Let’s Talk About Religion

I hate religion.

Okay, that’s not true.  And I should probably rephrase that before an angry mob of Christians armed with torches and pitchforks shows up at my door.  I don’t hate religion.  I hate organized religion.  And hate is probably too strong a word for how I feel about it.

But hey, it got your attention didn’t it?  Ruffled a few feathers?  Sparked some fires?  I’ll admit to being inflammatory, but that was kind of the point.  In a country that’s supposedly about freedom of speech and freedom of religion, saying something like that is generally considered taboo.  Which is funny, because some of the same people who would consider that off-limits to say are also the ones who flocked to the defense of a Minnesota restaurant owner after he posted a “Muslims get out” sign.

 

“But guys, it’s not directed at ALL Muslims. Just the extremist ones.”
“Yeah sure…whatever man.”

 

A little over two years ago, I wrote a post about growing up as a non-religious person.  In it, I talked a little about how frustrating it was to always run into that “you have to believe in God” sentiment from kids my age.  I also mentioned how atheists are almost always seen as antagonistic and angry people, which in a self-fulfilling way made me a little antagonistic and angry toward religion during my high school years.  And the stigma against atheists is no joke.  Eight states in our country have laws on the books which state that non-believers can’t hold public office, although the laws are thankfully unenforceable now due to a 1960’s Supreme Court decision.

But regardless, the stigma persists.  I remember seeing a video a long time ago about a billboard espousing atheist views that said something similar to “take the myth out of Christmas” with a picture of Jesus on it.  I couldn’t find that video again, but I remember it had the format of someone walking up and asking people what they thought of it.  One woman stuck out to me in particular, because she said something to the effect of “they shouldn’t be allowed to post stuff like that”.  And I remember wondering why.  Why shouldn’t they be allowed to post things like that?  Isn’t that what freedom of speech is about?

That restaurant owner who posted the “Muslims get out” sign?  Totally tactless.  Totally idiotic.  And even if his excuse of “well I couldn’t fit the word ‘extremists’ on the sign” is true…he apparently never considered not posting the sign.  Because somehow it never popped into his head that maybe…just maybe…people might construe it to mean all Muslims.  In the end though, it was totally his right to post it.  That I do not deny.

But I digress.  I make the drive from Duluth to my parent’s home around once every month or two.  And every time I see the same anti-abortion billboards, over half a dozen in all.  And almost every single one has some kind of Christian theme to it.

“God knew my soul before I was even born,” one proudly reads with a picture of a smiling baby.  Yeah…he knew you were going to be a peeing, pooping, screaming nightmare for the first few years of your life.  Anyways, I see these kind of signs all the time.

But when the group known as American Atheists puts up a billboard?  Suddenly it’s a war on Christmas.

Now, I will admit, their tactic isn’t exactly the nicest thing in the world.  That is kind of their point, to ruffle a few feathers.  But it does speak to a certain stigma against atheist viewpoints.  A shocking amount of people in the world think that a belief in God is necessary to be moral.  It’s ridiculous, really.  A decent number of those very same, “moral” Christians also want to keep Muslims out of this country.  A decent number of those very same Christians won’t lift a finger to help refugees.  A decent number of those people also have an almost fetishistic love of firearms.

And that’s the thing that bothers me about organized religion.  It’s full of people constantly complaining about their religious freedom, yet those same people never stop to think about the religious freedoms of others.  For all their haughty outrage about Christianity being called a “myth”, they never stop to think about the face that to them, every other religious system that exists, has existed, or will exist is basically a myth to them.

The Greeks?  The Egyptians?  The Romans?  All myths.  Even Hinduism could be called a myth from the Christian perspective.

But somehow, that doesn’t track with a lot of people.  Because for them, of course other belief systems are a myth because theirs is the only right one.  Their god is the only real god.  And very few of them ever stop to think that “hey…maybe that other guy from that other religion thinks the same way.”  Because, to them, it doesn’t matter.  They’ve been told from the very beginning that they’re right and everyone else is wrong.

See, I’ve always felt that religion is a personal thing.  It’s why I don’t shout “I’m an atheist” in someone’s face immediately upon meeting them.  Because it shouldn’t matter.  But a lot of people out there seem to think that they have the right to run roughshod over other people’s beliefs while not allowing their own to be questioned.  Whenever I have a debate with a religious person over the origin of the universe, the conversation usually goes like this:

“The Big Bang theory is so stupid!  Something can’t come from nothing!”

“Well then where did God come from?”

“God always was.  He was always there.”

“What?  But you just said that something can’t come from noth-”

“I don’t want to talk about this anymore.”

It’s frustrating, because it just doesn’t make sense to me.  They believe in an omnipotent god who was always there and can do anything he wants at any time.  And yet, something coming from nothing is just “impossible”.

I’ll stop here, because I could go on forever about this.  For all the pandering and complaining about Christians being “victimized”, most of them truly don’t understand the meaning of the word.  I don’t either.  I’ve never lived under a totalitarian religious state, so I can’t even conceive of what that must be like.  But if you’re a Christian, next time you start complaining out loud or to yourself about how underrepresented or oppressed you are, take a step back for a second and reevaluate the situation.  You’re in the majority.  Not just in the United States, but in the world at large.

Remember that next time you want to whine about being “so oppressed”.  There are plenty of people who can hardly get a word in edgewise.

 

Thanks for reading!  Check back next Wednesday for a new post, and as always, have a wonderful week.

You can like the Rumination on the Lake Facebook page here or follow me on Twitter here.

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Ritual Justification: The Lingering Aftermath of 9/11

I’m going to take a stance today.  It’s not a popular stance, I recognize that, but it’s my stance regardless.  So here we go.

I’m sick of 9/11.  I’m sick of the ritual.  I’m sick of the mourning.  I’m sick of people invoking it as a justification for everything that has followed.

Well…now that I’ve lost half of my followers…let’s continue shall we?

Fifteen years have passed since that horrific September morning in 2001.  I barely even remember it to be honest.  It all felt so surreal.  Just the day before, I had gone to my grandfather’s funeral.  And because of that, I wasn’t going to school that day regardless of what occurred.  I can vaguely recall the images on the television: towers of steel and metal wrapped in bright orange flames and grim dark smoke.  I can recall my mother sitting on the couch, enraptured by the television like the other millions of Americans.  It was certainly a day we would never forget.

Nor should we.  I by no means want to downplay the tragedy of the event.  People died that day, people who didn’t need to die.  But the cultural shift that followed has wormed its way through our country for the past fifteen years almost like a poison.

The aftermath of 9/11 changed the way we saw the world.  TSA (Transportation Security Administration) agents began taking their place at airport security checkpoints just a couple of years or so later.  The distrust of the government that defined a lot of the 1990’s suddenly gave way to an overzealous patriotism.  After 9/11, you weren’t allowed to criticize the government too harshly or else you would be labeled as “un-American”.

Think I’m exaggerating?  X-Files, a defining show of the 1990’s, thrived in an era of rampant mistrust of government agencies and authority.  And when did the final episode of its original run air?  May 19, 2002, not even a year after the events of 9/11.  Now I can’t conclusively tie the show’s demise to the change in cultural attitude, but I feel like it could have been a factor regardless.

In any case, the aftermath of 9/11 lingers to this day.  Just recently, I read this article by John Hockenberry, a radio show host.  And I have to say I agree with what he says in it.  The 9/11 mourning ritual has had extremely detrimental effects on our society and how we view the world.  For the past fifteen years, we’ve been locked into this idea of us vs. terrorism.  We continue to see ourselves almost as policemen for the entire world.  And a lot of it is thanks to George W. Bush who, in the absence of an answer to our continual cries of “why”, stepped forward and gave us the “they hate freedom” line.

And anyone who dared dissent with that idea?  Ostracized and ridiculed.  Silenced.  Told to “leave the country” if they had problems with it.

We were angry.  And we took that anger and funneled it into the Afghanistan War.  Then we took it and funneled it into the Iraq War, even though it was never proven that they had any ties with 9/11.  It didn’t matter.  George W. Bush told us he had intelligence information that there were Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs) in Iraq and we went with it, even though later we were almost certain that he completely and utterly made that up.

Almost 3,000 people died in the 9/11 attacks.  And how many have died in Iraq?  Scientific surveys estimate between 151,000 and over one million Iraqis were killed, and that’s only in the first four years of the war.  Doesn’t that strike you as absurd?  Even the most conservative estimates show that fifty times as many people were killed in Iraq than were killed on 9/11.  And yet, every year we get sad.  We get mad.  We bow our heads and mourn.  Woe is us, again and again and again…

And yet, despite everything, we are far more a victim of domestic terrorism than we are of any foreign extremism.  But you wouldn’t know that if you watched the national news.  They’ve apparently been hell-bent on stoking this fear of the Muslim “others” for the past fifteen years.  Don’t believe me?  You don’t even have to look beyond the past year to see evidence of it.

First off, the Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood shooting back in November of 2015.  The news covered that for about a day or so.  Once it started coming to light that the shooter was a crazed Christian crusader who was heavily influenced by the videos accusing Planned Parenthood of selling baby parts (a claim that has since been disproved), they seemed to unanimously decide to drop the story right then and there.  There was no follow-up with that angle.  The story just…vanished.  There was a blurb about the man’s court hearing a month or so later, but that was really it.

Then, San Bernardino happened just a short time later, less than a week later in fact.  Now, it could be argued that the reason the Colorado Springs story didn’t get attention was because the San Bernardino attack was worse (only about one person died in the Planned Parenthood shooting as compared to about fourteen in San Bernardino), but that still doesn’t explain why they didn’t talk about it in the days leading up to San Bernardino.  And with San Bernardino, they went overboard.  They covered that story for over two weeks, even though they had no evidence the shooters were linked to ISIS for at least a week after it happened.  Every single day it was “well we’re still looking into possible connections with ISIS, but we don’t know for sure yet”.  But we still covered it.

And then there was the worst mass shooting in the U.S. by a single shooter, the attack on the nightclub in Orlando, Florida.  Initially, since the shooter himself called in and claimed allegiance to ISIS, the news covered the story religiously.  And I even wrote a post back then talking about it.  But the thing I never could have predicted was how fast the news would stop talking about it.  The coverage lasted for a few days, but then the story was just unceremoniously dropped.  You would think that because of how deadly the shooting was that they would talk about it more than San Bernardino right?  You’d be wrong.  But why is that?  Why did they stop talking about it?

I think I know why.  They couldn’t prove the shooter had any ties to ISIS.  Even the CIA’s investigation couldn’t turn up any evidence.

If it bleeds, it leads.  Indeed.

I think John Hockenberry put it best when he says in his article that “it’s easy and convenient to fear them more than kids with guns who wander into churches to kill.”  Now that might be seen as an oversimplification, but I don’t think it is.  Think about it.  Muslims make up only about one percent of the population in this country, so your chances of actually running into a Muslim-American in your daily life are pretty slim.  It’s easier to fling your ire at them when you don’t have someone who will confront you on it.  And if anyone in the minority dares stand up and say “you’re not being fair…you’re judging us based on the actions of a minority group of extremists”, their voice is quickly drowned out by the mob, quickly silenced by the anger of the general populace.

And then those same people ask why more Muslims in America don’t stand up and denounce terrorism.  The hypocrisy is stunning.

Like I said, I mean no disrespect to the people who died or to the people who lost someone during 9/11.  But it’s become tiring and frustrating how we keep propping it up like we’re the only ones who truly understand suffering (I think this headline from The Onion speaks volumes).  President Obama during a speech this year said that fifteen years is a long time, but that it can seem like yesterday for those who lost someone in the attacks.  And I couldn’t help but think to myself “well of course it can seem like yesterday to them if you remind them about it every single year.”  I wouldn’t assume to speak for them, but I doubt that all of them enjoy the dredging up of those bad memories from that terrible day.  But we keep doing it, year after year after year…

There was a time when the world was with us, when they understood and shared our pain.  That time has passed, and I think it’s time we move on as well.

 

Thanks for reading.  I would like to take this moment to say that I’m sorry if you think I’m being disrespectful or rude to the memories of those who died.  I have no intention of doing that, but I imagine it could come across that way for some people.  This is just how I feel about these things.  If you don’t like that, then I guess we’ll just have to agree to disagree.

Check back next Wednesday for another post, and as always, have a wonderful week.

You can like the Rumination on the Lake Facebook page here.

Stoking the Flames: Common Reactions to a Muslim Terrorist Attack

Some years ago I took a college class on world religions.  My teacher, when we came to the section on Islam, said that she enjoyed teaching this religion because she wanted to help dispel the idea that Islam was a violent and evil belief system.  And I agreed with that idea, because far too often we find ourselves in a spiral of denouncing something most of us don’t truly understand.

In the wake of the terrorist attack in Brussels last week, we are still in mourning and counting the dead.  And, as with every terrorist attack revealed to be the fault of Muslim extremists, there are a certain set of reactions that make themselves known.  I want to take a look at a few of them today and why I think they are misguided.

 

“Why aren’t Muslims out in the streets denouncing the attack?”

This is probably the most common one I hear.  In the aftermath of every terror attack, this is a question that pops up.  And despite the fact that plenty of Muslims do denounce the violent extremists, for some people it’s all or none.  If you’re not publicly speaking out against it, then you must be secretly supporting it.

So why is this faulty logic?  For much the same reason it would be to force all Christians to denounce the actions of someone who bombed Planned Parenthood.  For much the same reason it would be to force the state of Kansas to constantly denounce the hate spewed by the Westboro Baptist Church.  The actions of the few do not represent the perspectives of the many.  Just because a few people somewhere are hateful or violent does not mean that all people who belong to a large, generalized group are the same.

Put simply, you cannot judge a book based on the cover someone else puts over it.

 

“Muslims are dangerous and I don’t want them in my country”

The Syrian refugee situation is probably the largest humanitarian crisis of our time.  And yet, despite the fact that these are people in need, people who just want to get away from all the violence, they are often refused admission to other countries or are even placed into camps to keep them separated from the general public.

The reason for this is as simple as any: fear.

For countries over in Europe, the fear is two-fold.  The first part of it is the common fear that terrorists will be hiding among the refugees.  The second (and arguably more reasonable part) is that harboring the refugees will somehow make those countries a target for more terrorist attacks.  Here in the United States, almost all the fear comes from that first part, the idea that terrorists will be hiding among the refugees and will carry out attacks on our so-called great nation.

Here’s the thing: a terrorist would have to be an idiot to try and get in through the same way as refugees.  They have to go through an extensive screening process that can take eighteen to twenty-four months to complete, and that’s only after they get selected.  I talked about this back in the beginning of December, and I linked to a John Oliver video that I felt explained the refugee application process well.  I refer you to that video once again simply for the sake of brevity and not repeating myself.

But all that is even besides the point.  Not all Muslims are terrorists.  And that’s not some political correctness agenda I’m putting forth.  It’s the simple truth.  There are approximately 1.6 billion Muslims all over the world.  If they were all terrorists, we would be dead, plain and simple.  A conservative talk show host once made the audacious claim that ten percent of the world’s Muslims were terrorists.  This is an insane accusation because, as Cracked.com pointed out in 2010, that would equal about 150 million terrorists.  And if they each pulled off an attack killing just forty people, they could wipe out all the non-Muslims on Earth.

Besides, statistics show that since 9/11 here in the United States, more people have been killed by white supremacists and anti-government radicals than Muslim extremists.  Food for thought.

 

“Islam is a barbaric and violent religion”

I do wonder how certain types of people would react if they found my blog post.  I’m willing to bet some would just shake their heads in anger and click off the page without even giving it a chance.  So if you’ve made it this far, congratulations!  And thank you for giving me a chance.

But I digress.  Often, when the crusades come up in a discussion about religion, people among the Christian faith have one of two reactions.  They either brush it off, asserting that the crusades are part of the past and can’t be used as a fair judgement of modern Christianity (which is a fair point).  Or, they fire back, saying that the crusades were simply a defense maneuver against the onslaught of Islam in the Middle East.

There seems to be this perception in the western world that Islam must be a violent religion that spread by the sword.  This probably stems from how fast Islam was suddenly a worldwide system of belief.  Christianity took hundreds of years to go from being a persecuted cult to the state religion of the Romans.  By contrast, Islam went from being one person’s epiphany to a dominant religious force in the Middle East and northern Africa in roughly a century alone.  So the assumption was that for Islam to have spread so far and so fast, it must have been through violent conquest (and this was a conception that existed before 9/11, which honestly only exacerbated it).

But, as with a lot of things, the true history doesn’t really back up that idea.

If you compare Muslims and Christians during the time of the crusades, you’ll find out that Christians were far more brutal.  They beheaded people…a lot.  And by contrast?  Muslims gave their defeated foes food.  They fed their enemies.

Oh, it was a thing.

The prophet Muhammad actually put forth a lot of progressive rules for conducting warfare.  Among them was the idea that armies will not kill women, children, or innocents.  Muhammad also barred them from burning trees or orchards or destroying wells.  His successor even made these ideas the standard for Muslim armies.  It was so much so that according to the Cracked.com article I linked you to earlier, one expert said that the Muslims “exhibited a degree of toleration which puts many Christian nations to shame”.

 

To finish this off, I will say that I have not read either the Bible or the Quran in their entirety, so my knowledge of both religions is incomplete.  However, I will say this: all religions have misconceptions.  They are all perceived one way or another, unjustly or otherwise.  And when you consider that Muslims make up only around one percent of the population here in the United States, the overwhelming dislike of them starts looking ridiculous.  The hatred has been allowed to breed because the voice of the minority group is drowned out by a larger and louder crowd.  These people are never forced to confront their misconceptions because their chance of actually meeting or running into a Muslim in this country is so slim.  By contrast, harboring a belief that all Christians are violent is nearly impossible because you can barely step outside the door of your house without running into one.

Humanity does not exist as sides of a coin.  Humanity is a spectrum, filled with people who believe and feel in all different ways.

 

Well that’s all I have for you this time.  Check back next Wednesday for another post, and as always, have a wonderful week.

 

Journalistic Frustrations: The News Media’s Focus on Certain Stories

When I was at work this week, one of my co-workers brought up that there hadn’t been any stories about ISIS in a while.  And it got me thinking.  It’s true, we haven’t heard much about ISIS in the last couple of months or so.  Which is strange, because recent reports indicate that they are actually losing ground in the Middle East.  In fact, presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, in a recent rally here in Duluth Minnesota, pointed out that they had lost around forty percent of the territory they had captured.  So it made me wonder why no major news outlet seemed to be reporting that.

Many often criticize the media for being a little too “pro-american”.  Oftentimes, big issues at the heart of our country (such as wealth distribution) get left out.  Even the Flint Michigan water scandal, where aging water pipes led to acute lead contamination, barely seemed to make the news for more than a few days, despite the fact that it has been a problem since 2014.  But the truth is that the journalistic world is often strange and subject to a wide variety of factors.  Much like how many fast food chains are owned under the same umbrella corporation, news stations are often tied to some rich person or group, even if they are technically an affiliate of another major news outlet (such as ABC or NBC).  This leads to a lot of differing tastes in handling news, which means that sometimes you will see stories on certain networks that don’t even air on others.

And sometimes, stories just simply aren’t reported because there isn’t any new information on it.  I have worked at a TV station for over two years now and I studied journalism in college.  I am very familiar with the concept of “newsworthiness”, which essentially means how worth it a story is to report on the nightly or daily news broadcast.  If there’s nothing new to report or not enough information, often the story hits the cutting block and is left out.

Still though, sometimes the news does things that just baffle me.

I could spend a long time talking about how stories on the presidential campaign feel less like news updates and more “Stupid S*** Trump Said” segments, but I won’t.  Instead, I want to go back to an incident that happened in November of last year.  An armed man stormed into a Planned Parenthood building in Colorado Springs and shot up the place.  After a long and tense police standoff, he was arrested.  The news covered this story, even showing the trailer where the shooter lived.  His yard was dotted with makeshift wooden crosses, and in an interview a man (and I believe a member of the police force) mentioned that the first thing the man did when they met was hand him an anti-Obama pamphlet.  It was clear that the man was unhinged.  He even called himself “a warrior for the babies” while in court, further revealing his radical mindset.

The news only reported on this incident for a day.  Maybe two, but that’s it.  And they even dilly dallied over whether to call the man a terrorist or not.

Then, when the San Bernadino shooting happened, it was the top news story for over a week.

I must make a couple concessions before I continue.  Yes, it is true that only about one or two people actually died in the Planned Parenthood shooting, whereas a dozen or two were killed in San Bernadino.  And yes, it is true that the Muslim couple who perpetrated the San Bernadino shooting were in fact radicalized by ISIS.

But that’s just it.  We didn’t know that they were radicalized by ISIS until about a week after the incident.  And yet, we still reported on it every single day.

This is where my problem comes in.  As I said, the concept of “newsworthiness” hinges on the idea that you have new information to report on a story.  But with San Bernadino, every package for a week was basically the same: “this thing happened and these are the two that did it.  They may have been radicalized by Islamic terrorists, but investigators still haven’t found concrete evidence to show that.”  So then, why report it?  Why continually report on that when there was actually a good conversation to have in regards to the Planned Parenthood shooting?  Yes people died, but the stories were less about the victims and more about the perpetrators, much like what happens with every mass shooting in this country.

The man who attacked the Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood was very obviously radicalized by pro-life propaganda.  He was quoted as shouting things about “selling baby parts” as he fired his weapon in the building, which is of course in reference to the infamous videos that purported that Planned Parenthood was selling baby parts for profit.  The makers of those videos have since been indicted for tampering with government records, but the issue still stands that the man’s radicalization was at least in part due to those videos.  But we didn’t even talk about that.

In fact, the only thing I remember a politician really saying about it was Ted Cruz claiming that the pro-life movement had nothing to do with the man’s actions.  Instead, he said that it was reported that the man was a transgender, leftist activist.

Sorry Ted Cruz, that was just a ridiculous internet rumor.  Of course, you would know that if you bothered to do ANY FREAKING RESEARCH!

What I think it all comes down to is the fact that it’s just easier for people to have a conversation about radicalized Muslims because they’re such a small percentage of our population (roughly only one percent, although it is projected to grow).  It’s much easier to call them terrorists than it is to think about the idea of an average, middle-aged white guy who believes in the Christian god and has been so inundated with spiteful rhetoric that he’s turned into a ticking time bomb.  Now am I saying that pro-life rhetoric is hateful rhetoric?  No, not at all.  But there are subsets of the movement that lean towards incredibly radical speech, just like any other movement.  There are anti-abortion groups out there that continually compare abortion to the Holocaust, which is an extreme position to take and is indicative of their unwillingness to even hear out of the other side of the debate.

And that’s the thing.  The news media is supposed to point out stuff like this.  Journalists are supposed to direct us to the issues in our country that are worth talking about.  They are the Fourth Estate after all, the “watchdogs”.  But in recent years it feels like that’s the case less and less.  A lot of it probably has to do with the stations being owned by people with their own agendas and thoughts.  I might be being idealistic when it comes to journalism, but I think we need a little idealism these days.  Far too often we grow bitter and cynical, refusing to do anything to make our country better.  “Well nothing’s going to change, so why should I bother,” we say.  But in apathy we find a self-fulfilling prophecy.  Indeed, nothing’s going to change as long as we refuse to even try.

However, there is hope.  The conversations are out there, but they’re on the internet rather than the news.  They are the discussions between people on social media: Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and so on.  People regularly engage in debate on these subjects, which is a good sign.  After all, when the news fails to bring attention to the problems, sometimes the common people have to take up the mantle themselves.

 

Well that’s all I have for this post.  Tune in next Wednesday for another one, and as always, have a wonderful week!

Hypocritical Bias: More on the Syrian Refugees

Roughly two and a half weeks ago Paris came under attack by terrorists.  In the space of one night, they killed over a hundred people.  And in the light of those attacks, the debate has been raging over what to do with the Syrian refugees that are fleeing their country in an attempt to get away from ISIS.  Now I already talked about this two weeks ago but it’s a topic that deserves talking about again.  But this time I want to delve into a more specific portion of the issue, and that’s the response here in the United States.

Now, there’s something to be said about being afraid.  It’s natural.  It’s completely fair.  Every human being experiences fear at some point in their life.  It’s one of the most instinctual emotions we have.  But what’s not fair are some of the arguments being used against these refugees and the ignorance that’s been on display.

First off, let’s talk about the process the refugees have to go through to become admitted refugees of the United States.  It doesn’t seem like the people who are constantly talking about this process actually understand how insanely rigorous it is.  The process forces them to go through about five or six different governmental organizations that are constantly fact-checking and gathering information to determine if said person is a threat to the country.  And that’s only if they’re recommended by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (or UNHCR), which by the way ends up recommending less than one percent of the worldwide refugees who apply.  All in all, the process usually takes eighteen to twenty-four months.  That’s right, it can take up to two years after the process is started before a refugee gets resettled.

But you know what, don’t just take my word for it.  I’ll let John Oliver lay it all out for you.

And now, despite this incredibly in-depth process that already exists, Congress voted for even more strict regulations requiring the FBI director to sign off on each and every refugee.  Some prominent politicians have claimed that there’s no way to screen people or that there’s very little that goes into the vetting process.  This is plainly not true, which you can find out if you do any amount of research into the matter.  Frankly, it’s rather disturbing that the people in charge of this country’s future can be so ignorant.

But that’s not the only thing I want to talk about today.  There are a couple other arguments floating around that I want to mention.

The first of these arguments is something that goes like this: “why should we take care of a bunch of refugees when there’s so many homeless people/veterans living in poverty in our country?”  To begin with, the assertion that we as a country can only spend money on one issue at a time is absolutely ludicrous, especially when we spend something like seven hundred billion dollars on the Pentagon alone.  Seven hundred billion.  You’re going to tell me that we don’t have room in our budget to take care of refugees and the homeless?

But that’s not the worst part.  The worst part is that these very same people refused to do anything about the issue when it was tackled by the government before.  And you know why?

Because they didn’t want to raise taxes.

Because they believed that homeless people deserved to be homeless, that if they just “got a job” and worked harder they would live better lives.

And now they trot them out as some pathetic excuse to hide their xenophobia, because they don’t want to acknowledge their bias against Muslims.  “Hey look at me,” they seem to say.  “I’m being socially conscious by acknowledging other issues!”  No you’re not.  You’re just masking your own ignorant hypocrisy.  I don’t normally take such a hard stance on these subjects, but when people use the human beings they refused to help earlier as an excuse to not help another group of human beings, it starts to bring my blood to a furious boil.  There’s no shame in being afraid, but there’s plenty of shame in demonizing your fellow people.

But I don’t think it’s quite as absurd as comparing them to poisoned food.

Oh yeah, you heard me right.  People are comparing the refugees to bags or sacks of poisoned food.  “If I give you a sack of grapes,” they say, “and tell you that some of them are poisoned, what would you do with the sack?”  The implication is of course that you would throw the sack away and not even risk it.  This analogy can come in different forms (in the John Oliver video, he shows a clip of Mike Huckabee using the comparison, but with a bag of peanuts), but the end argument is the same: we shouldn’t risk taking in refugees because there might be a few terrorists among them.

First off, people are not grapes.  They are not peanuts.  I shouldn’t even have to say that, but there it is.  You don’t eat people (unless you’re a cannibal of course, in which case eww…just eww man…).

Secondly, of course you would throw out the damn bag of grapes if some are bad.  They’re grapes.  They’re expendable.  But we’re not talking about grapes.  We’re talking about people.  People with lives, families, dreams and aspirations.  They want to live.  Grapes don’t have dreams.  Grapes don’t even think.  They’re grapes for crying out loud.

My point is that we’re letting fear get the best of us (a point I made two weeks ago as well).  We need to listen to our hearts on this one.  There are people out there who need our help.  They’re living in a nightmarish place right now, a place they’re trying desperately to escape.  And do we really think that a terrorist is going to spend two years trying to get into the U.S. through the refugee process when getting a Visa is far easier?

So many of us live our lives in luxury, not having the remotest idea of what true strife is like.  Sure, our car breaks down or our budget might be a little tight one month, but we don’t all live in constant fear for our lives.  We aren’t forced to uproot our entire home and carry it on our backs, just for a slim chance at getting a better life.

In the end, it’s not how much power we have that matters, but how we use it.  Why don’t we use a little bit of it to help our fellow humans find a better way to live?

 

Well that’s all I have for you this time.  Check back next Wednesday for another post, and as always, have a wonderful week.

Picking up the Pieces: The Aftermath of the Paris Attacks

Friday November 13th, 2015.

What should have been an evening to enjoy the majesty of the city of lights swiftly descended into a surreal nightmare for hundreds of people.  Radical terrorists carried out several successive attacks on various places in Paris, killing over a hundred people.  And in the aftermath, we struggle to cope with the reality that such an event happened.

Many people have updated their Facebook profile picture to feature an overlay of blue, white, and red, the colors of the French flag, in an effort to show solidarity with the victims of the Paris attacks.  Some have criticized these people, accusing them of engaging in what is known as “slacktivism”, or appearing socially conscious without having to make an actual effort. Others have called attention to other attacks that happened just days before Paris, expressing their frustration that the attacks on the French city have dominated the headlines.  And still others have expressed anger at people who critique anyone who expresses sorrow over Paris, arguing that people can care about multiple tragedies at once.

But this is not what I want to talk about today.  The reaction I most want to talk about has to do with the response and attitude toward Muslims and refugees, specifically those from Syria.

As you may have heard, many state governors (mainly Republican ones by the way) have stated their intended refusal to allow Syrian refugees to settle in their respective states.  Now, legally there is very little they can actually do to further this agenda, but it is indicative of a trend that I find rather alarming.  Instead of showing solidarity with these people, who are fleeing their country because of the terrorists who are making their lives a living hell, many of us seem to want to lump them all into one group.

I saw a comment on Facebook a few days ago that quite literally said (and I regret having to even write this word out) “sandnigger hunting” with a question mark.

There are a lot of conservative, pro-military minded folk who have their hearts set on revenge.  They want retribution for all those who suffered and died at the hands of the terrorists who attacked Paris.  It’s fine to be angry.  It’s a natural reaction to the events that took place on that fateful Friday.  The problem comes with the fact that many of these same people have a tendency to lump all Muslims together.  They’re the same types of people who want to kick anyone with ties to Islam out of the country.  “We can’t let the terrorists win,” they often say.

But see, here’s the thing.  By turning against anyone who looks and thinks differently from us, we are giving the terrorists the victory they seek.

Google defines terrorism as “the use of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims”.  It’s vague, but that’s because there is no real concrete definition for the word.  Many governmental agencies across the world have shied away from defining it for one reason or another, and thus this is what we’re stuck with.  But the one thing I can say for sure is that one of the chief aims of terrorism is to spread fear, to destroy confidence and security.

And every time we mutter under our breath and cast a leery eye toward anyone on the street who even looks like they might be Muslim, we only confirm that they are succeeding in that aim.  And by pushing them away from us, we may only be pushing them into the arms of those we abhor.

Let’s break down some numbers real quick.  According to the Pew Research Center the percentage of Muslims in the United States as of 2014 is only roughly about 0.9 percent, which is slightly less than a hundredth of the population in this country.  Not only that, but the percentage of Muslims worldwide who are actually part of the ISIS terror group is roughly around the same number, about one percent or less.  In short, not all Muslims are terrorists.  In fact, very few Muslims are terrorists.  We’re letting the actions of an extreme few dictate our perspective on the whole.

And that’s what really bothers me.  Christians aren’t defined by the actions of the Westboro Baptist Church.  Cops aren’t defined by the actions of a trigger-happy, racist few.  And yet, whenever a radical Muslim commits a violent atrocity, people are all too willing to slap the label of “terrorist” on the entire group.  They stamp their feet and angrily demand that all Muslims be deported out of the country.

Why is this?  The reality is blunt, but simple: we don’t have to look them in the eyes while we do it.

Due to the small percentage of Muslims in the country, your chances of running into someone who is one is very slim.  Because of that, it becomes all too easy to distance yourself from them, to reduce them to something that isn’t quite human.  We don’t have to deal with it, so why should we care?  They’re all over there in that other country that we’ve never been to.  We’re all too comfortable sitting back and judging this entire group of people because we don’t have to deal with the repercussions of it.  Any backlash comes from such a minority group that we can largely just ignore it, using these cases of extremist violence to bolster our xenophobic views.

And it fucking pisses me off.  Yeah, I just dropped an f-bomb.  Deal with it.

These refugees are people, people with families, children, lives and dreams.  They live, think, and breathe just like we do.  They desire similar things.  And yet, we are content to think of them as less than human, because it makes our worldview seem more righteous.  Never mind the fact that the Ku Klux Klan considered itself a Christian group and swore to uphold Christian morality through whatever means necessary.  That doesn’t matter anymore, because it’s in the past right?  That kind of hatred doesn’t exist anymore right?

If you actually believe that while also calling for the deportation of Muslims, then you are an absolute damn fool and an utter hypocrite.

We talk so much about protecting ourselves, about our security…but what about their security?  Where is their right to peace of mind and safety?  Oh but that doesn’t matter right?  Why bother actually caring about a group of human beings when we can just close ourselves off and pretend their plight doesn’t exist.  We can just sit here and debate whether a bunch of coffee cups are offensive or not.  Because coffee cups are serious business.

And to think, just last week I made this big deal about how I think empathy is an innate process that all humans have.  And now I have to sit here lamenting how, in the aftermath of these vicious attacks, we seem to lack it, or at the very least refuse to acknowledge it.  These days, it’s all about us.  What about our problems?  What about our people?  Never mind the fact that despite the problems this country has, we are still far better off than most countries in the world.  How about a little humility?  How about a little sympathy for our fellow human beings for crying out loud?  We are all bound by the same DNA, the same genetic history.  We are all of the same species.  We all live on the same planet.  How about remembering that for a change?

Keep your fellow human beings in your hearts, thoughts, prayers, and so on.  Remember that they are simply that: human beings.  To forget that simple fact is to allow fear and doubt to consume our lives.

And I can’t believe I’m actually about to quote Star Wars in a time like this, but here we go: “fear leads to anger.  Anger leads to hate.  Hate leads to suffering”.

It’s far more true than I think we like to admit…

 

Well that’s all I have for this week.  If you or a loved one were directly affected by the events that happened in Paris this Friday, just remember that you are not alone.  In a tragedy like this, the best thing we can do is come together and overcome it.  We have to forget about the differences in country, culture, religion, and so on because in the end they don’t matter.  We are all human, and therefore flawed.  Accepting our flaws is the way to bettering ourselves.  Denying them will only lead to more violence and hatred.  And I feel like the world has enough of that already.

Tune in next Wednesday for another post.  Have a great week and stay safe out there, wherever you are.