Winning Salvation



In 2018, I started re-attending the Episcopal Church, a denomination that I joined in 1972, after abandoning the fundamentalism of my youth. I have since become the most regular participant at a Gregorian Chant Evening Prayer service, and I am among the sextons who provide building security. I volunteered for the sexton job because I felt obligated to do something for the church; because I wanted 24/7 access to the sanctuary and library; and because I needed the trust that goes with having a key to the building.

I have shared the fact of my atheism with those church members who are important to me, most notably the head priest, Bingham, and the layman, Max, who leads the evening prayer service. Bingham has shown me unfailing warmth and acceptance, and Max complimented me by saying that I approach church with a purer spiritual intention than that of many believers.*

The Episcopal Church has long embraced liberal theology, modern Biblical criticism, and archaeological advances. While other mainstream churches buried their heads in the sand during the 1960s, Episcopal priests marched in support of Civil Rights (one was killed) and in opposition to the War in Vietnam. In 1974, the church ordained its first female priests. In 2003, Gene Robinson became its first gay bishop, and, in 2010, Mary Glaspool its first lesbian bishop. The Episcopal Churchs courage and integrity has cost it many members and led other churches within the Anglican Communion to advocate for its expulsion.

Since the time of Martin Luther, most Protestant Christians have defined faith as belief without evidence, and preached that salvation is by faith alone. They claim that this view frees believers from the onerous requirements of the Mosaic Law, but ignore the fact that no one can believe that which he considers nonsensical. The logical conclusion of such a belief is that the worst person who ever lived will go to heaven if he professes faith in Christ at the moment of death, while the best person who ever lived will go to hell if she does not. An alternative definition of faith divorces it from what a person believes and places it upon how he lives. In the common vernacular, by attending church regularly, I am practicing my faith. In terms of pleasing a deity in which I dont believe, the proper definition of faith is meaningless, but in terms of being able to attend church with integrity, it makes an enormous difference.
  
When people lose any semblance of belief, they also lose their fear of hell, but when, at age eleven, I entered the netherworld of agnosticism (as Christina Rosetti put it, the twilight that doth not rise nor set), I was besieged by periods of abject terror that lasted for two decades. The more afraid I became, the more I hated God for making me afraid, and the more I hated God for making me afraid, the more afraid I became. Shame kept me from sharing my torment with any other person because my church believed that doubt constitutes the unpardonable sin.

Given the misery that religion caused me, what possible reason could I have for going to church--any church? I go because I hunger, and while the god of my boyhood church was like a stone, the god of the Episcopal Church is like an apple. Just as one need not be a Hindu to practice Yoga or a Buddhist to practice Vipassana, I need not be a Christian to appreciate the solace of evening prayer. I sit amid the glow of stained-glass windows, absorb the light from flickering red votives, and praise the long-dead priest who hand-carved the altar. I recite the ancient liturgy as though it were a beloved poem, and no matter how my day was going when I entered, I am soon awash in the pastel light of joy and peace. But is my non-belief not an obstacle? If I were among those who believe in the monstrous deity that much of the Bible portrays, it would be, but the the beliefs of Episcopalians tend to be amorphous, and they consider it bad form to even talk about their private theologies. This reluctance is one reason that the churchs evangelical and Catholic critics castigate Episcopalians (and other liberal Christians), for practicing a watered-down, cafeteria-style version of Christianity that allows its members to take the dessert and leave the meat(the meat being passages which support conservatives belief in hell and portray God as sharing their sexism, racism, tribalism, and homophobia). 

The church’s critics are correct regarding its theological vaguity, but wrong in that the Episcopal Church is quite specific on issues of social justice. It is not the evangelicals, or the fundamentalists, or the Catholics, who welcome such outcasts as I, but Episcopalians. Just as the Biblical Samaritan made no demand that the man he was helping give proof of right doctrine, neither does the Episcopal Church expect it of me. When my local parish gave me, an atheist, a key to its building, I offered it as much of my heart as I can offer any group.**


The Parable of the Good Samaritan

...an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
 
“What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

In reply, Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So, too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw the man, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came to where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day, he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. Look after him, he said, and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have. 

“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” 

The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.” 


* In researching this post, I learned that 16% of politically liberal Episcopalians describe themselves as atheists or agnostics: https://www.pewforum.org/religious-landscape-study/religious-denomination/episcopal-church/political-ideology/

** I limit my loyalty to groups because groups are unable to give loyalty in return. Also, the Episcopal Church has taken a few stands by which I am appalled. Namely, it: (1) opposes assisted suicide and euthanasia; (2) teaches that only human life is sacred; (3) opposes laws that would restrict abortion, yet expresses moral opposition to most abortions; and (4) professes a reverence for nature, but neither conserves resources nor takes measures to protect non-humans.

We Adopt a Fifth Cat


Our three fosters were here for seven weeks. The two long-haired black sisters left yesterday to live with a young bookstore clerk and her parents, and Harvey, the gray-haired boy, will live with us, although CRAN (Cat Rescue and Adoption Network) initially rejected our application. Since no one wanted to give us the bad news, five days passed during which we wondered what was going on. Finally, a woman named Aven called, and said that CRAN had decided to give Harvey to someone else. When we asked why we couldn't keep him, she gave two reasons. The first was our age, and we could but acknowledge that we shared that concern. The second was that we had stated on our application that if we could no longer care for our cats, we would return them to CRAN. 

Aven said that CRAN was disappointed by that response because it might be hard, if not impossible, to find homes for what by then could be elderly cats with ongoing medical needs. We were astounded by her words because when we adopted our previous CRAN cats, we had been made to promise that we would return them to CRAN no matter how long they had been with us or what our reason was for giving them up. After a pause, Aven conceded that we were right, but she gave no explanation for the discrepancy. I suspected that there must be some additional reason for our rejection, but she didn't give one.


Harvey Schmoozing with Three of His Four Elders

She then wanted to know what our vet would say if she called and asked if our cats were current with their vaccinations. I said he would tell her that our cats had never been vaccinated, the reason being that he advised against it in the case of indoor-only cats. She asked if we would run the matter by him again and follow his advice, and we said we would. With that compromise out of the way, she said, "I think you should keep Harvey." We were again astounded because we hadn't known the subject was debatable. Three days later, we signed the final papers, paid the $140 adoption fee, and Harvey was ours. 

Sisters
We were impressed that CRAN cares so much about its charges that it would deny a cat to its own desperately needed fosters, but puzzled as to why, in our case, one of its two reasons made no sense. Because Peggy rarely has friction with other people, and I regularly do, I can't help but wonder if I somehow incurred bad feeling. As to what I might have done, all I can think of is that, ten days before they were adopted, I was told to take all three kittens to PetSmart where they would remain until adoption. I refused because Peggy (who couldn't be reached that day) knew a woman who she believed would give them a good home, but the woman was out of town. The placement coordinator who I explained this to asked me to at least have the woman start the application process by filling out an online form, but I refused to do that as well because the woman hadn't seen the cats. My refusals were met with a flurry of phone calls and emails, but I stood my ground, and given how things turned out (Peggy and I met and approved of the young woman who adopted the girls), I'm glad I did. Aside from that, I can't think of anything that either of us might have done wrong, and I don't intend to ask. I do intend to remain with an organization that has come to mean a great deal to me, an organization that rests upon an edifice of values, goals, and attitudes that I hold in the highest regard.

As to why I feel so strongly, many people complain that the cost of adopting a CRAN kitty is too high, what with cats being given away on Craigslist, but CRAN doesn't even recoup its cost much less turn a profit. During their time with us, Peggy and I spent upwards of $200 on our fosters, and while we could seek reimbursement, we won't because the funds would have to come from volunteers like ourselves, some of whom have far less money. It is also true that our kittens incurred a heavy expense before they came to us, having been abandoned on someone's porch, and spending the next three months in CRAN's long-term care facility where they were chipped, vaccinated, sterilized, and treated for ringworm, fleas, and ear mites. Two days before we received them, a volunteer named Kim dropped off bowls, toys, litter, blankets, two litter boxes, canned food, dried food, a 3'x2'x4' kennel, and various other supplies, all paid for by CRAN.

CRAN is staffed by over 200 volunteers and has an annual budget of $199,000, nearly all of which comes from individual donations. It is currently building a new long-term care facility, but all of its healthy cats are housed in approximately seventy foster homes until space becomes available in one of five local pet supply stores. CRAN's cats are also listed on Petfinder.com. All applicants must undergo a background screening and, in the case of renters, their landlords are called. Everyone in an applicant's home must want the cat(s), and applicants must promise, in writing, to keep them indoors, and, where desirable, provide them with an animal companion. CRAN cats that are bonded with other CRAN cats must be adopted together. I don't know of a single other humane organization with which I am so philosophically aligned that I can give it my unreserved support.

How to Continue?


The three kittens are still here. Once space opens up for them in a local PetSmart store, I'll drop them off, and they'll be housed in cages until adoption (the store doesn't profit, and the rescue agency goes deeper in the hole with every cat). On that day, I will become the man who betrayed them, and I won't even have the comfort of knowing that they will be sent to loving homes.

I expected fostering to be hard, but I also expected to have the same kittens for only a few days or, at most, a couple of weeks. They've now been here for six weeks, and while I try to enjoy them in the moment, I know what they do not, and that I could spare them. To atone to the dogs I murdered in order to help dogs, I could make this their forever home, and so what if my life contained seven cats--is seven really that many, once they become old enough that the furniture can be uncovered and the knicknacks returned? Peggy says yes, and while my head agrees, my heart doesn't care. My only comfort comes from knowing that, according to the actuarial tables, I will die when their lives are but half over, so it is better to let them go now.

Can I keep inviting this heartache? But if not I, then whom: people who care less; people who are stronger; people who are more practical?

I hate my species for what we do to other lives.

Perhaps, I would be doing better if it were summer because every winter, for me, is a struggle for survival. My pain is worse, and the virtues of the other seasons are absent, replaced by what? Cold. Gray. Drizzle. Darkness. Death. What insanity possessed me that I moved halfway to the North Pole, to a place that rarely sees the sun for life-sapping months? I can't breathe for the agony. I am lost already, and the worst is yet to come.

Peggy, who is more rational than I, points out that there are other ways to serve animals. For instance, I could volunteer to show them to potential adoptees, and the decision to allow--or disallow--those people to adopt wouldn't even be mine. But what if I didn't approve? What then? Turn a cat over and hope for the best? Tell the applicant to go fuck himself? Like a crazed father who greets his daughter's beaus with a shotgun, I favor the latter.

I so wanted this to be fun. I so wanted to be useful, but I am drowning in sadness.

Sacred Beings Entrusted to My Care


Foster Kitten Harvey Centered Among Three of Our Adults

Surrendering to Love

Peggy and I adore the longhair kittens that weve fostered for three weeks. In the late 1970s, I killed dogs as a volunteer for a rural humane society, but surrendering these kittens to their forever homes will be even harder because at least I didn’t know the dogs.

Our three fosters came to us through the Cat Rescue and Adoption Network (CRAN)*, a local group with over 200 volunteers, no paid staff, and a $199,000 annual budget. The group’s Medical Rehabilitation and Ringworm Treatment Facility is nearly complete, but cats who are able will continue to be lodged in seventy local homes. CRAN’s cats are also listed on PetFinder and, as space becomes available, taken to one of two local Petsmart stores where still more volunteers oversee the adoption process.

Our three lovelies came to us with a large “condo,” toys, bowls, food, blankets, a litter scoop, two litter boxes, two tubs of litter, and other odds and ends, and it was all new. CRAN’s generosity had the effect of making me, at least, feel obligated to house cats regularly instead of sporadically, which is what I wanted to do in the first place if only Peggy will allow. 


Partial Page from a CRAN Newsletter
I had wanted to foster cats for years, but Peggy worried that they might infect our cats with parasites or disease, and that I would want to keep them, so she made me agree that we would accept only such cats as a vet had screened and vaccinated, and that I wouldnt whine about adopting them. After receiving our application, CRANs president, Louanne, came out in mid-October to tour our home and and conduct a screening interview. We havent had contact with her since, but Kim, the lady who brought first the supplies and then the kittens has stayed in frequent touch. She paid us a visit last Saturday because one of the kittens had a swollen abdomen related to having been spayed, and Kim wanted to examine her before we took her to WAG (Willamette Animal Guild) for a checkup. She later emailed: “You and Peggy are dreams for our foster organization.”

Dreams, us? I can accept that Kim was exceedingly pleased with how safe and happy our fosters feel, but when I consider people like Kim herself who have devoted a large part of their lives and fortunes to helping cats, we’re pikers. Yet within the confines of what we agreed to do and how well we’re doing it, we are good—very good. We’re also loving it, or at least I’m loving it, Peggy being less pleased with the necessity of putting away her knicknacks, draping sheets over the upholstery, and devoting a chunk of our den to a cat condo. In my view, nothing that we put away or covered over came even close to being as beautiful as the precious beings that took its place, and I have been glad to  observe that Peggy cheerfully takes on half of the work, which is a bit more work than we figured on because we have a bit more kittens than we figured on.

We initially agreed to take only one kitten at a time, but when Kim asked if we could take two, we reflected upon our very real desire to help and the amount of money the organization had invested in buying us supplies, and we said yes. So far so good, but ten minutes before she was to arrive, Kim phoned to say that she was en route with three kittens, and could we please take them all because they were bonded siblings. I don’t think the term “bonded” quite applies to kittens, but if we hadn’t taken them, Kim would, and she already had six fosters and fourteen resident cats. She sniffed so much while here that I asked if she had a cold, and she said no, she’s allergic to cats! I said that Louis J. Carmuti (1883-1981), the world’s first full-time cat vet was also allergic to cats.

 
The Hard Stuff

Far from being the cruel, selfish, and unloving little shits that cat haters claim they are, cat lovers regard cats as gentle, giving, loyal and sensitiveat least I do. How sad that they must eat the bodies of other gentle, giving, loyal, and sensitive, creatures. Vegetarian that I am, I think about this a lot now that I’m feeding seven cats.  I also reflect upon other humanitarian dilemmas. For instance, here is how the latest CRAN newsletter (see second illustration) described its care of a nursing kitten named Forrest who was found living on the street with his mother and sister:

“He became very ill and fought hard for his life. From vet visit to vet visit, antibiotic treatment to antibiotic treatment, medicated nebulizer treatments to steamy showers, sub-Q fluids and bottle feedings…all of this care leading at last to a healthy and thriving kitten.”

How is an organization to decide the worth of a kitten (or a child for that matter) when funds are limited, all kittens are of inestimable value, and the money devoted to one will be denied to others? I started this post by admitting that I used to kill dogs (call it euthanasia if you will, but it just felt like killing), and the fact that my intentions were good hasn’t mitigated the anguish that I continue to feel fifty years later. The bottom-line is that year-in and year-out, millions of animals are killed (or allowed to die) most of them because human beings are too indifferent to misery to spay and neuter, and it is oftentimes the very people who love animals who must end their lives. I am too new to intimate involvement with CRAN to know how it manages to remain a no-kill organization but, generally speaking, no-kill shelters pass on their worst cases and their overload to shelters that have no choice but to kill, shelters that are tax-supported. Sadly, the term no-kill can be interpreted to mean that the people who staff kill shelters are callous, maybe even kill-happy

I was the only man in the organization that I killed for. When we accumulated so many dogs that they were cannibalizing one another due to the extreme stress of gross overcrowding, an emergency board-meeting was called. At that meeting, the women all pronounced themselves too soft-hearted to do what had to be done. They then crossed their arms and waited for me to speak. I wish I had walked out.


Finally, CRAN, like many rescue groups, requires that those who adopt its cats keep them indoors, and it also requires that kittens have the companionship of another animal. It does not trap feral cats, neuter them, and re-release them into the wild. Sadly, studies from the world over (including a recent mega-study by the Smithsonian Institute in conjunction with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Survey) have consistently shown that feral cats kill billions of birds a year (and three times as many other creatures), a number which exceeds the number of birds killed by cars, pollution, pesticides, wind turbines, slamming into windows, and all other un-natural causes combined (Felis catus is un-natural in that it was created by humans in northern Africa and introduced to the rest of the world).** 

I used to see several garter snakes a year in my yard, but five years ago a neighbor with twelve outdoor cats moved in, and three summers have passed since I last saw a single snake. I watched a cat clamber over my fence carrying a grown tree squirrel, and the cat next door has killed birds by the dozen each and every year for the eight years that he has lived here. Many cat-lovers respond to studies of cat predation—and to my own eye-witness accounts of cat predation—with flat-out denial, vulgar vituperation, and in the case of the referenced study, death threats. A major concern that I have about being affiliated with a cat rescue group is that I don’t want to associate with such fanatics, and I certainly dont want to be numbered among them. This is why I was careful in my selection of CRAN.

*https://catrescues.org/
**https://www.nature.com/articles/ncomms2380

"My Great and Unmatched Wisdom"

 
Soon after tweeting that he was about to withdraw American support from our longtime allies in the fight against terrorism, the Kurds (who live in the part of Syria that is adjacent to Turkey's southern border), Trump wrote another tweet: "If Turkey does anything that I, in my great and unmatched wisdom, consider to be off limits, I will totally destroy and obliterate the Economy of Turkey (I’ve done before!)." 

The next day, Turkey's president, Erdoğan, began shelling and bombing the Kurds while announcing plans to send 3.6 million Arab refugees (who now reside in Turkey) to build permanent homes in the Kurdish homeland. As Kurdish troops moved to the border to meet the coming Turkish invasion, Islamic State prisoners were left lightly guarded. When a reporter asked Trump, "What if ISIS fighters escape and pose a threat elsewhere?" Trump responded, "Well they are going to be escaping to Europe, that's where they want to go." (There has since been one escape attempt.) Erdoğan, when criticized by the nations of Europe for the Turkish invasion, said that if Europe didn't back down: "We will open our borders and send 3.6 million refugees your way."

Trump's latest action marks the first time that I remember him receiving even token criticism from high-ranking Republicans, yet it has caused the support of his base to actually increase, and his base will do all they can to defeat any candidate who isn't solidly behind Trump. During his first few months in office, I imagined that when his base realized that Trump was a dictator wannabe, they would turn against him, yet the more brazen he becomes, the more they adore him, and the less place there is in government for anyone of his party who does not at least pretend to do likewise. I interpret this to mean that while both they and I understood what kind of a man Trump is, but that they liked him that way. The only good that has come from this realization is that I have a better idea what Germany was like before Hitler killed off his opposition.

Last year, someone in Trump's administration wrote a letter to the effect that, yes, the president is deranged, but there are those of us inside the administration who will continue to work to minimize the damage.** Since then, Trump loyalists have eliminated all such foot draggers, and Trump himself has either fired or forced out eighteen cabinet members (the cabinet is the president's inner circle of department heads) who dared to disagree with him. This means that his most significant opposition now comes from Congressional Democrats but, in the short-term, there is little they can do. In the long term, the effectiveness of their criminal investigations are unknown, and their impeachment effort is unlikely to succeed simply because Republicans know they won't be re-elected if they support it. It is also feared that our already unstable president might react to the culmination of any threat to his power by calling for civil war. In fact, he has already indicated that he will do so.


* This is the same Erdoğan who frequently talks to Trump on Trump's private cell phone, and whose bodyguards have twice gotten away with beating non-violent American protestors on American soil.

** https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I_Am_Part_of_the_Resistance_Inside_the_Trump_Administration

Sows, Wives, Brood Mares, and Other Expendable Properties


When I asked my sister for help with constructing our family tree, she demurred, saying that the study of genealogy gives ancestors ...a kind of aura simply because they’re dead.” I would substitute stench for aura.

When my grandfathers wanted to raise hogs, they paid for sows; when they wanted foals, they paid for mares; when they wanted children, other men paid them to take away their daughters. When those daughters died in childbirth—as they often did—other fathers paid my ancestors still more money to take away their daughters. By the time Peggy and I were married, dowries had been eliminated, but the parents of the bride still got stuck with the cost of the wedding, the implication being that girl children were so worthless that their parents should have to pay to be rid of them.

The only aura that I paint around my dead relatives is around old maids for having the guts to buck a system that held women in lower esteem than hogs, and portrayed independent women as desperate, ugly, unloved, and unhinged because, clearly, all normal women wanted nothing more than to accede to God’s curse on their gender by spending their short lives pregnant and under the domination of a man. While so-called confirmed bachelors” never sank below old maids in societys estimation, unmarried people of both genders were regarded as pathetic creatures that nobody wanted, and this remained true during my boyhood. Upon being told that a woman was an old maid, I would immediately wonder what was wrong with her.

It was only when I began studying genealogy that I learned enough to grieve over the ill-treatment endured by my unmarried aunts and uncles. I was even reduced to tears by the life of my great great aunt Sarah Jane Newby (1831-1882), an Alabamian who openly criticized the Southern Cause” (a euphemism for rich mens right to own black people). Sarah Janes bravery would have been lost to posterity had the Union Calvary not come along one day and taken “a valuable sorrel mare sixteen hands high” out from under her. In her post-war petition for reimbursement, Sarah Jane swore that she shed tears of disapproval when the South seceded; did her utmost to dissuade her three brothers from joining the Rebel army (all fought and one died); gave the Union army material assistance; and denied help to the Confederacy except when compelled to cook for its troops. One of her witnesses described her as a quiet woman who made no secret of her loyalty to the Union, and added that only her gender saved her from being assaulted.  

If anyone deserves an aura—if not a haloit’s not my male grandfathers who quoted racist and misogynistic Scriptures to justify their abuse of women and black people; it’s my unmarried aunts who said Hell no! to the prospect of staying pregnant for nine months out of every year until such time as pregnancy killed them, following which a second—and oftentimes a third—two-legged brood mare would take their place in bed in order to bring to fruition the manly desire to father as many boy children as possible in as short a time as possible.

Ah, but I haven’t mentioned my early 19th century West African grandmother who was raped by one of my grandfathers, nor have I made reference to the slave men who fathered their young in the knowledge that they would be the property of my grandfathers from the moment they drew breath. When asked about this in the 1930s by a Federal Writers Project” interviewer, one of my ancestors slaves said:

No, not any weddin’s. It was kinder dis way. When dere was a good nigger man an’ a good nigger woman, the Marster would say, I know you is both good niggers, an’ I wants you to be man and wife dis year an’ raise little niggers because then I won’t have to buy em. 

Paint auras around my ancestors? The more I learn, the more I distrust the men and pity the women. While men like William Lloyd Garrison were struggling valiantly for gender and racial equality, my male ancestors exhibited no more compassion, morality, and respect for the rule of law than a Trump supporter. But would I not concede that, just maybe, some women—and even some slaveswere happy with their lot? Would you be? 

That question aside, I will concede that if the oppressed were so beaten down as to believe that God ordained their oppression and would reward them in heaven, perhaps they were happy. I will even concede that most of my male ancestors honestly believed that God willed it that they rule over women and black people. I came to this conclusion upon finding deathbed wills that contained such provisions as, I give and bequeath to my daughter, Elizabeth, one bay horse and one slave named Polly, to belong to her and to her heirs forever.” 

But is it worse to do evil while thinking it is good, or while knowing it is bad? I suspect the former because where there is no awareness of wrong, cruelty becomes unrestrained and repentance impossible, which is why members of the Islamic State can douse caged prisoners with gasoline and burn them alive.

I have found little obvious heroism among my kin aside from the fact that they somehow found the strength to repeatedly survive the deaths of their children. While it is indeed possible to cry over old census records (I have done so), such sources tend more toward cold factuality than emotional revelation, and so it is that one can only probe the heart of most ancestors by reading between the lines. The fact that her courage and sense of fair play was right out there for everyone to see is why I so respect my aunt, Sarah Jane. Sadly, I can’t even find her grave.

How to Die in Oregon


In 1997, Oregon became the first American stateand the third place anywhereto legalize physician assisted dying.* Since then, eight other states and the District of Columbia have followed. The title of this post is the title of a documentary about the Oregon law. Frontline's The Suicide Plan, a related documentary, concerns assisted suicide in places where it's either illegal or a person doesn't qualify under current law. For example, the Oregon law requires that death be expected within six months and that the patient be able to take the required medication without assistance, the result being that some terminal people kill themselves before they wish, and that non-terminal people are excluded regardless of the severity of their condition.

While the American Medical Association and various handicapped rights groups oppose assisted dying (I was pleased to learn that my own doctor supports it), the bulk of the opposition comes from religious groups and is based upon the following: (1) God allows suffering in order to ennoble the afflicted and their caregivers, and (2) God alone can create life, so God alone must decide when to end life. Given their second argument, evangelical Christianity's military hawkishness and support for the death penalty is at best paradoxical, as is the fact that, this year alone, several states in America's so-called Bible Belt have passed laws to either end or severely restrict abortion and birth control, while also restricting financial assistance to poor families.

**
My own, very liberal, denomination, the Episcopal Church opposes assisted dying based upon the opinion of its General Convention that Christ, had he thought to address the issue, would have opposed it. I doubt that the church's position carries weight even among its own members, and I maintain that anyone who attempts to contribute to the public dialogue on the basis of authoritarian religious pronouncements has nothing of value to contribute to the public dialogue. "God said it; I believe it; and that settles it," only settles doubts regarding the speaker's intellectual earnestness.

But what of the slippery slope argument, the claim that assisted dying today will lead to outright euthanasia tomorrow? I certainly hope so. Under the Oregon law, if I fall victim to Alzheimer's, I will be too mentally compromised to kill myself by the time my life expectancy is within the six month limit, which means that I will be obliged to end my life early, while alone, and by means that are violent or degrading. Other sufferers—from ALS for examplemight retain their mental faculties but be unable to raise the glass to their mouths or swallow its contents. It would therefore take an enormous weight off the minds of many if the law permitted them to have help in dying or, where necessary, to outline in advance the conditions under which they would wish to be euthanized.

But why choose death rather than palliative care? (1) Not all pain can be relieved by narcotics, and some conditions cause excruciating pain for which palliative drugs are completely ineffective unless they are given in such high doses that the patient is rendered unconscious. For example, I was once told that I had Chronic Regional Pain Disease, a condition so horrifically painful that the patient must literally choose between suicide and insanity. (2) No drug can take away the misery and humiliation of having to have one's ass wiped, of needing to be bathed by others, of being too wretched to experience pleasure, and of losing all hope but the hope of a death that cannot come soon enough. (3) In America, the government will only pay for a person's long-term medical care after that person has nothing left to spend, and I, for one, have not spent my life saving only to leave my wife bankrupt so that I might prolong a nightmarish existence that is no longer worthy of the name life.

For those who, despite the things I just listed, continue to "say yes to life," I leave it to them to live, but how dare they deny me the right to die in a peaceful, timely, and dignified manner in the presence of my loved ones! Yet what rankles me most is not their arrogance but that they justify their arrogance by invoking the name of God without a smidgen of evidence to support that invocation.

It is no coincidence that all of the states (plus Washington D.C.) that have passed assisted dying laws are heavily Democratic and secular. The following list of Death with Dignity states*** includes the dates the laws took effect—the Maine law will become active in September. I'm confident that the day will come when the only states that lack such laws will be those of the Bible Belt, a reactionary region that never fails to go kicking and screaming behind the rest of the nation when it comes to the expansion of human rights.

Oregon—1997
Washington—2008
Vermont2013
California—2016
Colorado—2016
District of Columbia—2017
Hawaii—2019
New Jersey—2019
Maine—2019 


Finally, for my beloved Aussies who constitute the bulk of my active readership, I was pleased to learn that your state of Victoria has recently enacted a "Dying with Dignity" law.****

 
* The Death with Dignity lobby opposes the word suicide, so I will use their preferred terminology out of respect for those who have worked so hard to bring the laws about.

**https://euthanasia.procon.org/view.answers.php?questionID=001320

***https://www.deathwithdignity.org/learn/death-with-dignity-acts/

****https://www.dwdv.org.au/

What Happened at the God, Guns, and Trump Rally


Gadsden Flag

As I crossed the street to the demonstration, a motorcycle gang roared past. During the next 90-minutes, I was cursed twice, and I left with my ears ringing from the shouts and chants. A woman was hit with a bottle; a helmet-wearing man with a wrench taped to his arm was arrested for head-butting. Because the head butter wore a helmet, and I had a helmet (I had biked), I assumed that the woman who cursed me was redirecting her rage at him. The man who cursed me was just plain crazy. When he was unable to get his wheelchair over a rise, I asked if he wanted a push, and he became infuriated. A bearded man wore a dog collar, black short-shorts, and a bra under his purple halter top. Another man wore a red g-string and red tassels on his nipples. The police estimated the attendance at 300, and while that might have been the crowd size at any given time, people were coming and going.

I had thought there would be a clear division between the gun-nuts and the protestors, but the two intermingled. An old man in a red cape and a gold crown went about arguing with the gun people. An old woman had a sign that read, "Tell me why you support Trump; I'm here to listen." I heard people screaming, "Fuck you," and other people responding, "No, fuck YOU!" People had to shout to even be heard by the person next to them.

I sat atop a four-foot high wall that enclosed a large planter, and behind me stood a woman with a shotgun in her hands and a large pistol on her thigh. She was wrapped in a Gadsden flag, and looked down upon the demonstration protectively. Several people carried assault rifles, and I observed that one of them had her finger on the trigger. Most of the gun-nuts were men. I left my first vantage point to stand atop another four-foot wall that was near the center of the rally. The police were unable to keep the crowd out of the street, so they finally closed 8th Avenue. A man walked back and forth through the crowd with a 360-degree camera above his head.

When the bottle was thrown, the mood got ugly, and some of the gun-nuts yelled profanities at the police for "not doing anything," although the thought of police shoving their way through the crowd enmasse was unimaginable. On that and another occasion, I momentarily felt fear, but my overriding emotions were rage and disgust. I wondered what the gun-nuts planned to do if attacked--shoot into the crowd? And what did they imagine the lightly armed cops would do? As for the shotgun carrying woman--did she envision herself heroically emptying her scattergun, throwing it at the crowd, and then drawing her pistol, and didn't she realize how easy it would be for someone to either push her off the planter or grab her ankle from below and pull her off? Then there was the possibility of a gun going off accidentally, the crowd panicking, and other guns being fired at anyone who looked like a member of Antifa, perhaps even at some harmless seventy-year-old with a bike helmet.

When, in 2017, another set of gun-nuts forcibly occupied the offices of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, they would walk around the nearby town of Burns heavily armed. A local woman said of them, "Everybody in the Oregon desert has guns, but it would be offensive to wear them openly." As Tom, a reader of this blog, pointed out two posts ago, there are reasonable gun owners, but people who carry assault rifles into a crowded and emotionally-charged urban area aren't among them. Their goal is to instill fear, to say, "We are heavily armed, so you had better not tread on us by opposing our values."

When Antifa didn't appear, I assumed they were marshaling their resources for the Portland demonstration, and I felt compassion for them. My emotions--though not my head--told me that the enemy of Trump is my friend. I didn't anticipate this. I had stupidly thought that I would at least respect the gun-nuts for their courage in coming, but what respect I might have felt was displaced by disgust and loathing because it was people like myself they were trying to intimidate, and because they looked so utterly stupid. If their goal was simply to protect themselves, they could have carried pepper spray (which is legal in Oregon), but to carry assault rifles that fire small bullets at extremely high velocity, bullets that are designed to tumble through human bones and flesh and kill people blocks away!

When I got home, I learned that the police had detained a Texas man who was on his way to kill people at next week's Portland demonstration. This got me to wondering what the Eugene gun-nuts would have done had one of their number started killing people. They are to public safety what a child with matches is to gasoline, and I'm just sorry that when the explosion happens, others will also pay the price. I can but hope that the ones who survive will be locked away for a long, long time, and that the bloodshed will at long last inspire strongly restrictive gun laws.

What strikes me as I look back a day later is how easily one car backfiring, one firecracker exploding, one gun going off accidentally, or one stupid move by one ignorant, angry, or emotionally disturbed person, could have resulted in multiple deaths. I shudder as I anticipate this week's Portland rally because this kind of event cannot keep happening without one of them ending in disaster.

Proud Boys, Patriot Prayer, American Front, Crew 38, and, Alas, Numerous Others




Today, exactly one week after two larger than usual mass murders, downtown Eugene will simultaneously become the site of a God, Guns, and Trump Rally, a gay pride parade, and a large crafts fair. The Trumpers (who created the above illustration) have promised to bring their AR-15s. They can do this because Oregon is an "open carry" state. Antifa has vowed to confront the Trumpers, and while its members aren't known for using guns, they are known for using their fists. Next weekend, the right-wing demonstrators and their left-wing counterparts will move 110 miles up the road to Portland. 

Since Trump was elected, the local papers have become peppered with hate crime incidents. In the worst one yet, a self-described white nationalist stabbed two people to death and injured a third on a Portland commuter train in 2017. Hate crimes in the nation as a whole rose under Obama only to take off like a rocket under Trump. When asked this week if his rhetoric was partially responsibility for last week's El Paso murders, Trump said that his words don't push people apart but bring them together (he had previously said it's the "America-hater Democrats" who push people apart). Conservative talk radio agrees, and while it and Trump seldom deign to mention right-wing hate crimes, they both argue that Antifa should be singled out for a domestic terrorism designation, although the group's members have yet to kill anyone.

The Southern Poverty Law Center lists fifteen--nearly all of them conservative--hate groups in Oregon*, which are two more than in my historically racist home state of Mississippi. Liberal Eugene  has seen a 380% increase in hate crimes in four years,** although when I came here in 1986, it was an alternative-minded hippie town that many dubbed "The Berkeley of the North," because of its left-wing radicalism. Some of the notorious Weathermen were from here, and the town's Selective Service office was broken into and its files burned. The Grateful Dead hit town every summer; Ken Kesey wrote books and created scandals; nudists enjoyed a publicly-owned beach on the Willamette; and both drug use and nudity were common at the Oregon Country Fair. Then came the bomb-making anarchists who, like many, believed that violence is the threshold to utopia. Now it's right-wing hate groups and--barely noticeable by comparison--Antifa.

I've learned over the years that few things are as bad as our fears make them out to be, yet they can be even worse. I still haven't decided whether to join the protest, which starts in an hour. This might well prove to be yet another day when America demonstrates that it loves guns the way addicts love meth. I am afraid that if I go, I might become one of the dead people whose names scroll across the evening news, yet I'm somehow more afraid of staying home. I need to be a part of this.


*https://www.splcenter.org/hate-map

** https://www.oregonlive.com/pacific-northwest-news/2019/07/oregon-had-the-6th-biggest-rise-in-reported-hate-crimes-in-the-nation-over-a-4-year-period-study-says.html

An interesting article about the Portland Antifa: https://www.wweek.com/news/2019/08/07/portlands-antifascists-punch-white-supremacists-are-they-also-helping-trump/

More Mass Shootings than Days in the Year


As of August 5, which was the 217th day of the year, American has seen 255 mass shootings. In the past nine days, there was:

  • A shooting in a historic district of Dayton, Ohio, with nine killed and 27 injured.
  • A shooting at Walmart in El Paso, Texas, with 22 killed and at least 24 wounded.
  • A shooting at the Gilroy Garlic Festival in the San Francisco Bay Area, with three killed and 15 injured.
  • A shooting at a Brooklyn block party, with one killed and 11 injured.
  • A shooting at a Walmart in Southaven, Mississippi, with two killed and two injured.*
Trump blames the problem on insanity and the Internet, but not on guns and certainly not on his White Supremacist rhetoric. As his supporters are fond of saying,

"Guns don't kill people; people kill people;" and 

"If you take away their guns, killers will just find some other weapon;" and

"The world is a dangerous place, and I need a gun to protect myself and my family;" and

"The problem isn't too many guns; it's too few guns;" and

"Gun ownership is my Constitutional right;" and 

"Mass murder is the price of freedom;" and

"These killings are God's punishment because America legalized gay marriage;"and

"Reports of mass shootings are just one more example of fake news."

There is now hope. It comes from the fact that America's powerful gun lobby, the National Rifle Association,  has been greatly weakened by internal scandals, combined with the fact that every mass killing is noticeably bringing the country that much closer to effective measures. Unfortunately, these measures will likely happen at the speed of women's equality in Saudi Arabia, and, of course, the people affected all have guns. How many guns? 393 million compared to a mere 133-million for all the armies on earth.**

*https://www.cbsnews.com/news/mass-shootings-2019-more-mass-shootings-than-days-so-far-this-year/ 

**https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gun_ownership