On our treatment of other lives

Torch-bearer of Ahimsa
“The notion that human life is sacred just because it is human life is medieval.”  —Peter Singer

Last night, Peggy and I visited some friends who usually lock their dogs in a kennel when they have guests because they view the dogs as disruptive. I am pained by this because I view an animal’s participation in social events as a right unless the animal is out of control.

The premise behind our treatment of animals is that they are property, and while they have a vague right to humane treatment, they are still animals while we humans occupy a higher estate. Religion tends to support this idea, but my friends are atheists, and upon what grounds could an atheist assign a lower estate to a dog except by the assumption of human superiority, by which I mean the arbitrary valuing of such assets as are common to humans over those that are common to dogs simply because they are common to humans?

My thought is this. If a person and a dog were drowning, and I could only save one, my efforts would go to the dog if I knew and liked the dog but didn’t know the person. If the person was a child, or I knew and liked both, I might choose differently, but any choice I made would be based upon subjective preference rather than a belief that human life is more valuable than non-human life. Certainly, accommodations have to made with non-human animals just as they do with human children, but these accommodations can only be justified inasmuch as they are necessary.

To view creatures as I do makes some difference in how I relate to them, yet I continue to drive a car although I know I will kill countless bugs and some larger creatures. I also kill spiders that get inside my house; own leather shoes and belts; step on slugs that threaten my flowers; spray herbicides on my lawn every year or two; and eat food that requires the destruction of animal habitat and the mass killing of plants. I also consume fish, eggs, and milk, all of which necessitate slaughter. I do these things because I want to, not because I can justify them. I have no reason but personal preference to think that, except in self-defense, my life is worth more than the life of anything else. I could at the very least reduce the amount of suffering and death that I bring into the world, but I don’t even do that except for the avoidance of eating meat and fowl and the occasional rescue of earthworms that are driven into the street by winter rains. If, upon reading this, you were to point out that, although a meat eater, you live in consistence with your ethical standards while I fail miserably by mine, I could but agree. I would question, however, whether your ethical standards were well-founded because I can
’t imagine how you might defend them aside from making the rather odd assumption that human life is worth more than other life.

Even vegans live by killing, their thought being that, since they have to kill, they should at least avoid the destruction of beating hearts. If I were a deeply moral person, I would have no choice but to be a vegan, but as it is, I pay others to kill bulls, roosters, and fish for me for no better reason than that I prefer the taste of foods cooked with milk and eggs and imagine myself to feel better when I eat fish.

As for those who do eat beef, sheep, swine, and fowls, I will readily admit that many of them are better people than I in all sorts of ways, yet when I observe kindly people eating a steak, I can
’t avoid the thought that they are less kindly than I had imagined based upon their willingness to cause misery and death for no nobler reason than that they enjoy the taste of meat. The best I can say for them is that they might not have thought the matter through. They probably grew up eating meat; almost everyone they know eats meat; and they’re so accustomed to cooking meat that they wouldn’t know what else to cook. Even so, they’re about animals like slave owners were about slaves in that if they try to justify their behavior at all, their rationale is self-serving.

Such is my species, and the most obvious difference between most people and myself is that I probably think more deeply. This might make me slightly more ethical, but it also puts me in the position of knowingly doing more evil. While most meat-eaters have at least some excuse, I have none, so I
’m on shaky ground when I congratulate myself upon my superiority. I would even go so far as to say that one small reason I’m not a vegan is that it would make me even more judgmental. The ultimate would be to live like Jains who go to such extremes to avoid harming other creatures that they breathe through masks; examine seats before they sit; avoid all means of travel other than walking; and look at the ground before every step. Their ethic is defined by the word ahimsa, and while I don’t accept their pacifism, I respect them.
It’s fair to say that I’m a misanthropist. Although I like and enjoy most people, I have no respect for my species, largely because of our double standard regarding other creatures. A predator must eat meat, and, so far as we know, lacks the capacity to feel empathy for his prey or the ability to examine his behavior ethically. We most certainly can feel empathy, and we most certainly do possess a moral sense, so we could easily make different choices without threatening our health (we would be more likely to improve it) but we nonetheless kill other creatures by the billions for no nobler reason than that their corpses please our taste buds. We might claim that they are less important than we, and therefore less deserving of life, but what is the rationale for such a belief?

While petting my friends’ dogs last night, I reflected upon the fact that joy, fear, need, and affection, exists in dogs as much as in me. It is said that Descartes considered animals to be living machines, so as some of his followers performed scientific investigations upon a dog (i.e. torture), they effused over how well God had endowed the animal with the ability to feign emotion. Surely, the better we are able to dismiss the feelings and deprecate the value of other creatures, the better we can rationalize mistreating them. But how do we make the leap from observing that an
animal’s ablilities are less than our own, at least in the ways we value, to concluding that the animal’s life is of less value than our own? But having done this, why don’t we go to the logical extreme and conclude that the same applies within our own species? For example, I have come to doubt that I possess any remarkable skills or intelligence, and since I’m getting up in years, I’m losing whatever skills and intelligence I once possessed. Surely, if my life is worth more than a dog’s life because of my skills and intelligence, then it is worth less than the life of another human who is more skilled and intelligent than myself.

This is not a popular way to think. While it’s easy for us to compare the worth of our species to that of other species without anyone but a few “nutcases” (moi) demurring, even atheists tend to maintain that, unlike the worth of nonhuman life, the intrinsic worth of every single human life is incalculable. Alas, it is but a feel-good statement that has little bearing upon how we actually behave. For instance, if by spending $100-billion dollars on airplane safety, or by lowering the highway speed limit to 40-mph, we could save one human life, would we? Given that we Americans, at least, allow our neighbors to die everyday because they can’t afford medical care, and send our young men and women to be killed and maimed in foreign wars without so much as bothering to vote on whether those wars are necessary, I would consider the answer obvious. We only
regard human life as more valuable than money or convenience when the expenditure of money or convenience is minimal.

We even speak of money as indicative of human worth as when we say that Warren Buffet is “worth” $72.3-billion while Donald Trump comes in at a mere $4-billion. Upon what basis can we claim that these are mere figures of speech? After the fine sentiments are out of the way, no exorbitantly expensive safety changes will ever be made, and the speed limit will never be lowered in order to save a single human life or even a great many human lives. That which we don’t value can often be discovered by reversing that which we say we do value.

I am better at learning vocabulary than my cat (for whom I buy kibbles made with meat), but he is my superior in dexterity and night-vision. If he and I were to argue over which of our lives is worth more, the most that either of us could accomplish would be to tally our abilities in the hope of outnumbering the other, but it would be a vain endeavor because even if one of us had twice as many abilities, the other could argue that his were of greater importance. Even if one of us possessed a thousand important abilities, and the other no abilities, the former could not prove that his life was of greater inherent worth as opposed to worth for given purposes. As I suggested earlier, to do so would be to imply that a gifted person’s life was worth more than a less gifted person’s life, and we would all be on shaky ground if this were the case. 

Feeling as I do about other animals is reminiscent of how I feel about religion in that almost everyone I know feels differently, and that in the interest of getting along, it is better that I keep my mouth shut. Because I hate going through life keeping my mouth shut, I rarely succeed in pulling it off very well, and have consequently lost more friends than I can count. It’s hard being the perpetual outsider, the one who is different, the one who either can’t or won’t (I’m not sure which) at least pretend to go along with what other people believe is right

I think that, for most people, ethics is a function of: (1) imitating our neighbors, and (2) being true to ourselves when we think we can get away with. If you live in America’s Deep South, you will probably say you believe in God, but if you live in Scandinavia, you will probably say you don’t, partly because our tendency to mimic our neighbors makes us more likely to be atheistic in a dominantly atheist society, and partly because those who would be atheists no matter where they lived know they won’t be penalized for saying what they really think. So it is with our treatment of animals. To continue the slavery analogy, most white American Southerners once believed that slavery was ethical and even charitable (it exposed slaves to Christianity); they now say it’s horrible and regret that their ancestors ever owned slaves. Does this mean that white Southerners of today are generally more moral, sensitive, and empathetic, than those of 150 years ago? I doubt it when I consider their behavior in general but especially in regard to other animals. We’re not creatures who think for ourselves; we’re creatures who mimic our fellows. Sometimes, this is for the good, and other times it’s for the bad, but in either case, our convictions lack depth. That which is easy to think and do is what we think and do, and this makes any claim to moral advancement a bit of a joke. 

Image credit: "Lord Mahavir Gold" by Sidparakh - Own work. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Lord_Mahavir_Gold.jpg#/media/File:Lord_Mahavir_Gold.jpg

Who would Jesus tow?

We expect our killers to be reverent.*
“I believe the fact that I've accepted Jesus as my savior will be my salvation. But in that backroom or whatever it is when God confronts me with my sins, I do not believe any of the kills I had during the war will be among them. Everyone I shot was evil. I had good cause on every shot. They all deserved to die.” —from American Sniper, Chris Kyle's autobiography

I know that religion can be used for personal betterment as opposed to personal gain, so my complaint here isn’t so much with Christianity (although I have plenty to say about that too) as with the way it is used to justify whatever America wants it to justify. It
’s sad but true that if you take the Bible’s actual words on any number of topics and offset them against Jesus’ command to “love your neighbor as yourself,” you can justify rape; slavery; racism; classicism; theocracy; imperialism; xenophobia; the inequality of women; the murder of Moslems, homosexuals, atheists, and disobedient children; and pretty much anything else you want to justify. However, there is a theological problem with this. Namely, Jesus put love for neighbor second only to love for God and acted accordingly even if it meant disobeying a commandment. The impetus of the New Testament is clearly away from authoritarian obedience and toward assertive love, but few people are able to rise to such a standard.

Here in America, we subscribe to a doctrine that amounts to patriotism on steroids. It’s called “American Exceptionalism,” and if you don’t believe in it, don’t bother running for president. What it means is that we are God’s favored nation, that he wants us to lead the world morally and militarily, and that he supports our endless wars. I can find no evidence that Jesus supported patriotism, and as for killing people, his following words seem clear enough:

“Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them who despitefully use you, and persecute you…” “Do not resist the one who is evil…if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.” 

What’s more, he said,

“If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also. Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two.…”

How, then, can a Christian justify resisting evil through the courts, the military, or the police? Churches have signs threatening to tow anyone who parks on their property, but I ask you, who would Jesus tow?

So it is that American Christianity rests upon various myths and contradictions, American Exceptionalism being but one of them (Manifest Destiny was its lying, thieving, and slaughtering forebearer). A second is that a man who lived 2,000 years ago was really God in a bag of skin; and a third is that the way Jesus wants us to behave is the opposite of what he said. America wanted a deity, and Jesus was simply the one it inherited, so just as the early church appropriated pagan holidays, so has America appropriated Christianity itself. It was easy. For example we wanted a deity that was nationalistic and warlike, but since Jesus was neither, we rewrote him in the image of a Viking war god. The rewrite doesn’t stop there. We also claim that Jesus supported something that we fondly call “family values,” although if a living guru said the things that Jesus said, it would scare the daylights out of families. Take the following exchange:

“Someone told Jesus, ‘Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you.’ He replied to him, ‘Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?’ Pointing to his disciples, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers.’”

Just as all cult leaders seek to separate their followers from their families, so did Jesus:

“No one can be my disciple without hating his father, mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters…” “I have come to set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.” “Another of the disciples said to Him, ‘Lord, permit me first to go and bury my father.’ But Jesus said to him, ‘Follow me, and allow the dead to bury their own dead.’”

He said these things, but since America’s Jesus is unrelated to the Biblical Jesus, parents can safely encourage their children to follow him, that is unless their children join some group like the Jehovah’s Witnesses that are silly enough to actually do the things that Jesus commanded.

Then there’s the swearing of oaths. Jesus objected to oaths, but except for the Jehovah’s Witnesses and a few other “nut groups,” America’s Christians love oaths; they just want to be sure that jurors and politicians say them while holding their hands upon the very book that forbids oaths. Here’s what Jesus said in that book:

“Above all, my brothers and sisters, do not swear—not by heaven or by earth or by anything else. All you need to say is a simple yes or no. Otherwise you will be condemned.”

So how do Christians get from that to not only taking oaths but insisting on oaths? By ignoring what Jesus said, and rewriting him as they want him to be. When Obama was sworn-in, the rumor was that he did so on a Koran, the problem not being that he violated Christ’s commandment but rather that he did it on the wrong book.

One of the stranger things that Jesus said was: “And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven.” Maybe it’s just as well in this instance that
America’s religion doesn’t give a rip about what Jesus said because what would we call our fathers? I guess I would have called mine Tom, but what would I answer if someone asked who Tom was? I imagine the following:

“Tom was the guy who impregnated my mother.” “Uh, you mean he was your father?” “No, Jesus doesn’t want me to use that word, and it wouldn’t be right to substitute a word that means the same thing, so I just say that he impregnated my mother. When I fill out a form, and it has a space for father, I cross out the word father, and write ‘guy who impregnated my mother.’ People look at me funny, but at least I know I’m pleasing Jesus.”

Jesus also said, “Don’t store up treasures here on earth,” but who ever heard of an American Christian begging God’s forgiveness for investing in an IRA and a 403b? Indeed, Americans love money, and millions of us think that by giving more of it to the rich through tax breaks and economic incentives
while denying the same breaks to everyone else (along with basic health services), we too can get rich through a bit of magic called Trickle Down Economics.

Speaking of money, Jesus never asked for a donation, but it isn’t an example that America’s preachers are likely to follow. And while they don’t consider it politic to criticize such sins as their flocks are actually likely to commit—divorce, gluttony, and consumerism, to name a few—Jesus railed against the people he was preaching to, calling them snakes, children of snakes, hypocrites, white-washed sepulchers, and  fools (this despite his own warning: “And whosoever shall say, Thou Fool, shall be in danger of hell fire”).

Likewise, Jesus opposed superfluous spending: “Labour not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life…” but it would be the death-knell of American capitalism if America’s Christians obeyed him. I find it supremely ironic that America not only rewrites Jesus as a superpatriot but also as a capitalist, making his birthday the biggest spending event of the year and his resurrection an occasion for buying new clothes.

Why the pretense? For example, why go to the wall to force public prayers on everyone who attends a government sponsored meeting, this despite Jesus
’ commandment to the contrary:

And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men... But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father in secret...
And in regard to religion, why this resolve to: put the Ten Commandments in every government park and building; name the Bible America’s national book; fight like banshees against abortion, evolution, gay marriage, global warming, stem-cell research, and universal health care; be content to live in a state of eternal war against Moslems; ignore laws of habeas corpus; support the torturing of prisoners for information (i.e. enhanced interrogation); claim that God’s true followers vote Republican; openly violate laws against political campaigning on the part of churches; and demand respect for Christianity while penalizing those who practice other religions. Not only do America’s Christians refuse to do almost anything that the New Testament actually commands, they do the opposite. Such verses as: 

“Whoever does not love does not know God,” “…if I have not love, I am nothing,” and, “ let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth,” 

...are ignored in our national dialogue, while hatred, oppression, and the denial of medical care are promoted as Gods will. For example, for years now, I’ve heard Republican politicians disparage Obama—and people like myself—but never once have I heard them say they loved us.
The Bush administration explained the 9/11 attack by saying that terrorists hate Americans because we’re good. Likewise, America’s dominant Christian community imagines that non-Christians and liberal Christians oppose them because they’re good. Well, no, it’s because they substitute hatred for love and claim that Christ wants it that way
. As long as they have their luxuries, their flag to wave, and their “American Way of Life,” the rest of us could fall in a lake and drown, and they would praise God for “smiting the wicked.” When I reflect upon what Christ means to such people, I recall H.L. Mencken’s warning, 

“When fascism comes to America, it will come wrapped in the flag and waving a cross.”

I’m far from saying that American Christianity doesn’t make sense in its own perverse way, because if it takes an enormous amount of “faith” to imagine that someone who lived 2,000 years ago was God wrapped in skin and that he wants you to do certain things, how much more faith does it take to do the opposite of what he said while claiming that he commands it? I had a family member who believed that Jesus wanted her to own a gold bracelet with the letters WWJD on it. She also believed that Jesus wanted her to have a new Cadillac every three years. Then, God be praised, her preacher realized that Jesus wanted him to buy one of her old Cadillacs. God truly does work in mysterious ways because I can’t find any place in the Bible suggesting that Jesus valued a life of luxury (although I can find several verses in which he trashed rich people), but maybe Jesus only reveals his will to those who believe in him, and that doesn’t include me and, sad to say, Peggy, although we were both “brought up right.”

Just yesterday, we were listening to Vivaldi when the “Gloria in Excelsis” was played. I asked Peggy if she knew the words, and she said she did not, so I recited them. She first thought I was making them up, but when she realized that I really did know them, she put her fingers in her throat and made barfing sounds (now that the Catholic Church is into exorcisms again, maybe I should take her to a priest). Some of you have probably wondered what it is that we atheists do with the time we save by not praying, and this is but one example. I’ve been told that I don’t know a damn thing about religion, so I should keep my mouth shut. My thought is that I have important things to say to Christians because I
feel no need to rewrite Jesus’ words to reflect my own opinions. The Bible says the following about the religious establishment of Christ’s era, and I believe that such people remain the dominant face of religion in America today.

“You say, ‘I am rich and have many things. I need nothing.’ You do not know that you are in trouble and need help. You are poor. You are blind. And you have no clothes to wear.” And again, “You cross land and sea to make one convert, and when you get one, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves!” Indeed, America endlessly crosses land and sea in an attempt to force people to imitate us, yet what are we but earth-devouring parasites?

Unfortunately, when it comes to national politics, people who oppose the status quo have no electable options. Our Nobel Peace Prize winning president kills the innocent everyday, yet he is supposed to be a liberal. Meanwhile, his conservative opponents would like nothing better than to pass religious defamation laws so that people like myself could be imprisoned for attacking their perverted version of Jesus. They insist that they alone are God’s chosen, and that those who disagree put America at risk of God's wrath in the form a terrorist attack, this because they think we say “fuck you” to the deity that they created in order to justify their greed. They are right. The dominant religious face of Christianity today is the same as in Jesus
time, and he warned his followers against it in these words:

Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits.

What are the fruits of American Christianity? Love? No, there is no room for love in the hearts of people whom, in the name of the Prince of Peace, devote their lives to war, wealth, oppression, nationalism, and every form of frivolous indulgence, and so it is that I ask you: what does America's prosperity gospel have to do with the words of an itinerant preacher who emphasized love at the expense of all else and who described his life as follows:  

...Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man hath nowhere to lay his head.”

Jesus, I can respect as being a man who was flawed but sincere and well-meaning. What, though, am I to respect about America's rewrite of his religion?

*Movie poster from American Sniper

I accept a challenge to criticize liberalism

My choice for president 

Readers have often mistaken me for a liberal because of my criticisms of conservatives, but I am neither the one nor the other, although I lean more toward the left. Recently, a reader who was offended by my criticism of conservatism challenged me to criticize liberalism. This is my response.

“When knowledge becomes rigid, it stops living.” --Anselm Kiefer

Liberals are of the same mindset in encouraging
open-mindedness, that they are in “honoring diversity,” i.e. the more the better. The danger of diversity is societal fragmentation and, in the worst case scenario, civil war; the danger of open-mindedness is the elimination of absolutes. I’ll give some examples from the fields of morality, history, science, and philosophy. In regard to morality, the denial of absolutes puts the basis for our values upon personal preference and social custom. For example, who are we in the West to say that the Moslem practice of mutilating the genitals of young females is wrong for all peoples in all places and at all times? Likewise, if we carry this view to its logical conclusion in the field of history, we must remain open to the possibility that the holocaust didn’t really happen, and, come to think of it, maybe the moon-landing didn’t either. In the realm of science, surely we wouldn’t be so rigid as to deny the possibility that the universe was created in six days, 6,000 years ago, by a male humanoid deity named Jehovah who was afterwards all tuckered-out and had to sleep-in on Saturday. Philosophically, we are forced to remain open to the possibility that Hume was right when he doubted the existence of cause and effect. Sure, this would mean that if someone gets hit by a bus, we can never know for sure that he wouldn’t lie splatted on the asphalt even if nothing had hit him, but isn’t keeping an open mind preferable to allowing our thoughts to become “rigid” and no longer “living”? 

The best I can say about the value that liberals place upon openness is that it’s a crock. No liberals are open-minded in regard to the examples given, and I would even go so far as to say that all human beings are closed-minded; liberals are just more hypocritical in this regard, and their minds are closed about different things.*

Liberalism is the parent of political correctness, a doctrine whereby anyone who has different values and opinions from yourself can be persecuted as a bigot. How can a person know beforehand that she’s about to fail the political correctness test? She can’t because political correctness is like religious gnosticism in that it requires esoteric knowledge known only to the initiated, and woe be to  anyone who is being given such a test by her employer because she might well be fired. This sometimes happened at the hospital where Peggy was worked. A nurse could expect to be put on probation for drug abuse, but there was no forgiveness for political incorrectness. Peggy
’s job was never at risk for the following, but I’ll give it as an example of how petty and unkind the politically correct often become. During a slow night in labor and delivery, Peggy tried telling her fellow nurses (all of whom were liberals) a few jokes:

“Has anyone here heard of the math teacher who was detained at the airport because she had a slide rule in her purse? She was thought to be a member of Al-Gebra.”

When a fellow nurse complained that the joke was ethnically insensitive, Peggy told another:

“What kind of flightless bird is completely gray? A melted penguin.”

Alas, when a second co-worker said that her friend of mixed race would be hurt by the joke, Peggy gave up trying to amuse her co-workers.

Some stores here have signs by the door proclaiming them a “Hate Free Zone.” When I asked myself how such stores might differ from less enlightened establishments,  all I could come up with was that shoppers would have to change out of their Klan robes before entering. I think the result of such signs is simply to announce the store owner’s imagined superiority over those who don’t tow the liberal line, their real message being: “Only the politically correct need enter here.”

Before leaving Mississippi for Oregon’s liberal Willamette Valley in 1986, I had never, to my knowledge, known an across-the-board liberal, and their frequent reaction to my Southern accent left me disabused of my delusion that they valued compassion, fairness, and intelligence. Many such people didn’t ask where I was from with friendly interest but with an inflection better suited to someone who smelled dog shit: “Where ARE you from!?” When informed, they would typically do two things. One was to ask “Where in Missouri?” (suggesting that they had never even been to the South), and the other was to tell me me how ignorant, vicious, provincial, and bigoted, white Southerners were, a characterization which apparently included me although we had only met minutes earlier. Given how dangerous such people thought I was, it struck me as a wonder that they had the audacity to speak so openly, but perhaps they were more courageous than I imagined.

After months of hearing my home state—and by implication myself—being trashed, I would sometimes ask such people if they had considered the possibility that they might be bigoted. They would assure me through clinched teeth that they weren’t bigoted, they were right. They could then in good conscience drive away with their “Honor Diversity” bumper stickers unblemished and their pride in their openness undiminished, while I reflected that, regardless of their stated values, people at either end of the political spectrum tend toward asininity. I seriously doubt that it is possible to agree with everything a given group believes without surrendering the willingness to think for oneself.

Many conservatives seem proud of their prejudices, whereas liberals had rather be skinned alive than admit to theirs. This is because they exist in opposition to what liberals claim to hold most dear, namely that all people are equal and deserving of respect. While it’s true that white loggers, white ranchers, white fat people, white Republicans, white evangelicals, white Southerners, white blue-collar workers, white people who live in trailer parks, and white people who are under-educated, are all fair game to the un-prejudiced, they would not regard their hatred as bigotry but as fact-based analysis. As with the people who thought they knew everything they needed to know about me based upon my accent, such liberals would argue that you’re only prejudiced if you’re wrong, and they aren’t wrong.

A few months ago—and upon learning where I was from—a Canadian reader wrote: “From Mississippi, are you? I have enough bigots in my life. Please don’t come near my blog again.” Another liberal reader was so incensed that I didn’t consider it obvious that the cop in the 2014 Ferguson, Missouri, shooting was motivated by racism, that she said she was too upset to talk about it. Like all good liberals, both of these readers prided themselves on their openness to other people’s views, but drew the line at views in opposition to their own even when, as with the Canadian reader, he didn
’t know what my views were.
Several years ago, residents of a rundown part of Eugene called The Whiteaker Neighborhood risked vandalism if they painted their houses, replaced a fence, or did some other home improvement project. This was because even the most humble efforts to make one’s abode attractive were said to discriminate against the poor by raising housing costs. It was a case of anti-gentrification taken to its logical conclusion. Just as some liberal heterosexual couples refuse to marry until all gays can marry, some liberal property owners refuse to repair their houses until all people have houses. Of course, this implies that they want to marry and repair their houses.

In the year 2000, two Wiccans who worked for the Eugene city government complained that Christmas trees were symbols of Christian oppression and violence, and they asked that such trees be prohibited on city property. Although the U.S. Supreme Court had declared in 1989 that Christmas trees are not symbols of Christianity (most atheists have them), Jim Johnson, Eugene’s city manager at the time, banned them from city offices in the interest of what he called “practicing diversity” (liberals often find it necessary to abolish diversity in order to encourage it). When firemen bitterly complained that their fire stations were their homes away from home, Johnson finally allowed them to have one small tree per station on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day only—if no one complained.

One of the most appalling incidents of academic liberal intolerance occurred in 2005 when Harvard president Lawrence Summers suggested during a speech that research be done in order to determine whether innate differences between men and women might partly explain why fewer women choose careers in science, engineering, and math. Nancy Hopkins, a biologist at M.I.T., walked out on Summers’ talk, saying that, had she stayed, “I would’ve either blacked-out or thrown-up.” When the Harvard faculty passed a “no confidence” vote against him, Summers resigned.

Fanatics are usually able to set the tenor for a given group because people had rather let them do it than to be attacked as traitors for speaking out. Partially for this reason, I have come to distrust all cause-oriented groups and to hate a great many of them. For example, when Bush Jr. invaded Iraq, I joined the local war protests, but when they became more pro-anarchistic that anti-war, I could no longer in good conscience support them. I have also lost liberal friends as I did recently over the Ferguson, Missouri, incident. It wasn’t enough that I agreed that blacks are getting a raw deal, my friend considered me a racist because I couldn’t agree with her that racism was responsible for that particular shooting. Nothing breeds fanaticism like religion, patriotism, partisanism, and political correctness. 

*Atheism is something about which both liberals and conservatives are closed-minded (liberals less so because they are less religious). Much of my antipathy toward my species comes from my knowledge that I am widely hated, not for what I do but for what I don't believe. I read recently of an atheist who, upon coming out to his family, was told by his sister that she had rather leave her children alone with a pedophile than with him because a pedophile could only harm their bodies; he could destroy their souls.

A sorry situation in Baltimore

Rioters hurt the cause because they harden the common perception among whites that blacks are prone to criminality. Why does this matter? It matters because blacks need the support of whites today just as they did during slavery times. Besides, rioters aren’t idealists who care about creating a better world; rioters are opportunists who, I believe, should be shot down in the streets and fed to zoo animals. It’s too bad that if you’re an intelligent, rational black mayor (see photo) who is doing your best to protect your city, you’ll only get ten seconds of air time for every ten minutes that black criminals who are running from burning stores carrying stolen property will get, but such is America’s love for drama over substance.

But what if I’m wrong, and rioting works? Will we all be safer if cops come to live in fear that if they harm a black man, any black man, they will be dismissed from their jobs—if not sued and prosecuted—and their cities will be burned and looted? Let me illustrate why I worry about this.

Until she retired last year, my wife was an obstetrics’ nurse, and people who work in obstetrics tend to get sued a lot. When caregivers live in constant fear of lawsuits, it doesn’t make them better caregivers. One reason is that it puts them on an adversarial footing with the very people they’re trying to help. Another is that avoiding lawsuits comes to take precedence over patient care both for the people performing the care and for their employers. For example, one-third of births in America is now by c-section. A c-section is major surgery with a great many risks, but if there is even the tiniest chance that it can avoid some problem at birth, and a doctor doesn’t do it, that doctor will look bad in court. The same is true with continual electronic fetal monitoring. It is feared that blips in the fetus’ condition might lead to potentially harmful interventions that wouldn’t have occurred if the fetus was only monitored periodically, but the problem is that if you’re taken to court and you can’t say that you did “everything possible,” you’re likely to lose. The public demands perfection, so when something goes wrong, they start looking for someone to blame, and they tend to blame those whom they perceive to be in control, people like doctors and cops.

This is what I fear about the recent pressure upon cops. They have to make split-second life-and-death decisions, and being fallible, they will most certainly err at times even with the best of intentions. So is it to anyone’s benefit for cops to be distracted by the fear that, even if their judgment is right, they’re going to pay dearly if the person they shoot happens to be black, as was the incident in Ferguson, Missouri, that started all this brouhaha?

Freddie Gray, the Baltimore criminal who died of a broken neck was called a martyr at his funeral. I remember when you had to do something noble—remember Schwerner, Chaney and Goodman?—to be a martyr to the cause of Civil Rights. Now all you have to do is to be a career criminal who comes to a bad end while resisting arrest. Die by the hands of a cop, and 2,500 people will come to your funeral and talk about what a exemplar of virtue you were. This is what remains of the movement of Martin Luther King. Where blacks once had a champion, they now have buffoons like Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, and Barack Obama who, come to think of it, has been awfully silent of late. Rationality has been thrown out the window, and I see no end in sight. All I see is that every time a black criminal dies, a cop will be blamed, sometimes rightly and sometimes wrongly, and few demonstrators will care which.


As for the Oxycontin, I took the prescription to Hirons Drugs on Wednesday, but when I went to pick it up, I was told that they didn’t have the pills in the prescribed strength (30 mgs), but only in fives and tens. I said, fine, give me enough tens to equal a month's worth of thirties. As I suspected, the pharmacist said she couldn’t do that without a phone call from the doctor.

The doctor's office was closed by then, so the next day, I called and left a message for him to call the pharmacy. Three hours later, the doctor’s nurse called me and told me to come and pick up a new prescription for the tens. I said that the pharmacist said that a phone call would suffice, so the nurse called the pharmacy, and then called me back to say that everything was good to go.

I called the pharmacy twice over the next several hours to see if the prescription had been filled. The second time I called, I was told that the pharmacy would need to fax a request form to the doctor, and that the doctor would need to fill it out, fax it to insurance, and wait for their approval, or else I would have to pay for the prescription myself. I asked how much it would cost if I paid for it myself, I was told $425 a month.

I then said—in a very nice way of course—fucking great, fax the goddamn form to the goddamn doctor. Then I called the doctor to verify that they received the fax, and the insurance to ask why, when my doctor had already written a prescription for the drug, he would need to send a separate request for the same drug to them and wait days for their approval before the pharmacy would fill it. Insurance said he wouldn’t because they weren’t going to pay for the drug anyway. I asked why, then, they had asked that the doctor submit a request, and was told that they hadn’t, that the pharmacy had misread the return code when it submitted the drug to insurance.

The lady at insurance did say that there was an appeal process the doctor could go through if he really, really wanted me to have the drug, but that the drug would still cost me a lot (although she had no luck in determining how much), and the success of the appeal was in doubt. I asked about substitutionary drugs and was given two options, oxymorphone and morphine. My payment for the first would be $95 a month, and for the second, $16 a month. I called the doctor back (this was yesterday), left a long message explaining all this, and never heard back. I just called again at 2:00 p.m. on a Friday, and asked to speak to a nurse rather than to voicemail. I was sent to voicemail, so I called back and again asked to speak to a nurse. No nurse was available, but the receptionist said she had spoken to one and that the doctor had started the appeal process. This means that I won’t be getting any pain relief for who knows how long. I'm about to call insurance to see if I can hurry things along, but I'm not optimistic.

I live with fear that if the doctor gets weirded out for any reason, he might refuse to give me any narcotics, much less the strong stuff, because he lives with his own fear, i.e. a raid from the DEA (Drug Enforcement Agency) if they think he’s prescribing more narcotics to more people than they, in their non-medical wisdom, consider appropriate. The ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) is now suing the DEA because the DEA is requiring pharmacists to turn over records to them regarding who is getting narcotics and how many narcotics they’re getting. This is in violation of the Patient Privacy Act, but the DEA does whatever it damn well pleases, and Congress doesn't care.

Getting narcotics is an endless hassle. To give another example, last year I was getting them shipped to me via UPS once a month on a given day. I had to be here to sign for the shipment, but I never had any idea what time of day it would be delivered, so I had to stay in the house or front yard until it came, which was usually between 6:30 and 9:00 in the evening. I wouldn’t run a vacuum or do anything else that might keep me from hearing the door-knocker because if I didn’t answer the door, I would have to start the wait all over again the next day, and after three days, UPS would return the prescription to the pharmacy. One month, the shipment wasn’t delivered at all on the appointed day. When I called UPS to complain, I was told that it had been delivered, that I had signed for it, and that their new GPS system verified as much. This was just bullshit, so I concluded that the driver had stolen the shipment. If I hadn’t complained to the DEA, I don’t know if I would have ever gotten it, and part of it was still missing.

When, before UPS "found" the prescription, I called the pharmacy thinking they could turn up the heat on the UPS, they told me they wouldn’t be shipping me any more narcotics, implying that maybe I had stolen my own drugs in attempt to get the prescription filled twice. Well, I hadn’t even asked them to replace the narcotics because I knew they couldn’t do it without a new prescription, and I wasn’t about to ask the doctor for a new prescription, because I didn’t want him to think I might have stolen my own drugs.

Is it any wonder that so few doctors want to go into primary care medicine, and that one-third of the money that this country spends on medical care goes to insurance companies, companies that make money by refusing to pay for services and putting every roadblock possible in front of people who are suffering?

P.S. I've since talked to insurance twice and the doctor's office once. Insurance says the appeal process will take at least until next Wednesday, and they can't tell me what my copay will be. The only good thing I can say about all this is that I have been through many hassles with so many health insurance companies over so many years that I have come to expect that everything, every time will go wrong, at least for me. For the insurance companies, it's another story.

Why I pulled this post and why I put it back

Much of what I am, I tell myself I shouldn’t be. Much of what I’m not, I tell myself I should be. Some examples: I shouldn’t be in a cage about religion; I shouldn’t live in physical pain; if I must live in physical pain, I should be a man about it and not take drugs; I shouldn’t ever feel lost, despairing, angry, helpless, or depressed; I should be a published writer; I should relate to people more lovingly. I should do more good in the world; I should be an example of wisdom, maturity, stability, and integrity; I should present myself so that all who know me will love and admire me; I should live so that there will be standing room only at my funeral.

Despite all this, I love myself and have a good sense of whom I am, but I did something yesterday that I’ve never done before, and it woke me during the night: I pulled a post because I was ashamed of it. I pulled that post almost on the spur of the moment. I told myself that people get tired of reading this shit; that I’m too old to have this problem, that I must once and for always not have this problem; that it’s degrading to tell people about this problem. When I woke in the night, I realized that if I start holding back out of shame, I’ll give up blogging because I wouldn’t find it meaningful to write posts that don’t represent the true currents in my life. I decided to put the post back:

I went back to high mass (Episcopal) on Saturday for the first time in six months because I happened to be in the area. That might sound like a piss-poor reason, but I wouldn’t have gone otherwise. I must report that I enjoyed it thoroughly, and that (Father) Brent seemed glad to see me. He suggested that we get together and talk, a proposal that I met with ambivalence because I fully accept that no one can help me unless it be through books or at least letters, and Brent is no writer.

I surely have an emotional problem because why else would I, an atheist, keep going to a church where I don’t even feel welcome except by the priest. Then again, how can I really know if I have an emotional problem? I mean, so what if I don’t fit, does that mean there’s something wrong with me or something wrong with those by whom I feel rejected?

A few years ago, a reader wrote, “You have nothing to teach the church, the church has everything to teach you.” He thereby succeeded in succinctly summarizing the common Christian belief that truth and virtue belong to the speaker’s private theology, and that anyone who doesn’t agree would do better to stay away.

“American churches exist in a buyer’s market. Customers must be kept happy. However, by playing to the segment of the population which has long since abandoned the search, ministers, priests, and rabbis drive away many thoughtful people who are turned off by unsubstantiated promises of pie in the sky… Tragically, these are the people who are often most capable of giving religious institutions new vision…

“Worship is a preacher-choir performance for passive spectators. A conspiracy of niceness pervades the congregation in which everyone is smiling, everyone is friendly, happy… Talk appears to be about everything except what really matters. Deep, honest, open discussions of meaning are avoided. ...a recovering alcoholic said that after his life-changing experience in Alcoholics Anonymous, his local church was unbearable.

“‘After I had at last been a part of a real community where we loved each other enough to be honest, to sacrifice our time and energy to aid others in the struggle…the sweet superficiality of my church was repulsive. When I tried to share with them some of the insights gained from my own struggles, they looked at me like I was crazy, like my struggle was a purely personal problem.’”

from The Search for Meaning by Naylor, Willimon, and Naylor

I relate to every bit of what I just quoted because churches are unlike any other place in that they profess to be loving, yet they operate like social clubs and their preachers are like insurance salesmen whose only interest is to bring in financially contributing members.

“...there’s the temptation to suppose that people will be interested in...what one has to say. They won’t—because the Church is not and perhaps never was chiefly for people who have a deep and serious intellectual interest in religion. On the contrary, the Church is for people who…want a feeling of reassurance and self-righteousness, and are happy to live by a ready-made Truth… They want to be delivered from the extreme terror and joys of real religious thought, and nothing is so effective a protection against religious terrors than conforming church membership. At least ninety-five percent of the hierarchy and church members alike will never see the radical theologian as a liberator and rebuilder, they will always see him as a troublemaker, a nuisance, an irritant who should be got rid of….

But he (Don Cupitt) also writes:

“At least since the time of Hegel, liberal theology has been…saying to the honest fellow travelers: ‘Nowadays the Church is no longer so rigidly supernaturalist and authoritarian as she was in the past. You don’t have to be a theological realist…the modern Church…sincerely cares for freedom of thought… So we truly think a person like you doesn’t have to live in self-imposed exile. You can honestly belong to the Church.’”

from Radical Theology

The last two sentences were what Brent tried to tell me, yet he doesn’t appear to feel safe in sharing his whole person, and this puts me in the same old bind of knowing that my acceptance depends upon my willingness to remain silent in the presence of supernaturalist beliefs that I do not and can not accept. Conformists are allowed to speak openly because they can be trusted to never say anything unsettling, but the only way I can be accepted is if I keep my mouth shut. Still, I go because I don’t know where else to go. Sometimes, I think that I have a more idealistic view of what religion should be than do most churchgoers. As Alfred North Whitehead put it:

“…religion is a vision of something that stands beyond, behind, and within the passing flux of things; something which is real and yet waiting to be realized; something which is a remote possibility and yet the greatest of present facts; something that gives meaning to all that passes and yet eludes apprehension; something whose possession is the final good and yet is beyond all reach; something which is the ultimate ideal and yet the hopeless quest.”

from Science and the Modern World

I would guess that most atheists would consider this bullshit, and maybe they’re right, but it changes nothing because I’m as stuck as an elephant in quicksand, and no one can get me out.

Some medical news

Electrical Implant
My back and shoulders pain has been bad enough lately that I went through my entire 30-day supply of oxycodone (a strong narcotic) in 19-days, after which I upped my dosage of Neurontin (a nerve-pain pill) and started taking Ambien, not that either helped much.

I’m to see a new pain specialist (my third) next week, but I was hurting so much this morning that I called my internist and got a late appointment. He changed my oxycodone prescription to a much higher dose of Oxycontin (time-release oxycodone) and nearly doubled the Neurontin. He also suggested that I might be an candidate for a TENS unit (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation) or an electrical implant. I already have a TENS unit, but I never used it much and would greatly prefer an implant anyway because that way I wouldn’t have to change out pads, snake wires through my clothing, position the leads, and so on. Besides, one TENS unit wouldn’t be enough. By comparison, an implant would be worry free except for having to go in to have the batteries replaced.

I didn’t initially tell my internist about the new pain specialist because I was afraid he would want to hold-off on increasing my narcotic dosage (as he was, he gave me so much more than expected that I could have kissed him). After my internist left the office, his assistant started talking about the pain specialist he wanted me to see (for the TENS unit or implant), so I told her about the one I’m already supposed to see. She said she would ask the internist whether to cancel the referral he was going to make, but I asked her to put it through anyway because it takes months to see one of these guys, and since I don’t know how I’ll like the one I’m to see next week, I had just as soon have a replacement lined-up.

I chose next week’s pain specialist based upon the fact he used to inject steroid shots into my osteonecrotic (as in dead) neck vertebra. This was a big deal requiring a twilight sleep anesthetic and a fluoroscope, and since he struck me as competent and kindly, I had my back surgeon in Portland (the one I saw in February) refer me to him. Still, he wasn’t a pain specialist when I last saw him, and I haven’t been impressed with pain specialists. You would think that, if there’s one kind of doctor who would be compassionate, it would be a pain specialist, but that hasn't been my experience.

I get so tired of living in pain (having been doing it for around eight years now), yet I came home with a small degree of renewed hope. So many people don't have a doctor who gives a rip, and at least I have a good internist. The problem is that he's my age, so he'll probably be retiring before too many more years.