Sunday, April 25, 2004

Someone loves me besides Momma...

Well, that may be a bit strong, but Bruce of this is class warfare had some very nice things to say about my scribblings a few days back concerning religion in America. Do go and give him some love. It's always nice to know someone is listening.
The Real Trick...

More religion fun over at Atrios. The following a slight re-write of my post there. Do check the rest of the thread out. Some smart cookies in it.

Concerning all the schism between liberal Christians and liberal atheists/agnostics/what have you, I have to mention my guitar player, Doug. Apart from being a really good guitar player and a kick-ass mandolin picker, Doug's what the rest of the band and I call a "friend of Jesus". He's a top-shelf cat and a sincerely nice guy. He's not really concerned with heaven and hell or the supernatural aspect of the Swingin' Nazz; no, what matters to Doug is living his life to Christ's example. That is, being the best person he can be, as it applies to both himself and to others. He's not above drinking a beer or romancing a sweet young thang - or keeping time with a bunch of ne'er-do-wells like the rest of my band - but he's honorable in the purest sense of the word.

And he's friends with a quantum-physics-loving, organized-religion-loathing heathern bass player: me. I accept his beliefs so far as they're what gets him through the day, and he accepts mine the same. He knows I think those specific beliefs are poppycock - and for the record, he doesn't swallow string theory - but he also knows I don't judge him by just those beliefs. He knows I judge him by his actions, as he does me. We don't talk religion, not because it'd make friction, but because we're both comfortable in our thoughts and comfortable with the other's.

I've ran into several musicians like this: Bill Mallonee (of the Vigilantes Of Love, whom Doug's toured with). Billy Joe Shaver. Todd Snider. Ray Wylie Hubbard, who sums it up best in his song "The Real Trick": "I'm not concerned with whether Jesus lived or if he was raised from the dead/What's important is what he said and the things he did." Works for me, and I think that's where the truly liberal Christians are coming from.

I do reject the claim that my feeling that religious belief is foolishness is tantamount to bigotry, however, and I still maintain Christians should police there own (just like it's up to me and others like myself to keep Southerners on the straight and narrow). Still and all, being a liberal means not pre-judging based on one's thought process. Call it "accepting" if you will, but I think that's what divides liberals from conservatives.

It's actions that count, and all the Bible-thumping in the world won't make you any less a bastard. Nor, for that matter, all the Chomsky-quoting, either.

And I promise to stop posting so much about religion...eventually.

Saturday, April 24, 2004

While I'm Thinking About It...

What is the deal with them in power whining how powerless they are? I had an acquaintance in a bar pissing and moaning about how "normal Americans" were low man on the totem pole these days. Intrigued, I pressed him as to what he meant by "normal Americans". He said, "You know, guys like you and me."

Oh. White guys.

I ended the conversation rather quickly, as I felt my bile rising, but I wanted to shake the dude and holler, "You nitwit. We're RUNNING THINGS! We always have and probably always will." For cryin' out loud, if you got the smarts and lack of conscience, you can truly achieve anything this country offers if you're a white guy.

Hell, even if the "brown horde" rears its Hispanic head like the nimrods in Texas fear, white guys will STILL be running things. It's called "apartheid" look it up under "South Africa".

Fact of the matter is, as a straight, white guy, I'm only regular churchin' on Sundays away from being the holder of power in this country. Like I said above, if you're willing to do what it takes and you got the skills to get there, there's no ceiling you can't reach if you're a white guy. Sure, it might be a bit tougher if you're not born on third base - like Bush The Lesser was - but you can still make it happen if you're willing to get down to the nitty gritty.

This country has a pervasive undercurrent of racism, sexism and homophobia, and a solid shot of anti-semitism, as well. As a straight, white, male gentile that's nevertheless out of any sort of power, I still got it better than a black lesbian who's stinking rich. Reminds me of the old Chris Rock bit where he said even the one-legged usher boy would rather ride the white thing out rather than swap places with the rich comedian.

So...if you're a white guy who digs chicks and doesn't do the Temple thing, what can you do? Well, I'm no expert, obviously, there's little ways you can make it better for all concerned. First off, acknowledge the United States' inherent failings when it comes to civil rights. We're on our way, but we're not quite there yet. There's no shame in admitting this, no calls of "hating yourself for being white/male". It's just an acknowledgement that the playing field isn't quite level.

Secondly, once you've recognized you got the deck stacked in your favor, do your damnedest to not take advantage of it as much as possible. Sometimes you don't know. Sometimes it just happens, you get the lucky break the black guy didn't, and it slides by everyone. But when you see it happening and you're in the position where it won't hurt you - I'm honest with myself enough to admit that high ideals don't feed an empty stomach and adjust accordingly - do the best you can to do what's right. More often than not, you won't be hurt one way or another. Sorry, folks, by the whole hullabaloo about quotas and unfair college admission policies are just that: mostly hot air. We still need Affirmative Action, as misused as it sometimes - though much more rarely than Limbaughites would like to admit - because the game isn't on equal footing just yet.

And finally... white guys, stop bitching. You look silly. Christians, you've got the country. Calm down. Men, you're in charge and there's no subversive plot to emasculate you. Relax and have a donut, okay?

Gotta Serve Somebody...

One of my favorite political websites, Atrios, is hosting an interesting discussion based around religion, partly due to a remark made by Janeane Garafalo on Air America sometime back and some recent hullabaloo about a Catholic bishop saying Kerry shouldn't get communion because of his pro-choice stance. Kerry's Catholic and his ideas about women's right to choose apparently gets up this bishop's nose. Apparently, though, he doesn't have a problem with the number of pro-death penalty Republicans who are good Catholics, even though the Pope hisself has said the death penalty is very, very bad.

But that's neither here nor there, really.

Frankly, I could give a tinker's cuss about Kerry's Catholicism and even less about a bishop's idea on how Kerry should act (apart from the blatant hypocrisy, of course). No, I wanna talk about religion and, specifically, religion in America.

Last year about this time, David Limbaugh - Rush's brother - put out a book called Persecution: How Liberals Are Waging War Against Christianity . I would think the title is self-explanatory. There is a concerted feeling among some people in this country that religion in general and Christianity in particular is under attack by secular forces. They say unless the government intervenes, that the evil liberals will stamp out any and all religious faith - apart from Islam, of course, which liberals just loooove - and make everyone hate the Baby Jesus.

Horse feathers. But first, some background...

I was raised in Northeast Mississippi in a very rural area. There were at least four churches in a five square-mile radius of my home; there were less than 200 people in that same area. My family's Southern Baptist and I went to church until I was 12. I wish I could say I quit going because skepticism and doubt hit me like a thunderbolt, but the honest truth is: church is boring. Maybe if it was more scholarship and learning - rather than guys who keep telling me how wunnerful GAWD is and how I'll go to hell for even thinking about bad stuff - I'd have dug church more. As it was, I had better things to do on Sunday mornings and simply quit going.

Another factor was the death of my cousin Jason. He died in a car wreck in 1986. He wasn't drinking and driving, nor was he driving recklessly. He was simply driving home from football practice when he swerved to miss a deer and wrecked his truck. He died three days later, on November 3. While I didn't become a disbeliever on the spot, it did plant the seed of doubt in my mind. It was completely meaningless, Jason's death. And, as he was close as a brother to me, it shattered everything I thought I knew about the world.

Now, fast-forward 15 years. My entire family has gone through the born-again process. By "entire family" I mean my extended family on my mother's side. We're all pretty close, and they all live within shouting distance of each other. They all go to church. The sole exceptions are my parents - my mother's a believer who has issues with church politics and hypocrisy and my old man is an agnostic who really doesn't worry about it - my brother (a full-on atheist) and myself. I consider myself an agnostic rather than an atheist. The former, to me, is an ideology of absolute. As an agnostic, I consider the very question of any god's existence to be a specious one. A creator of the cosmos by its very definition would have to be something above and beyond its creation, and therefore it's impossible to see beyond said creation.

There may be a god, I don't know. I don't worry about it, really. I do, however, think all religion is complete horseshit and every inch created by mankind. I reject any and all religious thought and theology. To me, the Bible is, at best, a collection of oral histories and myths of a certain people in a certain area and, at worst, a misinterpreted jumble of contradictions and fairy tales. For cryin' out loud, it's still up in the air on whether or not Jesus actually existed.

But back to the point: Christian persecution, or the self-imposed perception thereof. I never have understood the whining from the "persecuted Christians" who piss and moan about how naughty America is out to destroy religion. Do these people not see the plethora of attention and ads for Christmas and Easter? Do they not live in towns that have ridiculous, antiquated blue laws that are based in religion? Is not faith and religion used and willfully accepted as proof of moral clarity, even if there's rock-hard evidence otherwise?

Maybe it's just because I live in the South, but you can't swing a dead cat in this country without hitting a church. A week doesn't go by when some elected official doesn't invoke GAWD's name in fighting evolution or genital piercings or whatever foolishness they're frightened by.

Another problem I have is with the concept of "respecting religion" even though I don't believe in it and even "apologizing" for that lack of belief. Why should I respect a school of thought that thinks I'm bound for an eternity of torture for my disbelief and, furthermore, I deserve it. Do people do that for other ideologies, like economic ones? Do people apologize for not being free-market capitalist, but respecting the rights of those who are? Do they worry about insulting someone who does? No, of course not. It's foolish.

Look, whatever idea gets someone through the day and doesn't cause someone to hurt people, I say more power. I think your god is a foolish fairy tale and I got that right. You may also believe my belief that human beings will one day evolve past their current stage to explore both inner and outer space as one group is horse hockey. Right on, you got that right.

Just don't expect me to believe you have fairies in your garden when you can show any evidence and I'll be right with you to have the right to insist they're there anyway.

Some will trot out Pascal's Wager, which basically says you might as well believe in God, because you got nothing to lose if he doesn't existence but you'll burn in hell if he does. For me, that's foolishness that borders on spiritual bribery. Some Christians will argue there is no "moral center" without religion. I have to answer that statement with the question, "Would you be a bad person if God didn't exist?" If the only reason you're good is because you expect either divine punishment or heavenly goodies, you really ain't a good person.

Religious folks who are good people - and there are a whole passle of them, don't think otherwise - ain't good because of religion. They're just good people.

In the final edit, I personally don't give a damn about someone's religion. To paraphrase ol' Tom Jefferson, it neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg if my neighbor believes in Jesus, Allah or hobgoblins in his long as my neighbor leaves me the hell alone about it. I do not feel as if I should remain silent and "respectful" if they confront me with those beliefs, nor should I feel any shame for thinking that neighbor is a complete loon. A lot of folks think I'm out where the buses don't run. I've learned to live with it.

What I do object to, however, is having to support this poppycock with my tax dollars. Tell me why if God is all-powerful, does he need the government to save him and his religion from people...which are his creation. In Athens, there's talk of using city money to help save a historical Catholic church. Frankly, if the denizens of said church can't be bothered to fork over enough scratch to save that church, tough titty. Furthermore, I am completely bent out of shape over not being able to buy a goddamn six pack on a Sunday because it's "the Lord's day". To me, it's just another day. Period. Now sell me some Lonestar, dammit.

I also get the screaming heebie jeebies from Bush The Lesser and his constant yowling about religion. Everything from his "national day of prayer" - the very first thing he did after the 9/11 attacks - to his "accidental slips of the tongue" regarding the "war on terrorism" as a "crusade" to his never-ending chest-thumping about God. It's just creepy. In Bob Woodward's new book Plan Of Attack Bush said, when asked if he counseled his dad on the war, said he consulted a "higher father". Man, doesn't that just give you the oogies? And we're supposed to believe this statement means he's a moral man and a deep thinker? Good gravy, if the guy said he asked the fairies that live under his bed about attacking Iraq, we'd think he's a completely lunatic.

There's a whole lot more that doesn't sit well with me concerning this country's relationship with religion. I'm bothered every time someone tries to limit my right to watch or listen to what I wish because of morality based on religion. The whole stem cell argument sickened me to no end, as does every instance of some high school banning evolution because "it goes against GAWD's word!"

Religion and faith is fine if that's what gets you through the day. Just don't use it as an excuse to force folks to wallow in ignorance or control the populace, usually while making a quick buck. Unfortunately, throughout history, it seems religion has been used for those purposes more often than it has to do good.

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

Shootin' Blanks...

Vietnam is back in the news. Well, the Vietnam War is, anyway. Seems Sen. John Kerry's war record is up for debate...again. CNN has a story on it's website about John O'Neill, who blasts Kerry's supposed "war hero" status. He says, in effect, "I saw war heroes and John Kerry is no hero."

Now. Some odd things about this story. One, the guy served in the same unit Kerry did - the U.S. Navy's Coastal Division 11 - but didn't come on board until two months after Kerry left the outfit. Two months. So, he never actually served with Kerry. In other words, the Bush people - and let's be honest, that's where this dude comes from - could've dug up just about any Vietnam vet who didn't like Kerry and had him give his say on the national news. Secondly, the famous debate between Kerry and a pro-war vet on Dick Cavett's show back in 1971...the other guy was John O'Neill. Now, I haven't seen the debate in its entirety, but apparently Kerry handed O'Neill his ass and it seems to have stuck in this dude's craw for thirty some-odd years.

Before I go further, I have to make an admission. I've never served in the military. As a junior in high school, I flirted with the idea of joining the Navy. My grandfather was in the Navy and my old man served as a Marine in Vietnam. I thought family tradition, but ironically enough, it was something my father - who's very proud of his time in the Corps and had he not been injured, he'd still be in it - told me. "Son," he said, "You don't respond well to authority."

This is true. I don't like being yelled at. I also don't like being belittled like the military apparently does during basic training. Further more, I don't like getting up early, nor do I like any sort of exercise apart from leisurely walks. And by the time I got of age, my natural pacifist tendencies got to the point where the idea of killing another human being, even in a war situation, made me sick to my stomach. So, if my lack of military service robs me of any sort of gravitas on the following statements, que sera sera.

Anyhow, I've never been one to think a man (or woman) was any better a person for having served. In other words, in my world, there's no such thing as a "war hero". My old man is not a hero because he fought in Vietnam. He's a survivor. So are everyone who fights in wars and lives to tell the tale. War is mankind's ultimate evil, the final example of how little we've progressed as a species. And the wars the United States has involved itself in...well, let's just say the justifications I hear for Vietnam, the Gulf War and the current Iraq adventure ring completely false. World War I Gen. Jack Pershing, I believe, said it best when said (of the Mexican excursion to capture Poncho Villa) that he and his soldiers basically worked to line businessmen's pockets.

But that's neither here nor there, really. I'm not going to argue the morality of war here. Instead, I'm just curious as to why Vietnam is still such a huge deal, even thirty years later. I was born to late to be affected by the war itself, but I know how it affected my old man. He's just now come to the point where he can deal with what he went through. He meets with veterans groups, works with the Moving Wall and talks to young Marines via the internet. He's also working on putting his memoirs in order. I'm proud of him for that. He needed it and I'm glad it's helping him heal some deep, horrific scars he tried to ignore for three decades.

But it's no secret this country still has a huge issue concerning Vietnam. The big hullabaloo about Kerry's work with the Vietnam Veterans Against The War is kicking up again, as the chickenhawks and armchair generals and war bloggers tut-tut someone daring to question the holy rightness of the AMERICAN CAUSE. What kills me, though, is why these people still bitch and moan about Kerry, who fought in the war, saying it was bad, when their boy George W. didn't fight? Now, don't get me wrong; had I been in Dubya's shoes, I would've probably done the same thing. I don't hold any sort of ill will towards anyone who does whatever they must to avoid going to a war zone. I'd be a raging hypocrite if I did.

However, I gotta admit, Bush's "war president" shtick is a bit galling. Sure, FDR and Lincoln never served and were "good war presidents" - whatever the hell that means - but they also approached the wars they were involved in with a sort of reserved dignity. Listen to some of FDR's wartime speeches or read the Gettysburg Address; it's a far cry from Dubya's sock-stuffed flight suits and fist-pumping declarations of "Feels good" when the first bombs were dropped on Iraq. I don't know how anyone with any sort of conscience whatsoever could feel good that people - any people - are dying. The dead in Iraq and just like the folks who died on Sept. 11, 2001: people with hopes and dreams and loves and friends and families and lives and fears and desires. Just people, and now they're people who are dead for...what? No WMD's, no tie to 9/11, no Al Queda and no end in sight to the death and destruction and hatred and fear on all sides.

How can you "feel good" about that?

Last note...I'd take the Right's yowling about Kerry's war record a little more seriously if Bush and company hadn't been so reticent about releasing Young George's own record. Fess up, son, it's okay. I don't hold it against you at all. Be a man about it and tell the truth. And, frankly, my whole point about all this is, really, neither Bush's nor Kerry's records are all the relevant in 2004. There's plenty more shit to be concerned about, shit that affects us now, than whether Bush skipped out or if Kerry deserved his medals.

Course, dealing with the problems our country truly faces would actually take some, ya know, work and thought and effort. People can toss insults about a dirty little war that happened 30 years ago all day and it doesn't affect them at all.
Another shot...

Ye gods, I can't believe I set this damn thing up over two months ago and haven't written a single word on it. Amazing. Now, I have written things since then, but it's all gone in the trash heap. I sometimes wish I had one of those old manual, electric typewriters just so's I could have hard proof that I'd written at least something before I decided it was crap and trashed it. Ah, well...the burden of progress, I suppose.

In any event, here's another shot at this blogging thing. As a statement of purpose, I suppose, I want to be up front about something right now: I have no idea what I'm going to be writing about. My life really isn't that interesting - by choice, mind you - and Elvis knows the internet doesn't need another half-assed political pundit polluting the ether with his witless pontificating on the socio-political landscape. Now, mind you, I will be doing that from time to time - politics is a passion of mine, much like some men are passionate about baseball - but it won't be the sole purpose. No, there are other cats out there who do it much, much better than I would. Atrios for one (if, of course, your politics lean to the left).

Nor will this be solely about music, another passion of mine. I used to be a music journalist. In fact, I made my living at it up until recently. I used to write for Flagpole Magazine and was the music editor for a brief time, as well as various and sundry freelance jobs. I got sick of it, though, but that's a story for another time. However, from time to time, I shall be writing the odd CD review or band profile or historical essay or mindless scribblings on rock & roll...but only when the mood strikes me.

And finally, although no writer can truly escape the ego stroke, this will not be the forum for a Matt-centric bitch fest. Well, if I can help it. Ya never know, though. Perhaps there's a 14-year-old girl in me dying to get out.