Wednesday, December 10, 2014

A Lengthy, Point-by-Point Response

A while back, I posted a blog about the atrocities perpetrated by Communist dictatorships.  Someone has attempted to discredit one aspect of the arguments therein, so I created a point-by-point response.  The result was rather too lengthy for this blog format, so I posted it on the web, here.  Short comments can be offered via this blog, but lengthy, detailed commentary should be sent via email using the address provided in the essay.

Giving Up the High Ground in the War on Terror

The recent Senate committee investigation of the use of torture on prisoners in the "war on terror" has confirmed what seemed obviously to be the case several years ago:  the USA has been using terrorist methods on their prisoners.  The Senate investigation concluded that little or nothing was gained in terms of useful information by resorting to torture, so the only substantial outcome of the process has been the validation of terrorist claims that the USA is an immoral international bully.

I've repeatedly said that violence only leads to more violence, and that terrorism is a tactic resorted to primarily by militarily weak opponents, who can't possibly win a "set piece" military confrontation.  The terrorists can't hope to win a purely military victory, so they're smart enough not even to try to do so, but if they can instill fear in us and use that fear to cause us to adopt fascist tactics to fight terrorism (e.g., giving up personal freedom in the name of security), then they'll have succeeded in their limited aims.  By giving up the moral high ground in this battle between some fanatic religious sects and a world superpower, we hand them a cheap victory.  We confirm their "great satan" claims about us, and expend our resources in a vain effort to kill enough of the terrorists to get them to stop their actions.  Can we not see that religious fanatics will never give up?  Can we not see that for each one we kill, making them into martyrs, we only create more terrorists?  Can we not see that "collateral damage" to noncombatant citizens from our war on terror makes new terrorists every day?  Can we not see that the primary beneficiaries of our massive military expenditures are the big defense corporations?  Are we not smart enough to see that a purely military victory is impossible?

I know there are many Americans out there who advocate giving the terrorists a taste of their own methods.  There are many Americans who say that terrorists have no rights and deserve whatever pain we can inflict on them, by whatever means.  Clearly, many Americans prefer vengeance over morality, despite their "christian" upbringing.  Treating our enemies in the way they treat us removes any substantive difference between us and them!  Do many Americans fail to see this?  Evidently so.

This nation was founded on the basis of high moral principles:  freedom and justice for all, in particular.  Due process.  Probable cause.  Innocent until proven guilty.  Everyone entitled to legal representation.  Habeas corpus.   Speedy trials by jury.  Humane treatment while in prison.  Cruel and unusual punishment forbidden.  If the GWB administration was so certain about the correctness of their actions in employing torture on prisoners, then why did they feel compelled to lie about it?  When someone says one thing and does the opposite, that's generally called hypocrisy.  And, as often observed by my friend R.J. Evans, the hypocrisy always reveals the lie.  Americans like to point to themselves as the standard bearers for freedom and justice in the world, but the facts lately seem to contradict that claimed status.  Many people in the world have reason to see us a bullies, using our military might to serve mostly selfish ends (like "protecting" oil for the big energy corporations to enrich themselves and use the wealth to influence the political process), paying lip service to our ideals.

It's hard to live up to those lofty ideals, it seems.  Many Americans apparently are all too ready to discard those ideals in order to wreak vengeance on our terrorist enemies.  They simply can't see that such actions ultimately reveal that we don't have enough faith in our own ideals to defend our moral high ground simply by resisting the temptation to resort to tactics like torture.  We should show the world by our example that it's not us but the terrorists who are immoral, violently evil fanatics, willing to do anything to advance their political/religious cause.  We should re-confirm our claims that our nation is the embodiment of high ideals for the world to emulate rather than descending into the same slime pit the terrorists occupy.  We should defend personal freedoms and personal justice for all (even accused terrorists) even more vigorously, rather than giving them up in the forlorn hope of defeating terrorism by rooting terrorists out and killing them.

I have no love for terrorists.  I don't mourn the deaths of their leaders (but neither do I celebrate their deaths).  They are evil fanatics!  But I maintain we can't "win" a military victory over terrorism.  The "security" we've gained by sacrificing our rights as human beings in this war on terror is an illusion.  Terrorists will always be able to find holes in that security - no security plan is impenetrable.  Not only is that security ultimately ineffective against terrorism, but it's expensive!  We're bankrupting ourselves with our tactics, including fighting unwinnable wars on foreign soil and maintaining the very same military-industrial complex about which outgoing President Eisenhower warned us.  Can most Americans not see this?  Evidently not.  That just plays into the terrorists' hand.

What we can do to limit the effectiveness of terror is stay true to our principles and show that they're wrong about us and our ideals, thereby marginalizing them and limiting their power of fear over us by restoring our lost freedoms and once again supporting justice for all

Sunday, December 7, 2014

A Christmas Cherry in Music

This time of year, the music of Christmas fills the air - in malls, on TV, in concerts and elevators.  After all " 'tis the season to be jolly! ".  For me, since the music is an integral part of the season and, therefore, I was raised with it, so the sounds bring back memories of Christmas past.  Today, my wife and I attended a Christmas concert at OU that was delightful and I thoroughly enjoyed it.  There were even sing-alongs of some of the religious songs, with which I gladly joined.  I still remember the words to those songs (for the most part) after all these years.  What fun - I even had to wipe some tears from my eyes at times!  Music is something that can touch any living person, needs no translation, and allows the spirit to soar -  your voice breaks and your heart fills your chest.  Tears can flow, chills can run up your spine, and you are carried to places where the only thing that matters is that moment.  You lose your "self" in such moments.  That someone could compose music centuries ago that still has the ability to affect us so deeply means that some cord of commonality exists between us and that composer - who may be long dead but is still capable of communication with us! 

Some might see the combination of my forthright atheism and Christmas songs to be somewhat confusing.  In my view of things, the music is beautiful beyond question and the memories are mostly wonderful.  If you find it bothersome that I can enjoy Christmas music, then I say you're the one with a problem, not me.  I don't feel any hesitation or embarrassment in saying that I enjoy Christmas music.

What I find sad and disappointing is the extent to which many fail to live up the the lofty ideals within those Christmas songs - except perhaps for the few weeks when Christmas is looming on the horizon.  It's also the case that many people - usually those experiencing misfortunes of one sort or another - may find Christmas to be a miserable time.  The happiness surrounding them can be depressing.

That many christians "cherry-pick" their bibles is something I've noted in some of my atheist polemics:  Christians select those passages that reflect their personal views, even as they rationalize away (or ignore) passages that don't match those views.   This tactic is convenient for accommodating some of the nasty bits of biblical scripture, as I've pointed out.  But I have no big problem with someone who chooses to follow this path - after all, religion ultimately is a very personal thing and not everyone adheres to precisely the same dogma as everyone else, despite millennia of attempts by organized religious denominations to get everyone on the same page, at times using violent methods.  All I ask is that the cherry-pickers acknowledge what they're doing.  In America, this sort of individual selection of religious elements is rampant - Americans are notoriously difficult to get to march in lockstep - one of our positive traits in my book!  Every believer has their own personal spin on their spiritual beliefs.

If religious believers can cherry-pick their scriptures, it seems perfectly acceptable for me to cherry-pick the aspects of religion I prefer:  the music, the art, the devotion to charity for the disadvantaged, the call to love one's enemies, and so forth.  I see nothing wrong or hypocritical about that and nowhere is it in conflict with my atheist morality.  [Yes, atheists can be moral without the need for a deity and the scriptures associated with that deity!]  I choose to reject all the supernatural mumbo-jumbo as metaphorical at best and certainly don't see those scriptures as inspired by some all-everything deity.  The basic tenets of religious faith I reject as irrational, contradictory, and even potentially harmful.  But religion has, beyond doubt, inspired many of the world's artists to contribute their finest works.  Let anyone hearing Handel's Messiah tell me they aren't buoyed to great emotional heights by the power of that work!  Not coincidentally, this afternoon's concert concluded with the Hallelujah! Chorus at the end of Handel's Messiah.  During my junior year in high school, our Christmas concert concluded with that same piece and it was an emotional volcano to be a part of the combined choirs as we belted out that joyful emotion embodied in song.  You would have to be a dead soul not to find that inspirational, even when you're an atheist!

The power of music to reach into our psyche is not rational.  There's no logic to support that.  It's beyond reason but, rather, touches something deep in our DNA.  Most people are vulnerable to its power even if they, like me, have little or no talent for making music themselves.  Music, in my opinion, is a great gift of our existence.  That I have children who are musically-inclined is a great joy to me.  And I love Christmas music.  Anyone who has a problem with that can go eat shit.