When the unthinkable becomes a certainty, the inconceivable becomes a possibility

In Wisconsin, Republican Governor Scott Walker’s administration joined with the conservative media to insure that the 900,000 people who signed petitions for his recall were blacklisted from government appointments and candidacies, and that those already in office were targeted with character assassination. In order to make it easier for right-wing zealots to harass petition signers in their homes and workplaces, the names and contact information for those 900,000 people were posted online. The fact that we can’t stop the fascists in Wisconsin makes it a bit harder to think that we can stand against the far more powerful fascists in D.C.

Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech…
The right of the people to be secure…against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated…
In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial…
No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or other infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury…

Could any words be more comforting, yet who can you look at U.S. policy since 9/11 and think that America still believes them? Do you ever wonder what the government would do if you pissed it off, for example if you exercised your First Amendment rights by putting a list of inflammatory words and phrases on your blog?...

Ammonium Nitrate. Mail ricin. Aryan Nation. Assassinate Boehner. Jihad. Hate America. Terrorist. Bomb the capital. I’ll show them. Kill Alexander. Mail anthrax. C-4. Suitcase bomb. Christian Identity Movement. Target government agents. How to make firebombs. Death to America. Revenge bin Laden. Assassinate the president. No one will ever know. Death to abortionists. Bomb the Golden Gate. Urea nitrate. Al-Nusra. Death to the infidels. White supremacy. Timothy McVeigh. They’re watching us. We’ll show them. Al Qaeda. Shoot the survivors. Bomb abortion clinics. Strike during the World Series. We’re going to get even. Kill niggers. Jewish conspiracy. Dirty bomb. TNT. Gray area. Hold for ransom. Cover-up. Don’t volunteer information. Allahu Akbar! Bigger than 9/11. Off-the-books. Hidden assets. This means war. Target Americans. Racial superiority.. Refuse to answer questions. The Great Satan. Al-Zawahiri. Germ warfare. Mujahedeen. They’re asking for it. Go after liberals. Detonator. Kill Moslems. Taliban. Sharia. Spread infection. Plant a bug. They owe it to us. New Crusades. Martyr for Allah. Burn the Koran. Born to kill. Cyanide. Carbon monoxide. Bomb the Brooklyn Bridge. Target Christians. Sniffer. Hail, Hitler. Kill school children. Secret search. Photograph target. You can buy it all at Radio Shack. Bomb the Pentagon. They’re going to be sorry. Don’t tell anyone. Make them suffer. Contact me through the usual means. Frame him. Sneak-and-peek. Print counterfeit money. I’ll die before I talk. Bomb the embassy. Conspiracy. Secret society. Poison the water supply. Attack the subway. Bring down the Sears Tower. Dynamite. Nitro. Kill infiltrators. Nerve gas. Secret weapons’ cache. They deserve to die. Death to Israel. Secret code. Cayman Islands. Bomb churches.

...Would it tap your phone, hack your computer, knock on your door, audit your taxes, delete your blog, destroy your credit, question your neighbors, deny you a passport, empty your bank account, plant kiddie-porn on your hard drive, attach a GPS transmitter to your car, conduct a “sneak-and-peek,” put your name on a No-Fly List, lock you up for years without a hearing…? When the government operates in ever greater secrecy, unapologetically violates its own laws, and does its best to destroy the lives of those who call attention to its wrongdoing, all of the above are conceivable, so the remaining question is whom do they consider important enough to turn their wrath upon. Surely not me, but how can I be sure? If you were to put a long list of provocative words on your blog, would you be sure?

“Paranoia strikes deep
. Into your life it will creep
. It starts when you’re always afraid
. Step out of line, the man will come and take you away.” –Buffalo Springfield

We send our young people to die in foreign lands, not in defense of freedom at home—we’re destroying that ourselves—but in the hope that them being killed over there will somehow keep us from being killed over here, yet every time we violate another nation’s sovereignty by murdering its own people on their own soil, that nation’s hatred of us increases. How many hundreds of thousands of lives lost to “collateral damage” over how many decades is too much? How much spying on ourselves and our friends is too much? How much ignoring the sovereignty of other nations and treating them as our vassals is too much? Amnesty International says we’ve already passed the limit. What took them so long?

Our founders’ concept of America was about more than preserving lives and infrastructure; it was about upholding rights and liberties. I had known since the 1960s that my government spied on some of its citizens without just cause, but it was only with the passage of the ironically named “Patriot Act” that it occurred to me that my own name might appear on a government watch list if I Googled one too many of the wrong words; or wrote a blogpost that some analyst didn’t like; or sent money to PETA, Earth First!, or the Julian Assange Defense Fund.

I told myself that I was surely being paranoid, if only because it was laughable to think that even the most misguided analyst would consider me worthy of government scrutiny. Then came Edward Snowden, and I learned that WE’RE ALL under government scrutiny, if only to the extent that it stores personal information about us for the day on which it decides to take a closer look at any one of us, and who knows when or why that day might come? Now, I’ve learned that my government not only collects data on all of its own citizens, it collects data on millions upon millions of people in France, Spain, Germany, Mexico, Brazil, and maybe other places that the Snowden documents will soon reveal.

I put a list of inflammatory words on my blog because I want my government to look at me when I say: Terrorists aren’t our gravest threat, you are, because only you can betray the promises made to us by the Founding Fathers. By declaring a state of everlasting war during which you set yourself above the Constitution and treat us all as potential enemies, you erect a wall between you and us so that it is no longer “We the people…” but you the powerful and we who cower at your feet in the hope that you won’t someday turn your jaundiced eye upon us. No matter how physically safe you make us, if you throw our founders' ideals in the garbage, where is the nobility that justifies our existence? Have you forgotten the words you put into your so-called Patriot Act...

“We must seek the guilty and not strike out against the innocent or we become like them who are without moral guidance or proper direction.”

...or were they just put there to placate the masses with false assurances?

My question to myself is whether I would do as Snowden did. The whole rest of his still young life is looking none too good, yet when he dies, he can die knowing that, with one idealistic act, he made his entire existence meaningful. Just as Johann Pachelbel justified his life with a four-minute piece of music, Snowden justified his by standing alone against the unholy strength and resolve of The Government of the United States of America, and I envy him that. I bear life better when I focus upon what one person can accomplish for good, yet I am daily discouraged to find that far more people labor in the cause of evil. What then is left for any person of nobility but to conclude that, if one must choose, it is better to lose by doing good than to win by doing evil? Better to be an Edward Snowden in the Moscow airport than a Barack Obama in the White House or a Scott Walker in the governor’s mansion.

I chose the above version of Pachebel’s Canon in D because it was performed by one person, a plain and simple man who appears unused to the limelight and uncomfortable in it, yet a man capable of such beauty that he gives me the courage to be alive, as did the writer of the Canon... as did the bravery of Edward Snowden.

I put my faith in God. You put yours in no-God, but it’s still faith.

I love this argument because it goes straight to the bleached-bones, the meatless knuckles, by surrendering rationality at the outset: “So what if I can’t prove God exists, you can’t prove he doesn’t, so at the very worst, we’re equal.” For what nonreligious claim would one offer such an argument? Would one juror say to another, “Look, I can’t prove that the defendant’s guilty, but you can’t prove he’s innocent, so my guilty-vote makes as much sense as your innocent-vote”; or would a doctor say to a patient: “I have no evidence to suggest that you need a liver transplant, but you can’t prove you don’t, so I think we should do it.”

For years, my father believed that God had arranged for him to win the Publisher’s Clearinghouse Sweepstakes, and I couldn’t even disprove that, although I initially thought it would be easy. First, I sat him down and pointed out that the money had never arrived at any of the many times God had said it would, but Dad dodged that little piece of atheistic mumbo-jumbo by saying that God kept changing the date as a test of faith. I then took him to the post office so the postal inspector could verify that ten million other people got the same endless stream of “You have won!” trash that he did. Ah, but throwing reason and evidence at religious faith is like throwing spitballs at a hand grenade. Since I couldn’t prove that Dad hadn’t won, he just kept right on arranging to give his life savings to his church before his winnings arrived, and his preacher didn’t believe me when I told him that Dad hadn’t won squat. When my father finally died without ever appearing on The Tonight Show (a show that he never once stayed up to watch) to claim his winnings, I could at long last cancel his subscriptions to Hot Rod, Working Mother, Martha Stewart Living, and all the other magazines that he had ordered to increase his odds of winning (“God helps those who help themselves”). Of course, if he had won, I'm sure he would have shouted it to the rooftops as proof that God keeps his promises because, although believers poo-poo reason and evidence, they like it very much indeed when they think they've found some.

But what did my father’s belief have to do with believing other things about God, for example, that he was born of a virgin, or is the spiritual equivalent of 3-In-1 Oil? Everything! The evidence for God arranging for my father to win a lottery is the same as the evidence for one-third of God impregnating a young woman with a second-third of God through the agency of a third-third of God. The only difference lies in the fact that millions of people believe in a virgin-impregnating deity (there have been several of them) while few people believe that God’s check is in the mail.

“...blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” –John 20:29

Suppose someone should claim that his god is an invisible troll doll named Gertie that has green hair, lives in a microwave, and makes herself invisible to non-believers? If I express doubt, he might extol the importance of “faith,” and claim that his faith in Gertie is at least as reasonable as my faith in no-Gertie since neither can be proven. If he could then show me 10,000 books about Gertie, 100,000 hymns about Gertie, and one thousand-thousand temples devoted to the worship of Gertie; his belief might appear to have gained credence, yet the verifiable evidence for Gertie’s existence would remain nil. And so it is with all religions. It’s hard to look at an 18,000 member mega church, multiply that number a thousand times over, and pronounce all those people’s beliefs a figment of the imagination, but in the absence of objective evidence, belief in Christ is no more rational than belief in Gertie, Allah, Huitzilopochtli, or any other deity. So, why, then, do most people believe in Christ if they’re Americans; in Allah if they’re Saudis; and in Huitzilopochtli in the case of the ancient Aztecs? Because most people find meaning in the same places that their neighbors find meaning. It’s a characteristic of tribalism, and woe be to those who are seen as disloyal.

Some atheists try to make a stand for reason by saying to theists, “You and I are alike except that I believe in one God less than you do, and, oh, by the way, isn’t it interesting that the God in which you believe just happens to be the same God that you were taught to believe in from your childhood onward, and that you’ve never examined the evidence for the others?” Behind such statements is the recognition that where societal reinforcement doesn’t exist, even believers can see the emptiness of religious faith except in regard to the one religion by which their own belief is societally reinforced. This points to the irrationality of religion in regard to objective truth, although it might be very rational indeed in regard to one’s status in society. After all, atheists are not only devalued in most places, they’re hated. This causes some atheists to keep their atheism a secret, and others to shout it from the rooftops. Despite their occasional excesses, my allegiance is with the rooftop crowd. As a result, I’ve lost more friends and more readers than I can count. One such person recently wrote:

“As an imperfect Christian as I am, you’re an asshole. You are disrespectful and very rude. To me, I won’t pray for you because you deserve to go to hell. You mock God and you mock anyone who is different from you. So a big ‘fuck off’ from this imperfect Christian. Keep spewing off your hatred. I will tell God to keep his gates closed and his harps at silence. You’re the only one who has to face the ‘music.’”

Such attacks actually encourage my outspokenness by reinforcing my perception of religion as a Hyde-obscuring Jekyll that I have a moral obligation to oppose. I can only be thankful that I don’t live in one of the many countries in which I would be killed for my atheism, because I don’t know how I would respond, atheism being that important to me. Penn Gillette wrote the following in a compendium entitled This I Believe:

“Atheism is not believing in God. Not believing in God is easy—you can’t prove a negative, so there’s no work to do... But, this ‘This I Believe’ thing seems to demand something more personal, some leap of faith that helps one see life’s big picture, some rules to live by. So, I’m saying, ‘This I believe: I believe there is no God.’ Having taken that step, it informs every moment of my life.

He expressed my position perfectly. By making religion the default position—“the wide gate and the broad road”—while subjecting atheists to obloquy, society forces atheists to be ever aware of their identity and to reflect upon their own road more deeply. Why, then, do any of them remain silent? I’m sure I don’t know.

Delusions, I've had a few, but then again, too few to mention...

But, of course, I will:

I will always be a child, and my parents will always be my parents.

My country’s leaders are wise and good.

Thunder is caused by the devil beating his wife over the head with a frying pan.

The police only want to help me.

Pretty women are angels with hidden wings.

My country exemplifies bravery, generosity, and every other virtue.

Claw-hammers and Colt .45 revolvers are wise, and wise things don’t want to hurt me.

All airplanes and some women are beautiful, and beautiful things can’t hurt me.

If you have enough money, you can hire experts to do anything. For example, you could throw a very small rock into the middle of the deep woods, and the right experts could easily find that very rock; or you could get your head blown-off by a shotgun, and they could put it on again.

Behind the woods are the backwoods, and people who look like Lil’ Abner live in the backwoods, but you never see them because the backwoods are too far back.

Having sex with enough women will protect me.

Jesus is real, and he loves me.

Jesus’ father is real, and he wants to send me to hell.

The Holy Ghost is a vapor that does whatever Jesus and Jesus’ father tell him to do.

Doctors know too much to make mistakes.

I create reality as I go along, and it stops existing when I’m gone.

Everything is alive and knows what is going on around it.

My belongings appreciate me for taking such good care of them, and they miss me when I go away.

My houseplants enjoy getting a shower.

I am over most of these, but I’m hardly delusion free, and that’s only counting the delusions I know about. What do delusions offer that they keep me enslaved against my will, and how do my delusional beliefs compare with the delusional beliefs of others? For example, how do religious people—once they are grown—hold, not just to isolated delusions but to a thousand interrelated and often contradictory delusions, and not only NOT try to recover from them, but try to cling to them more fiercely; and how is it that I have been able to escape those kinds of delusions, but not others—the last three things on my list, for example—even though I recognize their delusional nature?