Thursday, September 16, 2010

For the sake of clarity

I think it's time for me to post a manifesto regarding my past and future musings on the existence of God. There is every chance to suppose that someone who agrees or disagrees with my views may never find this particular essay, but I thought it prudent to post it anyway.

Despite the fact that my family never spoke about God, and we never went to church (that I can remember, anyway), I still developed a keen interest in the existence of God. That's the most accurate way I can describe my early journey toward the 'undiscovered country.'

I certainly didn't acquire any exposure to the subject at school, for reasons that remain obvious, thanks to the ACLU, et al. I also didn't have any friends back then who invited me to church. So, the point here being, I do not fit the supposedly typical mold of a believer who is indoctrinated by authority figures or peers. I made my decision on my own, and in fact it was in odd contrast to the other members of my family at the time.

How many people actually believe in the existence of a Creator is mostly up for grabs these days; the numbers I've heard quoted seem to be highly affected by who's quoting them. The shifts in opinion appear to be somewhat generational, because anecdotally, I've noticed that more older folks are believers, and more of the younger people I've encountered (I work with many adolescents and twenty-somethings) tend to be either atheists or agnostics. The kids are mostly agnostic, in my experience; I think that may be due to an overall desire to avoid the issue. It's way too confusing to know what to do with an inclination to believe, when so many of their 'heroes' in popular culture are prancing on the atheist promenade.

Pardon my digression.

I am not affiliated with any denomination, nor do I wish to ever join a particular religion. I believe very strongly in the God that the Hebrews chronicled in the collection of books that non-Jews call the Old Testament. I also believe that the New Testament is very possibly an extension of the Old Testament, therefore I give it almost as much gravity.

Now, to clear a few things up:

I do NOT believe anyone knows the entire truth about God (yes, that obviously includes me). However, this should never be an excuse to avoid trying to learn whatever that truth may be.

I do NOT believe anyone can buy his or her way to heaven (if it exists) by money nor deed, because those very acts smack of selfish intent.

I do NOT believe God is a wise old man residing somewhere in the clouds or in space or on some distant planet.

I do NOT believe the scriptures should ever be used as an excuse to treat other human beings with disrespect or abuse. Any people doing so, clearly do not understand nor appreciate the invaluable written content they're besmirching before the entire world by their actions.

I do NOT believe people begging for money in God's name on television have anything to say that is worth listening to. That goes for anyone publicly invoking God's name for personal gain, or for the purpose of sowing discord.

I do NOT believe human beings need other human beings to teach them about God. If God is almighty, then a pastor, priest, rabbi, mullah, imam, televangelist, sponsor, cult leader or any other affiliate are all completely unnecessary. Those who seek truth in genuine sincerity will always find it. And no, I'm not selling my views, nor do I have any interest in proselytizing them. This essay is for the sole purpose of preventing a possible misunderstanding by any who think they agree or disagree with me on these matters.

I do NOT believe God needs to be defended in any way. I once had a friend angrily call God an asshole, and then he was shocked that I didn't react with indignation. My take on the matter has always been: any Being capable of creating and sustaining life in every way does not need my puny little attempt at defending God's honor. Perhaps the fundamentalists (of every religion) in the world might take a clue here; resorting to arguments, fighting and murder don't convince anyone of anything except that the combatant's faith is a exercise in fragile self-delusion.

I do NOT believe God answers prayers like a cosmic Santa. Try asking for a cookie to appear on your plate. I do believe God is aware of everything that transpires in the universe, however.

I do NOT believe God enjoys the suffering that human beings visit upon each other. This includes the nasty little caricature of God relishing the final toss of a human being (or soul) into burning flames of eternal torture. It's unfortunate how many people can't seem to see the way this traditional (but biblically inaccurate) depiction of the Second Death detracts from actual eternal separation from God - the true punishment that a human being should fear, for a life of unrepentant sin.

I do NOT believe human beings are clueless children or puppets on spiritual strings who are not responsible for their decisions and actions. Come on, let's be honest, at least on this one issue. The individual's desire to relocate blame to anywhere else but on his or her own shoulders is why so many can't seem to fathom that there are true consequences for the things we do. It's way too easy to push the blame on a faceless Creator, especially when we want to do our own thing. Never mind that our own thing often merely adds to the ills of the world by way of selfishness.

"Hey God (who isn't really there), you supposedly made us this way, so why should I be expected to rise above my own selfish instincts?" or the ever popular, "You supposedly created this world, so why should I have to take responsibility for anything that happens in it?" Somewhere in all this childish logic, the proponents seem to gloss over the whole 'free will' thing. Mix in a robust ingratitude for the statistical miracles they call their lives, and you have a recipe for delusion and potential disaster.

I do NOT believe a lack of miracles or an 'imperfect world' are evidence that God does not exist. I do think it's incredibly arrogant (and amusing) for the created to presume to set the ground rules for the Creator.

We see the world, we see the results of positive and negative decisions. We don't live in behavioral stasis; we adapt. Therefore, the foolishness of constantly trying to swim against the current never ceases to amaze me. People continue in this way, day after day, year after year, millennium after millennium.

The bottom line? When the rules are known and they're still broken, it's not much different than knowing the edge of the cliff holds certain death, and deciding to step on the gas instead of the brake. Yet human beings have done this for as long as they've populated the earth!

And lastly:

I do NOT believe it is worth my time to try and change anyone's mind on this subject. Whether or not others wish to be atheists, or to pursue a belief in God, is entirely up to them, not me. That doesn't prove my opinions correct, but it also doesn't prove them wrong. I do care what happens to people, I simply recognize that human beings are more than able to make their own decisions... and indeed they do.

There will definitely come a time when the word "but" will no longer make a difference.

Friday, September 10, 2010

The Necessity for Justice

My wife and I had a lively debate about the previous essay regarding the criminal mind. She has always felt that my approach to the issue is much too harsh. While I admit that in life there is rarely any kind of incident where the facts are all black and white, I still bristle at the endless permutations of an event spun by lawyers who are merely trying to win 'the game.'

During our conversation at our favorite burger place, she pointed out some questionable behavior by police officers (documented by FBI investigation, I'm told) during the Hurricane Katrina disaster. We tossed that subject back and forth for a bit, and it did make me realize that there are situations where the usual measurements of virtue are 'adjusted' by an unfortunate change in rules.

Simply stated, due to the intrinsically selfish nature of human beings, it is often the case that when a segment of society breaks down during a time of emergency, many previously 'law abiding' citizens seize the opportunity to act out. Looting is one of the more common behaviors witnessed. However, according to the Frontline program my wife had watched, many of the rumors regarding citizens assaulting, raping or killing during the Katrina aftermath were merely that only: rumors. These dark suppositions were spoken by people on the street, picked up by media, and then reacted to by local government.

So where does that leave someone who would like some sort of consistent way to mentally deal with criminal behavior?

When one is being forthright and exercising the best intentions, it becomes difficult to obtain accurate answers, one hundred percent of the time. The truth of the matter is that despite legal arguments and pleas of innocence, the genuine facts of any incident (that we aren't personally involved in) are rarely known with certainty.

I would take this moment to suggest that without an absolute arbiter of justice (God), human beings must resign themselves to lives of good fortune or bad fortune alone, as that becomes the only form of moral resolution available. Without God, there's no point in shaking a fist or crying out that something is unfair.

I think when people view God as either Invisible Santa or Cosmic Bully, they miss the mark in both cases. God would be neither, in the case of meting out true justice. Many of us tend to presume that only the individual has any true idea of what he or she deserves; unfortunately, too many of us suffer from the occasional or permanent delusion that the universally understood, yet unwritten (or written, depending on your beliefs), rules of acceptable behavior don't apply to us personally.

We're not even the best judges of our own behavior, much less anyone else's.

If ever there was an argument for the existence of God, out of pure necessity, that would be a significant one. The alternative, being merely a random string of events of apparently good fortune and suffering, is enough to drive a reasonable person insane if examined too closely.

Without some form of ultimate justice, all the most humane accomplishments and evil deeds in history are both members of the same ill-fated group, consigned to be lost forever in the black hole of forgotten memories, reducing life itself to nothing more than a meaningless collection of pointless interactions.

Just the fact that almost all human beings instinctively recognize the difference between good and evil should be enough evidence that there is a difference, and that hopefully there is a reason to choose good over evil in one's own life.

I know some people insist that human beings need nothing more than their own moral compasses to attain virtue for all of humanity, but the atrocious historical record of humanity's attempts at justice is a pathetic display of navigation, as far as I can tell.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Toxic and Useless Criminal Mind

How many times have you read or heard about some random crime, such as property damage, illegal drug activity, theft, assault, rape, murder, whatever, and found yourself asking that basic question, "Why?"

This is the most troubling aspect of all. Anecdotal or documented, the evidence must overwhelmingly point toward some strange defect in the minds of the criminally inclined. Those of us (the majority of the population, I both hope and assume) who don't find criminal activity attractive are constantly faced with the unfortunate necessity to find some sort of rationalization to deal with the reality of unlawful behavior.

The classic question has always been: what goes through the mind of someone who decides to commit a crime that is altogether unnecessary? By 'unnecessary,' I'm referring to anything that is not required for a person's survival. Stealing an apple from the market because one may literally have no money for food is not the same as taking it because one wants it and wishes to dismiss the fact that it should be purchased. Anyone with an ounce of mercy would find it highly objectionable to convict someone who wasn't blowing money on drugs, gambling, etc., who truly was starving, and who found himself or herself faced with the decision to steal an apple or perish.

Unfortunately for those sleazy advocates who insist on the perpetrator's innocence in the above fashion, this exceptional situation is virtually impossible, especially in this country. There is always a way to get food, even if one has no money. A penniless person can also obtain medical attention, for that matter, but this essay isn't concerned with Obama's dubious healthcare imbroglio.

The bottom line is that there are people 'out there in the world' who, against all propriety and common sense, make decisions that cause everything from simple annoyance and discomfort, all the way up to loss of life, to other human beings.

We are told by the supposedly benevolent leaders in society that the perpetrators of the world are just misunderstood, disenfranchised, victims of prejudice and that they are all potentially good, no matter what they may be responsible for doing. We are cautioned to not be too judgmental, because we ourselves are not perfect. We are told that unless we can walk a mile in someone else's shoes, we have no right to sentence another human being to shame, imprisonment or death. Often, as the legal blathering goes, the perpetrator just wasn't ultimately responsible for the crime he or she did actually commit.

People debate ad nauseum about controversial subjects such as whether or not to utilize a death penalty. This is not the important issue. With or without a death penalty, justice is still not being served by our system, because we as a society have taken a bizarre direction that says habitual offenders are still able to reform and rehabilitate. I say bizarre because the actual repetition of criminal behavior is clear empirical evidence that the person is not capable of reformation.

Why is it the people who shout the loudest about criminals' rights also happen to be the ones who haven't had a sister raped, or a child kidnapped and murdered, or a brother die of an overdose? What was it Ronald Reagan once said? Something about how today's conservative is yesterday's liberal who got mugged.

Here's what I say:

Anyone can make a mistake. Anyone can make two. But when a person has proven time and again that he or she prefers to make decisions that produce a detrimental result for others, this person eventually forfeits any mercy that a reasonable human would gladly grant.

I don't care that the violent offender is loved by his mother. I don't care that the drug dealer spends some of her dirty money to buy shoes for her toddler. I don't care that the crooked CEO seems like a nice guy. It makes no difference to me that all human beings have a potential for being "good." Potential is an utterly worthless proposition if it isn't properly realized.

To all those in the world who habitually make others miserable in innumerable ways, I have only this to say:

If you were to all disappear overnight, and never return, I would not lose one wink of sleep.

After your hapless families and friends finished grieving, they'd realize in all honesty that the world is a better place without you anyway.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Revenge of the Nerds

The title of this essay is a reference to the 1984 movie of the same name, but the revenge I'm referring to is more accurately characterized in terms of a future shift in world power, as opposed to adolescent high jinks on an idealized college campus.

We are entering into an interesting time in history. I apologize for not currently being able to remember the source, but I once read about how the way that the world functions will eventually become so complex, only engineers will understand how anything works.

The basic premise of such a prediction is that the mechanical aspects of the world will eventually become too complex for the average human being to effectively fathom. Our inexorable migration toward a 'push button' world is the direction of the slippery, downhill path we're all collectively skating on. What does this mean in practical terms?

You can observe an excellent example of this phenomenon in the television set. Pretty much everyone in the world knows what one is, and is exposed to one with some regularity. Of all these thinking, sentient individuals, very few understand what is happening mechanically inside the electronics of the object. There are some who grasp, in a general way, how electricity enters the unit via the wall outlet, and through a mystical combination of nondescript components and circuit boards, a picture somehow forms on either the cathode ray tube, liquid crystal display, plasma screen, etc.

However, the amount of human beings who actually understand, and can explain, these technologies in familiar detail are extremely few. Now extrapolate this common situation against all other existing and emerging modern technologies, and you begin to get a clue about how much a practical knowledge of the world is becoming more and more rare.

"So what?" you may ask. As long as there are people 'out there' who can continue to develop and fabricate these convenient technologies, then what difference does it make that the person on the street has no clue about how they work?

I assume most people reading this have heard the old cliché‚ about knowledge being power. The way this currently plays out is by dividing the world into three distinct groups:

1) Those who possess the vital knowledge [the smallest group].
2) Those who have enough money (power) to employ (or force) the people from group number #1 to provide these technological wonders [the slightly larger group].
3) Those who consume and (and more significantly) depend on these technologies for their daily lives to function properly [the truly vast, largest group of all, literally comprising the rest of the world].

Within these groups, there is some crossover, such as the talented person from group #3 who becomes, through extraordinary application of effort and education, to become a person in group #1. There is also crossover of gifted people from group #1 to group #2, by virtue of their own attempts at entrepreneurial enterprise.

The interesting thing is that while someone, through laziness and poor decision-making, can move from group #2 to group #3, the movement from group #2 to group #1 is so extremely rare that it wouldn't be too hard to imagine it has never happened in all of history.

Why is that? The answer to this important question also provides the answer to why the future will not look exactly like the present, in terms of the balance of power in our global civilization.

Simply stated, the power elite are intellectually lazy, as they consider their efforts at gathering wealth (and power) as the most valuable knowledge in the world. They imagine that because they can successfully buy the loyalty of those who possess true talent, they are therefore the smarter of the two, because they ultimately still retain control of both.

Ayn Rand wrote a book called Atlas Shrugged that addressed this phenomenon in a fictional, yet still relevant fashion. The heroes of the story were engineers and inventors who eventually freed themselves from the dullards with power who tried to maintain control of their talent through money and politics. The story was a bit fantastical because the engineer heroes eventually created a secret, hidden place in the world where they could create without the greedy thumbs of the elite pressing down on them.

While the creation of a mystical Xanadu for nerds is not likely to occur in the real world, there is an important message that Atlas Shrugged sends, and I'm hereby sending once again:

If you want to live in a more humane, more just world, you must take power away from those who control others by their will alone. Instead of leading the masses by inspiration or honorable example, the power elite uses legislation and societal manipulation to maintain its position of authority. Their unrepentant mantra of "Greed is Good" is more and more falling on deaf ears, as those 'unwashed masses' they wish to instill with envy are instead growing more and more angry at the inevitable inequity of the philosophy.

Because the people of earth can communicate in more effective ways than they ever have been able to before, the political and monetary elite are having more and more trouble manipulating the person on the street with propaganda. This is significant because the decentralization of information means that edifying facts are more and more difficult to keep away from those grubby little hands that hunger for knowledge and freedom from tyranny.

The societal model of Have's and Have Not's, while becoming more pronounced than ever, is nevertheless unprepared to prevent a total reversal of the distribution of power. As the true destination of our technological progress becomes more evident to the elite, there will inevitably be measures taken to prevent the solidarity of the truly gifted. This will ultimately fail, and the reason for that failure is mentioned in the fifth paragraph of this essay.

While there are smug persons out there who dismiss this kind of talk as wishful thinking, the real world is already showing powerful evidence of this way of thinking. The open source software movement is a very real and established entity whose efforts have given us superior (and free!) technologies that will eventually eclipse the current computer stagnation of Microsoft and Apple.

These talented Linux (and other) hackers commit themselves to creating superior technologies with the expectation of nothing more than respect of their peers and the knowledge that they have contributed to the betterment of the world. These motivations not only fly in the face of the greedy, power elite ideal, but as it turns out, they more effectively address a far more deep-seated desire for relevant existence in the world than merely sitting on a wallet fat with Benjamins.

Revolution is only possible when a certain leverage is available to those who would change things. Prior to the 21st century, this meant fists, rocks, clubs, spears, arrows, bullets, explosives, poison gas, degradation of biological cells via engineered pathogens, destabilization of atomic structures by nuclear fission. These objectionable and often atrocious entities are the progeny of those who wish to control the population through an aggressive will to power, instead of egalitarian reason and common sense.

For centuries, the proletariat of the world have been under the sway of those who possessed nothing more than the charisma to lie effectively and wield loyal armies who ironically were made up of the very people they oppressed. This situation was intractable for one simple reason: knowledge is power, and the knowledge required to usurp tyrants was possessed only by the tyrants themselves, or obtained by brute force.

The power base of the elite is built on a foundation of buying knowledge from those who actually possess it. To this, I pose a question:

How much longer do you truly think those who actually possess the knowledge of how the world functions will continue to defer to those who have no other claim to power other than the silver spoon or grenade pin in their mouths?