’m just going to do what I wanted to anyway?” First off, because my wife reminded me of it–I was going to blow it off, like I have many years–but once reminded, I feel obligated. And so I’m left with this strange “half-assed” fast.

When I was teaching live, I would frequently remind me, “There are no stupid questions,” because if you don’t know it, chances are, the person behind you doesn’t know it either. The teacher needs to read the room; if the student looks confused, address it. But how do you know what they don’t know?

Using sci-fi as an example, there are details you have to address, those you have to skim, and those you just throw out there for flavor. Faster-than-light travel is currently impossible, but we understand faster-than-sound travel, so you can address incredible speed and g-forces, but then you skim over the actual device that makes it possible, and then have people puking from breaking the light barrier. Why? Doesn’t matter, it just emphasizes that it’s difficult. The trick is knowing what is important enough to address and what is important to skim.

There’s no real answer for this question, so I’ll throw it to you? How you do determine what’s important when explaining a concept? How you do react to a “stupid question?” Let me know in the comments below! And if you liked the sci-fi example, check out one of my books and find out more about how I address faster-than-light technology. Or if you’re not that interested, simply download one of my stories, and you’ll get a similar (but lesser) flavor!

Fight, Freeze, or Flight

23 Mar

It is exhausting to view the entire world as a threat.” The quote is talking about PTSD, but I’m gonna take this out of context, and apply it to the world around us. How do we tackle that which we can’t control?

The answer is simple; we react the same way we do with any dangerous situation, “fight, freeze, or flight.” Now maybe you haven’t heard that phrase quite that way before, but it is an option that many people do. Scary thing happens and you freeze–paralyzed by your own decision making–because you’re not really sure what to do.

Some are frozen because your body can’t process the new information that doesn’t fit into your worldview. In education, there’s actually a theory called “transformative pedagogy,” which actually tries to force the student to reexamine their beliefs by presenting data outside the student’s mindset and having them address it. It can be very effective.

Now imagine if every class were designed that way. If you take four to five courses a day, and every single one of them was trying to transform the way you look at the work, you’d be exhausted. There’s only so much shock one can take to your worldview before you either fight it (reject the contradiction completely), freeze (accept the contradiction and either struggle with it or ignore it), or flight (accept the contradiction and change your worldview).

Let me give an example of this… and it’s not the one you’re thinking of. 180 years ago, a preacher by the name of William Miller revealed to his followers (anywhere from 50 to 500 thousand of them) that Jesus would come back to Earth on October 22, 1844. As you might guess, Bill was wrong. After what became known as “The Great Disappointment,” there were four reactions:

  • The prophecy was invalid, Miller was a fraud: Some of these went back to their old churches, a lot of them just became agnostic.
  • The prophecy was valid, the date was invalid: These became the Jehovah’s Witnesses.
  • The date and the prophecy were valid: These joined the Holy Flesh Movement, which eventually collapsed, and then they joined the Shakers.
  • The date was valid, the interpretation was invalid: These became the Seventh-Day Adventists.

Since I have a lot of love for SDA’s (they’re like Jews for Jesus, but nicer), let me put my conclusion this way. In a classroom, when faced with contradicting data, you aren’t going to come to the same conclusion that your teacher wants you to. The J-Dubs and the SDA’s had the same teacher, different result.

My wife sees this a lot in her classes. I don’t think she’s deliberately using a transformative model, but she’s often confused by students who reject (or “fight”) the contradictory information. Say you have your students read Heeding the Voices of Our Ancestors by Taiawake Alfred; it’s his doctoral thesis before he went all activist-y. He’s talking about the Mohawk reserve just outside of Montreal. Some arrive at the same result that my wife has: “Aren’t (white) Canadians just bastards? Free the native peoples!” Her university has a large number of conservative students who might fire back with “The Mohawk people are dealing with an unrealistic model that doesn’t conform with modern life.” And some (like myself) might freeze and say “both views are valid. Why can’t we give more sovereignty to the reserve, but still have it subservient to the Canadian (but not provincial) government?”

As the teacher, she has her own transformative moment. Do you accept that your conservative students have a valid but opposite worldview? Or do you just shake your head and say “I just don’t get it.” Or do you reject them and say, “Oh, they’re white supremacists and/or conspiracy theorists.” Having read many of their papers, some are conspiracy theorists, but in my opinion, conspiracies are just another way of dealing with the contradictory information. I think I need to write my belief on conspiracy theory tomorrow.

But I could be way off… what do you think? How do you react when faced with contradictory information? Does it depend on the information… or how much you care about the subject being questioned? Let me know in the comments below!

Once you’ve done that, check out one of my books! But if you think that $1.99 is too much for an author you barely know, download some of my stories for free, and then tell me what you think. Maybe then you might buy a book of mine! 🙂

Covering Your Head

16 Mar

I covered my head for five years. I wore a kippa/yarmulke on my head and… it changes the way the world perceives you. So I have some sympathy for women who wear the veil. But just like any civil liberty, there are limits.

Just to be clear, I wore the whole Modern Orthodox Jewish kit, tzitzit/fringes were hanging out of my shirt. Save for the black coat and hat, I was publically well identified as Jewish. Why this came up for me this morning was because Sri Lanka is proposing banning the burqa. They would join fifteen other countries–mostly European–and for roughly the same reasons. Opponents would say that it’s just another law targeting minority Muslims, That it’s blatant racism against a religious practice. Proponents say it’s a national security issue. Terrorists can (and have) used the burqa to disguise themselves and carrying weapons in plain sight.

Neither issue I want to debate today. My problem is one of choice. We focus on the burqa because it was the veil popularized by the Shia in Iraq and Afghanistan… where Americans were shooting at other Muslims. However, that is only one interpretation. Many Muslim women do variations on the veil; some only wear one during services. What kind of veil usually depends on where your family came from, what level of observance you perform, and what your social status is. For example, our former babysitter had moved from Somalia. Her veil was really tight around the face and she covered everything else up. Our Persian neighbor didn’t wear a veil at all, unless she went home, and then it was rather loose around her head. Of course, our babysitter was a college student who lived in a really crappy part of town and our neighbor was a medical researcher who spoke six languages. If your whole family was Somali immigrants that you lived with, the pressure to conform is higher.

But it comes at a price; everyone looks at you funny. I had several men come up and witness to me about the saving power of Jesus Christ (only once since I took off the kippa). Only once did someone ask where a kosher restaurant was. What ends up happening is that you have to explain it a lot to people who ask (which happens a lot).

So why did I do it? Because I wanted to fit in. My wife wanted to attend an Orthodox shul where some of the men wore the black hats and coats, some women wore wigs and long dresses, but you didn’t have to. I wanted to identify with them. And we did for five years. But then we had a falling out with that synagogue and we moved to a conservative shul… and I stopped wearing that get-up, because I didn’t want to be identified with them any more.

The point was… that’s my choice. I didn’t hurt anybody with it. It was a pain in the ass and Muslim women who lives as a minority in a country probably get the same hassle. What I’ve been told is that they feel liberated from feeling like a sexual object, but honey… men are gonna look at you anyway. They might also say, “People are going to see the color of my skin and judge me anyway, so why does it matter if I wear a veil?” Valid point.

But we’re getting away from the point. The burqa specifically is a step too far. Not only do you have the security issue (because naturally, you can’t be photographed for a driver’s license), but it’s also saying, “I need to keep a distance between me and everyone who is not my family.” It might be your choice, it might be your husband’s choice, but if you have to go to those extremes… then why bother living in a Western state? Maybe that’s not your choice either, but it puts you in such a bubble that the rest of us can’t help looking at you as the other. Not us. And in many cases, a big threat. That’s calling “fire” in a crowded theater… and that’s not where you want to be.

I should go into a tirade about bubbles, but I’ve hit the end of my word count here. But what do you think? Do I just don’t get it? Am I perpetuating the patriarchy? Or is this a perpetual problem throughout history? Let me know in the comments below!

And while you’re at it, if you like my writing, get one of my books! But if the $1.99 is a hurdle too high, download one of my stories for free! You’ll be glad you did. 😉

In Defense of Civil Religion

7 Mar

How we choose to spin things makes all the difference. History, holidays, ceremonies–they’re all part of the academic term “civil religion,” worship of the state. As part of a conscious effort, people are losing their faith in the state, and… is that really a good thing?

There’s an old joke, “Build a man a fire, he’ll be warm for a day. Set a man on fire, he’ll be warm for the rest of his life.” The intent is the same, the results… far, far different. Take for example, “Lies My Teacher Told Me” by James W. Loewen, which came out in 1995. It’s a great book, exposing a lot of the falsehoods that have been put into American history books, and showing you the origin of those things. I read that as a history teacher and thought, “Wow–that was really in-depth coverage, I should include some of that in my curriculum.” Other teachers thought, “My students need to know all of it, make THAT the textbook!”

Intent is the same, results much different. When you include these errors as part of your instruction, you teach your students to question and analyze what they read. When you make it the textbook, you teach students to reject everything they’ve learned, and question ANY authority from there on in. People stop believing the “American Dream,” that lovely idea anyone from anywhere can do anything in America, because you’re free to pursue it, with enough hard work and sacrifice. No, that’s not precisely true, but probably more true in America than most countries. In the paragon of socialism, the Scandinavian countries, you don’t see many companies moving there, new exciting innovation–mostly because it’s cold, but probably because you have to jump through a lot more hoops and pay more taxes to work there.

On the other hand, if you’re taught that America is the most racist place on Earth, your world view from there changes, and any information comes through that filter. You ignore that Spaniards throw bananas onto the soccer pitch when a black player comes on the field because, “Well, that’s a sports game,” forgetting the amount of anger we had over taking a knee at a football game here. You ignore the fact that in Rwanda, Hutsis were chopping up Tutsis because, “Well, they’re all black. That’s not racism.”

When Howard Zinn wrote “A People’s History of the United States,” raising up the working class and minorities in American history, he did so at a time when all textbooks were written from the spin of “we need to defend godly America from godless Communism.” So for his initial audience, they grew up with the “our side good, their side bad,” so the revelation that our history is not sunshine and rainbows was eye-opening… but didn’t change their world view. But if you make Zinn’s book your textbook, then you’ve created a citizen who believes that America only exists to oppress them.

And you’re seeing a world that’s lost its faith. Americans don’t believe in God, they believe in science. They don’t believe in the system, they believe in their side. The problem is they don’t realize that the new faith they’ve embraced is just as flawed as the one they left, so you have to ignore the bad news about your side, because to do so would ruin the fundamentalism of your faith.

So embrace inconsistency, but hold onto those traditions that keep us together, those beautiful lies that allow us to achieve things as a nation. Salute the flag, serve the country, believe in the equality of every man… but fight to make sure those beautiful lies actually become truth. Because if all we do is fight for our side, it’s only of matter of time before the other side wins, and all your faith turns out to be misplaced.

Do I need to come off my soapbox? Does “civil religion” cause more harm than good? Is it better to start from airing our dirty laundry first to achieve those beautiful lies? Let me know in the comments below!

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