Sunday, July 5, 2015

Megan Phelps-Roper on Leaving Westboro

On this week's episode of the Sacred Cow Wursthaus, I referenced the interview Sam Harris did with Megan Phelps-Roper, granddaughter of Westboro Baptist Church leader Fred Phelps. Here is the link to the interview, and enjoy!

Sunday, June 28, 2015

SCOTUS Gay Marriage After-Shocks

I want to go into the conservative reaction to the Supreme Court’s ruling, effectively striking down any bans on gay marriage, and the example I want to use is an audio clip from the NPR show, ‘Here and Now,’ because it’s just an awesome example of skillful word-smithing. I can’t use the actual audio clip because it’s copyrighted, but I can use excerpts of what was said. The person being interviewed was Jim Campbell director of the Center for Marriage and Family with the Alliance for Defending Freedom. He said the following:

“The court regrettably stripped All Americans of our freedom to debate and decide marriage policy through the democratic process. Moreover, the court overrode the considered judgment of tens of millions of Americans who recently reaffirmed marriage as the union of a man and a woman, and in doing so the court went beyond what the Constitution says, beyond what the Constitution requires, and took this issue away from the people.”

When asked by NPR host, Robin Young, whether he wanted this debate to be in the court of public opinion, he said yes, and she immediately (and justly) countered with the fact that, among the general public, a vast majority do approve of same-sex marriage, especially among millennials. So the court of public opinion seems to be trending against the opposition to gay marriage, in that case.  Here’s how he argued around that.  He said:

“The most important opinion poll is taken at the ballot box.”

In other words, let’s decide this where gerrymandering favors our side, let’s decide this where we can use voter I.D. laws and other intimidation tactics to make sure that the young and minorities don’t get heard, and let’s decide the issue that way. Disgusting, no?

He goes on to say: “The point that you are making is that it appears, from your perspective, that opinions are shifting on this. And if that’s the case, then we should allow the people to continue to discuss, debate, and decide the issue for themselves.”

Brilliant! See what he did there? He first said, “It appears, from your perspective (never mind that it’s an opinion poll, not her perspective) that opinions are shifting on this.” Shifting my ass! They’re moving decidedly and rapidly away from this man’s position! And yet so engrossed is he in the absoluteness that his religion must be right, that he acknowledges that there’s  movement in the debate, but can’t come to grips with the fact that it’s moving against him! How about that!
Robin Young then asked whether or not religious freedom was at the center of their argument he said it was.

“There are some instances where people are trying to operate a business and trying to live consistent with their faith, and courts are forcing them to either host or facilitate same-sex ceremonies, even though doing so conflicts with their faith. So I do think that that actually is a real issue.  Moreover, one thing we do know here at Alliance for Defending Freedom and one thing we are committed to is that no one should be threatened or punished by the government simply for believing and living consistent with the belief that marriage is between a man and a woman.”

How? How are they being forced? That's the part I don't see.
Host? Where would they host? A Christian-owned banquet hall, perhaps? Maybe. But if gays and lesbians wanted to rent the hall for a party, such a business wouldn't object. It's only the marriage part they object to. But so what? If you own the hall, you don't have to attend, do you? Or you can hire out some other bartender/host. Big deal, right? It sure beats losing the business to someone else.

He then goes on to cite the standard jobs where someone’s Christian faith and/or belief that gay marriage is a sin might cause that person’s beliefs to be violated. Namely, a florist, a baker, a wedding photographer, and although he didn’t include it, I will also include a DJ, because at least one friend of mine who is a DJ says he will never do a gay wedding no matter what the Supreme Court says.

So let’s take a good look at that, because this is really where the proverbial rubber meets the road. What happens when, say, a devoutly Christian wedding photographer or planner gets asked to help out with a gay wedding?

Well, the nice and responsible thing for that photographer or planner to do would be to say, “Look, I’m a devout Christian, and as such gay weddings make me uncomfortable because they’re contrary to my religious beliefs. But I do know someone (competitor, assistant, contractor) who would be willing to do the photography for you instead of me.” In other words, that person is willing to lose their business to someone else, or hand the actual business duties to someone else, in order for the customer’s needs to be met. That might mean that the proprietor loses that customer to a competitor, but if one’s religion places such priorities over profits, then so be it. Let the free market decide the matter.

Now, would that be discriminating against the gay couple? Yes, maybe a little, but it isn’t turning the business away as such, either. Would that be a violation of the gay couple’s rights? Well, if the only wedding photographer willing to do a gay wedding charges an arm and a leg, maybe, because the gay couple is forced to pay a lot more for the same service just because the competitors are squeamish. That may happen, but the odds are rather low.

My point is, there are reasonable compromises which allow for the accommodation of both the anti-gay religious beliefs of the proprietor and the gay-accepting religious beliefs of the customer. There are numerous other examples of where something like this can happen, whether it is a Seikh who religiously objects to drinking alcohol selling you a case of beer at the convenience store, or a Hindu who objects to the eating of cows serving you a hamburger at McDonald’s, there are plenty of ways where we recognize that accommodating other people’s lifestyles is not the same thing as endorsing them.

How about other examples? Dressmakers? Who cares, they won’t be attending. Tux rentals? Same thing. Florists? They won’t be in attendance, unless they have to set up the display on the altar, and then they’ll be gone before the actual ceremony takes place. Cake-makers? There isn’t a baker I can think of who wouldn’t be willing to say, “Look, I can’t approve of your lifestyle due to my religious beliefs, but I value your business, so how about if I sell you the cake and the icing for writing the message on it separately?  I’ll even throw in the icing for free. (That’s only like, a buck anyway.) Of course! Every baker worth his business would do that!

The objection is all imagined. Gay couples have made peace with their god when it comes to the love they feel, and that’s their religion, regardless of what label they use.  But Christian extremists want the ability to say, “I religiously object to your religious interpretation, and so I want the right to try and shame you into changing your ways by refusing to do business with you, and doing so in a rude way because there are some easy ways I could compromise to accommodate having you as a customer, but I’d rather just say no and label you ‘icky!’ Well, if so, fine. But at least be honest about it. This is you trying to force your religion upon someone else's creed. And that’s not “restoration of religious freedom,” no matter what else you may call it!

            Bottom line is, the free market will work this out, just as it always does. If your religion dictates the need to attempt to force others to comply with your religion’s edicts, then there will be some other vendor which will take your business, and that’s the way it should be. If you’re a dick, you lose customers. And we really shouldn’t care or be sympathetic that your religion makes you a dick.

            Certainly, it’s none of the government’s business.



Thursday, May 7, 2015

Let's TPP The Neighbors!

Friends, it's time to talk about the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP. This is a free-trade treaty involving twelve nations around the Pacific Rim (and possibly more later). These are: Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, The United States, and Vietnam. Collectively these countries account for 40% of the world's GDP, making this one of the most significant trade deals ever brokered. Naturally, this has attracted staunch advocates as well as fierce opponents. Who's right and who's wrong here? What follows is my qualified analysis after doing some research, and I hope people find it helpful.

Elizabeth Warren is against it. So is Bernie Sanders. Hillary Clinton has tentatively said some things in opposition, but is (as always) holding her cards close to her well-tailored blazer. But Barack Obama is very much in favor of it, and many analysts see this as a legacy deal for him. Why the disparity? What has some Dems fighting to stop it, while others within the same party are so anxious to see it passed?

First, let's all acknowledge something here: we're all flying blind when it comes to the issue of this trade deal. Much of what's involved is being kept secret, and it's only through security breaches that we know anything about this treaty at all. Were it not for Julian Assange and Wikileaks, we wouldn't even be able to have this debate. (Something to bear in mind the next time someone attempts to argue that Wikileaks is tantamount to treason.) But if we don't know what's in the TPP, how can we truly evaluate it's merits or demerits? The sad answer is, we can't - not really. But we can take the information that's been leaked to the general public, analyze that, and at least come to some reasonable (if tentative) conclusions. We can also evaluate the actions of certain insiders (people who know what's going on) who champion or chide this deal, and draw some conclusions based on what they have to say and what we know about them, personally.

First, let's talk major impacts. What significant changes will this treaty bring, based on what we currently know? Well, primarily, it seems that the major beneficiaries will be businesses which rely heavily upon intellectual property rights. Copyright infringement will be more sternly enforced under this trade deal, allowing Hollywood to crack down on piracy of movies, and tech companies to better able to control unauthorized use of proprietary software. It would also better enforce trademarks, making knock-off brands less profitable for foreign manufacturers. Sadly, it would also make it easier for major pharmaceutical manufacturers to keep cheaper drugs out of the market. Given that the businesses which rely upon these kinds of laws are typically left-leaning in their political support, it's understandable why some Democrats might be in favor of such a deal.

What about jobs? Opponents say that this trade deal will be "NAFTA on steroids," and that more jobs will be lost overseas, labor unions will be weakened, and what jobs remain will have lower wages. This seems to be a legitimate concern. According to the Economic Policy Institute, such a treaty would have a negative impact on both number and quality of jobs unless it included a strong provision regulating currency manipulation. In other words, it should do something to prevent a country from deliberately devaluing its currency by over-printing its money, thus gaining a trade advantage by being able to export more and offer cheaper labor. If a strong currency control were present to prevent such actions, lower-valued currencies would quickly balance out, and American jobs would, in fact, be protected. But does the TPP include such a provision? Sadly, we are not sure. It could potentially protect jobs, but even if it did, it would not necessarily create them. A recent report has shown that nearly 80% of Americans already live below or near the poverty line. The last thing we need is something that will diminish or limit wage growth, even a tiny bit.

Will lower tariffs boost the economy? Proponents say that there will be a benefit in reduced tariffs and more open trade, but is that true? Economist Paul Krugman points out that tariffs are already so low in general that a further reduction really won't have a significant impact, and he's right. There may be a few more American cars in Japan, but aside from that, there will not be much of a change. Therefore, arguments about more open trade increasing business are unfounded. Unless this trade deal suddenly includes China and India, any increased business activity will be negligible.

What about the environment? Will this trade deal violate national sovereignty and allow mega-corporations to sue the government in order to circumvent mining, foresting and fossil-fuel rights? Critics say it will. They say that a corporation could call upon third-party arbitration to get around restrictions meant to protect the environment. But is this true? Possibly, but not necessarily. For starters, the arbitrator could potentially see the wisdom behind the environmental protections and rule against the corporation's lawsuit. Also, other environmental protections could be added through such a treaty. Yes, the 12 nations involved represent 40% of the world's economy, but they also represent 25% of the world's fishing consumption. A trade deal that opens up trade in fish - provided that fishing has been done within legal restrictions - could actually benefit everyone by allowing fish populations to recover, resulting in more food for everyone, to say nothing of a healthy ocean. Such a trade deal would also be able to clamp down on illegal trade of black-market natural resources, and not just illegally caught fish or whale-oil. Poached lumber, game or other ill-gotten goods could have a more difficult time getting to market, decreasing both supply and demand and actually helping the environment. There is risk, but there is also potential reward.

Finally, let's look at Obama and his endorsement of the TPP. He has flat-out called Elizabeth Warren wrong for opposing it, and this comes from a man who seldom has a harsh word for anyone, much less someone within his own party. What are we to make of this? Surely, Our Trophy President knows more about what's potentially in this treaty than we do. But are we simply supposed to put our faith in him on this one?

Critics of this trade deal are calling it crony capitalism. They say that Obama is paying back the big corporate donors who helped him get elected in 2008 and re-elected in 2012. But he's a lame duck now. Obama could simply decide to screw over Big Corporate in favor of what the people of America better need for a sustainable economy, right?

Ah, but there's the matter of his successor, isn't there? In order for Hillary to win, she'll need the backing of the same big corporate firms who backed Obama. It's no secret who those corporate firms are. Microsoft, Apple, IBM, Google, Hollywood, Music Firms, Big Pharma, Big Banking, Comcast and Time Warner. Maybe the TPP does make us lose ground somewhat, but it helps the firms just named quite a lot, and that could have major benefits for the Democratic Party.

Ultimately, it might boil down to one simple question: Do you trust Obama's judgement on this, or not?

So here is my cursory, and very tentative conclusion: Will this treaty hurt the American economy? My view is that it will, but not, I think, by very much. The benefits are not substantial, but neither are the costs. Yes, it will hurt unions, but they're all but dead, and the concept of unionizing needs to hit the reset button - possibly by unionizing the service sector. Yes, it could hurt the environment, but it could also help it in other ways. Yes it could cost jobs in the short run, but it could protect them in the long run.

The bottom line is this: We live in a post Citizens' United world of politics, and that means the big donors get to decide who can compete, and how well they are funded. We The People get the final say (if we actually bother to vote, that is), but the nominations and the popularity contest is directed by the money. If the TPP turns out to be a bad deal, but gets Hillary elected by making the Big Corporate Donors happy, it's worth the trade-off. Treaties can always be re-negotiated, especially if people get disgusted and show a significant amount of buyer's remorse. But we are probably only one more presidential term away from putting the Supreme Court out of reach of moon-bat conservatives, and thus ending the destructive culture war that has so torn our nation. The TPP might be the key to doing that. If so, I say fine - for now. I reserve the right to change my mind if new evidence comes to light.

But I also say this: We need to get more people involved in the debate! Go tell people to read up about this treaty. Get them interested! Get them motivated! Let's tell them how important it is to at least try to learn about just one complex piece of legislation before it happens. In other words...

Let's TPP the neighbors!



Monday, April 27, 2015

The End Of Journalism In America

One last thought regarding CSS, Corporate Sponsored Stupidity (see previous post). I mentioned that CSS has so infected the minds of people that the news only placates to one side or the other - such is the brand-loyalty which has poisoned citizens against the truth. Well, there is another consequence that I would be remiss not to address. The news now has to disguise itself as comedy in order to entice people to watch it.

This phenomenon seems to affect the young people of America more, and this makes sense. They are the ones who grew up in a corporate-dominated world, with corporate-dominated media, where advertising assaulted them from the cradle on into adolescence. Naturally they would suffer from CSS more acutely - albeit more sophisticatedly - than older Americans who saw corporate advertising evolve from earlier, less effective formats. As such, the necessity of disguising the news as comedy seems to be targeted at young people, because it's the only way to get them to watch. They have to literally be lured into learning things by laughter. Jon Stewart and John Oliver tell us that they are comedians, not journalists. I respectfully disagree. They ARE journalists. It's simply a new variety of journalism - one which has evolved to not only report the news, but then figure out a way to get people to sit up and notice it. First they have to dig up the news, and then they have to dig down to reach you.

The opposite situation seems to apply to older adults with CSS. The way to entice them into watching the news is to get them pissed. They are the angry generation, and so want to get mad about something. Vietnam is over, forgotten are the liberal ideals they had in their youth, and they now want to defend faith and family, not realizing that by supporting today's so-called conservatives, they are eroding both. So their news comes in the form of angry white males who vent and vent and vent, and, according to the ratings, people just love that shit.

You  know what? Fuck all this. Does anybody give a shit about the truth for the sake of the truth anymore? It seems not.

So that's my take on it. People need to give a shit about the truth. Say what you will about Jon Stewart and John Oliver, but they at least do, if only because the truth is so bizarre that it's funny.

Do you give a shit about the truth? Or do you blindly bat for Team Conservative or Team Liberal?



Corporate Sponsored Stupidity (CSS)

Remember TV back in the 70's? It was awful, wasn't it? Even the so-called "good" shows, like Emergency!, or The Rockford Files were only good because the leading characters were good. The supporting cast, however, might as well have been played by cardboard cutouts. Why on earth was television so bad back then? Well, the consensus is that it was due to only three networks being on the air to choose from. Any given television program didn't have to be all that fantastic. All it had to be was better than the other two shows available. Oh, sure, there was public television and the token UHF channel, but the former was for kids and snobs while the latter was where old programs went to die unnecessarily prolonged deaths. For the entirety of the 70's and 80's, the UHF outlet was pretty much where you went to watch Happy Days, Scooby Doo, or (heaven help us!) Gilligan's Island.

But at least one thing was good about 1970's television: the news. With three choices to pick from, and with every household tuning in at precisely 6:00 to learn about what was happening right after eating dinner, there was real competition to be the best in journalism. The news had a solid time-slot which was, up until very recently, all but unshakable. And people had a real sense of value for the truth. Lack of journalistic integrity was the kiss of death for any network. Over-editorializing was generally rejected, even by those who might have agreed with it. It was the glory age of Walter Cronkite, which saw the overturning of the Red Scare, the end of the war in Vietnam, and the resignation of a dishonest president. It guided us through the lunar landings as well as the Iranian hostage crisis, and let us know through a prolonged gasoline shortage that, although things were bad, things were moving to make it better. Best of all, it was local. The local newscaster you saw lived in the area. Very likely, he or she grew up there. There was no need for journalists to hop from city to city like carpetbaggers. There was assurance that your friendly face on TV reporting about local events was someone who pronounced the suburban villages correctly because he grew up near them. In short, it was an age of journalism. Not perfect, but fairly responsible.

Kiss all that shit goodbye.

Today, the news has been hijacked by well-moneyed interest groups bent on influencing the public for its own ends more than for safeguarding the truth. And, just like back in the 1970's, there are only three outlets to choose from. Thanks to some unwise deregulation of the airwaves in 1996, and an end to the fairness doctrine before that in 1987, the news is now dominated by three outlets, none of which have a regular time slot, and almost all of which are no longer local. Whether it be your traditional television channel broadcast at your nearest city of residence or a giant cable network, almost all the stations are now owned by three corporations: Newscorp (FOX News), Time Warner (CNN), and Comcast (MSNBC). And it doesn't matter which affiliation your local station might have, whether it be the traditional CBS, ABC or NBC, or the more recent ones like the CW (essentially what's left of UPN and the WB). They're all part of one of three hydras. And all three of them back corporate interests over your own.

It's primarily for this reason that they pay people full time jobs to do nothing else but pour fuel on the political fires of America. Because with each election cycle, they get to cash in. Every two to four years, huge amounts of money get dumped into political advertising. All that money doesn't go down a deep, dark hole, you know. It all goes into the pockets of the three big companies who own damn near everything. And they get to charge premium prices for ad time due to high demand - which only gets higher as they continue to influence the general public through professional polarizers such as Rush Limbaugh or Ed Schultz. People become so pissed that they open up their pocketbooks wide to do battle with the other side, liberal vs. conservative, not realizing that the money they dump into the machine is only making their problems worse, not better.

Were it not for the Internet, this would mean the downfall of Western civilization.

This consolidation of network power has not only affected the news, although that's its greatest consequence. It has also affected attitudes in general. Television has always been funded by advertisers. Yet those advertisements have had much more than a selling effect for products. They are deliberately designed to convince you, the consumer, to be dumb enough to buy their product over their competitors' products based on some shoddy argument which doesn't hold up under close scrutiny, but which they're counting on nevertheless. In other words, they win when you don't think too much.

And if you think they wouldn't dare try to deliberately try to dumb down the intelligence level of the general public so that they can boost their profit margins, you'd be mistaken.

This results in a phenomenon which I will dub "corporate sponsored stupidity." (CSS for short.) It essentially means that people get primed to believe complete bullshit by giant mega-corps who depend upon such blind faith for the sake of their shareholders. The CEO's of these corporate giants fully realize the potential this has to influence politics, and so have worked hard to harness CSS to favor their own political viewpoints - ones which are often conservative due to the elderly status of most zoots. But CSS also has another unintended and dire consequence. Because it primes the proletariat to be accepting of bullshit, the public ends up buying into nonsense which is crackpot, but which follows the same template of argument the corporate advertisements do. So people believe wrongly that vaccines are harmful, refuse to vaccinate their children, and then their children (and worse, those of other parents) become sick. People believe the lunar landings did not take place, not because the evidence is compelling, but because the conspiracy theory is. People believe in creationism rather than evolution because the religious advertising follows the corporate model of inducing stupidity. Or worse, people believe a war is justifiable because the propaganda machine says so.

CSS has infected the minds of most people so much that the news can now only be reported in such as way as to lure viewers into learning what's going on in the world. Liberals, fired up by CSS to be more irrationally liberal, suddenly want more and more liberal news sources. Conservatives, fired up by CSS even more so become irrationally conservative and listen only to the conservative news outlets. The result is a growing level of polarization in news coverage that gets ever worse and worse. As we all know, FOX is primarily conservative, MSNBC is primarily liberal, and CNN, well, CNN basically twists in whatever direction the wind is blowing in, which often means reporting human interest fluff over the real news that's going on, i.e., over-covering a downed Malaysian Airlines Jet while ignoring critical legislation being considered on Capital Hill.

Well, I have to say that it's time to call out Corporate Sponsored Stupidity. Come on, everyone! Purge yourself of your CSS! And don't think you don't have it. We ALL do! Somewhere, somehow, even the most rational and level-headed of us are bullheaded and wrong about something.

So find that something, or group of somethings, in your life. Then choose truth over what you would prefer.

And the Truth will set you free!



Monday, April 13, 2015

Ready For Hillary?

Well, it has started. Hillary Clinton has officially announced her presidential bid. Does she have my vote out of the gate? Probably.

I say "probably" only because there might actually be a Democrat who unhorses her in the primaries. I don't think that's likely, but you never know. Not Elizabeth Warren. She said no, and she meant it. And certainly not Joe Biden. But maybe HUD Secretary Julian Castro. Who knows?

Ah, but here come the naysayers, some of which were undoubtedly the same giddy fools who gleefully anointed her as Obama's successor before he was even sworn in for his second term. Now the buzz is somewhat negative, and Facebook is already humming with posts about how Hillary is the right hand of Satan. I would like to address some of the points such people bring up, as I feel it's important to do so. It's dirty work, but somebody's got to do it.

First, let's get the big stuff out of the way: Is she a liar? Ruthless? An insider? Someone who bends the rules whenever it suits her? Yes, she is. But let's get this straight: That's what I want! Sure she's a battle-hardened bitch, but we need that. We need someone who's willing to spank the crybabies of Congress until their bottoms are blue, and then send them to bed with no supper!

Gennifer Flowers? Monica Lewinsky? Whitewater? Travelgate? Vincent Foster? Sure, that's a lot of baggage. But it's Bill's baggage, and the last time I checked, he's not running.

Benghazi you say? Yeah, the Republican-led investigation into that cleared her. So, unless you are still under the delusion thatFox News is fair and balanced, there's no scandal, there.

Emails? Yeah, not so much, either. Unless an off-account email is found which is a clear breach of national security, I don't see much of a problem. Besides, we've all done personal stuff on company time or dime, haven't we?

We've had it good with Professor Obama. But while good ol' Prof was my first choice then, the Tough Ol' Bird is my preferred choice now. Make no mistake, the bitch is back! And I'm good with it.

Then again, I'd vote for Bill Cosby, if it meant keeping the crazies who pass for conservatives out of the White House.



Sunday, April 5, 2015

What Easter Means To Me

So it’s Easter weekend, and lots of people are doing their traditional things with baskets full of jellybeans, chocolate and what have you, and we unbelievers are doing our thing pointing out the various aspects of Easter which are Pagan in origin or which have their roots in other religions such as the cult of Attis or the Cybeline vestils. And all I can do in light of all this is reflect on the contrast of what I thought about Easter back when I was a Christian, and what Easter means to me now.  Back then, I thought Easter was an even bigger deal than Christmas, because, you know, this wasn’t the birth of Jesus, that was just the opening act.  This was Jesus coming back after kicking death in the ‘nads! This was IT! This was the whole point of the whole hullabaloo. 

And now?  The whole thing means less than nothing to me. I have no church service to attend, no kids to take on Easter egg hunts, the whole thing comes and goes and I scarcely notice.  And part of what has led to that shift in mentality is simply the realization of what Easter is supposed to mean, namely the sacrificial death and subsequent resurrection of Jesus. The whole point of his death is blood atonement, which goes back to the sacrificial scapegoat ritual under the Jewish rite of Moses, where a goat takes on the sins of the people and is then sacrificed. So something innocent dies to pay for the wrongdoings of something guilty, essentially two wrongs making a right.  And nobody seems to figure this part out.

How amazing is that?

Not so amazing as this: I’ve been sick this week, which is very odd for me. I almost never get sick. But this week I came down with some killer thing which has given me the worst sore throat I’ve had since I came down with strep throat when I was a kid. The pain I’ve had to endure at the most inconvenient of times has been maddening. And for me, it just underscores the absurdity of the intelligent design argument, that this fine machine called the human body can be so easily fucked up by one little microorganism that just destroys even the ability to swallow, it’s just nuts. 

And yet, my little bout with pain is nothing compared to what some people go through for their religion.  In Iraq, Shi’ite pilgrims flagellate themselves with huge whips made of iron chains with hooks on the ends of them. In India, 200 men chopped off their balls because a guru said it would bring them closer to God. A recent HBO documentary showed the insane things some people were willing to do for scientology and the abuses they endured in that particular cult. In India again, certain people are having themselves be nailed to crosses to reenact what Jesus allegedly went through on the first Easter weekend. Now, let me just focus in on that last one.  People crucifying themselves.  Sure, they get taken down after a time, but not until they’ve hung there for a while with nails in their hands and feet!  And there’s nothing, absolutely nothing in Christianity which requires anybody to do this! It’s not expected, it’s not requested, it’s just done because some people want to better relate to what Jesus went through.  Now, my little bout with pain reinforced how absurd all that was.  But just imagine how unreachable these guys are, who actually crucify themselves to relate to Jesus – just imagine how impossible it is to touch people like that with logic and reason.  And how truly similar is that mindset to the ones which are held by suicide bombing terrorists, or followers of Jim Jones, or any number of other people who do the utterly absurd.

All the fun stuff about Easter is Pagan. The bunnies, the painted eggs, the baskets, the treats for kids.  All the nasty stuff is Christian, the blood and guts show followed by four gospel accounts of an empty tomb which disagree with each other. What does Easter mean to me now? In a way, it still means that it’s the central focus. But to me, at least this year, what it means is…

Some people are just plain gone! 

I’d be willing to be crucified to defend the truth. Others are actually willing to let themselves be crucified for the sake of mere faith. They are so unconcerned with challenging their assumptions that they will drive nails into their body rather than face one fairly asked critical question.

I can simply no longer relate to that line of thinking. That’s what Easter means to me. I celebrate the ability to question critically and commit myself fully to the truth. And I mourn the loss of those who willfully handicap themselves against doing this. I get to fly, and they choose not to. So my symbol for Easter is not a bunny, or a baby chick. 

My symbol for Easter is a bird that has clipped its own wings.