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).


(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.



What if Delaware Bombed New Jersey?

The pen is mightier than the sword

~ Edward Bulwer-Lytton

November 16, 2014

Palestine (the state consisting of both Gaza and the West Bank) is a country which is 6,020 square kilometers (about 2,324 square miles). It has a population of 3,761,646 people which means those 3,761,646 people live on approximately .0006 square miles of land per person (or about .38 acres). The country is slightly smaller than the state of Delaware which only has a population of 925,749. So about the only thing Palestine and Delaware have in common is that no one really wants to go to either one.

Within Palestine, there is the infamous Gaza strip, which is located in the southwest corner of Israel. The Gaza strip is completely and utterly isolated from the rest of Palestine, which is weird. But then again, Alaska and Hawaii are part of the United States. The Gaza strip is a measly 365 square kilometers (about 140.9 square miles) but has an overwhelming 1,416,539 person occupancy. This means that every person in the Gaza strip is living on approximately .00009 square miles of land (or about .05 acres). To put that into perspective, the Gaza strip is about the size of Mobile, Alabama which only has a population of 212,237 people.

Israel, on the other hand, is 20,770 square kilometers (about 8,019.34 square miles) which still isn’t huge by any means. It has a population of 6,426,679 people, which is less than double that of Palestine. Those people get to live on approximately .0012 square miles of land (or about .77 acres). Israel is slightly smaller than the state of New Jersey, which has a higher population (about 8.89 million). Unfortunately for New Jersey residents, they have less acreage than Israelis. Although they don’t have to deal with Delaware launching rockets into their beach homes, so New Jersey takes the win on that one, and not much else.

But what would it be like to live in a New Jersey where Delaware did launch rockets into beach homes for weeks or months at a time every few years? Or what would it be like to live in a massively overcrowded and underfunded Delaware where New Jersey was lobbing mortars into residents’ paltry little space? Personally, I think it would be pretty shitty, on both sides.

Now, add to the mix that New Jersey is way better funded than Delaware and has it all backed into a corner and poor little Mobile is all on its own, even more overcrowded and underfunded, cut off from the rest of its state. Really shitty.

These conditions are likely what caused so many more Palestinians to die in the latest round of conflicts between Gaza and Israel than did Israelis. Israelis have their massively effective (and hugely expensive) Iron Dome defense system and Palestinians living in Gaza have…hopes and prayers. You can also kind of see why the Palestinians living in Gaza are so hell-bent on hopes and prayers. When a rocket is coming at you, and God is pretty much all you have to hopefully save your home, your family, and your friends, you have to cling pretty damn hard to God. Like radical extremist hard, in some cases.

By the end of the summer this year, 1,915 people in Gaza had been killed by Israeli forces and 67 people had been killed in Israel. This count included hundreds of children on the Gaza side and only three total civilians on the Israeli side.

While the media debated about Israeli claims that  Hamas was using women and children as “human shields” and people tried to debate the casualties on both sides, while politicians played the blame game and US and Egyptian negotiators likely beat their heads against the desk trying to get an end to the violence, the death tolls can be attributed to simple math.

There are too many people in Gaza and there is too little space. Israel is way bigger than Gaza and way better funded. Israel has a missile defense system that keeps them safe and Gaza does not. Israelis have places to hide, Palestinians living in Gaza barely have space to move.

JEF300966 DRIVE BY BPO 5-5-11 2

Source: This house (available for you to own in Kentucky!) has .05 acres of land. That does not include the sidewalk. It’s just the little one bedroom, one bath home and that little strip of green you see in front of the cement barrier. That’s how much room each Palestinian in Gaza has to live on. Just that. Actually, they probably get much less, because they still need space for markets and schools and hospitals and mosques, etc. etc.

It’s basically like shooting fish in a barrel. The Israelis can’t help but kill civilians. But that is not a justification for the violence. Or for the U.S. not only supporting it, but funding it. The United States of America gives Israel $8.5 million dollars in military aid EVERY.SINGLE.DAY. In addition, the US contributed $504 million to Israel’s missile defense system (the Iron Dome). We did not contribute anything toward keeping Palestinians safe. And that’s part of the reason that they’re dying. And it’s surely one of the many reasons they’re pissed and trying to run Israelis over with their cars and stabbing innocent people to death. Again, that is not justification for the violence on their part either.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a whole cannot be summed up into simple economics, unfortunately. There’s a vast array of problems, ethnic, religious, social, which span back since the creation of Israel. But one thing is glaringly obvious – killing each other isn’t working. It’s just not. For the life of me I cannot understand how people in power (both in Israel and Palestine) cannot see that. Here you have Hamas saying it “blesses the action” of radicalized Muslims running over Jews with their cars and saying what is happening is “pushing us to prepare for war.” Fantastic. Because killing civilians and preparing for war are totally things you should want for your fish in the barrel. Except they’re not fish. They’re innocent people. And many, many children.

It’s not much more cheerful on the Israeli side either. 16-year old Mohammed was abducted and burned alive by Israelis in what was deemed a “revenge attack.” This happened in July of 2014. The US as a whole might not have its shit together, but at least we stopped burning people alive by the 1700s.

The violence in Israel and Palestine is not going to stop through violence. Violence begets violence. It’s a pattern in history we have seen time and time again. It’s time for Israel and Palestine to stop killing one another, come to the table, and get a two-state solution that works for everyone. It’s time for us to stop funding either side until they come to the table, once and for all, for a permanent solution, not just a temporary cease-fire. And if the people in power now won’t do it, it’s time for the Israeli and Palestinian people to find someone who can. Their children’s lives are literally on the line. And God isn’t going to save them. A truce will though. A truce for God to smile down on. Because I doubt He likes seeing the blood of His children spilled in the holiest of lands. He made that land sacred. It’s time to stop sullying it with the blood of innocents.


(c) 2014, Jon Donnison for the BBC Source: