Sunday, June 30, 2013

Why George Zimmerman is Not-Guilty Part II

Now, let's talk about some obvious facts that pretty much shut down the idea that Trayvon Martin didn't beat the shit out of George Zimmerman.  The first obvious clue is the fact that Zimmerman was reported to have had a broken nose and lacerations on the back of his head.  Some people have questioned whether Trayvon faught at all.


Wow.  So are we to believe that in a hurry to cover his tracks, Zimmerman broke his OWN nose?  That is not the face of a guy who came out of a fight unscathed.  And some are claiming that Zimmerman lied about his head being smashed onto the ground by Trayvon.


Hmm, that's odd.  Now, I can concede to the notion that perhaps the lacerations could be from his head initially hitting the ground, but the fact remains that he did hit the back of his head.  If Zimmerman was on top, how in the hell did he sustain those injuries?  Another likely scenario is that Martin wasn't actually smashing his head onto the ground, but the punches he was throwing could have been knocking Zimmerman's head to the ground. 

With this evidence, the case can be made that Martin hit Zimmerman at least once, and whatever Martin did next caused those injuries to the back of Zimmerman's head.  This is consistent with Zimmerman's statement that Martin was the agressor, hitting Zimmerman first and straddling him when Zimmerman hit the ground.  Zimmerman was likely not expecting the first blow, or he was not fast enough to dodge or deflect it, and probably sustained the punch to the nose, fracturing the nose.

And further injury to the front of his face was likely avoided because Zimmerman most likely covered his face with his arms at first to shield himself from the blows.  But we have even more evidence that supports the notion that Zimmerman sustained more blows to the face.  Zimmerman's medical report lists "two black eyes" as part of his injuries.

Also potentially damning to the prosecution is the fact that the autopsy reported abraisions on Trayvon's knuckles that may suggest Trayvon did actually punch Zimmerman.  What's more, if Zimmerman was the only person on top and Martin did not throw the initial punch that broke Zimmerman's nose, then it is incredibly unlikely that Martin would have been able to put enough force behind his punches in order to blacken Zimmerman's eyes and break his nose while being pinned to the ground by a man that outweighed him by 40 pounds.

Despite all of this evidence that has been public knowledge for quite some time, there are still some people who contest that George Zimmerman targeted Trayvon because he is black, chased him down, initiated the violence, pinned Martin to the ground, and then out in plain, open view, shot Trayvon in cold blood: and it was all because Zimmerman is racist.

That's what we're supposed to believe, and in part three, I will expose the myriad of logical leaps we are meant to take in order to believe the crock of shit that the media has helped to foment.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Why George Zimmerman is Not-Guilty Part I

The prosecution's case . . .
There is so much wrong with this that it's unbelievable that the American public is so divided about
this case.  The way I see the evidence that has been presented over the months, and after hearing some of the witness testimonies, it's clear to me that George Zimmerman--although perhaps an overzealous neighborhood watch guy, and probably a dumbass--did not kill Trayvon Martin out of malice.  And I sure as hell don't buy into the notion that his killing of Martin was racially motivated.

I'm going to invite all of my readers to look at the facts and the evidence objectively.

First off, let me acknowledge that George Zimmerman was a dumbass for confronting the kid in the first place.  Yes, he should have listened to the 911 dispatcher who told him to stay in his car.  We all make mistakes, and I believe that Zimmerman was likely trying to be a good citizen doing what he thought was right to help keep his neighborhood safe.

Now that we have that out of the way, let's look at the rest of the evidence.  First, we have conflicting witness testimonies, and some witnesses have changed their stories over time, particularly relating to the apparently important question of "who was on top."  Upon initial interview, one witness claimed that she saw two men on the ground, and she wasn't sure who was on top.  Six days later, she reported that she saw Zimmerman on top.  The witness reported "I know after seeing the TV of what's happening, comparing their sizes, I think Zimmerman was definitely on top because of his size."  Hmm . . .

Imfamous witness #6 initially reported that Martin was indeed on top of Zimmerman, and Martin was "throwing MMA style punches."  But then after being interviewed three weeks later, he said that Martin was indeed on top, but that he might not have been throwing punches--that Martin may have just been holding him down.  Considering the cuts to the back of Zimmerman's head and his very jacked up nose, unless Zimmerman was being held down by freaking Gorilla Grodd, it seems pretty reasonable that Zimmerman's wounds were inflicted by Martin throwing punches.

Witness #6 also says that originally, he thought Zimmerman was calling for help, but now he's not sure.  Isn't it funny how these testimonies changed after the media outcry that exploded?  What is also important to note is that in his own recollection of the events, Zimmerman admitted that after he shot Martin, he got on top of him because he didn't know if he had hit the kid, and so he attempted to subdue the kid.  This is significant because this means that the witness who reported Zimmerman as being on top likely did see him on top, but that would mean that she was not there in time to see Martin on top.

Then we have Martin's friend, Rachel Jeantel.  In court the other day, Jeantel admitted under oath that she gave her testimony to the prosecutor with Trayvon's mother present, and that his mother's presence influenced her testimony.  She admitted that she "cleaned up" the language Martin used in their phone conversation right before the confrontation to spare his mother further grief.

What was that language?  Martin said to Jeantel on the phone "there's some white ass cracker following me."  Jeantel initially reported that she heard Martin say "get off me," but then in court she admitted that she did not hear that.  Just as well, she claimed to have written a letter to Travon's mother describing the things that she heard on the phone.  A bomb shell was dropped when Jeantel admitted in court that she actually could not read the letter (the defense attorney presented her with the letter to read) because she can't read cursive.  She then retracted the notion that she wrote it and claimed that she dictated it to someone.

Hmm . . .

Nearly all of the witnesses have changed their stories and have so far proven to be fairly unreliable.  Even worse for the prosecution, the defense completely tore Jeantel to pieces and got her to admit that her own testimonies were inaccurate for various reasons.  Jeantel was supposed to be their "star witness."  So much for that.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The Double-Edged Sword of Disability Benefits

For those of my readers who don't already know, I work as a job coach for people with disabilities. 
My primary function is to help people with disabilities maintain gainful employment by providing them guidance and support on how to overcome their challenges.  One of my current clients has made me think long and hard about disability benefits in this country, especially for people with mental health issues.

Let me start off by saying that one thing that makes me feel great about my line of work is that I know the tax-payer dollars are being well spent.  My agency provides employment services for people with disabilities, so this is not a case where the state is just throwing away money.  I have worked with some clients who will never, ever be able to work full time, and thus will never ever be able to fully support themselves on their own.  They have fairly significant challenges that are nigh impossible to overcome.

Because of that, they receive SSI and typically SSDI as well to supplement their income.  A girl that I coached works as a stocker at a Walmart.  They brought me in to help her out because she was having some significant problems.  She is diagnosed with PTSD, mood disorder, Bipolar Disorder, pyschosis, and she has some mild cognitive impairments.  She works about 28 hours per week, which is actually very good, but emotionally and psychologically she would not be able to handle more than that.

Without her SSDI and SSI, she would not be able to afford living on her own.  So this is a case where it works out wonderfully.  Sure, we the taxpayer have to bear that cost, but I'm okay with that because it's not her fault she is so profoundly messed up.  But my current client has made me doubt some things.

He is doing a work assessment for food prep at a local restaurant here in Columbus.  Nearly every day he tells me about all of the things that frustrate him and would make him walk off of the job.  "I've done it before.  I've left a lot of jobs that way."  Today, he kept nicking himself with a potato peeler (the potatoes were wet and very slipery), and he very nearly quit.  I had to get him to take a 5 minute breather and collect himself, because if he walks off of the job during a work assessment, I have to report this to his vocational rehab counselor (the whole purpose of the work assessment is to determine if he's ready to re-enter the work force).

This has been going on for over a week now.  He's good at prepping food--rusty after not working in the last 11 years, but shaking off the dust.  But there are so many other factors that set him off and increase his frustration to the point where he simply wants to quit.  Until yesterday, I couldn't really understand his mentality.

I've had extremely bad days at work, and in my current job I have to put up with a lot of pressure.  If I just said "fuck it" and walked, I'd be completely screwed.  I have rent to pay, kids to support and put through Catholic school.  I simply could not just quit my job because I would have zero income.  And that's when it hit me.  He has not worked in 11 years, but still he manages to get by, and it's all because he receives a big fat check every month.

It's not like he lives like a king.  He can only afford to live in a low-income part of town.  For him to quit simply means that his life continues on with the status quo because so long as he is disabled--and he has been determined to be permanently disabled--he gets that check.  I found myself feeling fairly resentful.  I don't get to just throw my hands up and tap out when the going gets tough.  I just have to deal with it and move on.

I don't have a disability, so I have to keep trudging on no matter how hard it gets.

My current client is bipolar.  He was abused as a child, and he has fairly high anxiety issues.  It's not easy for him to work through frustration and handle pressure where someone like me would not struggle at all.  But something tells me that if he had zero income, he would not be so quick to abandon his post.

And that is the double-edged sword.  Disability benefits are there to help those who actually cannot help themselves, and that is a good thing.  But for some of them, it breeds a feeling of dependence.  I can't always determine whether or not that dependence is warranted, but I can't help but wonder what his attitude would be like if he knew this was his only shot at having an income.

Something tells me that he would not be so quick to give up if he knew he would lose his monthly check.  But something else tells me that he might just off himself if he knew that he had no other recourse but to put up with either working or being homeless.

I don't really have any answers for this except to say that all I can do is try to help him cope.  Part of me wants to give him a kick in the ass to get his head straight, but the wanring alarms in my mind tell me that such a kick in the ass would likely send him over the edge.  I am in a rewarding, but incredibly frustrating, line of work.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

College as it should be: Let Them Fail

I heard on the radio today that some state--maybe Ohio, but I can't really remember--is going to start
imposing more "accountability," on colleges and universities in terms of their graduation rates.  And in true government fashion, the way they propose to do that is through . . . wait for it . . . funding!

The words 'government' and 'accountability' should never be used in the same sentence.  Hell, those two words should never be used in the same document, because we all know that American government--whether state or federal--has largely lost its sense of true accountability.  It therefore seems laughable to me that government officials want to impose accountability on American colleges.

There are very obvious reasons that this is a bad idea.  No Child Left Behind essentially plays with funding based on student performance, and that program has done absolutely nothing to help our kids receive better education.  In fact, all it has done is it has elevated high-stakes standardized testing to the chief method of assessment in schools across America.  The problem with that is that it essentially forces teachers to teach to the test, because if the school "underperforms" then they'll lose funding.

It would be a sad day, indeed, if higher education turned to standardized testing because of the government playing fast and loose with its purse strings, but I don't see that happening.  What I'm more afraid of is the inevitable decline of academic standards that will almost assuredly be a result of such idiotic meddling.  And of course, it's all in the name of "making sure more students graduate."

You know what I say?  I say "fuck 'em."

Yes, that's right.  Fuck 'em.  I raised two kids while I was in college, and I had to suffer through my marriage falling apart.  Despite all of that, I still managed to graduate summa cum laude.  I was in the top 5% of my class, and I was voted as best student by my professors in BOTH of my majors (history and political science).  I'm a smart guy, but I'm no genius.  It really isn't all that hard if you're able to read, write, and express cogent thoughts.

I know for a fact that my alma mater offered free tutoring services to students.  I know this because I tutored kids in college writing, history, political science, sociology, geography, and social work.  Although my professors had very high standards, they constantly lamented about being brow-beaten by the administration to not be so hard on their students, and for what?  All in the name of "making sure more students graduate."

That concept only leads to one thing: lowering standards.  Let's face it people: college is not meant for everyone.  It's not just another diploma, even though that's what a lot of morons think it is.  College is about serious-minded academic pursuit.  It's about a student coming to the realization that he or she actually doesn't know anything about anything, and working out a way to become better informed and more developed as a philosophical entity.  College is about achieving brilliance, not about meeting the minimum requirements.

"But Jack, given that college costs so much, wouldn't it be good for young adults to know that they're not just taking on a mountain of student debt for nothing?  Isn't it a pretty big gamble to pay so much money for something you might fail at?"  No, that would not be a good thing.

We're coddling our kids way too much.  We're telling them "you can do anything you put your mind to," even though we know it's not actually true.  We know we're lying to them.  So rather than watch our children come to the discovery that they might, in fact, be total dumbasses, we lower the standards so they don't have to feel like they're not all that smart.

All that does is turn college into a joke; truly just a somewhat more difficult extension of high school.  What we need to do is make college harder, and make more kids fail.  What we need to do is stop saying that "everyone should go to college," and get back to saying "college is meant for the truly dedicated and the brightest minds."

If we want college degrees to mean something again, if we want our children to receive the best education possible, then we need to stop lowering our standards just so no child has to feel like a dumbass.  College needs to be tough again, otherwise in 30 years the country is going to be run by a crop of idiots even dumber than the current lot.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

"Man of Steel" Review: Kneel before Zack Snyder!

When asked why an alien would fight so hard for a world that isn't even his, Kal-El (Superman for
the uninitiated) responded "I grew up in Kansas.  I'm as much an American as you are."

A very pertinent message in a time where we try to assert our own identities based on the country we hail from.  Zack Snyder's Man of Steel retreads the origins of the original super-hero, Superman, but he does so in a way that is fresh, modern, and successfully divorces itself from the 1978 Christopher Reeve film.

Many critics are saying that this interpretation--heavier and more grave than previous iterations of Superman on the silver screen--is a bad thing.  They complain that it's "too serious," and that Henry Cavill is not allowed to show that lightheartedness that many associate with Superman.  Well, those are some small-minded critics in my opinion.

Whenever you try to compare a movie that is attempting to be great on its own merits, you're always going to find yourself wanting.  If you want a goofy, wisecracking Superman that seems more like a characiture on a poster, then this movie is not for you.  Man of Steel envisions Superman in a real world.

Of course, it's not meant to be realistic in the sense of physical reality as we know it, but it's meant to be real on a human level.  So many are saying that this is devoid of humanity, but I felt the exact opposite effect.  Clark Kent spends the better part of his life attempting to figure out how to cope with what he is: an alien.  He is constantly reminded that he is not from this world, and Henry Cavill and the actors portraying a young Clark Kent, do an excellent job of demonstrating just how much that hurts.

Despite being spurned by humans that fear his boundless power, he still strives to protect humanity and guide it to something greater than itself.  It's not until the arrival and subsequent defeat of Michael Shannon's General Zod that Superman proves his benevolence to mankind, and he is more or less accepted.

Kal-El is more human than the humans around him.  He is compassionate and understanding.  He knows the fears that surround his existence, and he attempts to alleviate those fears by essentially prostrating himself as a servant of humanity rather than a conqueror.

And of course it's all very ironic, because an alien serves as the best, most shining example of what it means to be human.  I think we can all think back to someone in our lives who inspired us to strive towards the best versions of ourselves.  And so, the message in Man of Steel is two fold.  First, that there is hope for humanity (even if a god-like humanoid doesn't exist among us), and secondly that being a part of a particular community doesn't mean you have to be born in that community.

And oh yes, lets not forget about the action.  The action scenes in this film are just as epic as the trailers have made them out to be.  You'll see destruction on a grand scale, and you'll see an epic showdown between Zod and Kal-El that was not doable 30 years ago.

If you can manage to sepparate yourself from the Christopher Reeve Superman, then you will absolutely be treated to a mature, less corny version of Supes in a movie that delivers both strong emotional content and some action that packs a wallop.

Go see this film!

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Edward Snowden: Patriot or Traitor?

For those who do not already know, let me give some brief background on my experience with UScryptologist in the Navy which meant that our ultimate reporting authority was the National Security Agency.  I'm fairly well versed in some of the laws governing signals intelligence (SIGINT) collection, which is the function of the NSA.  Obviously, I have been out of the loop for a while now, but I can imagine that the laws haven't changed much in the last seven years.
Intelligence.  I was a

So do we praise Edward Snowden or sentence him to die?  This is a tough scenario, and anyone who can say how they feel about this without taking at least 15 minutes to really, really think about the particulars of it all has not thought about it hard enough.

First off, Snowden has indeed violated the NDA (non-disclosure agreement) which he had to sign in order to obtain his clearance.  He has revealed the existence of a Top Secret SIGINT program, and doing so carries some heavy penalties.  But does that count him as a traitor?  I don't think so.

Although he revealed the existence of this program and its function, he did not reveal any details that would actually endanger our national security.  He did not reveal how the intelligence is collected, he did not reveal the persons responsible for creating and implementing the program, and he certainly did not damage the NSA's ability to collect valuable intelligence data from our enemies.

Also, Snowden did not reveal this information with the intent of aiding the enemies of the United States.  He wasn't paid for the information, and technically he did not engage in espionage.  He did not function as a spy, which is someone who knowingly deceives a nation's government in order to obtain intelligence to serve the purposes of his masters.

No, Edward Snowden had a crisis of conscience.  He revealed the existence of this program because he believed that it violated the law.  What law you might ask?  Well, SIGINT is governed by what is called the United States Signals Intelligence Directive, or USSID for short.  There is a particular USSID, USSID 18 to be exact, that details the restrictions placed on SIGINT collection against US citizens.

In my day--all of seven years ago--collecting intelligence off of a US citizen was strictly prohibited--like, you're taking-a-trip-to-Ft.-Leavenworth prohibited.  The *only* way we were ever allowed to collect on a US citizen--and this never, ever happened on my ship--was if we obtained a USSID 9 waiver.  The USSID 9 waiver is granted only in circumstances when it is believed that a particular US citizen has direct ties to the enemy, and that citizen poses a real national security risk/threat.  There are some other circumstances that warrant collection against a US citizen, but it's probably not legal for me to talk about it any further.

Suffice to say, the circumstances surrounding the permission of collection against a US citizen are extremely extenuating.  At no point were we allowed to collect anything against anyone without approval from NSA.

I think it would be reasonable to assume that Snowden knew about this, and this is likely why he had the crisis of conscience.  Sure, NSA is the authority that grants the waiver, but are we supposed to believe that the entire nation now gets the waiver?

I understand why the NSA thinks the program is a good idea.  They say that it's only "meta-data," and that this could potentially strengthen national security.  Let me remind everyone that there has not been a large scale terrorist attack on US soil at the hands of Al Qaeda since September 11, 2001.  Yes, the Tsarnaev brothers bombed the Boston Marathon, but that was a result of the FBI completely dropping the ball--not a result of intelligence collection gaps at NSA.

The information gathered from this program may seem pointless.  We might think "who cares if they know I had a 20 minute phone conversation"?  This whole thing represents a larger problem to me than its actual practical application, because in all honesty, the information is too vast even for NSA to put it to proper use.

The problem that I have is that although we've all suspected this for some time, this is a clear indication that many people in government and its agencies don't give a damn for the law.  Their actions are indicative of individuals who believe themselves to be above the law.  Edward Snowden brought to light an affront to our privacy, and to me it is just a step towards a less-free society.

We as Americans should be thanking Snowden instead of condemning him.  He had the guts to follow his conscience and expose something he saw as a breech of moral and ethical standards.  But of course, if extradited he will disappear forever.  He will be punished for whistle blowing on the real law breakers, while the true perpetrators of injustice will continue on about their lives.  According to Albert Camus, a patriot is someone who wishes his country to live up to the highest standard of righteousness and justice.  If that's true, then I can only see Snowden as a patriot.

We shouldn't be asking whether or not Snowden should go to jail.  Instead, we should be asking how many congressmen should lose their seats in the mid-terms.  We should be asking who at the NSA should be prosecuted for violating their own damn directives. 

But these questions won't be asked because they are too difficult to answer, and quite frankly, the American people are too damn scared of the answers.  With a people so frightened and yet so apathetic, is it any wonder our government officials believe themselves to be above the law?

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Let's Talk about God Conclusion

So what about that time in boot camp where I felt the magic of spirituality?  Well, like most people who find God again, I was going through a somewhat traumatic time.  Boot camp is not all that hard, and I never lost hope, nor did my spirit ever break.  But the human brain can only take so much abuse before it starts seeking refuge and escape.  That's why I wanted to go to church so badly: not because I truly found God, but because I needed a break from being yelled at and scrutinized.

I am at a point in my life where I have accomplished enough good things to know that I truly am in control of the direction my life takes.  My father continues to tell me that "God puts you where he wants you," and that apparently, I can't do shit without God doing it for me, but I know that he barely even understands what he's talking about.

God didn't make me sign up for the Navy.  I didn't graduate summa cum laude with a double major in history and political science because of God's grace: that happened because I dug deep and I worked hard.  God didn't help me on my job interviews, and God certainly hasn't guided me to my current job.  I got this job because a friend of mine happens to work for this company, and I couldn't stand working in a call center anymore.

I don't pray.  I don't ask for God's favor or praise, and I certainly don't ask for His forgiveness.  I don't know what God wants.  In fact, I don't think God even exists in the way that most people think.  The traditional Judeo-Christian God is strikingly human, and I believe it is so because it's the only way we humans can understand anything.  How could we understand something that exists in a way that we can't even perceive, let alone comprehend?

And so, I've come to understand why my father--and so many like him--buy into their faith.  Humans desire two things above all else.

1.  To feel as though their lives have meaning.

2.  To understand everything around them.

When humans find themselves wanting in those two areas, they become afraid.  No one wants to feel like their life is meaningless, but it's hard to find meaning when you realize that compared to all of existence, each person is less than a fraction of a grain of sand in the grand scheme of everything.  Insignificance is a tough pill to swallow.

And how do we explain our existence?  We'll never ever know, but not-knowing is just as uncomfortable as insignificance.  So we create meaning, even if it's based on the fact that some guy wrote about it in 300 BC.

People who cling to religion do so because it's a security blanket.  They've spent their entire lives being told that God will punish them for being unfaithful, when in reality, religion only exists so we don't have to feel so depressed.  That is a sad commentary on the intellectual capacity of the average human.

On average, humans lack the intellectual capacity to come to terms with their own insignificance.  Because they cannot cope with such hopeless hope, they create stories that showcase their importance to the universe.  They cannot fathom anything other than being exceptional, and so they adopt the understanding that their very existence is a sign of being exceptional: God created us, and we're special because he loves us.

No, my friends.  We humans might be insignificant, but we are special.  Not because Pastor Frank tells you that you're special because God created you, and loves you.  We are special because we are that one in ten billion.  Out of all the chaos and clambor of this largely inhospitable universe, somehow we exist.  We are individuals with hopes and dreams, fears and regrets.  Ultimately they amount to little, as we are all doomed to die, but that's what makes us special.

Living your life fully, and happily in the face of hopelessness--knowing that someday you will die, and there may be nothing beyond this mortal coil--that is the pinnacle of a life well spent.

For me, the prospect of living a life based on punishment and reward was never enough.  It was not until I abandoned that antiquated mode of thinking that I truly became free.  Break free from the chains of fear--fear of oblivion and insignificance.  Until that point, you are only living a life that has been imposed upon you.

My life has vastly improved.  Because I realize that the gate is straight and the way so narrow only because an old ass book says so, no longer am I burdened by crushing guilt.  I don't sit and worry about the souls of non-Christians, because ultimately religions are just ideologies that have had murderous, self-righteous assholes as their biggest cheerleaders.

So what's my spirituality?  Live free or die.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Let's Talk about God Part IV

The last leg of my journey is where I discover some of the answers I had been seeking for the better
half of my life.  The people that knew me best, knew that I have always been hard on myself when it comes to my moral shortcommings.  Whenever I would express my grief and utter disappointment in myself, they would always say to me "you're only human."  Out of a sense of deep moral conviction, and much out of a fear of going to Hell for being an immoral douche, I would always say "well, I want to be better than human."

For a long time I felt like that was what God required of us--that life is nothing more than a test to see who can rise above their own humanity.

I didn't really care much about going to church at all, and nothing I did could ever recapture that magic that I had felt in boot camp.  My wife (at the time) and I had actually made a concerted effort to go to church while we lived in Norfolk, but once we moved back to Columbus that desire had all but disappeared.

It wouldn't be until the middle of college that I would finally find the solution to my crushing guilt and hopelessness.  It was a dark time in my life up to that point, and that partly contributed to the downfall of my marriage.  It's not easy to live with someone who truly grieves at the sad state of the world.  For some time, I actually felt guilty for having a child.  How could I bring this poor, innocent child into a world of such misery and horror?  How could I create another life that is doomed to die and to likely spend eternity in Hell with the rest of us?

But a professor of mine introduced me to a concept that wasn't necessarily new to me, but given that this professor is profoundly Catholic, it was almost shocking to hear it from his mouth.

What if Hell doesn't exist?

Now, this professor wasn't saying this as a way to challenge morality or ethics, but rather posing a question of psychology.  How would modern Christians be if the concept of Hell itself never existed?  That begs the more important question of why are some Christians so "faithful?"  Why was my dad always so concerned about my eternal soul?  How could he never bring himself to question his own faith?  One word blew the whole damn thing wide open for me.

Fear.

This is not an indictment on all Christians.  Most Catholics don't even really think about the concept of Hell and eternal punishment.  But what I've noticed is that, historically, there has been an awful lot of fire and brimstone talk.  Look at the Great Awakenings in American History: all spawned from an overwhelming fear that the nation's people were doomed to damnation.

I asked myself "if God wants us to truly love him, then why would he threaten us with an eternity of pain and suffering lest we shower him with worship?"  That sounds awfully stupid, because a love born out of fear of the alternative is not love at all.  Just as well, why would an all-powerful being really care that we love him anyway?  Sure, I want my children to love me: they're my creation.  But I won't punish them if they don't love me.  I won't beat them until they're too afraid to hate me.

Maybe life is not all about making sure we go to heaven.  Maybe life is just about . . . wait for it . . . being good for the sake of being good.  It's difficult to be altruistic, but to love God because the alternative is being flayed and anally raped by demons for eternity seems a bit selfish to me.

And so I planted firm and I made my determination.  The world is a terrible place, and I can't always be completely good.  But I'm going to do my best to do what I think is right.  I will try to be just, compassionate, and empathetic.  If I fail, then I fail.  What I will not do, however, is allow fear to be my moral compass.  I will do what I believe is the right thing, and if for that reason God wants to send me to Hell, then so be it.  That would not be a God I want to party with anyway.

I don't believe in a God that is so petty that he required a human sacrifice.  I don't believe in a God who is so narrowminded that he sends 90% of every human who ever lived straight to Hell simply because they didn't buy into the whole Jesus thing.  And I don't believe that a book written 2,000 years ago by humans who barely understood the world around them should be taken literally.

I'm going to do my best to be the best as I can given the world around me.  If that makes me a bad person, then "God" can kiss my ass.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Let's Talk about God Part III

In high school I had considered myself to be a conscious person--cognizant of all the evils and
horrors of the world--and like many youth, I was optimistic and fairly idealistic.  I still believed that there was good in humanity, and that some day, some how, we could bring that goodness to the forefront and make the world a better place.

What better arena to smash such hopefullness than the United States Navy!  I signed up in August of 2011--the 17th if I'm not mistaken.  I was only 17 at the time, so I had to get my mom to sign to allow me to sign my life away.  She did so reluctantly, but she was proud.  I pride myself in being able to say that I did not sign up because of 9/11 (as that was a month away from happening).  So I wasn't part of the wave of young patriots.

During boot camp I started going to the Catholic mass every Sunday.  For the first time in my life, going to church actually felt meaningful and fulfilling.  I was always jealous of those who felt so much enrichment in their lives by participating in religion because I had never, ever felt that way.  A friend of mine once told me that she actually feels better knowing that Jesus loves her, and many people I've known have told me that they truly feel God's presence.

I had never known such a feeling, and so for me to feel the inkling of that was something quite spectacular.  But after boot camp was over and I found myself free of drill instructor oppression, my eagerness to attend church waned.  Why did I care so much then, and why don't I care now?

I wouldn't answer that question for quite some time, but suffice to say, I felt like God had helped me get through boot camp.

I was a cryptologist, and for those who aren't sure what that means, it's a person who specializes in communication intelligence.  My job was to exploit enemy communications so that my command, which happened to be the USS San Jacinto, could gain a tactical advantage from that intelligence.  One of the neat little benefits to having a Top Secret/SCI clearance is having the privelage of access to the Classified World News.

Yes, the CWN is legit.  It's web-based on the military's classified network, and it's a lot like yahoo news, only it has all of the stuff that the average citizen will never, ever hear about.  On deployment, I had the chance to read it every day, and what I discovered is that there are an awful lot of people on this planet that want me and everyone I love dead because we are white, Christian, and American.  And what most people will never know, is that there have been far more attempts to bring us down than we hear about in the regular news.

What an awful place the world truly is, I thought to myself.  It was the first time in my life when I truly felt a sense of hopelessness, and that weighed heavily upon my heart.  The question came up: "how could a god of love and mercy allow for such unmercifully hateful things in his plan?"  My job was to help in killing the enemy.  I was a part of a business whose primary function was to kill as many enemy humans as possible.  How could I ever be worthy of heaven when the world required me, and all humans, to be a party to such sinfulness.

How could God make a world in which to survive, one has to betray what he knows to be right?  What sort of sick, twisted fool makes the way so narrow and the gate so straight, yet creates a world that drags us from the path?  And what about all of those non-Christians?  How about the Buddhists, many of whom who are actually more moral and ethically sound than 90% of Christians?

And what about this Jesus thing?  I don't really believe that God is so petty that he needs a blood sacrifice.  That always seemed like a particularly human characteristic to me, and I had a hard time believing that an all-powerful being would actually trouble himself with such a triviality.  At that time in my life, I was standing on the precipice, afraid to cross out of the fear of damnation that had been ingrained in me since birth.

I saw a terrible world and how hard so many people strive to be good, to be righteous, only to inevitably fail because that is our nature--human nature that God created us to have.  God created us as flawed beings, yet somehow expected us to overcome our every instinct.  And for what?  To love him?  It's all a test to see if we really love him?

The more I thought about it, the more I realized that the traditional conceptualization of "God" seemed to resemble an insecure teen-ager who had been granted the power to manipulate existence, and saw fit to engineer this life to be a grand competition to discover his most ardent worshippers.  The traditional Judeo-Christian "God" was like an almighty jock creating an exclusive list for the biggest frat party in all of existence: only the coolest of the cool people would be allowed.

Doesn't that seem a little bit . . . stupid?

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Let's Talk about God Part II

Many of my friends have gone through crises of conscience and faith.  It seems that many of the
people I have associated with over the years have abandoned Catholicism for one reason or another, but they seemed to do so later in life than I did.

Most of my classmates simply accepted Catholic theology and went about their lives.  I couldn't, especially not after seeing the other side of Christianity.  But unlike all of those wandering sheep who found comfort in the arms of their personal savior, Jesus Christ, I found no such solace, just more questions.

It wouldn't be until high school that I would begin to discover the true nature of Catholicism.  Before high school, you have religion class in Catholic schools, but the teachers aren't theologians.  They are simply teachers, no more versed in Catholic theology than the kids they're teaching, who are given little religion work books from which to give out their lessons.

Catholic high schools are much different.  First, that class is no longer called "religion."  Every student in a Catholic high school is required to take four years of Theology, and for the most part, the teachers have actually earned at least a BA in Theology.  The emphasis shifts from introducing young minds to the things they are supposed to accept without question--because greater minds than theirs have done the due dilligence to arrive at our conclusions for us--and onto an attitude of actual scholarship and true understanding.

I had always suspected that many of the stories in the Bible weren't literally true.  It was sort of like when a child matures to the point when he knows, in his heart of hearts, that Santa Claus doesn't truly exist, but he can't bear to admit it to himself.  So for my theology teachers to give credence to that thought--the notion that perhaps Adam and Eve are allegorical, especially given current scientific thought--it was a refreshing experience.  If I was going to Hell for not believing the literal word of the Bible, then at least I wouldn't be lonely.

My dad was thoroughly worried for me.  To him, I was on a path to damnation lest I abandon my hethen, Catholic ways.  My friends know that I've never been a very religious person.  Moral, yes, but I've never been one to really pray and actually mean it.  But my mom always told me that God has a plan for all of us, and my dad sort of echoed that sentiment by espousing the notion of surrendering to God's will--that God puts us where he wants us.

That was another uneasy prospect for me, this idea that although we have free will, we are supposed to submit to God's plan.  Even as a teenager I saw that as being hopelessly paradoxical, and in my junior year, I finally worked up the guts to think for myself.  A quote from Tecumseh sealed the deal for me forever.

"I am the maker of my own destiny."

I had always felt it in my heart, but hearing it made it more tangible.  I am not a puppet, nor am I here for my creator's amusement.  There is no plan for me except for what I make for myself.  I couldn't be one of those fervent acolytes who just put their entire lives in God's hands.  Afterall, was it God's plan to allow innocent people to be mercilessly slaughtered?  Is ethnic cleansing a part of God's grand scheme?  How could a god of love and mercy be so unmercifly hateful to his own creation?

I told my father that he was silly for believing so heartily in something he could never actually know, and he blindly replied "I know because the Bible tells me so."  I rejected Protestantism entirely as I could never allow myself to be some blind servant.  My life would be what I make of it, not what some god says it's going to be.  I was by no means a religious man, and so I wasn't a super Catholic, as I like to call them.  But at least with Catholicism I felt like I was still allowed to use my brain, and I could do things in life without feeling like I'm just a pawn in some sick, cosmic chess match.

If God was going to send me to Hell, it wouldn't be because I used the intellect he blessed me with, and it certainly wouldn't be for the simple fact that I identified myself as Catholic.  Perhaps he would send the Muslims and Buddhists to Hell, because they don't believe in Jesus.  "That's an awful lot of people that would be horrifyingly punished for all eternity . . . just because they don't believe in Jesus."  That line of thought began the next phase of my journey.

If Jesus supposedly died for our sins and saved us, allowing us to enter heaven, then why the hell do we really need to believe it?  You don't need to believe in gravity in order for it to affect you.  Why are there so many damn pre-requisites to getting into heaven, and why are there so many damn versions of the pre-requisites?

In Part III, I will discuss how my time in the Navy helped me answer that question.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Let's Talk about God Part I

I try to keep things impersonal here.  Sure, I talk about some of my experiences, but I think my
readers are more interested in my ideas than my actual life and all of its happenings.  But over the next week or so, I want to share a part of my life's journey with you, my faithful readers, in an attempt to help you understand exactly where I stand in terms of spirituality.  I think that the spiritual journey is something not many people truly consider.  You're born in a certain religion, and you die in that religion--at least so it goes for most people.

Here is the story of how I have arrived to where I am today.

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I've had a fairly rocky religious journey that started at what I consider to be a fairly young age.  My mom and her side of the family are almost entirely Catholic.  My dad and his side of the family are all Protestant, with my dad and his sister being Baptists.

Up until I was in the 5th grade, my dad and aunt really didn't make a big deal about the Risen Lord.  But around that time, they both found Jesus again, and Christianity has been a big part of their lives ever since.  At first they started out with Presbyterianism, which is what their mother (m grandmother of course) practices.  For whatever reason, they felt unfulfilled, so they went out seeking a new church and landed on a Baptist church in Genoa township--just a little place in between Columbus and Sunbury, OH.

That's where their faith began to have an impact on me.  I had to accompany them to church when they were doing the Presbyterian thing mostly because I had to go wherever they went anyway.  But once they started going to Genoa Baptist, they really felt that it was important for me to go and get something out of it.

I like Pastor Frank.  He's a good man with a good heart.  He's not the type that speaks about damnation and hate, but his sermons more focused on love and, of course, "accepting Jesus Christ as your personal savior."  That part always got me.  Being Catholic, the first thing you're ever taught is that Jesus saved us from our sin. 

What many don't understand is that Catholicism is a very intellectual religion.  Faith is important, because the Church recognizes the fact that, ultimately, we can never actually know the Truth.  But the Church teaches that blind faith is not a necessity.  We can be reasonably certain about the mysteries of faith based on reason and scholarship.  So there is no notion of "accepting" Jesus as the savior, because the leg work has already been done.  You either understand the scholarship that indicates his divinity, or whatever, or you deny all of that and live a lie.

At any rate, I had a real crisis of conscience around the 6th grade.  I went to Catholic school, so I was getting a heavy dose of that theology, but there was so much about it that seemed wrong.  Why does mass have to be so boring?  Why do I have to spend my life doing good works to prove to God that I'm worthy?  Why didn't my mom let me choose to be Baptised, rather than forcing me to do it as an infant?  Transubstantiation?  What utter nonsense!

Although my aunt was always supportive of me being Catholic and finding my own way to God, my dad was pretty happy about me doubting my religious upbringing.  He has always been an ardent opponent of Catholicism, and the thought of me being "saved" was a great thing for him.  And that's when he and I began to diverge.

He told me that unless I accept Jesus as my personal savior, I'm in danger of going to Hell.  I really struggled with that because I had been Catholic my entire life, and it's not easy to abandon tradition.  To think that my father thought me unworthy of God's presence was a serious blow, because I had always considered myself to be a good person.  Flawed, to be sure, but I've always tried to be honest and true, generous and compassionate.  How could a loving God seek to punish me simply because I was Catholic?

My dad's descent into fundamentalism further divided us.  One day he told me that every word in the Bible is literally true, and as a result, the earth is only 7,000 years old, and dinosaur fossils were God's way of testing our faith.

As asinine as that may sound to some, our divide hadn't yet arrived.  One day, he told me "I know that I'm going to heaven."  I had had enough, and being the impertinent youth that I was at the time (this was around my eight grade year) I challenged him: "how can you possibly know that you're going to heaven?  What if you're wrong, and I'm right?"  My dad didn't have much of an answer other than to say that he's read the bible, and that's how he knows.

But in my study of Catholic theology, and my experience with Protestantism, I had arrived at a vastly different conclusion: that we can never know the mind of God, and thus we can never know if we're truly worthy enough to be with Him in heaven.  My father's certainty propelled me from only questioning Catholicism to questioning religion as a whole.  High school would only heighten that criticism.

Stay tuned for part II of my spiritual journey.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Let's Talk about God: A 5 Part Series

Don't worry, you can actually invest in this week-long series, because this time I have already written all the parts of it in order to hedge the inevitable laziness that would prevent me from writing the rest of it.

So tomorrow will be part 1 of this series.  It's a look into my personal spirituality and how it has evolved over the course of my life.  I know that a good portion of my readers are Christian--very Christian--so I know this will probably not sit well with some of you.

All I ask is that you keep an open mind.  This series is not meant to be persuasive, but it is an exposition on how I view spirituality through the lens of my experiences.  I've spent a good portion of my life questioning the things I was always told not to question, and my one hope is that I can inspire others to do the same.

And if this does inspire you, I honestly don't care what conclusion you come to.  The important thing is that we all use this gift we call intellect, and hopefully we come to a fuller understanding of ourselves and the world around us.

Part I will post tomorrow morning.  I hope you all enjoy!