Friday, March 25, 2016

San Andreas, 9/11, and how avoiding Batman vs. Superman brought me to tears

Ended up watching SAN ANDREAS tonight on HBO because it was free and had Carla Gugino and The Rock in it and who doesn't enjoy seeing that girl from the PERCY JACKSON series in wet clothes.  Plus it's the weekend when BATMAN VS. SUPERMAN drops, and I figured if I'm going to be disappointed by a high profile event movie it might as well be on my own terms.

It was a risk.  After all the kids had Spring Break this week, which means that as much as I love them, I've had a total of about 6 hours where I had neither work nor squids under my wing.  And because of the way the custody arrangement falls, I'm going into a full weekend plus an extra Monday of blissful, unending exposure to the the beautiful little terrorists who have hijacked my life (remember that inappropriate joke because it'll be apropos later).

My oldest is 11, and I mostly love watching movies with him,  I deeply dig how much he loves film.  He gets that from me and his mother.  But as a member of the newest unnamed generation he also lacks the self-awareness that leads a person to think, "Hey, I shouldn't talk through this. My thoughts as they spring from my head aren't the only fucking thing that matters."

So we're watching SAN ANDREAS, the latest ridiculous disaster porn that I'm aware of, and there is so much to love.  A high stakes helicopter rescue of a girl who is trapped in a car on the side of a cliff.  Mister Fantastic acting like a little bitch when his soon to be step daughter is trapped in a car.  A random helo EMT knowing that a sink hole he encounters is the San Andreas fault.  People outrunning a tsunami.  People outrunning an earthquake.  Kylie Minogue.

My point is there is a lot of MST3K worthy shit going on in this muthatrucker.  And it was fun, delightful, absolutely balls to the wall stupid.  It's the MAGIC MIKE of movies.  You certainly don't want to commit to it, you might not even want to admit you enjoy it, but there is fun to be had here if you just turn off your brain.

Unfortunately sometimes life catches you, just like Wolfman, in the 'nards.  My moment came when The Rock and his soon to be ex were about to jump out of a plane in the movie.  My son, one of the kindest souls to ever light this planet decided to comment,"Oh man, are they about to 9/11 this?"



(is there an unmitigated rage emoji)

I was surprised how quickly tears came unbidden to my eyes.  How desperately upset I was that anyone would use that day to make a casual comment.  To the best of my recollection I'll share my exact response.

"What do you mean by that?  What exactly do you mean by that?  Do you have any idea how dark a day that was for our country?  Do you have any idea that I was stuck in North Carolina that day?  The world exploded and I couldn't reach anyone.  I couldn't reach your mother.  I couldn't reach any of the people in New York that I love.  And they couldn't reach me.  No one knew what had happened.  No one knew who had hit us.  But we all were terrified, furious, and ready to do anything to make right what had happened that day."

I don't cry often, but the tears were streaming down my face at this point, and I could see that Deacon was truly struck by how deeply his off hand comment had speared me.

I told him I love him.  I told him I know he is kind and didn't mean anything by it.  I stepped back from my emotional response so that I could step back into being a proper parent.

We'll have a good talk tomorrow.  We'll watch footage of the actual event.  We'll look at the list of victims and the list of those we've lost since.  We'll look at the reactions and how ready we all were to burn the world.  And we'll talk about how time and perspective make us realize that the anger of the moment isn't always the best response.  That approving foreign policy in the midst of rage is dangerous.

We'll talk about how that one day has led us to the political climate of today.  How no one with any sense of self-awareness can ever be sure they are always right.  How horrible things happening are the deepest possible test of who we are.

And all of that will lead me to a place that I won't share with my son because he is too young to be saddled with certain burdens.  I won't share my fury that some on the right have accused me and others of like mindedness of being soft because we can face tragedy and not wish to scorch the earth.  I won't share my disgust at politicians who prop up their campaigns on the fear and jingoism of 9/11 without the morals to take care of the 9/11 first responders who still to this day are giving their lives.  I won't share that I am apoplectic at the thought of people using the same hate and nationalism that led to all of the greatest tragedies in world history to try and propel themselves to leadership in this country.

What I will share is love, tinged with sorrow.  I will make sure that he knows, as I do everyday, that he is an immense locus of love and hope in my life.  I will make sure he knows that some people will do bad things and that we must do what we can to stop them.

But I will never tell him that we have the right to do anything we think we need to do to serve our personal demons.

We live in a world of people.  Some make good on their potential.  Others, not so much.  We cannot create a world where those who wish to visit ill on others can be completely stopped.  But we can live in a world where we know that the way we react to the evil in human hearts doesn't define what is in our own.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

I'm An Atheist

I don't believe there is a God.

There, I said it.  It took me nearly 38 years to admit that to myself, and almost another full year before I could say it publicly.  But it's true.

I choose my wording carefully.  I don't care for the more common, "I don't believe in God."  That makes it sound like God is simply an underachieving teen who has shown little aptitude for self-improvement.  The fact that I don't believe there is a God should not be confused with a rejection of the possibility that God exists.  Since one cannot disprove a negative, it would be foolish to state with absolute certainty that God could not, and does not, exist.  I simply find it so unlikely as to make it a non-issue in my life.

The same can really be said of any fantastical, mythological creature.  I cannot disprove the existence of unicorns, minotaurs, nymphs or mermaids, but I have no need to factor them into the daily equation of my life.

How did I come to this?  Well, it was simple really.  I asked myself some questions.

1) Do I believe there is a grandfatherly figure of absolute power in the universe engaged in and guiding my daily life? No.

2) Do I think there is a sentient, universal consciousness that watches over all of us?  No.

3) Do I find any reason to believe that any one religious text or tradition has found the TRUTH, and that it is inescapably right, and by virtue of that proves all other spiritual traditions wrong?  No.

4) Am I scared of negative consequences for not believing in God? No.

5) Am I willing to compromise what reason and thoughtful inquiry tell me, in order to believe a TRUTH that has to be told, but cannot be proven, or in many cases supported? No.

6) Do I believe that a creator who gave me the capacity for reason, would then ask me to ignore that ability in all questions dealing with It.  100%, unequivocally, no.

7) Do I believe that the world needs religion for moral guidance, to be charitable, to be kind, etc?  No, in fact I think the evidence speaks pretty clearly to the opposite.

So you may notice that really what this journey came down to for me is that reason tells me the existence of God is unlikely, and I do not believe that something as powerful as a universal truth would rely on us denying our ability to think critically.

Now some of the common arguments for God and religion are worth looking at because I looked at them hard when arriving at this realization.

1) If there is no God then why do so many people believe in Him?

It seems to me to be a matter of survival instincts.  The idea that there is a plan, that someone all powerful is looking out for us in our darkest moments is a powerful message.  It could easily keep a person going when they would otherwise give up.  This is a potent evolutionary advantage.  But we also know it's untrue that what many people believe is a good argument for truth.  The world used to be flat, the moon used to be made of cheese, leeches used to be good medicine.  Truth is not dictated by the number of people who believe in an idea, or to quote Tim Minchin, "I don't believe that just because ideas are tenacious, it means that they are worthy."

2) There's no harm in believing in God, but the consequences if you're wrong are catastrophic?

Fear is a powerful, and deeply unfair motivator.  How could I possibly believe that a loving God, who wants nothing but the best for us all, would bludgeon us into submission with such an inelegant threat?

3) How do you explain miracles?

Couple of things here.  First, eyewitness accounts are notoriously unreliable.  Second, just because something is currently unexplainable does not make it a miracle.  Most of the miracles attributed to Jesus would be mid-level magicians tricks in a Vegas show nowadays.  But most compelling for me is that calling something a miracle often ignores the base reality of how odds work.  Say an event is 1 in a million.  Well, it's rare yes, but it will happen once in a million times.  That's not a miracle.  That's expected.

4) What about the Bible?

A very interesting book, but so full of inconsistencies and clear lineage differences in authorship that it reads like something either written by man, or a dyslexic, schizophrenic God who has gone off his meds.  There are many outstanding ruminations about the workings of the bible, but this article about the King James Bible is a favorite of mine.

5) Will you concede that religion is a force for good in a troubling world?

Crusades, suicide bombings, genocide, restriction of liberty, hate speak, judgment, slavery, gender discrimination, rape, child abuse - these are not just some of the things that have happened in the name of religion, but things that have been explicitly allowed or championed by religion.  So no, I would not call religion a force for good.  This is not to say that good-hearted people in a religious context do not do good things.  They surely do.  But they would do the same outside of a religious context as well.  Not because their religion tells them to, but because they are good people.

So there you have it.  I'm an atheist.  I'm not proud, or not proud of it.  I just am.  There are some who will certainly fear that I am going to hell, or will want to tell me to.  I'd say don't worry so much about it.  If your God has a plan then surely my lack of belief must be a part of it.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

I Make Arguments For The Right, Because They Don't Seem Able To

I'm so frustrated watching the Republican National Convention it makes my head hurt.  The purposeful disregard for reason and truth they are slinging is so deep that it's preventing them from even being able to make arguments for their views that make sense.  It really seems like they can't be bothered to build the case for their own side, much less launch a cogent counter-argument to the policy ideas of their opponent.

So I'll do it for them.  Understand that what follows does not represent my views, but is simply an exercise in showing that reason can be applied to support the current Republican platform.  They just aren't doing it.

ABORTION - If you believe that life begins at conception then abortion is murder, plain and simple.  That means that even having exceptions in the case of rape, incest, or danger to the life of the mother should be unacceptable.  You do not make a horrific crime better by committing another crime.  The circumstances of conception matter a great deal, but they cannot be an excuse for murder.

DEATH PENALTY - There's no conflict between being pro-life and pro-capital punishment.  An unborn child is innocent.  But once a person has had the chance to make choices about the path of their life, they are responsible for the consequences of those actions.  Some actions are such an extreme departure from the demands of civilization that society cannot risk the perpetrator ever being released.

TAXES - We need to learn to spend within our means, so that we don't feel the need to put an undue responsibility of financial citizenship on the wealthy.  There is no reason to have different tax responsibilities based on income.  A fair, across the board tax rate, with certain breaks given to the lowest earners is the fairest, most sensible approach.  We need to stop being the teenager who asks dad for more money because we already spent our allowance.

SPENDING - We need to put our collective wallet back in our pocket.  Entitlement programs are a mistake.  Not because they lack honorable goals, but because the Federal Gov't is too big and unwieldy to effectively deal with the specific issues of local communities.  Money should be left in those communities, through tax breaks, to allow those on the ground, the ones who know best, to determine what is most efficient for their locale.

DEFENSE SPENDING - In a perfect world we would not need to spend a penny on defense.  But we don't live in a perfect world.  Defense spending has gotten out of control, and we need to take a hard look at what we're getting for the money we spend from defense contractors.  But we cannot cut current spending without a specific plan that protects all the current and former members of our armed forces.  Disrespecting their sacrifices for our country is too great a cost to pay, no matter the financial benefit.

EDUCATION - Teachers should be as responsible for their effectiveness as any other professional.  A base achievement measure is unworkable because different populations of students have different ability levels coming in to each grade, but expecting to see a set percentage improvement in student ability from the beginning to the end of the school year is not only reasonable, but necessary.  And the ultimate goal should always be to direct all students to a standard level of excellence.

GAY MARRIAGE - Marriage is a cornerstone of the strength of our society.  It creates stability, support, and a sense of responsibility to the community and the country at large.  It is already at its weakest point ever, with divorce rates reaching 50%.  Trying to redefine it at its most challenging time threatens to weaken it even further, which in turn weakens the Nation.

ABSTINENCE PROGRAMS - We need to stop acting like it is ok for children to have sex.  Of course we will be there to support them through the consequences if they make that mistake, but it is absolutely not acceptable for children to get the message that they do not have the ability to control their sexual urges.  It is our responsibility to teach them that sense of self-respect and discipline.

GAYS/WOMEN IN THE MILITARY - The reality of close infantry training is that it is not like normal society.  If there is a person you are uncomfortable with for whatever reason in everyday life, you can avoid them, get used to them, what have you.  But close infantry training requires a certain homogeneity because anything that serves as a distraction from the mission and the training is a danger both to the soldiers involved and the country.

RELIGION IN POLITICS - Thomas Jefferson's separation of church and state idea was to prevent the establishment of a state sponsored religion.  All in this country are free to worship, or not worship as they wish.  But the idea that somehow a politician cannot be guided by their religious morals is both an overreach on Jefferson's intent, and a foolish goal.  Being guided by one's deeply held religious beliefs is not only unavoidable, it is absolutely necessary.

IMMIGRATION - There is no doubt that many illegal immigrants are decent, hard-working people at heart.  But being an overall good person does not excuse committing a crime.  We can understand it, but cannot support it.  Illegal immigration is not OK, and giving a pass to those who came into our country illegally sends the message that the crime doesn't really matter.  That's a dangerous message to send in an era when border security and immigration controls are hugely important to the safety of our nation.

So to clarify once again, these are not my views, but I'd rather make arguments for the Republicans than listen to them continue to lie and distort for no better apparent reason than it's easy to do.  I don't see myself revisiting this, but if you have any Republican positions that you'd like to see what my take would be if I was a speechwriter or policy maker for them, let me know.  Maybe I'll put a sequel together.