Easter

We have arrived at Easter weekend.  I am a fan of all holidays, and Easter is always welcome as it comes after a long drought of major holidays.

Easter is an interesting holiday because pretty much all of the tradition that surrounds it has absolutely nothing to do with what it purports to celebrate.  Jim Gaffigan has a pretty great joke concerning it:

He doesn’t really talk at all about where those things come from.  I’m not going to go into extreme detail, but these are all things that are of pagan origin.  Easter is of course not unique in this regard, Christmas also carries with it a lot of pagan tradition, but Easter seems to be a more extreme example.

One of the things that I have found to be fascinating as I study Christianity is all of the pagan influence on the religion.  Christianity has taken some pretty severe turns from its Jewish roots, turns that often don’t seem to make a whole lot of sense.

One of those things is the Christian celebration of Easter rather than Passover.  After all, Jesus’ resurrection in the Bible occurs on Passover Sunday.  The Passover holiday itself is full of rich symbolism from the Old Testament concerning the purpose of Christ.  The Easter holiday, on the other hand, was originally the celebration of fertility goddesses, and the focus on new life is much more true to the original holiday than the modern focus on the resurrection of Christ.  Obviously, it is easy to see how these themes can be extended to the Christian tradition…  take out the goddess, and think about “new life” in a slightly metaphorical way, and voila, you have a Christian holiday.  By the way, if you want to see the specifics of the origins of Easter, you should probably just google it.

The reasons for departing Passover for Easter have a lot to do with pagan converts to Christianity, in a large part due to the Roman adoption of Christianity.  This is a very interesting point in the development of modern traditional Christian beliefs, and is a point at which the purpose of Christianity was skewed for a very long time.  As a starting point, I recommend the book Pagan Christianity, it served as such for me.  To make a long story short, pagan influences of various origins made their way into Christianity, and we have many non-Jewish ideas and understandings, whereas early Christianity was very much a sect of Judaism.  As some examples: Jews do not believe in Hell, nor do they believe in the specific named entity of Satan.  That is, to a jewish person ha-satan is more of a concept that could be ascribed to a being, but more often to refer to the “evil inclination” of people.  The term generally means an adversary, stumbling block, or obstacle, and so it could be ascribed to an angelic being similar to the traditional Christian understanding of Satan, but the Jewish understanding would not allow for an uber powerful being that is in fact an adversary to God Himself.  As a third example, traditional Jewish belief differs from that of Christianity in that it sees the Bible as being divinely inspired, but not the literal word of God.

Perhaps the most striking thing about Easter in the Christian tradition is its focus on divine wrath.  Nary an Easter morning service goes by without a recounting of the torturous death of Jesus of Nazareth.  It’s not that we shouldn’t remember it, but the obsession with the mode of death is something that likely would have been abhorrent to Jesus’ contemporaries, who definitively did not adopt the cross as the symbol of their faith that we have today.

The fact is, the Bible records Jesus as instructing us to celebrate Passover, and to remember him.  Not to remember his death, but to remember him.  We should connecting with Jesus’ life, not his death.  Remember what he taught and how he showed us to live.  Sure, remember that he died, and that he rose again, that is important as well, but don’t become obsessed with morbidity.  Stop seeing the Jesus’ death and resurrection as Jesus saving us from God, and start seeing it as a symbol that God is redeeming humanity from the inclination of evil.

 

Finding the Path to Equality

One of the things I have noticed dominating the political landscape for the past week or so is the subject of income inequality among men and women.  I’ve also come across a bit about inequality in other areas of reading and conversation and so that has sort of inspired me to write how I feel about the current state of the world and the attempts of various groups of people to find equality.

Equality in itself is simply a form of justice.  We all want to be treated fairly, and live under the same rules.  I would add to my own definition of equality that we should all be treated according to our actions.  I imagine that there are those who would take issue with that (socialists, for example).  This is to say that I do not think that Human A and Human B are entitled to all of the same luxuries in life in order for equality to be established.  That said, I do not at all believe that we have achieved equality.  And I think that in specific circumstances, everyone is treated in ways that have more to do with their skin color, gender, and income level than on the basis of their character and actions (yes, even rich white men).

It’s also important to point out much of the time a question of “fairness” arises where it’s not really due.  As an example, let’s say there’s a guy named “Bob”, and he invests a bunch of money to start his own business, he works really hard, and he is successful, and makes a lot of money.  Along comes another guy named “Tim”, and Tim decides he too will start his own business.  He invests the same amount of money, works just as hard, and after a few years of struggling to break even, he is forced to shut it down.  Is it fair that this happened?  It’s impossible to answer really, because the question doesn’t apply.  To what are you ascribing unfairness?  The nature of reality?  Can reality be unfair?  The fact is, both of these guys could have played it safe,but they chose to take a risk… and sometimes risks pay off, and sometimes they don’t.

With those clarifications, let’s get back to the first thing I mentioned.  Income inequality between men and women.  The large numbers you see come from statistical information which takes nothing into account but gender and actual income.  The most important thing to remember when dealing with statistics, or whenever someone throws a statistic at you, is that on an individual level statistics mean absolutely nothing.  This is important when considering the issue of inequality because equality has to do with individuals.  Am I equal to you, and are you, in turn, equal to another person?  The moment we start grouping people together we are essentially conceding points on which we might start treating them differently because they are not like us.    That said, there is a gap, but it is a considerably smaller average (it’s about a 5 cent deficit, as opposed to the 23 cents you commonly see cited) when you take into consideration career choice, major, etc.  I do not know the reasons for this gap, and I’m not sure anyone does, but if we would like to eliminate it, I think we are better off trying to identify to social cause and seeking to remedy it.  I don’t believe the cause is a misogynistic culture, as many feminists would have us believe, because, quite frankly, we don’t live in a culture that values misogyny.  If we did, we wouldn’t be having this discussion at the national level.  Obviously, misogynists exist, but society looks down on such people.

On a broader spectrum, different groups that have had injustice down to them tend to cling to the tool of the injustice done to them.  That tool, bluntly, is government.  This system of force has long been used to oppress certain groups of people to the benefit of another, and given that it is only able to achieve anything through the use of force, or the veiled threat of force, which would mean nothing if people didn’t know that the force would indeed be carried out, it is unlikely to ever achieve equality or justice.  It is seemingly antithetical that the primary reason people cling to these ideas is to achieve those things.  As a simple example of government not achieving equality, one only needs to look at statistics as they relate to black Americans (and remember, this says nothing about an individual black person).  Statistically, black Americans are much more likely to commit violent crimes, both against white people, and against other black people, then other people groups.   They tend to be arrested much more frequently from drug crimes as well.  The incarceration rate is much higher than their percentage of the population.  This does not have ANYTHING to do with their race, black people are not inherently violent, but it is indicative of a societal problem.   Before the Civil Rights Act, segregation was government policy.  The tool of oppression was used to try to stop oppression.  By degree, oppression has decreased, but a simple glance at those statistics can tell you that government policy is harmful to black Americans.

You can’t force someone to be different than they are.  If you hold a gun to someone’s head and tell them “be this way, or else”, then perhaps you will change the words that come out of their mouth when you are present, or when you might find out about them, but they will not be fundamentally changed.  This is the problem with seeking change through government force.  People simply bury such feelings and it becomes all the harder to really root out the source.  This is why wielding a gun will never bring about justice.

In a strange way, I think a desire for justice against past oppressors tends to cloud the issue and get in the way of achieving equality.  Not long ago I was on a film crew at a location in south central LA, and we had a visitor who insisted on coming inside to go through our trash to get our cans.  In trying to get her to leave, because we can’t have people who aren’t part of the cast/crew there, she immediately jumped to race, as though we were only making her leave because she was black.  She told me it was a black neighborhood, I guess those of us on the crew who were not black were thus not welcome.  I bring this up because I think this woman has a desire to see justice on past oppressors.  The trouble is, those oppressors are dead and gone.  You can’t achieve that justice.  To take out vengeance rightly directed toward slave owners against me or any other white American is simply another injustice.  We didn’t carry that action out.  What happened between our ancestors is in the best, and it’s best left there.  We remember it, and we strive not to repeat it, but we don’t judge each other based on the actions of people who were not us.  I think that a refusal or inability to move on from the past is the biggest obstacle to overcoming this “grouping” of people.  If we are to truly be equal we need to get rid of these vestiges of ancient tribalism.  We need to stop being groups and start just being people. If we can do that, maybe we’ll stop feeling a need to point guns at one another for good.

The Defamation of Balaam

Special Note: I can’t imagine anyone of the Christian faith who is new to this information not being challenged by it in a very strong way.  If you are not up for such a thing, you might want to skip this one.

This post will be my first foray into really asking for and hoping for feedback from everyone out there who is reading it.  I would really like to hear your thoughts on the matter.  As such, I activated a plugin that will make it way easier for you to comment (you can login with Facebook, which is how probably all of you are getting here).  If for whatever reason you don’t want to do that, you can also make a WordPress login or just comment on the Facebook status you followed here, but I’d prefer it to be here.

As you know, I have been reading through the Bible.  I’m now working my way through Judges.  I wanted to take a moment to write about something I initially read the main thrust of a few weeks ago, and that comes up again from time to time as I continue to read. It’s a story that you know if you grew up in the church, and are likely to know even if you didn’t…  it’s a story about this guy named Balaam.  And he has a donkey.  And it talks.

Just to refresh your memory, I’ll give it a quick overview with a few more specifics than that.  Note that I am only going to present what is actually in the text, and a few reasonable extrapolations… if it’s an extrapolation it will be obvious because I’ll say something like “it seems to indicate”, etc.

The passage isn’t clear about exactly what Balaam’s relationship with God is, but it presents Balaam as some sort of prophet or diviner of sorts.  He doesn’t seem to be a part of Israel in any way, but he does seem to be in direct contact with Israel’s God, in a way that thus far in the text we have really only seen with the likes of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, and Moses.  That seems pretty significant to me.. I mean, it’s not like EVERYONE is talking directly to God in the Bible.  Anyway, there’s a king named Balak (apparently having lots of b’s and a’s and l’s in names was in fashion at the time), who sees Israel sort of growing and conquering different nations, and he’s a bit concerned.  So, knowing a bit of Balaam’s abilities in divination, he sends some men down to get him so that he can have Balaam curse Israel.  Balak’s men get there, and Balaam tells them essentially, “Stay here for a night, let me go check with God and see what he wants me to do.”  God says not to go with them, and not to curse Israel.  The men go back to Balak and tell him, and Balak, not being one to give up easily, sends them back a second time, but this time in even greater numbers and with a promise that Balak will give Balaam anything he wants in exchange.  Balaam says “That’s a nice offer, but I can’t really do anything but what God says I can.  Wait, I’ll go ask again.”    This time, God seems to relent and says “Go with them if they want you to go, but only do what I say.”

So in the next verse, Balaam sets out on his donkey to go see Balak.  Exactly one verse later, for reasons not given by the text, God is angry because Balaam is going, and sends an angel to block Balaam’s path.  Balaam can’t see the angel, but the donkey can, and keeps turning away from it, and Balaam beats on the seemingly stubborn animal a few times, and then God “opens its mouth” and it tells Balaam what’s up.  It’s then a bit unclear if it’s the angel, or God, or both talking, but one of them tells us that they would have struck Balaam dead and let the donkey live if the donkey had not turned away.  That seems a harsh punishment for a guy who asked if he could go, was told to go, and then went.

Anyway, God, again for reasons not told in the text, is suddenly okay with Balaam continuing on the journey, and he gets to Balak unsmitten.  To shorten it up a bit, Balak takes him to four different places hoping maybe Balaam will curse Israel from each one, but all four times Balaam not only doesn’t curse Israel, but in fact blesses Israel, telling Balak that he can only do what God says.    Balak is noticeably upset in the text the first three times, and then after the fourth time the two of them part company without much said.  That’s the end of the story.

However, that’s not the last time we see the name Balaam pop up.  We next see him when Israel attacks Midian, when we are told that they kill him in the battle.  Then, the text makes an accusation against Balaam through Moses.  “Moses said to them, “Have you let all the women live? Behold,these, on Balaam’s advice, caused the people of Israel to act treacherously against the Lord in the incident of Peor, and so the plague came among the congregation of the Lord.”  Indeed, in a chapter following Balaam’s meeting with Balak, there is an incident in Peor involving Baal worship, and God’s judgment on Israel for it, but nowhere is there any account given that Balaam had anything to do with it.

Moving onward out of Numbers and into Deuteronomy, 23:5 says “But the Lord your God would not listen to Balaam; instead the Lord your God turned the curse into a blessing for you, because the Lord your God loved you.”  You can go check out everything that Balaam ever said or did in that account (it’s Numbers 22-24), he never once curses or attempts to curse Israel.  Joshua 24:9-10 makes a similar claim, although it’s a little bit less clear in doing so.  This goes on beyond the point I have read thus far, with Balaam heretofore being remembered as a villain.  Nehemiah 13:2 again implies that Balaam tried to curse Israel and God turned it into a blessing.  2 Peter 2:15-16 makes reference to him, saying “They have followed the way of Balaam, the son of Beor, who loved gain from wrongdoing, but was rebuked for his own transgression; a speechless donkey spoke with human voice and restrained the prophet’s madness.”  This one comes closest to supporting an idea that I have heard that attempts to smooth this whole story out, but it comes with some complications of its own, I think.  Anyway, I’ll get to that in a minute.   Finally, Revelation 2:14 brings a whole new accusation out of left field: “But I have a few things against you: you have some there who hold the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, so that they might eat food sacrificed to idols and practice sexual immorality.”  Eat food sacrificed to idols?  Sexual immorality?  Where is that in Balaam’s story?

At the very least, it is apparent that a lot of things were omitted regarding what happened with Balaam, and were only later filled in.  I guess we can’t be sure that Balaam didn’t have something to do with encouraging Baal worship in Peor.  And if he did, it does seem quite likely that it could have involved eating food sacrificed to idols and sexual immorality.

Outside of these omissions, we still have the apparent contradiction.  It seems almost as if there are 2 Balaams.  “Balaam the prophet of God”,  who seems to occupy the beginning and end of the Numbers 22-24 narrative, and “Balaam the Wicked”, who seems to occupy everything following that narrative, and is sort of mishmashed with the prophet Balaam in the middle of the main narrative.

Here is the explanation that I alluded to.  It turns out, that the issue was not whether or not Balaam should go with Balak’s men or not, it was a condition of Balaam’s heart.  He fully intended to collect on the reward offered him by Balak, all that he was saying was just talk. He then really did earnestly try to curse Israel, but all that came out were the blessings.  That’s basically how this story is supposed to be explained in a context that makes sense and eliminates contradiction.  I will grant, that if you are prepared to accept that this is how it is supposed to be read, it does that, but then it introduces a different problem.

The main need for there to be no contradiction comes from a desire to believe that the Bible is the perfect word of God.  If we just accept it as something that was written by man, whether inspired by God or otherwise, contradictions are perfectly okay.  After all, people aren’t perfect.  But God is perfect, and therein lies the problem.  If the Bible is the perfect word of God, and He chose to convey that information to us through this story, requiring us to read between the lines to find the truth of it, then it would appear that God is a terrible communicator.  Why wouldn’t He just straight up tell us what Balaam was up to?  Why would he leave all of it so horribly, horribly unclear?  Why would He not tell us specifically about Balaam’s involvement in the Baal worship at Peor?

Do you have answers to those questions?  What do you think about these passages?  Do you disagree with my presentation of any of this, or have a different means of explaining the story?  Please do share.

Change

Sometimes I feel the urge to write, but I don’t have a clear idea of what it is I want to actually write about.  Now is one of those times.  I have a few things floating around in my head, but I’m not sure how or if they fit together, and so…  there’s a good chance this will mostly be rambling.   We’ll see if anything worthwhile comes out I guess.

Spring, for most people, symbolizes new life, or some kind of change.  It’s not really any different for me, but, I really identify this time of year as a season of change for me, more so than any other.  This is especially true of Easter and the time period just after it.  That time period has only been particularly significant to me for about the past 5 years now.  It’s weird that it’s been that long.  But that’s not what this post is going to be about…  That’s for another post, in about a month’s time.  More recently, it was about that time I decided to try to become a bit more active, and lose some weight, which had some definite permanent effects, though I cannot claim complete success.  That journey continues, and I need to work on a plan to renew my efforts in that area.

This year, though, I find myself focusing a great deal on the spiritual.  I mentioned in a recent post that I am reading straight through the Bible.  Today I finished with the Pentateuch.  While I would say I’ve probably read about 99% of the narrative portions of the Bible at some point (that is to say, everything that isn’t lists of laws or numbers of people in armies or tribes, or genealogies, etc.), I have never done it straight through.  It’s interesting, and I find it to be challenging in different ways.  I don’t want to get into specifics here, because I want to sort of resolve things in my own mind first… but for now I will simply say that I am starting to see the Bible in a bit of a different light than I did before.  I think reading it straight through is something that would be valuable for any person… and I also think it’s valuable to try your best to cast off any of you preconceived ideas or notions about God and the Bible before doing so as well.

I used to like to go through my old Xanga blog and read posts from there.  Sadly, it seems to be gone.  I’ve always been one for nostalgia, and there were lots of things in there about what I believed at the time, and how my beliefs were changing at the time.  It’s interesting to think back on those times when my beliefs shifted in major ways, and to sort of see it happening again.  I think back to some earlier times and some of what I believed then was kind of silly.  Of course, I probably still have some kind of silly beliefs, and I’ll need to go another several years before I find a few more to root out.

It’s not without its challenges.  Especially when so much of it has to do with things that you see as mysterious that certain people who you know and trust seem to see as definitive.  It’s enough to make you doubt your own doubt about certain things.

Eventually I’ll write more about all of this, but this will have to suffice for now.

Letting Go

Something that I have come to learn about myself is that I am very bad at letting go of people.  I’ve been fairly fortunate for most of my life in that I had a core group of friends that extended from middle school all the way through college… really, all the way to now for some of us… it’s just that core group became smaller in the years following college.    Still, I think that’s longer than most people retain that.

Being a bit of a nerd, and having spent a large portion of my life on IRC (internet chat rooms for those of you less nerdy than myself), I, in addition to my real life friends, had internet friends.  And there’s even been some crossover from “internet friends” into the realm of “real life friends”, including the ultimate crossover, where I married one of them, which ended in spectacular failure, and just goes to prove the adage, “Don’t live where you internet, because the internet will fuck your shit up.”  That is totally an adage.

Up until pretty recently in my life, there were several people who I was at one point really good friends with that I felt like I wanted to hang on to, and knew that if I didn’t try to do so then they were going to mostly fade from my life into the realm of “Facebook acquaintances”, which is at least one step below “regular acquaintances”.  So for a long time I would try to maintain those friendships, which were mostly ones fading due to distance.  In the event that you have never tried harder to maintain a relationship than the other person…  it’s pretty trying.    Sometimes it’s not part of your nature to do something though, and you have to actively make yourself do it.  That was the case for me in letting go of these people, which happened several months ago now.  I think to some degree the prospect of the change of them not being in my lives scared me… but the truth is, they already weren’t, except for super brief appearances when I would seek them out.

So it’s true, after I stopped trying, they immediately degraded to Facebook acquaintances… which is to say, I occasionally see an update they post, and even more rarely they may comment on one of mine, or I on theirs, but there’s never any real communication.  And that’s OK, because things change, and people change.

I don’t know if there is a takeaway for you here, I mostly just wanted to reflect on that decision for myself.  Take from it what you will.

 

Sojourning

So I have recently, I think maybe the last 2 months now, been reading through the Bible as well as reading through James Kugel’s book “How To Read The Bible: A Guide to Scripture, Then and Now”. It has been, I would say, a very challenging and rewarding experience.

I have wanted to try to read through the Bible and try to overcome any pre-existing biases I have towards the text for a very long time… to simply read it as it is without any preconceived ideas towards it.  I had tried doing that a few times before, but, to be perfectly honest, it can be hard to pull yourself out of your own biases.  I’ve found that by reading through this book and having multiple interpretations and ways of interpreting thrown at me (generally at least 2 per account that he writes about), I am better able to read objectively than if I just try to will myself into being a blank slate.

One of the things I also wanted to do was to read in a way that introduced the smallest possibility of someone else’s bias affecting what I read as well, and so, while ideally I’d be able to read in Hebrew and Greek, I cannot do either, and therefore I chose the English Standard Version (ESV), as it is a literal word for word translation.  The other types of translations, for the curious out there, would be thought for thought translations (which are the most common), such as the KJV or NIV, or paraphrases such as The Message.  The downside to a thought for thought translation is that translator bias enters into the equation of how they translate… they translate it to say what they believe the text is trying to say.  There are advantages as well, and disadvantages to the word for word approach, but, that bias is specifically what I want to avoid.

This process is probably the most elaborate deconstruction of my beliefs that I have entered into thus far in my life.  It’s a true no holds barred scenario in which nothing is off the table.  I can imagine that some might find that prospect terrifying, as I am essentially telling myself that I know nothing as I evaluate a set of beliefs that I used to know.  I do not see it as terrifying though, because no matter what I tell myself about what I believe, something in the core of me tells me that so long as I am honestly seeking the truth, then I will find it.  I certainly hope that everyone reading this knows me well enough to know that I am seeking the truth.

One of the words that I’ve encountered a lot thus far in my read through of the Bible (I’m a few chapters into Numbers now) is the word sojourn, or references to sojourners.  I like that word.  For some reason I just like the way that it sounds.  For whatever reason it also fills my head with imagery and subtle hints of further meaning just beyond the word itself.  The simple definition of a sojourner is simply someone who stays temporarily in a place.    We’ve all been literal sojourners at some point in our lives, I can’t imagine that anyone reading this has never taken a vacation.  That said, there is an interesting, I guess dichotomy is the right word, within the pentateuch as it tells us about the Israelites, and about people who are sojourning among them (It very often makes reference to laws that those sojourning amongst the Israelites are also to obey).  At this point in time, the Israelites are themselves sojourners, a people without a home, and so everywhere they stay is temporary.  So we’re talking about sojourners amongst sojourners.  I think that is an interesting way to look at the Church as we interact both with others within the Church and those outside of it.

One of the things that the word sojourner says to me is that this is a person who is, to some degree, alone.  It doesn’t mean that they have no interaction with anyone or that they are an island, but that they are on their own specific journey, and while it overlaps at times with that of another, ultimately their journey is their own.  Is that meaning literally in the word?  No, not at all.  But for some reason, when I read the word, I think that.

At this point I’m guessing you can tell the direction I’m going with this.  I think that these accounts in the Pentateuch show a picture of our own sojourning, in a spiritual sense.  I think that we are all sojourners among sojourners, and that none of us has a place to call home, and so we will simply keep sojourning.  We are all at different points in our journey, and none of our journeys are the same.  One thing that I refuse to ever say to someone as an argument is to assert that I once believe as they did, and then imply that one day when they mature in their belief they will surely come to see that I am right.  Even if I think it’s true in some circumstances, I hate when people do that to me, and it would show a belief on my part that I have arrived, which, I most certainly have not.

There are a lot of Christians out there that I tend to think are mistaken on a lot of things.  I love all of them, especially the ones I know personally, and I would never call into question their Christianity.  We may sojourn a bit apart from each other for now, but certainly someday we will find ourselves together again, so long as we’re looking for the same thing.

No matter where you sojourn, remember a few things.  First, that wherever you are took time, effort, and likely some pain, so be patient with someone who from your perspective seems to be a bit behind.  Be kind to your fellow sojourners.  No matter where you differ, if you’re both seeking to know the truth, your journeys are in line, you are partners in that quest.  Remember that none of us have arrived, we are all likely to be wrong in some aspect of our belief about the truth, so don’t judge anyone for not adhering to some aspect that seems particularly important to you.  Leave that to God, as God is the only one fit to do it.

Edit: Oops, I said I was reading a different translation than I actually am.  Fixed.

The Greatest Story

The story of Jesus Christ’s life, death, and resurrection has often been thought of as being “The Greatest Story Ever Told”.  In fact, it is the title of a movie about Jesus, that was based on a novel of the same title, that was based on a radio play of, you guessed it, the same title.   It is, of course, a compelling story.  But it is not the greatest story ever told.   Well, at least, it’s not the greatest story ever told in its entirety.  It’s a rather exciting and interesting portion of an even greater overall story, and that story… that is the greatest story ever told.

I think perhaps the most common struggle that Christians have, and perhaps theists in general, presuming they believe in a god that has great power and is also good, is trying to figure out why there is so much suffering in the world.  Some is easily explained as humankind’s inhumanity to their fellow people, but that doesn’t hold up so well under acts of God and nature.  Tornadoes, floods, earthquakes, and the like cannot be blamed on the acts of a wicked person.  Nor can terminal diseases such as cancer.  Why do these things happen?

At some point in the last few years, I began to look at the unfolding of human history, especially as it relates to Judeo-Christian beliefs, and God himself, as a story.  I believe it is a story that God is compelled to tell, and must be told both for His benefit and for our benefit.  Each and every human that has ever lived or that ever will live plays a role in that story.  At first thought this seems like a great honor.  You and I are in unique places in this story, and we are helping to tell what is surely the greatest story that will ever be told.

However, when you think it through a bit more, it becomes considerably less pleasant.  Think about every story that you have ever read or seen on screen.  Or at least, every good one.  Think about what happens to the characters in those stories.  Especially the more important characters.  A great story puts the characters through hell.  A story that rings true to our lives tends to be one that puts its characters through the greatest hell.  Consider extremely popular stories, such as Game of Thrones, or Breaking Bad.  In both cases, these characters literally go through hell, and that pain and suffering resonates within our very beings as truth.

While this understanding doesn’t make pain and suffering OK for me, or easier to deal with, or help someone else who is suffering deal with, I find it somewhat comforting and satisfying.  I feel like it gives suffering a purpose.  And it communicates to me that God isn’t a sadist.  Writers don’t generally enjoy hurting or killing off their characters, often not even the particularly evil ones.  They grow to love their characters for who they are.   But they still do it anyway, because it’s what needs to happen for the sake of the story.  And the story, if it’s a good one, will show something true and beautiful to the world.

I find comfort in this because even if I feel in a certain moment like my life isn’t going anywhere, which I think we all feel sometimes, I can have faith that I’m right where I should be, and that the next part of my story just needs to be set up.  While being in control can be comforting because we think we always know what is best, not being in control can be liberating, especially if the one in control is a writer who will place you exactly where you need to be in the story.

There are certain things in my life that, had I possessed perfect foreknowledge, and thus been given the choice beforehand, I probably would have avoided altogether.  That probably even includes if I knew what was to follow, even though much of what has followed has been good.  For myself, I hate that sort of emotional turmoil and pain.  And it lasts, and it scars, and there are things that effect me to this day… Now that I’ve been through the worst of it, despite those scars, I can be glad for it.  But if I were given the choice of suffering or not the next time the story calls for it, I’m sure I’d opt out.  But the truth it, that’s not what’s best for me.

To close this out I want to share a Rocky Votolato song called “The Rain Will Come”, and I will post a couple lines that have a great tension, that I feel like sort of embody the idea that I was hoping to capture in this post.

“Maybe I should be running /
If I controlled anything I’d be scared of the place that I’d be.”

Lincoln and the Romanticization of History

A couple of nights ago, Jon Stewart had Judge Andrew Napolitano as a guest on the Daily Show.  They discussed the Judge’s views on Lincoln and the Civil War.  I initially learned of the exchange via a post-interview video that was made by Tom Woods, who asserted that while a panel of judges on the Daily Show during their “faux game show” segment were wrong in their declaring what Napolitano said was incorrect, he also provided a source for his assertion.

Before I go any further, I want to say that this topic is one of the primary things I knew I wanted to write about when I decided to reboot this blog, and as it deals with what is to this day sensitive subject matter, it is a big part of the reason I felt compelled to provide a warning that certain posts here may offend.  If it sounds like a topic you would like to avoid, please do, you can always come back when I post about something less sensitive.

One further note: I have nothing but disgust and revulsion for the institution of slavery, and the ideology of racism.  I also make no effort and have no intent to defend the Confederacy, but I do feel it’s important to remember that the States and people who comprised the Confederacy were just as nuanced and real as the States and people who comprised the Union were.  Just as we should not remember Lincoln and the Union as better than they were, we should not remember the Confederacy as being purely evil, although they were clearly wrong on the very big issue of slavery.

Now, here is background material for what inspired this post:

Embedly Powered

And now we can finally begin!

As is obvious, the traditional beliefs concerning Abraham Lincoln are that he was a hero who not only saved the country from disunity and destruction, but in the process even managed to end slavery!  For this he is typically thought of by a majority of people as being the greatest President that the United States has ever seen.  Now, if one happens to agree with Lincoln’s particular ideology, I suppose this could be a valid way to view him.   However, he still was not quite so great as many people remember him, especially in regard to his role of “ending slavery.”

To get things started, let’s see Lincoln’s own words in regards to how slavery related to the Civil War.

lincoln

In the interest of truth and fairness, I will include that contextually this is part of a larger statement, and it ends with the words “I intend no modification of my oft-expressed personal wish that all men everywhere could be free.”

By no means am I saying that Lincoln did not “wish” or prefer that “all men everywhere could be free,” however, it was not his paramount concern.  While looking back on history we see slavery as  being the issue that the Civil War was fought over, which is patently not true.  It IS true to say that without the issue of slavery that the war wouldn’t have happened, because slavery was the primary reason given by the Confederate states for their secession from the union, and in that way slavery instigated the Civil War… but make no mistake about it, the Civil War was about preserving the Union at whatever cost.

Regardless of Lincoln’s personal beliefs, the mainstream political beliefs for the purpose of not allowing new slave states to enter the Union was not that they necessarily viewed it as being abominable, or because they believed that blacks were equal to whites, but rather because they wanted the west to be exclusively for the white man (if you’re interested in a source on this, it can be found in Tom Woods’ “The Politically Incorrect Guide to American History”, I don’t have the time to find the exact quote right now).  This is a big part of why the Confederates seceded, they were going to lose votes in how the Union was run, and they would not be able to protect the interests of their states, which, yes, was primarily slavery.

The big issue in the Daily Show video is over fugitive slave laws.  I won’t argue that for sure that they were enforced by the union during the Civil War (though it would seem logical to assume they were, since in Lincoln’s view the Confederate states never legitimately seceded, and were therefore still part of the Union, and slaves were not freed in those states until the Emancipation Proclamation).  However, I bring it up because if Lincoln’s primary concern had not been preserving the Union, but instead ending slavery, southern secession would have been a huge boon to making that happen.  No more would fugitive slave laws apply to the north, because they would have no obligation whatsoever to the States of another sovereign nation.  This is a viewpoint that many abolitionists promoted.  Let the south secede, and it will be the beginning of the end for slavery.  A shameful fact of history is that the United States is the only country in which slavery was ended through war and bloodshed.  It may have taken more time, and obviously thinking of someone remaining in slavery for longer is a horrible thought, but so is the violence and death and suffering that comes with war.

In discussing that in the end the Civil War did lead to the end of slavery in the US, I just want to be clear, I am discussing the ultimate end results of what happened, and not the motivations… ending slavery was merely a preference of Lincoln, and not the key reason for the war.  Further evidence of this is in the Emancipation Proclamation, which most believe to have ended slavery.  If you take the view that Lincoln had authority over the Confederate states at this time, he did end it in those states, however, the Emancipation Proclamation explicitly frees the slaves only in Confederate slave states.  (Source: The Emancipation Proclamation itself, read it, you’ll find it lists specific states and does not include border states that were still part of the Union: http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/featured_documents/emancipation_proclamation/transcript.html)  The border states, which remained part of the Union, were left to maintain slavery solely because Lincoln did not want them to secede.  In fact, one of these States, Maryland, which the Union could not allow to secede as it would mean the capital would be surrounded by the confederacy, probably would have seceded, if not for several members of the General Assembly being arrested for their pro-Confederate views. (Source: http://teaching.msa.maryland.gov/000001/000000/000017/html/t17.html)  Simply to bring this all full circle on the issue of the ending of slavery, the Emancipation proclamation ultimately freed no one, and slaves were freed by the 13th amendment, which was passed by Congress, and had little to do with Lincoln, who merely did his duty in signing it into law, though, to be fair, he was surely not conflicted about it, given his preference for men to be free.

Now, into how I view Lincoln.  I see him as being perhaps our worst President.  I am fundamentally opposed to his ideology of a strong central government.  Prior to the Civil War, and certainly at the drafting of the Constitution, the States all believed that they had the right to peacefully secede at any point.  Post Civil War, the federal government proclaimed the exact opposite.  States could not secede, and in fact the secession of the Confederacy was never valid.    He also was a nightmare economically, as he vastly inflated the money supply in order to fund the war.  As previously pointed out, he  had dissidents arrested to keep state governments from functioning lawfully.  Because of Lincoln’s insistence that the Federal government should be stronger than it was intended to be, and that the Union should be inseparable, we are left with slavery ending perhaps a bit earlier than it otherwise would have, but in the worst way possible.  It created a huge amount of resentment that persists for some even to this day.  Government continued to oppress blacks with Jim Crow laws, and even the way in which these were repealed, trading one government mandate for another, ultimately lead to even more racial tension and resentment.  But that may be a topic for another time.

The Civil War, and the events leading up to, and following it, like all history, and even modern events, is far more complex than how we like to think of it.  People like to think of things in simple matters of clear right and wrong, and when it comes to history we like our heroes to be pure good, and our villains to be pure evil.  However, this doesn’t really happen.  If you made it to the end, I hope you got something out of this, and I’m happy for you to share your thoughts, whether in agreement or disagreement.

Starting Over

Hey everyone who found their way here…

I took a bit of a break from blogging, but I’ve been itching to write about a few things lately.  So I’m bringing back the blog and sort of starting fresh.  I considered changing the name and making it actually topical, but I’m not using this domain for anything else, so I guess I might as well just continue to use it.

I think the vast majority of what I post will probably be on political or spiritual topics.  I will also likely post things related to my own personal life, etc, but I don’t intend for that to be the main focus.

Now for a bit of a warning.  I will almost certainly post things here that are controversial in some way.  It is likely to offend someone, because people seem to like to get offended.  I may have offended someone by saying that.  If I offend you, know that it isn’t my intent.  I’m not sure if I’m sorry or not, if it’s something that I actually think and not a matter of me being unclear, then I wouldn’t want to take back whatever it is, but, I guess I do feel bad that it offended you.  Do with that what you will.  Yes, this is a sort of apology in advance.  All that said, I genuinely think that if you are a person who finds yourself frequently offended, that you spend some time evaluating why that is, what the purpose of being offended is, and what you think it accomplishes.  I view a person who constantly says they are offended as being intellectually dishonest, and copping out, as though their being offended somehow invalidates an argument or an idea.  To repeat a quote that I cannot properly attribute, but that I certainly agree with, “Being offended is fucking bullshit!”

Now that all that is out of the way, while I perceive this blog to primarily be just an outlet for myself, I would definitely be happy to have some back and forth with anyone who feels inclined to read it.  And with that, I end this introductory post, and declare this blog begun!

(First post hopefully coming tonight, but maybe tomorrow.  For now I’m out of time!)