30 April 2013

Open Sherman's Reservation


A couple of weeks ago, Canadian author Steve Carter of Vancouver, British Columbia, visited Chattanooga with his wife Daphne.  A large part of the reason for his visit was to lay eyes on the actual physical settings for a book he is writing as a sequel to the just published pre-Civil War era novel The Cauldron.  He’d first contacted me several months ago with questions regarding the local area, intent on getting details as accurate as possible.  For instance, asking the name of the street along the river from Ross’ Landing around Cameron Hill in the late 19th century (River Street or Water Street depending on the map).

The next novel in the series covers the war years and the following decades.  We drove the crest of Missionary Ridge, noting the signs and placements of units, stopped at the Bragg Reservation and looked out over the city.  We also went by the Orchard Knob Reservation, drove by the Read House (former site of the Crutchfield House), and visited Fountain Square.  With all of which Steve was greatly impressed.

There was one huge disappointment, however.  The site Steve most wanted to see was all but unavailable.  Unavailable to someone like him with a physical condition of any kind, like his pacemaker.  The site in question is the one at which the major part of the action of the Battle of Missionary Ridge took place, from sunrise until around two in the afternoon.  That site is Sherman’s Reservation, unilaterally blocked off by the City of Chattanooga several years ago after it received an unsubstantiated reports of illegal activity there.

Yes, the city provided a tiny parking area to one side of Lightfoot Mill Road where it comes west over the ridge from South Chickamauga Creek.  But the pathetic excuse for a parking area is on the opposite side of the street from the entrance to the path through the woods to Sherman’s Reservation on a curve and almost blind hill.  The path through the woods is well-kept and marked, or at least was the last time I was there, but it is also one-quarter mile long and uphill, too much for a man with a pace-maker who doesn’t want to include a visit to the emergency room, or morgue, on his visit to the city.  Or a man suffering from emphysema.

Before vehicular access to this highly significant portion of Chickamauga-Chattanooga National Military Park was impeded, there was a drive along the side of the ridge and several monuments giving the visitor a good idea of the hazards troops from both sides faced in the battle there. 

The fighting here at what both sides called Tunnel Hill (but what locals called Trueblood Hill) was between two brigades of Cleburne’s Division of the Confederate Army of Tennessee, augmented by two brigades of Walker’s Division and Kentucky’s Orphan Brigade defending the position against the troops of Sherman’s Union Army of the Tennessee attacking from their position atop Billy Goat Hill. 

After Cleburne’s men repulsed assault after assault from their strong position and with their general’s brilliant tactical placement, Gen. Grant sent Gen. Thomas’ Army of the Cumberland to assault the ridge across Chattanooga Valley, and it is that action which led to the Union sweep of the ridge, everywhere except for Cleburne’s position.  Ironically, at the same time Thomas’ troops were routing everything before them, Cleburne’s ad hoc command was making its final counterattack to halt Sherman’s attempts to take his position. 

In fact, the soldiers of his division and the units of Walker’s Division on-loan were sitting down to chow and to celebrate their victory when Cleburne received orders to cover the retreat of the Army of Tennessee.  It was around 7:45 pm that evening when the last of Cleburne’s men left the site of their victory and the army’s defeat.

In additional to its unparalleled military history significance, the view from the apex of the hill at Sherman Reservation among the cannons and plaques describing the action there is one of the two most beautiful in the Chattanooga area, second only to that from Sunset Rock on the West Brow of Lookout Mountain.

Surely the situation thought to exist ten years ago which made a previous administration feel it needed to take the actions it did have by now dissipated and disappeared.  Reopening Sherman Reservation to easy popular access will be especially appropriate for the sesquicentennial of the battles here, and it can also allow this important site to serve as a major attraction as part of the redevelopment of the neighborhood now known as Glass Farm District, formerly part of the town of East Chattanooga, originally the suburb of Sherman Heights.


(photo of me atop Trueblood Hill, by Hal Jeperson)

28 April 2013

A few fundamentalist fallacies


Many ages ago, well, several years anyway, when this ancient…what the hell, it was back in the 1980’s & ‘90’s…I was fairly knowledge about the collection of writings from a myriad of authors, redactors, editors, copyists, theologians, priests, ministers, rabbis, interpolators, and other liars, forgers, imposters, and fraudsters known as the Holy Bible, which is a large part of what made me an atheist. 

However, once I woke up to the undeniability of the indefensibility of the superstition and fiction of its myths and fairy tales, I promptly said to my self, “Ok, now that you know all this shit in your head is shit, you can flush your mind and forget all this shit.”  To which my self replied, “Well, shit, I’ll do that, I don’t give a shit anymore.”  Forsaking my former fancy which formed and fortified my faith in the false, I forthwith forged ahead into fugue.

A couple of decades later, give or take ten years, I found myself floundering and flailing in a sea of fortune, or should I say ill-fortune, that left me without a home.  Face-to-face with this foul footing, I took up residence in a rescue mission, where ever since I’ve been force-fed a feast of fantasy and fabrication.  Also, while enduring the unbearable assault on my intellect and insufferable insult to my intelligence through sermon after harangue after exhortation night after night after night, I’ve become reacquainted with holy writ.  It’s made me a better atheist, and thank God for that.

Had I not found myself in this villainous vexation, I never would have rediscovered and/or uncovered such gems as 1 Corinthians 15.  That’s Chapter 15 to my fellow infidel friends unfamiliar with the fashion of such figures.  I fell fully in love with this lovely locality for it strikes down so many of the fundies’ (for fundamentalists’) favorite pillars of presumption.

I thought about copying the whole passage here, but the damn thing is fifty-eight verses long, so forget that.  I’ll just randomly go through them as they come to mind, the treasured features of fantasy, that is.  And understand, I’m not speaking from an empirical, rational point-of-view but from that of a believer or at least of someone who takes this silliness seriously.

1 Cor. 15:24-26 – Then cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power.  For he must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet.  The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.

First, and most glaringly obvious from the text, is their conception of the afterlife as beginning immediately after death.  For Paul and the rest of the apostolic church, the dead lay dead in their graves until the great resurrection after Christ’s second coming, and even then only after he had accomplished everything else and defeated every other enemy.

Second, is their treasured belief in the Rapture.  It is struck down by the same verses involved above.  If there is no general resurrection until all other things are fulfilled, you can’t very well have a Rapture of believers before a Great Tribulation.

1 Cor. 15:29 – Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? why are they then baptized for the dead?

Third, is the idea that humans only have until their deaths to get saved.  If one can be baptized vicariously after death, then it isn’t too late to “get saved and born again” after dying.

Fourth, is the idea that one can be “saved and born again” without being baptized.  See the above verse for that.

1 Cor. 15:28 –  And when all things shall be subdued unto him, then shall the Son also himself be subject unto him that put all things under him, that God may be all in all.

Fifth, is the doctrine of the Trinity and of the Son as equal to the Father.

Recent re-reading of the Revelation of St. John the Divine has likewise been a revelation.  The fundies know zip about Roman law and zero about 1st century Judaism.  Their mistaken assumptions about what is clearly not a prophecy but an allegorical tale are too numerous to deal with here.  So I’ll settle for shooting down just two or three of them.

There is no Rapture in Revelation before the Great Tribulation.  Darby made all that up.

Rev. 19:17-18 – And I saw an angel standing in the sun; and he cried with a loud voice, saying to all the fowls that fly in the midst of heaven, Come and gather yourselves together unto the supper of the great God; That ye may eat the flesh of kings, and the flesh of captains, and the flesh of mighty men, and the flesh of horses, and of them that sit on them, and the flesh of all men, both free and bond, both small and great.

The Marriage Supper of the Lamb clearly refers not to long banquet tables for the “saved and born again” but to the feast for ravens, crows, and other carrion birds after the great battle at the end of the Great Tribulation.

Rev. 20:4-5 – And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them: and I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, and which had not worshipped the beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads, or in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years.   But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection.

The first resurrection mentioned after the marriage supper is for those martyred during the Great Tribulation who resisted the beast and the false prophet.  Presumably the other martyrs throughout history also got a pass and don’t have to lie around dead until after the Millennium Reign when the second resurrection will take place.

Rev. 20:11-15 –  And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them.   And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works.  And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works.  And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.  And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.

The Great White Throne Judgment with which Puritan preachers perilously panic their forlorn flocks is for all people, not just those who are not “saved and born again”, and everyone will be judged according to their works, not whether or not they kissed the Son of God’s divine ass.

In all the Synoptic Gospels, placed in the story as one of Christ’s major encounters during the week following his triumphant entry on (the first) Palm Sunday, the Sadducees pose a question to Jesus about resurrection, in which they did not believe and apparently he did (Matt 22:23-33; Mark 12:18-27; Luke 20:27-38). 

Luke 20:34b-36 – The children of this world marry, and are given in marriage: But they which shall be accounted worthy to obtain that world, and the resurrection from the dead, neither marry, nor are given in marriage: Neither can they die any more: for they are equal unto the angels; and are the children of God, being the children of the resurrection.

So, the upshot of the whole thing was that Jesus told them none of the relationships on earth are going to exist in heaven and the afterlife.  That the afterlife is unlike anything they expect.

While it should be obvious that this strikes down the idea cherished by fundies that we will be with our families in heaven, that those who died before us are waiting and we will wait for those coming after, what the Synoptics have Jesus say in these passages clearly negates that. 

This saying also strikes down another fundie claim about the afterlife, that the angels will be below the resurrected humans.  Even Jesus says they will be no more than equal.

Also, referring back again to 1 Cor. 15, no one’s going to be in heaven until all humanity is raised from the dead after everything else is accomplished.

In short, core beliefs of Christians, particularly those of the fundamentalist variety, no matter how widely held, are not valid even by their own sacred texts.  Not without an Olympic amount of contortionist rationalization and mental gymnastics can their beliefs be justified by the Bible.

27 April 2013

The state of the Movement in Iran


The state of the Movement in Iran (by Movement I mean that for freedom, secular democracy, and human rights sometimes called the Green Movement after its once signal unifying feature) is, in a word, moribund.  At best, it’s comatose. 

Credit for that sad state of affairs belongs equally to the Islamic Republic regime and to the Green Movement’s putative “leaders”, Mr. Mir Hossein Moussavi Khamenei and Hojat al-Islam Mehdi Karroubi, along with their close ally and fellow Followers of the Line of the Imam* alumnus Hojat al-Islam Mohammad Khatami.  While my human rights sympathies tell me I should protest the house arrest without trial or even charge of opposition political figures, the no-nonsense pragmatic part of me doesn’t give a damn if Moussavi and Karroubi stay there until the next Big Crunch sixty trillion years from now.

*Here I am referring to the faction from the early Islamic Republic also known as Maktabis (Radicals), those most slavishly and sycophantly devoted to every utterance from the mouth of the first Rahab-e Enghelab (“Leader of the Revolution”), Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Mostafavi Moussavi Khomeini.  The university students allied with them in those early days called themselves the Student Followers of the Line of the Imam, and they were the ones who seized the U.S. embassy in November 1979.  Neither of these should be mistaken for the current Followers of the Line of the Imam and the Leader faction in the Majlis which is just as slavishly and sycophantly devoted to every utterance from the mouth of the present Rahab-e Enghelab, Ayatollah Ali Hosseini Khamenei.

I’ve mentioned elsewhere that when we were recruiting members for a new student activist group on campus at UTC which became the Myles Horton Club that we had both pro- and anti-Khomeini Iranian students aboard.  Not only at the initial meeting in September 1984, but a representative from each group on the board and usually at least one or two from each group at our various activities.  At the time, I was beginning my junior year as a pre-seminary political science major with minors in history, religion, and psychology. 

If not with brotherly love, the two Iranian factions were at least tolerant of each other, and if not speaking at least not actively attacking each other while in club activities.  The Myles Horton Club was then perhaps the sole venue in the world where that occurred or was even possible, but then we were all gathered together against a common enemy: the crooks, liars, and thieves of the Ronald Reagan administration.

None of us knew why cocaine was so cheap and plentiful in our area (Southeast Tennessee-Northwest Georgia-Northeast Alabama), just that it was all over the place and that the price had collapsed from $100 per gram to $15-$25 per gram so that it was no longer just for the rich and shameless in bigger cities.  It would be another two years before Eugene Hasenfus’ Southern Air Transport cargo plane was shot down over Nicaragua exposing Reagan’s secret cocaine-financed support for the Contras and another three before internal political feuding among Khomeini’s acolytes exposed the backdoor American and Iranian secret deals that formed the third leg of the tripod.

Fast forwarding thirty years minus one, among my friends on Facebook are Iranians who are Greens, pro-reformists, pro-Ahmadinejad, pro-principlist, pro-royalist, Basijis, Sepahis, atheist, Zoroastrian, devout Shia, Bahai, Sunni, pro-labor, Persian, Gilaki, Mazadarani, Ahwazi, Azeri, Kurd, Sufi, pro-Khomeini, pro-Shariati, pro-MEK, pro-Banisadr, National Front, and any combination thereof.  A lot of these pro’s are anti’s of several of the others, but if I tried to list all the combinations not only would I go insane but this essay would grow longer than the unabridged Encyclopedia Britannica in its original hardcopy form.

My personal sympathies and political views where Iran is concerned align me with the National Front and with former president Abolhassan Banisadr.  I am, naturally, anti-principlist but I am also anti-reformist, not because I oppose the so-called “reformist” movement’s supporters, some of whom, or their parents, are now some of my closest friends, but because I vehemently oppose the reformist leaders, every single one of them, the above-mentioned three of whom are at the pinnacle of reformist hierarchy.

I’ve been involved with the movement for freedom and secular democracy in Iran since it first started coalescing out of the ether of totalitarian theocracy in the spring of 2009, coming together primarily under the Moussavi campaign (but also under the Karroubi campaign) as an Iranian-style thumbs-up (the same as “giving the Finger” in America) to “the system”.  If there’s one thing I’ve learned from all my activities with the Movement, it’s that any such movement should not pick as its leading figures persons whose first name after the end of the (hopefully nonviolent) revolution will become “Defendant” while on trial for genocide and crimes against humanity before the International Criminal Court.

The so-called reform movement was not born out of recognition that the very existence of the Islamic Republic was itself an offense against the Iranian people, against Islam, and against all of humanity.  The so-called reform movement was born because those afore-mentioned Followers of the Line of the Imam who had controlled nearly every aspect of life in Iran during the Islamic Republic’s early days found themselves out of power.  The so-called reform movement is about putting back into power those who erected the very structures which the rank-and-file in the streets want to destroy.  The so-called reform movement, including those myriad well-financed organizations which call themselves “Green”, is about offering the Iranian people lipstick on a pig when they want freedom and democracy in a secular Iranian Republic.

For Chattanooga’s contribution to the world-wide mobilization of the 99% in support of the Occupy movement on 15 October 2011, I wore my treasured “Democracy for Iran” T-shirt given me by my good friend and fairy godmother, Atieh Bakhtiar.  An Iranian-American couple passing by to check out our rally praised the sentiments on my shirt but told me they couldn’t support the Green Movement because of its purported leaders.  I replied that I didn’t support Moussavi or Karroubi either, and, hopefully, neither did my friends in Iran.

Those now styling themselves as reformists were heavily involved in some of the worst atrocities of the early days of the Islamic Republic, to which Moussavi and Karroubi said they would like to return in their last public statements on 14 February 2011.  The hezbollahi, attacks on rallies by non-Islamic Republican Party groups, the komitehs, the early massacres, the Iranian Cultural Revolution, the suppression of labor unions, the Reign of Terror, the extension of the Iran-Iraq War beyond 1982, the Prison Massacres of July 1988-April 1989, the organization of Hezbollah in Lebanon (now actively supporting Bashir al-Assad in Syria)…in all these, the later so-called “reformists” were at the forefront and often in the director’s chair.

In his last months, Grand Ayatollah Montazeri completely repudiated both the Islamic Republic and the doctrine of velayet-e faqih, which he himself had drafted.  And he admitted he had been wrong, that it was a mistake.  Likewise, in an interview on 10 October 2010, former president Banisadr said, “This [the Islamic Republic] was an important experiment in Iranian history, and it proved that a blend of religion and state is doomed to fail. We see the results clearly today.”

“The Green Movement’s main goal has always been to revive the ideals and aspirations of Imam Khomeini and the Islamic Revolution,” said Moussavi in his 14 February 2011 statement.  Speak for yourself, dude.  “I remain faithful to the ideals of Imam Khomeini and the Islamic Revolution of 1357 (1979),” said Karroubi in his own statement that day.  At least he made clearly he spoke for himself.  Both statements are identical in essence to that of Khatami in the aftermath of Ashura 2009 on 12 January 2010, ‎“Our position has been and always will be clear: Islam, revolution and the Islamic Republic.”

To support persons who clearly to go back to the “good ol’ days” like those mentioned above, who are not only unrepentant of their actions then but firmly defensive and proud of them is like it would be to support one faction of the leadership of Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge against another and hope for a better outcome. 

Elsewhere in that October 2010 interview, Banisadr said, “Iran is not just one color. Iran is full of different ethnic minorities, even religions.  There are also different political tendencies; we can’t ignore them and say that they don’t exist.  We can’t say they are all one color and that color is green; this is problematic.  By the way, we have tried different colors before, green (sabz jameh), a different green, white, black, yellow and red.   None has worked.  Let’s say that in our history we haven’t had good experience with the different colors.  If freedom is our ultimate goal, we must make this movement reflect all of Iran, the rainbow that Iran is.   It embodies all colors except the color of being dependent on foreigners.  Everyone can participate in this colorful movement.”

One of the main obstacles to change in Iran is that one section of the Iranian people can’t and won’t trust the leaders of another section of the Iranian people.  That’s because the great game of politics in the Islamic Republic is between different factions within the regime using their supporters among the Iranian people as pawns, as leverage against the other factions.  If the Iranian people would simply abandon their leaders to their sandbox and be citizens rather than subjects, they would attain goals they all want.  It’s time for the Rainbow Movement. 

And as Bobby Sands said in the diary he kept the first seventeen days of his hunger strike at Long Kesh in 1981, “Everyone, republican or otherwise, has his or her particular part to play.  No part is too great or too small.  No one is too old or too young to do something.”

24 April 2013

Freethought vis à vis religion

On New York's Upper West Side lived an assimilated Jew who was a militant atheist. But he sent his son to Trinity School because, despite its denominational roots, it’s a great school and completely secular.

After a month, the boy comes home and says casually, “By the way Dad, do you know what ‘Trinity’ means?  It means the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.”

The father can barely control his rage. He seizes his son by the shoulders and declares, “Danny, I’m going to tell you something now and I want you never to forget it. There is only one God. AND we don’t believe in Him!”

*****

One of my more interesting experiences online was playing coed nude Wesson Oil Twister in Irish Gaelic on Paddynet one night.  It was the female language instructor’s idea, with me and four other female participants.  That has nothing to do with the subject in question here, but I probably got your attention.

I’ve been an atheist since roughly the dawn of the new millennium.  I’ve been a skeptic and freethinker much longer than that and had to frequently suspend my disbelief in order to continue believing.  My Religious Views on Facebook listed Stone Cold Atheist as my religious status, the “Stone Cold” added after I received numerous requests to sign petitions to put prayer in schools or keep “In God is Our Trust” as the U.S. national motto.

I’m currently in a situation where I lack choice about having fundamentalist Christian beliefs shoved down my throat on a daily basis.  As noted elsewhere, I’m homeless and the only shelter in Chattanooga is run by a coalition of churches of that stripe with a satellite church of Bob Jones University at its center.  To keep from losing IQ points, I began going to Mass every Sunday at the nearby Episcopal Church after being subjected to the enforced attendance at said BJU satellite.

Most Episcopalians are not even aware of it, but freethinkers have been an integral part of the Anglican Communion since the 17th century, when the rationalist Latitudinarians of the “Broad Church” kept the High Church Anglo-Catholics and Low Church Evangelicals from slaughtering each other en masse.  In the early days of freethought (dated to the 1600 CE burning alive of Giordano Bruno by the Holy Inquisition for proposing that there were countless other planets in a non-geocentric universe with nonhuman sentient life), there were very few actual atheists, most instead being what were later called deists, like Thomas Paine.

I started calling myself an atheist around 2000 because the concept of “God” is a hypothesis with zero evidence of its validity and a mountain of evidence to the contrary.  That and the fact the cosmology under which the Jewish-Christian-Muslim deity was conceived is primitive beyond the point of being infantile and that without that supporting cosmological framework the whole house of cards collapses like the World Trade Center after its supporting steel frame was melted.

Not long after returning to the Episcopal Church, I changed my Religious Views on Facebook from Stone Cold Atheist to Freethinker.  In a small part, I have to admit, this was out of a sense of diplomacy, but the major reason was that my denial of the existence of “God” has little to do with belief or disbelief.  To me, both those are irrelevant. 

Freethought is about logic, reason, and empiricism, basing its view of the truth on facts and science rather than on tradition, superstition, and belief (or disbelief).  I’m a freethinker before I’m an atheist.  Or as George Carlin said, “For a while I thought of myself as an atheist until I realized that was a belief too.”  For some atheists, their position really is no more based on objective facts than the beliefs of any religious believer.

Back to the streets.

For the first several months of my homelessness, my main route between the Community Kitchen and the Rescue Mission lay along the section of East 14th Street dubbed Crack Alley by my fellow homeless.  A couple of years have passed since that stretch of byway deserved that appellation, but the name has stuck.  Still, some activity of that kind does exist there.  One of the things I always did passing through the neighborhood was to greet everyone outside who even glanced as I passed by, whether resident, crack dealer, buyer, or the rare streetwalker.

One afternoon, after I’d waved at one dealer and asked how he was doing, he was so surprised that he replied, “God bless you”.  To which I replied, “And the same to you”, which was the polite thing to do, of course.

Of all the freethought quotes in my album for those sorts of pics on Facebook, my son’s favorite is this from Carl Sagan: 

In the way that skepticism is sometimes applied to issues of public concern, there is a tendency to belittle, to condescend, to ignore the fact that, deluded or not, supporters of superstition and pseudoscience are human beings with real feelings, who, like the skeptics, are trying to figure out how the world works and what our role in it might be.  Their motives are in many cases consonant with science.  If their culture has not given them all the tools they need to pursue this great quest, let us temper our criticism with kindness.  None of us comes fully equipped.

For we atheists and freethinkers to deny our relationship with, and many debts to, our religious predecessors and current siblings is as illogical and irrational as creationists denying the relationship of Homo sapiens sapiens to Australopethicus sediba.  Religious beliefs often go to the core of an individual’s identity in the same way as does their sexuality. 

Empathizing with and understanding the deeply-held religious convictions of our brothers, sisters, and cousins, our fellow Terrans, in no way diminishes unbelief. 

Anyone who can hear Jeff Buckley or Hannah Trigwell sing Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” or Josh Groban sing “Oh Holy Night!” or Leigh Nash sing “O Come O Come Emmanuel” and not be moved has no soul, and I mean that in the same way as saying anyone who listens to Nina Simone sing “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” or Tom Waits sing “Cold Cold Ground” without being moved has no soul.  Soul isn’t a religious or metaphysical thing, it’s a human thing, even if it is extinguished from the universe at death.

We skeptics, atheists, and freethinkers need to be more tolerant of our fellow humans who believe, as long as they are not trying to impose those beliefs on us or anyone else.  As Maria Maltseva said recently, “Generally speaking, I can't help but wish that we were simply kinder to one another. How hard can that be?"

23 April 2013

“Chickamauga” and “Chattanooga”, legacies of the Shawnee


According to premier ethnographer James Mooney of the Bureau of American Ethnology, the word “Chickamauga” (pronounced Tsi-ka-ma-gi in Cherokee) was the name of at least two places within the Cherokee Nation East: a headwater creek of the Chattahoochee River in Georgia, and a river and Cherokee town near Chattanooga, but the word is not Cherokee. 

While many historians, ethnologists, and archaeologists (but strangely no linguists) since the mid-20th century have speculated that the word Chickamauga, along with the word Chattanooga as well, is derived from western Muscogean, Mooney believed the word Chickamauga was derived from Shawnee, and I agree, on both linguistic and historical grounds. 

For instance, there is, or at least was, a small town in North Carolina near Cape Hatteras noted for a small battle early in the Civil War called Chicamacomico (meaning “dwelling place by the big water”), which is also the name of a river in Maryland.  Both these areas were originally inhabited by tribes speaking variations of the Algonquian family of languages, of which Shawnee is one example.

A sign of Shawnee connection to Southeast Tennessee that remains to the present day is the crossing of the Hiwassee River near Hiwassee Old Town in Polk County, Tennessee, known as Savannah Ford.  “Savannah” was a common corruption of “Shawnee”, as in the name on period maps of the Shawnee village on the Savannah River from which that river, as well as the city of Savannah, Georgia, gets its name.

When John McDonald, then British Assistant Superintendent for Southern Indian Affairs, chose what later became site of Brainerd Mission for his base in support of his militant Cherokee allies during the American Revolution because the Shawnee suggested that site.  Those Cherokee themselves relocated to the Chattanooga area in late 1776, with the town of Dragging Canoe on the opposite side of the Chickamauga River from McDonald’s post, also did so at the suggestion of the Shawnee.

The location had likely served as a forward post of the Shawnee-allied French based on Long-Island-on-the-Tennessee in support of their Muscogee allies at the reoccupied Coosawattee and pro-French Cherokee in Tellico and Chattooga during the French and Indian War (1754-1763).

The site of the mission, where Philemon Bird later built his mill, was where one of four or five major branches of the Great Indian Warpath crossed the Chickamauga River.  The northermost forded the Chickamauga at the place where Chattanooga-Cleveland Pike (now Bonny Oaks Drive) later crossed.  Another was at the later site of Old Boyce-Kings Point on what became Harrison Pike.  In between this and the one at McDonald’s post/Brainerd Mission/Bird’s Mill, another branch of the Warpath gave the name of Shallow Ford to its crossing.

The name Chickamauga came to the region with the Shawnee’s name for the river.  Dragging Canoe’s town (the town where he lived; the actual town headman was Big Foot) was named for the river, which also gave its name to the general region and to those Cherokee who followed the great warrior until they migrated westward and began to be known as the Lower Cherokee (not the same as the previous “Lower Cherokee”). 

The Chickamauga Cherokee, by the way, were no more a separate tribe than were the Overhill Cherokee of the Little Tennessee, Tellico, and Hiwassee Valleys from the Hill Cherokee of the Great Smoky Mountains, the Valley Cherokee of southwest North Carolina, and those afore-mentioned Lower Cherokee in western South Carolina and northeast Georgia.

The local congregation which met at the mission, the missionaries plus Cherokee believers, was called the Church of Christ at Chickamauga.

South Chickamauga Creek was known as Chickamauga River until sometime in the 20th century, perhaps when TVA built its dam.  The federal agency constructed the dam across the Tennessee River where Chickamauga Island used to sit in the middle of the stream.  North Chickamauga Creek, which flows through Soddy-Daisy and Hixson, was once known as Laurel Creek.

When the Cherokee Nation divided itself into eight legislative and judicial districts, one of the eight which extended south and east from the Tennessee River and Ooltewah Creek was named the Chickamauga District.  Its seat was at Crawfish Springs, Georgia, which became the town of Chickamauga when the park was opened and a rail station placed there in 1891.  Until then the only town of Chickamauga was that which grew up around the Western & Atlantic Railroad’s Chickamauga Station.

Chickamauga Station stood until the mid-20th century across what is now Airport Road from the air terminal.  The community’s elementary school was, until it was closed in 1987, still known as Chickamauga Elementary School even though the community and its post office had been renamed Shepherd in the very early 20th century.  When the station was closed and the post office relocated to Brainerd Hills Shopping Center, its name was changed to Chickamauga Station.  Chickamauga Station now operates on East Brainerd Road.

From 1838 to 1927, what’s now called Oakwood Baptist Church was known as Chickamauga Baptist Church.  It is the second-oldest Baptist congregation in Hamilton County.

Around Silverdale Springs, a religious campground grew up that was called Chickamauga Camp Ground.  A local congregation organized there became Chickamauga Cumberland Presbyterian Church from 1839 until 1876, when it changed its name to Pleasant Grove (and is now Silverdale Cumberland Presbyterian).

Former slaves living in the vicinity of Chickamauga Station organized Chickamauga Chapel Baptist Church in 1867.  It became Chickamauga Station Baptist in 1902 and Shepherd Baptist, the name by which it is now known, in 1908.

They received a school in 1871 called Chickamauga School which operated until its descendant, the afore-mentioned Chickamauga Elementary School, closed its doors in 1987.  At the time, it was the second-oldest public school in the county, second to Howard School.

Chickamauga Quarry and Construction operated from 1889 until it was bought by Vulcan Materials in 1956.

The name Chattanooga appeared in our area at the same time as Chickamauga, with the establishment of a small village along the Chattanooga Creek, one of the eleven militant Cherokee towns in the region from 1777 to 1782.  It was later reoccupied after the war until the Removal, as was the main Old Chickamauga Town.

In addition to our Tennessee city of Chattanooga, a community named Chattanooga Valley in Georgia lies just south of the Tennessee city.  

There is also community of Chattanooga in Mercer County, Ohio, possibly a legacy of the Cherokee who lived there and fought alongside the Shawnee, but more likely a legacy of the Lenape who lived much longer in that area or perhaps Shawnee who lived there much later.

True, there is also a town called Chattanooga in the former territory of the Comanche Nation in Oklahoma, brought to that state by a former resident of the Tennessee city, Nelson Sisson, and there was once a town called Chattanooga in Colorado, founded during the Silver Rush in 1883 with the hope of one day becoming as big as Cripple Creek only to burn to the gournd and never rebuilt, which lies in the later territory of the Cheyenne confederacy of three Algonquin-speaking tribes.

A logical conclusion from all the above is that both place-names in Hamilton County, Tennessee—Chickamauga and Chattanooga—derive from the Algonquin language of the Shawnee and are the legacy of that tribe to our local area.

As a final word, I should point out that none of the above necessarily suggests any long-term occupation in the immediate vicinity by the Shawnee.  They could have become familiar with the area as a fruitful hunting ground and camping area.

18 April 2013

John Darby's "End Times"

(aka The Sins of John Nelson Darby)

In 1827, Church of Ireland (Anglican) priest John Nelson Darby fell off his horse, hit his head, and had a sudden “epiphany” which he interpreted as a revelation from God.  By 1832, he and a circle of friends had become the Plymouth Brethren. 

Eight years later, 1840, Darby delivered a series of eleven lectures “on the hope of the church” in Geneva, Switzerland, that laid foundations for Futurism and Dispensationalism (of which Darby is considered the father), as well as for Restorationism, the idea that the return of the “children of Israel” to Palestine was a sign of the End Times.  His ideas were later popularized by turn-of-the-century theologian Cyrus Scofield, whose annotated reference Bible was designed to lead readers to the conclusions which he wanted them to make.

The problems with this collection of fallacious misbeliefs are that (1) the idea of the so-called “Rapture” is a fantasy, (2) the idea that the book of Revelation and the Mount Olivet discourse in Matthew, Mark, and Luke are about future events is mistaken, (3) the idea that there are prophecies in the Old Testament still to be fulfilled is a lie, (4) the idea that the return of the descendants of the 1st century Jews to Palestine is a sign of the end is a fallacy based on fallacies (2) and (3).

The Rapture

In essence, Darby completely made up the Rapture.  Steps that led up to it, however, were made by others before him.  The father and son theocratic despots of Puritan New England, Increase and Cotton Mather first broached the idea of a premillennial return of Jesus Christ, for example, and there were others.  But it was Darby who formulated the final fantasy.  He based his newly conceived doctrine on the passage in Paul’s 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 –

But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope.  For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him.  For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep.  For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.  Wherefore comfort one another with these words.

Providing as supporting material from Paul’s 1 Corinthians 15:22-26 & 51-52 –

For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.  But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ's at his coming.  Then cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power.  For he must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet.  The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.

Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.

All three of these passages clearly refer to what Paul believes is going to happen after “the Lord” returns, which in his day Christians expected imminently, adding the Aramaic exhortation “Marantha!” (“Our Lord come!”) at  the end of many of their prayers, especially of the blessings at the end of the Eucharist, or Lord’s Supper (see the Didache).

Note the references to “them that sleep” and to “the last enemy that shall be destroyed is death”, which strike down two of the favorite fantasies of Christian fundamentalists.  First is the idea that upon death, human souls go immediately to heaven or to hell.  Christians in the Early Church clearly did not believe this.  Their idea was that the dead would be raised after the Second Coming but only after every other enemy had been defeated and all else accomplished, which also strikes down the idea of a premillennial Rapture.

The last rules out the kind of “pretribulation” Rapture which lies at the heart of fundamentalist doctrine that appeared to Darby in his concussion-inspired epiphany and which depends upon the idea that the Revelation of John the Divine and the Olivet discourse are about future events.

The chief reason fundamentalists and other evangelicals are so wild about the popular notion that we are living in the End Times is because of this Rapture fantasy which means they won’t die, a notion to which they cling tightly because of their lack of faith in what they say they believe their god will do for them.  Nowhere in the entire book of Revelation is there anything to suggest that Christians have any more of a divine escape hatch from the “Great Tribulation” than Jews had from the actual, entirely man-made tribulation in the 1st century.

Revelation of John the Divine

Early Christians interpreted Revelation for what it was, an allegory meant to bring hope at a time of great suffering, the Domitian persecutions near the end of the 1st century.  The Eastern churches don’t even consider the book fully canonical.

With the advent of the Reformation, Protestants interpreted Revelations as targeting Rome and its bishop.  As their propaganda became more and more widespread, a Jesuit priest, Manuel Lacunza, wrote an apocalyptic work called The Coming of the Messiah in Glory and Majesty, which was translated into English by Scottish minister Edward Irving, later founder of the Catholic Apostolic Church, in 1827.  Irving later became an associate of Darby.

Partly because of their 1800-year divorce from Judaism, several features inside its pages remain opaque to fundamentalists to this day even with all sorts of knowledge at their fingertips. 

For instance, the meaning of the so-called “number of the beast” (666) on the heads and hands of those who follow him is beyond their understanding because they have no knowledge of the tefillin, once worn by male Jews on a daily basis.  Tefillin, remember, are boxes with passages of scripture (Deuteronomy 6:4-9; Deuteronomy 11:13-21 ; Exodus 13:1-10; Exodus 13:11-16) written on parchment inside them.  All of these passages refer to binding the words as a sign on the hand and being frontlets between the eyes.

Roman wills were sealed with seven seals.

Where do the seven years of tribulation come from?  From 66 CE through the fall of the garrison at Masada in 73 CE, Palestine was rife with conquest, war, famine, and plague during the Great Jewish Revolt, also known as the First Jewish-Roman War, beginning with the initial uprising and capture of the capital of Iudaea province Caesarea Maritimi thru the fall of Masada.

The Olivet discourse

The Olivet discourse in Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21 clearly refers to the events of the afore-mentioned war.  Regardless of how much John Darby, Cyrus Scofield, Tim LeHaye, and John Hagee would like it to be otherwise.

The oldest of these three contains the key passage which locates the events depicted, and is found in Luke 21:20-24 –

When you see Jerusalem being surrounded by armies, you will know that its desolation is near.  Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, let those in the city get out, and let those in the country not enter the city.  For this is the time of punishment in fulfillment of all that has been written.  How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! There will be great distress in the land and wrath against this people.  They will fall by the sword and will be taken as prisoners to all the nations. Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.

Indeed, Jerusalem was surrounded by armies in 70 CE, led by future emperor Titus Flavius Caesar Vespasianus with (Jewish Alexandrian) former procurator of Judaea and former prefect of Egypt Tiberius Julius Alexander as his second-in-command. 

Within the city itself, the belligerents were divided among themselves and split into factions, all opposed by the city population.  The first rebel group to appear was the Galilean Zealots led by John ben Levi of Giscala, who took the Temple Mount for their own.  The high priest, Ananus ben Ananus, rather objected to being summarily dethroned and attacked after summoning reinforcements from Idumeaa, descendants of Hyrcanus’ forced converts.  John ben Levi’s priests died in the act of sacrificing, and their blood mixing with that of the sacrifice is the source for the anachronistic mention of the incident at the beginning of Luke 13.  However, John ben Levi’s forces proved triumphant when Ananus died in the attack.

It wasn’t long before the other major rebels groups began to gather in.  Eleazar ben Simon brought in his Zealots from Judaea while Simon bar Giora led the Sicarii into the city as the chief priest Matthias took control of the 6000 Idumaeans.  What resulted was a four-way civil war, the two Zealot factions from Galilee and Judea not letting a little thing like a common ideology get in the way of their infighting. 

In the midst of all this, the Roman army showed up and surrounded the city for a long siege.  The Sicarii did the logical thing, to them anyway, and burned the city’s food stores in an attempt to force the population to fight.  The nascent Christian movement’s adherents had by this time long fled the vicinity, taking refuge in Petra, then capital of Nabataea and currently UNESCO World Heritage Site and Wonder of the World. 

In spite of the sudden unity among the previous antagonists, the city fell in August of 70 CE, and all that remained was mopping up.  The Essene center at Qumran had been destroyed in about 68 CE, and the Samaritan city of Sebaste (formerly Samaria) along with the temple at Shechem on Mount Gerizim in 69 CE, the Samaritans having joined the rebellion in its second year.

Surviving rebels who were not crucified were deported to North Africa, where they became the founders of the Maghrebim.

The Olivet discourse in Luke could likely be a gospel version of the “prophecies” in Daniel, written after the events and interpolated into Luke to give more credibility to the purported speaker (Jesus bar Joses, in this case).  However, it would not have been too difficult for an honest and insightful observer to discern a future Jewish rebellion and its likely outcome, just as I predicted in 1987 the fall of the Iron Curtain and the break-up of the Soviet Union.

In contrast to this portion of the passage in Luke, Matthew 24:15-22 (Mark 13:14-20 is virtually identical) has at this point –

When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place, (whoso readeth, let him understand:)  Then let them which be in Judaea flee into the mountains: Let him which is on the housetop not come down to take any thing out of his house: Neither let him which is in the field return back to take his clothes.  And woe unto them that are with child, and to them that give suck in those days!  But pray ye that your flight be not in the winter, neither on the sabbath day: For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be.  And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect's sake those days shall be shortened.

Clearly the author(s) are aiming at a broader, more universal audience, and therein lies the problem, because in so doing they make a serious historical error no Jew in 1st century Judea or from 1st century Galilee would have made.  For the “abomination of desolation” mentioned here took place almost two centuries prior to when this speech is supposed to have been made, when Antiochus IV of the Seleucid Empire was returning from Egypt and passed through the region.

Old Testament prophecy

The prophecies in what Jews call the Tanakh and Christians the Old Testament, none ever recognized by Sadducees or ancient times nor by the Samaritans even today (though they do have a version of Joshua, which they emphatically do not consider scripture), were written by Jews for Jews intended for those living at the time or in the immediate future.  The Jewish version of these books differs from that of Christians in its organization and the fact that Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings are considered to be of the Nevi’im (Prophets) and pseudepigraphal Daniel, beloved by so many in the fundamentalist and evangelical community, is placed among the Ketuvim, or Writings.

Besides being pseudepigraphal, Daniel was written in the 2nd century (probably by the same author who wrote 1 Maccabees), AFTER many of the vents about which it purports to prophesy, such as the “abomination of desolation”.  That spurious incident, in which Antiochus IV is alleged to have set up a statue of Zeus in the Jerusalem temple’s Holy of Holies, was invented to incite Jews to anger against the enemies of the Hasmonean future dynasts and tyrants by a Jewish priesthood unhappy about being taxed.

Restorationism

Of all John Darby’s sins, the one which has inflicted to greatest extent of suffering and conflict is his new idea that the unfulfilled prophecies of the return of all the Twelve Tribes of Israel to the Holy Land given to the descendants of the mythical Jacob (son of the also mythical Isaac, son of the even more mythical Abraham) would be fulfilled in the future and would be a sign of the imminent Second Coming of the Lord and Savior identified as Jesus Christ, fictionalized version of itinerate Galilean prophet Jesus bar Joses.

As I said before, this idea was built atop the fallacies that Old Testament prophecy unfulfilled means yet to be fulfilled rather than mistaken and that Revelation and the Olivet discourse are prophecy rather than allegory.  In the early 19th century, the idea of returning to Palestine was anathema to most Orthodox Jews. 

Darby’s innovation, Christian Restorationism, led to Jewish Zionism, which led to Jewish immigration to Ottoman Palestine, which led Theodor Herzl to found the World Zionist Organization, which led to civil war between native Arabs and immigrant Jews in Mandate Palestine, which led to the Nakba and the racist, sectarian, Euro-colonialist State of Israel, which led to much of the strife and turmoil in the world today, particularly in Southwest Asia, which led to Christian Zionism, particularly among American fundamentalist and evangelical Christian Dominionists trying to push their God into bringing about the Second Coming of their Lord and Savior like the Sicarii trying to push the people of Jerusalem into fighting by burning their food stores in 70 CE the same way the Dominionists are ignoring global warming because the end is coming soon.

I agree that the end is soon, but the end is going to be of their old and outdated superstitious, fractious, avaricious, overly ambitious plans for the world, my Terra, my home, and all my brothers, sisters, and cousins.

John Darby probably had good intentions when he had his epiphany, but if he did, those are certainly the kind of intentions with which the road to hell is paved.  Well, if there were a hell, and a God to send people there.

16 April 2013

Fictitious living in a fictional land


(originally posted to Myspace 13 April 2008; tweaked slightly 16 April 2013)

The propensity of the American to view both history and current events thru the lens of fiction and to take action based on that fiction should never be underestimated.

The United States of America is, after all, an artificial nation-state originally cobbled together from colonies established in the “New World” by several different expansionist European powers—England, Scotland, France, Spain, the Dutch Republic, Sweden, Russia, Mexico, and itself—specifically excluding from its benefits and responsibilities the people upon whom it and they imposed themselves, setting up a republic allegedly based upon the highest ideals of the Enlightenment, that all are created equal and endowed with certain inalienable rights, except for those who not male, are under 21, lack property, are slaves, etc.  

Manifest Destiny and Benevolent Assimilation were fictions of our own imperial expansion, Horatio Alger the prophet of the opiating idea that the common person had every bit as much equal opportunity to “pull himself up by the bootstraps” and attain the same level of wealth and material power which would make him (and now “her” also) part of the ruling elite.

Do you know why the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan was organized in 1915?  Because of that damn movie, “Birth of a Nation”.  And although the inaugural meeting was held at Stone Mountain, Georgia (now a mere suburb of Greater Atlanta), its convenor was from Indiana and the rest of the founding members were almost exclusively Northerners.

Like the fiction of which so many evangelicals and other right-wingers believe about America being founded as a “Christian Nation”, despite the fact that not once in either the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union or in the Constitution is the divine mentioned.  Nor is their any mention even in Jefferson’s Thomas Paine-inspired Declaration of Independence, save for the vague allusions to the deist version of the divine based on ideas from the Enlightenment. 

An Enlightenment which took a large portion of its inspiration from the poetry of Shiraz native Sa’adi, for which French philosopher and political theorist Montesquieu returned the favor in 1721 with his first “best seller”, Lettres persanes, or Persian Letters.  More than any other thinker of the Enlightenment, Montesquieu’s ideas influenced the Founding Fathers.

Speaking of Americans’ love of movie images, the two men seen, at least by conservative propagandists and their believers, as the archetypes of muscular American patriotism (John Wayne and Ronald Reagan) have several things in common, including that they were both actors.  They were also both draft-dodgers (during the Second World War) who later became strong advocates of sending other young men off to die in useless wars overseas, as well as disdainful of the average citizen, especially the poor average citizen, and resistant to attempts at reducing discrimination against blacks, Latinos, and the poor.

Hardly surprising we Americans allowed our fictitiously-elected resident to lead us into a fictitious war (thank you, Michael Moore) in Iraq based on fabricated “evidence” of non-existent WMD’s to impose a phony democracy on an already counterfeit political entity cobbled together not for the betterment of the people inhabiting its territory but for the convenience of the imperial power in charge, the United Kingdom at that time, but now us.  “Us” as in U.S.

15 April 2013

America, Iran, Russia, and '80's nostalgia


(originally posted to Myspace, 23 November 2007)

In addition to feeding my revived interest in the blues, I've been downloading some of the anti-war songs from the ‘80’s, during the latter stages of the Cold War, when Andropov and Gorbachev were Presidents of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (aka Soviet Union) and Ronald Reagan (or, as I call that son-of-a-bitch, Ronnie Raygun) was President of the United States.  I was pretty involved with the anti-nuke movement here locally, among some of my other causes at the time, and I can remember the atmosphere of fear caused by that California cocksucker, Raygun. 

Raygun, by the way, was a chickenhawk himself, just like George Bush II and John Wayne.  It really shows how gullible and willfully ignorant the American public is when its two foremost icons of muscular, swaggering, militaristic ‘patriotism’ are not only actors but became bellicose hawks after weaseling their way out of the draft, which they did not for reasons of conscience but to save their own arses, which would still be not only forgivable but acceptable except for the fact they both then turned about and advocated sending other young men off to die.

Because of little Ronnie Raygun's careless half-arsed shield-thumping, saber-rattling, amateur rhetoric, the world very nearly came to an end in the autumn of the year 1982, when the U.S. Navy's Sixth Fleet was in the Eastern Mediterranean, when tensions between the USSR and USA were such that American forces spent two weeks - that's TWO FULL WEEKS - at DefCon 2.  If you haven't seen the movie “War Games”, I should explain that DefCon 5 is situation normal, DefCon 1 means, push the big red button, let the missiles fly, destroy the planet...so you can see how close for how long the chickenhawks had the world at the brink.

The reason all that has returned to mind recently is the state of affairs between the governments of our two countries, and between the USA and Iran

Yesterday, I said to my mother “Thank God for Vladimir Putin.”  Funny thing for an agnostic atheist to say, but I did so because he at least is standing up to the second-rate bullying thuggery coming from the White House directed at Iran, and its collateral threats of nuclear warfare.  The only comfort I can take is that in this case the chickenhawk neocon threats will probably amount to nothing more than a chimera, since not only are our imperial forces stretched farther and more spread out than ever before, but because Putin is moving to block the very real threat to his own country's security. 

Vladimir Putin, mind you, is a second-rate former mid-level thug of nowhere near the finesse or ruthlessness of the two predecessors I just mentioned, but, frankly, he's just what the Russian Federation needs right now.  Ruthless and authoritarian he may be, but as far as being corrupt in terms of avarice, no; he's just what his country needs to un-mire itself from the quicksand of corruption and chaos into which it was allowed to sink by its alcoholic and administratively incompetent, though physically brave, immediate predecessor—Yeltsin—who, in fact, chose him to succeed. 

That the descent was not only aided and abetted but encouraged, sponsored, and in many cases initiated by commercial and financial interests in the U.S.A.  Perhaps if the American President in this most crucial immediate aftermath of the fall of the Soviet bloc, break-up of the USSR, and its transition from a totalitarian society to what was initially hoped to be a real democracy, had been someone other than George Bush I, the rapacity of whose corrupt practices in office may have surpassed his son's had he not been thrown out after one term, citizens of the former Soviet Union would be much better off.

The reasons which the current situation bring the ‘80’s and all that to mind aren’t just simple nostalgic.  It has more to do with my term paper for my class in English Composition, which I had my junior year at the university. 

Being an anti-nuke advocate, I began the paper by condemning nuclear weapons and proceeded through my logical, but humorous, argument.  Hell, it was one of the best things I've ever written, poetry or prose.  But by the time I got to the end of the paper, my own logic had led me, and anyone reading my essay, to the conclusion that the existence of thermonuclear weapons and the threat of MAD (mutually assured destruction) had kept the peace for forty years, but NOT because they served as a deterrent to Soviet expansion and bellicosity. 

No, what MAD served to check was American imperialist domination and expansion.  As the Caledonii leader Calgacus once said of the Romans, so could the world say now of those in power in Washington:  “A rich enemy excites their avarice, a poor one their ambition.  To robbery, slaughter, and plunder, they give the lying name of government; they create a wasteland and call it peace.”

This current state of affairs cannot stand.  I am no longer merely an American, a citizen of the United States of America.  I am a Terran, a citizen of Earth; the whole world is my home and all its people my brother, sisters, and cousins, and I say NO MORE!  If it appears the chickenhawk neocon regime in Washington may be close to getting the desire of its latest wet-dreams (attacking Iran militarily), We the People should rise together and resist side-by-side with nonviolent noncooperation until our own government becomes as afraid of us as those in Europe are of their own People, which is how democracy should be.

(Postcript: Were I to write this today, the last thing I would do is endorse Putin as leader of Russia.  I left that piece intact and in place to show I’m not afraid to admit mistakes of perception and to emphasize this one WAS a mistake.)

14 April 2013

My agnostic atheism (a short note)


(originally posted to Myspace 2 December 2007, tweaked slightly 12 April 2013)

I am an atheist, in the literal translation of the word “atheism”—“without theism”. 

At one time, I was an aspirant to the priesthood in the Episcopal Church in the United States of America; in fact, in my first go-round through collegiate level schooling I was officially pre-seminary.  Basically, what ECUSA wants is a bachelor's degree in social sciences or liberal arts before seminary, though exceptions are made. 

It was not until mid-second semester my junior year that I decided that was not what was for me, and I began my conversion to the Catholic Church, in which I practiced diligently until finally having to admit to myself my unbelief in the ludicrous.

I've studied pretty much every religion in the world--all branches of Christianity, most forms of Buddhism, all forms of Judaism, Jainism, Sikhism, a little Bahai, Hinduism, neo-Paganism, Taoism, and some Islam--and I've come to the conclusion that no one knows what the hell they're talking about.  The Dao De Jing, the foundation text of Daoism, begins with the words “The Dao that can be described is not the true Dao; the Name that can be named is not the True Name”.  In other words, anything humanity says about the Ultimate, the Infinite, is an illusion; “all is vanity”, as the writer of Ecclesiastes put it.

Organized religions are about trying to define the Ultimate, the Infinite, in terms humanity can grasp, in order to gain control, even as one claims subservience.  There is a certain amount of truth in the axiom of magic that to know a thing's name is to control it, because in claiming to know and in propounding that pretended knowledge to others, the pretenders are attempting to seize control of that Ultimate, that Infinity, as “its” chief lackeys, the “powers behind the throne”, as it were. 

The problem lies in the fact that every form of religion humanity has begotten could only have come from the culture in which it is born; ‘culture’, about which the preeminent anthropologist Clifford Geertz has said, “Man is an animal, suspended in a web of significance he himself has spun”.  Or as 19th century explorer Richard Francis Burton succinctly put it, “The more I study religions the more I am convinced that man never worshiped anything but himself.”

I have too much respect for the Ultimate, the Infinite, if such exists, to make any claims of knowledge or pretend to such lofty authority, and therefore am “without theism”, and without religion.  All religions, in fact, are an insult to “God”.  All religion is blasphemy.  And the worst of all religions are those which claim not to be religion at all.