Thursday, January 29, 2009

Spirituality without religion

February 21, 2009
Among the presentations coming up for me is one exploring common ground between enlightened Christians and enlightened atheists. Helping me to do this are atheists who respect religion while criticizing its negatives, the same negatives observed by thoughtful Christians.

The blogger ddjango offers a good example of spiritual atheism or secular spirituality. He invited me to write a guest post, but I'm afraid my post On Enlightenment on ddjango’s site became excessively abstract.
Wondering whether it would speak to most people, I asked a friend to read it and tell me what she thought. Her answer is gratifying:
AHHHH, Jeanette!! You give me such comfort!!! I loved reading your guest blog...and, in my opinion, the entry is a great deal like your book in that the reader must be a committed reader. He/she must be dedicated to learning, looking for answers and/or support for confusing thoughts that exist in himself/herself. Definitely NOT looking for an easy read. I am assuming that people who read blogs such as yours and ddjango's are just such readers.

That, of course, does not mean that each reader understands easily. I, for example, read the first half of your guest blog with relative ease...and found every word a "once-again renewal of hope"...and had to dig deeper and read extremely attentively once you wrote more about Comte-Sponville. BUT, I did understand what I was reading and I fall back again on the fact that your readers must read thoughtfully...and have some degree of inquisitive interest...and WANT to learn. And again, I think for the most part these must be the sort of people who DO read your blogs. The bottom line? PERFECT!!!
Flattery works for me.
I’m just as delighted by this response from a friend who had assumed that Jesus was only a myth and not a man of history, until he read my book.
What a delight . . . to read flawless writing! I now understand much better than I previously had what Jesus might have meant by the ‘Reign of God.’ I even feel somewhat better about my tendency to live in and appreciate the present: I've had many timeless moments, and so perhaps have already enjoyed eternal life.
For me it doesn’t get better than to clarify spiritual concepts for discriminating minds, and to indicate shared values where people expect total disagreement.

February 29, 2009
I started this blog hoping to have conversations about religion and spirituality in our daily lives. When I started writing God Is Not Three Guys in the Sky many years ago, I saw little possibility that my views would be accepted. Since that time I’ve watched a huge shift in perceptions, sometimes subtle, sometimes amazingly abrupt. Twenty years ago, Christians could comfortably assume that “everybody” prayed to Jesus. That’s no longer the case. But often I still hear and see the word “Christian” used as a synonym for “good.” This sends an implicit insult to people of other faiths.

The foundational message of my book is that religious myths play an honorable and indispensable role in human lives but our Christian myth is not superior to others. I ask readers to carefully digest what I say, because the word “myth” as it's popularly used means false and worthless. This hinders understanding of religious myth, which is perfectly respectable.

I invite believers and non-believers alike to uncouple spirituality from religion. Readers of God Is Not Three Guys will find instances of non-religious spirituality, and the video “Breaking up religion's monopoly on spirituality” at http://ddjango.blogspot.com/ prompted this reflection.

Here are examples of spiritual practice unrelated to religion:
• Entering a room and sensing its spiritual atmosphere, whether welcoming, threatening, playful, sad, etc.
• Feeling connected to nature while walking a country road, being in the mountains, experiencing a night with moon, stars, northern lights, etc.
• Intuiting a friend’s sorrow or elation or pride or shame,
• Knowing that certain persons speak wisdom, certain persons have good instincts irrespective of their educational level, certain persons have the natural intelligence to sum up situations and people.

These instincts, feelings, thoughts, and kinds of knowledge are spiritual; they are independent of scientific knowledge and also of religion. The speaker in the video states that we all possess spiritual judgment, but it has been “hijacked by religion.” I have to agree. Mothers often have it more than bishops, he says. I agree.

“We are our own spirituality,” he says. “We are it.” I believe there is something beyond us, something beyond our comprehension and imagination that is given the very inadequate name, “God.” And I don’t share the speaker’s antipathy toward religion. Religion has satisfyingly served millions. But we must not grant any religion the power to muzzle our minds.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Bible beauty & ugliness

Some Bible passages contain beauty unsurpassed among the greatest spiritual writings of all time. One that withstands prosperous times and scarcity is Mathew 6: 19-34, which begins, “Do not lay up for yourselves an earthly treasure. Moths and rust corrode; thieves break in and steal.” It tells us not to worry about our livelihood, and holds up as examples the birds of the air and lilies of the field—“not even Solomon in all his splendor was arrayed like one of these.” We’re told, “Let tomorrow take care of itself. Today has troubles of its own.”

These lines speak to me of the Eternal Now, and no wonder. The Nazarene to whom they are attributed had a mystical connection with what he termed the Reign of God. This passage has fed me for years, and today it has particular consoling relevance for our country and the world.

But the Bible also contains passages that horrify our more evolved consciousness of today. Genesis 19 tells the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, well known because it ends with Lot’s wife turning into a pillar of salt. The beginning of this story is more startling and rarely told. Men in Lot’s town come to his door demanding that he give his male guests to them for sexual play. Here is his answer:
“I beg you, my brothers, not to do this wicked thing. I have two daughters who have never had intercourse with men. Let me bring them out to you, and you may do to them as you please.” Apparently approving of his behavior, “the Lord” guides Lot’s family to safety before raining down destruction on Sodom and Gomorrah.

Here we have it—homosexuality is unacceptable but abuse of women and girls is acceptable. It’s fair to say this is the Bible’s moral standard on sexuality, at least in the first Testament. Passages about homosexuality are rare, but those describing women as property to be used by husbands or fathers as they wish are abundant.

This story knocks out support for the argument that homosexuality is wrong because the Bible says so. And it knocks out the argument that God authored the Bible. Because the Bible’s scandalous morality is little known, I offer another example.

In Numbers 31, the Israelite army wages war against the Medianites, as “the Lord” commands Moses, and they kill every male. The women and little ones they take captive along with their goods and animals as booty. Moses angrily asks the returning army, “Have you allowed all the women to live? . . . Now therefore, kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman who has known a man by sleeping with him. But all the young girls who have not known a man by sleeping with him, keep alive for yourselves.”

Today the words “genocide” and “rape” come to mind. Can anyone doubt that the denial of legal, economic, and political rights to women until the twentieth century stems from Bible passages like this? And to what extent are these passages at the base of the Arab world’s vicious treatment of women? Muslims also revere the Bible. To be fair, women received no better treatment in cultures that have different sacred scriptures. It’s unpleasant to look at these things. But enlightening.

These passages do NOT prove that the Bible is just religious nonsense and lacks inspiration. Among the in-spirited passages are the poetic psalms, the best known Psalm 23:
Even though I walk in the dark valley
I fear no evil
For you are at my side
With your rod and your staff
That give me courage.

We all need courage and comfort in these troubled times.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Obama's hope

Hope flowing in the country from Obama’s inauguration feeds me despite my natural inclination to say “not so fast” to hope. I surrendered to the lure of radio and television yesterday recording the ebullient throngs in D.C.

Obama himself is the one who dampened expectations, as he has ever since he was elected. Soberly he reminded us of the “nagging fear that America’s decline is inevitable, and that the next generation must lower its sights.” When he declared that the challenges will be met, I thought, “addressed, not met.” We don’t know what our efforts will accomplish.

And it is OUR efforts. Like JFK he obliged all Americans to do the work of creating change. Our economic crisis he attributed to “not only greed and irresponsibility on the part of some, but also our collective failure to make hard choices.” Yes, for example, to stop plundering and polluting the earth

After the inauguration address, a conservative asked to comment on it objected to Obama’s advocacy of soft power. But I rejoice that he disparaged “missiles and tanks,” and said we are not entitled “to do as we please,” that “our security emanates from . . . humility and restraint.”

Furthermore, “we can no longer afford indifference to suffering outside our borders; nor can we consume the world’s resources without regard to effect.”

He sounded a recurrent theme of mine:
“We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus—and non-believers.” A good addition, that last. Those who profess no religious faith care passionately about our country and the world. Mentioning “the bitter swill of civil war and segregation,” he expressed confidence “that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve.”

Rhetoric does not assure policy. I do not like some of his appointments but from Buddhism I’m learning to release attachment to specific results. What we know for certain is that Obama’s and our ideas of what should happen will not happen. May the hope of the last few days, however, move us to make the hard choices required for realizing a few of our dreams.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Jesus, an uncommon guy

We are the only ones who have ultimate truth? Preposterous.
As early as grade school I realized that no religion could be “the one true church.” I questioned the claim in the creed, “the ONLY son of God,” which Jesus himself refutes when he tells his disciples to become sons of God (Mt 5:45, Lk 6:35).

Most devotees of Jesus are unaware that he was a rebel who jolted people out of conventional beliefs. The gospels are fun to read if you can rid your mind of ponderous dogmatic pronouncements. In Matthew, Mark, and Luke, Jesus is a very human hero challenged by family as well as neighbors and enemies. He pushes listeners to see ordinary things in new ways.
• Love your enemies. (Lk 6:27, Mt 5:44)
• Damn you hypocrites who worry about appearances but cover up the rot inside.
• When someone hits you on the cheek, offer the other one. If someone takes your coat, offer your shirt. (Lk 6:29, Mt 5:39-40 This meant going naked except for a loin cloth.)
• Samaritans (comparable to Muslims in our society) are good people.
• Congratulations, those of you who are starving! You'll have a feast” (Luke 6:20-21).
• Give to everyone who begs from you. (Lk 6:30, Mt 5:42)
• Damn you, Pharisees! You love your prominent seats in synagogues and the respectful greetings in the market. (Lk 11:43 Substitute other words for "Pharisees" and you get the idea)
• Let the dead bury their dead.(Mt 8:22, Lk 9:60)
• I am lord of the Sabbath.
• Who are my mother and brothers? Anyone who does the will of God.

Preachers struggle to explain the last, but mostly Christians like to avoid this and other anti-familial sayings. In Mark 3: 21, for instance, his family come to take him away because they think he’s crazy. The Sabbath quotation comes with a story. Jesus and his followers are walking through a grain field, pulling off the grain heads and chomping on them. “You can’t do that on the Sabbath!” say his accusers. Jesus answers (Mk 2:27-28), “The Sabbath was made for people, not people for the Sabbath. Translate “Sabbath” to mean religious rules and then it makes sense. Finally he says, “The son of man is lord of the Sabbath.”

“The son of man” is one of the most misunderstood phrases in the Bible. Scholars had no trouble figuring out that it referred to Jesus himself, but they ascribed to it an exalted meaning, thinking Jesus was identifying with some high-flown mythical figure. This was debunked when someone noticed the expression used in ancient Jewish texts where it simply means “I” or “me.” The urge to elevate Jesus wins over scholarship, so that many still piously say “the son of man” as if it had some ponderous significance when Jesus was simply saying, “I’m a human like everyone else.” And he implied that all humans lord it over the Sabbath.

Christians hear Jesus sayings so often they don't think much about them, but they must have startled his first listeners. Some of his sayings are so odd, no one can figure out their meaning, for instance, “Let the dead bury their dead.” I surmise that it was exaggerated language to punctuate a thought no longer accessible to us. Huston Smith in The World’s Religions gives these examples of Jesus’ extravagance in language:
If your hand offends you, cut it off. If your eye stands between you and the best, gauge it out. Jesus talks of camels that hump through needles’ eyes, of people who fastidiously strain gnats from their drinks while oblivious of the camels that caravan down their gullets. His characters go around with timbers protruding from their eyes, looking for tiny specks in the eyes of others. He talks of people whose outer lives are stately mausoleums while their inner lives stink of decaying corpses.

Jesus didn’t make self-glorifying statements like predicting he would rise from the dead in three days, a detail obviously borrowed from pagan religions. The man spoke in colorful images, and he had guts. He also had periods of agonizing self-doubt. Fr. Richard McBrien points out that Mark has Jesus pray when he’s unsure what to do. He wasn’t “handed a divine script at birth that outlined every action he was to take and every word he was to proclaim.” He relied on his Higher Power, which, being a Palestinian Jew, Jesus called “Abba” or “Dad.” He talked a lot about our most precious value—the Reign of God.
• The Reign of God is like a treasure hidden in a field. The finder sells everything to buy it. (Mt 13:44, Th 109)
• The Reign of God is like yeast a woman uses to leaven flour and make the dough rise. (Mt 13:33, Lk 13:21)
• You can’t say, ‘Look, here it is’ or “There!’ The Reign of God is in your midst. (Lk 17:21, Th 113)
I'm quoting the Gospel of Thomas, which contains many of the sayings in Matthew and Luke.

No pious goody-goody, Jesus was a troublemaker, a man with passion and wit who deliberately exaggerated to get people's attention. He was subversive, railing against established religion, against the beliefs and rules that "everybody" follows to be accepted. If Jesus were living today, he’d hang out in gay bars, in homeless shelters, with drug addicts, in ghettos. He sought out the rejected—the sinners we like to look down on so we can feel superior. He defied conformist expectations so much that people called him a glutton and drunkard (Mt 11:18-19, Lk 7:33-34). I like this revolutionary prophet much better than the god in church language.

I’ve had debates with atheists who argue there never was a Jesus of Nazareth. But I believe this man existed because he said such counter-cultural things, and they fit the jaw-dropping things said by sages in other spiritual systems, notably Buddhism and Hinduism. Deepak Chopra incorrectly credited Christianity with focusing on the teaching of Jesus, but our tradition really focused on the mythic Jesus, not on this more fascinating man. I like the gutsy Jesus who really lived and taught 2000 years ago much better than the elevated god worshipped in church.

This Jesus that I describe in God Is Not Three Guys in the Sky might even appeal to atheists.

Extreme Conclusion
A PBS-TV program reminded me of something I’ve observed before. An archaeologist explored sites in Palestine for evidence that Bible stories are true. He began as a disbeliever, learned that places and objects referred to actually existed, and jumped to the conclusion that the stories are factual—an unwarranted conclusion, as he later seemed to realize.

One archaeological site unearthed a place called Bethsaida, where the gospels say Jesus healed a blind man and fed a multitude. The pool of Siloam, another miracle site, is coming to light in an excavation near Jerusalem. These digs do not prove anything beyond the fact that legends and myths are not spun out of nothing. Like stories that have evolved in all times, including today, they refer to actual places and events but often add fiction to fact. I believe Jesus worked some of the wonders described in the gospels, and I say why in God Is Not Three Guys in the Sky.

The Bible mixes myth with history and legend and ritual and much else. If Noah’s ark were found, it would not prove that the earth was at one time covered with water, but it would base in history this story rich with symbolic meaning. In God Is Not Three Guys in the Sky, I describe the probable historical event that produced this myth.

The most conspicuous example of jumping to an extreme conclusion is the conviction of some atheists that there never was a Jesus of Nazareth. This also is not based on nothing. It’s based on the discovery that the god Jesus strongly resembles pagan redeemer gods. All we need to draw a reasonable, rather than extreme, conclusion is to distinguish between man and myth.

Jesus of Nazareth, an exceptional Palestinian Jew, uplifted, inspired, taught, and healed needy people, for which he was revered after his death, when myth and legend joined history in stories about him. These simple facts indicate what could be some common ground between believers and non-believers, which is sorely needed to dampen religious strife.


Deepak Chopra's 3rd Jesus (January 16, 2009)
In The Third Jesus: The Christ We Cannot Ignore, Deepak Chopra, best-selling writer coming from a background in India in the Hindu, Sikh, and Catholic traditions, talks about three ways of thinking about Jesus. They parallel the three aspects I talk about in God Is Not Three Guys in the Sky—the historical Jesus, the mythic Christ, and the inner Christ. But Chopra states that teachings of the historical Jesus form “the foundation of Christian theology and thought." It would be nice if this were so, but it is incorrect if we’re talking about doctrines or beliefs.

There is no disagreement among scripture scholars about the focus of Jesus’ message. It was all about the Reign of God, often translated “Kingdom.” He said nothing about his death saving the world. This was Paul's theology, and it formed the basis of Christianity, not Jesus' preaching about the Reign.

To this first pillar of belief established by Paul was added another in the fourth century—that Jesus was one of three divine persons in a holy Trinity. Paul’s Jesus was not yet equivalent to God, but his exaltation of Jesus (See my post "Paul vs. Jesus") in letters written around the year 50 CE led to the doctrine of the Trinity, which in turn led to Christians today relating to Jesus as if he were God. Believing these two propositions—the divinity of Jesus and his saving death—sets Christians apart from other religions, but the teachings of Jesus, the man who actually lived 2000 years ago, apply universally. Many religions have variations of the Golden Rule.

Chopra’s third Jesus is “the cosmic Christ, the guide whose teaching embraces all humanity.” I admit I haven’t read his book, but this description leads me to the inner guide within every human soul, the third aspect that I talk about in God Is Not Three Guys in the Sky. Chopra uses the word “enlightenment,” and when I autograph books, I frequently write, “May you find enlightenment.” With that wish I end this post.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Grace & spirituality, Part 2 (Guest Post)

Those of you familiar with my conversation with Jeanette know that I'm an atheist; I do not believe in an anthropomorphic, creative entity called "God." I think that all the universe is natural - there is no "supernatural." But I also think that there is spirit, human spirit being part of that. And to me, spirit is tangible, natural, a function of the universal matter, light. I experience it, I can hear it, see it, feel it. It is a matter of attention and perception. Scientists, even atheist scientists, will someday identify how it works.

Carl Jung, many years ago, spoke of observing “synchronicity”. He also posited the notion of the “collective unconscious”. I happen to think that there also exists a "collective sub-conscience," a universal knowing of yin and yang that connects us all to each other and everything else. It is in those places, I believe, that we find spirituality. I don't think that believing these things are molecular and sub-atomic diminishes wonder one bit.

All disease and disorder involves a separation, an alienation, of a human from this spirit. One is cut off from true self, adrift in delusion and illusion. "Imagination runs wild" is an excellent description. When the body dies, the participation of that body in the "all" disperses and is never embodied exactly the same way again. Is it not insanity, then, to destroy the body which holds spirit? Is it not crazy to embrace hate and all the rest? Hate kills the hater, at least as often as it kills the hated.

In the book that initially drew us together, Comte-Sponville's The Little Book of Atheist Spirituality, the author speaks of the difference between [religious] "faith" and a more temporal, tangible "fidelity.” Fidelity has to do with recognizing, honoring, and perpetuating traditions, such as codes of morality. Things like The Golden Rule and the Beatitudes. How can such wisdom as the latter be discounted by the fact that I do not think Jesus was God? How can I discard the wisdom of "Thou shalt not kill," just because I don't believe in Yahweh?

What disturbs me is how Jews, Muslims, and Christians can say they find their way through reliance on the Bible, except . . . whenever. Their God did not say, "Don't kill, except when . . ." Personally, I fail to understand how religious folks go about justifying "situational ethics," especially when it comes to other humans and this vast home we call "Earth."

I begin my conclusion by telling you that I have no hope for humanity. I have not, however, replaced it with despair. I have replaced it with action based in fidelity. Faith and hope are just self-centered wishes that things will turn out the way I want them. A Taoist friend once told me, "One is happiest who lives without expectations." If I practice humility and act in fidelity and love, I have conducted a spiritual motion, whether the outcome is to my liking or not. My role is to serve humanity and all existence on this planet, not serve a god or gods.

As a backlash phenomenon, there has arisen a new, militant, virulent strain of atheism. Pay attention to it, because it is poison. It ridicules religion and even professes (at the same time) to "hate God." How one hates something that does not exist baffles me, as I think it should. These people purport to embrace "science" and mouth "rationalism" in a most irrational way. Perhaps if they weren't so rude and arrogant and nihilistic, one could safely ignore them. I suppose it is the price we pay for a decade of religious extremism, but let us hope it is a passing fashion. Suffice it to say that they possess neither the manners nor the smarts displayed by late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century atheists like Ingersoll, Goldman, Whitman, Garrison, and Stanton.

Finally, I must speak of science. There is a growing movement within the science community, transhumanism. Although it markets itself to the masses by promising technology that will end disease and pain, and even produce immortality, it should be seen as incalculably dangerous. Do take it seriously, because the science and technology is sound and developing quickly now.

On the face of it, this stuff is neither good nor evil. But given humanity's propensity for self-destruction and the fact that this movement is funded and controlled by entities aligned with the new atheists, the ultra-rich, eugenicists, and the like, suggests there is a much greater chance that this science and technology will not be used altruistically, but in mechanisms of efficient control and even destruction of most of humanity. You may scoff - but you do it at your own risk.

At the top of my blog, P!, I quote Thomas More: "Because the soul has such deep roots in personal and social life and its values run so contrary to modern concerns, caring for the soul may well turn out to be a radical act, a challenge to accepted norms." One may do this - must do this - whether religious, agnostic, atheist, or none of the above.

Thank you for having the patience to read this. Be at peace.


ddjango (the "dd" is silent) is a political and cultural writer in exile from Boston. He began writing on the internet with the now-archived blog ddjangoWIrE in 2002, then founded P! in 2004. He has been known to post at American Samizdat, PBA, Peoples Voice, Thomas Paine's Corner, Empire Burlesque, Corrente, and other sites. He is also a published Content Provider at Associated Content and a Sustaining Member of ZNet

Monday, January 12, 2009

Gaza & spirituality (guest post)

He who will not reason is a bigot; he who cannot is a fool; and he who dares not is a slave. - Sir William Drummond

When Jeanette asked me to continue our on-going conversation about spirituality, religion, and atheism here, the post began to just write itself. What's here, however, is not what I planned to say . . .

I've spent much of the last ten days with a fellow blogger friend setting up and now maintaining an internetwork on Facebook, Twitter, and our blogs of Palestinian/Gazan activists, making sure their news and cries for help reach the world in realtime.

I am no fan of Hamas. Let me be clear about that. Neither do I send any kisses to Fatah, Hizbullah, or the Israeli state and its operatives (IDF, Mossad, etc). But when I get up each morning after a sleep that did not stem my exhaustion, I go back to watch videos I had posted the night before. And every time, I am shaken to the core . . .

I was in my teens to early twenties when the US was ravaged by assassinations, race riots, political riots, Nixon, Kent State, the Tet offensive, and the futile shame and carnage of Southeast Asia. Firsthand, I experienced tear gas, riot sticks, anarchy, drug addiction, virulent hate.

The press was still free to document the truth, so I saw death and destruction and deceit and blood every day on TV. Later, for several years as a therapist, I treated alcoholism in NamVets who had developed that awful illness by drinking in order to kick the heroin addiction they brought back from the war. Nasty. I lost several folks, some clients, some friends, to madness, despair, and suicide. And many others silently succumbed to lives become totally unmanageable and unbearable.

But I have never seen anything close to what I watch on those videos. Videos recorded and conveyed by shaking cell phones through a jerry-rigged network of internet nodes. Videos showing civilian adults and children, bleeding, dead, dying, screaming, maimed. Others, some hurt, some not, running from victim to victim sprawled on the asphalt and concrete in a quick triage and hauling off the still-living to non-existent medical care at rocket-ruined hospitals . . .

We know that this conflict, this current battle in a six-decade war, is not just about religion and culture. Not just about Jew and Arab, Jew and Muslim, Israel and Palestine. It is about land, resources such as oil and water, and "geopolitical alliances" (that sinister phrase that translates into autonomy and empire). It is also about fear, rage, hate, jealousy, revenge, tradition, and pride. And money - always money.

So that is what this, and all, war is about. But the thing itself? Organized insanity. I do not use that term metaphorically. Insanity is an illness, a dis-ease, of the brain. An imbalance of natural organic chemicals causes a disruption of sane thinking, producing a liability of emotion, resulting in aberrant behavior - such as mass murder and other crimes perpetrated by humans on other humans. Once begun, it is an addiction cycle -- war producing more insanity driving more war. The cycle produces and thrives on the core of denial. The cycle is broken only when the participants realize that the upside is not exceeding the downside and cry "uncle!"

On Wednesday, the United States Senate, and on Friday, the United States House of Representatives passed concurrent resolutions which condemned Hamas and condoned Israel's actions. The vote in the Senate was a unanimous floor vote; the House voted 390 in favor, 5 opposed, with a scattering of others voting "present" or abstaining. A recent poll claimed that over 30% of Democrats oppose Israel's actions, but 95% of Congress gave Israel a pat on the back and kicked Gaza in the gut. What does that tell you?

We are part of the insanity - many would say we have been instrumental in causing it and are incapable and/or unwilling to help stop it. At the UN Security Council, the US has repeatedly vetoed resolutions to cease the violence. Kill more. Don't stop. If that's not socio- and psychopathic, it'll do until the real thing checks into the hospital.

In the videos I watch, as people lie motionless or whirl around screaming in these scenes, here are some questions that not once were asked: Do you believe in God? Are you Sunni or Shi'ite? Are you Hamas? Are you Fatah? Have you prayed to Allah? Are you a Jew? Who did you vote for? What do you think of Israel? Of America? Are you gay? Are you an infidel? Do you have health insurance? Do you have identification? Under those conditions, only one question counts - am I going to die? . . .

(more to come in Part 2 . . .)

ddjango (the "dd" is silent) is a political and cultural writer in exile from Boston. He began writing on the internet with the now-archived blog ddjangoWIrE in 2002, then founded P! in 2004. He has been known to post at American Samizdat, PBA, Peoples Voice, Thomas Paine's Corner, Empire Burlesque, Corrente, and other sites. He is also a published Content Provider at Associated Content and a Sustaining Member of ZNet.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Gaza 2

Over 800 Palestinian deaths, half of them civilians, many children. In Israel 13 deaths, 3 civilians. That’s the news—800 to 13. But every news report mentions Hamas rockets as if they had some kind of equivalence to the slaughter achieved by Israeli weapons funded by American taxpayers.

Again, the Senate and House passed resolutions of support for Israel, overwhelmingly, their usual knee-jerk dance following the slaughter of innocent Palestinians. Senate majority leader Harry Reid defended it as expressing “the will of the State of Israel and the will of the American people." Notice which came first, and we need to tell Congress that it’s not our will!

There are cracks in the formerly impenetrable wall of support for Israel. Read Few speak up in Congress for hopeful developments. Here’s a short excerpt. Nick Rahall, a West Virginia Democrat and Lebanese-American, told Reuters:
When these events occur, there's almost a knee-jerk reaction of Congress that endorses 1,000 percent what Israel is doing.
Israel is our ally. ... It always has been, with which I perfectly agree. But I don't believe in allowing that to blind us to what is in our best interests, or giving knee-jerk approval to anything Israel does. We don't do that with any other ally.
I assume my readers are driven by the same passion for justice and integrity that drives me. We have a chance now to educate Congress. Insist on a complete and immediate ceasefire to stop the one-sided slaughter in Gaza. We the people have to educate members of Congress.

January 14--Gaza again
Gaza’s death toll passes 1000, according to Al Jazeera English; Israeli deaths are less than 20. The Israeli military’s claim that it doesn’t target civilians rings hollow because people are trapped with no place to go when they’re told to leave. Phosphorus bombs dropped over heavily populated areas burn people below indiscriminately, down to the bone. Many heartrending burn patients are children.

Secretary of State designate Hillary Clinton says the incoming administration commits to a new era of diplomacy. But she ruled out diplomacy with Hamas unless it stops fighting. This is “absolute,” she said. So it looks like we can expect the decades-old U.S. position to continue—one side gets almost all the weapons and the other side almost all the casualties.

I don’t advocate arming Hamas. Quite the contrary. Disarmament should apply to BOTH sides. U.S. Cold War policy chose sides to arm, favoring any dictator or scoundrel who claimed to be on our side. This led to proliferation of weapons around the world, which lays the blame on us Americans for much of the weaponry threatening ourselves and everyone on the globe. The reason Iran seeks nuclear weapons is that Israel secretly acquired them, violating international agreement. The reason Israel got by with that is total U.S. support for its actions, no matter how outrageous.

The powerful Israeli lobby has controlled our government—Republican, Democratic, no difference—to ridiculous lengths, pulling the tails of administration officials, members of Congress, and aspiring politicians. Anybody who dares express sympathy for Palestinians is labeled “anti-Semitic.”

That’s up to this point. Will it change? Signs are not good. What gives me some hope is Jewish peace groups in Israel and in this country, and international outrage over America’s unconscionable support for Israeli actions. I urge readers to work for real change over this issue, a change of conscience in our nation.

I was just alerted to a powerful article in The Nation. Naomi Klein says the best strategy to end the bloody occupation by Israel is a boycott of the kind that ended apartheid in South Africa.

March 27
Soldiers in the Israeli military are exposing the truth about war crimes committed in the Gaza offensive. Israeli soldiers speak out. What's the message from religious Jews in Israel? Rabbis told them to get rid of Gentiles.

Seven Jewish Children
Caryl Churchill composed the poem, "Seven Jewish Children," which is also a play of only 10 minutes in length. It rouses our conscience about Gaza and all Palestinians and all Jews. A masterful creative accomplishment made available without charge, this is also a cry for peace and justice. Seven Jewish Children, a play for Gaza (in its entirety)

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Gaza

Many Arab Muslims think American Christians are their enemies. Feeding this belief is the U.S. government’s consistent siding with Israel against Palestinians. When Bill Clinton tried to broker peace in 2000, he did not simply propose ideas for settling differences to the two sides. He first gave Israel a chance to veto the proposals before bringing them to the table. This imbalanced approach in 2000 was consistent with decades of favoritism toward Israel—in military, economic, political and, perhaps most important, propaganda support. The current Bush administration outdid all previous lopsided approaches.

The dogged and unrealistic wish of Hamas for an end to the state of Israel can be understood if we recall nineteenth century America. Then some Native American braves refused to accept the reality of overwhelming white military supremacy. Today members of Hamas—Native Palestinians—refuse to accept the reality of overwhelming Israeli military supremacy. To expand this analogy, vastly greater Palestinian deaths and suffering receive less media coverage than the few Israeli casualties—at least in the U.S—as if non-whites were worth less. Yes, I suspect race is a factor.

American weapons will continue to protect the state of Israel, no matter how flagrant its abuse of Native Palestinians, because the United States continues to assuage its guilt for turning away Jewish refugees during the Holocaust. We have to get over it. Not our compassion for Jewish Holocaust victims, but our fear of being termed “anti-Semitic” whenever we acknowledge Palestinian suffering.

During supposed ceasefires, Israel deprives Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank of land, electricity, water, food, medicine, jobs, and a myriad number of supplies, not to mention basic human rights such as freedom to choose their own leaders. And Israel, not Hamas, first violated the last ceasefire, as CNN and other sources report: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KntmpoRXFX4

I do not advocate withdrawal of American support for Israel, but peace rests on justice, and this Americans have not promoted in Palestine. So Muslims go on thinking we are their enemies.