Believe in Something, Be Open-Minded to Everything

Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in awhile, or the light won’t come in

~ Isaac Asimov

November 12, 2014

While I was sitting at home, watching TLC’s My Five Wives (please, no judgment, I find it really fascinating), the thought floated into my mind that these people were bat-shit crazy. Cult crazy. For those who aren’t familiar with the show, it basically is a reality TV show that follows the lives of a man, Brady Williams, and his five wives, Paulie, Robyn, Rosemary, Nonie and Rhonda and their cumulative 24 children. It’s reported that the family came from a fundamentalist Mormon sect that believed in polygamy, but the family split with the sect over core principles. The family still prays and believes in God and continues their polygamist ways, but incorporates Buddhism into their prayer and tells their kids that they can marry and love whomever and however many people they want (including supporting gay marriage).

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(c) in Photograph, courtesy of TLC

This all comes in correlation with a new posting from the Church of the Latter Day Saints (the official name for the Mormon church). According to the Church, Joseph Smith, the religion’s founder, had somewhere between 30-40 wives. In the essay, it’s stated that the belief of Mormons is that marriage is between one man and one woman, but sometime while studying the Old Testament, Joseph Smith prayed to know why some of the prophets in the Old Testament were permitted multiple wives. God responded to Joseph that He had instructed these men to take multiple wives. He later sent an angel instructing Joseph that he too, should bring back the old practice of plural marriage. Joseph allegedly struggled with the notion, because he knew that it would devastate his wife, Emma. However, God sent an angel again, commanding him to wed multiple women. Again, Joseph vacillated until an angel appeared a third time, wielding a sword. The angel threatened to kill Joseph unless he obeyed God’s commandment. Thereafter, Joseph began “sealing” women (i.e. wedding them) according to God’s command.

Yeah. I know. I thought it sounded crazy too. Cult crazy. But then, while watching My Five Wives and contemplating how one could believe this whole ridiculous scenario and how did these wives not just kick Brady in the dick every time he opened his mouth, I thought to myself – well, it’s not like my version of the Bible doesn’t have its crazy moments. Take Genesis, for example, you know, the whole, beginning of the world story. God creates man and rips out one of his ribs and creates woman. Woman eats some tasty fruit from the Tree of Knowledge (*gasp* a woman cannot have knowledge) because she was tempted by the Devil, who was dressed as a snake. Adam and Eve get kicked out of the Garden of Eden even though Adam’s all, “Well wait a second, I didn’t do anything, therefore I’m going to blame women for everything and strip her of all her power for the next bazillion years”, and the world is created through incest, basically. Massive, massive incest.

Because that’s not crazy right? And it’s not like the crazy is relegated only to the Old Testament – it’s not. In both the books of Matthew and Mark, there’s a story where Jesus is walking from Bethany, and he gets hungry. He sees a fig tree which unfortunately has no fruit. Despite the fact that it was not fig season (as noted in Mark), Jesus apparently gets angry and tells the tree it shall bear no more fruit and the tree withers away. Don’t believe me? Matthew 21:19 and Mark 11:13-14.  A simple Google search for “crazy stuff that happens in the Bible” will give you plenty more fodder where that came from as well.

So what does any of this have to do with war and why am I ranting about the crazy stuff in religious texts?

Well, because as I contemplated how crazy it all seemed, I thought to myself: If I believe in something, I should be open-minded to everything. I can’t dismiss polygamy in Joseph Smith or an angel threatening his life and then say but it’s completely legitimate that the holiest person in my religion (Jesus) killed a tree, because he was pissed it didn’t have fruit during non-fruit season. That’s just not very fair.

Which somehow, because my thoughts always tend to spiral into this abyss, brought me to thinking about war. Specifically, the kind of war we have going on the most lately, religious based wars.

In Deuteronomy 13:12-18 there is a commandment from God that says that if you come upon a city where other people are worshiping another god, you should kill everyone (and all their cattle) in the city and burn it down so it can never be built again. That’s not in the Qur’an, that’s in the BIBLE. There are passages like this in the religious texts of Christianity, Judaism and Islam. These are the passages that most people pass over, and they’re also the ones that religious extremists latch onto as justification for their religious wars. It’s not just Islam that can be corrupted, it’s Christianity too.

It’s easy to live in a bubble of ignorance. It’s easy not to think too hard, but it also causes wars. People get tunnel-vision over the rightness of their religion or their interpretation of religion and the wrongness of everyone else’s. And it’s because the “other” is different. Like the polygamists. My gut instinct is to assume they’re crazy, but when I think about it, there’s a lot of crazy shit going on in my version of the Bible too. And it’s not like all the Catholic rituals are completely sane (think: exorcism).

If we believe in something, we have to be open-minded to everything. I’m not saying that we have to be open-minded to the extreme violence that is being perpetrated in the name of religion all over the world, or that we have to feel it’s right, but we should avoid gut reactions like labeling people “crazy” or the “other” or “right” or “wrong” or “just” or even saying that we have some kind of absolute “Truth” (and yes, that’s Truth with a capital “T”). Because we don’t . I don’t, you don’t, ISIS doesn’t, Hamas doesn’t, the Israeli government doesn’t, the Pope doesn’t. No one does. It’s the human condition.

I don’t look at the polygamists in My Five Wives under the same scope anymore. Who am I to judge? And I don’t look at religious wars under the same scope anymore either. Killing innocent people is wrong, but it is only by being open-minded to the reasons why it’s happening that we can find a real solution for it. And maybe that starts by taking a deeper look into our own religions and finding what violence could be done with them as well.

 

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Five Reasons To Love the Peshmerga

The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why

~ Mark Twain

October 17, 2014

It’s recently come to my attention that the Kurdish Peshmerga are the most bad ass people around. And I want to be friends with them. I can’t believe it took the US so long to become friends with them. They’re super bad ass. And here are just five of the many reasons why:

1. The Peshmerga stayed to fight when the Iraqi army totally bailed

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(c) 2014 Reuters

How seriously bad ass is that? An entire army, which was trained and equipped by the most powerful and largest army in the world (ours) bails, and the Kurdish Peshmerga say whatevs, we didn’t need them anyway. We got this whole ISIS thing.

2. The Peshmerga helped out the Yazidis despite their religion

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(c) 2014 Rodi Said/Reuters

Okay, to be fair, the Yazidi people are technically Kurdish, because Kurdish is an ethnicity, not a religion. However, a lot of the Kurdish Peshmerga fighters are Muslim, and the Yazidi faith is a little bit dodgy with just about everyone else. Probably because the sacred angel that they worship, Melek Taus, has some striking similarities to…you know, Satan. He’s not Satan, for the record, but he did some bad stuff for which he was kicked out of Heaven and eventually repented and that’s part of the reason ISIS was trying to wipe the Yazidis off the face of the earth. Well, that and ISIS is pretty much just evil. But despite their somewhat questionable angel, the Kurdish Peshmerga stepped in and saved the Yazidis from what would unquestionably have been a genocide. And that’s pretty freaking fantastic in my book.

3. They have an all-female fighting force which is super awesome at what they do

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(c) 2014 Ahmed Jadallah/Reuters

Cosmic justice anyone? I love the fact that the Peshmerga has a female fighting force battling it out against ISIS, a group who recently “justified” enslaving women they’d captured and selling them or marrying them off as sex slaves. This elite group of women are known as the Women’s Protection Unit and are informally called “lions.” The reason, you ask? Because there is a common Kurdish phrase which translated means, “A lion is a lion – be it male or female.” Boo ya.

4. Even non-Peshmerga want to be Peshmerga

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(c) 2014, Leftenis Pitarakis/AP

While Kobani still remains under siege, Turkish Kurds are looking for a way into Syria to help join the Kurdish fighters there in their battle against ISIS. They’re stalled by Turkey right now because Turkey is afraid of their bad-assery, I mean, afraid they might be going to join ISIS and not the Kurdish fighters.

5. In some ways, they’re a little bit like us, in the beginning

Think about it, they’re a militia, a banded together with duct tape and bailing twine type of army. But they’re tough as nails. They’re forward thinking, relatively moderate, and they want the same things we wanted when we were just a bunch of colonies the British could steal shit from – a home. They want a state that they have control of. They want to be free from exploitation. They want liberty. But they also recognize that they first have to kick ISIS’ ass. And after they do that, maybe we should all sit down and have a civil conversation about giving them their state. Because if they keep on keeping on, they will have more than earned it.

 

 

Fear as a Weapon

It is better to be feared than loved, if you cannot be both

~ Niccolo Machiavelli

September 23, 2014

Last night, the U.S., along with a coalition of Middle Eastern countries, began bombing ISIS targets in Syria. I saw the rockets glaring across the sky and the F-22 fighters shooting off of aircraft carriers on the TV this morning. And all I could do was shrug and pick up my bagel.

Another day, another war.

Back at home, the media hype has me worried. The politicians scare me more. Bipartisan support for the actions in Syria, President Obama said, and I can only chuckle disdainfully. Yes, of course, the only bipartisan support this Congress has offered in 4 years it seems. We’re American though, and we can always get behind a good bombing. We can’t agree on immigration reform, welfare reform, healthcare reform, educational reform, gun control, climate change issues or even a budget, but a bombing, well, we can agree on that. Bombs away.

It’s not that I don’t think we should bomb ISIS, and it’s not that I don’t think they’re awful, I do, but it’s the way I just shrug when I see it, sigh, and carry on about my day. It’s the way that something so serious can slide off like rain on bare skin. What have I become? What has war done to my generation?

We know what it’s done to the thousands coming back. Twenty-two veterans kill themselves every day – that’s one suicide every 65 minutes. But we don’t talk about it much. Our troops suffer higher PTSD rates than any of our allies and perhaps that’s because they never get a break. How can you get a break when you’re a soldier for a country that’s constantly at war?

I know that this war has me afraid. And let’s not beat around the bush and try and call it anything except a war. I can’t help but look around me when I walk to my car at night, wondering if someone is going to pop up, grab me and behead me on the internet. That’s what ISIS is calling for now, the deaths of western civilians in public places. Lovely. But I’m afraid too, for my friends who are Muslim. There’s a lot of anti-Muslim rhetoric going around. The politicians who play to the least educated of us are making egregious comments. These people are our leaders, they should be educating us, not feeding into our fear. It’s a rallying cry that makes no sense.

But there’s not a lot of sense going around these days.

Islam is not the first religion to be perverted in the name of power and greed. It’s just the one that’s “hot” right now. So because our politicians are failing to do it, let me give a brief (and ridiculously incomplete) historical overview of how Islam is not the only religion to be radicalized and used as a weapon.

Christianity was in fact sprung from a religion killing for power. The Jews, along with the Romans, saw Jesus as a political threat because of his radical ideology and had him murdered. The Romans then labeled Christians a “cult” and tried to wipe them off the face of the earth. In 1095, Pope Urban II declared the First Crusade where hundreds of thousands of Catholic “warriors” invaded the Middle East. Besides stealing a ton of valuable art and relics (a lot of which has yet to be returned), they also raped Muslim women and killed untold numbers of “non-believers.” This went on for about 200 years. And let’s not forget the religious wars in Europe which were basically Christians fighting Christians over the “rules” of Christianity. In more recent history, we all know that WWII was a crusade of sorts to wipe out the Jews, during which over 6 million lost their lives. The Eastern Orthodox Serbians committed mass murder and genocide of the Bosniak Muslims in the early 1990s. In one day at Srebrenica alone, more than 8,000 Bosnian Muslim boys and men were executed while the UN stood watch. And of course, the Israelis and the Palestinians have been at near-constant war for over 50 years.

The list goes on and on, this is only a sampling. Islam is not unique, it’s not special and in terms of being used in religious extremism, it’s not even that interesting. ISIS is using a formula history has seen time and time again. A charismatic man hell bent on obtaining as much power and wealth as he can, enlists a bunch of desperate, mistreated, misguided cast outs to do his dirty work. Their leader uses the promise of salvation combined with just enough of a promise of revenge to draw them in, and uses fear to keep them in line.

What’s interesting to me is not really ISIS as much as it is the leaders in the United States who are starting to parallel them. And yes, I’m looking at you John Bennett.

We’re better than this, we have to be better than this. Because if we’re not – how are we any different than ISIS?

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Photo (c) AP Photo/Eric Garst, U.S. Navy

 

In Memory of Steven Sotloff

Humanity is but a single Brotherhood: So make peace with your brethren ~ Quran, 49:10

September 2, 2014

I had another post lined up for today, but then this happened.

Another American journalist has been killed by ISIS or ISIL or IS or whatever it is they’re calling themselves these days. To Steven Sotloff’s family, I express my deepest sympathies. Steven did not brush up against war like the many of us living in this country – he lived it and died by it.

The people, and yes, as much as we want to call them demons and terrorists and scourge them with the hell fire of our rage, they are still people, who did this, have a powerful weapon at their disposal. They have the internet. Within minutes of the video being posted there were hundreds of versions of it on YouTube. There were stills being proliferated by western media outlets. The home page of CNN featured an image of Steven Sotloff in an orange jumpsuit. He was on his knees in the middle of the desert. An ISIS fighter dressed in what looked like a bad ninja costume stood by his side, holding a hunting knife.

Anger welled up inside me. I’m sure I’m not alone in jumping to a rash decision. Immediately upon hearing the news my knee jerk reaction was to combat war with more war. I wanted President Obama to send every fighter jet we have in the Middle East directly to Iraq and Syria and unload millions of dollars of bombs onto the monsters who did this. I wanted them wiped off the face of the earth. I wanted to never have to hear about ISIS or the Islamic State or Jihadists ever again. I wanted blood and death. Because that’s what I was raised on. That’s what the people who are members of ISIS were raised on too, but I knew that I was right and they are wrong.

They were monsters in my mind, not people. The media helps us with that too. They make them into monsters so it’s easier for us to destroy them. They desensitize us.

And maybe they are monsters, but I don’t know, and when I had time to let the anger burn away, I remembered that they are people. People who are doing horrible things. But what made them into monsters?

Thomas More in his book Utopia rather famously said, “For if you suffer your people to be ill-educated, and their manners to be corrupted from their infancy, and then punish them for those crimes to which their first education disposed them, what else is to be concluded from this, but that you first make thieves and then punish them.”

I believe we made ISIS. But I also believe that that means that we now have to deal with them. I don’t know if we can negotiate with them or if we should. I don’t know if bombing the hell out of them will get rid of them or make the situation worse. Maybe it will make something more evil than ISIS. We thought there could be nothing more evil than Al Qaeda and yet, here it is.

I don’t know what the answer is, but I know that when I looked at those pictures, because I had to, because I couldn’t look anywhere and not see them, I thought – is this what we want? Is this what we want our children seeing on the five o’clock news? Is this really something we can watch while eating dinner without blinking? Are we really so numb to the situation that this is just something else we shake our heads at before we go on to read about Angelina Jolie’s wedding dress and nude pictures of Jennifer Lawrence?

We made ISIS, but we made something dangerous in our society as well – apathy.

Because I doubt Steven Sotloff’s family watched with a sense of detached curiosity.

Whatever you do, however you celebrate Steven Sotloff’s life, please celebrate his life and don’t glorify his death. Don’t give these people what they want. I urge you all not to click on the link or watch the YouTube videos or post to Facebook or tweet or retweet this horrendous crime. A human life deserves more respect than that.

Steven Sotloff

Photo (c) Getty Images

If you’re interested in reading some of the articles written by this incredible journalist, a very nice compilation was put together which you can read here.