The Year I Fell Awake: My Walk Across the Country; 1984 – 1985

I am a bigot of self-awareness. The year I fell awake, I was waking across the country: from Fort Lauderdale to LA. I lived with the homeless. I ate with the poor. I stood with people who had nowhere to stand. I appreciated a tarp as a thankful respite from the storm. I was grateful for the cardboard box that shielded me from the sun. Near the end of my journey, I was so very thankful for any kind word; anything just to keep my encouragement up and look for the next day.

At the apex of this self-imposed misery, some things started to make sense. I realized that we’re all miserable – we’re all suffering. Maybe not in the same way. Maybe not from the same things. But we suffer. It’s the one quality that brings humanity together – makes us so aware of what’s left undone, what’s keeping us from being whole. Before I started my journey, my disposition was to shun people who I thought were narrow-minded; souls who ignored the misery of others. But then, I said to myself, “Who am I not hear their suffering as well? Just because I don’t agree with them, doesn’t mean they are any less human.” Were I really a humanist, I would not shun anyone. Instead, I should open my arms and embrace every last one. But – alas – I’m a fraud.

I was really never homeless. I just took it upon myself to BE homeless for about a year because I had it in my mind that it’d be cool. But under that bullshit, late-teen idealism of mine, I had a home to go home to. Anytime I wanted, I could get a motel room, a shower, sleep on a nice bed, and – BAM – I’d be on a jet going home. Here’s another thing that I discovered about myself. I’ve never been a very forgiving person. I’m still ashamed to admit that through my life, I’ve been deeply envious, darkly vindictive. I hate the haters for hating me; and I hate myself for hating them. I guess the one silver lining to my self-discovery is that I know myself. I know my weaknesses enough that I may be better if the time comes that I must be better. All I need is more experience – fall awake even more.

I’ll need a big bong hit to figure all of this out – listen to some old Hendrix…

If you can just get your mind together
Then come on across to me
We’ll hold hands an’ then we’ll watch the sun rise from the bottom of the sea
But first
Are you experienced?
Have you ever been experienced?
Well, I have…

The more you change, the more you realize that you’re just the same. Only through true self-awareness can we control the animal in us that can make misery so fucking intolerable.

1984_terri-patches_on-las-olas-ft-fauderdale
1984: I began my journey in Ft Lauderdale. Somewhere off Las Olas Blvd, I ran into “Terry” and “Patches.”

The photos in this post are of companions that I traveled with through Florida taken by a journalist who just happened to be doing a story about the homeless. In the top photo is Rick – the dude passed out on a cot. He was a professed “addict of everything” – and he lived up to that profession. He died about three days after that photo was taken. He said he was a Vietnam war vet, but he was too young to serve (he was about my age). I think he was just really messed up. In the bottom photo, Terry with the light hair was from New York. “Patches” said he was from Virginia, but his accent said he was from up north. These guys were very generous and patient with me. I could tell that they had a backstory that they didn’t want to talk about. I think “Patches” may have been a vet, but I never found out if he served in any war.

Barry Goldwater Was Right

I recall my dad’s quips about Barry Goldwater – laced with profanity and superlative, he had some pretty harsh things to say about a man he though betrayed the country. My dad wasn’t what you’d call a hardcore Republican, but he definitely sympathized with “the cause.” Which is weird because my dad was also an atheist. But I digress. Imagine my surprise as I grew into adulthood to find that although Barry wasn’t the more statesmanlike of statesmen, he had some pretty insightful things to say about the Radical Right.

A set of them comes from a speech he gave in 1981, summarized in the New York Times, September 16, 1981. In this first clip, he despairs over the Radical Right’s unwillingness to compromise. Tell me if you think this sounds familiar:

There is no position on which people are so immovable as their religious beliefs. There is no more powerful ally one can claim in a debate than Jesus Christ, or God, or Allah, or whatever one calls this supreme being. But like any powerful weapon, the use of God’s name on one’s behalf should be used sparingly. The religious factions that are growing throughout our land are not using their religious clout with wisdom.

In the same speech, he goes on to decry how they control the political dialog:

I’m frankly sick and tired of the political preachers across this country telling me as a citizen that if I want to be a moral person, I must believe in “A,” “B,” “C” and “D.” Just who do they think they are? And from where do they presume to claim the right to dictate their moral beliefs to me?

This is 1981, mind you; the very apex of the movement that Jerry Falwell dubbed the “Moral Majority” and that Pat Robertson tried to appropriate for his own presidential bid in 1988. Although Falwell and Robertson did not have compatible views on Christianity, they were in lock step where governance was concerned. They envisioned a CHRISTIAN United States of America. That’s probably why Goldwater rankled at the pressure he and other “old school” Republicans had to endure for political and financial support.

I’m sure that as he saw the closing years approach, Goldwater became somewhat bitter about how he was thrown aside by the Radical Right. That bitterness comes out in this well-trod, oft-cited Goldwater gem from John Dean’s book Conservatives Without Conscience (2006):

Mark my word, if and when these preachers get control of the [Republican] party, and they’re sure trying to do so, it’s going to be a terrible damn problem. Frankly, these people frighten me. Politics and governing demand compromise. But these Christians believe they are acting in the name of God, so they can’t and won’t compromise. I know, I’ve tried to deal with them.

Yet, there’s a better, more prophetic view from an interview published in the Washington Post, July 29, 1994.

When you say “radical right” today, I think of these moneymaking ventures by fellows like Pat Robertson and others who are trying to take the Republican Party away from the Republican Party, and make a religious organization out of it. If that ever happens, kiss politics goodbye.

Given all of the evidence – the vitriol that has surrounded Obama since Day One of his administration, the hateful things that the Radical Right has committed against Hillary Clinton and other Democrats (and even several Republicans) that the soul of the Republican Party is no longer has the best interest of America and for Americans?

Stop Blaming “GOD” and Start Believing in Humanity

Source: Wikipedia
One of many depictions of “God.” Depending upon your influences, God is piloting a spacecraft, operating a holy button machine, or playing a cosmic organ at church.

As advanced as we pretend to be, we still have some pretty amusing superstitions. Well, actually some of them are pretty damned tragic. Like the one that says “god” will come down from heaven one day and lay waste to all people who don’t believe in her. Poppycock.

As an avowed Atheist, I do not believe that an all-powerful deity will swoop down and do anything – except maybe to stop by Area 51 and find out why the “angels” never reported back (TIC). But seriously, rain down from heaven to lay waste on the puny unbelieving humans? And yet, from altar, dias and pulpit we hear it proclaimed; idiot Chicago area Republicans declare it; citizens fear it: “god’s” punishment is ongoing in all form of murder, mayhem, and mischief.

Judeo-Christians are not alone. There are many religions that “believe” this is precisely what “God” (or “Gods”) are supposed to do; that death and mayhem on a grand scale is the purview of the great deity – a pox on you if you don’t embrace it. I’ll bet some clever shaman in the high tundra about 10,000 years ago came up with that idea first – to reign in a restless tribe. Probably the same wanton loin clothed bastard that told other men that women cannot be trusted. But I digress.

Sadly, there are ample examples of people declaring death and mayhem in the name of God (or Allah, or whaaaatever). Take a picture of that – we’re talking about men (e.g., terrorists from Chechnya and Waziristan, and gun-toting knuckle draggers from the Ozarks) driven out of their minds by what they believe to be the spoken word of their god. Personally, I have a problem with the picture of an otherwise beneficent all-powerful being really giving a rats-behind about little old me. Suffice to say, god’s wrath is a tragedy to those who are the victims and a pathetic waste to those of us who have learned control our impulses and now work toward a more sustainable solution.

Puzzling that Islam – like Christianity – truly tries to espouse peace (read both Koran and NT Bible to find appropriate passages). A vengeful god goes contrary to Christian belief that Jesus Christ was sacrificed on the cross to atone for sins for all time. So what is the problem? A root division within the faith? In Islam – you have influences of Medina and Mecca; differences in interpretation regarding the disposition of “Kafir” (non-believers). In Christianity, there’s the (in)famous division between Protestants (the Reformists) and Roman Catholics. I sat in a bible study once where Lutherans were clucking off about the “evil” of the Vatican; then (on the same day) sat through a Catholic seminar on the unsettling (and unholy) divisions created by reformists. But is that really the cause or merely a symptom?

GodI recently participated as the representative atheist in a “cross-denominational’ table talk at a local university (you know us heathens, we love universities). My assertion is that there is a root division – not within the house of “God” but within the house of humanity. Those who hold reverence to a deity commit the heresy of surrendering human rationality; of denying their human capacity to solve problems amicably without the veil of ‘belief’ to cloud choices. When we hide behind “god” we surrender “god given” freewill for mob action; we merely go with the flow regardless how we really feel. Later – when we are honest – we realize guilt, diminished individuality, foolishness; but we’re back at it again the next worship day – rattling the sabers of faith in homage to god.

The reaction from my fellow table talkers was somewhat subdued, but I took pleasure in one Catholic lady who stepped up to me and said, “You know, you are right. It is a heresy to proclaim punishment in the name of God.”

“Why do they keep doing it,” I asked.

“Because they don’t know any better.”

The absolute real solution to the problem: stop blaming god and start believing in humanity. Take personal responsibility for your actions and stop asking god for permission to do the right thing.

God’s Platform

The latest hype from the media – Democrats and God.

Back in Charlotte, NC, there was a “public outcry” over removing God and Jerusalem (as the capital of Israel) from the Democratic platform. Through the thicket of fear, party leaders scrambled to reassert the omitted language.

And who was it that lead the charge? None other than the Convention Chairman himself, Antonio Villaraigosa, also the mayor of Los Angeles – calling three times for a voice vote on the resolution. The end was an unconvincing gavel as the YAYs and NAYS competed for airspace.

But to what end?

The first thing that puzzles me is why did the Dem leadership leave this opening? Why give the GOP any reason to strengthen their claim that the Democrats (aka “Liberals”) are a gaggle of godless pagans? What a stupid move!

Source: Yahoo
Source: Yahoo

More to the point however, why must I give this idiotic discussion even a moment’s notice? Well… for one… I’m bored. But more to the point, because this event lends credence to my general theory that when Men want to really screw things up, all they have to do is bring up God.

If God had a platform, I’m pretty sure He’d merely reiterate His wish that all things that belong to Caesar shall remain Caesar’s and the rest shall belong to God.